Far cheaper than Canon's f/1.2 equivalent, but still a mighty good performer for a more than reasonable price
Rather than testing Canon’s f/1.8 lens we might have looked at the f/1.2L version instead – were it not for the £2,640 price tag. This is a mind-bogglingly hefty sum that puts the lens well out of reach for most photographers. With that in mind, it is more interesting to investigate what you get when you spend between £470 (Canon’s list price) and about £300 (the lowest street price) on the much more affordable f/1.8 model.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 is an unpretentious and uncluttered lens. It has a centrally-placed manual focusing ring with an AF/MF slider to the rear, alongside a small focus-distance window that features an IR focusing mark and depth-of-field indicators for f/22.
Focusing is both swift and internal, leaving the front element undisturbed at all times. Manual adjustments can be applied in AF mode, which can be especially helpful on those rare occasions when the camera is unable to determine proper focus by itself. Using the lens in fully manual mode is very comfortable, should you need to. The lens is nicely proportioned and nestles comfortably in the hand without feeling unduly heavy. It is also quite compact and could easily be mistaken for a 50mm prime from a distance.
Technical testing reveals MTF figures that are at or above the critical 0.25 cycles-per-pixel level from wide-open down to f/16. Between f/4 and f/13 the resolution figures remain above 0.3 cycles-per-pixel, and at f/5.6 the lens is only a shade shy of 0.35 cycles-per-pixel. These are excellent results so it is a shame that Canon has seen fit to offer an f/22 setting because the MTF really plummets beyond f/16.
Strictly speaking, Canon should be penalised for offering the f/22 aperture, given that it grossly under-represents the quality of the lens; however we can probably assume that the vast majority of quality-conscious photographers would steer clear of f/22 without any prompting, and give Canon the benefit of the doubt. That point aside, there is absolutely nothing to dislike about this lens. The fact that it’s also very affordable simply adds to its appeal.
Canon’s f/1.8 lens flies the flag for the more affordable end of the product range and turns in a very solid performance, suggesting that sub-£400 versions should not be dismissed even when set against four-figure rivals.
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