Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
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November 8, 2010
by Andrew Alexander
The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 EX DG HSM was announced in the summer of 2010, and released later that year in the fall. The lens is Sigma's second fast prime lens (the first being the 50mm ƒ/1.4), notable for being relatively inexpensive compared with similar lenses from major manufacturers.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4 is available in Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony lens mounts and was designed as a full-frame compatible lens; mounted on a sub-frame (APS-C) camera body, the lens will produce an effective field of view of 136mm (Canon) or 127mm (Nikon and others). On a Canon APS-H camera such as the EOS 1D Mark IV, the lens will produce an effective field of view of 110mm.
The lens features a fast ƒ/1.4 aperture, nine curved aperture blades, and a SLD (super low dispersion) lens element (the lens is composed of 11 elements, in 8 groups). The front element sports a Super Multi-Layer Coating to reduce flare and ghosting.
The lens ships with a petal-shaped hood, a hood adapter for APS-C cameras, takes 77mm filters and is available now for around $900.
When shot wide open (ƒ/1.4) on the Canon 7D, the lens produced images with edge-to-edge sharpness in the range of 2 blur units. Stopping down further improves sharpness between ƒ/2 and ƒ/2.8, until it reaches a level of tack-sharpness at ƒ/4. It remains sharp through to ƒ/11, where diffraction limiting begins to appear, but even there we note only 1.5 blur units across the frame. Even fully stopped-down at ƒ/16, we're back to just 2 blur units.
Mounted on the full-frame Canon 1Ds Mark III, corner softness is much more prominent; wide open at ƒ/1.4, the lens still shows 2 blur units of sharpness in the center, but the corners soften to 3-4 blur units. This performance improves as the lens is stopped down; mostly in terms of the center of the frame, but the corners do become somewhat sharper. The sharpest full-frame results are achieved at ƒ/5.6, where the center of the frame shows 1 blur unit and the corners just under 1.5 blur units. There's similar performance at ƒ/8, and by ƒ/11, diffraction limiting starts to take away from the sharpness, but similarly to what we noted with sub-frame performance, it's still showing 1.5 blur units across the frame. Fully stopped-down results are just over 2 blur units across the frame.
The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 provides excellent results with regard to its tolerance to lateral chromatic aberration - colored fringing surrounding areas of high contrast. However the 85mm ƒ/1.4 suffers, as do most ''fast'' lenses, from problems with longitudinal chromatic aberration, where fringes of magenta and green are found near the plane of focus when the lens is used at its largest apertures.
We've included a sample image in this review which highlights this issue:
The lens shows a slight amount of corner shading when attached to the sub-frame Canon 7D - just over 1/4 EV in the corners when set to ƒ/1.4. On the full-frame 1D Mark III, it's a bit more significant: the corners are almost 3/4 of a stop darker than the center at ƒ/1.4. Stopped down, it's less significant: at ƒ/2 the corners are just over a quarter-stop darker, and stopped down further than that, the light falloff is marginal.
The distortion results for the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 are excellent: mounted on either the sub-frame 7D or the full-frame 1Ds Mark III, the lens produces virtually no distortion.
Using Sigma's HSM autofocusing technology, autofocus results are quick and near-silent, taking just over 1 second to go from close-focus to infinity. Point to point focusing happens very quickly, and the front element does not rotate during autofocus operations. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focusing ring.
With just 0.12x magnification, the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 does not offer exceptional macro performance. Minimum close-focusing distance is just under three feet.
Build Quality and Handling
The lens is made of a solid and durable plastic, with a matte off-black finish. There is no rattling or flexing to be found with this lens. Its solid weight (726g, over one-and-a-half pounds) makes it balance quite easily on larger cameras, though on smaller bodies it could be slightly front-heavy. The lens uses a metal mount and plastic filter threads. There is no aperture ring.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4 offers a few distinguishing control features, including a focus override switch as well as a recessed and windowed distance scale. The scale shows distances in feet and meters, with a depth-of-field reference at ƒ/16. There isn't a lot of detail on the scale however, so its usefulness could be questionable. There's also no infrared index.
The focus ring is about 3/4 inch wide, using a rubber texture with lines running parallel to the lens body. The focus ring turns easily through its range, and an increase in resistance alerts you that you have reached the end of the focusing range. You can still keep turning the ring, however. The lens will focus a bit past infinity. Attached filters will also stay put during focusing, making polarizers that much easier to work with.
Sigma includes a petal-shaped, bayonet-mounted hood with the lens. The hood is ribbed on the interior, with a matte-black coating, and will reverse and mount on the lens for easy storage. The hood for this lens features Sigma's new design: Sigma has included an adapter that extends the depth for use with sub-frame (APS-C bodies), which adds an extra inch to the overall length of the hood. With our without the adapter attached, the lens hood reverses and attaches onto the front of the lens for storage.
Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.2L II USM ~$2,000
Canon's offering in this category is the fastest you can get, with a maximum ƒ/1.2 aperture, but you'll pay for the privilege. Performance wide-open is slightly soft, but overall, the Sigma seems to match it - though the Canon is just slightly sharper at smaller apertures such as f/5.6. CA tolerance is excellent, there's slightly more corner shading, and the Canon distorts slightly more on full-frame. It's L-series, glass though, and you do get what you pay for: weather sealing and overall build quality, specifically.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S ~$1,700
Sigma meets the performance offered by the Nikon 85mm, and in some cases, exceeds it. We noted an odd patch of softness in the center of the frame when using the Nikon lens at ƒ/1.4; the Sigma, by comparison, is quite sharp. Similarly to the Canon though, when the Nikon is stopped down to its sharpest points (f/5.6 and smaller), it's slightly sharper than the Sigma. The Nikon shows less CA, but distortion and corner shading are quite similar. Please note, we have asked Nikon for a different sample of this lens to confirm our test results.
Pentax 55mm ƒ/1.4 SDM SMC DA* ~$800
The Pentax 55mm ƒ/1.4 produces an effective field of view of 80mm on Pentax dSLR cameras, so it's our point of comparison here: sharpness is similar, though while the Sigma is sharper in the center at ƒ/1.4, the Pentax has slightly better corners. Stopped down to ƒ/2.8, the Pentax is tack-sharp. CA gets a little bit noticable when the Pentax lens is stopped down above ƒ/11; the Sigma handles CA slightly better. Distortion is better on the Sigma, as is corner shading.
Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* ~$1,300
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 provides excellent results for sharpness. The Sigma produces images with slightly more central sharpness when used at large apertures, but the Sony has better edge-to-edge performance; its corners are sharper at wider apertures. Corner shading is similar between the two lenses; the Sony has slightly more CA in the corner regions, and distorts slightly more than the Sigma.
Carl Zeiss 85mm ƒ/1.4 Planar T* 1.4/85 ~$1,000
It's a fair amount to pay for a lens that doesn't have autofocus, but if you have no need for it, the Carl Zeiss 85mm ƒ/1.4 Planar is an excellent alternative: it's as sharp as the Sigma wide-open, and stopped down, even sharper at ƒ/2.8 and smaller. CA is minimal, corner shading is on par with the Sigma, and it also offers almost zero distortion.
Sigma has produced an excellent lens here: as sharp as any of its contemporaries, even wide open at ƒ/1.4. As well, the lens offers remarkable tolerance to chromatic aberration, marred only by the presence of longitudinal chromatic aberration that seems to be common with fast glass. Distortion and corner shading are also excellent. With the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 producing results on par with its competitors, it's easy to recommend, especially given the cost savings that will result. However, its build quality isn't as strong as some, so how you use a lens in this category, and what environments you'll take it into, should be a factor in your purchasing decision.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by PeterHarris (1 reviews)Sharpness, f/1.4, silent and fast focusweird auto focus, PF
I am a very happy owner of Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM. So I am very excited to purchase a Sigma 85mm for portrait photography.reviewed October 29th, 2015 (purchased for $925)
I must say that I am very please with the results in term of sharpness and bokeh, of subjects within about 5 meters. This means this lens is extremely excellent for head and half body shots. But it shows too much problems with auto focus when shooting far away objects. What I mean is that I was trying to shoot a couple of people were standing about 20 meters away from me, the lens just decided to focus on the background behind those people. I do not really understand why. If I want to have accurate focus for this case, I have to manual pre-focus and then activate the auto focus. And please notice that this weird focusing problem I never observe on my $499 Sigma 50mm and the same Pentax body.
To test PF, I did some test shots at people with bright sunshine. PF was observed and did not disappear until f/4.5.
I really want to have a good copy of this lens in my photography equipments, so I have been trying 3 copies.
First copy from 47st.photo bought on ebay: Back focus problem, needed +4 adjusted on K-5. And very heavily front focus for far objects, let's say about 10 meters, it has about 0.7 meter front focus. Returned as defective item, 47st.photo charged me 15% restocking fee even it has 14 days return policy. Ebay helped me get money back. Stay away from this seller.
Second and third copies from Amazon: very accurate focus for near objects, but random focusing for far objects. These two lens would be returned.
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10 out of 10 points and recommended by VS (4 reviews)High quality picture and bokeh, high sharpness across the field with 1.4. Good color. Fast and accurate AF. Good and reliable design.no
Sigma 85mm f / 1,4 on the field is not inferior to Nikon 85 / 1,4G, has a beautiful soft bokeh, good design, accurate and fast AF, a beautiful rich color. Photographing a great pleasure, you do not want to remove from the camera. This is a wonderful lens!reviewed July 31st, 2014 (purchased for $950)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by umanirmalart (1 reviews)Impressive portrait lense'sincredible bokey, very fat (1.4)aperture and AFReally not easy to use, deep of field and AF precision arevery impressive... and hard to use with perfection
Since 10 years i wanted to have a real photographic weapon.. a portrait lens with an extremely open aperture..!I had a extraordinary experience with the famous old Canon's FD lens 85mm f1.2 L, i should sell it , and since more than 10 years i puchase a dream to recover the same sensation when a was shoot a portrait !!With this incredible Sigma's lens i re-discover the perfect pleasure to make the focus only on the border of my eye's subject..... for exemple at the f1.4 only my subject's eye is sharped (the subject is at 2 meters to me), the deep of field is sooooo fine that the sharped zone is only from 0.5 cm !!!, the bokey is amazing, creamy and soft !! This unique quality of portrait render is very greatfull and you have the sensation to make an idillic and very proffesssional portrait !!! , understand that you must make a demoniac and exact focusing on the eyes, personaly i use it with a 1.36x eyefinder an use the lens on manual focusing... I use a Sigma SD15 reflex with the incredible real color Foveon's sensor, , the rendering of color is just perfect, especially with the skin portrait color...reviewed February 1st, 2013
This lens have a second perfect point.. after his fabulous sharped to at ultra high aperture the second point is the...look, yeah ! cause this magic lens is incredibely massive, the longer is the same than his largeur, the uv's screw is 77mm and nobody can't ignore the sensation of stronger and power of this magnific lens !
It's not a hazard if more than one professional photographer prefer this lense (same thing with the Canon 85mm f1.2L, Contax 85mm f1.4 and Nikon 85mmf1.4) about other all !!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by mayur (1 reviews)bookeh, build quality & fast auto focus...nothing to complain..
I am currently using APSC sensor camera D5000. Purchased this as later I will upgrade to full frame. Photo quality is very good. Just like the way things gets blur into creamy bookeh & the subject is tack in focus. One can easily get background blur even for full frame portraits which is not possible with zooms. For that one need to click head shots.. I just bought the lens a day before after reading the positive reviews.. I made a right decision. Its a bang for the money u spend.. Totally worth it...reviewed July 24th, 2012 (purchased for $800)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by andre_ (31 reviews)great colors, and in general very high performances since f1.4, bokehcolor fringing in DX (Nikon D7000)
I've appreciated this lens together with the Nikon D700, and I think it's a very good choice to spare money (in comparison with the double costly Nikkor), keeping an high quality.reviewed May 30th, 2012 (purchased for $850)
The bokeh is very similar to the Nikkor AFS, and even at f1.4 the definition is extremely high in the center, and far better than the Nikon AFD on the corners (the Nikon AFS is more linear).
The out of focus has a little CA in background (the foreground is virtualy perfect), but it's not disturbing.
I've never seen any flare, even shooting under a stage with the spot lights in the frame.
The AF is not the faster in the market, but is very precise, and it works well.
I'm only disappointed for the color fringing that appears with the D7000.
Every spot light prouces red fringing, and it's a bit frustrating.
But there's no problem with the D700.
A last word for the finiture.
The new "EX" is very different from the previous, and the feeling touching the lens is far better than before (the body is metallic, no plastic).
But I fear the propension to get scratched quite fast.
But it's really the only weakness I see, and I don't see any limit using this lens with a FF camera.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by shrikrishna (4 reviews)Excellent sharpness, contrast, bokeh to die forWeight
I dont need to justify this buy - an unbeatable value lens which I can pitch against nikon counter part.reviewed May 28th, 2012
Quick to grab focus, I shoot playing kids. Shoots like my other lenses - 24-70-200 nikkors.
Iwent for this knowing sigma's 10-20; and am not looking back. One of the most beautiful lenses.
It requires no focus adjustment on my d300. Focus accuracy equal to nikkors. I like the new finish of sigma. I had 10-20 from sigma previously, which indeed was a great buy.
Every maker has sample variations and third party variations are exaggerated as they stand against a pool of expensive counter parts. So often victims of suspicion : so folks who are result oriented will enjoy the benefits of this lens.
There is only build quality compromise (the lens mount side exposes electronics within when focused at MFD), but am not sure how many of us really thrash our equipments.
Only other cons is its weight. It is slightly (+150g?) heavy and bulky.
People should change perspective about Sigma.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by patricius6 (4 reviews)supernon
Rarely give him down from the bodyreviewed March 10th, 2012 (purchased for $1,000)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by mgprasetya (2 reviews)very good opticsback focus. need body with AF micro adjustment
this lens is sharp wide open.reviewed June 4th, 2011 (purchased for $920)
at f/1.4, the picture is sharp, on the corner, even on FF camera -D700 .
i sold my nikon 85mm f/1.4D and got this lens because the nikon only sharp in the middle.
AF also fast, accurate, and consistent. the only issue i had was back focus. i had to do micro adjustment up to -10 on my camera. other than that, perfect. but, hey...even my nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 had back focus issue as well, and i had to adjust to -15 :-(
here is the sample @wide open (please click "original" underneath the photo) : http://www.pbase.com/mgprasetya/image/135266324
* i focused on the boy's right eye.
* the picture is straight out of the camera in jpeg.
* No editing.
* in camera sharpness, i set to 6
9 out of 10 points and recommended by gdaniel (1 reviews)Accurate and fast autofocus, good build quality and sharpnessMF ring not so good
I've bought this one after one trial week with 85 AF-S and AF-D.reviewed May 16th, 2011 (purchased for $1,000)
While 85 AF-S is a bit sharper and has better corners , (but not by much) is it also 700 euro more expensive than the Sigma.
AF-D version is weaker in almost all respects, except maybe on bokeh ( probably those soft corners are helping here)
Fast and accurate AF, on a D300 using any mode ( including mounted flash + AF-assist illuminator ).
I think it is the fastest 85 f/1.4 lens. (AF speed wise)
It is an excellent lens and good value ( considering that AF-S is 700 Euro more , respective 400 Euro for the AF-D version.
..but as with any lens it is good to test it first!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by 3systemuser (19 reviews)sharp sharp sharp , better than the new Nikon G, no CA, no distortion.it is like 82mm lens.
it is a wonderful prime , very sharp wide open and there is almost no distiortion with thsi lens.reviewed December 24th, 2010
and this lens focus much faster than my 85f1.2LMKll or Nikon 85f1.4G.
after I got this lens I decided to sell my Canon 85LMk2 because I never liked the ergonomics of the huge 85L lens (although I loved its IQ).
I also selling the Nikon 85G.
I am very happy with this lens and I will use it for both Canon and Nikon and when I need something really a 85mm lens , I use my Zeiss 85f1.4ZF2.
Note : this Sigma 85f1.4HSM is not really a 85mm lens it is shorter than both Nikon 85f1.4G AFS and Zeiss 85f1.4ZF2.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by thatkatmat (1 reviews)Sharp contrasty lens with very accurate AF and solid build. New rubberlike coating on barrel of lens.MF ring isn't dampened very well.
What a great lens...From the moment I mounted it on my 7D until now (about a week later) I've been blown away...first, by the build...It's solid and has a new rubberlike coating that just feels really good.reviewed November 8th, 2010 (purchased for $899)
Next was the AF....I was really amazed at how fast the AF was (after owning multiple 85L's). It's twice as fast as the mkII and maybe more importantly....Just as accurate.
The image quality is a bit of a mix between near as good as the L.... to... better than the L. It seems about as sharp as the L while the CA and fringing is much better controlled than the L. The bokeh is Signature Sigma 9 blade smoothness, like the EX50/1.4..It's very similar to the L. Very nice...Also....handles flare like a champ using the suplied hood.
All in all, a really nice lens
9 out of 10 points and recommended by engrmariano (2 reviews)sharp, quite fast & accurate af, nice built, petal shaped hood, nice finish.quite visible color fringing on out of focus, high contrast area when wide open.
sigma nailed it this time...reviewed October 25th, 2010 (purchased for $1,173)
used on 550D & 5D2, results are stunning...
on par with 85L2 for half the price...
3 out of 10 points and not recommended by uforias (3 reviews)Good OpticsInconsistent Auto Focus
Unfortunately another disapointment with Sigma Quality Control. They have ruined an optical excellent product due to inconsistent Auto Focus. At least with Canon gear, you better stay away from Sigma Lens. I have to compensate from -5 micro adjustment for up 1 meter distance to almost +20 on the worst scenario for longer distances. Furthermore, even microadjusted the keeper rates are below 25% because the AF isn't consistent.reviewed October 24th, 2010 (purchased for $1,250)