Comparing the Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS Against the Competition

Talk to any photographer who specializes in wedding or portrait photographer, and you’ll get a unanimous agreement as to what the preferred focal length – the 85mm. And with good reason; the 85mm is such an incredible focal length because of the nearly true to life compression it provides (with limited to no barrel distortion), and the options available have always been renown for being incredibly sharp. With an extensive range of brands and lens mounts, it should come to little surprise to know that the 85mm is one of the most common focal lengths in photography. And when talking 85mm, it’s impossible not to mention the lens which has often been called the crown jewel of the focal length, the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. But while being the crown jewel, Canon just recently announced a new lens in this beloved focal range, swapping out a 1/3rd of a stop for a few stops of IS with the Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS. But how does it compare against the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II? And how does it compare to the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art – our current king of the sharpness (for under $2500; I’m looking at you Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4). Well let’s take these three lenses out for a test drive, and see how well they perform in real life situations.

I’ll start by saying that this is a practical look into the new Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS and its competition. While I won’t contain any MTF charts here (though I know Roger will have some soon), I will look to see how this lens holds up on location, against its esteemed competition. So without wasting too much time, let us look to see how these three giants hold up when put against each other.

Image Quality

I want to start by taking a look at the photo quality of the three lenses. My testing began with taking these lenses to the park with my model and shooting at three different apertures for all three lenses: f1.4, f1.8 and f2.8 as well as f1.2 for the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. All these photos were taken in a controlled environment (or as controlled as one can be), using the Canon 5DSR.

Canon 85mm Comparisons

Canon 85mm f/1.2L II at f/1.2

Canon 85mm Comparisons

Canon 85mm f/1.2L II at f/1.4

Canon 85mm Comparisons

Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS at f/1.4

Canon & Sigma 85mm Comparisons

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art at f/1.4

This first set of comparisons reveals that the Canon 85mm f1.2L II has the best bokeh of the three lenses. As expected, it has best ability to create depth and separate the subject from the background which is essential in a portrait lens. It gives a dream-like look to the image that is unmatched by the others. This is not to say that the other lenses can’t hold a candle to the f/1.2. On the contrary, they all have a pretty similar look at f/1.4. In fact, it was surprising to me that if I pixel peep these photos, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art has the sharpest image by a small margin over the new Canon 85mm f1.4L IS. The Canon 85mm f/1.2L II is the softest of the three, which is expected from such an older design.

Caon 85mm Shoot Out and Comparison

Canon 85mm f1.2L II @ f1.8

Canon Verse Sigma Comparison

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.8

Sigma and Canon Comparison

Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art @ f1.8

Things shape up a little more evenly at f1.8. All three lenses perform almost exactly the same. The bokeh looks exactly the same and sharpness is exceptional. Once again, I found that the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art seemed to be sharper, something that Roger had alluded to in his initial testing of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art. This could come down to a few factors including my model not keeping as still as she was supposed to. Whatever the case, all three performed exceedingly well and pretty evenly, and look identical without pixel peeping.

Canon 85mm Comparisons

Canon 85mm f1.2L II @ f2.8

85mm Comparisons and Shootout

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f2.8

Sigma verse Canon 85mm

Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art @ f2.8

Once again, at f/2.8 all three lenses perform exactly the same and are all gorgeous and sharp. Obviously stopping down decreases the ability for the lenses to separate the subject from the background but they show their absolute sharpness at this point and the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II is the softest still, but we’re really splitting hairs to criticize it for the subtle difference. Once again, the differences are marginal with regards to sharpness which could be due to my model not being perfectly still but it brings me to my next point.


I’d like to discuss why there needed to be a new Canon 85mm f1.4L IS lens: Focus. The Canon 85mm f/1.2L II has one major shortcoming that the other two lense don’t. The focus is extremely slow and noisy. It’s been an issue for years all of us portrait photographers have learned to deal with it. Another small issue with the lens that falls under this category is that the front element extends when focusing (this is a very small quibble but worth mentioning). The Canon 85mm f1.4L IS has luckily fixed this problem, and to a pretty high degree. Not only is it much faster than the 1.2, with the addition of IS, it has the added benefit of Stabilization. This separates this lens from the others by a pretty large margin. It makes focusing in low light that much easier. Here are a couple low light shots I took with the Canon 85mm f1.4L IS including a pitch black shot of a huddle of giraffes at the Memphis Zoo (taken handheld, not perfectly sharp but I was surprised by how well it came out as I couldn’t see to focus).

Canon 85mm Comparisons

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.4

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.4

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.4

The Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art is a very middle of the road lens with regard to focus. It’s not super fast but it’s certainly not slow. It’s very accurate and works really well. No complaints there at all.


Here’s where things bet a lot more interesting (in case they weren’t already). I weighed each of these lenses with a clear filter installed and their front and rear caps on as well. The new Canon 85mm f1.4L IS is the lightest of these three lenses clocking in at 1009 grams. The Canon 85mm f1.2L II came in second at 1034 grams and the Sigma 85 f1.4 Art was a whopping 1216 grams. The extreme weight of the Sigma definitely has an effect when hand-holding and it really causes a lot of fatigue quickly. The new Canon 85mm f1.4L IS feels a little front heavy in the hand and I could see it giving my arms a workout after a while. Funny enough, even though the Canon 85mm f1.2L II is heavier, because it is shorter it has better balance on the camera. I felt a lot less strain carrying the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II around. All this said I think the benefits the Canon 85mm f1.4L IS add outweigh the balance issues I have with it.


I probably sound all over the place in this comparison and probably haven’t helped you make a final decision on which of these lenses is the best fit for you. The thing is, there are pros and cons for each of these lenses. Let’s break them down like this: The Canon 85mm f1.2L II is the standard and is really middle of the road in this comparison. It’s a great lens with that dreamy bokeh but is the most expensive and is slow to focus. The Canon 85mm f1.4L IS performed amazingly with everything I threw at it. It’s sharper than the 1.2, faster, and has image stabilization but is still pretty expensive. The budget Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens is sharp and quick but is really heavy. My new choice to keep in my camera bag for a wedding is definitely going to be the new Canon 85mm f1.4L IS for the image stabilization alone. That adds a whole new layer to the focal length and is a great addition. Does it de-throne the Canon 85mm f1.2L II as the portrait standard? I don’t think so. The bottom line is: If you’re looking to create that dreamy, airy look, there is no better option than the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. But if you’re looking for a solid 85mm, with sharpness and speed, it’s hard not to pay attention to both the Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS and the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art. Below you will find several other example photos taken with the Canon 85mm f1.4L IS. I had a ton of fun with it.

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.4

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.4

Canon 85mm f1.4L IS @ f1.4

Author: Phillip Pettit

I’m a photo technician and video enthusiast. By day, I inspect lenses and cameras as well as assist with gear questions and recommendations and by night, I practice photography and videography for fun and professionally. I’m a tech guy by nature so I enjoy testing all the new gear and giving my impressions.

Posted in Equipment
  • Franz Graphstill

    I thought Roger called them “lens mounts”.

    Of course, you’ll call that a lens adapter…

  • Carl Eberhart

    Yawn, yet another nobody blogs about how they’d choose a new model of a camera manufacturer’s lens, over a third party candidate that’s as good or better but costs less…besides over the old model from the camera manufacturer. What’s next, you start publishing blogs about pop culture or holiday shopping?

    I await the real test from the bench, I care not a wit about what wedding photogs buy ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course a wedding photog is not going to buy a third party lens, as they can’t use it to their advantage via the camera manufacturer’s professional services. Again, this is nothing new, and it has nothing whatever to do with how the lenses really compare.

  • Ada

    Well, you are obviously a Nikon guy complaining about a Canon oriented article.
    Nobody here cares who you are and what your business is. Again, who are you to tell Lensrentals what to do and what not …

  • TinusVerdino

    I would pick the 1.2. It has character.

  • dennis williams

    I would not expect to see a Nikon or any non Canon native lens in an article comparing a Canon lens to its competition. Nikon lenses are not an option for a Canon 5DSR owner. That choice ended when the guy bought the Canon. Just as I cannot use the Canon 135mm L f2. I bought a Nikon D8xx series. My issue would be with the series with the person- I would not want any of the lenses if this is what I go home with.

  • Thank you Adam. The D-shaped bokeh doesn’t happen often though, and unfortunately there is no perfect lens in our imperfect world LOL. This is the Otus 85 – “cat eye bokeh” and “onion rings” for a much steeper price (contrast was significantly boosted in this pic):

  • Adam Sanford

    As your non 100% zoomed clip shows, pixel-peeping is not required to spot this phenomenon. ๐Ÿ˜›

    Lovely shot. But even here, it looks like you have a D-shaped bokeh stencil/template attached to your front element, right? That’s not what you pay $1500+ to get.

    Full disclosure, I am a Canon guy, but I have to ask why Canon would willingly put out another lens with this odd performance wrinkle. I have not seen this on the 85 Art, Milvus, Otus etc. — which implies this is lens blade/iris related, i.e a *design decision* and not a reality that plagues all FF 85 lenses.

  • Adam Sanford

    Thx for posting. It’s strangely hard to find backlit 85mm Otus and Art bokeh on a Canon body from the Flickr and Shutterdial mining I’ve done.

    The Art sample looks like *weird* bokeh more than outright clipped bokeh (clearly shown in the three Canon examples above). Do you have any nighttime lighting bokeh to share from that lens?

  • And this is Sigma 85A – the circles are also far from being perfect.

  • Only a TRUE pixel peeper would notice / care ๐Ÿ˜‰ I had a similar photo taken two years ago, and never paid any attention to the clippings.

  • colt15

    Where’s the sense of proportion? The Sigma’s weight was characterized as “a whopping 1216 grams.” That 182-gram difference hardly warrants the phrase “the extreme weight of the Sigma…”, especially when you’re comparing it to a lens weighing 1035g. I suppose if your equal height colleague weighs 160 pounds and you weigh 175, you wouldn’t mind him being seen as some standard while you’re described as an extremely overweight whopping tub of lard.

  • colt15

    Agree that it needs to be retitiled. But I thought the article was fine in its context if labeled properly. And of course doing a Nikon / Sony article would provide some balance.

  • colt15

    You, (WYKA) with your pointless response, seem to be the one who needs a clue.

  • Well, but this was not my piece ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Steinar, I don’t disagree with your point in general, but I’m not the author here, nor the blog editor, so this is not my voice. The general Lensrentals blog has Roger Cicala geeky articles and other stuff too. The other stuff is not usually scientific geeky stuff, it’s technique articles, in-the-field comparisons, etc. Those aren’t meant to be scientific, they are impressions, and I think worthwhile.

    I’ll have a scientific bench comparison about the 85mm f/1.4 L IS soon (I’m doing contract work for the next week but soon after that). It will be the end-all-be-all comparison of MTF. But it won’t tell you a think about how it feels in the hand, how accurate the AF is, how well the IS works, etc. This has value too.

    The only thing in Phillip’s article I can comment on is “the Sigma has the sharper image by a small margin”. On the bench the margin isn’t small, it’s significant for those who prize resolution above all things. But I believe in the field, IS and AF may narrow the gap, bokeh may be more important, etc.

  • Adam Sanford

    Zero comment about mirror-box related bokeh ball clipping with the 85 f/1.2L II and 85 f/1.4L IS?

    Recommend you shoot either lens with defocused Christmas tree lights (or streetlights at night) and revisit your bokeh comments.

    From the new 85 f/1.4L IS (from a CR forum poster):

    From the 85 f/1.2L II (from a recent PetaPixel Christmas light bokeh article):

    The shots are lovely, but look at the mirror-box clipping the bokeh balls. It’s kind of hard to un-see.

  • Matt

    I wasn’t thinking of it as a bias so much as a bad/misleading title. It isn’t a comparison to the competition. It’s a comparison to the previous Canon staple with the highly rated Sigma thrown in for a as a control. If the article were called “A look at the new Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS” people would have gotten what they expected to see.

  • Blake

    This is a great writeup, thanks.

    For the record, I’ve had my Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VR for about a year, & though its heavier than my trusty old Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM, the VR & the “look” are worth it.

    That said, IMHO the best bargain in all of Canon telephoto land remains the 85mm f/1.8 USM. I hope they keep it in production as long as they can.

  • Shark

    LOL….. 98% of all people will not see a difference in bokeh between the f1.2 and f1.4.

    and if oyu shoot for a client these 98% MATTER.. not the 2% of photo nerds who will pixelpeep boekh differences.

  • Dominic Schulz

    I would love someone trying how the new lens behaves in “bad-bokeh” situations. the 1.2 can get very very ugly in certain situations and needs to be stopped down then. hope it got fixed.

  • Krzysztof Sic

    85/1.2 II L – I have it and it’s nice lens, but…focus by wire, high level of CA to 2.0, slow focus and front lens which “comes out” when you’re focusing is a bad thing in this lens. I think that Canon 85/1.4 IS is the best choice now if you’re using Canon cameras – because of AF, colors and IS (which is good for videos only in my opinion).

  • Federico Gallinari

    I can’t believe that out of Rentrental are published reviews of this type.
    Test free of technical significance, based on an arbitrary judgment … questionable.
    This test should be carried out in a scientific way, always at the same distance the subject and lens, and with the exact same background.
    I can bet that brightest optics will produce a blurred (slightly) softer at the same aperture of a lens less bright, for the effect of spherical aberration on the circle of confusion.
    The conclusions are almost obvious, if you need the smoothest bokeh you have to choose 1.2, if you need more sharpnes and contrast with better af (lightest elements) you can choose sigma, if you need more sharpness, af and stabilization …and the native brand quality you can choose 1.4is…..thatโ€™s it, no test needed to know that.

  • Dilbert

    I personnally don’t care that it wasn’t included… this is not a paid review I feel we are being nit-picky no? But yes, you could mount a Nikon lens on a Canon camera although yeah…. manually focusing for a wedding would not be something I’d recommend but it would still be easy to mount with a cheap ring adapter although aperture would be hard to control precisely. ( At any rate, I don’t care for perfection or bias as I can draw my own conclusions so thanks to the author for this review.

  • Cthulhu

    Get off your high horse, buddy, nobody cares that you shoot events, everybody shoots events. The author makes it clear he’s comparing sub $2500 lenses and that this isn’t a full benchmark. You have a problem with reading comprehension, also with your ginormous unchecked ego.

  • androidreally?

    the title, “Comparing the Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS Against the Competition” makes it clear, to me, at least, that the only competition an EF mount lens are other EF mount lenses. This argument was brought up already.

  • Andy

    I can’t accurately tell sharpness from the samples but to my eyes the 85mm 1.4 has better bokeh then the Art at each aperture. Look at the tree definition on each series. The 1.4 has less definied and softer tree trunks. Im actually a Sigma Art fan but the new lens looks very positive. I dont really count in the 1.2 personally as its too slow and generally soft….

  • Brian F Leighty

    Man you guys really should chill out. This was a basic SUBJECTIVE comparison of three CANON mount lenses. Roger is normally the one doing the measurements and things that can truly be considered OBJECTIVE. Both have valid relevance. If you don’t like this post then just read Roger’s. I think Phillip did a good job assessing the differences between them and neither him nor Lens Rentals should be getting all this flack for a simple review. Sheesh

  • My good sir, can you please test this against the Tamron 85?

  • Jim A.

    I wouldn’t call it bias, I’d call it choice. I imagine the crew at LensRentals has, more than almost anyone, the ability to choose what they see as the best for their needs. If that means they commonly choose Canon and Sony gear, I’d say that’s a telling assessment of what’s currently viewed as superior among a well informed bunch. I’ve never understood the tribal defense of different brands among commenters. I get that buying into a less popular brand traps you if you invest too much, but it doesn’t change objective facts among those free to choose whatever they want. If you prefer Nikon, or Hassleblad, or whatever, great. Don’t knock the reviewer because he didn’t make the same choice as you. They’re providing information, not team spirit.

  • Chris

    “But why wasnโ€™t the Nikon 85/1.4G included?”

    Because it doesnt mount to a Canon camera and is not an option for wedding shooters with Canon gear

Follow on Feedly