Photo: Canon EF 85mm F1.8 USM

As I expand my photo hobby from landscape and travel to portraiture, I notice the great limitation of my current lens line up. Make no mistake that my Sigma 18-50 F2.8 is a very versatile and excellent piece of glass, it does however lack quite a bit on the far and narrow end. With its tightest end sitting at 50mm, it’s at the minimum focal length for portraiture. As I found out in the model photography workshop I joined over the past weekend (more of that on another post), 50mm is the widest you can use for portraits.  Anything wider would have you taking photos of your girlfriend looking bloated and distorted. 

That same weekend, at the photography forums I frequent,, I chance upon a very nice looking Canon EF 85mm F1.8 USM. I knew immediately that this was the next addition to my humble stable of lenses. Sure I had a (barely working) Tamron 75-300mm F4-5.6 Tele-zoom lens, but this prime lens is leaps and bounds of an upgrade. I had to have it.  So I got to meet up with Sir Jonathan, nice fellow and very patient man for meeting me more than half way from his rather distant abode. Got to exchange a few words about our hobbies and passion, maybe even work with a photo walk with him in the not too distant future. Anyway, on to my impressions of this lovely new piece of glass!

Out of the box, it was in an impeccable condition. One might say it still looked quite new. It had the same build quality as the 50mm F1.4; a bit plasticky but felt hefty and solid. It came with what appears to be a Multi-coated Sunpak UV Filter, and with a 58mm filter thread, my CPL would fit just fine. Didn’t come with a hood though, but no matter.

First impressions upon using it.  Focus was the smoothest I’ve ever tried next to a friend’s L lens. The USM (Ultrasonic Motor) is a gift from the gods when it came to focusing speed, it might be as fast, if not faster, than my Sigma. Hella quiet too! Probably just a barely audible hum if you were in a sound proof room. No image stabilisation though but at F1.8 , you’d barely need it.

As far as pictures go, from my experience, it has a slightly desaturated or natural colour rendering characteristic of Canon lenses. And as I’ve mentioned, at F1.8, it is quite fast and wide in the aperture field. Handles lowlight with ease. As I’ve also expected, similar to my EF 50mm F1.8, wide open, the 85mm F1.8 is a bit soft even in the centre. But stopped down at F2, things get noticeably sharper. Another by product of the longer focal length is its bokeh. the EF 50mm already produces beautiful bokeh at F1.8. With the 85mm focal length, you have to put a bit more distance between you and the subject, so depth of field is really gonna play nicely with your bokeh shots.

Last thoughts, I guess the EF 85mm F1.8 would go hand in hand with my Sigma 18-50mm in my travel bag. While I don’t think I’d be using it as much for landscapes, I see myself putting it to good use for my street photography. As a portrait lens, it would work nicely switching between either the Sigma or the EF 50mm. Might also come in handy for when I go watch the Singapore F1 night race.



  1. We’ve reviewed both the Canon 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8 lenses , and they’re both very well worth the money. But which one should be your choice for portrait photography? In this post, we compare both lenses for portrait photography using the Canon 5D Mk II and 7D. So, which one is right for you ?

    1. I like both lenses and they both have pros and cons. To me though it boils down to what kind of portraits you’re taking. The 85mm F1.8 can be very tight and if you have little space to work with. The 50mm F1.4 though I find to be a bit soft wide open but is very ideal if you want to put in a bit more background into your portraits.

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