Canon was the first lens maker to create an 85mm lens with a giant f/1.2 aperture, way back in 1976 with the release of the FD 85mm f/1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical. Since then, they’ve had an 85mm f/1.2 continuously in their stable, with the slightly revised FD 85mmf /1.2L, then the two revisions of the EF 85mm f/1.2L. All those lenses were large, chunky lenses with very good image quality for the day and for a lens with such an extreme aperture, but they always had some optical compromises. In the latest incarnation, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L has become bigger than ever, but promises to deliver uncompromising image quality. Did they succeed? As you’ll see in this review, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
Construction and Handling
As I mentioned in the introduction, any 85mm f/1.2 lens is going to be large and heavy, but in meeting the optical goals for this lens, the engineers at Canon have thrown away any notion of compact size. The RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is a simply massive lens, measuring over 103mm (4 inches) in diameter, 117mm (4.6 inches) in length and weighing nearly 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs). The lens looks like a small keg bolted to your camera. Thankfully, Canon’s RF mount cameras all have excellent hand grips, and as such, the lens actually handles pretty well in use, despite the weight and size.
The lens is built similarly to the other Canon RF L lenses, with a strongly constructed lens body covered in polycarbonate. Canon’s exterior plastic doesn’t feel like the highest quality stuff, but multiple teardowns have confirmed that the actual build quality of these lenses is on a very high level. Like all L series lenses, the RF 85mm f/1.2L is weather-sealed against dust and moisture.
The 85mm f/1.2L has an average sized focus ring that turns very smoothly, and the RF control ring sits at the front of the lens and turns with satisfying clicks. Canon offers a service (for money) to de-click the control ring if you so desire. On the side of the lens are the AF/MF control switch as well as a focus limiter, which can be selected to the full focus range or limit it to between 1.5m and infinity. I like having the option for focus limiters, but on this lens, I don’t think it’s necessary. In the 8 months I’ve owned this lens, that switch has never moved from the ‘FULL’ position.
The RF 85mm f/1.2L comes with a large plastic lens hood that is reversible for storage. Even though the hood isn’t much larger in diameter than the lens, the lens becomes quite difficult to fit in most camera shoulder bags with the hood attached. As such, this is one hood I ended up leaving off the lens almost all the time.
One characteristic of the older EF mount version of the 85mm f/1.2L was rather slow and deliberate autofocus. While the version II model of that lens increased focus speed, it still was a rather pokey focuser, and only suitable for portrait work. The RF 85mm f/1.2L, however, has powerful focus motors that allow the lens to focus relatively quickly. While still slower than the fastest focusing lenses, the RF 85mm f/1.2L can lock focus smoothly and quickly, moving from its closest focusing distance to infinity in around a half a second. This is fast enough to actually track action with a reasonable degree of accuracy, and in testing with my son running directly towards me, I was able to get a surprising hit rate of about 85% in perfect focus, despite the ultra-shallow depth of field.
With Canon’s excellent eye autofocus, the lens was able to absolutely nail focus in static situations with near 100% accuracy. While the lens’s minimum focus distance of 0.85m is not unusual for an 85mm lens, it is a step up over the EF mount 85mm f/1.2’s, which could only focus to 0.95m. That 10cm may not sound like a lot, but it makes a big difference in compositional freedom for portraits.
The lens does not feature any image stabilization, but of course can take advantage of any in-body stabilization for the RF cameras that have it.