Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Quick Review: Canon 85mm f/1.8

To quote myself from my Canon Lenses Chat - Part 3 post:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM: an excellent lens with USM auto-focus and very nice bokeh and loved by lots of people, however in my opinion and usage scenarios the 85mm focal length is a bit odd on a crop sensor (136mm equivalent), while suitable on full frame cameras, I'm not sure if I can take this lens on its own for walk. The 50mm and the 60mm (85 and 100mm equivalent) I already have are quite long and causes me serious problems when shooting large groups.

This quote indicates that I would have no use for a 85mm lens, so why did I still buy one? Hit the jump to know.

It all began when I tried one copy of the lens at a camera shop, I shot a lens box on the counter @ f/1.8 and the entire rack behind the counter dissolved into a creamy mush, which is what the 85mm f/1.8 is famous for. I already have a couple of lenses that go to 85mm, I have the 15-85 zoom lens and the 55-250 telephoto, both lenses are good; but none of them could get larger apertures than f/5.6 at these focal lengths, let alone f/1.8.

Here's the creamy mush background I'm talking about, and that's only at f/2.8

The difference between f/5.6 and even f/2.8 at such a focal length makes a huge difference in depth of field, add to that the compression a medium telephoto creates and you can easily "erase" any background to isolate your subject and create a spectacular portrait (not that this is what you'd want to always do). Check Mic's detailed post here about the perspective differences between various focal lengths.

So on a whim (and to satisfy my lens lust), I decided that I needed a wide aperture medium telephoto lens, and if I found out that I don't like it, I would sell it, so how did the 85mm f/1.8 fare with me?

  • Focusing: this lens features Canon's super-fast, silent, USM focusing (Nikon: SWM, Sigma: HSM), and it is very fast in this lens. I was able to shoot football games (from the sidelines) and follow the players without a hitch. The closest focusing distance is ~ 0.8m which is not very good, needless to say this lens is too long for indoor/closeup use.
  • Chromatic Aberration (Purple Fringing): very strong in this lens especially at wide apertures, I was completely shocked at first and regretted buying this lens since my other primes (50mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2, 60mm f/2.8) and zooms never exhibited such purple fringing. However I discovered that my first examples were all shot in conditions that exaggerated this effect, this doesn't mean that the lens is free of CA, it is still pretty strong at f1/.8, I just learned how to shoot in a way that minimizes it. Check my post at dpreview.
  • Sharpness: excellent for my own taste, I don't care about absolute corner sharpness or money note shots, I consider any lens sharp when I'm able to count someone's eyelashes, click on the picture below to see my self portrait @ 1600px wide, this was shot at f/2.0, and the focus is on my eyebrows because I was alone and didn't have someone to help, so I let the camera choose the focus point. Needless to say, stopping down to f/5.6 makes it crazy sharp.

Click to see the 1600px wide version
  • Bokeh: some of the most spectacular background renditions I have seen, by focusing closely on someone's face and shooting wide open, you can easily dissolve any background.

Lovely little girl, shot @ f/2.5

  • Size & Weight: One of the pleasant things about this lens is that it is quite small relative to it's focal length, and it's not heavy too, it is quite stealthy regarding that it's a 136mm equivalent on my 60D. If you add the lens hood to the equation it makes it look much larger.

Compared to my 15-85 extended to it's long end, this is tiny in comparison, shot using a Nikon D3100

In general, I love this lens a lot. If you're following my posts, you'll know that most of the time when I'm going somewhere, I usually pack my camera and pick one lens, and unless I need the zoom or the wide angle that the 15-85 provides, I usually pick either the 35mm f/2 or the 85mm f/1.8 and nothing else, they are both compact and have very excellent optics.

One thing to be aware of, unlike my 15-85 zoom lens which has image stabilization, this one doesn't, so if we go by the rule of minimum hand holdable shutter speed = 1/eq. focal length, you''ll find that you need your shutter speed to be around 1/125s or faster, which is not always easy to do in low light.

Below are some more pictures that I took using the 85 (including a couple at f/1.8), I hope you like them, if you have any questions please let me know in the comments section below.

Football, f/2.8

One of my all time favorites, the composition, the angle, the sneakers in the front, all of this makes it striking for me, shot @ f/2.8

Hey you, don't point this camera at me. Shot @ f/2.8

I shot this for fun when I was doing my Lowepro bag review, 1/30s @ f/1.8 handheld

This is the D3100 I used to take pictures of my camera, I might review it later


Canon Lenses Chat - Part 1: Standard Zoom Lenses
Canon Lenses Chat - Part 2: Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Canon Lenses Chat - Part 3: Prime Lenses
Macro Talk: Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Canon EF 35mm f/2 Review
Canon EF Lenses Chat: Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM Review
Canon EF Lenses Chat: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Review