Trying the Fashion Thing (Including Lens Comparison)

As mentioned previously, I’m going to try fashion photography.  I am most definitely going to use a stylist.  My style is Johnny Cash – everything goes with black, especially more black and maybe dark blue denim for colour.

The first step was to find out what I’m getting into.  So I happily walked into the local mag shop on lunch today and bought $30 worth of fashion magazines – Vogue, Elle, Fashion, and Harper’s Bazaar.  I’m not sure if I’m just weird or what, but I had no problem whatsoever doing it, and yes, there were women looking at them, too.  Three women and one bald, tattoed biker in a leather jacket, all looking at Elle.  Go figure.

Note to guys who haven’t seen it yet: Vogue is friggin’ huge.  I don’t mean in the industry, I mean in physical size.  This thing is the size of a small-town phone book.  Ladies, forget pepper spray or pocket pistols.  You want protection on the streets?  Carry a copy of Vogue – you could probably walk through East St. Louis, alone, at 3 in the morning, and be perfectly safe.

Okay, enough of Magzilla.  Onto the lenses…

I need a portrait lens.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Tamron 24-70 f/2.8.  Love it!  It’s great, but it just doesn’t do the bokeh thing the way I’d like it to.  I also have the Nifty Fifty, and it worked perfectly on my T2I, but on my full frame 5DIII where it doesn’t crop the same, I need to get in a little too close.  So, new lens time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I did the fashion seminar, which is pretty much full body portraits.  You want the subject in and not a whole lot else.  So that means that bokeh can be a benefit, though it’s not always wanted (just close the aperture, easy ’nuff).  The choice came down to these three lenses:

  • Canon 85 mm f/1.8 USM
  • Canon 85 mm f/1.2 L II USM
  • Zeiss Planar T* 85 mm f/1.4 ZE

I looked at them on a bunch of aspects, some of which were the quality of shots, the percentage of good shots, usability, vignetting, the bokeh (obviously) and certainly not least, the cost.  I’m not Peter Hurley; my budget doesn’t have six zeros at the end of it.  Let’s hit them up, one at a time:


Canon 85 mm f/1.8 USM


  • Cost ($550 + tax)
  • Weight (399 g/14.1 oz)
  • Size (good for street photography – smaller = less noticeable = more candid shots)



  • Auto-focus (AF) not as fast as 1.2
  • Narrowest aperture of the three, at 1.8 (kinda funny, when you can say that f/1.8 is a narrow aperture!)
  • Bokeh circles are more octagonal (due to the blades)


Canon 85 mm f/1.2 L II USM


  • Better sealing than the f/1.8 (part of the L series)
  • Widest aperture of the three (1.2 vs 1.4 or 1.8)
  • Faster AF than the 1.8
  • Much more even bokeh circles than the Zeiss or f/1.8.
  • One of the Red Rings – looks cooler to show off to others.


  • Cost ($2160 + tax) – most expensive of the three.
  • Weight (1025 g / 36.16 oz) – heaviest of the three.
  • Let’s face it; you get something like this to use at 1.2.  Not 1.4 or 1.8, 1.2.  Because of that, it gets tricky to make sure that the right thing is in focus, so I have seen a lot of reports about a lower percentage of usable prints.
  • Vignetting at large apertures (common among any brand, but does make it a bit of a bummer when you paid the extra money for that aperture)


Zeiss Planar T* 85 mm f/1.4 ZE


  • Did you see the first word in the name of it?  ZEISS.  That means Zeiss glass.
  • Cost ($1320 + tax).  For a Zeiss, that’s not bad.
  • ZE model is specifically made for Canon mount, so no adapter needed
  • 9 blades for more evenly rounded bokeh circles.
  • Body and hood are both metal and well built – no cheap plastic, here.


  • Weight (680 g / 23.98 oz)


  • Same vignetting issue as the Canon f/1.2
  • no AF – manual focusing only.  This will render a higher percentage of shots than normal unusable, if you’re not used to it.

So, after all that, and reading a whole ton of reviews, looking at ton of comparison images, and spending way too much time watching YouTube videos on the subject, I picked this guy:


Canon 85 millimeter f 1.8 lens

The Canon 85mm f/1.8

Yes, cost is a factor, I’ll admit.  My motorcycle is currently being repainted, so I’m in the process of shelling out $2500 + miscellaneous for that, as well.  That aside, I’ll admit, I wanted to get the Zeiss.  I mean, I really wanted it, even if for no other reason than to say that I had a freakin’ Zeiss in my arsenal.  I wanted to discount both Canons and say that the Zeiss was the only logical candidate, but after reading from a number of different, independent sources that the quality of shots achieved by the Zeiss was not substantially better than either of the Canons, and certainly not worth the price difference, I had no choice but to exclude it.  *sniffle*

As for the f/1.2, dropping a few thousand on it when you’re not doing this full-time is a big expense.  Also, I had to seriously ask myself how often I’d really be using that open an aperture, and I couldn’t come up with enough answers.  Plus, after hearing how many unusable shots people have experienced at large apertures and that they have much better success at 2.0 or narrower anyway, it just didn’t make financial sense to me.

So, after all that, I now have, sitting right next to me, a Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM lens.  Now I just need a model, and maybe a MUA and stylist to try it out on!


Until next time, take it easy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…and if you do, take pictures!


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