review: Bokeh of the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens
In the accompanying review article, the Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS lens (B&H) really stood out in terms of image sharpness. Here I want to linger a bit on the bokeh of this lens, especially as compared to the much-loved Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (B&H).
The comparison includes these three lenses, since they are in the same league:
Please also check out the review: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens.
Now, before we progress any further, we need to be distinguish between Bokeh and Shallow depth-of-field. While DoF affects the bokeh of a lens, those two terms are not interchangeable: Bokeh vs Shallow depth-of-field (DoF). Bokeh is the quality of the background blur. In other words, the aesthetic appeal of the blur. Bokeh is not another word for blur, but a descriptor of the blur of (usually) the background. It can be smooth, it can be harsh. It can be pleasant, it can be jittery. It can be appealing and enhance the photograph, but we can’t have “more bokeh”. That makes no sense. Okay, with all that behind us, let’s go on.
For this review, I photographed various models during various photo sessions. All the images were shot with the Canon 6D, and I used a light-weight tripod. While I did use the tripod to keep my angle the same, our models aren’t statues, and they will move slightly between frames. This meant I had to adjust the camera slightly on the tripod. The light did change subtly over time as I did the sequence. And each lens will have a different rendition of the colors anyway. Some lenses appear ‘warmer’ in how they render the scene. So there will be some slight change between the images, but I do believe the images are close enough that we can form a valid opinion about what we prefer.
In summary: The difference in the blur is … well, you can make your own mind up, but to my eye they all look pretty similar with a smooth rendition of the background blur. The new Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens holds up very well against the classic Canon 85mm f/1.2 II. I don’t think anyone who upgrades to the new lens will lose any of the “magic” of the older 85mm lens.
Let’s have a look at some of these comparative sequences:
Please note, I cropped these images to a 4×5 ratio to make them viable on desktop computers when I resized them for 900px width. This means that a little bit off the top, and a little bit off the bottom of each image was cropped off to make viewing easier within this blog format.
With the comparison photos, I didn’t bother with the f/1.4 images of the Canon 85mm f/1.2 II, since the differences between f1/2 and f/1.4 were marginal, and barely discernible.
Bokeh and ‘real world’ importance
With the next few images, I shot handheld instead of the tripod. In addition, the background changes as the people on this 6th Avenue (New York) sidewalk swirl around. So we can see the bokeh is wonderful but we can’t really compare in any useful way between the lenses. Still, they look good. In that sense, if we were to do a photo shoot or a wedding or such with any of these lenses, it would be difficult to pick which lens was used with any particular image.
The bokeh of a lens is important, but not when the differences are marginal. Then other aspects of a lens’ abilities and qualities are more what we should consider.
As mentioned in the review of the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS, I am hugely impressed. The lens is crazy-sharp! Not only does it focus much faster than the legendary Canon 85mm f/1.2 II, the bokeh in my opinion also holds up very well in comparison. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART lens is also very sharp, and the bokeh is comparable to at least the Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens, but it does lack the stabilization of the new Canon lens.
All around, the Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens stands out above the other two lenses.
- review: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens
- review: Canon 50mm lenses – bokeh
- More reviews of Canon gear
- Bokeh vs shallow depth-of-field (DoF)
- 85mm – The best lens to change your portrait photography
- review: Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 vs Canon and Nikon
- Other articles about 85mm lenses