The lens most worthy of being designated the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens's predecessor, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens, remains an extremely popular model at review time — despite being 28 years old. With a focal length and relatively wide aperture combination ideally suited for our most important subjects, people, this ancient lens's usefulness was a key to its long-sustained popularity. The small size, light weight, and low price were additional important popularity factors.
Setting the stage for success, the RF 85 has all of the just-mentioned key features. With nearly three decades of technological advancements, including the RF Mount behind it, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens takes us to a significantly higher level of performance with the improved image quality being especially notable. The 5-stop hybrid-capable image stabilization system alone is worth the upgrade cost, with the macro capabilities (0.50x vs. 0.13x) extending this lens's advantages.
Those wanting the portrait- and product-favorite 85mm focal length in a compact, lightweight, high-performing, affordable lens for their Canon EOS R-series cameras need to look no further.
How popular is the 85mm focal length? Canon currently offers six 85mm prime lenses, including three options in the still relatively new RF lens lineup.
With a prime lens, you get one focal length, and that focal length provides a specific angle of view. That angle of view drives focus distance decisions for desired subject framing, and that resulting distance provides the perspective achieved. While there are many uses for an 85mm lens, a standout use is, as already alluded to, portrait photography.
Primarily for perspective reasons, the classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm. An 85mm lens hits the bottom classic range figure on a full-frame camera and, if a camera with an RF mount and an APS-C format imaging sensor becomes available, the 136mm full-frame angle of view equivalent lands at the top of this ideal range. An APS-C format camera requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full-frame camera and, therefore, will have more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video uses ranging from moderately-tight headshots to full body portraits, with a wide variety of potential venues including both indoors and outdoors. Note that this lens focuses close enough for partial head shots, but the perspective becomes unfavorable to the subject.
Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups. Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle, etc. 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 an 85mm lens, and subjects always love the results from this focal length.
That portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing genres out there helps justify this lens's acquisition cost. You cannot buy stock photos of most people. I also argue that no subjects are more important than people.
People in action are in this lens' capabilities. Some sports, such as basketball and volleyball, can be captured with an 85mm lens, and thanks to the wide aperture, this lens can capture such action in very poorly-lit venues, including gymnasiums.
Especially with its close-focusing capabilities, this lens is well-suited for photographing products of all sizes, including food. This focal length can work very well for commercial uses, general studio photography applications, and a wide range of other subjects. This angle of view is inviting for architecture, street photography, and simply walking around, getting creative with whatever subjects you find.
Case in point, this is my rescue snake:
I rescued him from a cold swimming pool. The small (very clean) garter snake rewarded me by A: not biting, and B: hanging out on a rock in the warm sun for a few minutes while I captured him again, this time photographically. Note that keeping the snake in the plane of sharp focus at f/2 was challenging, requiring careful orientation of the camera.
Regardless of the camera format being used and like most focal lengths, 85mm can be useful for landscape photography. The short telephoto focal length will keep distant subjects relatively large in the frame.
To visualize where 85mm fits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from the Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens review.
The 85mm focal length is modestly longer than the 70mm focal length found on the long end of many standard 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lenses and is at the short end of the range covered by the 70-200mm zoom lenses.
At 85mm, the f/2 aperture is relatively wide, allowing a significant amount of light to reach the imaging sensor. This lens is a good choice for stopping motion, both subject and camera motion, in low light conditions, including those typically found indoors. The wide aperture also enables autofocusing in low light conditions.
Wider-aperture 85mm lenses are available, including the incredible Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens. However, the RF 85 F2 avoids the f/1.2 lens's requisite significantly larger size, heavier weight, and vastly higher price.
Here is a set of aperture examples illustrating the background blur created by each full-stop setting with a close subject and distance background.
It is not difficult to see why f/2 is so desired from this standpoint. The 85mm focal length, f/2 aperture, and close-focusing capabilities combine to permit creation of a very strong background blur, as illustrated below.
While the f/2 aperture alone makes this lens a great choice for low light photography needs, the high-rated 5-stop image stabilization system greatly extends the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens's versatility. R-series cameras featuring IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), such as the Canon EOS R5 and R6, utilize combination IS for an incredible 8-stop rating from this lens. Complementing this lens's macro-focusing capabilities and furthering low light use is Hybrid IS, "providing up-to-3-stops of Hybrid Optical Image Stabilization to compensate for both angular and shift-type camera shake that may occur during macro shooting." [Canon]
Under ideal conditions with an ultra-high-resolution EOS R5 behind it, the RF 85mm F2 lens delivered sharp fully-handheld 0.4 second images at a roughly 90% rate, and 0.5-second exposures resulted in a 50% rate. The sharp image rate slowly decreased as exposure durations increased, with occasional sharp images still being collected at 1.3-second exposures.
The RF 85 F2's image stabilization system is well implemented from a visual standpoint, with the viewfinder image becoming very still and compositional adjustments occurring smoothly. Scene drifting is not an issue. From an audibility standpoint, nothing is heard unless an ear is very close to the lens.
An 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 has indicated 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/2 combination producing a potentially very shallow depth of field.
Image stabilization does not stop subject motion, but it is incredibly effective at stopping camera shake for both stills and video. When you need/want to leave the tripod behind, IS is there for you, helping to ensure sharp images and adding significant versatility to this lens.
Not shocking to anyone is that the 28-year-newer Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens design produces sharper images than the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens.
In the center of the frame, the RF 85 f/2 is quite sharp wide-open at f/2. At f/2.8, with contrast and resolution increasing slightly, results are razor sharp.
In general, lenses are not as sharp in the periphery, where light rays must be bent more strongly than in the center. In this case, the sharpness fall-off into the corners is mild but noticeable. Stopping down produces continuous improvement through f/5.6, where even the extreme corners are looking excellent.
Taking the testing outdoors, here is a series of center-of-the-frame 100% resolution crop examples. These images were captured using an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS R5 with RAW files processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP). Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening, but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
In the first row of samples, the bark of a tree was photographed from a comfortable portrait distance (ignore the slight shading differences caused by a distant tree branch I didn't notice). The f/2 image is sharp, and contrast increases slightly in the f/2.8 sample.
The second set of samples were captured at a relatively close distance. Be sure to find details in the plane of sharp focus for your observations. In this set, the f/2.8 sample shows a stronger improvement over the f/2 result, with f/4 showing further improvement.
In some lens designs, the plane of sharp focus can move forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected. This effect is called focus shift (residual spherical aberration or RSA), and it is seldom (never?) desired. When manually focused at f/2, this lens shows minor front focusing at f/2.8. This can be seen in the second row of samples above — watch the distant background show a similar blur strength at f/2 and f/2.8. That issue is minor at close focus distances, and otherwise, focus shift is not an issue.
Testing lenses at long distance is another standard line item, and the third set of results show how this lens performs at approximately 800 yards/meters on a clear day with heatwaves. These results show that contrast improves very slightly as the lens is stopped down.
Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-corner crops captured as identically. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture the first two sets, cropped from the upper-left corner. The last set was focused in the center of the frame and cropped from the upper-right.
Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners, in this case, can be counted on to show the worst performance a lens is capable of.
At f/2, the results shared here are modestly soft but not terrible. Ignore the slight distant tree branch adding some shading to the first f/2.8 sample, but especially with vignetting clearing, the contrast improves nicely at f/2.8. F/4 delivers another noticeable improvement, and f/5.6 brings on excellent sharpness for extreme corners.
In the center-focused third set, the details in trees captured at a long distance show a modestly lower performance. We will see this performance confirmed in the night sky sample below.
Does corner sharpness matter? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Landscape and architecture photography and flatwork reproduction are photographic disciplines that frequently require sharp corners. That said, those scenarios usually permit apertures narrower than f/2 to be used. When shooting at the widest apertures, depth of field is often shallow and the plane of sharp focus less-frequently includes details showing in a corner, making corner sharpness less important. I seldom need sharp extreme corners for portrait photography, though faces are often outside of the frame's center. I always prefer my lenses to be razor-sharp in the corners in case that feature is needed, but each of us must consider our own applications to answer this paragraph's initial question.
When used on a camera that utilizes a lens's entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings. At f/2, approximately 3-stops of shading affect the extreme corners. This is a moderate amount, but not an unusual amount for an f/2 lens. Stopping down brings rapid corner shading reduction with about 1.4-stops remaining at f/2.8 and about 0.6-stops at f/4. Little reduction is seen after the about 0.4-stops present at f/5.6.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the just-over 1-stop of shading showing at f/2 may be visible in some images, especially those with a solid color (such as a blue sky) showing in the corners.
One-stop of shading is the amount often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.
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 most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better not to have the problem in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example. This is a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of an ultra-high resolution EOS R5 frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should only be black and white colors in this image, and that is what I see.
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 observe. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. 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.
In the examples below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights. Created by the neutrally-colored subjects, fringing color differences were introduced by the lens.
The color separation seen here is relatively strong, and it will sometimes be visible in images captured with this lens. This performance is differentiating from the higher-end Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens.
Canon's Air Sphere Coating (ASC) is not reportedly featured on this lens, but with a low 12 element count (11 groups, the EF f/1.8 has 9/7), flaring is not a significant issue. Expect some flare effects if the sun is in the corner of the frame with a narrow aperture in use.
Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality.
Two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point, instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma) or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either sagittal (radiating from the center of the image) or meridional (tangential, perpendicular to sagittal). Lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The image below is a 100% crop taken from the top-left corner of an EOS R5 frame.
Those stars appear to be growing wings, showing this lens not a strong performer in these regards.
With only one focal length, prime lenses are typically designed to feature low geometric distortion. This one exhibits very slight pincushion distortion that will not often be noticed.
Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available, and distortion can easily be removed using these. Still, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level as some portion of the image must be stretched, or the overall dimensions reduced.
As seen earlier in the review, the amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show, and telephoto lenses are advantaged in this regard. Assessing the quality is very challenging due in part to the infinite number of variables present in all available scenes, including foreground vs. background blur. Here are some f/11 (for aperture blade interaction) examples.
The first example shows a 100% crop that includes defocused highlights being very smoothly filled. The additional bokeh examples are full images reduced in dimension. A majority of the sample images shared in this review also illustrate bokeh.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the corner of the frame does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the corner of the frame, the shape is not round. That is the shape seen here.
As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced, and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming round.
With a 9-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 18 points. In general, the more a lens is stopped down, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars tend to be. Wide aperture lenses are usually advantaged in this regard, and this lens is capable of producing beautiful stars.
The example above was captured at f/16.
Canon has not promoted the optical design or special elements of this lens, but a single UD (Ultra low Dispersion) element is included. The optical formula produces overall very good image quality, especially considering the other aspects, including size, weight, and price.
The Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens gets state of the art economical focusing technology.
Critical for nearly all images, especially with the shallow depth of field of the 85mm and f/2 combination, is accurate focus, and many of us rely on autofocus for that task. The EOS R-series cameras have been impressive in this regard, accurately focusing with everything mounted on them, and the RF 85mm F2 IS STM Macro Lens is again not an exception.
This lens features a front-focusing design with a stepping motor (the "STM" in the name) driven AF system that is reasonably fast though very long focus distance changes seem slow. As usual, focusing in low light occurs more slowly, but fortunately, "low light" is really dark for this lens.
Short distance focusing adjustments happen relatively quietly, though some clunking is audible. Long focus distance changes are not so fast, and a motor buzz is heard. Expect onboard audio recording to pick up these AF sounds. While the sound is deceptive from a smoothness perspective, the EOS R-series cameras focus this lens relatively smoothly (a benefit for video recording). Also, note that this lens' aperture adjusts quietly and smoothly – it is ideally suited for video recording under changing lighting conditions.
This lens features a focus distance range limit switch that, in addition to making the full focus range available, enables distance selection to be limited to 1.1-1.6' (0.35-0.5m) or 1.6' (0.5m) - ∞. When the subject is expected to stay in one of the limited ranges, selecting that range can potentially decrease focus lock times via reduced focus hunting.
The RF 85mm f/2's focus ring is adequate in size (0.8", 20.4mm) and turns with relatively light pressure. The ring is smooth, and the adjustments show very slight steps, especially when focusing zoomed into the image periphery. A full extent focus distance adjustment requires a crazy-long 1080° rotation. Precise focusing is easy at any focus distance.
I generally prefer a linear focus rate adjustment, but three full turns mean too much turning. This lens could benefit from a variable-speed focus ring, a feature not provided with this lens. Turn this focus ring fast, and no focus distance change happens — not even a slow adjustment. Impatience leads me to use AF to set the focus distance close to what is needed before switching to MF, and this method works fine most of the time.
The RF 85mm f/2 macro has a focus-by-wire or electrical manual focus system (vs. a direct gear-driven system) common for STM lenses. The manual focus ring electronically controls the focus of the lens. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in AF mode with the camera in One Shot drive mode (if electronic manual focusing is enabled in the camera menu), but the shutter release must be half-pressed for the focus ring to become active. With the lens' AF/MF switch in the "MF" position, the camera meter must be on/awake for manual focusing to be available.
Noticeable subject magnification/framing changes are seen in the long full extent focus range change this lens avails, and focus breathing is still moderately strong without fully reaching the macro end.
A focus distance scale is not provided on any RF lenses introduced as of review time, but a digital scale can be enabled in the electronic viewfinder or LCD.
With a minimum focus distance of 13.8" (350mm), this lens has a very impressive 0.50x maximum magnification spec (1:2 reproduction ratio). While that number falls considerably short of what I usually look for in a serious macro lens (1.00x, 1:1), 0.50x is an excellent spec for an 85mm lens with an f/2 aperture, and the close-focusing feature gives this lens great versatility. Photographing the details at a wedding (the rings, shows, or dress details, for example), in the garden (such as flowers), or on the dinner plate is within this lens's capabilities.
|Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM DS Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens||37.4"||(950mm)||0.11x|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.13x|
|Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens||13.8"||(350mm)||0.50x|
|Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||1.00x|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.12x|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.13x|
|Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||1.00x|
A subject measuring approximately 3.5 x 2.3" (63.5 x 42mm) fills the frame of a full-frame camera at the minimum focus distance. This is a small rose photographed near minimum focus distance.
Magnification from short telephoto focal length lenses is generally noticeably increased with the use of extension tubes, which are basically hollow tubes (with electronic connections) that shift a lens farther from the camera. This increased distance allows the lens to focus closer, though at the expense of long-distance focusing. As of review time, Canon does not offer RF mount-compatible extension tubes, but third-party options are becoming available.
This lens is not compatible with Canon extenders.
While not a professional series L lens, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens still seems very adequately built.
Typical of lenses with front-focusing lens designs is extension during focusing, and this lens reaches its maximum 1.09" (27.8mm) extension at minimum focus distance. Enable the "Retract lens on power off" setting in the camera menu to ensure that the lens is fully retracted after use. However, understand that the lens will not retain its focus distance when retracted, including if the camera goes to sleep with auto retract enabled. Focus will be set to infinity.
Canon's metal RF mount is nice, considerately shaped for mounting and dismounting the lens. Utilizing engineering plastic construction, the RF 85 STM's slightly-textured exterior barrel looks and feels nice, as does the straight exterior diameter of this design. The manual focus ring has a slightly-grippy ribbed surface with the control ring being strongly knurled for a tactile difference.
RF lens Control Rings are configurable for fast access to camera settings, including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. Note that the control ring is clicked by default, and this ring's clicks are going to be audible in camera-based audio recordings. Canon offers a click stop removal service for this ring (at a cost).
With lens switches disappearing on many modern lenses, I'm pleased that Canon decided to include them on this lens (and many other RF lenses). The AF/MF, IS, and focus limiter switches are nicely flush-mounted with just enough raised surface area to be easily used, even with gloves. Interesting is that changing the AF/MF switch position opens the lens aperture momentarily and can retract/extend the lens when the camera is powered off (as can opening and then closing the memory card door).
This lens is not weather sealed. Use a rain cover in wet, dusty, or similar environments. The front and rear elements of this lens are not fluorine coated, and without this coating, the effort required to remove a fingerprint is moderate.
This is a small and light lens that takes up little space in the bag and requires little effort to carry and use. Those aspects increase the joy of use, with reduced fatigue increasing the photographer's sharpness, an image quality factor.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens||42.2||(1196.3)||4.1 x 4.6||(104.1 x 116.8)||82||2019|
|Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM DS Lens||42.2||(1195)||4.1 x 4.6||(104.1 x 116.8)||82||2019|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens||36.2||(1025)||3.6 x 3.3||(91.5 x 84.0)||72||2006|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens||33.5||(950)||3.5 x 4.1||(88.6 x 105.4)||77||2017|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens||15.0||(425)||3.0 x 2.8||(75.0 x 72.0)||58||1992|
|Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens||17.6||(500)||3.1 x 3.6||(78.0 x 90.5)||67||2020|
|Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens||22.1||(625)||3.1 x 4.8||(77.7 x 123.0)||67||2009|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens||28.9||(820)||3.5 x 4.2||(89.5 x 107.5)||77||2016|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens||13.1||(371)||3.1 x 3.2||(78.0 x 82.0)||67||2017|
|Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens||21.3||(602)||3.1 x 5.1||(79.0 x 130.5)||62||2015|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.
Here is a visual comparison:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The RF 85 f/2 utilizes the common, relatively small 67mm filter size.
The Canon ET-77 Lens Hood is optional. I highly recommend using lens hoods most of the time, primarily for the impact protection and light-shading properties they provide. However, Canon charges a significant amount for something with a low production cost that should be included in the box.
The ET-77 is a semi-rigid plastic round-shaped hood with a smooth, matte interior surface. This hood provides very good protection from bright flare-inducing light and also from impact. A petal-shaped hood is easier to align for installation (simply learn the petal orientation — small petal to the top), while a rounded hood such as this one enables the lens to stand on its hood.
The Canon LP-1216 Lens Case is also optional. This is a leather-like drawstring pouch with a padded bottom (only). Consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.
The caps are nice, but the mount cap should multi-positional for easier installation without looking at it carefully.
It is easy to argue the case for the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens being a great value, with the low price anchoring the argument.
As an "RF" lens, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R series cameras and any other camera with an RF mount, including video cameras. Canon USA provides a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens was sourced from Canon USA.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens is the nearest predecessor and, therefore, worthy of comparison.
In the image quality comparison at f/2, I would not reference the difference as dramatic, but the RF lens has the advantage. At f/2.8, the RF lens advantage is stronger. By f/5.6, both lenses are extremely sharp, with the differences in sharpness mostly gone. The EF lens has less geometric distortion and has less peripheral shading at wide and narrow apertures. With three additional lens elements, the RF lens shows slightly more flare effects.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens vs. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens comparison shows the EF lens to be slightly lighter and modestly smaller. The EF lens has a modestly wider aperture available, uses smaller filters (58mm vs. 67mm), and does not focus-extend. The EF lens has a fast Ring USM AF system vs. the RF lens's STM AF system that is advantaged by a focus range limiter switch. The RF lens's 1080° of focus ring rotation permits higher precision focusing than the EF lens's 81° of rotation. Some of the just-mentioned differences are related to the RF lens's significantly higher maximum magnification, registering an impressive 0.50x vs. 0.13x. The 28-year-newer RF lens features a high-performing 5-stop hybrid image stabilization system. The RF lens cannot be used on cameras with EF lens mounts, and the EF lens requires a Mount Adapter EF-EOS R for use on an RF mount camera. As expected, the older lens has a moderately lower price.
It shares the same focal length, but the Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens is in a different class. What do you get for the significant additional cost? Professional-grade build quality and a vastly wider aperture are two significant differences.
Once we get the L lens tested on the sharper EOS R5, I expect the image quality comparison will show the 85 L producing f/1.2 sharpness similar or better than the 85 STM's f/2 performance and noticeably better at f/2. Expect the L-series lens's peripheral image quality to be much better. The L lens has significantly less spherical/axial aberrations, with bokeh retaining better color. The wider max aperture noticeably advantages the L lens in the peripheral shading comparison. The L lens has less geometric distortion.
There is a size and weight price to be paid for the ultra-wide aperture, and looking at the specs and measurements, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens vs. Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens comparison shows the L lens significantly heavier and larger – including wider. The STM uses smaller 67mm filters vs. 82mm. The STM lens extends with focusing, focuses much closer, and has a considerably higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.12x) capability. The L lens has a better focusing system, featuring USM vs. STM. The STM lens's 5-stop image stabilization feature can more than overcome the difference in aperture in regards to handheld camera shake, but the f/1.2 aperture is much better for subjects in motion and for background blur strength. For those needing an aperture narrower than f/16 (most of us rarely do), the STM lens is the only option here. Again, the price difference is vast, but the L lens does come with a hood and an inexpensive pouch.
Another favorite Canon 85mm lens is the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM. Again, the L lens features Professional-grade build quality and a 1-stop (2x as much light) wider aperture to its advantage, though an adapter is required for use on RF-mount cameras.
With both lenses wide open, the image quality comparison shows the RF lens slightly sharper in the center of the frame and the EF lens slightly sharper in the periphery. Equalized at f/2, the EF lens is at least as sharp in the center of the frame, and the EF lens holds the peripheral sharpness advantage deep into the narrow apertures. The wider max aperture provides a strong advantage to the L lens in the wider-aperture peripheral shading comparison. The L lens has less geometric distortion.
Once again, there is a size and weight price to be paid for the ultra-wide aperture, and looking at the specs and measurements, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens vs. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens comparison shows the L lens larger and twice as heavy. The STM uses smaller 67mm filters vs. 77mm. The STM lens focuses much closer, extends with focusing, and has a considerably higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.12x) capability. The L lens has a better focusing system, featuring Ring USM vs. STM. The STM lens's 1-stop image stabilization rating advantage equalizes the difference in aperture in regards to avoiding handheld camera shake, but the f/1.4 aperture is better for subjects in motion and for background blur strength. Again, the price difference is big, but the L lens comes with a hood and inexpensive pouch.
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The Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens is a great all-around value lens choice.
The focal length is very useful, especially for portraits, and the macro focusing capabilities add greatly to this lens's versatility, making it a great choice for products. The compact size and light weight make this lens comfortable to carry and use for long time periods. Image stabilization means the tripod can often be left behind, which also decreases the overall carry weight and setup time. While the RF 85 F2 STM does not get professional build quality or the ultimate image quality, it performs well with accurate AF performance ensuring this lens's sharp image quality is fully realized, even with the very shallow depth of field this lens creates at close focus distances with narrow apertures.
The low price seals the deal.
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