Review: Canon 85mm F1.4 L IS USM (Works Well with Eye Autofocus)

We took our time with the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM because we liked it that much.

If you’re a DSLR owner and wanted an update for your own really old 85mm f1.2 you’ll see that the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM answers a lot of the problems the older version had. Indeed, the implementation of image stabilization is a huge upgrade when coupled with a significantly lighter body, faster autofocus, and overall sharper optics. To be fair, both the 85mm f1.2 and Canon’s f1.4 lenses were designed more for rendering a specific look on full frame and 35mm film bodies. Then you look at all the other great stuff the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM has. It’s packed with weather sealing and when you attach it to Canon’s EOS R, you’ll reap the benefits of that.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sharp
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • With the adapter and the Canon EOS R’s eye detection autofocus, it’s so efficient to use
  • Weather sealed

Cons

  • It’s $1,499 for a DSLR lens. They need to drop the price; DSLRs are on their way out.

Gear Used

We tested the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM with the Canon EOS R, control ring adapter, and the Profoto B10.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Canon website:

Main Unit Spec

Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 85mm f/1.4
Lens Construction 14 elements in 10 groups
Diagonal Angle of View 28° 30′
Focus Adjustment AF with full-time manual
Closest Focusing Distance 2.79 ft. / 0.85m
Filter Size 77mm
Max. Diameter x Length, Weight Φ3.5 x 4.1 in., approx. 33.5 oz. / Φ88.6 x 105.4mm, approx. 950g

 

Ergonomics

The Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is a DSLR lens we decided to test on a mirrorless camera. In our minds, and with the way things are going, it made more sense. When you look at the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM you see a lens that appears similar to many of Canon’s other primes. It is characterized by that red ring towards the front which tells you it’s L glass. Then there is a distance scale, controls, etc.

The front of the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM has a 77mm filter area for polarizers and other things you may need. The lens hood itself isn’t that big, as you can tell from this image.

The side of the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM has all the controls. Here we can find the IS switch and the AF/MF switch. That’s about it besides the focusing ring control.

Build Quality

As you can tell from this photo shoot, the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is very capable of resisting rain. We purposely shot these product images in the rain to showcase this. The texture on the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is the small pebbled type they’ve been using for some years now. Combine that with the giant focusing ring that has ridges and you’ll get a solid piece of equipment to grip onto. It’s still smaller than many of the previous lenses and so, when combining the solid build quality with the light weight and the portability, the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is a great option.

Ease of Use

The Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is mostly an autofocus based lens. You can manually focus with it, but there isn’t really a point since it’s a telephoto lens. Additionally, there is an image stabilization switch on the side. It’s a nice and simple lens to work with. But with the Canon EOS R, its capabilities arguably expand. That camera has great eye-autofocus detection. When combined with tracking, the two pair very effectively together.

Autofocus

We tested the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM on the Canon EOS R with the Control Ring adapter. All in all, I was quite pleased with the results. While I didn’t do anything heavy in terms of tracking, like photographing a basketball game, I figured that it’s pretty essential with portraiture. With the Canon EOS R set to eye detection autofocus and AI Servo, the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM was able to track models as they switched up poses during a shoot. That’s pretty much all that most photographers need. Combine this with effective communication about what the framing of the scene is, and the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM will rock your shoot.

Admittedly, we didn’t test it on a DSLR.

Image Quality

The Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM exhibits beautiful image quality overall. Combine this with the image stabilization built into the lens and you’ll get an even higher chance of getting better photos. The bokeh, the sharpness, and the overall look the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM delivers are nice. Professional photographers who go for this lens won’t be disappointed at all. While their f1.2 lenses for EF mount suffer from a few problems according to lab results, we can’t find anything that a lab would hate in particular about the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM. Granted, we don’t do lab tests.

Bokeh

One of the things that I really like about the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is the bokeh. It’s smooth and gorgeous. I found it to deliver the most pop in terms of color rendition and sharpness with custom set white balances. While Canon’s white balance system is good, I thought that Daylight and Tungsten balances did something with ambient lighting to just add a bit of extra pop. Honestly, I’m not sure how many people would be able to tell the difference between this and a G Master lenses unless they pixel peeped the images.

Chromatic Aberration

There isn’t any fringing that I could find and that really bothered me. So let’s move on.

Color Rendition

Part of the great color rendition from the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM comes with the bokeh, the sharpness pop, and the way that Canon’s sensors render the looks they deliver. Combine this with good shooting tactics under ISO 1600 and you’ll be able to make the most of the RAW files in post-production.

Sharpness

When we used the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM with the Profoto B10, we were able to get some very sharp images. When we made big prints, we were even more pleasantly surprised at the details that came forward. There isn’t anything we can complain about here. Does Canon have sharper lenses? Oh heck yes. But this is no slouch, and unless you look at the other lenses side by side, you’re not going to be bothered.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Image quality
  • Small size
  • Autofocus speed
  • Weather sealing

Dislikes

  • Price point is a tad high

I’m giving the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM five out of five stars; it delivers in pretty much every way. This is a sign of a Canon that wants to compete more with Sony, Zeiss, and others in the lens world. The company has traditionally put a bigger emphasis on the quality of their zooms, but the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM is a very solid prime lens offering. With great image quality, fast autofocus performance that can track eyes as they move on an animated model, weather sealing, and a small size, there is nothing to complain about with the Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM. I mean, aside from that price point.

The Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS USM gets five out of five stars. It’s $1,499 for a DSLR lens. They need to drop the price because DSLRs are really on their way out.