Budget Portrait Magic: Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Review

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At the initial launch, the Canon RF mount had few budget-friendly options, but the Mirrorless lens line-up is quickly catching up. The Canon RF 85mm f2 Macro IS STM is one of those lenses. An ideal focal length for portraiture, Canon also tossed in .5x macro capabilities — the lens isn’t a one genre shooter. Priced at $600, the lens is easily the more accessible option than the $3,000 RF 85mm f1.2 L USM DS.

Budget lenses are hit or miss, however. Did Canon find the ideal blend between price, image quality, and performance? Or is the 85mm f2 a miss? Thanks to excellent image quality and an affordable price, the 85mm f2 Macro IS STM is the lens most photographers shooting with the R6 and kit lens should pick up next.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent bokeh and color
  • Stabilized
  • Lightweight
  • .5x Macro capabilities
  • Affordable at $699

Cons

  • No lens hood included
  • No weather sealing
  • No focal distance

Gear Used

I tested the Canon RF 85mm f2 Macro IS STM lens on the Canon EOS R6.

Tech Specs

Straight from the Canon U.S.A. website, here’s what the lens has to offer on paper:

  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture: 85mm, f2
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 1.14 ft / 0.35m
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.5x
  • Lens Construction: 12 elements in 11 groups
  • Special Elements: One UD lens
  • Filter Size Diameter: 67mm
  • Aperture Blades: 9
  • Dimensions: Approx. 3.07 in x 3.56 in. / 78mm x 90.5mm
  • Weight: Approx. 1.10 lbs. / 500g

Ergonomics

Adapting a modern, minimalist look, the Canon RF 85mm f2 Macro IS STM has almost nothing protruding from the lens’s barrel shape. Three small controls sit towards the mount near flush with the lens. The first is the AF limiter, switching from macro to full autofocus modes. That’s followed by two controls to switch the autofocus and stabilization on and off.

Wrapping around the middle of the lens, the focus ring turns smooth and slow. There’s no autofocus override, so turning the barrel does nothing if the lens’ switch is still switched to autofocus.

Closer to the front of the lens is the custom control ring. Unlike the focus ring, there’s a click with each small turn. That makes the adjustments tactile, so you can focus more on the subject and less on watching the settings change on the screen. (Canon says this de-click can be removed for a fee when sent to a service center if you want smooth aperture adjustments for video.) 

The focus ring has a slightly different texture than the custom control ring. That subtle difference simplifies the task of making adjustments without pulling the viewfinder from your face.

The lens lacks a focusing scale on the lens itself, like Canon’s other minimalist RF lens design, but one pops up in the viewfinder once in manual focus mode. Accessing the focus scale on the top of the lens is more convenient for detail work and tripod use. I most often use a focus scale for astrophotography, but since the 85mm isn’t made for that genre, the lacking feature won’t be a deal-breaker for most.

Build Quality

Weighing just over a pound, the lens is relatively lightweight. The 85mm will take up about a 3.5-inch slot in the camera bag. That’s small enough to remain mounted on the camera in many bags. As a budget-friendly lens, however, it is not weather-sealed: unsurprising considering the price of the lens. The 85mm lens has the same plastic-like feel as the R6 body. It doesn’t feel quite as nice as the high end, weather-sealed lenses, but the design likely contributes to the lighter weight.

Autofocus

Cropping and exposure adjustments applied

As a macro lens, the Canon 85mm f2 Macro IS STM has a wider focusing range than most. Focusing on an object at the closest possible point, then focusing on a distant object will understandably take a little more time than with a lens with a smaller range. The focusing speed can be improved using the limiter switch and selecting between .5m and infinity or .35m to .5m, rather than leaving the switch for the full range.

The performance difference compared to other RF lenses is minimal. I didn’t notice it until using the lens for more active subjects. For portraits, paired with Canon’s eye AF, autofocus was seamless. Portraits of active pets had a higher miss rate.

The macro lens can focus as close as 1.14 feet from the front of the lens. Paired with the longer focal length, that’s good for a .5x macro. While not a true 1:1 macro, the lens can still capture some excellent detail and texture suitable for smaller subjects.

Ease of Use

The lens’ minimalist design makes it a breeze to use. The option to leave the lens in the full AF range makes it as simple to use as point, autofocus, and shoot. Learning to use the limiter switch will help speed up the autofocus a bit, but there’s no reason a beginner wouldn’t be able to use this lens.

Longer focal lengths are tougher to handhold — traditionally, 85mm lenses are best kept above 1/80. But, with stabilization built into the lens and the camera body, I was able to shoot sharp photos down to one second. Mixed with a Full-Frame sensor and a good f2 aperture, the lens will do well in limited lighting. Even the $3,000 RF 85mm, which is also heavier, doesn’t have stabilization.

Image Quality

I was impressed with the images coming from the Canon 85mm f2 Macro IS STM for a budget-friendly lens. Bokeh is excellent, and the colors are spectacular.

Bokeh

While the f2, of course, won’t get the same backgrounds as Canon’s f1.2 lens for the RF mount, considering the lens’s price, the blur is fantastic. Backgrounds are softly blurred into oblivion. Even stepping the lens down for a sharper subject, the focal length and Full-Frame mount mix for excellent soft backgrounds.

Bokeh is circular, thanks to the nine-blade aperture. Without distracting hard edges, the bokeh adds to the image rather than subtracts from it.

Sharpness

Cropped to show detail

The 85mm delivers exactly the sharpness that I was expecting for the price point and RF mount. When perfectly focused, the center is nice and sharp, even at f2. While I had better luck getting a tack sharp shot stepping down a bit, with careful focusing, the lens can be shot wide open. Mixed with the macro capabilities, I was able to grab some excellent detail and texture with this lens. Sharpness does fall off a bit towards the edges, however. Shooting wide open, you’ll want to use the Rule of Thirds and keep important details away from the edges.

Chromatic Aberration

I didn’t spot any purple fringing in my sample shots. However, I did pick up a little green tint to some thinner, out-of-focus lines that were backlit when looking closely. However, I had to zoom in past 100 percent to really even pick up on the aberration, and so aberration is a non-issue.

You’ll get some lens flare right out of the box. You might need to go buy that lens hood for sure!

Color Rendering

Minor exposure adjustments applied

Shooting into the sun, lens flares reduce contrast and saturation, adding hazy green and purple splotches. While some flare is expected, the flare coming from this lens isn’t the artistic circular spots. Unfortunately, there’s no lens hood included in the box to fight that flare, and buying one will cost $60 for Canon’s hood.

Outside of flare, colors are excellent. With the lens mounted to the R6, the colors felt true to the scene — rich, without being overdone.

Extra Canon RF 85mm f2 Macro IS USM Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Image quality is great for the price point
  • Stabilization is excellent
  • Close-up capabilities add versatility
  • Affordable lens that still delivers solid images

Dislikes

  • $60 to add a lens hood
  • Lacks weather sealing and a focus scale

The Canon RF 85mm f2 Macro IS USM isn’t perfect, but for $600, it’s close enough. The f2 aperture, full-frame mount, longer focal length, and macro capabilities make distractions melt into the background. Images are sharp at the center, and the colors are excellent. Stabilization makes it possible to shoot the longer focal length at slower shutter speeds handheld.

Annoyingly, the $600 lens requires another $60 to get a lens hood — and if you are shooting backlit images, you’ll want to avoid the blotchy flare. It’s also missing the focus scale; beginner photographers won’t miss it, but some detailed macro photographers might. As a budget lens, it’s also not meant for shooting in rain or dust.

If you regularly shoot photos of people or small objects with a kit lens, then the Canon RF 85m f2 Macro IS USM should be your next lens. It’s an excellent step up in image quality for both beginners and enthusiasts. And, as both a macro and portrait-friendly prime, it will get a lot of use. If you can only have two lenses and shoot people more than places, the 85mm f2 is an excellent buy.

The Canon RF 85mm f2 Macro IS USM earns Four out of Five Stars. You can get one for $699

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