I have been fortunate enough to test the brand new Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens, one of the few “L-series” prime lenses offering Image Stabilization (IS). Prior to this release, there were only a couple of L-series primes that offered IS. Tamron’s SP series of lenses – the SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD and SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD seemed to be positioned in the premium market and Canon sought to answer in big way.
The 85mm f/1.4L IS lens was originally announced in August of 2017 and was highly anticipated by portrait photographers.
The 85mm f/1.4L IS has 77mm filter thread, is sealed against dust and moisture and deploys a fluorine coating to protect elements against harsh conditions. There is an optical image stabilization system that offers up to four-stops of effective stabilization. The lens has a 9-bladed aperture to create beautiful blown-out backgrounds when shooting wide open. A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) also affords quick and accurate autofocus performance, along with full-time manual focus override for fine-tuned control.
The lens is thinner and lighter than the older the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens, weighing in around 2.09 pounds. While ergonomics are important, where the lens really shines is in it’s autofocus performance. It is fast, lightning fast. The f/1.4 version laps the 85mm f/1.2L II which was a always lamented as a slower tool.
Obviously, this is a fantastic portrait lens, especially when shooting wide open. The lens is extremely sharp, especially when your focus is spot on, which you can see in the images below:
The only quirk I experienced was while shooting wide open at a distance of ten to fifteen feet from the camera. I found that my subject was consistently out of focus. Stopping the aperture down helped a little, but there was something about the scene that the camera/lens combination did not like. I will chalk it up as an aberration because performance was flawless otherwise.
A lens of this caliber was made to excel in a studio environment, so I went to my friend’s studio to put it through it’s paces. For these portraits, I shot between f/1.4 & f/8. The images that I captured with the lens were fantastic. I was quite impressed with how fast the lens grabbed focus on the subjects, how sharp they appeared and the color rendition of the lenses.
I am mostly a street photographer. You’ll find me spending most of my time walking around exploring a new location or an area of a city for subjects that stand out or tell a story. For this type of shooting, I usually like a 35mm focal length, an 85mm lens is not ideal. However, I also believe that the best lens is the one you have with you and you can use almost anything to tell a story.
I had a great opportunity to test this lens where I am most comfortable, in the streets on Philadelphia, after a recent winter storm.
After walking around in the freezing cold for over an hour, I can tell you that the lens holds up in inclement weather. The lens performed admirably, grabbing focus on my subjects without issues of hunting. Having the fluorine coating made cleaning the front element nice and easy while the weather sealing kept the lens and camera from having any issues with moisture. Overall my experience with this lens was fantastic.
So, who is this lens for? If you are a portrait, wedding, or a fashion photographer I highly recommend this lens. What if you have any of the other Canon 85mm lenses? If you are coming from the 85mm f/1.2 and would like to have a faster focusing and stabilized lens, this is for you. If you are coming from the Canon EF 85mm F1.8 USM and would like to have a lens that offers more aperture, better optics, better contrast, and image stabilization then you should go for the 85mm f/1.4L IS. Alternatives on the market are the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 VC or the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG Art lens.