Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
Lab Test Results
June 8, 2017
by Andrew Alexander
Sigma's line of Art lenses was produced to offer "unparalleled image quality," and it's been our experience to date in other lab reviews that Sigma delivers on this statement.
The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is a dyed-in-the-wool portrait lens, a complete overhaul and redesign from the previous EX 85mm released by Sigma in 2010. Sigma has moved on from producing less-expensive competitors to the major manufacturers: the new lens series is well-designed with the aim of top-notch image quality performance.
The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 Art lens is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E and Sigma SA mounts. The lens accepts 86mm filters, ships with a lens hood, and is available now for around $1,200.
Sigma continues to produce exceptionally sharp portrait lenses. Even used wide open at ƒ/1.4, on a full-frame body, the lens produced virtually no corner softness. With a lens at this level of quality, the only reason you want to stop down is to direct how much depth-of-field you want in your image; there is no need to consider the effect on sharpness.
Once you stop down to ƒ/16, there is some generalized softness across the frame. But then, you didn't buy this lens to shoot at ƒ/16.
The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 Art shows very little chromatic aberration, even when used wide open at ƒ/1.4. Where CA does occur, it shows up on the edges of high-contrast areas, and presents as magenta fringing.
Lenses that offer very wide apertures often present some degree of corner shading when used on full-frame cameras, and the Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 Art is no exception. When used at ƒ/1.4 on our Canon 1Ds Mark III test camera, we noted vignetting at over 0.75EVs. Stopping down to ƒ/2.8 or smaller and these darker corners essentially go away.
When mounted on the sub-frame Canon 7D, we noted corners that were only a third of a stop darker than the center.
The lens is optimized to avoid distortion, showing just a trace amount of barrel distortion.
The Sigma 85mm lens autofocuses very quickly, racking from closest focus to infinity in about 1 second, thanks to its electronic Hyper Sonic Motor. In basic usage, autofocus was fast, locked onto targets easily and didn't hunt while focusing. Small changes in focus happen very quickly, and the AF motor is almost silent. Attached 86mm filters won't rotate during focus operations.
The Sigma 85mm Art lens isn't rated for macro photography, and there's no great advantage to using it this way -- it only produces 0.12x magnification, with a minimum close-focusing distance of 85cm (just under three feet).
Build Quality and Handling
The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 DG HSM Art lens follows other recent Sigma lenses in terms of build quality, construction and design. The lens features their characteristic sleek, matte black finish and thickly gripped focusing ring. The barrel itself is constructed out of Sigma's proprietary Thermally Stable Composite material, which allows for much tighter manufacturing precision compared to standard polycarbonate plastics. The lens, therefore, feels great in the hand. The build quality is excellent and feels very solid.
However, you don't get this kind of performance without some serious weight. For a prime lens, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 Art is surprisingly heavy, tipping the scales at over 40 ounces. For example, this is much heavier than the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens, but about the same as the Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2 lens. For the performance, it is unquestionably worth it. The lens features nine curved diaphragm blades to make up its aperture, which produce buttery-smooth results for bokeh.
The lens design features 14 elements in 12 groups, with two big FLD elements and one Aspherical SLD element. This is a DG (full frame) lens and has internal focusing. When mounted on a sub-frame camera, the lens will produce an effective field of view of 136mm (Canon) or 128mm (Nikon and others).
The lens features only a single switch, used to activate or deactivate autofocus on the lens. A distance scale is provided with ranges indicated in feet and meters: there is a depth-of-field scale, with markings for ƒ/8 and ƒ/16, however there is no infrared index marker.
The focusing ring on the lens is generously-sized at 1 7/8" wide, composed of rubber with a deeply ribbed texture. The ring has soft stops that let you know you have reached either end of the focusing spectrum, and autofocus results can be overridden by just turning the ring at any time. Also, autofocus does not turn the focusing ring, making the experience quite seamless.
The lens ships with the LH927-02 petal-shaped lens hood. The hood is bayonet-mounted, reversing and attaching to the lens for storage.
Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.2L II ~$1,850
Originally released in 2006, the Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2L is starting to show its age. While offering an ultra-thin depth-of-field with its maximum ƒ/1.2 aperture, this setting comes with a cost to sharpness, and you'd have to stop down to ƒ/2.8 to match the sharpness you get with the Sigma. The lens is also much more expensive.
Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S ~$1,600
Nikon's offering in this area is only slightly more expensive than the Sigma, but can't match the Sigma for sharpness: it must stop down to ƒ/4 before getting the same tack-sharp results that the Sigma can offer wide-open.
Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* ~$1,700
Of the alternatives, the Sony A-mount 85mm is probably the closest in the running to meet the sharpness offered by the Sigma -- but even then, it can't match it when used wide open.
Sigma continues to hit it out of the park with its lineup of Art lenses. The Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 DG HSM Art lens offers the sharpest 85mm lens we've seen, and it does it at about two-thirds the cost of its competitors. What's not to like?
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 DG HSM Art
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