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Lens review

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM

14 August 2009
Szymon Starczewski

3. Build quality

The Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM, is really big and heavy, taking into account its focal length. Over one kilogram of weight and a huge front element are truly impressive. Only a comparison to an EF 85 mm f/1.8 USM and a TS-E 24 mm f/3.5 models, which is presented in the picture below, shows what dimensions we are dealing with. The Canon lens lacks immediate competitors because other 85 mm lenses from different producers are f/1.4 fast at the most. The following chart shows, however, the comparison between the Canon, two other f/1.4 rivals and an older f/1.2 Zeiss lens.

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Build quality

The EF 85L model, like all the L-series lenses with shorter focal lengths, is not white but black; a red strip on its barrel proves it belongs to the Luxury series. If we already said “barrel”, let’s describe it in more detail. The lens starts with a metal bayonet mount in which is placed shallowly the back, motionless lens element. It is so large and so near the surface that the contact pins are stuck directly on it. Then, on a tight, black, magnesium alloy body we find a caption with the lens’s focal length and, on the left from it, an autofocus mode switch (AF/MF). Above, there is a clear distance scale window in both feet and meters. Under it, we see a depth of field scale for the apertures in the f/4.0 - f/16 range.

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Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Build quality

Even higher, we find a quite big, ribbed, rubber-coated manual focus ring. Now I’m going to write some more about it because, to tell you the truth, it didn’t take my fancy at all. Many Canon lenses are equipped with the so called FTM option, which allows us to move the manual focus ring even when the lens is in the AF mode. Personally, I consider it to be a very comfortable way of working. In the case of the EF 85L model, though, Canon decided to use totally different solution, quite common in the Olympus lenses, where the manual focus ring is not a purely mechanical device but it makes use of a special little motor and transmission gears to move the elements. It might look nice but here, it is not nice at all. Firstly, in the AF mode, we can turn the ring as much as we want to but without any effect – it doesn’t move the sharpness scale at all. What’s more, the ring becomes totally useless also in the MF mode, if the lens and the camera body are disconnected. The motor simply gets no power through the pins and, again, we can move the ring but without any effect. It might be tiresome because sometimes, after disconnecting the lens from the body, you might want to change its focal length to minimum so it becomes smaller and fits better in the bag. When it comes to the EF 85L, in order to do that you must connect the lens again, then switch on the body itself, then put the lens in the MF mode. Rather uncomfortable…

What’s more, the motor’s work is far from comfortable – the ring moves far too loosely, at least in my opinion. Its only saving grace is a very wide distance scale range. In the case of the EF 85 F/1.8 in order to run through the whole scale it’s enough to turn the ring about 90 degrees. In the case of the 85L we deal with as many as 250 degrees! In conclusion, a really very small movement of this rather loosely working ring makes a very slight elements move indeed and a very slight sharpness change.

After the rubber-coated ring we find the red strip, mentioned before, with the lens’s name above it. Further on, there’s a smooth ring, surrounding the front element, which, on going to the minimal focus, extends about 1.5 cm from the barrel. This fact, along with the motionless back element, indicates that optical elements change their positions, so moving the manual focus ring changes the focal length as well. Perhaps the change is insignificant but you should remember that. The lens ends with a non-rotating filter thread, 72 mm in diameter. What’s interesting, taking into account the lens’s fastness it is not a huge size. A Nikon 85 mm f/1.4 lens requires 77 mm filters.

The Canon is not the most complex construction in this class, because a Nikkor or a Samyang 1.4/85 have one element more. The EF 85L consists of 8 elements in 7 groups. One element is aspherical. The lens is additionally equipped with a circular, 8 diaphragm blades aperture which can be closed down to f/16 at the most.

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Build quality

The buyer gets both caps and a lens hood in the set. It’s a pity, though, that paying 9000 zl for the lens, we don’t get a good quality case as in longer focal length L-series lenses.

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2L II USM - Build quality