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The Complete Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Review

by Mike Pouliot on 04/17/2011

I can’t believe my time with this lens has come to an end. I’m pretty bummed. I really enjoyed the time I’ve spent shooting with this lens. Currently, I do not have a need for a 85mm lens but if I ever do, I can guarantee you that this lens will be at the top of my list.

Complete Postings

Day 1 – Initial Thoughts

Day 2 – Out on the town

Day 3 – Portraits, the Sigma’s bread and butter

Day 4 – Tests

Editor’s Note: Like always, the only adjustments that may have been made to the photographs in this post were minor WB, exposure or crop/straighten. The images in this post are meant to represent the performance and capabilities of this lens in the most accurate way possible.

Build Quality

Build quality is very good. The lens is heavy but it also has a solid, quality feel. Like I said on Day 1, it’s not L glass but it is close enough to make you think twice about dropping double the amount of money on one of Canon’s flagship lenses. The focus ring could be smoother but I hardly use manual focus. If you are a manual focus nut, then you may be slightly disappointed. I have to give Sigma props for throwing in a padded case and two lens hoods, one for full frame bodies and another for APS-C sensors. It’s nice to get a few things included when you dropping this kind of money on a lens.

Performance

Being a big fan of the Sigma 50mm F/1.4, I was hoping that the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 would be on the same level and I think it easily matches its 50mm cousin. The Sigma 85mm F/1.4 produced excellent results when paired up with the Canon 5D. Sharpness, saturation, and bokeh where all top notch. Of all the images I took, there are only a few shots that I felt needed some form of post processing.

The biggest concern I noticed with this lens was chromatic aberration (CA) when shooting at wider apertures. If you haven’t already, take a look at Day 3 and Day 4. These posts have a few good examples and more information on the type and amount of CA you can expect to encounter. Another smaller concern was slightly soft corners at wider apertures but I have pretty much come to expect this when shooting on a full frame body. I emphasize the word slightly because the corners really do look pretty good to me but I know each photographer is different. I only noticed the soft corners when shooting the ISO 12233 charts on day Day 4.

Auto focus is on the slower side but I wouldn’t necessarily call it slow. Like I said on Day 2, if the Canon 50mm F/1.8 II, and the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 were to have a race, it would probably end in a tie. The only difference is the Sigma hardly makes a peep when focusing while the “Nifty Fifty” sounds like a food processor grinding ice.

The large minimum focus distance of 33.5 inches may not matter to some people but I found this rather annoying. I constantly found myself too close to focus when using this lens. This isn’t really a knock on the lens, it’s more of a “heads up” to potential buyers.

Who is this Lens for?

So who is this lens for? Well, it’s hard to speak for everyone but I can provide a short list of situations where I would love to have this lens, see below:

  • Weddings/Functions/Events
  • Portraits
  • Indoor and outdoor sporting events
  • Photographers that love fast glass
  • Bokeh lovers
  • Studio photographers

Conclusion

Next to its 50mm cousin, the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 may be one of the best values on the market at the moment. Sigma has done a great job at filling the gap between Canon’s current offerings. The Sigma 85mm F/1.4 sits nicely between the  Canon 85mm F/1.8 and the Canon 85mm F/1.2 in price, but I think it is much closer to the Canon 85mm F/1.2 in performance. If you wanted to do a comparison, you would really have to put the Sigma up against the Canon 85mm F/1.2. Yes, the Canon 85mm F/1.2 is one of Canon’s flagship lenses and it would most likely beat the Sigma in most tests, but you are also going to pay more than double the price for Canon’s L glass. If you are seriously considering purchasing the Canon 85mm F/1.2 or even the Canon 85mm F/1.8, I would strongly suggest you take a look at the Sigma 85mm F/1.4. I think you may be surprised by the results.

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