Thursday , 24 July 2014
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Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Telephoto Lens Review

First introduced back in July of 1992, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM medium telephoto lens has been the go to lens of portrait photographers for decades. It benefits from the solid build quality coupled with the low price and overall great image quality. Furthermore, it is lightweight, has pleasant bokeh, and has an extremely fast and accurate focusing system. However, it does have some drawbacks which include color fringing near wide open apertures and the minimum focusing distance is a little farther than I prefer.

When I first started off in photography I had my cheap, but trusty Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. It was my lens for everything, especially portraits. However, after using the nifty-fifty for multiple shoots and daily candid shots, I grew tired of the loud clunky and sometimes unreliable autofocus and cheap plastic toy feel. I had the urge to upgrade, to dive into something that was of better quality and would take my portraits up to the next level. Thus, that holiday season I went out and bought myself Canon’s EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. Now, years later it is my go to lens for portraits and still life.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – 5

SPECIFICATIONS

Type Telephoto Prime
Focal Length 85mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8Minimum: f/22
Diaphragm Blades 8
Lens Construction 9 elements in 7 groups
Diagonal Angle of View 28° 30′
Autofocus Yes
Focus Adjustment Rear focusing system with USM
Front Element Rotation No
Closest Focusing Distance 0.85m / 2.8 ft
Image Stabilization No
Filter Size 58mm
Max. Diameter x Length, Weight 3.0″ x 2.8″, 15.0 oz. / 75.0 x 71.5mm, 425g
Warranty 1 year

LENS BODY CONSTRUCTION

First off, this lens is very light weight, not as light as my nifty-fifty, but it won’t be tiring your hand out after a whole day of shooting. To spec the weight is 425g (15.0 oz). However, I measured it in at 414g (14.6 oz) with both lens caps on and 393g (13.9 oz) with caps removed. When mounted on my Canon 60D the overall kit feels perfectly in balance. Not back heavy like as with the my nifty-fifty or other kit lenses, and not front heavy like as with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – 9

The body casing is made of a high quality black plastic and accented with a bit of gold paint for style. Owners have the option to buy a Canon ET-65 III lens hood for it which allows for less flaring, increased image contrast, as well as a level of protection for the front element.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – 4

The lens has a rear focusing system and USM (Ultra-Sonic motor), which is very quiet and internal focusing. It features full-time manual focusing which allows for focus adjustments without the need to change the focus switch to manual. This feature is great since it prevents damage to the focusing motor. The focus ring is a ribbed rubber and feels smooth with very little to almost no play. Overall, the focusing is very quick whether it is in broad day light or shooting in the shadows of night. Focus accuracy is extremely high; I rarely have issues with shots being out of focus. However, the minimum focusing distance is a little disappointing for me. The closest focusing distance is only 0.85m (2.8ft). Over the last few years of using it I can’t help but to notice how many times I’ve had to back away from my subject to get it in focus.

OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – 6

This is a fixed focal length prime, so you know you are going to get tack sharp images throughout the aperture range. The optical construction of this lens includes 9 elements in 7 groups. The max aperture is f/1.8 and can stop down all the way to f/22. It features 8 aperture blades for some creamy smooth bokeh. The front filter size is 58mm and the threads are plastic. This lens does not feature IS (Image Stabilization), but neither do most mid-range prime lenses. Finally, the camera mount is metal which is great compared to my old nifty-fifty’s plastic mount.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – 3

TESTING METHODOLOGY

Equipment wise, for this review I will be using a Canon 60D body. The Canon 60D has an APS-C sensor, thus the field-of-view will actually resemble that of about 136mm rather than true 85mm on a 35mm full frame or film SLR. Memory wise we will be using a Sandisk Extreme UHS-1 16 GB SD card. Off camera flash includes multiple Canon 430 EX IIs triggered by Pixel King Wireless TTL Flash Triggers.

For image quality I will be taking shots in RAW format and post processing them in Adobe Lightroom 5 and/or Adobe Photoshop CC. Images will be exported at 80% quality and 800px in size on the longest edge.

Images will be taken to cover multiple photographic scenarios in order to ensure proper coverage of the lens’s abilities and faults.

First introduced back in July of 1992, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM medium telephoto lens has been the go to lens of portrait photographers for decades. It benefits from the solid build quality coupled with the low price and overall great image quality. Furthermore, it is lightweight, has pleasant bokeh, and has an extremely fast and accurate focusing system. However, it does have some drawbacks which include color fringing near wide open apertures and the minimum focusing distance is a little farther than I prefer. When I first started off in photography I had my cheap, but trusty Canon…

Review Overview

Build Quality
Optical Quality
Warranty
Price
Availability

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About Sean Webster

Sean Webster is a professional photographer and long time PC tech and enthusiast. He writes informational guides and reviews across the web and specializes in storage technologies.
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