Archive for December, 2016

The Venerable EF 85mm 1.8 USM

85mm1-8-blog4-1361Canon has offered the EF 85mm 1.8 USM for a very long time now. In fact this lens was introduced way back in 1992 when the EOS system was still fresh and new. Canon of course had a FD 85mm 1.8 for many years prior and they had the amazing 85mm 1.2 L in FD. I have owned both of those FD lenses and both were spectacular products. In the EOS world, the EF 85mm 1.2 L and the newer Mk II, are both excellent lenses, but they are enormous in size and weight and the focus is not considered to be that fast, at least by standards set with Canon’s other lenses. Now let’s be clear, if you can afford the 85mm 1.2L Mk II at some $2000 it will perform a little better from f/2 on down, all the way to the far corners of the full frame. This 1.8 version is 1/5 the cost, just as sharp everywhere except the last bit of the corner on a full frame camera and is so fast and easy to use, it is a wonderful choice for the photographer looking at a short portrait lens. I have always liked the 85mm focal length especially at f/2. At 1.2 the focus is so shallow that it is nearly impossible to shoot a head shot and have the facial features uniformly sharp, so often stopping down to f1.8 or f2.0 is needed anyway.

I haven’t shot actively in the studio for many years but I had both the 85mm 1.8 and the 85mm 1.2 L back in the early 90s with the bulky and heavy lens almost exclusively used in studio, and the lighter 1.8 in the field. Now I own the 85mm 1.8 USM lens and honestly I don’t use it a lot, because I just don’t take formal portraits very much. I shoot many portraits of my dear and lovely wife, but I do those informally when we are out and about and I use my EOS M3 for those with either the Zeiss 35/2 (56mm effective) or the Canon Rangefinder 50/1.2 (80mm effective).

85mm1-8-blog-0936This 85mm f1.8 Canon lens is a gem. With a street price in the $320-400 range new, and even less for used examples at eBay or camera shows like, PhotoFair, it is one of the great photo bargains. The autofocus is instant and very precise. The bokeh on this lens is truly delicious. The USM is silent and the lens has a solid build quality. Not like an L lens of course, but better than average. This lens also enjoys Canon’s instant manual focus feature allowing manual override with a simple twist of the focus ring. There is no need to toggle a switch.

About a month ago my wife bought a couple of wigs just to horse around with short hairdos and I shot a few pics in the living room with the 85mm 1.8 on my EOS 5D Mk II with the 580EX flash on camera.

So my wife and I both qualify for AARP, so to keep the home life happy I applied some classic overexposure and a little softening. But hey, isn’t that what most good portrait photographers would do for their clients anyway? Of course it is 😉85mm1-8-blog-0936-2

The shot up top is uncropped. I took the same shot and cropped it tight into a head shot to show the lens is sharp and the f/1.8 provides crazy shallow focus as you will see; the right eye which is slightly closer to the lens is sharp and the left is soft. This is a fabulous lens and the 85mm focal length on a full frame camera is just so versatile for people, even a small group of three for a head and shoulders will deliver a nice soft background with sharp eyes and face.

I decided to snap a few shots around the house to show off the lens’ versatility and its delicious bokeh. I have a couple of shots of ornaments on the tree as well as some spontaneous shots outside, and finally a lovable doggy shot. Who doesn’t like a doggy picture?

My wife is a high school teacher and needed some head shots of her students for a project. I used this lens for the photos and the students were delighted with their pics, many choosing to post them on Facebook. It wasn’t me, I never was that good at portraits, I am more of a landscape, cityscape, wildlife guy. It’s all about that lens. Well, a little Photoshop/Lightroom too 😉

For readers of this blog shooting Nikon, they have a nice 85mm 1.8 lens as well and I hear it is a fabulous lens. The 85mm focal length is just wonderful. You can also read about the amazing value proposition from Vivitar with the Series One 85mm 1.8 from a previous post.

The Canon EF 85mm 1.8 USM is outstanding. If a short telephoto lens is a big part of your shooting life then Canon may be a wise choice in bodies because all that I have read suggests that this may be the best 85mm consumer grade lens in the market place. Overall I keep asking myself, why the hell did I wait so long to add this lens to my bag? I bought it about 6 months ago.

Here are the other shots I took with the lens today:


Maggie Mae, 1/400 @ f1.8 ISO 400


Ornament, 1/250 sec @ f/1.8 ISO 800


Stubborn Leaf, 1/320 sec @ f2.5 ISO 400


Ornaments, 1/160 sec @ f/1.8 ISO 800



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