The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM ($2,199 direct) is one of two f/1.2 lenses in the Canon library, and like the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM it’s one without a peer in other camera systems. It captures about 30 percent more light than competing f/1.4 lenses, like the Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, and at similar working distances will also show a shallower depth of field. It’s an expensive lens, and it has a few ergonomic quirks. But if you are a portrait specialist and if you can afford it, it’s worth your money.
The lens is fairly short, but very, very wide. It measures 3.3 by 3.6 inches (HD) and weighs in at a hefty 2.3 pounds. The front element is big, it uses 72mm filters, and the included hood adds both depth and width. The lens ships with a reversible hood, which clips on or off via two buttons, rather than requiring you to mount it via a bayonet system. There’s no optical stabilization, but that’s a feature that is generally reserved for zoom lenses. A soft case is also included.
The focus ring is near the front of the lens; turning it actually turns the entire barrel top of the barrel, hood included. It’s a bit awkward, and the focus will only function when the lens is mounted to a powered-on camera. This is because the focus design is electronic; turning the ring actually tells the focus motor to activate. The response is pretty quick, but it lacks the tactile response you get from a lens with a mechanical focus ring. If you remove the lens from your camera while it’s set to the closest focus distance (3.2 feet), you’ll find that the front element isn’t flush with the barrel. In order to fix this, you need to mount the lens, focus to infinity, and then remove it.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the lens when paired with the EOS-1D X. Even at f/1.2 the center is impressively sharp, good enough to deliver a center-weighted score of 2,037 lines. That’s better than the 1,800 lines we require for an image to be considered sharp. Edges are ever so soft, 1,592 lines, but if you’re shooting a portrait at that aperture, that isn’t likely to matter—that part of the frame is generally going to be out of focus. Distortion is minimal, just 1 percent barrel, and there’s a profile in Lightroom 5 to correct that with a single click.
Performance is just about the same at f/1.4, but stopping down to f/2 improves the overall score to 2,367 lines and brings the edges up to 1,724 lines. From f/2.8 onwards the lens is a solid performer from edge-to-edge; it manages 2,549 lines across the frame, with edges that are better than 2,000 lines. From that point onward you only need to set the aperture to control your depth of field; sharpness is a given.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM is one of those unique lenses that just doesn’t have an equal. Portraits with a very shallow depth of field—we’re talking one eye in focus and the other not—are possible at f/1.2, and its out-of-focus rendering is smooth and silky. Its high asking price and rather funky design may limit its ability as an everyday companion, but when it’s placed in the right hands, it will produce images that are simply amazing. We think it’s worthy of being called Editors’ Choice, and if you’re a photographer who can make this lens sing, it’s reason enough to opt for a Canon SLR system.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc