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Canon Lens Wars Ultimate Bokeh Showdown Inspiration

The Canon Lens Wars Ultimate Bokeh Showdown!

By Pye Jirsa on February 19th 2014

Canon Lens Wars Ultimate Bokeh Showdown

Welcome to the Canon Lens Wars Bokeh Showdown! In this showdown, we took 7 Canon prime lenses from the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series and compared them to each other to see which lens is the ultimate bokeh-licious lens!

For those that are new to the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series, be sure to check out the Lens Wars Teaser video and the entire series where we compare and choose our favorite lenses at every popular focal length.

So, let’s get this showdown on the road!

Watch the Canon Lens Wars Bokeh Showdown Video

Equipment Used in Canon Lens Wars Bokeh Showdown

Like all of our tests, we are comparing our images visually on a Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor with the images fit to full screen.

What matters is what we can actually see without having to zoom in because after all, we want bokeh that we can readily see!

The Canon Lens Lineup

Canon 24mm f/1.4L Mark II

First, we have our delightful wide angle stubby-nubby princess, the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II. At a Wide Open Aperture (WOA) of f/1.4, this bokeh-licious lens has a delightful amount of soft and creamy bokeh, which is impressive for a wide angle lens!

Canon 24mm f/1.4 at f/1.4

Canon 24mm f/1.4 at f/1.4

However, it is noticeably a bit soft around our area of focus, our model. We also have a bit of “dreaminess” or haze when wide open, but still, a very usable image.

Model Head Canon 24mm f1.4 at f1.4

Canon 35mm f/1.4L

Next, we have the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. For a semi-wide angle lens, it has some pretty delicious bokeh!

It has a bit more bokeh than the Canon 24mm 1.4, and it is also noticeably sharper wide open. We don’t have any of that same dreamy haze as we did on the 24mm when wide open.

Model Head Canon 35mm f1.4 24mm f1.4

Model Head Canon 50mm f1.2 24mm f1.4

Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Here we have the Canon 50mm f/1.2L and its delicious bokeh.

Although its image does look a bit soft and dreamy like the Canon 24mm 1.4, the 50mm 1.2 is still quite usable at its wide open aperture of f/1.2.

Model Head Canon 50mm f1.2 24mm f1.4

With its additional compression and more open aperture, its bokeh is also a bit more creamy than the 35mm 1.4.

Bokeh Canon 50mm f1.2 24mm f1.4

Canon 85mm f/1.2L Mark II

Although the 85mm 1.2 has the same f/1.2 wide open aperture bokeh as the 50mm 1.2, it has much stronger bokeh. This is because the 85mm 1.2’s longer focal length creates additional compression that pulls background elements forward and allows objects to fall out of focus quicker!

Model Head Canon 85mm f1.2 50mm f1.2

But, it is also noticeably sharper when wide open than the 50mm 1.2, though it does still have a bit of dreamy softness. Still, pretty awesome though.

Dress Canon 85mm f1.2 50mm f1.2

Canon 100mm F/2

The Canon 100mm f/2 is the only non-L lens in this line up. I chose this over the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS because it creates a more beautiful amount of of bokeh at f/2 than the 100mm 2.8 Macro.

The 100mm f/2 is also very sharp wide open, as you can see below.

Detail 100mm f/2 at f/2

However, it does have noticeably less bokeh than the 85mm 1.2, which is somewhat expected given the difference in maximum aperture.

Bokeh Canon 100mmm f2 85mm f1.2

Canon 200mm f/2L Mark II

Next up, we have the little monster, also known as the Canon 200mm f/2L.

Canon 200mm f/2L at f/2.0

Canon 200mm f/2L at f/2.0

This lens has amazing compression and a solid amount of bokeh that is worth its price tag.

Bokeh 200mm f/2L at f/2

Additionally, whether you are looking at the image in full view or zoomed in, the image that the 200mm f/2L creates is absolutely tack sharp with no soft dreaminess whatsoever! This lens is simply gorgeous!

Detail 200mm f/2L at f/2

Canon 300mm F/2.8L Mark II

Finally, we have the mighty giant, the Canon 300mm f/2.8L II.

Canon 300mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8

Canon 300mm F/2.8L II at f/2.8

This lens is the 200mm f/2’s big brother and while it has a little less bokeh than the 200mm f/2L, it still is quite solid in the bokeh department.

Bokeh Canon 300mmm f2.8 200mm f2

It is also absolutely tack sharp and noticeably so when viewed full screen! Absolutely flawless when it comes to image quality.

Detail Canon 300mm f2.8

The Lenses with the Most Bokeh

Canon 35mm f1.4L
So which of these Canon lenses has the most uberly creamy bokeh? I actually have 3 favorites among these bokeh-de-beppo lenses.

For a semi-wide angle lens, I would go with either the Canon 35mm f/1.4L or the 50mm f/1.2L.

Canon 50mm f1.2L Now personally, I prefer the 50mm 1.2, but if you are thinking about getting the 85mm f/1.2 then you might be better off going with the 35mm 1.4 so that you have a little more variance in focal length.

Either way, the 35mm and the 50mm 1.2 are very close in focal length, so I would choose one or the other, but not both. Since I shoot mainly portraits, I chose the 50mm 1.2 lens because it gives me a bit better extreme low light performance and has the focal length that is a bit more conducive to portraits.

Nevertheless, both are beautiful lenses.

Canon 85mm f1.2L Now when it comes to the Canon 50mm f/1.2L and the Canon 85mm f/1.2L Mark II, I very much prefer the 85mm 1.2.

It is probably by far my most favorite of the uber-bokeh primes. It is very sharp when wide open and its focal length, and as you can see from the model’s dress, when wide open, the 85mm 1.2 just looks a bit sharper than the 50mm 1.2.

Dress Canon 85mm f1.2 50mm f1.2

Additionally, as you can see from the image below the 85mm f/1.2L Mark II at the 85mm focal length allows additional compression that will pull the background forward and create even more bokeh than the Canon 50mm f/1.2L .

Bokeh Canon 85mm f1.2 50mm f1.2

The Canon 85mm f/1.2L Mark II is one of my top 3 go-to portrait lenses.

Canon 200mm f2L Finally, if you can afford it, the Canon 200mm f/2L gives you telephoto compression with amazing low light and bokeh aesthetics. The extreme compression and wide aperture create a look unlike any other lens out there, but it does come at a pretty hefty cost.

So the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, 85mm f/1.2L, and the 200mm f/2L are my top favorites because they create a unique aesthetic that is significantly different from professional series zooms at the same focal lengths.

The More Specialized Lenses

The other three lenses in this showdown are more specialized in their uses and are not necessarily the best option in their respective focal length.

Canon 24mm f1.4 For example, the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II is a beautiful prime lens that is wonderful in extreme low light. But based on the way I shoot, I generally am not looking to create a lot of bokeh with wide angle shots.

Typically, when I shoot wide angle, I am carefully choosing my composition and I am going for sharpness. So for me, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II takes care of that role for me.

Canon 100mm f2 The Canon 100mm f/2 is nice, but the 85mm f/1.2 does a better job with the bokeh and creates a higher quality image.

Additionally, the 85mm focal length is also the more popular focal length for portraits, and therefore, if you have to sell your lens, you’ll have be able to retain more value with an 85mm lens.

If I need that 100mm focal length, I rather choose the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS because it pulls double duty as a portrait and a macro lens.

Canon 300mm f2.8L II Finally, we have the Canon 300mm f/2.8L II

This telephoto prime is a beautiful lens, but again, I generally don’t need that extreme of a zoom with that level of low light performance as it is very specialized, and the fixed focal length at 300mm limits its flexibility.


So, that’s it for the bokeh showdown! Be sure to check out the rest of the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series to see which Canon Lenses are the best at each focal length.

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Terms: #Bokeh

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Scott Trombley

    Thanks for the pictures to help show the difference

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  2. Fandy M Saputra

    i own 135mm F2. and love it… price performance is good. the cons, no IR tech…

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  3. Kim Farrelly

    Great, loved this series of reviews but I’m also going to jump on the ‘What no 135mm F2 L” wagon. I know it’s on its own but the 135L is the mid point in focal length of the 70-200’s and really lovely bokeh and sharpness is really good wide open. For me, I’ve always, but not solely, shot with a 135mm for portraits. Just love the working distance it creates between the photographer and the model.

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  4. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for providing such a great article on showing us with detailed shots no the Bokeh quality of each lens. By fat the 85mm F1.2 is the best in terms of Bokeh. I would love to see the 58mm F1.4 tested.

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  5. Kurk Rouse

    Now i’m a Canon lens expert and i don’t even own one haha

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  6. John

    I know it wasn’t in the overall competition, but I agree with others here: the EF 135/2L would have been a worthy contender in this line up, though still next to the EF 200/2L …

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  7. Ben

    No 135/2 L? Really?

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  8. REBELimgs

    The lack of the 135L is disturbing.

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  9. Hemank

    Great article I agree with you

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  10. Lau

    This is terrific !! I have been looking for an article like that for years ! Great article ! Thank you very much.
    Between SLR Lounge and Phlearn I basically have all the resources I need.

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  11. locogorilla

    Where is the sharp and bokehlicious 135mm f2.0?

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    • Maciek D

      Yeah, it’s always overlooked! One of the best lenses and crazy cheap compared to the bigger ones.

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  12. Erik

    No love for the 135L? That lens has some of the best bokeh in Canon’s lineup,if not the best overall.

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  13. Marco

    Where’s the 135 f2 L?? Iwould have been much more sense than the 200 and the 300 which are very specialized sport lensed, while all the others, 135 included, are everyday lenses.

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  14. Bubo

    Next up, the Ultimate bokeh challenge for a Mid Shot portrait

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  15. Stewart

    135mm F2.0 L should have been in this mix. Arguably one of Canon’s top lenses….

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  16. David Drufke

    That 85mm shot has crazy amounts of CA. Is that not an issue?

    Also agree, I shoot Nikon, but I’m very jealous of the Canon 135. I’m shocked its missing.

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  17. Trent

    I wish the Canon 135L f2 would have been thrown in the mix instead of the 100 f2. It would have been more comparable to the other lens reviewed. I feel like it may have been a front runner too.

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  18. Mateusz Michałowski

    Nikon Lens War, please !!!

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