Welcome to my review of the Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM. As always this review contains no affiliate links, there are no sponsors and I purchased this lens with my own money. If you prefer to listen rather than read (I know I do), there is an audio version below.
Now I know when people see an 85mm lens they would think of it being used mainly for portraits although I consider this focal length to be more general purpose, like the telephoto version of a 35mm prime. Because of this, people based images aren’t the main focus here but I tried to include a few more street photos for those who are interested in this lens for portraits.
Much Closer Than Before
If you look at the specs for most 85mm lenses you’ll notice one common thing, the minimum focusing distance (MFD) which is usually around 80-85cm. One thing that drew me to this lens was it’s close MFD of only 35cm which is a significant difference. I had always owned a proper 1:1 Macro lens like the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS or the Sony FE 90mm f2.8 Macro for my product/still life work as I liked the close focus ability.
When I swapped back to Canon this lens managed to replace both my 85mm and 90mm macro as it had the function of both. I had always liked the 85mm field of view best but with this shorter MFD it opened all new opportunities for me. This has become my go to lens for still life/product photography although more on this later in the review.
Some people may like to own a macro lens along with a short telephoto prime which I did when shooting Sony but thanks to this RF 85mm, I managed to get both in one.
Easy To Impress
In terms of sharpness this lens really impresses me. I use it for everything from still life to street and I’ve never felt like it was lacking and needed more. Out of all my applications, I feel like Cityscapes are probably what require the most sharpness and although not super pixel peeping I’ve found it to be excellent across the frame.
When shooting near MFD it can be a bit harder to discern due to the super shallow depth of field but from what I’ve seen this lens does really well in those more macro scenarios too.
For me bokeh quality on any fast lens is very important from the image rendering to how round those sweet and tasty bokeh balls are. Rendering is another area this lens really excels as I find it’s transition from in to out of focus is quite nice and for stuff like half body portraits, I feel it renders very nice for an f/2 lens. DXO Mark actually list this lens as having a T-stop of f/2.2 which is quite common as per their review of this lens.
Now here comes the area which I’m least impressed with, autofocus. The autofocus on this lens isn’t bad or inaccurate by any means but it also isn’t great or something it excels at. Macro lenses in general will never be as fast as there’s a long distance they need to move all their elements across. My main issue with the AF is the noise. The STM motor Canon decided to use on this and the other budget RF primes is very noisy which I imagine many video shooters wouldn’t like. It may seem like something unimportant but if you are in a quiet environment a silent motor can really help to capture a scene without disruption.
In terms of accuracy it has no issues and for simple stuff like people walking it manages to keep up without any issue (see the image above). I’ve even managed to track cyclists riding at decent speeds using this lens with no issue. If there was one thing I could change about this lens is I’d put a Nano USM motor like what’s in the Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS as that is both super fast and silent.
For build quality I don’t personably have any complaints. It’s got your typical plastic build which is the same for all the more budget RF primes. Weight wise at 500g/17.64oz it’s not the lightest and is actually similar in size to the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DN Art (1.38lb / 625g) which sadly isn’t available on Canon RF at the time of writing. I know the size and weight is likely due to the half macro ability of this lens but I wouldn’t really complain for the price that it is.
Jack of Most Trades, Master of None
Now as I’ve mentioned above I would say this is definitely an excellent lens when you look at characteristics like bokeh and sharpness compared to price, though it’s not the best at any particular category either.
If we look at the macro aspect, this lens has a 0.5x magnification so it’s not a true 1:1 macro. You can still use it to shoot macro images but is it as good as using something longer with a higher magnification? Not quite. As you’ll see in the photo below of my Eclipse mints, I was shooting at MFD and although I’m very close to them, if I had something that was say 150mm or even 100mm and could go full 1:1 it would make them look a lot larger.
Depending on what type of portraits you like, this lens may be to your liking or might be a bit limiting in terms of subject separation. For studio portraits I feel this lens would be perfect for me and I don’t think I could really ask for more. If I’m doing outdoor portraits, especially full body ones then I think it may leave a bit to be desired.
Although not a traditional posed portrait, below is an example of the subject separation you can get with this lens wide open at f/2.
The lens does provide a decent level of subject separation although it’s not as much as you’d get with a faster f/1.4 lens. When it comes to people based images I actually like a more wider framing with a tele lens as it gives a very different look compared to just simply using a wide angle lens.
Is It Worth It?
For me in the current RF landscape I would say this is the best short telephoto prime for a reasonable price if you want to experiment with both macro work along with portraits. When it comes to its long term value, I don’t see myself keeping this lens once we have third party options.
Although it does what I need to, I don’t feel it really matches my style of shooting. For still life and product photography I’d say this lens is great although as mentioned I would rather something slightly longer with full 1:1 macro capibility.
Originally when shooting Sony I sold the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 as I preferred the look of an f/1.4 lens when it comes to full body portraits/street photography and at f/2 I’m having the same dilemma as with this lens. In a perfect world I’d be able to afford the RF f/1.2L lens although the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DN Art is the perfect balance between the two so I’m eagerly anticipating it’s release. When it does release, I’ll likely sell this lens for that and the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Art DG DN Macro.
Below are some images taken with this lens to give a better idea of what this lens is capable of.
The Canon RF 85mm f/2 IS may not be the most exciting lens on paper but what it lacks in specs it sure makes up for in image quality. When it comes to native RF 85mm primes you don’t have many options with the only other 2 being the very expensive RF 85mm f/1.2L and the Viltrox AF 85mm f/1.8 RF II with both being on two different ends of the price spectrum. This lens offers a nice balance between price and performance and although it has it’s shortcomings, this still makes an excellent lens for those who value the macro capabilities.
What I like
- Macro ability
- Image stabilization
What I don’t Like
- Autofocus motor is noisy and could be faster
- The f/2 aperture isn’t really impressive for a 85mm prime
- Although not expensive, could be cheaper at $599USD/$1090AUD
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