The Canon 85mm f/1.8

hello there value lens… what is it that you do here…

 

Canon now has an 85mm lens for basically every niche.

 

There’s the very old and very expensive 85mm f/1.2L which is meant for portraiture.

There’s the very new and very expensive and very well-built 85mm f/1.4L. This 85mm is meant for general use.

And then there’s the 85mm f/1.8 which is what we’ll be talking about. The 85mm f/1.8 is older than Canon’s f/1.4 and has always been meant as a value general use option.

 

While I have used Canon’s 85mm f/1.8 on a full frame camera (Sony a7 II Sigma MC-11 adapter)… I find the images annoying and ugly and have better options lens wise.

 

So the majority of my experience, and what you’ll read below, is with the 85mm on an APS-C camera body (Rebel and 7D Mark II). This changes both image quality and the angle of view (85mm becomes ~ 135mm).

 

 

The Body of the 85mm f/1.8…

The literal build of the lens is mostly plastic…

  • Rim of metal around the outside of the front barrel
  • Plastic focus ring
  • Plastic barrel
  • Plastic casing around lens elements
  • Rear mount is metal

 

And no, I have no idea why Canon is marketing the small amount of metal around the front of the lens as adding “durability”. It’s there and I guess it feels nice but will do absolutely nothing if you smack the lens against something or drop it accidentally. I’m not even sure what the metal is… coated brass? Coated steel?? Weird feeling aluminum??? No idea and who cares.

 

The weight of the lens isn’t noticeable and the length also isn’t noticeable.

 

Ultimately the 85mm f/1.8 is meant to be cheaper and accessible for hobbyists and beginners so that means plastic to keep the price down and well… if you don’t like it… save up for the new 85mm f/1.4 which is built like you’d expect a high quality lens to be built.

 

I wouldn’t expect this lens to last forever and I’m not sure you should treat it gently. It may be one of the pieces of equipment you should be reckless with to get unique photos you wouldn’t normally get. I say that because it’s cheap which makes it easier to replace… and built well enough to take some rough treatment but not well enough that it’d be a shame to destroy an example of masterful craftsmanship…

 

Frankly that’s how I’ve been using it.
It’s my snow lens.
And it’s still alive somehow so I guess that tells you something about the overall build quality.

 

 

Chromatic Aberration (color fringing)…

Oh boy.

 

The color fringing.

 

The 85mm f/1.8 pretty much always has chromatic aberration, most often green, that is apparent even at f/5.6. The green chromatic aberration only gets worse as you can see in the image above… at f/2 the chromatic aberration is huge and gives a weird feeling to images (since objects are not the colors people assume they’d be).

 

And yes, chromatic aberration is reduced on full frame sensors but it’s still there and noticeable. Definitely less annoying though. I doubt any of you hobbyists out there with a full frame camera body will mind very much.

 

Make what you will of that.

 

 

Bokeh…

 

I find the bokeh made by the 85mm f/1.8 lens is pretty unattractive. It’s always grainy, and while the bokeh is round, it just doesn’t make a pleasing out of focus background.

 

The background colors also seem to be degraded in some manner, perhaps because of chromatic aberration, when compared against some of Canon’s more expensive lenses like the 135mm f/2 and the 200mm f/2.8.

 

Notice the difference? Both photos are shot at f/2.8 with a low ISO… the bokeh from the 200mm has more solid edges, more solid color, and has a less grainy appearance. It’s much more aesthetically pleasing and gives a kind of magical look to images.

 

But hey, you may actually like the 85mm’s bokeh. I have no idea what your preferences are… And if you have a limited budget the bokeh from the 85mm f/1.8 is more than acceptable. It’s probably one of your best options in the ‘value lens’ category.

 

 

Pricing!

Canon’s 85mm f/1.8 is normally sold for $350, retailers will occasionally try to get more at $370, and can be purchased used for the high $200s.

It is important to note that you must actively search retailers used departments for this lens… I get the strong impression that Canon has restricted them from listing used 85mm lenses next to new 85mm lenses. It could also be the retailers decision. Ultimately, it’s pretty profitable to sell such an old 85mm design for a price that has rarely gone lower.

 

 

Ultimately…

I kind of hate this lens.

 

The chromatic aberration irritates me greatly and the bokeh just isn’t what I enjoy. If you photograph animals or nature I can’t help but think the 85mm f/1.8 is not for you… unless you want a good lens that you wont feel bad about destroying.

 

If you photograph people, whose going to notice chromatic aberration when it’s just a person in a jungle of grey concrete slabs and glass? This lens is probably for you.

 

So ultimately, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is a very usable, very sharp (even on APS-C camera bodies), and well-built lens. Being priced at $350… this lens is a definite buy for anybody on a more limited budget.

 

All you need to be aware of is this lens has some chromatic aberration issues. That’s pretty much it.

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