American Road Trip with the Canon EOS 85mm F/1.4 L IS USM

Written by Nicolas Rakotopare


Last month my partner and I did our first trip to America and it was mind-blowing. On top of my regular photo and video kit, I really wanted to test out the Canon 85mm F/1.4 IS USM L. I wanted to see how it performed and where it could be used in my usual workflow. Being a stabilised lens with a wide aperture I was looking forward to using it to shoot video handheld as well as stills and night time-lapse. Thankful that CameraPro let me field test this lens!

Canon EOS 85mm F/1.4 L IS USM

The Trip

We spent 3 weeks across 4 states travelling in “Pinball” our rental escape campervan. Although we had a rough itinerary we never really knew where we would be the next day and went with the flow (and the weather)! We started in Phoenix (Arizona) and finished 3500km later in San Francisco (California).

Golden Gate bridge, frame from a time-lapse
Golden Gate bridge, frame from a time-lapse

The Lens

As planned I shot a wide range of content with the 85mm. I really enjoyed how versatile it was, the focal length is not too long that you always feel you have to step back and it’s wide enough to still fit a lot in the frame. Rather than a clean shot, I was often searching for something to have in the foreground and by shooting at 1.4 it created a frame that gave you the impressions of “discovering” the view through a gap without it being too distracting from the main part of the image. Examples below are all shot at F/1.4 which helped capture as much light as possible during the blue hour or after sunset:


Early morning light over the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon NP


Golden gate bridge during blue hour


The beautiful scenery of the Highway One along the Californian Coast (Big Sur section)

The Video

I also shot a mix of timelapse and slowmotion video, the fact that it was stabilised enabled me some great handheld shots:

The Landscapes

It also really works as a landscape lens too if you want to compress the frame (see the Nevada road shot) or wide open to isolate one subject (the Joshua tree at sunset).


The arid scenery of Nevada and the Valley of Fire


A Joshua Tree in the early hours and golden light

In summary, although not practical for my science communications and field biology documentation projects (I need to be ultra-quick and the versatility of a zoom trumps everything else) it would sit well in my line-up of gear for my time-lapse work or projects where there are fewer time constraints and I can have extra time to create different content. I loved shooting with this lens and the shallow depth of field slow motion you can get when pairing it to the Canon EOS 1DX2 and filming at 100fps (or 60fps) handheld is superb.


The lens is weather sealed which I always value for my outdoor work and performed well in all locations (we were in deserts, in the snow, on the coast).


So now who is keen for a road trip?


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The Kit

Being a “car-based” trip I had a bit more lenience towards what to bring and split between 2 people we were always under the carry on limits for our packs (with the cheaper gear being safely stored in check-in). Throughout the trip we don’t always have all of the gear on us and were packing in accordance with our daily activities, length of hikes, etc. 

Here's what I packed for the trip: