Introduction

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, released in early 2006, is one of the fastest prime lenses in Canon's modern arsenal (the other lens that offers as fast aperture is Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM) and replaces the first generation EF 85mm f/1.2L lens. Priced at about US$1,700 (as of September 2007), the lens is one of the most expensive prime lenses in Canon's current lineup.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 8 elements in 7 groups, including a single aspherical element that suppresses various forms of aberration. The lens also sports floating optical system which improves overall picture quality throughout the aperture range. As expected from an L lens, the build quality is superb - lens parts don't wobble whatsoever and rubberized focusing ring is smooth, albeit a little bit narrow for my taste. The lens looks and feels pretty bulky for a medium telephoto lens - it weighs a whopping 1.02kg (36.2oz) and measures 92 x 84mm (3.6 x 3.3in).

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM offers fast and silent ring-type USM auto focusing as well as full-time manual focusing system, but unlike most other lenses that offer manual focusing, EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM utilizes an electronic manual focusing system. This means that the camera has to be turned on for manual focus to work. Users can switch between the two supported modes using an AF/MF switch located on the side of the barrel. The lens does not have a manual aperture control ring, so aperture can only be controlled electronically from your camera. The minimum focusing distance of the lens is 95cm (3.2ft) and the minimum aperture level is f/16. The lens accepts 72mm screw-in type filters and since the front element of the lens does not rotate, you can use circular polarizers. The lens also sports internal focusing mechanism, so the lens cams do not extend during focusing.

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The lens bears EF designation, meaning it was designed to fit fit Canon's full-frame EF mount. On APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop factor the field of view of the lens will resemble that of a 136mm lens on a full-frame body. The lens accepts Gelatin Holder Adapters III and IV. The factory box includes Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, front and rear caps, ES-79II snap-on type lens hood, LP1219 soft case, manual and registration card.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 8 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field ~29 degrees
Minimum Focus 95cm/3.2ft
Focusing Action AF/MF, USM
f-stop Scale f/1.4-f/16, camera-controlled
Filter Size 72mm
Lens Hood ES-79II (included)
Weight 1,025g/36.2oz
Dimensions 91.5x84mm/3.6x3.3"
Lens Case LP1219 (included)

 

Field Tests

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM performed very well in the field. Canon claims that the Mk2 revision of the lens speeds up auto focus ~1.8x times compared to the previous model. And while I have not had a chance to test the first generation sample of this lens, so I can't do a proper comparison, AF system of Mk2 was extremely fast and very accurate in most situations. The lens showcased outstanding overall performance, with very sharp center across aperture range. At its widest aperture levels, the lens produced very smooth bokeh, so I did not bother comparing border sharpness from f/1.2 through f/2. But by f/2.8 borders were as sharp as the center (at least visually).

 

Vignetting @ f/1.2 - full frame vs 1.6x crop
Vignetting @ f/1.2 - full frame vs 1.6x crop

 

The lens showed moderate amount of vignetting on a full frame Canon 5D at f/1.2. It is reduced as you stop down and by f/2.8 becomes practically non-existent. On an APS-C type Canon 400D, the lens showed no vignetting throughout the tested aperture range. Color representation was pretty accurate, albeit as with most Canon lenses it was a tidbit on a warmer side. The lens fell prone to minor color fringing at its widest aperture level (across the frame). Flare, while present at f/1.2 was not extreme, which is surprising for a lens with such a large maximum aperture.

 

ISO 100, 1/4000, f/1.2, 85mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/4000, f/1.2, 85mm (100% crop)


 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM demonstrated outstanding performance in the center pretty much throughout the aperture range. At f/1.2 center sharpness is already very respectable and with stopped down aperture it becomes exceptional. Border performance lags a little bit and at wide aperture levels (f/1.2 through f/1.4) it is not very spectacular (mildly put). Quality improves as you stop down and by f/2.8 it reaches solid levels and by f/4 it becomes top notch. At its peak around f/4 through f/11, the lens is capable of producing outstanding 19in and decent 24in prints. Conclusion? As with most super fast lenses, Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM struggles a bit around borders at its widest apertures. Should the lens be penalized because of that? Probably not, since majority of lenses would exhibit similar weakness.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 85mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 85mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 85mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 85mm

 

Chromatic aberration was more or less under control on an APS-C body. CA averaged ~0.6px in the center with wide open aperture but is reduced to ~0.3px towards f/11. CA was slightly higher around borders, averaging ~0.9px at f/1.2 and also reduced to ~0.3px towards f/11.

 

Image borders @ 85mm (100% crop): f/1.2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 85mm (100% crop): f/1.2 vs f/8

 

Canon FF: The lens showed quite impressive center performance on a full frame Canon 5D. Center sharpness is simply outstanding straight from f/1.2 and remains on a consistently high level throughout the rest of the tested aperture range. Like with the APS-C camera, border performance suffered to some extent at wide apertures and from f/1.2 through f/2 quality is not very impressive. The story changes as you stop down to f/2.8 and beyond - here Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM starts to show truly impressive results. Performance is most balances in the f/4-f/11 range where center and border sharpness go neck-to-neck with each other. Conclusion? There were no major (negative) surprises on a full-frame body. The lens clearly has a sweet spot in the f/4 through f/11 range. You might be wary of the (somewhat) lackluster performance around borders at wide aperture levels, but as mentioned earlier, the lens should not be penalized here, since majority of other lenses also struggle at such extremely wide aperture levels.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 85mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 85mm

 

Chromatic aberration was well under control on a full frame body, with CA not exceeding ~0.5px in the center and ~0.9px around borders with the widest aperture setting. CA is significantly reduced with stopped down aperture and by f/2.8 becomes pretty much negligible.

 

Image borders @ 85mm (100% crop): f/1.2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 85mm (100% crop): f/1.2 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

Canon currently has two interesting alternatives to the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. The first one is the slightly slower and significantly cheaper 85mm variant - EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (review), which exhibits pretty solid performance across the frame at all aperture levels and costs about 4x less then its faster brethren. Another interesting alternative (assuming you're willing to go with a slightly longer focal length and even slower aperture) is EF 135mm f/2L USM (review). This lens also shows excellent overall characteristics and is also priced more attractively.

 

Recommendation

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM is an outstanding lens with one weakness - price. All right, so it's not really a weakness, but US$1,600 is too steep a price for casual and amateur photographers. Nevertheless, with excellent overall performance on both APS-C and FF cameras, solid build construction, super fast AF and enormously large maximum aperture, this medium telephoto lens is not going to disappoint you should you decide to shed that much money. But if you're on a budget, then you should certainly take a look at another 85mm variant - EF 85mm f/1.2 USM