If you like to shoot portraits, an 85mm prime lens could be one of the best investments you'll ever make for your DSLR. Richard Sibley and Michael Topham put five models through a rigorous test

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM


The Canon lens is at its best at around f/8, although at f/11 there is only a slight drop in resolution and the difference between the centre and edge sharpness is less noticeable. At f/1.2, the lens isn’t very sharp, and it isn’t until f/2-2.8 that there is a significant improvement.


The large front element of the Canon lens must go some way to help keep vignetting to a minimum. Here the Canon lens excels – it is by far the best lens in terms of vignetting and at f/1.4 the corners are only around 0.2EV darker.

Curvilinear distortion

At its worst, the Canon lens produces more barrel distortion than any of the other lenses in this test. That isn’t actually saying much, however. As you can see from the values, the distortion is still hardly noticeable in most cases, and easily corrected.

See our graphs explained

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM

Price: £1,750
Weighing an astonishing 1,025g, this is the heaviest, fastest and most expensive lens on test

Canon offers a pair of 85mm primes in its EF lens range – the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (£295) and the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM. The latter is the superior of the two and is constructed from eight elements in seven groups, as well as using Canon’s Super Spectra coating to reduce flare and ghosting – a phenomenon that can be caused by light rays bouncing off different lens elements.

Intended for use on Canon DSLRs that feature an EF lens mount, it’s compatible with both Canon full-frame and APS-C-format DSLRs, such as the EOS 7D, where it offers an equivalent focal length of 136mm. Autofocus operation is very smooth, thanks to Canon’s Ultrasonic Motor, which supports full-time manual override to adjust the focus without leaving AF mode. There’s a gentle whir as the lens focuses, but it presented no sign of hunting between near and far subjects when tested with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. While smooth to operate, the focus ring offers little resistance when it’s being used to manually focus and the MF/AF switch could do with being raised slightly, to make it easier to find when the camera is lifted to the eye.

Score: 4 out of 5

Data file

Filter diameter 72mm
Lens elements 8
Groups 7
Diaphragm blades 8
Aperture f/1.2-16
Minimum focus 95cm
Length 84mm
Diameter 91mm
Weight 1,025g
Lens mount Canon EF/EF-S

  1. 1. Anatomy of an 85mm lens
  2. 2. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM
  3. 3.
  4. 4. Samyang 85mm f/1.4 IF MC
  5. 5. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
  6. 6. Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*
  7. 7. Second-hand alternatives
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