The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is simply perfect for portraits. Anyone who likes to shoot portraits knows that a wide aperture prime lens is a really useful asset to have at your disposal. The problem, however, is that the price of these extra wide aperture offerings is quite often excessive. And at £700, you could argue that the Sigma 85mm optic with its f/1.4 maximum aperture is expensive, but it’s significantly cheaper than the branded alternatives.
This Sigma 85mm EX DG with HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) for rapid and quiet focusing is a most desirable lens. The f/1.4 aperture is ideal for portraits, and when used on an APS-C sensor you get a quite impressive equivalent focal length of around 127mm with that creative wide aperture. Having a wide aperture enables you to be very creative with depth-of-field, as you can single out specific details like the subject’s eyes, and render the rest of the image out of focus. It also allows you to shoot in low lighting, while maintaining a practical shutter speed.
As soon as we handled this lens, our instant perception was one of quality. The large glass elements give the lens a weighty feel, but that’s actually a good thing because the chunky glass tends to indicate that plenty of light can travel through the lens. There are 11 elements in eight groups and nine diaphragm blades to ensure an accurate circular aperture ring delivers clean images and smoother background bokeh. The front element takes a 77mm filter and the lens is supplied with a lens hood (and an adapter to increase the lens hood length when using an APS-C sensor). Construction is excellent, with the lens feeling well-made, and it even sports a stylish black coating. The focusing ring is located towards the front of the barrel and is a good width to get your fingers gripped onto. The movement of the ring is well tempered to give a smooth adjustment in manual.
With the lens strapped onto a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, we gave the 85mm a thorough workout on a portrait shoot. The lens felt great in the hand and the autofocusing was very responsive and quiet. It can be quite normal to experience a slightly ‘alien’ feel with a new lens, but we weren’t fazed at all using this Sigma, which left us to concentrate on shooting the portraits. We tried manual and autofocus control, and both were intuitive and hassle free. A quick look at the back of the camera to review a few shots showed the lens was capturing pin-sharp detail, and this was more apparent when we looked at the images on the computer, post-capture. Our test chart panel (overleaf) gives more detail on optical performance, but you won’t be too surprised to find the 85mm delivers a cracking performance.
For most people, spending £700 of your hard-earned cash on a lens is not something you would do without good reason. The good news is that the price of this lens is not that high when you consider the alternatives, like the f/1.4 Nikon that comes in at a few hundred pounds more.
We really enjoyed using this lens, as it felt great to handle and focused without hesitation on our Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. We also tried the lens on a 40D to make sure the performance wasn’t dictated by our choice of body, but on the APS-C body it was equally as good. The test charts spoke for themselves, with the lens delivering one of the best performances we have seen. The optical performance of prime lenses like this 85mm is generally better than that of zooms, hence their popularity. This lens is an excellent candidate for portraits and any other subject where pin-sharp focus is required from a short telephoto lens.
- Street price: £619 (As of July 2016)
- Maximum aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum aperture: f/16
- Filter size: 77mm
- Construction: 11 elements in eight groups
- Diaphragm blades: 9
- Lens hood supplied: Yes
- Image stabilizer: No
- Mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony A and Sigma
- Weight: 725g
- Dimensions (DxL): 84.7x87.6mm
- Visit: www.sigma-imaging-uk.com
This review was first published in the April 2011 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.