Guest Reviews Lenses

The Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM – Guest Review by James Fox-Davies

Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM

My choice of short telephoto lens is slightly out of the ordinary. In the past I’ve tried a few Leica lenses (90mm f4 Elmar etc) but haven’t been too impressed with either their size or their image rendering. After purchasing my Canon 50mm f0.95 I got hold of a copy of the incredibly informative ‘Canon M39 Rangefinder Lenses 1939 – 1971’ by Peter Kitchingman. I read it cover to cover in a few days and one lens in particular (well, a few, but that’s another story…) stood out as of interest to me – the Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM.

As mentioned in a previous post on this site, I mainly shoot a Custom Leica M  with a 1963 Canon 50mm f0.95 modified to Leica M-mount. However, when I’m travelling, or even just out for a long photowalk, I’ll often try and take a wide angle and short telephoto lens. My camera bag is just about big enough for 3 lenses and the Leica M3 body. Hamish has already reviewed my Carl Zeiss Hologon 16mm f8 modified to M-mount so I thought I’d write a little about the Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM, my telephoto lens of choice.

Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM

The Canon 85mm f1.8 ltm

The Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM designed by Mukai Jirou was released in March 1961 and stayed on the market for the following 10 years. The lens is popular with both users and collectors. Users like the really attractive rendering of the lens and collectors (as they tend to do) like it’s rarity.

Getting hold of one took me a while and in the end I purchased one from Japan in very good condition.There were two versions. The Type 1 had CANON LENS CCo Inc Lens Made in Japan on the front inner ID ring. The Type 2 has CANON Lens Made in Japan. I have the Type 2 (of which only around 777 were ever made) which would date my copy to between 1971 and 1975.

Specifications

More detail can be found in Peter Kitchingman’s book (I highly recommend it) but the main details of note are that it weighs 470g, is 75mm long, 60mm in diameter and has 13 aperture blades. It takes 58mm screw in filters and the T-60 clamp on hood (which I don’t have). Size-wise I really like it – it seems more compact than a lot of lenses of this focal length but also has a nice solid feel in the hand. On the Leica M body it has a really good centre of balance and is still compact enough to fit well in a small bag.

1512_ 85mmLensReview_ 013

Use with Leica M-mount

The Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM is native in Leica Thread Mount (M39) but with a LTM to M adaptor it works perfectly. I chose an adaptor that brings up the 90mm framlines in the M3’s viewfinder, meaning that I get ever so slightly more than the framelines suggest, although I’ve never really noticed this being an issue in the final image. I also tend to add a Match Technical E-CLYPSE 1.25 x magnifier which helps give accurate focus when paired with the M3’s effective base length of 62.33 (see Hamish’s earlier post on the subject of EBL).

1510_ 85mmReview_ 012Cinestill 800T pushed +3 stops f1.8

Focussing

The focus thread has a very long throw but is incredibly smooth in it’s operation. I have had the chance to use three different copies over the last few months and this has been consistent with all of them. One issue that some people might not like is that it has a minimum focussing distance of 1m. When using this on digital (I know, blasphemy…) a close focus adaptor really helps.

Aperture

This is quite a versatile lens with fast aperture of 1.8 to 22. The only big negative I have with the lens operation is that adjustment of the aperture setting. This is done by rotating the aperture collar at the very end of the lens – the collar rotates with the focus thread which can be quite confusing at times if you want to look and see what aperture you’re currently on. Also, if the collar is fairly stiff (as mine is) it can affect the focus,  i.e. if you’ve focussed and then decide to alter aperture at the last minute, you have to then re-focus which can be a real pain and in some instances has caused me to miss the shot.

1510_ 85mmReview_ 010Cinestill 800T pushed +3 stops f1.8

Bokeh

Shot wide open it has a really nice (I know, it’s subjective) rendering of the out of focus areas in both the foreground and background. The above image you can really see that the 13 diaphragm blades create (to me, at least) a pleasing effect.

In the images below you can see the foreground bokeh too, which I have been really pleased with.

1508_ 85mmReview_ 002Portra 400 f1.8

Resolution

1508_ 85mmReview_ 001Portra 400

Stopped down to f2 and beyond and the lens renders sharp images but with a vintage feel – I’m not even sure what I mean by that but I can tell going through my Lightroom images a shot with the Canon 85mm and one take on a modern lens.

Flare

I have not experienced any noticeable flare of the lens yet but I haven’t shot too much into the sun. If I do then I can always look at picking up the T-60 clamp on hood.

Vignetting

I have not noticed too much vignetting with this lens even when shot wide open. I’ll keep my eyes peeled, though, and if I notice any I’ll post some images.

Contrast

For a 1970’s lens I really can’t fault the contrast. I’m not a particular fan of high contrast modern lenses, though.

Price

As I’d mentioned at the start this is quite a rare lens so expect to pay £400 and up (as of November 2015). For a mint Type 2 lens with front and rear caps, the T-60 hood and the original 85mm finder (and leather Canon finder case) then it will be over £1,000.

Summary

All in all, with the exception of the slightly annoying rotating lens head, I think that the Canon 85mm f1.8 LTM is a really nice short telephoto lens. It gives classic image rendering, is a sharp as it needs to be, and really fits well both in proportion and weight on a Leica M. As an alternative to a Leica 90mm, if you can overlook the slightly inaccurate frame lines this is a nice lens to have in the bag.

I really like this as a portrait lens too.

1510_ 85mmReview_ 011Cinestill 800T pushed +3 stops f1.8

Thanks for reading,

Hamish

 


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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Vernon
    December 8, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    The lens is a beauty and has some very nice character but it’s hard to tell whether your images weren’t in focus or the scans were off. Great review.

    • Reply
      JFD
      December 8, 2015 at 10:47 pm

      All of the Cinestill photos were taken when I’d had a fairly significant amount to drink. I was lucky to have been able to focus at all. I blame that. Apologies. I’ll post some more at some point to back up the my opinion of it being ‘relatively sharp’.

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    December 8, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    I agree with the comment above. These images are not sharp for whatever reason. I get the Canon theme otherwise

  • Reply
    JFD
    December 8, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Ditto the above. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll work on my focussing. I think it’s more ‘me’ than the lens…

  • Reply
    Tony
    December 9, 2015 at 3:10 am

    James,

    Really good review as always. I wonder if you could expand a bit on the Cinestill 800T, which is an interesting and relatively new film. The colors look great! What shutter speed? How did you decide to push 3 stops in processing?

    Tony

    • Reply
      jfd
      December 10, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Hi Tony. I’ve actually half written a review of Cinestill 800T which I’ll ask Hamish about submitting at some point. I really like cinema stock film but because of the removal of the anti-halation layer the effect of this on the highlights are not to everyone’s taste. It does have huge altitude, though. The decisions to push these particular shots so much was mainly down to the environment and kit that I had that night. I was shooting an M3 in very low light without a light meter and so in order to cover myself I set the shutter speed as low as I could hand-hold the 85mm (about 1/100) and opened it up to f1.8 and then as an extra measure I pushed it 3 stops. I’m relatively pleased with the results given the lighting conditions.

      • Reply
        Tony
        December 10, 2015 at 7:11 pm

        Thanks for that information, James. Very helpful to know that this film can be pushed so far and still give such nice colors. I look forward to reading your review of Cinestill 800D. I just ordered some and will try it myself!

  • Reply
    Alan
    December 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I own the canon 85mm 1.5 and the 100mm f2. Both are larger than the 85mm f1.8. From what I see, the 85mm f1.8 and 100mm f2 renders similarly, which in my opinion is wonderful. Im looking at this post on my phone atm, but knowing my canon lenses, it is definately very useable wide open, a slight softness but sharp and medium contrast. Even sharper when stopped down one stop. Sharper than the shorter focal lengths by canon in my opinion. Would love to try the 85mm 1.8 as the 1.5 is bit big and hard to focus at f1.5.
    How’s cinestill pushed 3 stops? Never tried to push a colour negative so much.

    • Reply
      jfd
      December 10, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Alan. As per my reply to the post from Tony below, I was covering myself with the 3 stop push due to the lighting conditions but have liked the results. Thanks for the info on the 85mm f1.5 too – I read up on it too before I got the 1.8. Sounds a nice lens. Thanks again. James

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    June 18, 2016 at 1:46 am

    These LTM Canon lenses were beautifully made, I’d say almost the equal of Leica machining. When I lived in Rhode Island in 1977, I used a Leica 3C, and a camera store in Providence still had a few brand new Canon lenses in stock. One was a 135mm, and there were at least two more focal lengths. As I recall, the package included the appropriate viewfinder to fit in the flash mount. This must have been about 15 years after the last LTM cameras had been discontinued by German and Japanese manufacturers, so I was impressed new lenses were still available. The Soviets may have still been making some LTM bodies, but I doubt very many Soviet citizens then could buy Japanese consumer products. Anyway, thank you for the interesting review.

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