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Sigma 85mm/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens Review – Part 1 – Long Island Wedding Photographer

   
Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG review
SIGMA 85mm/f1.4 EX DG

UPDATE: Part 2 of this review has been posted here.

If you’re a wedding or portrait client you might want to scroll down past this camera nerd stuff. This article is being written for the photographers out there considering this lens. Of course, you’re more than welcome to keep reading…..but you’ve been warned!

When SIGMA USA first announced production of the 85mm/f1.4 EX DG HSM lens, I knew this was something I just had to have. Having already fallen in love with Sigma’s 50mm/f1.4 EX DG HSM model (which happens to be my most used lens), I had hopes that this 85mm/1.4 would offer more of the same qualities at a longer focal length. Since 85mm is a focal length I use a lot and I’m pretty happy with my current lens (the Canon 85mm/1.8), I needed this lens to be even better in order to make its way into my kit.

Sigma did not disappoint!

Not only does the 85/1.4 appear to be just as good at the 50/1.4, it might be even better than its little brother.

Since I was among the first people in the U.S. to get my hands on this lens, I felt it was my duty to pass on as much info as I could gather. I’ve only had it for a short while now, but I’ve seen enough to share my thoughts on it. Now, if you’re expecting a highly technical review with brick wall tests, focus charts, and things of that nature, you’ve probably come to the wrong place. I’m sure there will be more than enough pixel-peeping, uber-analytical tests done by guys in white lab coats with graphs, charts, and images blown up 1000%. Well, that’s not me and it that’s definitely not how I test my lenses. I test them by actually taking them out and shooting real stuff in real world conditions. I didn’t use a tripod because I typically don’t shoot with one. My photography relies on me being mobile and being able to set up and shoot quickly…..so that’s what I did. I put the lens on the camera and just started shooting.

Opening the Box

The appearance of the lens inspires confidence right out of the box. It basically looks like a longer, slightly wider version of its smaller sibling. The build quality is excellent, which is something I’ve come to expect from the EX series of lenses. Included in the box are the lens, lens pouch, hood, hood extender (for APS-C models), front and rear caps, along with the warranty card and user’s manual. Like the smaller 50mm, the 85mm/1.4 has a huge front element which sports a 77mm filter size, making for a pretty hefty piece of glass. I could definitely feel the difference in weight between this lens and the Sigma 50mm/1.4. Although it’s noticably heavier than the 50mm, the 85mm feels really well balanced on both my Canon 5D MK1 and 1D MK2 bodies. (Note: All images in this review were taken with the Canon 5D Mark 1). One rather significant change is the texture of the finish on the lens body. Sigma appears to be moving away from the “crinkle” finish in favor of a smooth black finish. The new finish should be more durable and less prone to peeling. It also gives the lens a rather sleek look.

Long Island Wedding Photographer

Sigma 85mm/f1.4/ EX DG HSM

 
  
Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG
Big Brother, Little Brother

Lens Testing

As I mentioned above, I test lenses by shooting with it under normal conditions, uploading the images to the computer, and taking a closer look at the images on the monitor. I also tend to test lenses wide open (F1.4 in the case) since that is where most lenses are at their worst. If I’m happy with it wide open, then I’m most likely going to be happy when the lens is stopped down to smaller apertures.

Test #1: Focus Accuracy at Minimum Focus Distance (MFD)

The 85/1.4 passed this test with flying colors. If a lens is going to mis-focus, it’s most likely going to be either at very close distances or close to infinity. This test is of particular importance to me because neither of my bodies has the ability to micro-adjust for focus accuracy. Sigma has had some problems in this area in the past and this was something I definitely wanted to test right off the bat. Fortunately my copy was “spot on” right out of the box. Images are sharp at F1.4, perhaps even sharper than my 50/1.4 wide open. That’s really saying a lot because I have no problem shooting the 50mm @ 1.4. This also proved to be the case when shooting at or near infinity. Focus was perfect at any distance.

Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG

 

Test #2: Focus Speed

This is another area of concern for many photographers, particularly Canon shooters who may have avoided the 85mm/1.2L dues to its knack for slow focusing. For sports shooters, wedding shooters, or anyone else shooting moving objects, focus speed can be the difference between getting that shot….or just missing it. Well, the 85/1.4 does not disappoint. I’m not about to pull out a stopwatch and start measuring in tenths of a second, but I didn’t notice any difference in focusing this lens vs. any of my other lens. It doesn’t appear to be overly quick, but it doesn’t appear to be slow either. The main thing for me is being able to shoot with without having to wait for the lens. to lock focus. That certainly won’t be the case with this lens.

 

Test #3: Low Light Focus Speed/Accuracy

This particular test is more a function of the camera body itself and how it uses the algorithms and sensors to acquire focus. Again, there was nothing different about this lens in comparison to the others in my kit. It acquired focus in pretty low light time after time, which will come in handy in those dark churches and reception halls.

 

Test #4: Purple Fringing (PF) and Chromatic Aberration (CA)

I gotta admit, just using the word “aberration” in a sentence makes me feel like a pretty smart guy. Maybe I’ll get one of those white lab coats afterall! Haha! Yeah right…

Actually, this is the one area where I feel the Sigma 50mm is better than the Sigma 85mm. A lot has to do with the focal length. In my experience PF in particuar seems to be more of a problem at longer focal lengths. Even so, the 85mm exhibits a moderate amount of PF at the focus point, while exhibiting an equal amount of longitudinal CA behind the focus point. This is something exhibited by just about all wide aperture lenses when shot wide open, but it seemed to jump out at me more with this lens. Of course, it could be due to the fact that I was actually looking for it.

 

Test #5: ‘Bokeh’

 I came very very close to just leaving this part out. Bokeh is so subjective, that it’s something you really have to judge for yourself. Camera to subject distance and busyness of the background have a lot to do with how those areas are rendered. From what I’ve seen, the bokeh is pretty much what you would expect from a lens of this quality. It’s pleasing to my eye and the out of focus highlights are very similar to that of the Sigma 50. No real surprises here one way or the other. I suggest taking a peek at some of the samples posted below and some of the samples already posted online and make your judgement based on that.

 

Conclusion

The Sigma 85mm/1.4 EX DG is definitely a keeper. Since this lens is targeted to compete with Canon’s 85mm/1.2L, it’s almost unfair to compare it head to head with the Canon 85mm/1.8. Forget the almost….it is unfair to compare the two. It’s just a no contest. The Sigma focuses just as quickly, just as accurately, and is much sharper at f1.4 than the Canon is at f1.8. The fuzziness you get with the Canon is non-existent in the images shot with the Sigma. With both lenses at f1.8, it’s not even close…..I’m talking about a Mike Tyson style 1st round TKO! That’s pretty much it. The Sigma didn’t even work up a sweat and the Canon 85/1.8 is laying there looking like Michael Spinks.

Bottom Line: Does it work like it’s supposed to? Yes. Do the pictures look pretty? Yes, especially the ones of my wife!

Although I didn’t have a Canon 85/1.2L at my disposal, I’m pretty confident that the Sigma 85 could hold its own. Which lens is better? Who knows? I’m sure there will subsequent reviews and forum comments backing one or the other. That’s not for me to decide. What I have decided is that the Sigma 85mm/1.4 is the perfect lens for what I do and is a welcome addition to my lens kit.

There will be additional reviews posted here as I spend more time with this lens. For now, I leave you with a few more sample images…

UPDATE: Part 2 of this review has been posted here.

Sigma 85mm review

Sigma 85mm/f1.4 review

Sigma 85mm/1.4 review
Sigma 85mm review
Long Island Wedding Photographer

Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG review
Sigma 85mm review
Sigma EX DG
Sigma 85mm EX DG
Sigma 85/1.4 EX DG
Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG
Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG review
Sigma 85mm/f1.4 EX DG review
Click here to book me now
Sandrine -

Oh wow!! Me likey!!! Thanks for writing this review!! very exciting stuff!! Thanks again for sharing!

Tony -

I also got the lens today. It’s a great lens, very good quality.

Paul -

Thanks for the review. I hope the Nikon version fares as well. Looking forward to some Nikon vs. Sigma “head-to-head” reviews.

steve z -

Hmmm, you know the purple fringing is significant when you can see it on your phone! (Mini shot) I’m guessing this is one area where my Nikon 85 1.4G will outperform.

bob -

Alan FM peeps need to know about this!! Dont hide this in a bushel my friend

badmash -

I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

trok -

Thanks for the review!

We made some side by side comparisons with my colleagues at a camera store with the Sigma 85 1.4 and Canon 85 1.2L on a Canon 1D Mark IV. We shot numerous frames of different kinds of subjects and the conclusion was, the Sigma is not only sharper than the 85 1.2L but also has better contrast and colours. I can’t say anything about the bokeh-issue since it really is very subjective.

Vincent Whitehead -

Alan, I do so appreciate your review in real world conditions with the new Sigma 85. I am saving to buy it at the moment and am very close. I had almost bought your canon 85 when you posted it for sale and decided that I would keep saving for what I really wanted. Glad I made that decision now. Best wishes and Keep On Creating!
Vincent

Simon -

Thanks Alan, nice review. I’m also a big fan of the Sigma 50/1.4, so looking forward to trying this one.

Faisal -

Great review! I have been searching for a review and finally found it here thanks to DPR 🙂

The Bokeh looks good and sometimes not so good especially the Mini Cooper’s shot and the #2 (Black Beauty!) it looks quite “nervous” with double edges etc.

But overall looks to be a great lens and if close enough to the subject, the Bokeh is great as per the images you have posted 🙂

Thanks again.

Bogdan Sandulescu -

Thx for review. The lens body is build from metal or it’s polycarbonate? 🙂

randell ROWE -

Hey Alan, awesome review. Great non bias and straight to the meat and potatoes. Just how I like it. I can see the PF and it’s my only concern. I do mostly commercial or fashion work and that wouldn’t be acceptable. At the same time I think the 85mm 1.2 is overpriced and slow. I just switched from Nikon to Canon and looking to buy my first lens. This may be the one for me.
Thanks for taking the time to write this very helpful review.

Cheers, Randell

adam -

Thanks for the review. I’m in the same boat you were in. I own and love the canon 85/1.8 and also own(and love) the sigma 50/1.4. But I find myself shooting at 85mm a lot more than at 50 since I’m on full frame and it’s nearly perfect for portraiture. I definitely have to get this lens.

Cuyx Peter -

Hello, thanks for this nice reviews, you make me so completely in doubt now….
a dillema between a “nostalgic” lens (Minolta 85 mm 1.4 G D) or this one (Sigma 85mm 1.4)……help… 😉
Compliments for this site and especially your work!!
Kind regards Peter

tomK -

Thanks for this review. The bokeh simply isn’t as smooth as the 85L (or 85 1.8 in that Mini shot?) but for the price one can’t complain. What a perfect alternate for Canon shooters, I’m ordering one.

Kenneth -

Thanks for the review. I love my Sigma 50mm f/1.4, so I’m looking forward to trying this out!

Rich -

Wow! what a review. Just the stuff we need. Real world results.
Thank You so much for giving us the lowdown on this product. Volleyball, Basket Ball, all indoor Gymnasium events problem solved. I shoot Nikon and the AF-D lens is slow…. The new AF-S Lens cost a mint. Thank You Sigma Again.

Denis (aka slicKrox) -

Thank you for nice review. If you’ll need to choose between Sigma 50 and 85mm on crop sensor, which of them you’ll choose?

Thank you

Juan Sol -

Hi, Alan,

Thanks for your comments. You definitely persuade me to buy both Sigma lenses tomorrow, not only the 85 mm, but the 50 mm too. And as you’ve said it is not necessary to show precise graphic charts and diagrams to mean that those lenses are superb.

By the way congratulations for your web. My main camera is a Nikon D7000 and so far I’m very happy with it.

Sorry for my English, Greetings from Madrid, Spain.
Juan Sol

Terence Gordon -

Great review, going on your recommendation for the 85mm 1.4. Thanks

Q’s and A’s | Amy Carson Photography -

[…] The Sigma is super sharp, if not sharper than the 85 L II, when shot wide open and its contrasty and the bokeh is beautiful and creamy and the AF is lightning fast compared to the L II and its about $1000 less with only a 2/3 stop light loss.  I think thats totally worth it.  If you need more proof, check out these photographers takes on the Sigma lens and see if it sells you on it too (Tony Hoffer and Alan Abrams) […]

Q and A « murocarson -

[…]If you need more proof, check out these photographers takes on the Sigma lens and see if it sells you on it too (Tony Hoffer and Alan Abrams) […]

Q and A « murocarson -

[…] If you need more proof, check out these photographers takes on the Sigma lens and see if it sells you on it too (Tony Hoffer and Alan Abrams) […]

Chad Ainsworth -

Hey Alan, great test shots. I’m thinking about getting this lens too. I almost got the Sigma 50, but I got to borrow a Canon 50mm f1.2L and fell in so much love that I gave in to the hefty price tag and have been extremely pleased ever since. However, $2300 for the 85mm f1.2L is WAY to much, especially when it has such slow AF performance and only a marginal advantage over the Canon 85mm f1.8 and this Sigma 85mm f1.4 when it comes to quality of bokeh.

The results of the sample photos I’ve seen taken with this Sigma 85mm seem stellar, especially with a 60% less price tag than the Canon 85mm f1.2L.

Now, also… I have a question on something a bit different. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II (used to have and use the Mark I), so I can relate in terms of similar camera quality. What in-camera settings to you shoot with? Saturation, Contrast, and sharpness all at 0? Do you bump some of those settings to above 0 or below 0? Just curious, cause the balance of sharpness, contrast, and saturation in your photos (especially the indoor shot of the elderly woman in the restaurant) is fantastic. I know that a lot is done when editing the photos, but I’m just wondering what your starting point is with your in-camera settings. Thanks!

Sigma 85mm EX DG HSM Review-Long Island Wedding Photographer -

[…] figured it’s time to finish up the review. By finish, I mean this is more of a follow-up to Part 1 of this review than anything else. I’m not going to do the whole point-by-point test thing […]

Graham Nixon -

Mine is being delivered on Monday. Really looking forward to trying it out after reading your review. I think I might be looking at the 50mm 1.4 even though I have the 50L.

David-Stubbs Photography-Manchester -

I have Sigma’s 50 1.4 – It’s better than Nikon’s 1.4 but no where near as good as other 1.4 lenses. I don’t even take it with me to weddings any more. (sorry for jumping in)

Arik S. Mintorogo -

Good lens with reasonable price sigma 85mm/1.4….