REVIEW CANON RF 85MM F1.2L USM

In February 2019, six new lenses with an RF mount were announced. One of those six is the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM. The lens is an impressive successor to the Canon lens EF 85mm F1.2L II USM. That lens already had high resolution and brightness. The new RF lens, with the highest resolution ever, proves that even more is possible.

Click on the lens for specifications, prices and test results.

TEST RESULTS Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM:

PROS

CONS

  • High image quality
  • High brightness
  • No chromatic aberration
  • Weather resistant
  • Good build quality
  • Control ring
  • Fairly fast autofocus
  • Big and heavy
  • Hefty price
  • Not completely insensitive to backlighting
  • Sharp edges around bokeh balls

The Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM is the ultimate portrait lens. 

The Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM is the RF version of the famous Canon EF 85mm F1.2L USM. That lens has been more or less the gold standard for portrait lenses for years. A short telephoto with a brightness of F1.2 ensures a paper-thin depth of field at full aperture. This gives you a maximum difference between your sharp subject and the blurred background. That is ideal for portrait photography. It draws all the attention to your model and suppresses disruptive backgrounds. An 85mm ensures a nice distance between the photographer and model and prevents distortion of faces. However, the EF version is not perfect. The focus of the EF version is a bit slow, and if you have highlights in the foreground or background, you will see some color flaws. The new RF system has a large mount and a small distance from the mount to the sensor. This gives Canon designers more options. You see that in the lenses Canon has designed so far for the RF system. These show that the best lenses in the EF system can be further improved. And that also applies to the new RF 85 mm F1.2L USM.

One of the differences is that the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM uses BR elements, an optical technology designed by Canon. It’s only Canon’s second lens that uses this technology. The Canon EF 35 mm F1.4L II USM was the first, almost five years before the introduction of the RF 85 mm F1.2L USM. BR stands for Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics. This technology corrects axial chromatic aberration, which is not possible with traditional lenses. Applying this technology results in a sharp image without color flaws. The image shows no disturbing, blue edges along the edge of a high-contrast subject.

For those who find the RF 85 mm F1.2L USM not yet special enough, there is also an extra special version, the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM DS. DS is here for Defocus Smoothing. This lens has a specially coated lens element that ensures an even softer blur in the background, with soft transitions in high lights. This lens does have a slightly lower effective brightness at full aperture than the ‘normal’ RF 85 mm F1.2L USM.

Build

The RF 85 mm F1.2L USM is very similar to the EF version. It’s a big, heavy lens with a big front lens. With a weight of more than 1.2 kilos, this is not a lens you’ll quickly choose for a backpacking holiday. The Canon wouldn’t mind it, though. It is exceptionally robust. Although the high weight suggests otherwise, the body of the lens is not entirely made of metal. Part of it is made of high-quality plastic. We have no problem with that. Everything feels completely free of play, and the lens is fitted with gaskets on each ring and switch. The big front lens has a fluorine coating that repels moisture and dirt.

At the front, we find the programmable Control ring, with a fine diamond pattern. Towards the middle is the ribbed focus ring. Behind that are two switches: one for AF/MF and one for limiting the focus range. The two settings are “Full” and “Infinity to 1.5m.” The optical design consists of 13 elements in 9 groups. That’s slightly more lens elements than the EF version has. The lens has a nine-bladed diaphragm and comes with a large lens hood.

Focus

The Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM uses a USM motor. This ensures reasonably smooth focus. Still not as fast as the fastest telephotos with a USM motor, but more than fast enough for most portrait photography. Compared to the EF 85 mm F1.2L USM, the new Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM is noticeably faster when it comes to the speed of the autofocus. For sports photography, however, the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM will still not be the first choice, unless you have to shoot in a space with really low light. The manual focus is not terribly sensitive, but the focus arc is sufficiently short to be effective. The shortest setting distance is 85cm, and that is more or less standard for a portrait lens.

On the Canon EOS R5, this lens can also use focus on the eye in animals, and that works quite well, even with difficult subjects such as the small eyes of a bird in a busy environment. On F1.2, the difference in correct or incorrect placement of the focal plane is mercilessly visible, and the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM forms a great combination with the EOS R5.

Image quality

The MTF graphs of the RF 85 mm F1.2L USM are a lot better than those of the EF version, and we can see that in practice. The sharpness of the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM is already extremely high at full aperture, and that is something that the EF version did not have. With the EF version, the impression of sharpness at full aperture was high, but that had to do mainly with the large difference from the blur of the background. The Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM is already almost at its best at full aperture and stopping down mostly results in more depth of field.

It should come as no surprise that such a bright lens suffers from vignetting at full aperture. It’s about two stops at full aperture. At F2, it’s already halved, and above that, it’s actually no longer a problem. Vignetting produces a vignette around your subject, and for portrait photography, that’s actually attractive. Distortion is virtually absent. The lens is not completely free of flare when you shoot straight into the sun, and some loss of contrast can sometimes occur.

Perhaps even more impressive than the good sharpness at full aperture is the almost complete absence of chromatic aberrations. This lens is actually completely free of colored edges along subjects with high contrast transitions, even in the corners. It ensures a very beautiful, true-to-nature and transparent rendering. More important is the absence of longitudinal chromatic aberration. That is something that the EF version is quite troubled by, making you be careful with some subjects. If you have shiny items such as jewelry or water with sparkle in the foreground or background, the EF 85 mm F1.2L USM would show a magenta edge in the foreground and a green edge in the background.

A detail at 150% from a portrait shot, with the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM on the left and the Sony FE 85mm F1.8 on the right, both at full aperture. In terms of sharpness, they do differ by much, which is already special because the Canon is more than a stop brighter. What you can clearly see is that the Canon does not suffer from CA. With the Sony, you clearly see a purple glow in the hair.

Correcting LoCAs is virtually impossible. The Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM has hardly little trouble with it. You can see the influence here of Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics. Thanks to the absence of LoCAs, you have to worry much less about what you have in the frame. With the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM, you can really photograph carefree, knowing that almost every photo will be technically perfect.

BOKEH

One of the most important reasons to buy the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM is of course the bokeh. A lens with a brightness of F1.2 does not seem that much brighter than a F1.4. But it’s a difference of 2/3rd of a stop. With an 85mm F1.4, you get very little depth of field, and with an F1.2, it’s even less. With the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM, you get a slightly more beautiful bokeh than with F1.4 lenses. The high blur gives the backgrounds an almost painted quality.

However, you can see that the blurred areas can sometimes have a sharp edge that takes away just a bit from the softness of the background blur. If you have many highlights in the background, then it can sometimes get a bit restless. Those who often have that or want to avoid it altogether can opt for the DS version. We list it here under the CONS for this lens. That’s not because this Canon suffers more than other bright portrait lenses, but because we are slightly stricter with the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM than with any F1.8 85 mm, given its price and position.

Canon.nl

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM

 specifications
  
field of view (diag)30°
sensor formatFull frame
min. setting distance0.85 cm
filter diameter82
diaphragm blades9
image stabilizernone
dimensions (dxl)103-117 mm
weight1195 gr
mountCanon RF
particularsBR technology
importerwww.canon.nl/be
list price€  3049.99
  
resolution9.5
contrast9
chromatic aberration10
distortion9.5
vignetting8
autofocus8
flare8
finish9.5
  
final score9

Conclusion: Review

CANON RF 85MM F1.2L USM ON CANON EOS R5

The Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L is a lens in the uber-category. Big, expensive, and heavy, but with image quality that makes you forget all that when you’re working with it.

There are lenses that can make you choose a particular system. The Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM is such a lens. It is a technically almost-perfect short telephoto. The high sharpness and brightness combined with an almost complete absence of color flaws and good focusing makes this a very desirable lens for portrait photographers who want to get the most out of their equipment. It’s not cheap, but that’s not possible for a lens with performance like this Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM. You can also see the Canon RF 85 mm F1.2L USM as an investment in the future. Even on the EOS R5, this lens has no problem with the resolution. It’s therefore a lens that will be able to cope well with the resolution on newer sensors.