Why this is the best budget portrait lens for Canon and Sony shooters
Low price and killer performance? Canon 85mm f/1.8 has both.
Here at Bokeh Market, our aim is to help photographers find that “bang for your buck” sweet spot where gear price (used and new) is maximized with performance. And one of those goals for beginners and experienced pros alike is to have a nice portrait lens in their arsenal. Today we’re going to discuss one of our favorites that lands in the middle of the sweet spot: The Canon 85mm f/1.8 ($243)
The portrait lens space is a fairly crowded one. There’s not only good options at varying focal lengths, there’s also a huge variance in pricing within each category. The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is one of those lenses that many Canon shooters have in their bags, but if you’re a full frame Sony shooter, you need one too. Before we sing its praises, let’s take a peek at some of the other choices you have in this space for Canon and Sony:
- 85mm f/1.2L II ($1160 used)
- 85mm f/1.4L ($1599 new)
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art ($874 used)
- Budget friendly Sigma & Tamron options
- (All of the above adapted)
- Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 ($892 used)
- Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master ($1414 used)
- Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 ($518 used)
Clearly there’s significant variance in both aperture AND cost in this focal length. Some professionals may need an f/1.2 instead of a 1.8. But for those that can manage with f/1.8, the Canon should be in the running. There’s been a number of comparisons between the Sigma 85 and the Canon 1.2, and Kai even did one between the f/1.8 and the Canon f/1.2. There’s no question those others beat the f/1.8 in many circumstances. The issue is that the cost increase, for most people, isn’t commensurate with the performance difference between the two.
For $243 used, there may not be a better price vs performance lens out there, at any focal length for any brand.
Why is it the best option for Sony users?
Sony’s marriage to Canon glass via adapters has been well documented. And for those that tried adapting years ago, or with older Sony FE bodies with poor results, it may be time to give it another look.
Like the more expensive Canon options, there exists pro-level glass with the GM and the Batis that justify the cost – but for a small group of users. But for us, the real competition to the Canon f/1.8 85mm for Sony is clearly the FE 85mm f/1.8. And this is a lens we absolutely LOVE. And for those looking to stay native, we can’t recommend this lens enough in terms of price vs performance (specifically in the Sony world). But if you’re willing to give Canon adapted glass a shot, you’ll likely find that the f/1.8 at half the cost holds its own with the Sony. And with newer adapters, the Canon is a speed demon with stills autofocus (for stills).
Canon 85mm with Sigma MC-11 autofocus test:
Two caveats to the Canon f/1.8 adapted for the Sony platform
There are a couple of downsides, however to choosing the adapted Canon over the Sony. First, you need an adapter. The Sigma MC-11 runs about $220 used. The Metabones Sony FE T smart version IV is about the same price. This is an added expense that almost brings the Canon combo to the same price as the native Sony FE 85mm. If you’re not planning on adapting any other lenses, we wouldn’t recommend going this route.
The second, and more important issue is video autofocus. If you’re a hybrid shooter and want to use video autofocus with your 85mm setup, the Canon doesn’t really work. You can use the ‘advanced’ mode on the Metabones adapter to gain autofocus, but it’s not a seamless way to work if you’re jumping between stills and video. For a shooter who spends time jumping between video autofocus and stills photography, we can’t really recommend the 85mm Canon and adapter route.
Taken with Sony A7RII and MC-11 adapter w/Canon 85mm f/1.8
Here’s what we like and what we don’t like about the Canon 85mm f/1.8:
- Small (much smaller than others listed here)
- Super fast focus. The Canon 85mm not only focuses incredibly fast on canon bodies, it’s really snappy on a Sony body as well.
- Great picture and really sharp, even at 1.8.
- Corner sharpness not amazing at f/1.8
- Can’t compete if you need a faster f/1.2 or even 1.4
- While build quality isn’t bad, it’s not on par with the Sigma or higher end Canons
- Color fringing can be an issue
Not only do we think the Canon 85mm f/1.8 is a great ‘bang for your buck’ 85mm portrait lens relative to the competition, we think it may be the best performer vs cost lens on the market. If you’re a Canon shooter and don’t need the crazy DOF a 1.2 will bring and can live with some color fringing, it’s a no brainer. If you shoot Sony and are OK with adapting, this is a sharp shooter with really fast autofocus that will make you a believer in adapting.