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Canon 85mm f/1.2 USM L Review


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  • Great results, fast aperture, nice background blur, fast and quiet, build quality


  • Expensive, limited appeal (but that’s really splitting hairs!)

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1630

Occasionally a lens pops up that makes you want to sell your wife into slavery just so you can possess it, or in this case, just to play with it. For the portrait photographer the 85mm lens is an incredibly popular choice, producing a pleasant perspective while allowing you to stay close enough to the subject to talk and maintain a rapport.

There are plenty of 85mm lenses available, but not many also have an f/1.2 aperture. This gives you two really nice options. First, you can use it in low available light as its light-gathering power is tremendous. Second, at maximum aperture you can achieve very shallow depth of field, allowing pin-sharp eyes and out of focus hair and skin, giving images a dreamy, almost anamorphic quality. This concentrates the viewer onto the subject’s eyes, which are apparently the window of the soul – so don’t use this lens around the indigenous people of Australia! The depth of field at this setting is so shallow, especially as you move closer to the subject, that you need to take care with focusing; for example, if your subject is not flat facing you, there’s a danger that one eye will be sharp and the other not.

A lens with this much light-gathering power needs to be large; the front and rear elements are hunky chunks of glass, and the weight reflects this. Constructed from eight elements in seven groups, the lens uses Super Spectra coatings to help reduce flare and ghosting, especially in respect to the reflectivity of digital sensors, and also to ensure good contrast and colour.

As a USM model, the lens is fast and whisper quiet – a fact you really notice if switching from Canon’s cheaper EF lenses. Very occasionally, if you focus on a low-contrast subject the AF may hunt, but due to the large optic, the AF in the camera works more effectively in low light than slower lenses.

Image Quality
At maximum aperture, the images have a lovely quality as the focus falls away quickly. The bokeh (the out of focus areas) is soft and attractive. What is in focus remains pin sharp. Overall contrast is crisp, based on use with a Canon EOS 30D, and colour very good. Sharpness overall is very good, especially as the aperture is stopped down with pin-sharp images from edge to edge, and there’s no sign of chromatic aberration. Vignetting and distortion are well controlled too, certainly in respect to the APS-C sized sensor of the 30D.

Sample images


This lens is a beauty, well crafted and it performs like a dream. Sadly for many of us, it will remain a dream; the hefty weight is only matched by the hefty price tag. Still, if you can afford it and you want the best, the Canon 85mm f/1.2 is worth every penny.

Trusted Score

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Score in detail

  • Value 9
  • Design 9
  • Image Quality 9
  • Features 9

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