When Canon released the EOS R in fall 2018 one of the drawbacks of the new system was that there were very few native lenses available out of the gate. Since I bought the camera soon after it was released, I had to attach the available adapter to use my old EF lenses with it. While the adapter works well generally, it’s a pain in the ass to have to remove and add back on when I switch lenses between native RF lenses and their EF counterparts. And god forbid you forget to pack your adapter in your bag before a shoot, you might end up doing an entire session without your full arsenal (this is purely hypothetical and I’m not suggesting that this has ever happened to me, but it has). Now Canon has released nearly a full catalog of lenses featuring both primes and zooms. In June 2019 Canon released the RF 85 f/1.2 L and I’ve been excited to get my hands on it. I’ve used the already incredible EF 85 1.2 L for some time now, so I was interested to see what the benefits of the RF version might be. After putting it through its paces, I can say that this is simply the best 85mm lens I’ve ever used and it’s not even close.
- Focal length: 85mm
- Maximum aperture: f/1.2
- Minimum aperture: f/16
- Lens mount: Canon RF
- Optical design: 13 elements in 9 groups
- Diaphragm blades: 9 rounded
- Filter size: 82mm
- Dimensions: 4.06 x 4.62″
- Weight: 2.6 lbs
You can probably guess what I’m going to say here. What are the chances that Canon is going to release an RF mount “L” lens that isn’t basically optically perfect. The RF 85 f/1.2L doesn’t disappoint. It’s really close to perfect. The images this lens produces are simply beautiful. From color rendition to sharpness to bokeh, this lens is not going to disappoint you. In fact, it’ll probably leave your jaw dropped more often than not.
This lens also has character. The images it produces have that certain pop that you’ve come to expect from Canon “L” lenses.
The Canon RF 85 f/1.2L USM is incredibly sharp throughout the entire aperture range. At f/1.2 it’s tack sharp in the center and plenty sharp toward the edges. It’s the sharpest 85mm I’ve ever used. Compared to the EF 85 f/1.2L USM II, the RF 85 is sharper in the center and towards the edges. Above f/4.0, this lens is razor sharp.
Let’s look at some examples:
100% Crop Comparison – Center
100% Crop Comparison – Bottom Left Edge
Color & Contrast
The RF 85 1.2L produces rich, true to life colors with the right amount of contrast and detail. And in the words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”
The Canon RF 85 1.2L USM is built like a tank. It’s long, heavy and bulky. At 2.6 lb, it weighs more than the new RF 70-200 f/2.8L (2.36 lb). That said, pretty much all of the new extremely sharp, bokehlicious lenses are huge. The Sigma 85 1.4 Art weighs a comparable 2.49 lb. While the new trend toward big lenses might be bad for the wrists, it’s good for optical quality. Physics is physics after all.
The size and weight notwithstanding, this lens is well built and beautiful. I can’t say enough positive things about the aesthetics of the new RF line of lenses. After years of lenses that looked like they were from the 80’s, Canon has moved us solidly into the modern world in terms of design. It also features weather-sealing, a metal mount ring, and a plastic outer body that reduces weight. As with all the other RF lenses, it also features a control ring that you can use to control ISO, aperture, or pretty much whatever else you want.
Bokeh & Depth of Field
The whole reason one buys an 85mm 1.2 is for bokeh and depth of field, right? The RF 85 1.2 L USM doesn’t disappoint. In fact it’s probably the queen of bokeh. Out of focus elements are smooth and creamy with soft beautiful edges. Even at f/5.0 (see the image below), the out of focus elements are beautiful. At f/1.2, the bokeh is smooth and dreamlike.
While many wide aperture lenses produce images with some chromatic aberration and color fringing at wide open apertures, I haven’t noticed any in this lens. Wide open, the RF 85 1.2 L USM is perfect in a way I haven’t really seen before. Even towards the corners I haven’t noticed anything that needed correction in post. This is incredible as it’ll save time editing and produce better images overall.
100% Crop Comparison – Top Edge
One of the complaints about the older EF 85 1.2 L was that it was really slow at grabbing focus. The RF 85 1.2 L USM doesn’t have that problem. It snaps to focus almost immediately. While I did notice it will hunt a bit more than I’d like when I’m closer to the minimum focusing distance, it wasn’t a problem in real world use. It’s also so quiet that you could take a picture of a sleeping baby with this sucker with no hesitation at all. The EF 85 1.2 L tends to be a bit more noisy.
Value & Audience
At $2,699 this is not a lens for everyone. If you’re just getting started in photography, this is probably not the lens you should start with. This is a flagship lens designed for professionals who need the absolute best equipment for reliability and image quality. It’s also not going to work with every Canon camera. This lens is only for the Canon EOS R/RP. That said, if you’re a portrait or wedding photographer who uses the Canon EOS R, this lens is going to be a dream for you. It’s expensive, but in the long run, this a lens you’ll use all day. It’ll take those breathtaking portraits with creamy bokeh that your clients will love. If you can’t justify the $2,699 price tag, the EF 85 1.2L USM is $1000 cheaper and still an incredible lens. For newer photographers, the EF 85 1.8 takes great photos and provides excellent value at $269. On the EOS R, you can use any EF lens with the mount adapter.
If you want the absolute best 85mm that money can buy and you use the Canon EOS R, this is the lens for you. Simply put, this is the most optically perfect 85mm lens I’ve ever used. It’s sharp from the center to the edges. It produces beautiful, smooth bokeh that is really unrivaled by any other 85mm lens on the market (perhaps it’s cousin the RF 85 1.2 L DS will unseat it, but I haven’t gotten to test it yet). And it has almost no chromatic aberration or color fringing. Yes, it’s big and heavy, but on the EOS R with the battery grip attached, it feels well balanced. There really is very little negative to say about this lens except that it’s expensive and heavy. Optically, it’s the most perfect lens that Canon has ever produced. Whatever voodoo the new RF mount has in it, it has allowed Canon’s engineers and designers to produce lenses that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The RF 85 1.2L USM is one of those lenses.