Model Bethany photographed with EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

This lens is the oldest Canon lens I own, in fact it’s the only lens that I still own from the time when I was shooting film EOS cameras. The truth is – my memory gets a bit hazy on dates – that this lens has been in several of my camera bags for close to 20 years.

The reasons for me to keep this lens are simple:

  • Image quality for portraits is great
  • It has a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • It has an eight blade diaphragm that gives pleasing background blur
  • It has the fast and silent USM focus motor and full-time manual focus
  • It’s small and lightweight
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens

I just looked in my catalog of pictures for 2011, 2012 and 2013 – this lens accounts for nearly 6.5% of the photos I have taken in that time and kept in the catalog.

The 85mm focal length is really good for portraits on both the full-frame and the APS-C sensor cameras. In fact it works out at 136mm focal length equivalent on the 1.6x crop factor cameras putting it really close to another favoured lens of mine, the EF 135mm f/2L USM.

It’s not supplied with a lens hood, so get one

Very early on in the life of this lens I added the Canon ET-65 II lens hood to the lens to help it when working with studio flash close the front of the lens. That same lens hood survives to this day and is always used whenever I use the lens, however Canon have updated the model they now sell and you’ll find the ET-65 III is the current version.

What about the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

EF 85mm f/1.8 USM shoots kick boxing with the EOS 5D Mark III

EF 85mm f/1.8 USM shoots kick boxing with the EOS 5D Mark III, 1/200s, f/2.8 ISO 6400

While I have used the EF 85mm f/1.2L USM and the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lenses, they have not made it to full-time camera bag dwellers. For me the size and weight are the main factors, but also the slow speed of the auto focus. I’m happy to use the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM for sports and action photos since it’s marginally less bright aperture means that focus is not so critical as it is with the f/1.2 lens and the AF is faster reacting.

Does it help that at the current market prices (£299 vs £1,599) you can buy five of the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lenses and still have money for a lens hood or two, compared to one EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM.

Make it focus closer please…

EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D product shots with EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D product shots with EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

The one thing that I wish Canon would improve is to reduce the close focus distance of the lens, 85cm is ok for portraits, but I use the lens for product shots too and often find the need to add in the EF 12 II or EF 25 II extension tubes to allow the lens to focus closer than normal.

To me the size, weight and the relatively short telephoto effect means I would not want to have IS added if it will compromise the size, weight, f/1.8 aperture and the price.

Portraits with the EF 85mm f1.8 USM

If I’ve stirred your interest in this lens then why not head over to Amazon and get one of these instead of an Easter egg… chocolate is short term, but this lens is a keeper for life!

If you want more information about the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM…

You can also find out more details and read the full specifications on Canon’s website; EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens


About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag