Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 Lens Review
A selection of photos taken in Thailand with the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 | Canon EOS 40D | ISO:100 | Aperture: f/2.8 | Shutter Speed: 1/200s
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 | Canon EOS 40D | ISO:100 | Aperture: f/10 | Shutter Speed: 1/200s | Electra Studio Lighting
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 | Canon EOS 40D | ISO:400 | Aperture: f/1.8 | Shutter Speed: 1/800s
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 | Canon EOS 40D | ISO:200 | Aperture: f/5 | Shutter Speed: 1/125s
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 | Canon EOS 40D | ISO:100 | Aperture: f/2.8 | Shutter Speed: 1/250s
The 85mm f/1.8 is one of those lenses in the Canon range that offers a huge amount of performance for not very much money. In fact, it may be the best value for money lens in the entire Canon EOS line. From what I have read, it is 'easy' (easy being a relative term) for lens makers to manufacture a fixed focal length lens of this particular focal length.
It has been around for some time and because Canon did such a good job originally there has been no need to release new versions.
It's a very easy lens to use (some lenses aren't easy to use), and it focuses quickly and accurately. It would probably be a good purchase for someone who has bought an SLR and 18-55mm kit lens.
It's quite an addictive lens. The first time I used it was on a trip where I wanted to give two lenses a thorough testing, the other being the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. After mounting the EF 85mm f/1.8, I didn't want to take it off.
Sharpness and Resolution
I was completely blown away with the performance of this lens as soon as I started to use it. The detail in the images is incredible, even when doing close-up work with extension tubes.
DXO labs gives it the highest rating for resolution out of any lens they have tested, even compared to some very exotic and expensive lenses including Canon's f/1.2L version lens of the same focal length.
The performance is difficult to believe and the low price makes it an absolute bargain.
Chromatic Aberration and Fringing
I saw a review for this lens on a forum where the reviewer complains about "purple fringing and green chromatic aberration" being very visible. Everyone on the forum agreed. However, I couldn't recall a single photo I had taken with this lens being ruined by chromatic aberration or fringing.
I then used Adobe Bridge to display every photo I had taken with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, filtered the list to display only those shots taken at the maximum aperture of f/1.8, and went through them quite carefully.
With most images I couldn't see any problems at all. Eventually, as a result of pixel peeping (which is something that I never usually do) I found some purple and green fringes on some out of focus areas of certain images. Even in these images, the problem in the background was so small that I didn't find it distracting.
Pixel peepers will always find problems, no matter how good the equipment is.
If you buy lenses in order to perform technical testing so that you can contribute to forums or have a desire to find every small technical defect with a lens, you will find them. This applies to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 and most other lenses. Lenses are made to be sold at a certain price point and there always have to be compromises in the design and manufacturing process.
But is this really the point of buying camera equipment? Wouldn't it be better to create emotions and memories through your photography instead of trying to be a non-paid, amateur, technical reviewer?
If you buy equipment to preserve and share memories of children growing up or places you have visited, and if you wish to print some of these images to display in your home (like most normal people), it is unlikely that you will find any defects at all.
In addition, camera bodies these days come with built-in software that corrects known lens defects in-camera if you shoot in JPG, and the camera manufacturers also supply software that can correct defects in post-processing (as do third-party companies).
You can spend some time on forums and come away with the impression that this lens is so full of optical defects it is useless. Comments in the forum might even persuade you to buy a faster lens of the same focal length that is five times as expensive as this one.
Ignore the comments. In real world shooting conditions I have found this lens to be a wonderful performer, and it is sold at a bargain price. If your finances allow it, there are better 85mm lenses, but for the money this is a great little lens.
The focal length and the narrow depth of field make for a good portrait lens. It's not a big, white lens and therefore it doesn't attract attention. Despite this, the 85mm provides quite a lot of reach - especially on a crop body camera. With portraits I can fill the frame with my subject while remaining at a comfortable working distance. The lens is therefore good for street photography and candid portraits.
It is good for compressed landscape scenes and I also use it quite a lot for product photography. The minimum focusing distance isn't very close and so it isn't that useful for close-up work on its own, however, the addition of an extension tube makes all the difference.
With one of the photos above (the LOL Surprise! toys) I positioned the lens to fill the frame with the subject, but it was too close to focus. Adding a 12mm extension tube fixed this problem very easily.
An extension tube reduces the minimum focusing distance considerably, and the 85mm is sharp enough to give pretty good results. Along with all its other uses, the 85mm plus an extension tube will provide you with a decent macro lens on a budget.
Light Gathering Capabilities
My first ever lens was the FD 50mm f/1.8 that came with my Canon A1 in 1982. For a long time I thought nothing of having an f/1.8 maximum aperture.
After I made the move to a digital SLR and invested in lenses, my maximum aperture became f/4 for a long time. When I eventually got back to f/1.8 again it took some getting used to.
My camera is normally set to ISO 200 but when shooting outside in bright conditions and trying to use f/1.8 it is easy to exceed the maximum shutter speed - even 1/8000. Sometimes, there is too much light at f/1.8 even with ISO 100.
Of course, indoors this is a big bonus and means being able to shoot with flash a lot of the time.
Compared to ...
I can shoot at 85mm with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L. The image quality is probably better with the zoom lens but maximum aperture is only f/4. I get IS with the zoom but this doesn't help with fast moving subjects. Also, the bokeh effect isn't as good.
Both lenses have their advantages and each will be better in certain conditions shooting certain subjects.
I've never used the 85mm f/1.2L lens so can't make a comparison. I'm sure the f/1.2L is a fabulous lens but it is a lot more expensive and depth of field at f/1.2 is razor thin.
The 85mm f/1.8 has no Image Stabilisation but because of its light gathering ability IS isn't really needed. It is quite easy to shoot at shutter speeds that are fast enough to avoid camera shake.
A long time after writing this page Canon announced the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS. I would love this lens, and could afford it in my old life, but now with another three mouths to feed my situation is very different.
The new Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens has the latest version IS, the latest lens coatings, it's fast, and it's optically superb. If you can afford it, buy one. I certainly would if I had a spare $1,600. However, I can't afford it (or justify it) at this time in my life.
Regarding brands other than Canon, I have always been a bit anal about sticking to Canon for camera bodies, lenses, flash units, and other accessories that Canon manufactures. Obviously, with items that Canon don't make I have to buy other brands.
The Sigma Art 85mm f/1.4 gets particularly good reviews and it is competitively priced at around $1,200. Personally, if I had $1,200 available I would probably save up another $400 for the Canon version.
Another lens brand with an excellent reputation is Zeiss, whose 85mm f/1.4 lens is about the same price as the Canon 85mm f/1.4 L IS. I'm sure the image quality is fantastic - maybe better than the Canon lens - but it is manual focus and there is no IS. If you are doing architectural photography and can sit your camera on a tripod while you are messing around with focus, it may be a perfect lens. However, if you are doing street photography or you are in other situations where you are hand-holding the camera shooting fast moving subjects you will want autofocus and IS.
Nowadays, there are also lots of low cost lenses from China, but they vary in quality. You can pick up an 85mm f/1.8 for around $100 if you have any faith in the Opteka brand. Chinese-made items are not always poor quality these days. In the mobile phone industry, brands such as Huawei, Vivo and Oppo have good reputations.
Yongnuo make flash units and accessories that are used by a lot of photographers. Yongnuo also makes an 85mm f/1.8 lens that retails for about half the price of the Canon version. I'm sure it's very good.
I have my reasons for sticking with Canon equipment. I know that when I take a Canon item out of the box it will work with other Canon equipment that I have. Even when I go to use an old flash unit with a new camera body I know it will work. My Canon equipment is also future-proofed to a certain extent.
New Canon lenses will work with old Canon bodies and if there are problems Canon will fix them. With lenses now containing firmware and cameras being so dependent on electronics, a single change to a camera body could render third-party lenses useless. This will not happen if you have all Canon equipment.
Finally, the used value of Canon lenses will be higher when/if you decide to sell your gear. It's a completely personal choice based on your individual needs, preferences and budget.
I love this lens. It's small, light, fast and produces wonderful images. What more is there to say? Oh yes, it is sold at a bargain price.
It's great for portraiture and if you add an extension tube it is also very capable doing macro photography. I wouldn't be without it and the low price means that every photographer can afford to have one in their bag.
Would I Buy One Now?
Yes. Despite being an old lens I am still thoroughly impressed with the images that this lens can produce. At the time of writing, Canon offers three 85mm lenses. The f/1.2L version sells for around $2,000 and the f/1.4L IS version goes for around $1,600. The f/1.8 retails for around $350.
If anyone offered to trade their f/1.2L or f/1.4L IS for my f/1.8 I would agree, but that is very unlikely to happen. The f/1.2L has a razor thin depth of field at maximum aperture and is quite difficult to use. It also has no Image Stabilisation.
I would love a new f/1.4L IS. It has all the latest IS technology and lens coatings, and it's fast. However, it's expensive.
As far as bang for the buck is concerned the humble EF 85mm f/1.8 still offers a great deal and if you can find a used example in good condition for a low price you get even more bang for the buck. I suspect that with the announcement of the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS there might be a few more f/1.8s available on the second-hand market.
Weight: 15 oz; 425 g
Filter Diameter: 58mm
Closest Focusing Distance: 2.8ft; 0.85m
Minimum Aperture: f/22
Maximum Aperture: f/1.8
Autofocus: Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motor
Supplier: Chia Color Lab, Hat Yai, Thailand
Price: 15,750 Thai Baht
Date Purchased: March 2010
Lens Hood: ET-65III (not included)
Soft Case: LP1014 (not included)
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Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
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