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REVIEW: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens

CANON EF 85MM F/1.4 IS USM: A compact, dust- and moisture-resistant portrait lens with up to four stops of integrated image stabilisation plus multiple coatings. Although relatively large and quite pricey, this lens represents very good value for owners of ‘full frame’ DSLR cameras, particularly the various professional EOS-1D models. It’s difficult to find fault with the build quality, handling and overall performance of this lens. We also found it a lot of fun to use!
RRP: $2299

Designed for Canon’s ‘full frame’ cameras, the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens is the first in its category with integrated image stabilisation and features a sophisticated optical design. One glass moulded aspherical element controls axial chromatic aberration, spherical aberration and curvature of field, while Air Sphere Coating (ASC) provides protection against ghosting and flare. Fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements make it easy to keep the surfaces clean. Autofocusing is driven by a small ultrasonic motor (USM) which is fast, precise and near-silent. Full-time manual focus over-ride (FTM) is supported. This lens accepts 77mm diameter filters and the filter holder is shaped to retract on impact. A damper distributes the shock evenly when anything collides with the tip of the lens.

Made mainly from polycarbonate to minimise weight, this lens has a metal mounting plate and inner barrel plus a smart matte-black finish that resists finger marks. Build quality is difficult to fault. This lens includes a distance scale plus slider switches that turn autofocus and stabilisation on and off. It is supplied with the usual front and rear lens caps, a cylindrical lens hood and a soft carrying pouch.

The review sample performed very well in our Imatest tests, with the highest resolution occurring at f3.2. However, resolution remained high from f1.8 through to about f5.6 where central resolution began to decline, although edge resolution remained relatively steady. Lateral chromatic aberrations were effectively negligible across the aperture range. Rectilinear distortion was limited to very slight pincushioning but obvious vignetting was found at f1.4, although it disappeared between f2.5 and f2.8. Bokeh was generally attractive, although slight outlining could be seen occasionally around background highlights.

This diagram shows the positions of the key elements in the lens design, including the focusing and stabilising groups and the iris diaphragm.

Purchasing points:
1. With a weight of 950 grams and an overall length of 105.4mm, this lens is best used with Canon’s ‘full frame’ cameras. (There are better choices for cropped-sensor cameras).
2. Robustly constructed and weather-resistant, it is ideal for location shooting and can withstand light rain, moisture and dust.
3. Focusing is internal and driven by a ring-type ultrasonic focus motor, which is fast, quiet and precise, making this lens equally suitable for shooting stills of video clips.
4. The minimum focus of 85cm provides a good working distance for close-up portraits plus a magnification of 0.12 times life size.
5. The built-in stabiliser provides providing up to four stops of shake correction and works with both auto and manual focusing. When switched on, it engages when the shutter button is half-pressed.
6. Nine rounded iris diaphragm blades produce smooth and attractive bokeh at wide apertures. Bokeh is smooth when backgrounds are evenly-lit but bright background highlights are often outlined.
7. The fast f1.4 maximum aperture requires careful focusing since depth of field can be paper-thin with this lens.
8. The 85mm focal length imparts a slightly flatter perspective than a standard lens, giving protruding parts of a face, such as noses, ears and chins, a more attractive, natural-looking appearance.

Distributor: Canon Australia; 1800 021 167;
– Margaret Brown

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM has been awarded an Editor’s Choice award in Margaret’s more extensive review on the Photo Review website.


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