Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
Can this wide aperture short telephoto still produce the goods, despite being almost half the price of similar camera manufacturer's lenses? Gary Wolstenholme investigates.

Sigma's 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is a short telephoto lens with a bright f/1.4 maximum aperture, perfect for isolating your subject from the background by utilising the effect of shallow depth of field. The lens has a silent focusing motor, with full time manual override and is keenly priced at around £700.

Canon's flagship 85mm lens is their EF 85mm f/1.2L USM, which has an even brighter maximum aperture, weather-sealed build and silent focusing with full time manual override, but costs around £1720, which is over double that of this Sigma optic.

Nikon's newest 85mm f/1.4 optic also has silent focusing, and adds weather-sealed professional build quality for the princely sum of around £1290. The older 85mm f/1.4 AF-D is still available from some outlets for around £900, but this lens lacks the silent focusing of the aforementioned optics.

Sony's 85mm f/1.4 optic carries the Carl Zeiss branding, and the Carl Zeiss price tag to boot. Available for around £1215, this lens uses a screw-driven AF system rather than a silent focusing motor.

Pentax don't currently do an 85mm lens like this and their closest equivalent comes from their limited line-up of optics. The 77mm f/1.8 limited costs around £830 and lacks the bright f/1.4 aperture and silent focusing of the Sigma being reviewed here.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM: Handling and features
There's a lot of glass in any 85mm f/1.4 lens, and as a result Sigma's version of this lens feels quite weighty at 725g. This weight isn't necessarily a bad thing though as it feels very solidly put together as a result. Unlike many manufacturer's own flagship lenses, this lens has no weather sealing to speak of, but in my opinion that feature isn't necessarily a deal breaker with a lens like this.

The exterior of this optic is different to older Sigma EX lenses. The powder coated effect has given way to a tactile, almost rubberised finish which doesn't appear to show marks as easily as the old coating. This finish also helps to provide a good grip of the lens barrel, which I appreciate, especially when changing lenses quickly.

A distance window located on top has hyperfocal marking for f/16, but no other aperture. These markings are located so close together that they can be difficult to use anyway. Focusing is powered by a silent hyper sonic motor, which allows for manual focus adjustments to be made at any time by simply twisting the wide rubberised focus ring. Manual focusing is a pleasure with a lens like this. The wide aperture provides a brilliantly bright viewfinder, and the manual focus ring has just the right level of resistance for making fine adjustments easily.

Focus speeds aren't the fastest I've ever witnessed, but it is still responsive enough, even for fairly erratic subjects. Care needs to be taken when shooting at f/1.4 though, as the depth of field is so shallow.

Overall I really enjoyed using this lens, due to its good build quality, responsive focusing and excellent handing.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM: Performance
For a lens costing under half that of some of the competition, this 85mm from Sigma is certainly capable of holding its own. Wide open at f/1.4, sharpness in the centre is already good and the clarity towards the edges of the frame isn't far behind. Stopping the lens down just one stop to f.2 results in very good centre sharpness and peak quality across the frame is achieved between f/5.6 and f/8, where the clarity across the frame is excellent.

Resolution at 85mm How to read our graphs
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D700 using Imatest.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Resolution at 85mm

Sigma's use of SLD glass for the front element has resulted in excellent control over chromatic aberrations. The levels are so low, that it should be difficult to detect fringing around high contrast edges, even in very large prints.

Chromatic Aberrations at 85mm How to read out charts
Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D700 using Imatest.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Chromatic Aberrations at 85mm

Falloff of illumination towards the corners is pretty low for a lens with such a wide maximum aperture. Imatest recorded corners 1.54 stops darker than the image centre at f/1.4 and illumination is visually uniform by f/2.8.

A very slight amount of barrel distortion is present, as is typical with wide aperture lenses. The level detected by Imatest is extremely low at 0.661%, so shouldn't pose issues in all but the most critical of applications. If that's the case for your particular project, you'll be glad to hear that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, making it easy to correct in image editing software afterwards.

Click on the thumbnails for a high resolution image.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM @ f/1.4   Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Focus speeds
The lens is capable of producing good sharpness, even at f/1.4   Focus speeds are adequate for erratic subjects.

This lens seems to be really quite resistant to flare and ghosting, with little noticeable loss of contrast, even when shooting into the light. A deep scalloped lens hood comes supplied with the lens, which does an excellent job of keeping unwanted light out of the optical path. A lens hood extender is a novel, but useful additional extra that also comes supplied with the lens, making the hood even deeper when the lens is used in conjunction with an APS-C digital SLR.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM: Verdict

Sigma have created a real gem here. This 85mm f/1.4 is a relatively affordable wide aperture telephoto lens, that is capable of producing superb results.

The lens handles well, feels very well put together and costs hundreds of pounds less than manufacturer's own equivalent lenses. In fact the difference in price could pay for a three night break for two to Reykjavik flying from London with an excursion to see the northern lights. Just imagine if manufacturers threw that in for free with their wide aperture 85mm lenses!

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
An excellent value lens, which is more than capable of producing superb results.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM: Pros

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMExcellent optical performance
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMGreat build quality
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMResponsive autofocus
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMSupplied hood with extender for APS-C cameras

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM: Cons
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMHyperfocal markings are too close together to be useful
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMSigma want the review sample of this lens back!

FEATURES Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
HANDLING Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
PERFORMANCE Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
VALUE FOR MONEY Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
OVERALL Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM: Lens specification
Price £694.99
Filter size 77mm
Format Full-frame
Construction 11 elements in 8 groups
Angle-of-view 28.6 degrees
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 127.5mm
Internal focusing Yes
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 85cm
Maximum aperture f/1.4
Minimum aperture f/16
Weight 725g
Size 86.4 x 87.6mm
In the box Lens Hood
Hood Adapter
Fitted Padded Case
Front and Rear Caps
Instruction Manual
1 Year Warranty Card

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM costs £694.99 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Nikon
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Sony
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Pentax
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Sigma

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