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EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM Review: An Excellent Portrait Lens for Handheld Shooting

Released in August 2017, the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM is an ideal choice for portrait photography—its excellent image quality is boosted by build-in image stabilisation to prevent camera shake. See for yourself in this review with sample images. (Reported by HARUKI, Model: Airi Tanaka (Oscar Promotion)

Portrait lens top


Built-in IS feature effectively corrects camera shake

Canon’s 85mm medium telephoto lenses, which are compatible with full-frame cameras and ideal for portrait photography, have always been well loved by photographers worldwide. The most recent addition to the family is the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM – an L lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and in-lens IS (Image Stabilizer) mechanism. It is the fourth 85mm EF mount lens in the lineup released after the EF85mm f/1.2L USM (discontinued), EF85mm f/1.8 USM and EF85mm f/1.2L II USM.

The built-in IS is one of the most significant features on the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM, which is Canon’s first 85mm prime lens to be equipped thus. The IS system offers a correction effect equivalent to approximately four shutter speed stops. This, when combined with the maximum aperture of f/1.4, makes the lens ideal for shooting in low light conditions: Users need not raise the ISO speed to ensure adequate exposure, and they can shoot at a slow shutter speed with the assurance that camera shake will be corrected.

For even finer image quality, the lens uses an aspherical lens element. ASC (Air Sphere Coating) is also employed to minimise flare and ghosting, ensuring that the lens performs excellently even under backlit conditions.


Backlight portrait

Portraiture is often shot in backlit conditions. Under such conditions, photographers often worry about flaring, ghosting, blowout and the subsequent loss of detail. Flaring and ghosting are minimised and blowout is negligible with the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM, which is also possibly one of the most outstanding L-lenses in terms of apparent resolution and reproduction of detail.


Detailed depiction in backlight

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM/ FL: 85mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/1.4, 1/750 sec, EV+0.5)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

Photographed in soft light with focus falling on the eyes, one seems to get drawn into her world. Scenes like this, where light falls on the model’s hair and leads to highlights, are very prone to blowout. But here, each strand of hair is depicted clearly, which demonstrates the amazing resolving power of the lens.


Good for long periods of handheld shooting

The choice of f/1.4 as the maximum aperture for the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM is probably to complement those of the two existing 85mm lenses, which are f/1.8 and f/1.2 respectively. Equipping a lens with the IS mechanism often tends to add extra weight and bulk to the lens body, but the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM weighs under 1kg, at approximately 950g. The design will probably delight portrait photographers: It features a relatively small external diameter, which makes it easier to hold, helping to reduce the fatigue that sets in after long hours of handheld shooting.

This photo review examines how the EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM performs in the genre of portrait photography. However, a medium telephoto lens armed with a powerful IS feature, such as this one, also helps to widen the scope of photography in other genres such as street photography and landscapes. Photographers will also be delighted by the creamy bokeh, which promises to enrich photographic expression.

Full body portrait

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM/ FL: 85mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/1.4, 1/350 sec, EV+0.5)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

Light is depicted clearly and beautifully in this shot, as if the crisp air has been trapped in the photo. This effect, coupled with the appealing background bokeh, further refines the transparency of the subject’s skin tone.


Closeup portrait

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM/ FL: 85mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/1.4, 1/60 sec, EV+0.5)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

Captured at the closest focusing distance of 85cm, this lens is also good for closeup shots of the portrait subject. Particularly noteworthy is the creamy bokeh in the background, which creates a soothing balance with the model.


Night portrait with background bokeh

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM/ FL: 85mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/1.4, 1/10 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto

Shot on a street at night, the lens demonstrates outstanding capability in aberration correction with negligible colour blur. The area in focus at the maximum aperture is also sharply resolved, while pleasant bokeh is created in areas that are not in focus.

*A prototype model is used for the photo review, which may differ in appearance and image quality from the actual product.


For more information about the making of this lens, check out our interview with its developers:
EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM: Developer Interviews (1)
EF85mm f/1.4L IS USM: Developer Interviews (2)

For tips on portrait photography, check out the following articles:
How Do I Capture Portraits With Background Bokeh Under Backlit Conditions?
Step by Step: How to Capture Dramatic Portraits Using Backlight from the Window
Portrait Photography: 3 Aperture Settings Favoured by Professional Photographers
4 Steps to Capture a Soft, Dreamy-looking Backlit Portrait



Lens construction: 14 elements in 10 groups
No. of aperture blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Closest focusing distance: 0.85m
Max. magnification: approx. 0.12x
Filter diameter: φ77mm
Size: approx. φ88.6mm×105.4mm
Weight: approx. 950g


Lens construction diagram

Lens construction

A: Aspherical lens element


Lens hood ET-83E

Lens hood: ET-83E (comes with the lens)


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Born in 1959 in Hiroshima, Haruki is a photographer and visual director. He graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Kyushu Sangyo University, and is mainly engaged in activities related to portrait works for media including advertisements, magazines and music.