Out of all of my Canon lenses over the years, the Canon 85mm 1.2 L was my favorite, and something I’ve even alluded to in this video. It was the one I held just a little more carefully than the others; the one I took out when I knew the wedding moment was really special; my go-to when I wanted to make a bride look particularly awesome, and my saving grace when I had a dark ceremony to work with.
But I just sold it.
[LENS Review: Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Review | Maybe The Most Versatile 85mm Lens On The Market.]
It was quite the breakup and I thought long and hard about it. In the end, my heart was just elsewhere, as I fell for the new Canon 85mm 1.4.
The obvious question you’re likely to have in mind then, is, “Why would you do that?” After all, the glory of a lens is held in the aperture, right? Not quite.
When I first got word of the new 85 and it’s 1.4 aperture, I almost immediately ceased listening to the person telling me about it because, why would a photographer ever want to lose a stop of light? There wouldn’t be much I would prefer of the 1.4 over the venerable 1.2, I thought. I was wrong.
Here’s why I walked into the Adorama Trade In Counter and dumped my old heartthrob for a new love.
On a good day, to ensure sharp images I’ll be shooting at 1/250th of a second with my 85mm in order to avoid motion blur, which you’d be forgiven for thinking is atypically fast for that focal length. Maybe it’s the barely-legal amount of caffeine I consume throughout the day, but I’m shakier than a leaf in Autumn, and as such, I live off the Image stabilization on all the lenses that have it, like my 70-200mm 2.8. And by the way, you should check out the Series III version that was just released, in addition to the small but mighty 70-200 II f/4 version (which I’ve got my eye on for sure). But I digress…
Image stabilization in any lens is a huge bonus for me. In fact, it’s a must-have if it can be had. The second a somewhat blurry picture comes across my Lightroom it is 100% garbage to me. I want a crisp image, every single time.
But what about 1.2?
Allow me to admit something: I know I am perceived by some as a wide-open light & airy wedding photographer, but I almost never shoot at 1.2. Why? See “Image Stabilization” above. Maybe I’m just not good at shooting at 1.2 and I need to practice my focus skills, but really, 1.4 is plenty to get a beautifully smooth background.
Not only is it plenty, “It’s like butta.” (That’s “butter” for you non-Jersey/New Yorkers). Which is what a friend said to me when I asked him how he found the performance of the lens, and I concur. The 85 1.4 is like butter on a perfectly toasted NYC bagel; crisp and smooth all at the same time. It’s harmony.
This was huge for me. I rarely used my 85mm 1.2 in dark receptions because just didn’t focus fast enough to catch the action, and this is the general consensus of those who have owned the 1.2. The 85mm 1.4, on the flip side, has faster focusing and I loved using it not only during receptions but for engagement sessions and portraits to catch the action. In fact, if you want to see me using (drooling over) it the first time I used it, check out this REAL engagement session I streamed on Facebook LIVE.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve said it, but it warrants saying again that I just love the feeling of a meaty camera system in my hands, and I still do. Nevertheless, those 12-hour wedding days are enough to make any photographer’s arm start to tire. If I’m able to drop camera weight by a few ounces and not lose a spec of customer-noticeable quality, I’m all for it, and that’s precisely what the new 1.4 allows me to do.
Fear not, however, the 1.4 doesn’t appear to be dinky in anyway. Its still has that beautiful L-Series glass red stripe that I’m just a sucker for, which sort of reminds me of Christian Louboutin shoe bottoms, to be honest – Don’t judge. We all take our creative boosts from somewhere, don’t we?
All in all, I didn’t especially want to do a Canon 85mm 1.2 vs Canon 85mm 1.4 test, because my favorite lens was on the line! But after honest and practical testing of the 85 1.4 though, I knew it was time for a switch. Better focusing speed, remarkable IS (first for an 85), weight, and the lower price point? Sold! – to the girl in the CLB shoes…
*see more sample images below