Friday, February 9, 2018

REVIEW: Sony a7R III - Camera of the Year 2017 (Part II of II) + Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens

Sony a7R III - ronmarblog.com's Camera of the Year for 2017

I've "officially" reviewed at least 80 cameras since I started this blog, and many more that didn't result in articles. Let me just say it now - nothing I've ever reviewed deserves to be compared to the Sony a7R III because it is simply in a class of its own. This is the next generation of how camera sensors should perform, and it has no equal - period.

Now before you declare me a Sony fan boy, let me also point out that my primary DSLR is a Canon 1DX Mark II and my secondary camera is a Fujifilm X-E2. I've also said great things about the Nikon D850 and many other Nikons. I've also had my fair share of reviews for Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and more.

I enjoy review cameras and I've had a fair share of excellent products that I've highly recommended. I've bashed Sony cameras that I thought sucked and faced the wrath of the hate mail from the Sony faithful. However, as 2017 has now come to a close it's crystal clear to me that my hands haven't held a camera with a full frame (or smaller) sensor that has even come close to what I've experienced with this camera. What's more, this is the best a7R series camera that I've tested thanks to improvements to the body and what I "non-scientifically" feel are improvements in its in-camera noise reduction and overall dynamic range.

Why is this camera different?

If you've followed my blog, then you know that I've been harsh on large megapixel cameras for the following reasons:

  1. Noisy - High ISO performance has been poor in a world where lower resolution cameras are killing it at ISO 25,600 and sometimes even higher.

  2. Can't Hand Hold - Extra megapixels meant faster shutter speeds were required to get a sharp handheld shot over other cameras. In fact, some cameras on the market demand as much as 1/<focal length * 3> minimum shutter speeds to cancel out camera shake. This means they are utterly useless for anything but tripod and shoots under studio lighting.

  3. No practical benefits - Initially many of these higher resolution cameras offered a lot more megapixels but nothing that can be perceived as a benefit when you shrinking your photo down and use it on social media, your desktop background or on your TV. Sure there are some printing advantages, but poor sensor performance resulted in them not really being much different than a properly resized photo from a lower resolution camera. Simply put - camera makers were fooling us by just doing in-camera resizing that didn't seem to yield any measurable benefit in real world use.

The Sony a7R III changes all of that. The issues raised above are no longer an issue with this camera and here's 100% unedited in-camera sRGB JPEG's (that are only better with the RAW) that prove this camera is legit.

Noise is on par with lower megapixel DSLR's

Consider the following shot that is 100% unprocessed from the in-camera sRGB JPEG and is at ISO 8000:


f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 8000

The color is fantastic and even when you look at the eye at 100% as shown here:

image

you'll notice that the details are excellent and the noise is on par with best performing lower megapixel DSLR's. That's ISO 8000 folks - previously most high megapixel cameras (except the D850) I tested looked terrible at this ISO and higher. Of course this is in the daylight with everything in best case to high ISO noise, so what about when things get dark?

Here's an example below at ISO 25,600 when you click on it at full-size things get a little ugly, but the in-camera JPEG is still totally usable as you can see here:


f/3.2 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 25600

However, this is where things get interesting as the dynamic range of this camera is off the chart so some quick editing of the RAW and I can recover a ton of color from this shot to get this:


ISO 25600 processed from ARW RAW file using Lightroom & Imagenomic Noiseware

Look at all of the detail I can bring back in the background and in the shadows - it's like someone turned the lights on! Of course, I can easily change the white balance to bring back the warm feel of the in-camera version but I didn't do that here just to illustrate a point and emphasize the blues that get recovered in this image.

Now imagine if I had taken this shot at ISO 100?!!!! The biggest problem with high ISO images is that you lose dynamic range, but even at ISO 25,600 this camera has gobs of dynamic range with plenty to spare.

Here's another good example at ISO 10,000 that is 100% unedited and taken during a parade at night (hence the persons head at the bottom of the shot):


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 10000

The noise level is acceptable and the colors from the wide dynamic range of this sensor are fantastic!

Here's a landscape shot at 12,800:


f/9 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 12800

Here's another where things really get pushed at ISO 32,000:


f/16 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 32000

While my Canon 1DX Mark II might do a little better with noise at these levels and higher, it can't touch the dynamic range - and that would be true if I was using the 5DsR, 5D Mark IV, or even a Nikon D5. Having this much color retained at high ISO is perhaps more as important as Noiseware can get rid of the noise dots but you can't bring color back. As a result, I can easily say this is a camera where you shouldn't fear cranking up the ISO.

Can you hand hold? - Oh heck yeah!

Guess what, unless otherwise noted, almost every shot in this article is hand held?!! Take note of that when looking at the shutter speeds. However, I should note that when you see 1/200 sec that's because I forced a minimum shutter speed in the camera to avoid camera shake - before I realized how much I could trust this camera!

How about 1/10 sec for a 90mm lens? Yep, no problem.

Ok, I'll admit it took a few tries and 1/160 sec was much easier, but I got multiple crazy sharp 1/10 and 1/20 sec shots with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens mounted to this camera. Here's one example:

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/10 sec at ISO 160 - hand held!
f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/10 sec at ISO 160
 - hand held!

Here it is at 100% zoom:

100% crop of the above shot

That's crazy sharp!!! Of course, this lens has Optical Steadyshot in addition built-in SteadyShot that applies to all lenses so you end up being able to pull off human tripod shots that even shaky hand people like me with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome could normally never get without some serious support.

To prove this isn't smoke and mirrors, I had my 8 year old son take this iPhone photo of me while I was taking the shot above:

See, it really was hand held at 1/10 sec

Here's another shot taken in the woods while standing up with much less support at 1/100 sec for a 90mm lens:


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 640

Now 1/100 sec is about what you should be shooting at for a 90mm lens, so I think this shot proves there's no penalty for the extra megapixels when paired to a OSS lens. Unfortunately I only had one lens for this review so I couldn't test OSS alone, but if you read my a7R II review then you'll see that I thought in camera steadyshot performed well. I don't expect that you'll pay the penalty of needing faster shutter speeds with this camera like you do a Nikon D850. Here's a 100% zoom of the eye from the above shot to show it's plenty sharp for a hand-held shot:

image

With this camera, I can no longer make the statement that the extra megapixels means it's really best for only studio shots and tripod shooting as I definitely proved it wasn't the case. This is a big deal for cameras with this many megapixels so I commend Sony for doing a great job here!

Plenty of Practical Benefits

Normally when you get a camera in this category you sacrifice a lot so it becomes a specialized camera. However,  the a7R III offers an astonishing 399-point AF system with 10 fps that makes it half as fast as the incredible Sony a9 that I reviewed. This means you can get edge to edge AF points and incredible action shooting performance in the worst of conditions. To illustrate this, consider some of these shots taken during a parade at night where I'm being bumped and dealing with a large crowd of people around me:


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 10000

This guy was dancing around so I just lifted the camera above my head while pressing the Eye AF button and let a burst mode rip - got em


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 3200

I was being mobbed with people all around, so I just fired in burst mode to see what I could get - no problem


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 5000

This girl was highly animated, but I just pressed eye AF and let burst mode see what it could do


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 4000

I honestly don't even remember this person as it was another case where eye AF and burst mode were my spray and pray solution. I was pleased with how well it did even with all of the distractions


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 4000

Zoom into this shot - Mrs. Clause eye with glasses on while moving on a parade float was no problem for this camera


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 10000

Another spray and pray and this one is even more impressive when you consider how dark her eyes are with the visor on - this is a legit photojournalism camera folks!


f/3.2 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 320

This shot is my favorite of the 14 shot burst mode taken below
and look how great the red jacket looks!
Full size originals of all frames are in the gallery associated with this article

image
Ignore the first shot, but the other 14 were tall taken in one burst at RAW+JPEG X.Fine using Eye AF

So yeah, I found this camera to be just as usable in everyday life as my Canon 1D X Mark II yet it had the advantage of the Eye AF feature. So in my books this is a great event, action, wedding, and kids photography camera - that's saying a lot!

Douglas Dubler - A Top Pro's Perspective on the Sony a7R III

NOTE: The following images are used by permission and may not be linked to, saved, copied or otherwise used without consent from Douglas Dubler.


Ellison Ballet shot by Douglas Dubler
 
edited by Irfan Yonac - click for a larger version

My good friend Douglas Dubler is one of the most famous fashion photographers in the industry for decades and was a long-time Nikon and Fujifilm featured photographer. In fact, Douglas Dubler photos have been used to launch many cameras including one example - the Nikon D3x.

However, his camera of choice these days is the Sony a7R III and his trusty RX 100IV - the later of which was used for this article where he destroys most DSLR shooters images

He's been amazed at the performance of this camera in extremely low light fast action shots he takes of the prestigious Ellison Ballet.  He's been posting picture after picture of amazing shots like this one on  Instagram and Facebook:


Madison by Douglas Dubler

edited by Irfan Yonac - click for a larger version
 Instagram / Facebook

He feels strongly that the a7R III is definitely an improvement over the II in terms of dynamic range and he considers it to be one of the best cameras he's ever used which is saying quite a lot from a guy who has done quite a few shots with the 100 megapixel Phase One camera system and Broncolor lights!

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens Thoughts

It's kinda hard to tell but this review isn't just about the camera, but it's also about the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens I used for all of my featured photos in the review gallery.

The Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS features low-dispersion glass glass which has benefits you can read about here. In simple terms all this means that this is a crazy sharp lens with deliciously smooth bokeh as you can see in this handheld shot below:


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 2000

I talked about how it makes a heck of a macro lens in part I of this article, but it makes a killer portrait lens too as you can see in this shot and others like it in this article:


f/3.2 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

Natural light, unedited, standard camera settings, auto white balance (ambient bias)

Click here to see an edited version of this photo on Instagram or on my portfolio site.

Here's an impromptu handheld macro shot I did in the kitchen while my wife as cooking:


f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

I could have got much closer and filled the frame with the main subject (I don't know what that food is called either - ha ha). However, I love the shallow depth of field I got from the f/2.8 lens yet my subject is super sharp.

Here's one of the few stabilized shots I took where I was trying to see how well it did at f/22:


f/22 @ 90mm for 1 sec at ISO 640

I have three other versions of this shot in the gallery at f/9.0f/11 and f/16. While diffraction definitely kicks in and isn't handled as nicely as I've seen on the best Fujifilm X-Series cameras, there's no doubt this is a proper landscape camera!

Here's a portrait shot out in the snow which surprised me for how blue it was despite using the auto white balance with the warmer ambient setting. Sony seems to favor cooler temps in the snow in its auto white balance algorithm, but that's easy to fix with the RAW:


f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 640

Click for original or go check out the edited version

My camera settings were such that my exposure compensation got ignored, so wintery scene turned out darker than I wanted:


f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 100

See the edited version here and the higher ISO variant

Marrying the worlds of landscape, macro and portrait, this shot of a fallen tree is a visual feast for pixel peepers who enjoy seeing the details that this sensor can capture:


f/8 @ 90mm for 1/60 sec at ISO 4000
 

Like snow, rushing water is always tough to shoot because it's easy to blow out your highlights. Since I was handheld for the shot below I couldn't do a long exposure so I went for capturing the power of the water:


f/8 @ 90mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 640

This is a fun shot to explore for all of the detail in the water droplets and rock textures!
I can't wait to edit this one as the RAW file gives me so much I can do to make this shot be exactly what I want it to be thanks to the incredible dynamic range of the a7R III

See more than 110 unedited sample photos at http://photos.ronmartblog.com/sony/a7riii.  All photos here and in the gallery are copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (or Douglas Dubler where noted). You may view the photos while your browser is open to this article, but you must delete all copies from your machine when you leave the article.

You may not print, edit, link to, repost, or otherwise use any images from this article without consent from Ron Martinsen (or Douglas Dubler where applicable). Contact me for more details.

Conclusion

I wish I had more lenses for this review, as being limited to the 90mm really hindered what I could do.

I wish I had more time with this camera as I have a lot of ideas of what I could do to show it off.

I wish you'd buy my Canon gear so I could buy this camera - it really is that good. This is why I'm proud to give the Sony a7R III my highest recommendation by naming it my 2017 Camera of the Year!

While Sony still has plenty of gaps in terms of lenses offered for this camera and its flash system is nothing compared to the Canon 600EX II-RT or Nikon SB-5000, there's enough goodness with the Sony a7R III that I'm officially recommending those that can afford it to switch camps. That isn't something I do lightly or have ever done before, but in the world of amazing cell phones like the iPhone X and the Samsung S8 the advantage of big bulky DSLR's is fading fast. As a result, your camera should do more and only the Sony a9 and a7R III are legitimately doing that in my opinion.

While I haven't owned a Sony camera since 2006, that is very likely to change in 2018 when I've sold enough gear to make the switch. When I do, you can bet that the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens will be high on my wish list. I'd also love to see Sony work on these things in 2018 to make this platform better:

  1. Please make E-Mount versions of your best lenses and move third parties like Sigma to do the same.
  2. Please build a killer radio frequency ETTL flash system.
  3. Continue to make improvements on the painful menu system such that it has fewer pages. I like Canon's system best - especially with the Q button jump feature.
  4. Make it easier to one tap (rather than hold) to engage and disengage Eye AF.
  5. Learn from Fujifilm and offer a left vs right eye option for Eye AF.
  6. Continue to improve the high ISO performance and metering.
  7. Make it cheaper so more people can enjoy the best camera on the market! :)

Where to Buy?

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy Sony a7R III from B&H.

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens from B&H.

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

Enjoy these and more on the Reviews tab as well as Ron's Recommendations.

Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

REVIEW: Flixel Cinemagraph Pro Discount Offer–Motion Photos (Updated Jan 17, 2018)


Flixel Cinemagraph Pro makes making cinemagraphs easy!
Copyright Ron Martinsen © All Rights Reserved

If you are like me, you’ve probably been very intrigued by the cool cinemagraphs found on the web (especially on the bing.com home page), but many people like me also haven’t had the time to figure out how to do them! Most things in photography are time consuming enough, and video makes it even worse. As a result, I had little desire to find another way to consume my time.

Well I’m happy to report that after a little research I found out that it is not only easy it’s fun too! Here’s the main window of Flixel’s Cinemagraph Pro 1.5 back when I originally did this article in 2015 (page down for version 2.0):


Flixel Cinemagraph Pro Main Window

Basically you import a video, highlight what you want to move and pick start and end points. That’s in – in no time you can have one of these running and they’ll even host the cinemegraph on their web site – for free (size limitations and content restrictions apply).

It took me a bit to get the hang of it, but within a few minutes I had my first cinemgraph of my daughter below:


Yes, we think it is creepy too!

Not only did we think this was creepy, I quickly learned how you must keep things very still or else you get the shifty eyes problem featured here.

What was about this one is that I could export the still image portion and do a quick edit on it in Photoshop then send it back to Cinemagraph Pro. This allowed me to get rid of some unwanted skin blemishes caused by the fact that neither my daughter or I had planned to do this so no real life skin preparations were made!

Without any prep, I tried again:


Ok, cool but crooked as hell so let’s try again

As a second attempt the concept was good but the execution was bad, so I tried again:


Almost awesome

The ottoman was a little more stable this time as a tripod, but still not perfect. I also started noticing that my background was a bit dirty so I figured I needed another try where I actually prepared for a video (imagine that)!

My final attempt (the lead cinemagraph with cognac at the top of this article) included some preparations, but was done in one take. From start to finish I spent about 20 minutes, 16 minutes of which was preparation time getting “the set” ready.

Video Demos

Here's the best Flixels of 2017:

and here's a tutorial that shows how to use the latest 2.0 version for the Mac:

Conclusion

This is a fun and simple process that can be done on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad quickly and easily. While I’m disappointed that no Windows version exists, there is a product called Microsoft Blink (see below) that does cinemagraphs for free!

Capture Clients

To learn more, visit https://flixel.com/products/mac/cinemagraph-pro.

Where to order

Click here to order and use the code FLIXELTEN to save 10%!

Click here to save 10% off your order. If you do this properly, then you should see the discount automatically applied as shown below:

Prices are subject to change and this offer ends soon

This is a limited time offer and prices are subject to change. When this deal expires, please use THIS LINK instead so that I may get credit for the referral – thanks!

App Store

This product is also available on the AppStore:


iPhone


iPad


Cinemagraph Pro+ for OS X
WARNING: No discount, use this link to get a discount


Cinemagraph+ for OS X


Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS USM - Sigma Art Killer?


Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

The Canon 85mm f/1.2L was legendary for its buttery smooth bokeh, but I absolutely hated its electronic (vs traditional mechanical) focus ring. I also couldn't deal with its slow focusing (even in the improved II model) and the unusable minimum focus distance of 3.12' (95 cm).

Despite all of that, I was a bit sad to hear that Canon's newest 85mm L would be a f/1.4 instead of a f/1.2, but then I remembered something - the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art  was one of my favorite lenses I've ever reviewed - and the only lens to get two dedicated articles (here and here). At that point it became clear that the target for this lens was the Sigma Art, and you only needed to look at the minimum focus distance of the two - which is exactly 2.79' (85 cm) to know that is exactly Canon's target.

I also found myself with the Canon 85mm f/1.2L (which I've owned - twice) and Sigma 85mm Art that I rarely found a practical use for anything wider than f/1.8 because it's just too shallow to be practical. As such, I quickly got over my concerns about this lens not being an f/1.2 and judged it on its own merits.

The Perfect Portrait Lens?

85mm is famous for being a great lens for shooting portraits of people thanks to its ability to slim down your subject and bring the background in closer than wider lenses like the 50mm and 35mm. However, some people, myself included still think it's not long enough because it can still make your subject look wider (thus the old saying that the camera adds 15 pounds). Here's a shot of a very thin model who looks wider here than she appears in real life or in other photos taken with longer lenses (see here):


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 125

This has always been my frustration with 85mm's, but they have the advantage that the lenses are still small enough that doing a f-stop smaller than 2.8 is still possible. This creates a benefit allowing you to creative things like keeping one eye in focus while letting the other eye go out of focus. The advantage of this is that you create a more intimate connection with the subject that creative types love yet OCD types hate.

The shot below illustrates what you'd likely get on a typical 70-200mm f/2.8 at 85mm where much more of the scene is in focus. If the scene is interesting this can be a good thing, but if it isn't then it can also be a bother:


f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 400

Another advantage of f/2.8 over f/1.4 is that the subject doesn't have to be on the same exact plane as the lens to be in full focus. In this shot I had the model tilt her head back to illustrate the flexibility you get with f/2.8 vs the dangers of going to smaller f-stop numbers as illustrated in the f/1.8 shot above.

In the end it is a creative decision and the beauty of this lens is that you can do both. With your 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom you are stuck with f/2.8 and can't separate your subject any better unless you stand closer at which point minimum focus distance challenges start to kick in.

All of these reasons combined are why the Sigma 85mm Art and 135mm Art have been such popular lenses with portrait photographers looking for something sharper than a zoom lens.

The Image Stabilization Difference

f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/6 sec at ISO 100 - handheld

Using ambient light from overhead, I was able to easily do 1/6 sec handheld which is quite impressive for a shaky hand guy like me with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Here's the shot from above zoomed to 100%:

image
100% zoom of f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/6 sec at ISO 100 image

I did get a usable shot at f1/4 sec, but it wasn't as sharp as this one or the very sharp 1/20 sec shot, so I declared 1/6 sec my practical minimum shutter speed for my hands with this lens. Obviously those with more steady hands are easily going to be able to beat me here.

I think this is really where things get interesting since the Sigma 85mm Art is slightly sharper.

If your going to be shooting moving subjects none of this matters as you'll need faster shutter speeds. If you are shooting on a tripod it doesn't matter either since you'd turn IS off. However, if this is going to be your walk about lens in normal lighting conditions this advantage could mean the difference between a crisp shot and a blurry one so that Sigma Art advantage would go away.

Given the recent ban on tripods in Zion and elsewhere,  IS could be the game changer that makes the difference between getting the shot and not.

Sidebar: Impact of Shooting Shallow DOF

While I shooting for this review I took some photos of my son riding his bike on one of his favorite local trails:


f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 500

It took a few attempts for me to get everything exactly the way I wanted it for this shot since I was shooting handheld, but I eventually got it. As I was taking the shot I did one series with him pedaling away and thought it would be fun to share the impact of using a shallow depth of field (f/2.8 in this case) for a scene. Here's the first frame:


f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/800 sec at ISO 640

and the last of the 10 frames in this series:


f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/800 sec at ISO 640

You can step through them yourself here.

Good Bokeh vs Bad Bokeh

One of the great things about lenses with f-stop below 2.8 is that you get some really smooth bokeh, but is too much bokeh a bad thing? Consider this shot:


f/1.4 @ 85mm for 1/1000 sec at ISO 100

This lens makes such smooth bokeh that I found myself hating shots like the one above because the context of the scene was totally lost. What's more, any lens that is wide open (at its smallest f-stop number) is going to be softer than when stepped down. In the shot below, the scene itself had more contrast and the subject is sharper thanks to using f/1.8 instead:


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/800 sec at ISO 200

That said, I still think a shot like this is better suited for f/2.8 or perhaps even more to give more context about the surroundings. However, if I'm much closer to my subject such as is the case in this shot:


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/800 sec at ISO 200

f/1.8 removes distractions as would a little cropping if this wasn't a review using unedited photos. In this case the bokeh is a great thing as the busy background becomes smooth and the blur on the shirt and hands forces your eyes back to the main subject - the face. This is good bokeh and a great use of f/1.4 to f/1.8. Generally speaking, you'll get best results at f/1.8 - f/2.2 on any f/1.4 lens, so the decision to do f/1.8 results in a sharper face yet still offers the benefit of very good bokeh elsewhere to avoid distractions.

Consider this scene where choosing f/1.8 on a subject that isn't close by results in a clear understanding of what the subject is - the chairs:


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/400 sec at ISO 100

However, if you zoom in on it you'll notice that the fence, chairs, and tree aren't all of equal sharpness so you could go as high as f/4 and still improve the sharpness of the foreground subjects yet still take advantage of the distance of the objects in the background to have them less sharp and distracting:


f/4 @ 85mm for 1/80 sec at ISO 100

This is what I'd classify as good bokeh, but where less is more.

In the shot below is a nasty dirty window from the kids and the primary subjects are the pianist eyes and fingers. By choosing f/1.8 and carefully focusing it's possible to keep the primary subjects in focus and remove distractions in the background (mostly - it still would have been better to clean that nasty window - ha ha).


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/800 sec at ISO 1600
 - In-Camera Monochrome Creative Style

Again, I'd classify this as good bokeh. Because I chose to use an in-camera picture style that made the image black and white, this is a shot that I'd be happy to say is done in-camera with no additional work.

Here's another example where f/1.8 gives a super sharp rose with some sense of depth into the rose while still removing everything else from the scene in a sheet of creamy bokeh:


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 5000
 - In-Camera Monochrome Creative Style

The decision to use the monochrome creative style along with the choice of f/1.8 leaves a photo that has a clear subject without distractions from noise (ISO 5000) or other elements in the scene (well except that glowing thing at 11:00 - ha ha).

None of these are unique to this lens, but for those reading this article wondering what the big deal is about a f/1.4 lens is - this is it. It's a great tool that allows you to create images that set your subject apart from the scene and dial in enough details to set context when desired or completely eliminate it.

The great bokeh of this lens really helps to accomplish this goal, so I can no longer see a reason why I'd ever want to even borrow the old Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. It was great for its day, but I think Canon made the right choice to go with f/1.4 as the minimum f-stop as anything below that is really too much and this leaves room for f/1.8 to really shine.

More Unedited Real World Shots

Just like all of the photos in this article, this section includes more 100% unedited shots taken with a Canon 1D X Mark II. The in-camera JPEG's are taken straight from camera and only renamed, but otherwise unmodified so click the photos to see the originals.

Unless noted, all photos were handheld without any support aids.

All photos are copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may view the photos while your browser is open to this article, but afterwards you must close and delete any copies on your machine. You may not edit, print, publish, save, link to, embed, video or otherwise use any photos from this article without written consent from Ron Martinsen.

You can find the full gallery of unedited images here,  and/or you may click the photos in this article to see them exactly as they came out of the camera.


f/2.8 @ 85mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 1250

Because you must get closer to your subject, f/2.8 blurs out a lot more of the scene than one would experience with a 70-200mm f/2.8 at 200mm. It can be used to an advantage to make unsightly backgrounds like this look more appealing 


f/1.4 @ 85mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 100

The challenge with f/1.4, in addition to being softer than f/1.8, is that if your subject isn't entirely on the same plane as the lens then you are going to lose the focus on an eye as you see here. Sometimes it can be just want you want, and other times in a shot like this it is more distracting as one would expect the camera right eye to be in focus.


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 800

This lens focuses fast and was able to keep up with the rapid and unpredictable movements of an 8 year old hunting for and throwing rocks


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 500

When reviewing images, I kept going back to the f/1.8 versions as they offer incredible sharpness of the subject yet still allow the background to vanish. In scenes where there's lots of contrast, like here, the context is still preserved without it being distracting


f/5.6 @ 85mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 2500

I shot this at several different f-stops, but f/5.6 made it clear that the boat was my subject but the birds and mountains weren't just smeared out of the scene. I loved f/5.6 on this lens too!


f/2.2 @ 85mm for 1/125 sec at ISO 640

f/2.2 was my preferred f-stop for the f/1.2L because that's where things got crazy sharp yet details in the background still vanished. f/2.2 is a great choice with this lens too as you can see here


f/7.1 @ 85mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 6400

Going up to f/7.1 and the distance of the background from the subject still eliminates distractions in the background, so I found it to be a good choice for when I wanted to provide more context (in this case, show off the beach). This is the beauty of this lens for portraits because it's easy when working near the minimum focus distance to go either way as demonstrated by the two photos above


f/5.6 @ 85mm for 1/125 sec at ISO 6400

If I had to knock this lens for one thing is that it isn't as naturally warm as the f/1.2L or the 16-35mm f/2.8L II. Those lenses were legendary for their nice contrast and warmth, but this lens seems to have lost a little bit of that advantage (or disadvantage if you didn't like it)


f/1.8 @ 85mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 1000

Busy backgrounds like rocks create a swirling effect, but if used properly the results can still work to your favor like the image above


f/1.4 @ 85mm for 1/13 sec at ISO 100
- handheld!!!
Yes, this is a handheld shot of a 8 year old who photobombed my long exposure shot. Fortunately he didn't move so I thought this was a fun shot. What was even more interesting though is that you can clearly see the focus area of a scene and the swirling pattern in the rocks again

Conclusion

At the time this article was written, this Canon lens was $400 more than the sharper Sigma 85mm Art that lacks image stabilization. Depending on the work you do without tripods using natural light, this could give the Canon lens a big advantage. However, if you are shooting landscapes on tripods or using a flash then that difference goes away, so the Sigma 85mm Art seems like the better deal. I'd definitely buy either over the dinosaur 85mm f/1.2L II or the pricy manual focusing Zeiss Otus 85mm.

With that said, I can recommend this lens for those who want a sharp 85mm with stabilization to compensate for shaky hands when shooting handheld. For everyone else, the Sigma 85mm Art series is still the lens to beat and my king of the 85mm's.

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