Review: Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM (Canon RF Mount)

The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is a bulky, expensive lens, with superb image quality that more than justifies its price of admission.

One of Canon’s biggest strengths has always been its ability to create consistently excellent lenses targeted at professionals, and the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is no exception. With their RF Mount system, Canon has chosen to tackle the Full Frame Mirrorless market from the opposite direction of Sony. Instead of focusing on industry-leading cameras first and slowly building up a portfolio of lenses like Sony did, Canon has elected to introduce premium lenses out of the gate while they work on developing newer, more advanced Full Frame Mirrorless camera bodies. Only time will tell if their strategy will pay off, but one thing is for sure: the RF Mount lenses we’ve seen are some of the very best on the market. The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM was designed with portrait photographers in mind, and boy does it create some truly stunning portraits. By virtue of being an f1.2 lens, the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is bulky and has the weight (and a US $2,699 price tag) to match. If you’ve got deep pockets and won’t settle for anything but the very best, the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM will not disappoint.

Editor’s Note: Some of this testing was done in Atlanta on a Canon press excursion. This trip was all-expenses paid. Back in NYC, we did everything on our own tab. Phoblographer’s Editors are trained to resist the bedazzlement of a company putting us up for free in exchange for a positive review. Our review, as you’ll see, is fair.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Ultra-fast aperture
  • Snappy autofocus
  • Razor-sharp
  • Excellent image quality
  • Robust weather sealing

Cons

  • Lacks image stabilization
  • Heavy (hope you’ve been doing those bicep curls!)
  • Slight vignetting when wide open

 

Gear Used

We tested the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM with the Profoto B10 the Canon EOS R

 

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM taken from the Adorama product listing:

  • High Image Quality and Bright f/1.2 Aperture L Lens for EOS R System Cameras
  • Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics (BR) Reduces Chromatic Aberration.
  • Minimum Focusing Distance of 2.79 ft./0.85m.
  • Control Ring for Direct Setting Changes.
  • One Aspheric Element and One UD Lens.
  • 12 pin Communication System.
  • Dust- and Weather-resistant with Fluorine Coating.
  • Air Sphere Coating (ASC) Minimizes Lens Flare and Ghosting.
  • Fixed Mirrorless FL: Focal Length: 85mm
  • Lens Format: Lens Format: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Aperture: Maximum Aperture: f/1.2
  • Lens Type: Telephoto Lens
  • Special Features: Aspherical, Weather Resistant

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics section taken from our First Impressions article.

Here we see the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM. This lens is a lot like Canon’s other L primes. It’s characterized by the big red ring Canon is known for. Additionally, there is a focus ring and a programmable ring near the front. The exterior has a pebbled matte texture that makes it easier to grip than previous lenses.

Turn to the side, and you’ll find autofocus switches. One switch is for controlling the type of focus, and the other is for the focusing distance. Considering how good Canon’s new focusing system is, I’m baffled as to why this was needed.

 

Build Quality

Like the Canon RF 50mm f1.2 L USM that came before it, the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM features some of the most robust weather sealing we’ve seen. During our time with the lens, we got caught in some less than ideal weather conditions on more than one occasion, but the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM shrugged it off and kept working without issue. It’s one of the largest Mirrorless prime lenses on the market, and it’s got the weight to match. Although it may feel front-heavy to some, I’ve gone on extended photo walks with this lens paired to an EOS R and a wrist strap and didn’t feel fatigued afterward. For those who don’t lift weights, you’ll want to support the lens with your left hand when shooting rather than holding it single-handedly.

 

Ease of Use

Despite its hefty size and weight, the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is a pretty straight forward lens to use. As someone who often shoots with my camera in manual mode, I tend to lock the ISO using the touch bar on the back of the EOS R while using the top and rear dials to adjust the aperture and shutter speed. I seldom needed to use the customizable control ring located towards the front of the lens barrel. But, on the off chance that I need to make quick ISO adjustments, the customizable control ring allows me to do this without having to deal with the EOS R’s annoying touch bar. While there is a focus distance toggle on the side of the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM, I found it quicker to toggle the lens into manual focus mode and dialing in focus using the EOS R’s excellent focus peaking system during rare instances where the lens would hunt while trying to focus on relatively close objects. Obviously, your mileage may vary depending on how you shoot.

 

Autofocus

Canon USA provided us with a review unit of the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM along with a Canon EOS R. While the lens was running firmware version 1.0.4, unbeknownst to us, the camera was only running firmware version 1.0. This resulted in autofocus performance that was rather lackluster. Upon realizing that the EOS R’s firmware was not up-to-date, we updated it to firmware version 1.4, the latest version available as of press time. This updated combination significantly improved autofocus performance. Both Face Detection AF & Tracking and Eye Detection AF performed responsively and accurately, allowing us to maintain focus on moving subjects while keeping their eyes in focus. When stacked up against other Full Frame Mirrorless systems on the market, Sony’s AF tech is still leading the pack thanks to being first to market and having five years in the Mirrorless game. In the span of a year though, Canon’s done an admirable job improving their camera’s autofocus post-launch via firmware updates. Big lenses like the RF 85mm f1.2 L USM have razor-thin focal planes, and not having image stabilization in the lens or the camera means these firmware updated mitigate the challenge of maintaining focus. This makes the RF 85mm f1.2 L USM much more usable for portrait shooters. With Sony taking first place, Canon is now a close second, with Nikon trailing a bit further behind in third in autofocus performance.

 

Image Quality

The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is one of the best 85mm lenses I’ve ever used, and between reviewing cameras and lenses for The Phoblographer and photographing headshot clients, I’ve used a hell of a lot of lenses. Sure, it’s bulky and weighs a ton, but boy are the resulting images worth lugging the lens around. Portrait photographers will appreciate the f1.2 aperture–especially if you miss that from the old Canon EF lenses.

Bokeh

Look at that beautifully creamy bokeh! When shooting with the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM, the transition between in-focus and out-of-focus areas is smooth and gradual. Portrait photographers who prefer to shoot wide open will love how this helps isolate their subjects from the environment.

In shooting scenarios where point light sources happen to appear within your frame, do note that they will appear increasingly more olive-shaped as you move towards the periphery of the frame. If it’s perfectly round bokeh balls you’re after, you may want to wait for the upcoming Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM DS.

Chromatic Aberration

The Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics and Air Sphere Coating Canon has incorporated into this lens’ optical design does an excellent job at minimizing chromatic aberrations. During our time with the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM, we didn’t notice any signs of color fringing or significant distortions. The only instances where we noticed flares was when shooting directly into the sun like in the above image, which is to be expected.

Color Rendition

If you’re a card-carrying member of the Canon color science fan club, then you’ll be glad to know that the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM doesn’t disappoint one bit in terms of color rendition. This lens produces images with vibrant and accurate colors, and ooze micro contrast. For most people, shooting in auto white balance will be more than adequate. I personally prefer the added control that custom white balance offers and the results when shooting in daylight (5600K) or tungsten (3200K) white balance are equally impressive.

Sharpness

By virtue of being a f1.2 lens, the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM’s focal plane is razor-thin. The above image shows just how thin the focal plane is, with only a small portion of the bush being in focus. Despite the thin focal plane, in-focus areas are superbly sharp.

The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is undoubtedly a chunky lens and can feel somewhat front heavy when mounted to an EOS R. Its considerable heft makes it susceptible to camera shake. Despite the absence of image stabilization, the excellent Face/Eye AF in the EOS R made it possible to consistently nail focus on subjects’ eyes. This helps to create beautiful portraits where the subject’s eyes are perfectly in focus while other features pleasingly fall out of focus. Image stabilization would certainly be a welcomed addition, but this would make the lens even larger than it already is.

You get the most sharpness when you use a flash. However, we understand using an f1.2 with a flash could be a bit counter-intuitive for some folks. We can guarantee you that it isn’t due to how specular highlights render; it’s just physics. As you’ll see in the images below, the Canon EOS R and the RF 85mm f1.2 L USM are highly capable of rendering super sharp details in a scene. Specifically when it comes to portrait photography, you’ll get gorgeous details in addition to lots of lens character.

Additional Image Samples

Here are some additional images we shot using the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM paired with a Canon EOS R. Some of the sample images seen within this review have been color graded, converted to black and white, and/or cropped. As a matter of ethics, none of the sample images seen within this review have been retouched so that you can judge the quality of the images produced by the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM for yourself.

 

Conclusion

Likes

  • Bokeh
  • Robust build quality and weather-sealing
  • All the bokeh
  • Excellent image quality
  • Did we mention the bokeh?

Dislikes

  • Bulky and heavy, but that’s to be expected from an f1.2 lens
  • Could really benefit from stabilization

Although Canon’s RF Mount system is still in its infancy, the introduction of the RF 85mm f1.2 L USM adds a much-needed powerhouse lens to its growing RF lens portfolio. The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM produces truly beautiful bokeh, excellent sharpness, plenty of micro-contrast, and overall exceptional image quality. Its performance is quite snappy as well and it’s capable of focusing and tracking fast-moving subjects quickly and accurately. True to Canon’s heritage, this lens is built like a tank and features some of the best weather sealing we’ve seen. With the Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM, Canon has created another stellar lens in a widely popular focal length. Is it bulky? Sure. Heavy? Absolutely. But damn does this lens deliver some truly stunning results. In a way, this lens feels wasted on the EOS R and is yet to truly unleash all it’s capable of. I can’t wait to pair this lens with an RF Mount camera with higher resolving power and in-body image stabilization. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long before we see a higher-end RF mount camera. The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM is certainly not the lens for everyone, but for photographers out there who demand nothing but the very best in image quality and are willing to pay handsomely for it, this lens will not disappoint. Just be prepared for the arm workout that ensues.

The Canon RF 85mm f1.2 L USM earns Five out of Five Stars as well as our coveted Editor’s Choice Award. You can pick one up for yourself from Amazon.