Hands-on with Canon’s new RF85mm F2 Macro IS STM

Alongside a trio of telephoto lenses, Canon also announced a new 85mm this week. The RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is a compact, affordable alternative to the pro-oriented 85mm F1.2L, which can’t match the light-gathering power of its costly cousin, but adds optical image stabilization and a handy close-focusing ability. Not to mention it’s a whole lot easier to carry around.

Click through this article for a closer look at Canon’s sixth autofocus 85mm lens.

Size and weight

At 500g (1.1 lbs) the 85mm F2 is far from a featherweight, but it’s less than half the weight of the 85mm F1.2. It’s nicely-balanced, too, and doesn’t feel heavy on an EOS R6. The filter thread is a very reasonable 67mm, so no need to hunt around for expensive, larger, less common filters.

Ergonomics

The RF 85mm F2 features a pretty clean, matte black, low-key design, with a broad rubber-clad focus ring in the middle of the barrel (manual focus is focus-by-wire, as we’d expect) and a customizable ‘clicky’ control ring at the front, nearest to the filter ring. The two rings are textured differently to help differentiate them by touch.

There’s a lot of polycarbonate in the body of the lens (our copy is made in Malaysia, for those who care about such things), and overall build quality seems very high. It should be noted, however, that Canon makes no claims about weather-sealing in this lens.

Optical construction

The RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is a lot less of a handful than the F1.2L, but it’s still a pretty advanced, complex design. Optical construction comprises 12 elements in 11 groups, including one UD (ultra low-dispersion) element for chromatic aberration control. A nine-bladed aperture ensures that out of focus highlights will be rendered as near-circles when the lens is shot near or wide open. Canon claims ‘beautiful bokeh’ from this lens, which should be a favorite of portrait photographers.

Close focusing

The ‘Macro’ in the full product name of this lens refers to its close focusing abilities, and its maximum reproduction ratio of 0.5X. Technically this isn’t true macro (that would be 1:1 reproduction) but manufacturers (not only Canon) have been playing fast and loose with that word for years, so we’ll forgive it. Especially since this kind of close focusing ability (you can focus down to 1.1 ft, or 35 cm) is so impressive in a lens of this kind. For (near) macro work, you can lock the lens’s autofocus to a range of 0.5m – 0.35m to prevent hunting.

We expect this macro capability will make this lens a handy kit – particularly when paired with the RF 35mm F1.8 – for portrait and wedding photographers who can quickly go close in for detail shots.

Speaking of autofocus, like its shorter focal length RF 35 cousin, the RF 85mm F2 uses a stepping motor to drive its focus group. Given our past experience with Canon’s STM motors, we expect autofocus speeds are unlikely to be as fast as the company’s lenses with Nano USM focus drive systems, and it remains to be seen if focus drive is silent.

Image Stabilization

The RF 85mm F2 features optical image stabilization, rated to five stops of correction (per CIPA, tested on an EOS R). Canon claims that when mounted on an EOS R5 or R6, photographers can expect a combined stabilization effect of up to eight stops with this lens, which will be hugely beneficial for the kind of closeup work that the lens is capable of. Regardless of what body it’s attached to, the 85mm F2’s ‘Hybrid I.S’ system is designed specifically to help with the kinds of rotational and up/down left/right movements that can create problems at very close focusing distances.

We’re unable to test stabilization performance (or autofocus, or image quality) in this pre-production sample, but these are all things that we want to try out when we get an opportunity. In the meantime, let us know what you think of Canon’s latest portrait prime lens in the comments.

The RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM lens is scheduled to be available in October 2020 for an estimated retail price of $599.99.

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