Most helpful positive review
1,067 of 1,099 people found the following review helpful
Fills a significant niche all by itself
on August 13, 2007
(I actually want to give it 4.5 stars)
As most of you arriving at this page and considering this lens are the more professional/advanced amateur photographers whom already own plenty of L glass, this review will be written from a more stringent perspective on its capability to own up to its expensive price tag and compare with other L's. (i.e. no "It's so much better than my kit lens! Wow, buy it! The end")
First up, it's uses. This lens is more obvious than others. Yep it's primarily a portrait lens. Anything that sits at 70mm focal length or higher and maintans wide apertures qualifies as such. L lenses tend to function well in two or sometimes more roles; this lens proves to function decently in one other role. Note that this lens's main advantage is it aperture. If the lens is stopped down, other L lenses start taking over with better image quality. With this in mind, let's look at a breakdown of all the other possible uses for this lens:
As a general telephoto: Trying to stop it down and use the lens as an 85mm telephoto for "everyday" use really doesn't work: the 70-200mm (any of them) produces better sharpness at comparable apertures, equal chromatic abberation, faster AF, and adds more versatility for less price (with the exception that the 85mm has better saturation). One could argue that situations with low light might prove a worthy use for this lens, such as weddings & receptions. In this case there is a tie. The 85mm aperture advantage means usable shutter times in very low light, but you will notice a problem trying to autofocus with this lens (as its AF is known for being not exactly the best/fastest in the industry). The 70-200 f/2.8L IS has a three stop stabilizer, granting an "effective" 70-200mm f/1.4 (only "effective" as your shutter times are still slower than what a true f/1.4 lens would a achieve). So for low light with less action, you're better off going with the 70-200 f/2.8L IS. With more action (hopefully lateral action not coming towards or away from the lens, stressing its AF) the 85mm will have an advantage.
Usage as a macro: not really. There are much better lenses for this (i.e. the 180mm f/3.5L) The minimum focus distance is too long to garner anything better than a mild macro lens. The only advantage the 85mm has in this regard is it's extreme DOF at minimum focus. The 180mm f/3.5L only produces an equivalen DOF when it focuses in to 1:4 macro or closer, meaining that the 85mm can achieve its beautiful DOF while encompassing a more "zoomed out" view of a subject, which the 180mm can't do. However, the 85mm's image degradation wide open sets it back far enough so that, surprisingly, the 135mm f/2L takes over as your "semi-macro with extreme DOF" lens, which performs much better wide open with an approximately equivalent DOF at minimum focus (and with less weight).
Landscape: yep this works, and this the area other than portraiture that the 85mm f/1.2 functions well in, but only if your objective is to produce ultra-thin DOF images. Otherwise other L lenses fulfill this role with much better satisfaction. Exposures of flowers and foliage work well, along with anything that features an interesting main subject and a background suitably beatiful for being blurred into a wash of color. Once again however, the 135mm competes as a contender in the DOF catagory. All things considered, the 135mm produces better image quality while the 85mm produces a somewhat stronger DOF with a more surreal/dreamy feel to its images.
Portraiture: the main enchilada. No other lens performs portraiture as well as the 85mm f/1.2 under $4000. Female subjects will especially appreciate the dreamy DOF this lens can produce. If you do portraits or wedding work, this lens MUST be in your bag. Mark it up as a necessary business expense and start saving now. If you actually happen to have the $4000 previously mentioned, you may wish to consider the 200mm f/1.8L or the 300mm F/2.8L. They yield an equivalent DOF at their longer focal lengths and deliver superior image quality, but require much more working room and more ambient light.
The 85mm f/1.8 is one of the biggest competitors to this lens in terms of buying decisions. Forget the 100's of pages worth of forum entries regarding this debate, it boils down to this: you know you need an 85mm portrait lens. Are you a professional or demand the best in image quality? If yes, get this lens. Period. Enjoy the enhanced DOF, build quality, surrealistic/dreamy exposures, transfered dynamic range, and the peace of mind that comes form knowing you bought the best and your images aren't hindered by your equipment. If no, buy the 85mm f/1.8. Enjoy the additional spending money, lighter weight, faster AF, and additional telephoto usage. That's all there is to it.
The 85mm f/1.2 Mark I is also a competitor on the used market. Having used both the MkI and MkII variants, I find the ~$300 difference worth it, mainly due to the AF. The MkII's AF enhancement is nothing short of significant, both the speed and accuracy of the AF have been brought up a notch. This isn't so much a big deal in the studio as it is in the realm of weddings. As a bonus, the saturation seems somewhat higher as well.
The 50mm f/1.2. This one took me a little while to decide on. $200 less. Much faster on the AF and less cumbersome. The saturation is about equivalent. The sharpness is less. CA is worse. In the end, the 85mm's more-dreamlike image output and 35mm advantage places it above the 50mm f/1.2 in terms of portraiture.
The 135mm f/2. I hate to say this, but in all reality the 135mm isn't so much of a competitor as mush as it is a COMPLIMENT to the 85mm. The difference in focal length, AF, IQ, working ranges, and DOF mean that, although they may overlap and compete with each other from time to time in minor usages (the landscape and macro usages mentioned above), the primary uses of the 85mm and 135mm are seperate. It doesn't seem like it on paper, but once you use both lenses for a little while in the field they fill different roles almost immediately. If you're a professional in portraiture or weddings, it's not a question of which one, it's a question of which one first. (My general recommended order for wedding photog's: 70-200mm F/2.8L IS, 16-35mm F/2.8L, 85mm F/1.2L, and finally 135mm F/2L.)
The breakdown for this lens:
Usage: Taking portraits of females and children in studio or on-location. Some low-light event photography.
-Superior DOF with a 'dreamy' feel other lenses can't produce
-Good saturation (standard compared to other L's: better than the 70-200)
-Weight & price
-AF (still slow compared to other L's, but significantly better than the MkI)
-AF is electronic override, requires power to lens in order to function
-Entire main element grouping shifts forward by up to 3/4" when focusing to minimum distance
-Rear element is flush to base, requires care when lens swapping
-CA when wide open is green shift (odd as most CA shift is usually red)
The 85mm f/1.2L MkII is a cumbersome lens, requiring attention and patience, and is surpassed by many lenses in most usages of photography. However, it's results are simply unmatched within the primary usage of portraiture. It stands alone as an absolute requirement for professionals.