Canon EF 85 mm f/1.8 Brief Review

Brief Review: I like it. It’s quick and sharp and light. Oh yeah, and it takes good pictures in low light.

Claiming the start line

Less brief review: My workhorse lens is the EFS 17-55mm f/2.8 IS, shown to the right of the EF 85mm f/1.8 below. I purchased the 17-55 because the EFS 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens I owned is a piece of crap that had to be replaced as quickly as possible.1 The EF 85mm f/1.8 is light and small. I hardly noticed it when I’d attached it to my camera body2 It was pleasant to have something hanging from the body that wasn’t dragging at my neck. The 17-55 can get tiring after a while, and I’m not even talking about the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 which can really wear you down.


As you can see from the image, the 85mm is significantly smaller than the 17-55. Being a prime lens, it doesn’t need to mess around with all the extra elements required to build a zoom lens thusly saving weight in glass and other engineered parts.

You, the photographer, also benefit when carrying around the 85mm because there’s no need to choose a focal length. You’ve got 85mm and that’s it. You don’t like the composition through the lens? Move.3 For example, I sat in two different places for the bouts last night. The first seat, for the first bout, was at the end of turn four, which had me looking at a lot of butts, but it also let me catch the action coming through the turn.

"Jammer on Jammer Action" The low angle (sitting cross-legged) and the turning women made for some nice action shots. The f/1.8 aperture of the lens let me catch what I needed, although I took a lot of shots and only had about 10% in sharp focus from this angle. Even with the f/1.8 I was still using IS0 3200 to get my shutter speed high enough to stop the action.4

The second seat was in the stands on the opposite side of the track, which meant I had a higher angle and more light to work with (there’s more lighting down on that end). The higher angle let me get a better perspective on the action, and the more light let me step the f/stop higher (to 2.8) to ever-so-slightly increase my depth of field. From where I was sitting, the 85mm worked well.

I will note that I mounted the EF 85mm f/1.8 on a small-sensor body (Canon 50D) so there is an effective zoom percentage applied to that. Converting to a large sensor body, that 85 mm lens would need to be about a 135mm lens for the same effective zoom.5 Of course, I will also note that most of the images that I’ve featured from these derby bouts have been cropped to one degree or another, so resolution, rather than “zoom factor” is more important here.

Trying to stay in bounds

The EF 85mm f/1.8 clocks in around $375-$400 which is why I picked this one to rent. Professional Photo Resources in Atlanta will rent you pretty much anything you want and when I called to reserve this lens, they asked me if I wanted the EF 85mm f/1.2L instead. While I’m sure the f/1.2 would have been lovely and helped me get better images, it also costs around $2,000. I wanted to try a lens I might actually buy. If I’m going to spend that money, I’m going to buy the EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS instead. The EF 85mm f/1.2L apparently is also a slower focuser than the the f/1.8.  And, given that I’ve dropped both of the good lenses I own, I’d rather go with something a bit more replaceable.

Here is a good comparison of the f/1.8 and the f/1.2.

  1. That may be harsh, but the only real use for the 18-55 kit lens is for outdoor shooting in bright light, or with a flash. If you’re going to invest in a dSLR, please invest in a good lens, first! []
  2. Canon 50D. []
  3. Counter argument to the prime lens, here. []
  4. It’s very dark in the Shriner’s hall on the east side of the track. Be aware of that if you go to one of the events. []
  5. Explanation of “crop factor”. []
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3 Responses to Canon EF 85 mm f/1.8 Brief Review

  1. brian says:

    We got the EF 50mm 1.8, and it works great. The only problem as mentioned is the “sneaker zoom”

  2. Bill Ruhsam says:

    I’ve heard good things about the 1.8, but I’ve never used it. I like the Sigma 30mm 1.4

  3. donytop5 says:

    Great review, it looks like a lot of us are using the 1.8 50mm. Most of my images look similar to what you have here, if not a little grainier. I think even the 85mm is out of my price range. Some day though.

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