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Lens review

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM

14 August 2009
Szymon Starczewski

11. Summary

Pros:
  • solid workmanship and a very robust barrel,
  • sensational frame centre image quality,
  • very good frame edge image quality on the APS-C sensor,
  • good frame edge image quality on stopping down to the range about f/2.8-4.0,
  • very good chromatic aberration correction,
  • low distortion,
  • low astigmatism,
  • vignetting not burdensome already from f/2.0,
  • autofocus silent and quick.

Cons:

  • high price,
  • the manual focus ring works too loosely,
  • too limited accessory kit,
  • significant vignetting on full frame near the maximum aperture,
  • too high coma level.

It was a dark, cloudy and misty morning. It drizzled. The autumn in Japan was nasty that year. Mr. Daisaku Kato, the chief Canon optics specialist, switched on a lamp on his desk. The light fell on a new lens’s diagram printout. Kato smiled at his thoughts. “A little marvel”, “a masterpiece” – these were the only words that came to his mind when he looked at his new project. He sighed and stretched. It started to rain heavily. He thought about the next nice experience – an aromatic cup of coffee that he is going to sip, postponing the less pleasant things to come. He won’t be able to delay that forever, though. The nine o’clock conference with his boss was approaching inexorably. The boss will listen to the description of his new project, he will smack his lips twice or thrice, and the inevitable will come. One inquiring look at the Chief Accountant Officer, Mr. Hajime Yasuda, will be enough for him to stand up and begin his show. Last time, after such a conference a brilliant EF-S 15-65 mm f/3.5 IS USM in a magnesium alloy barrel turned into an EF-S 18-135 mm f/4.5-5.6 IS – without any magnesium alloy barrel, without USM and with a plastic mount to boot…Cutbacks, costs, crisis…

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Kato sipped his coffee, slurping loudly. He took the diagram under his arm, grabbed the CD with a presentation and went out closing the door behind. He took a lift to the last floor. The boss’s secretary smiled warmly at him and showed him the office door with her hand, indicating that he might enter. He smiled back and got inside.

Greeting with the boss he saw that an armchair, usually occupied by Hajime Yasuda, was empty. Before he managed to say anything the boss started a conversation.

— Hello Mr. Kato. Today we will discuss matters together. Mr. Yasuda has just phoned to tell he is ill. Something wrong with his stomach, I preferred not to inquire too closely, he said he might be absent for a longer time. Let’s get down to facts. What do you have for me today?

The artificial, suspended grimace of Mr. Kato became a real, happy smile.

— It’s my newest design, Sir. A prime lens, 85 mm f/1.2. Made of the best materials and, of course, with an USM motor- he explained showing the diagram and inserting the CD to his notebook. A cloudy, dark, misty morning all of a sudden turned into a beautiful, sunny spring day with cherries in full bloom.

As you see from the fragment above, I discovered a bent for writing. As a pensioner, after testing all the lenses there are to be tested, I will be fully occupied anyway. Speaking seriously, the Canon EF 85 f/1.2L II USM lens really looks a bit as if optics specialists had much more to say than accountants or as if, in the moment of its approval, the accountants were on sick leave. The aim was to manufacture an optically and mechanically brilliant, exceptionally fast portrait lens without thinking of its price. Everything went exactly that way.

The lens allows us to take sensational quality pictures, sharp even at the maximum aperture, and to play creatively with a very shallow depth of field. It is solidly made, its autofocus is silent and accurate. The coma slip-up and a modest selection of accessories I can forgive easily. Vignetting can’t be lower at this fastness on full frame, unless the lens is even bigger and it is big enough. I don’t like the manual focus ring solution. In my opinion, the classic, mechanical ring would be cheaper but also more comfortable.

Is it worth thinking of transition to 85L if you already have an EF 85 mm f/1.8 USM? It’s difficult to answer such a question unambiguously. Many amateur photographers will say “no” and perhaps they will be right. It is good to remember, though, that the correlation between the optical properties of a lens and its price is anything but linear. At some point, we must pay much more than we thought for just slightly better performance. However, some people are prepared to pay, as they want to enjoy the highest quality of the photos taken – this lens is for them. Especially that such people might want to own something more durable and more solid than an EF 85 mm f/1.8.

Sample shots:

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/8.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.33 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/8.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 7.86 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/4.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.52 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/5.6, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.86 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/4.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 7.08 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/4.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.48 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.8, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 50
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.12 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.8, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 50
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 5.66 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/4.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.33 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/5.0, exp. 1/200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.53 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.8, exp. 1/800 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 7.46 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.0, exp. 1/800 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.31 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.4, exp. 1/1600 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 5.26 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.2, exp. 1/2000 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 5.9 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.2, exp. 1/2000 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.09 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.2, exp. 1/1250 sec., ISO 200
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.73 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.0, exp. 1/500 sec., ISO 200
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 7.09 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.2, exp. 1/6400 sec., ISO 200
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.04 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.8, exp. 1/3200 sec., ISO 200
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 6.04 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.8, exp. 1/8000 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 5.8 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.5, exp. 1/5000 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 5.69 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.6, exp. 1/3200 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 5.48 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/5.6, exp. 1/320 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 7.71 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.0, exp. 1/1250 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 8.33 MB
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Summary
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/1.2, exp. 1/4000 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 8.45 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/2.8, exp. 1/800 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 9.89 MB
Camera: Canon 1Ds MkIII
Parameters: 85 mm, f/4.0, exp. 1/500 sec., ISO 100
File: JPEG, 5616 x 3744 pix, 9.78 MB




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