Canon nFD 85mm lens comparison

Intro

The lenses in this comparison are:

The above links will direct you to my Canon Classics website (previously known as fdreview.com). You can find other users reviews of the lenses.

 The nFD 85mm f/1.2L on the left, the 85/1.8 on the right.

The nFD 85mm f/1.2L on the left, the 85/1.8 on the right.

All images were shot on a Sony A7 (24MP) on aperture priority in RAW and converted to JPEG in Lightroom. Sharpness and Noise-reduction set to 0 in Lightroom and at the lowest setting on the A7. The white-balance was set to 5000K.

Sharpness

I used a slightly different setup as I used on the 50mm comparison. I put a booklet on an angle, so if I slightly missfocus, there would still be a sharpest point. Hope that makes sense :)

 Focus point for the center sharpness test.

Focus point for the center sharpness test.

The 85/1.2L is clearly sharper on all f-stops. The 1.8 never seems to get as sharp as the 1.2L. At f/5.6 and f/8 they seems almost identical in this test. This was shot from about 2.5 meters (8 feet).

These are the center crops of the corner test. Somehow I missed the f/1.8 setting on the 1.2L lens. This test was shot from around 4.5 meters (15 feet).

This test makes the f/1.8 look a lot better than the previous test. I can't really see a big difference from f/2.8 and up. Maybe it's better at longer focus points?

Corner Sharpness

 Center focus point used in the test above and corner focus point. Shot from about 4.5 meters (15 feet) away.

Center focus point used in the test above and corner focus point. Shot from about 4.5 meters (15 feet) away.

Since this is the same set of images, the f/1.8 is missing for the 85/1.2L. The 85/1.8 lens has a lot sharper corners. If you're shooting portraits, the slightly blurry corners might not be an issue.

Bokeh (balls)

In the first sharpness test there are some nice bokeh balls, but I wanted to go a little more extreem. I set the lenses close to their closest focus distance (about 0.9 meters / 3 feet) to get the biggest background blur. 

 One of the most beautiful cameras ever made; the Hasselblad 500c

One of the most beautiful cameras ever made; the Hasselblad 500c

Bokeh on the edges and corners often show a football shape. Both 85's render this way at their largest aperture setting, but are pretty 'round' when stopped down a little. Both look good enough for me. From f/1.2 to f/2.0 the 85L looks better and from f/2.8 and up the 85/1.8 looks a bit rounder, less octagon shape.

One thing I noticed again are the circles inside the bokeh balls. Not really noticeable in the above comparison (at 10%), but below is a 50% crop witch clearly shows what I mean.

I thought I read somewhere that this effect is caused by aspherical element(s) in the lens. I saw this on the FD 55 Aspherical and the nFD 50L, both having aspherical elements, and not on the nFD 50/1.4. Same goes for the 85L with aspherical elements and the 85/1.8 not having aspherical elements. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

I haven't noticed these circles in regular background blur, though.

Specifications

The data below was copied from the Canon Camera Museum website. The 85L is slightly heavier than stated below at around 696 grams.

nFD 85 1.2LnFD 85 1.8
MarketedMarch 1980June 1979
Original Price113,000 yen43,000 yen
Lens Construction (group)64
Lens Construction (element)86
No. of Diaphragm Blades88
Minimum Aperture1622
Closest Focusing Distance (m)0.90.85
Maximum Magnification (x)0.120.12
Filter Diameter (mm)7252
Maximum Diameter x Length (mm)80.8 x 7163 x 53.5
Weight (g)680345

Prices

I did an eBay search for both lenses. I looked at the sold items in the completed listings and calculated the average selling price.

Canon nFD 85 f/1.2L - $ 665.-
Canon nFD 85 f/1.8 - $ 180.-

Size and handling

The 85L is heavy. Twice the weight of the 85/1.8. Unless you want to workout while taking pictures the 85/1.8 the best option weight/size wise. The focussing is smooth on both, but the aperture ring is a little harder to turn on the 85L. Not really a big issue, though. They both feel very well build. 

The 85L takes 72mm filters, wich are more expensive than the 52mm filters for the 85/1.8, but it's a common size, so you might already have some filters.

 Focussed at infinity

Focussed at infinity

 Extending when close focussing.

Extending when close focussing.

 With the lens hoods on.

With the lens hoods on.

I don't have the original lens hood for the 85L, but this should give you an idea of the size. The hoods are attached to the front and move when close focussing. They do not rotate, though.

That front element of the 85L is huge, more than twice the surface area of the 85/1.8! It's like looking through an airplane window. It would be wise to either always put the hood on or get a good solid filter.

Semi-closing comment

There is not a overall winner here, for me. The size and weight make me want to pick the 85/1.8. But if I'm not walking around too much, why not take the 85L?

I haven't used both lenses much, since I like wider angles more, but I will be taking these two lenses outside soon to take some real world comparison pictures. 

For full resolution images, please visit my Flickr page. If you have any suggestion or comments, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!