Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

While it's understandably bigger than the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, this 85mm optic is still compact and has the same filter thread of 58mm. Both Canon lenses look quite similar at a glance, but the 85mm has a larger front element that isn't recessed within the barrel, making the purchase of an optional ET-65 III lens hood all the more important.

Build quality is good and the lens benefits from a ring-type autofocus system that's very fast and almost silent. It's a significant step up from the Canon 50mm's Micro USM system, both in speed and the smoothness of full-time manual focus override.

Autofocus is fully internal, so the barrel doesn't extend during shorter-range focusing. The eight-blade diaphragm gives a well-rounded aperture, similar to that of the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

There's noticeably more sharpness and contrast than with the Canon 50mm lens when using the widest available aperture, albeit at f/1.8 as opposed to the 50mm's f/1.4.

Sharpness is also improved at medium apertures of around f/5.6 to f/8. The lens is almost completely free of distortion, while colour fringing and vignetting are well controlled.

With its improved autofocus system and superior image quality, this lens is better value than the Canon 50mm lens, since it's only a little dearer to buy. It's an ideal portrait optic for full-frame DSLR bodies and very useful for telephoto portraiture on APS-C cameras.

Sharpness test

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

Good rather than excellent throughout most of the aperture range, this lens does better than the Canon 50mm at large apertures.

Fringing test

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

Colour fringing is quite low and remains consistent through most of the aperture range, although it peaks at f/1.8.

Distortion test

Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

There's very marginal barrel distortion and it's all but impossible to see in images. It's on a par with the Nikon 85mm lens.

Image test verdict

Sharper and with less colour fringing or distortion than the Canon 50mm lens, the 85mm delivers very good image quality for the money.