This blog is my attempt to keep track of some of the things I learn along the way, with my Canon 7D, G12 and accessories. All images copyright Brad Calkins, not to be used without permission (or purchase). I do not attempt to monetize my blog, other than to promote my stock photo portfolio on Dreamstime.







Friday, December 4, 2009

85mm f/1.8 Canon prime lens

After sort of moving to zoom lenses for most of my work, and only the 60mm macro as a prime, I rented the 85mm f/1.2 recently. While this lens is very much beyond any kind of reasonable price that I could ever justify, it got me interested in both primes, and the focal length again. I liked the ability to be a bit further away and get less in focus compared to my 60mm.

As well, when comparing the 135mm f/2 and the 85mm f/1.8 the depth of field difference was there, but not something I thought I would notice a lot if framed right. As well, when I rented the 135mm I found it nice, but a bit long for most use on a crop sensor camera. At the same time, I became convinced I would appreciate the 35mm f/1.4 L lens as well, but couldn't justify it, either. As mentioned previously, I ended up deciding on the GF1 instead of the prime lens - and I've been happy with that decision.

Then I found a refurbished 85mm f/1.8 and decided to give it a go. Since the alternative at 85mm in the Canon lineup is so outrageous, and even the 'cheap' 135mm is three times the price, I'm happy to have found a decent prime lens that should get some use. Here is a recent stock image taken with this lens. I like the out of focus background, and even her ears are showing some blurring at f/2...

Baby girl

One thing I haven't quite understood with primes is that they often seem to have poor results in tests wide open. One wonders why you would pay for such a lens over a zoom if you "can't" even shoot wide open with it. And there is the problem - the reviewers often ask the wrong question. They are asking how well does it perform taking shots of a black and white, high contrast target in bright light - what they get is a bunch of CA and fringing, and general lack of contrast. If you actually take such a lens and shoot in the kinds of conditions where you want a fast lens, you find that it performs admirably. Hence why there are so many reviews that primes aren't great, not sharp wide open, and then a whole bunch of people using it for professional use and swearing by it. You need to actually use it to rate it! How often will I shoot back lit leaves with this lens wide open? Never! How many wedding shots are blurry, slightly soft, but absolutely loved because they captured the emotion?

4 comments:

neil said...

This was my second prime lens, the first being the "I-am-prime-too-50/1.8" lens and I specifically bought this to shoot a badminton tournament (and more for the future). FYI, badminton tournaments are definitely 1.8 situations at ISO 1600 and no flash permitted. And what a lens!

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Brad C said...

I'm looking forward to using this at the kid's Christmas concert this year...

Eric Côté said...

I have this lens since last summer and absolutely love it. I shot an entire wedding with this lens and ALL my outside portraits are shot with this. The bokeh is wonderful, contrast is good, focus is fast and tack sharp. It's great of indoor portrait too because you don't have to be in the face of the subject like with the 50mm. It's my favorite lens. If I switch to full frame, I'll probably switch this lens for a 135mm f/2 since it will be about the same equivalent lenght.
That's really a good decision you took Brad and I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun with that lens.

Brad C said...

Thanks for the comment, Eric. I absolutely wanted to love the 135mm, but in the end the 85mm won out - it is a great value.