Canon's 85mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/1.8 Lenses Compared

Canon makes three solid lens choices for the 85mm prime focal length. Which is the right one for you?

Photographer David Flores recently compared Canon’s current 85mm portrait lens lineup in this video for B&H Photo. First, the 85mm f/1.8 USM may have the highest f-stop, but it’s probably the best bang for your buck out of all three. At only $349, you have to think realistically how the other two much more expensive options could possibly improve your work to make it worth it. I’ll bet that no one has ever gained or lost a client based on owning any one of these over the other, so why not save your money for other gear.

Next, Flores also talks about the $1,599 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens. This is a newer lens from Canon and so it features the latest Air Sphere coating. It’s also two-thirds of a stop faster than the 85mm f/1.8 lens. Another benefit to this lens is the image stabilization.

Finally, there’s Canon’s beastly $1,849 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens. This is half a stop faster than the f/1.4L lens and you pay the price for it. It doesn’t have image stabilization and by all accounts is quite agonizing to autofocusing, but just think of that shallow depth of field and bokeh.

Check the video above to see comparison images and learn the strengths of each of Canon 85mm lens. What’s your favorite one?

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12 Comments

I think its important to keep in mind how awesome the 85mmf1.8 is for a 350$ lens!

Spy Black's picture

A fourth option is the Tamron 85mm f/1.8. Priced in-between the Canon 1.8 and 1.4, and also having stabilization, it's surprisingly quite a killer lens.

William Faucher's picture

Isn't f/1.4 to f/1.8 only one third of a stop, not two thirds, as mentioned in the article? I'm no scientist though, I could be wrong.

Alex Cooke's picture

It's two thirds: f/1.4, f/1.6, f/1.8.

William Faucher's picture

I stand corrected, thanks!

log(1.8/1.4)/log(√2) = 0.73 so close to 2/3 stop difference

Log numbers can be confusing especially in base √2.
You can go to https://www.wolframalpha.com and type in

Log[Sqrt[2],X] (insert your f-Stop as X or a list {a,b,c....} of f-Stops)

then what you get back behaves in thirds etc.

P.S. incase you wonder why √2: The f-stop is proportional tho the Lens Diameter f ~ D
and the diameter^2 is proportional to the Area D^2 ~ A
and the Area is proportional to the "Amount of light" (Power,Flow or Intensity on the sensor) A~P.
So f^2 ~ P therefore to get twice the amount of light you have to multiply the f-stop by √2.

Tony Tumminello's picture

I have the 85mm f1.8 for personal use, and my work has the 85mm f1.4L IS. I must have an absolutely stellar copy of the 85mm f1.8 because my only major complaint is the CA in contrasty situations, so I'd never personally need the f1.4 or f1.2 models. Our video guy at work loves the stabilization of the f1.4, and it's a great lens. But I only paid $300 for my 85 and feel like I got an absolute steal with how well it performs.

romain VERNEDE's picture

the same here, 85 f/1,8 is perfect!

amanda daniels's picture

I own the canon 85mm f/1.8 so of course I can only speak for that lens but for $350 it is a solid lens. The focusing is fast and accurate and I've never had any issues at all. I could be naive but I don't think paying 10x + for the 1.4 is worth it. Yes I have other L lenses and they are fantastic but if you don't have any issues with the 1.8 than why pay that price for the others? Is a client really going to know the difference? As a professional you might be able to see a difference is sharpness, but I am curious how much for the price difference

im currently getting used to my 2nd hand 85 1.8 usm and i love it I still need to do more work with it but love that its in my kit.