Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Review

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens has been announced and production models are trickling in. I had the pleasure of spending an hour or so with one of these recently and have included that experience with the expectations shared below. More-controlled testing will happen as soon as we get sample lenses of our own.

Featuring the record-setting, review-time widest-ever aperture in an image stabilized lens, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens is the perfect portrait lens in many regards. The 85mm focal length allows for a very pleasing portrait perspective, pulling the viewer into the frame without distorting facial features. The ultra-wide aperture permits stopping action in low light and can create a very strong background blur, capable of separating a subject from an otherwise highly-distracting background. With a red ring around the end of the lens (indicating its premium L-series status), we can expect impressive image quality and with image stabilization, this lens promises sharp handheld results in even extreme low light conditions. Professional-grade build quality is there. With Ring USM AF, this lens should focus very accurately and focused quite fast – very considerably faster than the other current 85mm L lens option, the EF f/1.2L II – making it ideal for capturing images fast and for keeping up with fast-moving subjects.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens joins (does not replace) the 85mm f/1.2L II USM and the currently-25-year-old 85mm f/1.8 USM in the Canon EF lineup. Since Canon's most-recent 85mm lens, the f/1.2L II, was introduced over a decade ago, other lens manufacturers including Sigma, Tamron and Zeiss have introduced at least one wide-aperture 85mm lens. Many of these new models were impressive, especially in regards to their image quality, and at the end of the review of the most-recently-prior-introduced Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens review, I mentioned that not including image stabilization in this otherwise extraordinary model left the door open for competition. Canon went through that door.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens arrives to a very enthusiastic audience and many of us can/could not wait to get our hands on this lens. We have not been given an initial inventory estimate, but preordering immediately will assure you the earliest acquisition of this highly-promising lens.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Angled Right View

Focal Length

With a prime lens, you get one focal length. This means that prime lens focal length selection is much more critical than when choosing a zoom lens such as one of the 70-200mm options. What is the 85mm focal length good for? The standout use of the 85mm focal length is, as already hinted to, portrait photography.

The classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm (after FOVCF is factored in). An 85mm lens hits the bottom classic range figure on a full frame DSLR and, at a 136mm angle of view equivalent on an APS-C 1.6x body, it essentially remains in the ideal portrait range on this format also. An APS-C format DSLR of course requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full frame DSLR (and therefore will have more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture).

Move in as close as moderately-tightly framed head shots or move back as far as you care to. Without modifying this lens' minimum focus distance (such as via extension tubes), there will be no perspective problems caused by getting too close and being too far away is seldom a problem in that regard.

The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing (from full body to head shots) and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors and from individuals to large groups. Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 85mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with an 85mm-provided angle of view. I have done entire senior sessions with a wide aperture 85mm lens.

Helping to justify the acquisition cost of this lens is that portrait photography is one of the most-revenue-producing genres (you cannot buy stock photos of most people). I'll also argue that there are no subjects more important than people.

Here is a sample image borrowed from the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens review.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens Sample Picture

The young lady in the above image was standing just under a porch roof on a cloudy day, a great scenario for soft lighting. This example also shows what an 85mm f/1.4 head shot can look like.

Regardless of the camera format being used, the 85mm focal length (like most others), can be used for landscape photography, creating a slightly compressed view of the world around us. While most would not opt to carry a relatively-heavy 85mm f/1.4 along with the other landscape focal lengths needed on long hikes into the backcountry, those working closer to their residence or car may decide the image quality delivered by such a prime lens is highly-desirable. Using the 85mm focal length in conjunction with the wide aperture allows a close natural subject to be completely isolated from its background for an artistic flare.

Some sports, including basketball, can be ideally-captured with an 85mm lens and this lens can capture these events in even very poorly-lit venues (including most gymnasiums). This focal length also works very well for some architectural needs, products (medium through huge) are a great use for 85mm, commercial photographers often find needs for this focal length, 85mm general studio photography applications abound and a wide range of other subjects await the 85mm angle of view.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Front View

Max Aperture

With only a few exceptions, the f/1.4 max aperture made available by this lens is as wide as DSLR lenses get, with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens being the most relevant and obvious exception. The wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits freezing action, handholding the camera in lower light levels and/or use of a lower (less noisy) ISO setting.

Increasing the opening also permits a stronger, better subject-isolating background blur (at equivalent focal lengths). The shallow f/1.4 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you in these circumstances, but shallow depth of field is a highly-desired lens capability, excellent for making the subject pop from a blurred background. I can't get enough of the shallow DOF look that draws the viewer's attention to the subject by eliminating the background distractions. This capability adds artistic-style imaging to this 85mm lens' capabilities list.

F/1.4 enables the higher precision AF capabilities (most often the center AF point) in all cameras supporting this feature and presents a bright viewfinder image. This wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, under shade and when shooting indoors, including indoors using only ambient window light.

Note that, especially under full sun conditions, even a 1/8000 shutter speed will not likely be fast enough to avoid blown highlights in f/1.4 images. Use of a neutral density filter will be needed to keep images dark enough at f/1.4 under such conditions. Shooting with a narrower aperture of course remains an option.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Top View with Hood

Image Stabilization

As illuminated in the intro, this is a record-setting lens, being the first DSLR lens with an aperture wider than f/1.8 to have image stabilization. Some may be thinking that image stabilization is un-necessary in an f/1.4 lens, and while that may be true for some photographers, I disagree strongly.

A still portrait subject can be captured without motion blur at shutter speeds longer than most of us can handhold an 85mm lens without camera-shake affecting sharpness. And, many completely-motionless subjects are on this lens' to-do list (those found in a museum for example). Even when marginal or faster shutter speeds are in use, image stabilization provides a layer of insurance from camera movement occurring at the time of image capture. All of us have inadvertently moved the camera just as the image is being captured and especially those capturing un-repeatable moments will appreciate image stabilization covering their back in this regard.

Another image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked is the aid in AF precision. The camera's AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject that is in motion and at action-stopping shutter speeds. AF precision is especially critical with the 85mm f/1.4 combination producing a potentially very shallow depth of field.

I find image stabilization to be especially helpful while carefully composing a handheld image, making it easier to precisely frame the subject I am capturing.

Yes, a tripod can be used to hold the camera steady (even steadier than the IS benefit), and I use tripods a significant amount. However, I very infrequently use tripods when photographing people. I can move into position much faster when handholding, not testing the limits of my subject's endurance (fresh subjects look best) and capturing a larger volume and variety of images in a far shorter period of time.

The 85 f/1.4L's image stabilization system is rated to 4 stops and my expectation was to see that much benefit in my own images. While photographing indoors on a thickly-padded floor (I usually test on concrete), all EOS 5Ds images were sharp at 1/10th sec. exposures and practically all were sharp at 1/8th sec. At 1/5 and 1/4 second, most images were sharp, those some blurred results were slipping into the mix. At .3 sec., results became mixed with enough sharp images that I wouldn't hesitate to try this exposure duration if I had no other choice or had the option of taking a lot of attempts at the photo (shoot a higher ISO set for insurance, then drop the ISO and attempt a lower noise, longer exposure to better what was already captured).

For me, there results indicate about 4 stops of assistance. When the subject permits (it is motionless), being able to use a 4-stop-lower ISO setting makes a huge difference in image quality. Think ISO 800 instead of ISO 12800.

This IS implementation has low audibility, I noticed very little or no viewfinder shift, there was no jumping or other unsteadiness even when recomposing and little or no drifting of the scene while IS is operating with a still camera (though I want to affirm this feature under ideal test conditions). Those capturing video handheld, including when using a support rig, will be highly advantaged by this IS implementation.

With the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture combined with a high-performing image stabilization system, this lens is ready for the darkest venues you encounter.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Angle View

Image Quality

We have seen Sigma and Zeiss introducing some impressive 85mm image quality, noticeably surpassing the Canon 85 f/1.2L II in this regard, and I would be surprised if Canon does not at least equal those offerings. If Canon's last-prior-introduced L-Series prime lens, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens, provides any expectations for what the next one will deliver, we have reason to start drooling now.

While the relatively low price of this lens initially paused my excitement regarding its image quality potential, the MTF chart cleared that psychological issue up.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens MTF Chart Comparison

Canon describes the thick lines as showing contrast (10 lp/mm) measurements and the thin lines as showing resolution (30 lp/mm) measurements. The solid lines show sagittal (lines radiating from center to the image circle periphery) results while the dashed lines show meridional (lines perpendicular to the sagittal lines) results. The black lines indicate a wide open aperture while the blue lines show results at f/8. The left side of the chart shows center-of-the-image-circle measurement and the right side shows peripheral measurement. The higher the lines, the better the lens performs. When all of the lines get crushed into the top of the chart, the lens promises to be amazing.

In the f/1.4L IS vs. f/1.2L II lens comparison, we find the newer f/1.4L IS showing significantly higher lines on the chart at the wide open aperture measurements, though it must be considered that the f/1.2 lens is being measured at the slightly wider f/1.2 aperture vs. f/1.4. I think we will find the f/1.4 vs. f/1.4 results to show a similar difference as the f/1.2 does not get much sharper at f/1.4. Stopped down to f/8, the f/1.2 appears to hold a slight advantage. I'm guessing that few are going to care about the latter difference and that the first difference is going to draw a LOT of attention.

The f/1.4L IS lens should be noticeably sharper at f/1.4 than the f/1.8 is at f/1.8. Stop down to f/8 and the f/1.8 option appears to hold a slight edge.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS Lens vs. Sigma f/1.4 Art Lens comparison is the one I was most anxious to see. The Sigma is an impressive performer and my favorite 85mm prime coming into the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS Lens review. Note that Sigma does not include f/8 results in their charts, reporting only wide open aperture results, or f/1.4 results in this case. The 30 lp/mm measurements are in green and 10 lp/mm results are in red, so in this case we are comparing the lines in the Sigma chart to the black lines in the Canon chart. Compare the green Sigma line to the thin black Canon line and the red Sigma line to the thick black Canon line. Note that Sigma presents separate contrast and resolution charts, but they are nearly identical. While the Canon lens is a strong performer, I don't see it surpassing the Sigma in the chart competition. I look forward seeing to the lab test results comparison between these two lenses.

How sharp is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS Lens? In handheld, indoor testing, the results from this lens appear encouraging. Following are of center-of-the frame 100% crops from images captured with an EOS 5Ds. The RAW files were processed using DPP and the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "2". Note that I usually use a setting of "1" when presenting results from the sharper 5Ds R, but felt that a "2" would produce more-equivalent results from the 5Ds.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

Though handheld, the shutter speed for the architecture was 1/1250 at f/1.4, so the results should be about as good as the lens can produce (the two additional f/1.4 samples were captured at 1/80). Sorry for the camera tilt change, but I didn't want rotation correction to influence the results in any way. Look deep into this scene to find the center of the depth of field for maximum sharpness assessment – the closest structural elements are not totally in focus.

What I see is excellent resolution at f/1.4, with fine details being captured. Sharpness, notably contrast, improves at f/2 and again at f/2.8 where this lens is delivering especially-impressive image quality. I'm looking forward to producing a better-controlled comparison when I get my own copies of this lens, but these samples give us a glimpse of what we can expect. I am not seeing an issue with focus shift when stopping down.

I do not (yet) have sample images that I am confident are ideally corner-focused, so I'm going to wait before sharing an assessment on this image quality attribute. Certain is that even f/1.4 corners are not falling apart.

Certain is that a wide aperture full frame lens is going to show peripheral shading when used on a full frame body and this one has that feature. The amount does not appear to be strong. For a rough gauge: in one sample image, a 1.3-stop brightness adjustment (in DPP) brought the corner brightness up to the brightness of the center prior to the adjustment.

Something lacking in this lens is ... lateral CA (Chromatic Aberration). That's a positive feature. The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Prime lenses often have low amount of lateral CA and this is one of them.

The 100% 5Ds R crop shared below is from extreme top-left corner of an f/8 frame.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

There should be only black and white colors in this image and only a hint of other, lateral CA-indicating colors is present.

A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures. It is especially common to find these issues in ultra-wide aperture lenses and you will surely notice the foreground and background color fringing in the comparison presented below.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

The effect is somewhat strong at wider apertures and diminishes significantly as the aperture narrows. In the geometric distortion category, this lens is a strong performer. While I see a very slight amount of pincushion distortion, the amount, as seen in thefull top-of-the-frame width crop below, is only slight.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Distortion

While geometric distortion can be corrected, the process is destructive and it is far better to have one that performs well. This lens will keep straight lines straight and level framing is easier to achieve without straight lines being turned into curves.

This lens has a background-eraser feature. A certainty is that an 85mm f/1.4 lens can create a very strong background blur and this one handles that job quite well. I'll add samples illustrating that bokeh soon.

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens gets an additional diaphragm blade over its siblings, with the count going from 8 to 9. The extra blade (and rounded aperture design) helps to produce more-rounded out-of-focus specular highlights at narrow apertures and with blade count becoming an odd (vs even) number, point light sources captured at narrow apertures and showing star-like effects will have twice as many points as the blade count (18 in this case). Wide aperture lenses often show a strong propensity toward creating these stars and this lens does that very nicely.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Starburst Effect Example

"The EF 85mm utilizes one large diameter, high-precision molded glass aspherical lens and features an ASC coating." Air-Sphere Coating (ASC) ... "is a new technology that provides amazingly high, anti-reflective performance, particularly when alleviating incidental light that can enter a lens." "The surface of the lens even features a smudge-resistant fluorine coating that repels water and oil and can easily be cleaned with a dry cloth." [quotes from Canon]

The bottom line is that my expecations appear to have been in line with what this lens is delivering. We will have better clarification when we can run a couple of copies through the lab, but it appears that this lens is going to be a good performer.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Front View on Camera

Focusing

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens gets a highly-desirable Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor) driven AF implementation. Those familiar with the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II are of course listening very intently at this point. While that lens also has Ring USM-driven AF, it is not the fastest-focusing lens around (and I'm being very kind here), in part due to the large, heavy front group of lens elements being moved. With a rearward-positioned focusing group design, the f/1.4L IS has smaller lens elements being moved and they can be moved faster.

How fast does the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens focus? In this case, Ring USM provides fast focusing. Let me clarify that statement. I used the f/1.2L II and f/1.4L IS side-by-side and the difference in focus speed is very dramatic. It is the turtle vs. the rabbit. There is no contest.

I also used the incredibly-fast-focusing Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens side-by-side and the 85 f/1.4L IS does not win this contest. The difference is not nearly as close as the prior contest I shared, but the 24-70 L II has an edge, focusing nearly instantly with even distant focus distance changes. The 85 f/1.4L IS falls in behind this lens in AF speed performance, but most will be quite satisfied with its focus speed performance.

So, expect a fast AF speed ready for tracking your in-action subjects. Focus audibility is very low and will not annoy your quiet-venue subjects.

Many of us rely on AF for most of our 85mm photography needs and that means AF accuracy is crucial for realizing the image quality a lens is capable of, especially with the shallow depth of field an 85mm and f/1.4 combination is capable of. While I want to do the standard tripod-based AF testing before making a performance determination for this lens, but nothing I saw concerns me at this point. Focus accuracy should be what we have come to expect from Canon's best lenses: spot on.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported and, unlike the f/1.2L II, this lens focuses internally.

The 85 f/1.2L II is somewhat unique within the Canon lineup in that it has electronic manual focusing. That is not my favorite design and that the focus ring turns far too easily is another f/1.2L II feature I dislike.

Current lens design technology is such that we would expect the f/1.4L IS manual focusing ring to be ideally designed and it is. The f/1.4L IS features a Canon-conventional manual focusing system similar to most of Canon's other L-Series lenses. This ring is very nicely-sized and positioned. It is easy to find and there is enough room to comfortably hold the lens behind the focus ring, avoiding inadvertent changes being made to the distance setting. The focus ring is very smooth with no play, has an ideal rotational resistance with ideal dampening and it adjusts focus at a nicely-balanced rate while sufficient for precise manual focusing even at close focus distances.

Subjects change size very significantly with focus change, appearing much larger at shorter focus distances. While this attribute is not unusual, photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques involving focus distance adjustment, videographers pulling focus and anyone very-critically framing a scene should be aware.

As is commonly provided on a lens of this class, focus distances in both ft. and m are provided in a window on the front of the lens. While I don't often use this scale to set my focus distance, I am surprised at how often I reference it and often find myself wanting one when using a lens that omits this feature. A depth of field scale is also provided, but only marks for f/11 and f/22 are provided (mostly due to lack of space for the others to fit within).

At its minimum focus distance of 33.5" (850mm), the 85 f/1.4L turns in a maximum magnification of 0.12x. That number is right on par for its class and relatively low in the overall lens field.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens37.4"(950mm)0.11x
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.12x
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.13x
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens33.5"(850mm)0.12x
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens39.4"(1000mm) 
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens33.5"(850mm)0.12x
Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens31.5"(800mm)0.14x
Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens31.5"(800mm)0.13x
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens31.5"(800mm)0.12x

A 0.12x maximum magnification is sufficient for head shots while not permitting you to get so close that distorted facial features begin to appear. It is also adequate for photos of moderately-sized products and similar, but 0.12x may leave you wanting to get slightly closer at times.

I am constantly photographing cameras and lenses, so I usually select another subject for showing the maximum magnification capability of a lens. But, in this case, a camera and lens were the right option.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Maximum Magnification Examples

That is as close as this lens will natively focus, but closer focusing can be made available. To reduce the minimum focus distance and thereby increase the maximum magnification, mount an extension tube behind this lens. Extension tubes are basically as their name implies, hollow tubes (with electronic connections) that shift a lens farther from the camera. Infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an extension tube in use, but when working close, infinity focus is generally not needed. With a 12mm Extension Tube mounted, this lens' maximum magnification range is 0.26-0.15x and with a 25mm Extension Tube, the range becomes 0.43-0.33x.

Another option for improving this lens' close-focusing abilities is the Canon 500D Closeup Lens. This filter-thread-attached lens extends the 85's maximum magnification to 0.30x.

This lens is physically not compatible with Canon extenders, so those are not an option.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Top Angle View

Build Quality & Features

It is a member of Canon's premier L Series and that immediately raises the expectations bar very high in several regards including build quality. This lens is built for heavy professional use with tight tolerances, even including the tight dimensions between the focus ring and the lens barrel.

Canon USA described the design of the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens to most-closely resemble that of the last-released L-Series prime, the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens. And, that description appears right, especially when looking at the product images. To the 35 L II, add .3" (8.2mm) to the diameter and 6.7 oz (190g) to get the 85 L IS. These lenses have a relatively constant exterior diameter and a great-looking, durable matte-black finish that does not show fingerprints and cleans easily.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Product Images

MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

The outer lens barrel is constructed of engineering plastic with conventional metals used internally for strength. Aside from the focus ring, the AF/MF and IS switches are the only externally-moving parts. These switches are conveniently-located and flush-mounted on a slightly-raised switch bank.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Mount

Another reason to choose the f/1.4L IS over the f/1.2L II is weather sealing. While studio portrait photography needs (usually) do not require weather sealing, a light rain has interrupted more outdoor sessions than I care to think about. This lens is better able to survive a spilled drink, mist from a waterfall, etc. than the prior option.

As seen in the table below, the 85 f/1.4L is about 7% lighter, slightly narrower and modestly longer than the 85 f/1.2L II.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens26.8 oz(760g)3.2 x 4.2"(80.4 x 105.5mm)72mm2015
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens36.2 oz(1025g)3.6 x 3.3"(91.5 x 84.0mm)72mm2006
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.5 x 4.2"(88.6 × 105.4mm)77mm2017
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens15.0 oz(425g)3.0 x 2.8"(75.0 x 72.0mm)58mm1992
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens23.3 oz(660g)3.4 x 3.3"(86.2 x 84.0mm)77mm2010
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens18.2 oz(516g)3.1 x 3.1"(78.0 x 78.0mm)72mm2011
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens39.9 oz(1130g)3.7 x 5.0"(94.7 x 126.2mm)86mm2016
Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens24.7 oz(700g)3.3 x 3.6"(84.8 x 91.3mm)67mm2016
Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens42.4 oz(1200g)4.0 x 4.9"(101.0 x 124.0mm)86mm2014
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens45.2 oz(1280g)3.5 x 4.4"(90.0 x 113.0mm)77mm2015

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

The size and weight of this lens are such that you are going to know that something is in your hand. However, the weight is not going to be a burden even when photographing for longer periods of time and the size/weight combination is going to be comfortable to use and aiding in stability.

Here is a visual comparison of a set of the above lenses.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens
Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens to other lenses.

The 77mm filter thread size is relatively large and highly common. The size means quality filters are not cheap, but the common-ness means they are easy to find and often shareable with other Canon L-Series and similar lenses.

Canon ET-83E Lens Hood

Canon includes lens hoods with all of their L-Series lenses and the ET-83E Lens Hood comes with this one. This one, like that of the EF 85mm lenses before it, is a rounded design (not petaled) with a smooth end suitable for resting the lens on (using discernment for such practice of course). With a push-button catch design, this hood is very easy to install and remove. Unusual is that the interior is molded-ribbed plastic instead of Canon's usual flocking material.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Case

Canon always includes a leather-like lens pouch with similar lenses and once again the LP1219 Soft Lens Case is included with this one. The bottom of this pouch is nicely padded, but the sides are better-suited for protection from dust and scratches.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Cap

Price and Value

The price of this lens was TBD at the time of the Canon pre-announcement conference call, but my expectation was that an image stabilized 85mm f/1.4 L-Series was going to be very high. While the announced price is substantial, it is about a 4-figure number lower than my expectation. The 85 f/1.2L has a modestly-wider aperture, but no IS and a noticeably higher price. So, in my eyes, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens appears to be a bargain.

As an "EF" lens, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens is compatible with all Canon "EOS" cameras (the EOS "M" line requires an adapter). Standard is for Canon lenses to come with a 1-year limited warranty.

The lens used for this initial evaluation was Canon USA-owned, but the additional review copies will be obtained online/retail.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS vs. f/1.2L II Lens Comparison

Alternatives to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens

The first lens I expect many to compare the 85 f/1.4L IS to is the stablemate Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens. This lens has long been a favorite of wedding, portrait and event photographers, but expect large numbers of these owners to trade the small (1/3 stop) aperture difference for image stabilization. My expectation is that the f/1.4L IS will have considerably better wide aperture image quality and that difference will be at least as substantial of a deciding factor between these lenses.

All will prefer its lower price and most will prefer the f/1.4L's AF system over the f/1.2L II's variant that includes electronic manual focusing, a too-easy-to-turn focus ring and a front element that extends as the focus distance becomes shorter. The f/1.2L II is shorter, but it is slightly wider and heavier. The f/1.4L has 14/10 lens elements/groups vs. 8/7 in the f/1.2L II, has 9 aperture blades vs. 8 and uses 77mm filters vs. 72mm. The f/1.4L's 0.12x maximum magnification seems only slightly better than the f/1.2L II's 0.11x, but that nearly 10% difference will be noticeable, especially with tight head shots.

Most major lens manufacturers offer at least one ultra-wide aperture 85mm lens, showing the popularity of this focal length combined with a wide aperture. That means there are many lenses the 85 f/1.4L IS Lens can be compared to. Until the Canon 85 f/1.4L IS hits the streets, my favorite 85mm prime is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. The Sigma f/1.4 Art Lens is a very impressive model, but as I mentioned early in the review, they left the door open slightly by omitting image stabilization. The Sigma is slightly heavier than the Canon and is dimensionally larger (3.5 x 425 vs. 3.73 x 4.97" / 88.6 x 105.4 vs. 94.7 x 126.2mm) The Canon uses 77mm filters while the Sigma uses 86mm. The Sigma's lack of image stabilization is a big Canon advantage while a higher price is a big Canon disadvantage. Canon AF performance is typically an advantage.

The previous 85mm image stabilized lens with the widest aperture was the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens. As the product name makes obvious, the Tamron has a 2/3-stop narrower max aperture. With smaller lens elements required, the Tamron weighs substantially less (24.7 vs. 33.5 oz / 700 vs. 950g) and is dimensionally smaller (3.3 x 3.6 vs. 3.5 x 4.2" / 84.8 x 91.3mm vs. 88.6 x 105.4mm). The Tamron has a higher maximum magnification, going to 0.14x vs. 0.12x. That the Tamron costs about 50% as much as the Canon is going to garner attention. Canon's AF systems are generally better performing.

If a manual focus-only lens can meet your needs, the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens and Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens are high-performing options. I expect the Zeiss lenses to provide significantly more focus ring rotation to cover the similar focus range and with fixed infinity and minimum focus distance stops, focus settings are easily repeatable with the Zeiss lenses. While the Canon and Zeiss Milvus share the 77mm filter size, the Otus steps up to the 86mm filter size and also bumps up the maximum magnification by 0.01x. The Otus is substantially larger and heavier while the Milvus is more dimensionally-aligned with the Canon but still noticeably heavier. Similarly, the Otus costs nearly 3x as much as the Canon while the Milvus is priced only modestly higher. The Zeiss lenses lack image stabilization.

Those not needing auto focus and on a very tight budget have the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens to consider. The Samyang comes in lower in many regards, including size, weight, filter size (72mm), build quality (including no weather sealing) and, of course, price. Look for a significant difference in image quality at wide apertures.

There are many zoom lenses that cover the 85mm focal length and, by definition, these lenses have the versatility advantage of covering a wide range of focal lengths, potentially replacing numerous prime lenses in the bag. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens, one of my favorite lenses, will be the most likely alternative to anyone considering the purchase of the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS Lens. The 85's f/1.4 aperture is a huge 2 stops brighter (4x more light transmission) than the 70-200's f/2.8 max aperture. Physically, the prime is considerably lighter (33.5 vs. 52.6 oz / 950 vs. 1490g) and while these two lenses have a similar diameter, the prime is much shorter (4.2 vs. 7.8", 105.4 vs 199.0mm)

With a lenses/groups count of 14/10, the prime lens should show flare effects less readily than the zoom with its 23/19 count. With its 9-blade aperture and that aperture closing more significantly to reach narrow options, the prime lens should create stronger star effects from point light sources and those stars will have 18 points instead of the 8-point stars created by the zoom's 8-blade aperture. If maximum magnification is important, the zoom is the easy winner in this competition, posting a 0.21x spec that is far greater than the prime's 0.12x number. While these two lenses both cover the 85mm focal length, they are different enough that many serious amateurs and professionals will have both lenses in their kits.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Top Angle View

Summary

While it will find use for many purposes (we may go looking for opportunities to use this lens), the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens appears to be one of the best portrait lenses ever built. The 85mm short telephoto focal length is ideal for this use and the ultra-wide aperture combined with image stabilization permits those portraits to be captured handheld even in extreme low light situations. The fast Ring USM AF implementation should ensure that the shallow plane of sharp focus lands where you direct it and the shallow depth of field will diffusely blur an even highly distracting background, making the subject stand out. The red ring indicating L-Series membership assures us that professional-grade build quality is included and that the image quality of this lens should be stellar.

Finally, you can have your extreme wide aperture and image stabilization in the same 85mm lens – no longer does a choice need to be made between the two. The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens arrives to an enthusiastic audience and many of us cannot wait to get our hands on this lens. As I said earlier, we have not been given an initial inventory estimate, but preordering immediately will assure you the earliest acquisition of this highly-promising lens.

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My Recommended Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my own purchases. Get your Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens now from:

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the Canon Store (new)
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