The right lens in your toolkit makes the cut between an average picture and one that takes your breath away.
As a wedding photographer, I carry my Sigma Art 85mm, the heaviest prime lens, for up to 12 hours at a time. The photographs? Worth every second. I have used this lens to capture wedding ceremonies (especially those in dark churches), family portraits, outdoor sessions, and wedding receptions.
Now that I have Mr White, a furry little addition to my family, this lens is permanently mounted to one of my cameras.
So, what makes the Sigma Art 85mm one of the best on the market?
Here is my full review of the Sigma Art 85mm and all its features and why it’s worth carrying around an extra 2.5 lbs in your bag.
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Overview of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
Introduced in 2016, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is a redesigned and upgraded version of the EX 85mm from 2010. If you have a compact camera and are looking for a portrait lens twice as light, you’re in luck! Sigma released a version for mirrorless cameras in early 2020.
The Sigma Art line was designed for artists who value unbeatable expressive performance over compactness and multifunction. As expected, the Sigma Art series offers a premium image quality with a maximum aperture of f/1.4. This feature delivers distinct sharp and crisp photographs in darker venues.
The Sigma 85mm f1/.4 DG HSM Art is compatible with 86mm filters and comes with its own lens hood.
Sigma has promised photographers an unparalleled image quality with this lens. But, does it deliver?
Who Is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for?
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is designed with professional and intermediate photographers in mind.
It’s perfect if you are looking for the dreamy, bokeh effect on your portrait shots. It takes the cake for impeccably sharp wedding images shot in dark churches and venues where artificial light disturbs the moment’s natural intimacy. For these distinct occasions, this lens is perfect for you.
However, I wouldn’t recommend it for those embarking on their photography journey.
I believe that a beginner photographer benefits from a lighter and more versatile lens. A possible alternative for an enthusiast would be the Nifty Fifty. It’s easy to use and gives the most flexible range of focal length you think of. Good examples include the 50mm f/1.8, as seen in Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM or a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D.
You can use a 50mm lens for both portraits and outdoor scenes. It has a shallow depth of field that’s wide enough for gorgeous landscapes. The focal length works wonders when composing shots.
So let’s see what this award-winning lens can offer for the price!
Mount and Compatibility
The beauty of the 3rd party manufactures is that they can provide lenses for all the different brands. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art was explicitly designed for full-frame DSLRs. As a result, it is compatible with a variety of mounts like the the Canon EF models (like the EOS 6D, EOS 90D, EOS 5D and so on), Nikon F models (like the D750, D6 and D850), the Sony E, and Leica L.
A great addition that this lens is also eligible for Sigma’s mount conversion service, so you don’t have to sell your product if you’re thinking about changing systems. Additionally, it is compatible with the Mount Converter MC-11. This combination allows the photographer to use the Sigma EF-mount lenses on Sony E-mount mirrorless camera bodies. You can get full lens performance, including autofocus, auto-exposure and in-camera correction technologies.
You can use an integrated LED to display select Sigma lens compatibility with the adapted camera body. The adapter supports in-camera image stabilisation.
This is the part that I truly love about the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. It provides an exceptional sharpness with smooth bokeh. Even wide open at f/1.4, this lens works incredibly well.
Due to the wide aperture, this lens is my very best friend in darker settings. It allows me to take beautiful images without introducing artificial light or noise into my shots and, therefore, preserves the image quality.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art gives minimal chromatic aberration at f/1.4 and shows minimal barrel distortion (invisible to the naked eye). In my experience, the lens reaches its ultimate sharpness between f/2 and f/5.6.
I did notice two pitfalls to this lens: vignetting, and the “onion ring” (bokeh balls with a sort of ovular shape). The first issue – the vignetting – is easy to fix with one click in Adobe Lightroom. To fix the “onion ring” effect, you will need to accept it as part of using this lens.
In terms of resolving power, it’s one of the best choices that you can find on the market. It can even compete with such alternatives like the Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 Z F.2 when speaking about resolving details and imaging the capabilities of full-frame sensors.
Overall, this lens is a fantastic addition to a professional or intermediate photographer’s kit and gives your images exceptional sharpness.
One of the best parts of this lens is focusing. Thanks to a hypersonic motor, autofocus is fast, almost inaudible and locks onto your target. You’re ready to capture in less than a second. Some of you may wonder how the 3rd party lens performs with Nikon cameras. I’m using it with my Nikon D750.
At the start, I was connecting it to the Sigma USB dock to micro-adjust AF for all focus distances, as it was front-focusing when I first got it. Once fine-tuned, it worked accurately.
You need to remember that f/1.4 depth of field is narrow. If you prefer a manual focus, you can switch the lens to manual focus by rotating the focus ring. It works even during continuous autofocus.
You can easily find the perfect focus without having to touch the focus mode switch. This feature is a game-changer if you are shooting in manual mode and your object is darting between lighter and darker spots.
This lens has only a single switch to activate or deactivate autofocus. The manual focusing ring on the lens is pretty generous in size at 1 7/8” wide and is composed of rubber with a ribbed texture. The filter thread diameter is 86 mm.
Handling and Build Quality
With its matte black finish and a thick focus ring, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art has the default design characteristics of a modern lens. The barrel of this lens is made from a thermally-stable composite material, which is proprietary to Sigma. It has a rich, distinct look to it, and it feels incredibly solid while handling. Despite heavy use, my lens still looks like it’s brand new.
The stand-out disadvantage of this lens is the weight. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art weighs 1,130 g and is 95 x 126mm in size. This compares to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM that is only 950 g and 89 x 105 mm in size. This difference can be hard to get used to but once you see how the lens performs, you’ll agree it’s completely worth it.
The lens has a dust and splash-proof construction to protect the mount from dust and water droplets.
To protect the glass, I have been using a B+W 86mm XS-Pro Clear MRC-Nano 007 filter for 2 years. The filter has had no effect on the image quality, so I would highly recommend it.
There are several alternatives to the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. As a Nikon user, the following lens recommendations haven’t worked for me. However, they could be helpful for other photographers.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is very similar to the Sigma in terms of performance. This one, though, is almost double the price of Sigma but is smaller in size and weighs less. It also feels a little more balanced when handling. This lens is known for its image stabilisation, and it has a fluorine coating on the front and rear elements. This coating allows you to photograph in the rain without the fear of damage. If you are a Canon user, good luck choosing between this one and the Sigma.
Another comparable lens is also by Canon – the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM. This Canon has the same bulky feeling as the Sigma but the quality of the bokeh and image sharpness are unbeatable. Take note, it costs three times more than the Sigma.
If you are looking for something a little more budget-friendly explore the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD that can be mounted to Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony A. It has the signature Tamron image stabilisation, which is proprietary to this brand, but it does lack in comparison when it comes to sharpness when shooting wide open f/1.8.
For Nikon’s DSLR users, I recommend the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8F and Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G. The Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8F is super light, much smaller, and about half the price of the Sigma. For a beginner, the Nikon option is the perfect tool for learning. For the price you pay, the image sharpness and smooth bokeh are unparalleled.
The Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G is considerably pricier than the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. At 595 grams, it’s also twice as light. It’s more compact but has a mediocre sharpness, a wide-open f/1.4 and worse bokeh than other 85mm lenses. For this price, you are simply not getting anything extra.
Overall, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is excellent for professional photographers specialising in both indoor and outdoor portrait photography. Sigma falls behind when you consider the size and weight of the lens. It delivers on exceptional image quality, ultrasonic focus and fantastic performance at f/1.4.
This lens has been in my bag for over two years now and has accompanied me on nearly every shoot. I invested in high-quality camera straps to protect my back and that solved the weight issue. With all the options available out there, I wouldn’t trade it out for anything else.
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