Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM Lens Review
What We Love. Like the Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM before it, Canon’s latest RF lens is designed to blow away anyone who lays their hands on it. The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM produces images that are not only sharp and clean, but also undeniably stunning. Plus, with that combination of focal length and large maximum aperture, you’re guaranteed beautifully creamy and dreamy bokeh, making it perfect for flattering portraits. And despite its overwhelming size, which compelled an onlooker to ask us if it’s powerful enough to take photos of the surface of the moon, it’s surprisingly comfortable to handle and effortless to use. We’ve fallen in love with it, and you probably will too.
What We’d Change. Outside of its hefty $2,700 MSRP, bulky size, and some minor vignetting at maximum aperture, it's hard to find fault in this 85mm F1.2. This lens is so close to perfection.
Pick This Up if… you just bought into the RF system and you shoot portraits, weddings, or fashion. It's quite simply one of the best portrait lenses ever made.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/2.5 | 1/500 | ISO 1600 |
There’s no point in denying Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM’s appeal. You’re going to fall in love with this lens whether you like it or not, and if you’ve just recently invested in a Canon EOS R or EOS RP, you’re going to be tempted to shell out $2,699.
The fifth lens in the RF lens line, this stunning glass is every bit as appealing as the Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM. More importantly, it delivers a similarly breathtaking performance. So much so that if you own and love (and how could you not?) the 50mm, you’re going to want this one in your camera bag as well.
Ideal for portrait, event and fashion photographer, we found that the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is great for taking landscape photos when you want to capture monoliths and other landmarks, yet you don’t have a long telephoto lens on hand.
Mounted on the Canon EOS RP body, we borrowed our RF 85mm f/1.2L USM from B&H Photo-Video and tested it alongside the RF 28-70 F2 (review coming soon!). Because of the size of the lens and the fact that it didn’t come with its own tripod mount ring, we opted to test the lens handheld, instead of mounting it on our tripod.
- Fits: RF-mount cameras
- Focal Length: 85mm
- Maximum Aperture: F/1.2
- Minimum Aperture: F/16
- Lens Construction: 13 elements in 9 groups
- Minimum Focus Distance: 2.79 ft (0.85 m)
- Filter Size: 82mm
- Length: 4.62 in (117.3 mm)
- Weight: 2.63 lbs (1,195 g)
- Aperture Blades: 9
- Standard Accessories: Hood, front cap, rear cap, case
One look at the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM, and you might feel intimidated. This doesn’t look like a lens to be trifled with, not with its massive 4.06 x 4.62 inch size. In fact, when we were testing this lens in The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA, a guy asked us, probably jokingly, if we can see the surface of the moon with it.
Of course, he didn’t know any better. If he did, he’d know there are much bigger and longer lenses. But the point that we’re making here is that this lens is definitely big enough to draw attention. And that’s enough to put off beginner photographers.
The beauty of this lens though is that it isn’t at all hard to use or figure your way around. But we’ll get to that in the next section.
As far as build quality, this lens does feel like a tank, and not only because it’s practically the size of one. It feels solid, sturdy and made of high-quality stuff, with a price tag to match. We have no idea what will happen to it when accidentally dropped from a couple of feet up, and Canon make no mention of it being drop proof and shock resistant.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/5.6 | 1/250 | ISO 100 |
However, it does feel solid enough to survive minor dings and bumps. It’s also dust and weather-resistant, which means it’s rugged enough to survive the elements when you’re out in the field. Since it was in the middle of a southwestern US summer when we tested it, there was no way organically to find out how it fares in a downpour. But if surviving temperatures of over 100 degrees in the middle of the desert is enough proof – and it should – then this lens is golden.
To round that out, Canon gave its front element fluorine coating to keep all that pesky dust and fingerprints well at bay.
As we mentioned earlier, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM may look like it should only be operated by professionals, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This glass is very easy to use and effortless to handle, even if you have small hands or you’re only starting to figure out your way around an interchangeable lens system.
It’s also very intuitive to use, with the focus ring closest to the mount, and the focus and AF/MF switches within finger’s reach when you’re shooting. The focus ring is ribbed rubber, which offers a nice grip – although it does attract dust particles – and is easy to turn when you need some manual focusing.
The only thing that you’ll need to get used to is the programmable control ring, which Canon has opted to put near the front of the lens. It’s a nifty little feature that you can set to aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation or ISO, but it is a little farther away from your hand. It’s also narrow, so if you’re looking through the viewfinder, you might have to feel for it. At least, at first.
The good news is that it does have a palpable textured finish, which makes it easy to find. And it also has a clicking mechanism for tactile feedback.
There is that matter of it dwarfing the Canon EOS RP body that we tested it with, but you need not worry. While it is considerably bigger and heavier than the body, the fact that it has a bigger diameter front balances the whole setup. Set the whole thing down on the table, and you won’t have to worry about it toppling over. (This is less of an issue with the EOS R, naturally.)
SPEED & FOCUS
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/1.4 | 1/1000 | ISO 400 |
Though face detection and eye tracking on the Canon EOS R bodies aren’t the best on the market right now, they do work beautifully. The Canon EOS RP touts 4,779 AF points and Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM fully capitalizes on them. When it comes to AF speed, this lens is not only fast and accurate, but also very smooth as well so that transitioning from one focus point to another doesn’t feel erratic.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/1.2 | 1/1250 | ISO 1600 |
We didn’t get to test this lens on fast-moving subjects, but we did have our subject walk towards the camera and twirl around, and it was able to largely keep up and keep the focus on her face. Additionally, whenever we took closeup portraits, it stayed fast and on point with keeping the subject’s eye or eyes in focus.
This means that that taking portraits with this lens is an absolute pleasure and absolutely effortless. Simply set the eye and face detection on, and set the camera on Continuous AF, and you should be good to go. This lens might not be the quietest (though it’s not loud, either), but it will keep your focus game completely on point without much effort from you.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/2 | 1/250 | ISO 400 |
That’s not all, but since the minimum focusing distance on this lens is 2.79 feet, it also allows you to get decently close to your subjects, so that you can get in closer and fill your frame whenever the shot calls for it.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/1.2 | 1/1250 | ISO 400 |
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/3.5 | 1/160 | ISO 400 |
Much like the 50mm before it, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM produces absolutely stunning bokeh that instantly makes your portraits (and all your images shot at large apertures, for that matter) look absolutely appealing. Obviously, you must still have all the right elements for your images to get to that level of attractiveness, but the bokeh this lens produces does help quite a bit and also helps in making photography seem considerably more effortless.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/2 | 1/2000 | ISO 400 |
Coupled with that large maximum aperture of f/1.2, this lens produces very soft, very creamy blur that helps accentuate your subject in focus and really cleans up the background and foreground clutter. With the 9-blade aperture system, you might get football-shaped bokeh balls at f/1.2, but drop down to f/2 and you’ll yield the practically perfectly rounded balls – though upon closer look, you’ll see a more polygonal shape.
Nevertheless, the bokeh balls are gorgeous, and the background/foreground blur are exceptionally dreamy. Even if you’re not really a bokeh enthusiast, you’ll appreciate this one.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/5 | 1/1000 | ISO 400 |
Simply put, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM yields incredible images, whether you’re shooting portraits, landscapes or everything else in between. As we’ve already said before, this lens actually makes taking photos – especially portraits – feel effortless. Yes, you still need talent, technical skills, and all that good stuff, but it’s also very hard to take a crappy shot with this lens. And, that’s not only because of its beautiful bokeh and its fast, precise focus.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/2.5 | 1/500 | ISO 1600 |
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/5.6 | 1/80 | ISO 1600 |
The incredible sharpness that this lens delivers has a lot to do with that as well. Even at its widest of f/1.2, the edge-to-edge sharpness is nothing short of impressive. And that sharpness only gets better when you drop down, culminating to its sharpest around f/5.6.
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/11 | 1/80 | ISO 100 |
Canon improves on that sharpness by yielding impressively clean images as well, with practically non-existent distortion, very little chromatic aberration (if any) and not much hideous ghosting and flare. It’s all thanks to the Ultra-low Dispersion glass element, Blue Spectrum Refractive optics, and Air Sphere Coating that Canon slapped on this thing, to minimize distortion, chromatic aberration, and ghosting/flare, respectively.
There’s also very little vignetting, something you can easily fix in post and only at the widest apertures. At f/2, it’s a non-issue.
We only wish this lens had its own in-body image stabilization, to decrease the likelihood of shaky shots in low light. While both this lens and the Canon RP body do very well in low light – and we’ve gotten a lot of excellent images with the setup while shooting at dusk – relying on the body’s stabilization alone isn’t enough. We’ve also come home with a number of shaky shots. If you plan on doing a lot of low light shooting with this lens, prepare to do some reshoots.
However, beyond a few shaky images, we’re completely blown away by the image quality this lens produces.
PROS & CONS
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/1.2 | 1/200 | ISO 1600 |
- Excellent image quality with superb sharpness
- Very minimal chromatic aberration
- Large maximum aperture of f/1.2
- Gorgeous bokeh
- Extensive weather-sealing
- Massive size
- Not as good in low light
| Aperture Priority | 85mm | F/2.5 | 1/640 | ISO 400 |
The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is a lens you NEED in your camera bag, whether it’s because you shoot a lot of portraits and weddings or it’s because you’ve invested in the R system and you must have the highest quality lenses at your disposal.
This lens boasts many of the features you could want in a premium lens -- weather sealing, large maximum aperture, excellent AF, stunning bokeh, effortless handling, and impressive image quality -- as long as you have the money to pay for it.
Though, with this level of performance, we’d gladly scrimp and save just to get it.
Canon’s full-frame mirrorless bodies aren't our favorite, especially when we compare them to Sony's full-frame Alpha cameras. The EOS R and RF are very good, but not great. On the other hand, Canon's RF lenses are all universally outstanding, which only makes us more excited to see what Canon does in the future. With more glass like this 85mm F1.2 and a body to match, there would be a lot of happy Canon customers.
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