Everything you need to know about the new Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro STM prime lens.

I have been reading some interesting commentary on the internet about this lens and I feel like a lot of people are not as impressed by this lens as they should be.

The big complaint I have seen is that it is more expensive than the old “affordable” 85 prime made by Canon, the EF 85mm f/1.8. The obvious comparison is to ask why the new lens is $599 when it is “only” an f/2 aperture while the older EF 85mm f/1.8 is a bit cheaper at $419.

Well, the differences between these lenses are tremendous. First, the old EF 85mm f/1.8 was released in 1992… It was released before digital cameras were even a thing. It is an old lens with old technology, old lens coatings, an old focus motor, and no image stabilization.

The new RF 85mm f/2 STM Macro adds several features that make it an amazing all-round lens. Forgetting the fact that the optical design is 30 years newer, with 30 years newer lens coatings, the thing that impresses me most is that Canon made an 85mmm f/2 portrait lens with macro capability. Why is that important you ask? Basically, it lets you have more flexibility in how you frame your subject, particularly for a tight head shot. Most portrait 85’s actually are not a great option for head shots because the MFD (minimum focus distance) is just too long to get close enough for a tight shot.

It is kind of weird that a classic portrait focal length like 85mm cannot handle head shot duty. This lens fixes that oddity.

Check out this list that illustrates what I am talking about:

LENSMFD (inches)
Canon RF 85mm f/2 L STM Macro13.4”
Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 L USM33.5″
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM37.4″
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM33.5″
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM33.5″
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S33.5″
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art33.5″
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM31.5″
Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD31.5″
Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus31.5″

As you can see the new RF 85mm f/2 has a much, much more impressive MFD. Some people who look at this lens might think they do not need or want a Macro lens, they just want a portrait 85 for their portrait photography. As someone who has shot extensively with 85mm portrait lenses I can tell you that having a closer MFD is a huge boon to portrait shooters who prefer the 85mm focal length. On top of being able to get a nice tight headshot, you can frame couples much more creatively, getting in close to create that sense of intimacy. I am super excited about this new ability in an 85mm portrait lens and cannot wait to use it.

As I mentioned earlier the lens also has IS which is not available on most other portrait 85mm lenses and is not included in the old EF 85mm f/1.8. The only other portrait 85mm I know of with stabilization is the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC.

Anyone who is shooting portraits in low light will appreciate the ability to comfortably drop their shutter speed thanks to the built-in stabilization. And your clients will appreciate the magic of a bright noise-free photos when they remember posing in near darkness.

The new RF 85mm f/2 is also weather sealed even though it is not an L series lens (all L series lenses are weather sealed). There is a rubber gasket on the lens mount, and the switches, focus, and control ring are also weather sealed. Rain can be one of those things that interrupts our photography and sends photographers carrying expensive electronics scurrying for shelter, but as long as your subject is willing to stand in the rain you can rest easy knowing the camera will be fine in the rain as well. Unfortunately, the old EF 85mm f/1.8 is not weather sealed.

The last thing I want to talk about is for video shooters. While the STM focus motor will work great for stills photography, it is also quiet and smooth focusing which makes it perfect for video use. 85mm may not have the same cachet for video that it does for photo, but the natural look and moderate compression are just as valid in the video world. The built-in stabilization will also make handheld video a dream, especially on the new R5 and R6. Hybrid shooters who want to capture photo and video should love this lens.

All in all this a great lens for a lot of different levels of photographers.

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