Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 USM L - Review / Test Report
Lens Reviews - Canon EOS (APS-C)

Review by Klaus Schroiff, published July 2005

Special thanks to Markus Stamm for providing this lens!


Sometimes you recognize that you've missed something just at the time you experience it. And the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 USM L is one of those lenses where your brain switched off anyway due to the combination of frightening pricing and insanely large aperture. Apropos large aperture - it looks like this ...

On paper the EF 85mm f/1.2 USM L is usually described as a portrait lens though this scope is certainly much wider. Using an APS-C DSLR the field-of-view resembles a 136mm lens in full-format terms.

If you ever wondered when to use extreme shutter speeds this question will not arise with this lens. On a normal day it is often impossible to use the f/1.2 setting simply because there's too much light and your camera just can't provide a shutter speed fast enough for this. During the field tests I often ran into the 1/4000sec limit (@ ISO 100) of the camera. So if you intend to use this lens at large aperture settings in daylight consider to invest into a gray filter ...

The lens features a first generation USM AF drive with a front group linear extension system - therefore the length of the lenses changes slightly during focusing. A specialty of this lens shared with some other early EOS lenses is the manual focusing by wire. The focus gear isn't directly coupled to the focus ring - all the action is done by the USM drive here. Usually you'll not even recognize this but full-time manual focusing is not possible with this lens. The quality of the construction is very high. I'm not sure whether the outer barrel is made of plastic or metal but this is tough stuff. On top of that the lens has some rubberized portions similar to a good quality camera grip - something that I haven't experienced with other lenses so far. The supplied, barrel-shaped hood (clip-on type) is very deep and should be quite efficient.

AF speed feels quite fast but a little nervous with this lens. Regarding the shallow depth-of-field of a f/1.2 lens this isn't really surprising here. At large apertures it is extremely tough to hit the exact mark that you want to have in focus. The minimal focus distance is 0.95m resulting in a max. magnification of 0.11x or ~1:9.

The optical construction is made of 8 elements in 7 groups with one aspherical lens element and two high-refraction elements. This is certainly needed in order to keep the aberrations at wider apertures under control. On top of that the lens features a floating system to correct coma and for improved close focus performance.

Regarding the gigantic size of the lens elements a weight of 1025g can't be avoided. However, with a dimension of 91x84mm it may be a little fat but it isn't really a large lens. The filter size is 72mm and there're 8 aperture blades.

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