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Using a Sigma 85mm f1.4 EX With Kodak Portra 400

by Chris Gampat on 12/14/2011

Before I unhappily sent the Sigma 85mm f1.4 EX back to the company, I affixed it to Nathan Blaney’s Canon 1N and loaded up some Kodak Portra 400. Why? I wanted to see just how well the lens did when shooting film instead of digital. Though I loved the look of the lens on my 5D Mk II, it needed to be tested on a film camera.

Indoors with Available Light

Portra, besides being an extremely sharp film, also captures lots of great details and maintains accurate and true color balance when developed correctly.

However, when you put the Sigma 85mm f1.4 EX on, you’ll need to hope that the lens accurately focuses on your intended target. Indeed, sometimes the lens focused and sometimes it didn’t. Even when it did focus, it was sometimes slightly off. Perhaps this has something to do with the 1N or the lens itself. On my 5D Mk II, it almost never misfocused.

Wide open, the lens still performs admirably. In the photo above, I’m shooting wide open as opposed to the previous photo where I stopped down to around f3.5.

It is also important to note that the lens doesn’t vignette at all when shooting wide open with film. On a full frame sensor though, it does. Here’s an example:

Sigma 85mm at ISO 400 f1.4 and 1/800

The above photo was shot with my Canon 5D Mk II at f1.4. Notice the vignetting? This has to do with the fact that 35mm full frame sensors are slightly smaller than an exposure of 35mm film. They also render quite differently as you can see. With digital, you get super sharp results while film gives you a softness in the skin that is still quite sharp where it needs to be.

Outdoors with Strobe Lighting at Night

Shooting wide open at night time with a 580 EX II attached to the 1N is actually quite a bit tougher than it looks. First off, this is a long focal length, so in order to get any sort of unblurred results I needed to shoot at around 1/100th. However, ISO 400 is too slow for low light like this. So I needed to let more light in via the shutter speed. Then I needed to balance the strobe aimed against a wall with the aperture. The results are the photos you see here.

This wasn’t easy at all, but it was made possible by the fact that Portra can be pushed to achieve excellent results. Here are a couple more photos.

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