Canon 85mm f1.8 is the lens that I never heard a bad word about it. It offers more than it costs, but it is not just about good value. It is simplicity what makes this lens great. We have more demands for lenses today, but Canon 85mm f1.8 stays the best choice for many photographers.
Canon 85mm f1.8 vs Canon 85mm f1.2 II
We have a 40-year-old design (with few tweaks over years) in Canon 85mm f1.2 II and that lens is still amazing. Comparisons with new Canon 85mm f1.4 IS lens shows that old lens offers better bokeh and bit more sharpness. But Canon 85mm f1.8 is a much smaller lens, cost less and has faster autofocus. And if you want to buy one used, there is always a bunch of them on eBay or forums. You are not going to find Canon 85mm f1.2 II used that easy and you will be too careful to buy one used.
Even if you buy Canon 85mm f1.2 II, new or used, you are going to care too much. You will check focus accuracy too often. You are going to be too careful with lens caps, a position of the lens in a camera bag. This lens is not for documentary situations. With Canon 85mm f1.8 life is much simpler. You can always find a place in the bag for that lens, you can just drop the lens without lens caps. You won’t mind bringing the lens to friends kid birthday, or hiking. Canon 85mm f1.8 is simply there for you. Assuming that you are going to use this lens on full-frame, it can almost be a “kit” lens for outside individual or group photoshoot. Both professional or amateur. Size of the lens is perfect for Canon full-frame bodies and 85mm is never narrow outside.
Canon 85mm f1.8 vs Canon 85mm f1.4 IS
Comparing to new Canon 85mm f1.4 IS, the f1.8 lens shows its age. New lens focuses very fast and accurate. The speed of focus never been a problem for Canon 85mm f1.8. But you are never 100% sure about accuracy with very old lenses. Bear in mind that Canon 85mm f1.8 dates back to the beginning of EF system, 15 years before the mainstream use of DSLR. Latest lens designs and components are just more consistent when it comes to focus accuracy.
Still, I can say that Canon 85mm f1.8 focuses better than any Canon 50mm lens. And I tried all of them. Old 50mm f1.8 II “plastic-fantastic,” 50mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2, new 50mm f1.8 STM. Canon 85mm f1.8 just makes you feel you have to worry less about focus compared to any 50mm. 50mm focal length feels like not easy to make a sharp and accurate lens. 85mm is easier territory for lens design. The main advantage of the f1.8 lens over new 85mm f1.4 IS is price and once again weight. New lens doesn’t look big as f1.2 but actually weight 950gr. f1.8 lens weight an only little bit over 400gr.
Versus Sigma, Tamron…
Comparing to other 85mm lenses, Canon f1.8 still looks good. Sigma is 85mm f1.4 Art is ridiculously big. Looks wrong with any camera body. It costs not enough less then new f1.4 IS and same as used 85mm f1.2 II. And you will need to fiddle with Sigma dock to made AF more reliable. Even after that you still are going to feel little anxious about autofocus. But it is super sharp less. It will be the best choice for specific situations. You should consider this lens as a budget version of Zeiss Otus.
I will never compare Sigma too much to other Canons. Because f1.2 just makes a unique look, f1.8 is too affordable and simple and f1.4 IS will simple be better lens overall. Tamron f1.8 with stabilization is one more contender. It is not affordable for f1.8 lens thanks to stabilization. And you can expect usual third-party lens Gremilns with this lens. Tamron is good for some video use. Yongnuo makes a copy of 85mm f1.8 lens but I cannot comment. This lens can be as good as Canon for less money or just wasted money (not much less compared to used Canon f1.8). I still have to use this lens.
As we can see there are a lot of 85mm lenses. But it is not easy to choose them, except Canon 85mm f1.8. It is affordable for everyone, sharp enough, with very fast and accurate autofocus. If you need any other lens, you already knew that. But if you just need 85mm and you are not sure which one, buy Canon f1.8. And only buy expensive one later if you made money with this lens. Otherwise, just keep beautiful Canon 85mm f1.8.
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