Customer Review

70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L-series performance at non L-series price, June 17, 2010
This review is from: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras (Camera)
Before I get into the review, let me give a quick primer on Canon lenses for those of you who may be looking at this lens for your first Canon and are not really familiar with the "L-series..." comment in my review title. Canon lenses can be grouped into 3 basic categories - EF and EF-S non USM, EF and EF-S with USM, and L. The EF-S lenses are specifically designed for Canon cameras using the APS-C sensor (the Rebels, the 7D, the 10/20/30/40/50D). The non-USM versions of these lenses are traditionally considered 'kit lenses' (ones that are packaged with cameras - for example the 18-55 EF-S or the 55-250 EF-S that often come with the Rebel series) and are traditionally considered 'beginner' lenses. They lack the ultrasonic motor driven autofocus (USM) and they aren't manufactured to the same optical standards as Canon's better lenses - this isn't a knock on the lenses, because the fact is that Canon needs a series of lenses that fit the specific price range these lenses occupy. For the casual photographer these lenses perform great. From these you move into the EF or EF-S USM lenses that use the ultrasonic motor driven autofocus - they are quieter, faster focusing, and also a bit more solidly constructed. Consider these the 'mid-range' lenses in terms of price and performance, with some lenses in this category excelling to the point where they could be used without any reservation in professional settings. Finally you have the L-series - these are Canon's top of the line lenses (when you watch a sporting event and notice the sea of white/cream colored lenses on the photographer's cameras you are seeing L-series glass in action). I own several L-series lenses, with my favorite being the 24-70 F2.8 (read my review on it if you are interested in this lens). These lenses are expensive - prohibitively expensive to many - but if you can save up for one, you won't regret the purchase. Note that this little primer didn't mention image stabilization - this feature can be found in each category of lens - I tend to think that people put too much emphasis on it, but it can certainly be useful.

Now, on to this lens. The 85mm F1.8 would fit into that 'mid-range' category in regards to its price. Performance-wise, however, this lens is professional grade without question. It's L-series counterpart, the 85mm F1.2 is about $1300 more expensive - and while the jump to a max aperture of 1.2 is nice, many people just don't see it as being worth the additional cost when compared to this lens.

The 85 F1.8 is pin sharp across its entire aperture range, producing beautifully blurred backgrounds and extremely shallow depth of field at F1.8 on both full frame cameras like the 5D and 1Ds series and on crop factor bodies as well. It is a hugely popular portrait lens - I'd go so far as to say it is a "must own" for a portrait photographer. At F1.8 it produces crisp eyes in portraits with silky smooth backgrounds - turning something as simple as the front yard into a perfect backdrop for a portrait. For beginners - the number after the "F" is the aperture - the lower the number, the wider the hole the light goes through and thus the more of the lens that is used. Many lenses tend to be a bit softer when they are set to the max aperture for that lens because it requires more of the lens to be used in focusing the image, letting imperfections at the edges of the lens come into play and impact sharpness. I've been extremely pleased with the sharpness of this lens its max aperture.

Additionally - on a crop factor body like the Rebel series (or the 50D or 7D), this lens has an effective focal range of 136mm (85 x 1.6 = 136 - contact me personally if you need help understanding why I did this calculation - you can get my email address by going to my website - [...]). This makes it a decent mid range telephoto lens with - being able to shoot at 136mm at F1.8 is great for indoor sports photography such as basketball. Again, for beginners, the more light your lens can let in (the lower the max aperture number) the faster your shutter speed can be indoors.

All in all, this lens is extremely versatile. This lens and the 100mm F2.8 macro (the older version) are the two non-L series lenses that I have no reservations using in ANY professional situation. I cannot recommend it enough and if you plan on doing any portrait photography you owe it to yourself to pick this lens up. For the price, its performance simply cannot be beat.

I'm happy to answer any and all questions (that I can) about this lens or cameras and lenses in general. Again, my email address can be found at my website.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 2, 2010 10:39:54 AM PDT
V. Sharotri says:
I have owned the cheap 50mm F 1.8 lens for a while for my Rebel Xt( 8 MP). I wanted to know a tip from you. I always use my canon in M mode as it gives me a good control. I throw open the lens to lowest F number and dial up or down the time.Is that a fair way or do you recommend going with lowest F stop number in AF mode and letting the camera decide the time. I found that i usually like a step or two more of exposure to get better lit pictures ( I rarely use lens). Comments suggestions. Also this is in middle telephoto range, which lens would you recommend for cropped body wide angle Thanks VS

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2010 7:31:27 PM PDT
Malacca73 says:
I normally shoot in AV mode so I can control the aperture. You can set the camera to bump up the exposure, and then it will adjust the shutter speed accordingly. Much easier than fiddling with both aperture and shutter speed at the same time.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2010 7:52:53 PM PDT
The F stop you choose depends on many things - depth of field you want, amount of ambient light, shutter speed you want, etc. One thing you need to think about when you mention a step or two more of exposure getting better lit pictures is the exposure mode you are doing - be it spot, evaluative, center weighted average, etc. For example, when I am shooting a road race where there is a bright sunlight and a bright blue sky behind the runners if I choose evaluative metering and shoot them in AV or TV mode, the camera will often underexpose the faces of the people because of the bright sky in the picture as well. In that case, if I wanted to make sure their faces were properly exposed, I could choose spot exposure mode or bump the exposure compensation up a bit to overexpose the sky but in turn properly expose their faces. When I was learning I used manual mode all the time so I could become extremely familiar with the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. When I am doing weddings and portrait shoots now I usually stick in AV mode and use exposure compensation and different metering modes as necessary. When I am shooting a wedding the ambient light may be changing constantly depending on where I am and what I am shooting - there is no way I could capture all those once in a lifetime moments effectively if I was constantly adjusting my exposure because I was on manual. These cameras have some pretty advanced internal electronics for determining the best exposure. If you have a nice camera and don't ever trust it to choose the exposure, you are in some cases not using it to its fullest potential. There will always be those cases where I use manual - when I am using off camera flash, for example, I use manual because with flash you use shutter speed to control the ambient light and aperture to regulate the effect of the flash (great tip from Zack Arias - a master of off camera flash photography). I'm not sure how well the Rebel XT handles exposure on its own, but I'd start using that more often - and remember that the aperture you choose should not always be the widest one (lowest number). A wider aperture gives a shallower depth of field, useful in portraits, but you don't always want this shallow depth. Also, some lenses aren't their sharpest when they are wide open.

And for a lens recommendation - with the Rebel XT I'd go with the 70-200 F2.8 if you can afford it. The reason I'd go with the 2.8 over the 4 with this body is that the XT isn't the best performing camera at higher ISO - that being the case, you want as much light gathering potential as possible when the lighting is poor, and a max aperture of F2.8 gives you this. If that is too much zoom and you just want an awesome walkaround lens on your cropped body, I'd say the 24-105L. If L series glass isn't what you want, then look at something like the 18-200 as a very versatile lens.
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