Canon EF 85 f/1.8 Lens Review
Canon EF 85 f/1.8 with Hood

The Canon EF f/1.8 prime lens has earned a well deserved reputation as the "must have" lens for indoor sports and as a great lens for glamour and portraiture, especially on 1.3 crop and full frame bodies. It is a light, fast (both AF and aperture), and sturdily built lens. On a 1.6 crop body the extra reach, the fast aperture and quick USM AF motor help capture action under poor lighting conditions such as in a gym or indoor arena or stadium. While its big brother, the 85 f/1.2L had a larger maximum aperture, the 85 f/1.8 beats it hands down when it comes to autofocus speed.

The maximum f/1.8 aperture and longer focal length allow for a very shallow depth of field, and the eight-bladed aperture provides a very nice quality of the out-of-focus areas (bokeh). This can be seen in the photograph directly below. This lens is quite sharp throughout the aperture range (achieving maximum sharpness at about f/2.8), but does show some chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas. This is, however, not unexpected and is quite reasonable given the price and other aspects of the lens design. When I want to travel light, but need a great lens for portraiture and available light photography, this lens is the first to go in my bag. Although I also own the 85 f/1.2L, this lens still sees a lot of use when I need a faster focusing lens.

At just under a pound (0.93 lbs/422 grams), it's more than half the weight of the 85L (2.2 lbs/998 grams). This can make a difference if hand-holding for significant periods of time or in a backpack. The f/1.8 aperture allows for a nice, bright viewfinder image which makes manual focus a breeze.

The focus ring is smooth, well damped and moves smoothly throughout the range. The Ring USM AF motor is fast, silent and allows for full time manual focus (FTM). Minimum focusing distances is 2.8 feet (0.85 meters ) which allows for nicely framed headshots. The lens utilizes an internal focusing system with a non-rotating front element. This is great when shooting with a circular polarizing filter.

Portrait at f/1.8

The ET-65 III hood attaches via a clip style mount and is has a matte black interior to help absorb light. This isn't as nice as the black flocking on the higher priced hoods provided with more expensive lenses, but seems to do the job quite well. The hood is made out of high impact plastic and is very easy to mount. I reverse mount my hood on the lens for easy storage. Filter size on this lens is 58 mm making it easy to share filters with many other Canon consumer lenses such as the EF 100mm f/2 (which is essentially the same lens with a longer focal length), the 100mm f/2.8, and the 50mm f/1.4.

The lens contains 9 elements in 7 groups. As to be expected with a prime, flare is well controlled at all apertures and images are well saturated with excellent color rendition. As can be seen from the provided examples, contrast and sharpness are excellent.

Although the 85 f/1.2 L is considered the top dog in this focal length, this lens provides exceptional value for the price. I almost sold my copy, but at the last minute changed my mind and I'm glad I did so.

This lens was first marketed in 1992 and is still in production. It can be purchased from reputable online vendors for about $329 USD at this writing (compared to the 85 f/1.2L at $1789 USD - over 5x more costly). The hood must be purchased separately as hoods are not provided in the package with the Canon consumer lenses.

I have loaned this lens to several friends over the years, and almost every one has purchased a copy for their own use after using mine. Its light weight, fast aperture, and small size make it a great lens for hiking in the forest or for long walks with a camera. This lens should be in every new photographer's bag.

Technical Details for this Lens

Additional Images

Portrait at f/2,5
Glamour shot at f/4.0
Indoor Glamour at f/4
Indoor Glamour at f/2.8
Tanith at f/1.8


2008 Mark Cohran, All Rights Reserved
Latest Revision: November 19, 2009