Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM lens – part II

In General, Photography by John2 Comments

I‘ve now had my Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM lens for almost four weeks.   Before I decided to buy it, I’d read that it takes a lot of practice to be able to use it well, but in the hands of a good photographer the results can be stunning.  I haven’t got to that stage yet where my photos are stunning, but I think I’m improving.  This post is designed to show that I’m now getting better at taking sharp photos with the lens.  In most cases I’ll show the full photo, and then show a crop from the full photo.

I’ll start with the Featured Image for this post.  The Featured Image is the square photo shown on the Home page for each post.  The image for this post seems to be a close-up of a hibiscus flower, but it’s actually a crop from the photo below, which shows the full coverage of the photo.   The red flower in the centre is what I focused on using small spot focus and spot metering on my Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Next is a 100% crop from the full size photo.  That doesn’t mean it’s 100% of the image.  It means that I opened the original photo at 100% in Photoshop and made a crop from the image at that size.  Of course, with the original opened at 100% only a small part of it is visible on the monitor.

Next is another 100% crop from photo displayed at full size, this time a little to the left and a little down to the flower:

The above two images show how sharp (or otherwise) the original photo is when seen at 100% size.  In this case at the point of focus.  The 85mm lens has very pleasing bokeh (quality of out of focus blur), in my opinion.  Many camera and lens enthusiasts, me included, often check out photo websites looking for examples of photos taken by lenses they’re interested in, and download images at 100% when available, to examine the quality to see how sharp or soft the lens is.  It’s called pixel peeping.

If my explanations of 100% crop are clear enough, you will realise that the crop below is not from the image at 100% as it would not be possible to fit so much in.

The next image shows another flower in the centre (at spot focus and metering points), pink this time.  To its right and mostly hidden, you can see the red flower shown above.   It show the full coverage of the original photo.  It’s not a glamour shot, is it.  But when I took it with the 85mm lens I had high hopes of being able to turn it into something better by cropping.

Next is a 100% crop from the original image shown above:

If you wonder where the above image was cropped from in the original photo, follow the line of the stem to centre of the flower.

The next photo is a crop from a flower growing in the border alongside my driveway.   The bokeh of the 85mm lens comes into its element in this image.   The background detail a metre away has disappeared.

Once again, the following image is a crop, and I’ve included it to let you judge the quality of the lens for yourself.

The next photo was taken looking over the wall between my unit’s front area and the driveway of the unit next door.

For my money, and I mean that literally, the above photo alone has justified my purchase and relieved any doubts I’ve had about whether the lens is sharp.  Take a look at the photo, and the quality of the bokeh behind the plant I focused on.

The next image is a crop from the above photo.


Finally, here is another photo shown at its full size coverage.  My focus was not on the  flowers, but on the buds, leaves and stalks behind the flowers.   It was more a technical exercise than anything.   As you can see, the background is over-exposed and some parts of the flowers are so over-exposed they are washed out.

But the exposure and metering were based on the buds, leaves and stalks.  The crop below without any adjustment shows how accurate the Canon EOS 5D Mark III spot focus and metering is.

Well, that’s it for this post.  But for a bit of fun, I’ll finish it off with a variation of the above photo in a Photoshop plugin called Nik Color Efex Pro 4.   The image below is a 100% crop of the original photo, treated in Nik Color Efex.


  1. Well done John,

    Each cropped photo is a marvel of focus AND bokeh. Plus you have all the flowers Fiona is looking for over here: hibiscus, agapanthus and pelargonium (flower next door?).

    But you are missing out on one of the best subject matter … little bugs like aphids, etc. They can be real impressive (and sometimes frightening up close and critter’y).

    Glad you kept the lens and ignored some aspects of my previous input!

    Cheers, Ralph

    1. Author

      Thanks for your comments, Ralph.

      Actually, the highest compliment you paid to the photos is that even though you know the crops are from only a small portion of the original photos, your mind doesn’t believe it and thinks the lens is capable of close-ups and macro photography. It isn’t. And in fact, so far as I can find reading the Canon lens book, the 85mm f1.2L II less is the least capable of macro photos. Its magnification ratio is only 0.11x at its closest focus distance is 0.95m (3.2 feet). The lens is a special purpose lens originally designed specifically for fashion photography and portraits. A true macro lens can focus down to a magnification ratio of 1.0x (1:1) and small insects will fill a much larger part of the full frame, and bigger insects will not even fit in the full frame (36mm x 24mm) on a full frame camera. This is where insect photographers can get spectacular shots.

      By the way, the original dimensions of all my full frame photos are 5760 x 3840 pixels. All the images in my posts are 608 pixels wide, so in the case of images that show the original photo, the images are almost 1/10th its size. The originals can be enlarged considerably to fill a big monitor or screen, or to make postcard size prints, A4 and A3 and A3+ prints, and even larger prints if the photos were taken with good technique.

      On the other hand, the 100% crops are a different matter. They are not even crops at all using the Photoshop Crop tool. They are rectangular selections of the original images zoomed to 100% in Photoshop. To suit the blog post I made the selections 608 x 500 pixels. Once I had framed each selection I had to copy it to a new Photoshop file and then save it to use in my post. The 100% crops can’t be enlarged any further. Well they can, but the results are unusable unless you want to have fun with big square pixels.

      To put it another way, if you look at the full frame photos in my post, you’ll see that most of each photo looks out of focus. This is what I consider, and value, as the trademark feature of the lens and it comes into its own when you have a subject that puts it in its element. It’s a specialist lens. Yet many people judge it and its sharpness on photos for which it was not designed. The purpose of my blog posts using this lens is to show that while most of a photo might be out of focus, the out of focus blur (bokeh) is pleasing, and the actual point of focus is very sharp.

      As yet, I haven’t found a subject to pose for a portrait – which is the speciality of the lens. And to be honest, I haven’t made any effort to find one. The truth is that I don’t have the confidence these days that I had in the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s, that I can take a good portrait of anyone I’d like to photograph. I’d need that confidence to approach a stranger who might perhaps make a good subject.

      These days, I rarely see anyone whose portrait I’d like to take, but now and again I do, and these are the photo opportunities I really miss, not your insects.


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