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The Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lensis a very heavy (1025 grams or 2.25 lbs), very well built lens. It comes packaged with the appropriate hood, the Canon ES-7911. You get both a lens cap and a mount cap, all packed inside tight conformal foam to protect the lens during shipping. There’s also a very brief manual and the usual warranty paperwork.

The 85mm specification is for a full-frame camera; with an APS-C size sensor like the one in my EOS 50D, this is multiplied by 1.6 to an effective 136mm.

The lens offers AF and manual focus. However, the manual focus is electronically driven from the focus ring to the AF motor system, which has several consequences. First, you can’t focus when the camera is off. Second, the rate of focus is limited by the speed of the focus motor. Third, focus adjustments are extremely precise, essentially free of backlash and drift. The first two issues are negatives, but in my view, they are more than outweighed by the third. For instance, I often take images of the night sky; in order to do this, the lens can be AF-focused on something in the sky (I’ve been using Mars recently for this), and then it can be put into manual focus where the focus will remain correct and constant as long as the camera and lens temperatures do not change significantly. This is the only lens I own that has stable enough focus hardware to be able to do this. The focus ring is broad and well-textured, and a pleasure to use. There is a second textured area on the lens barrel, closer to the camera, that you can mistake for the focus ring – this area is meant to assist you in mounting and unmounting the lens. I’ve learned to avoid it. Manual focus is precise and moving the ring results in a fine enough focus change that when you blow a shot, you can be absolutely certain the lens wasn’t to blame.

The AF/Manual switch is in a reasonable location, close to the camera body. There is a range indication on the barrel of the lens behind a transparent window which serves to keep debris out of the workings of the lens.

I have found that after you focus, if you change the f-stop, the lens does move a little off-focus; it is slight but definite. So take care to re-focus if you change f-stops.

While I’m thinking about how AF acts with this lens, one thing I definitely noticed was that at f/1.2, the camera can AF in almost any situation. I can AF on single stars, faint skin detail, all kinds of things that were impossible with my f/1.8 wide open, which all in all is a very pleasant experience.

The lens lacks any form of image stabilization. On the one hand, looking at the sheer size of the optical components used to construct this lens, one is tempted to sympathize with Canon – IS would be quite a technical challenge if we want to keep all that great light gathering capability. On the other, IS is showing up in more and more places, and for the price… well, let’s just say that perhaps this is one of the justifications for building IS into the camera body instead of the lens. One last point is that since the lens is inherently very fast, perhaps there is less overall need for IS (though that argument falls apart the first time you *do* need it!)

Mounting: The red alignment dot is poorly located – it is on the camera-mount end of the lens where the lens approaches the body of the camera; this location makes it impossible to see when the lens is close to, but not yet mounted on, the camera body. It is a raised physical dot, which is good, but the location is a problem. I consider this a fairly serious error on Canon’s part, as this is a very expensive lens, and I prefer to have the lens mounting process as smooth and crunch-free as possible. Hopefully they’ll move the dot in the next version of the lens. I added a similarly sized dot (just a sticker) on the barrel of my lens orthogonal to the mounting indicator on the camera body, and that helps a lot.

The lens takes a 72mm filter, and I’ve been using it with the Canon UV haze filter. The lens is simply too valuable to risk shooting with the optics exposed.

Although the lens is very heavy, there is no tripod mount; apparently, because the lens is (relatively) short, Canon feels that the balance is still mainly at the camera body end. I’m not entirely sure I agree, but it isn’t a huge issue.

The available f-stops range from f/1.2 wide open to f/16.0 fully stopped down. This is something to keep in mind if you may need considerable depth of field – you should being another lens along. This lens really does specialize in largish f-stop settings — it cannot stand in for the f/32 you can get out of Canon’s $70 f/1.8 lens, for instance — if you find you need that kind of depth of field, you’ll be putting the f/1.2L right back in the bag.

Because the f/1.2 aperture setting lets in so much light, you will likely find that you have to be very careful in order not to overexpose your subjects in normal daylight, even at the fastest shutter speeds (my EOS 50D can do 1/8000th – and that’s not fast enough in many situations, even with ISO 100 set.) You’ll be looking for shady areas with dark backdrops before you get comfortable with this kind of light sensitivity outdoors during the day. Otherwise, you’ll have to stop down or change lenses.

Wide open, the lens’ bokeh will serve you well if you provide enough depth behind your subject for it to really blur things out. While it does provide a quality blur, you won’t see items directly behind someone’s head turn into unidentifiable smears; they have to be considerably further away for that to happen. Even so, the portion of the depth of field that actually *is* in sharp focus is very shallow indeed.

For portraits, frankly, I find the f/1.2 setting can be too limiting and I end up stopping the lens down a few steps, where it behaves much more reasonably, or else taking advantage of my camera’s many megapixels and backing off far enough to deepen the in-focus region in exchange for the area of the sensor that actually contains the portrait. The keys here are (a) you need a high MP camera so you have sensor area to trade away and (b) you need room to back off – not everyone has a deep studio. Given that care is taken to manage these DOF issues, in my opinion, this lens is quite literally unmatched as a portrait lens.

When shooting subjects that do not demand a lot of depth variance, such as my night sky images I mentioned earlier, this lens brings great sharpness, consistent focus and huge light sensitivity to the table. This application is why I bought it, and so for me, the lens has been a great success. Previously, shooting with an f/1.8 lens, I would often get star trailing. Now I can shoot pitch black sky images with deeply exposed star colors in 3 seconds or even less if I push the ISO hard; this eliminates all solar, sidereal and planetary motion, so I am well satisfied. Shooting distant landscapes provides a similar experience, but again, is difficult in daylight unless the lens is stopped down. The key hours of pre-dawn and post-sunset are times of great opportunity with this lens.

At f/1.2, the lens is already very sharp. It reaches peak sharpness everywhere at f/4, but achieves sharpness in the central image portion at f/1.8 and holds it all the way through f/4. There’s very little chromatic aberration, certainly nothing to be concerned about. On my camera (APS-C sensor, remember) you can see vignetting of .6 to .7 EV at f/1.2; this is, as I understand it, basically unavoidable with this amount of glass. As you stop the lens down, this drops off, and by f/2.8 it is essentially invisible. I have been unable to detect any geometric distortion at all, the lens is near-perfect in that regard. Squares come out square, circles are circular, no little aspect weirdnesses to catch your eye, even at the edges of images.

The lens construction is metal; eight elements in seven groups, featuring one aspherical and two higher-refractive elements. They did some work to improve near-field focus performance and reduce coma. There are eight blades involved in the aperture mechanism. All in all, it is extremely solid and feels reliable, repeatable and precise, plus it sits in my hand like it always belonged there; perhaps *that* is why Canon didn’t provide a tripod mount on the lens – it would have been uncomfortable.

I carry the lens deeply nested in a large camera bag (a Tamrac 5612 Pro 12, *highly* recommended); I rarely put the lens on the camera until I am ready to use it, and when I am done, I take it right back off, cap it, and bag it without wasting any time or motion. I do both the assembly and disassembly in the bag, using the bag top to shield the camera and lens from the wind and environment as best I can manage. It’s the size of the investment that drives this behavior, of course; a lens like this deserves –– demands –– great care and that is just what I give it.

For the price, I expected a great deal from this lens, and after using it for a while, I feel like I actually got what I paid for. You have to temper that with the natural inclination for anyone, including me, to want to justify having spent this much money on a single prime lens; I try not to think that way, but there’s no question about it, the price makes you really want this lens to “be all that.” The best way to judge is how you feel about the pictures you take – did you get what you wanted there? In my case, I can answer yes without any hesitation, and I think that is the bottom line.