Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Review

I'm a fan of longer focal lengths. I can appreciate the cool and weird effect of wide angle, but I definitely prefer the distance compression and depth of field of longer focal lengths - especially for portraits!

I already own and love the Canon EF 135mm f/2 L USM that I use for soft and airy portraits, that make almost everyone look good.
However, I also have the tendency to not walk back far enough and thus crop my shots too tightly. If I need to straighten the horizon it regularly happens that body parts are cut off.

This photo is taken with the Canon 135mm f/2 lens:

Photo taken with Canon 135mm for comparison

I started considering the 85mm focal length because it gives me more flexibility in terms of the distance I have to keep to my subject. With the 85mm I have to only walk a few steps closer to get a close crop, and a few steps back to get a full body shot without having to get back as much as with the 135mm.

Most of my subjective comparisons in this post will be with the Canon 135mm just bust because I believe I will use the Sigma 85mm in situations where I usually would have taken the 135mm.
However, the focal lengths are to far apart to objectively compare the lenses as if they were the same type.

Reasons to Buy the Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art

  • Very fast and light sensitive lens
  • The price is lower than Canon's alternatives at a similar quality
  • Quick autofocus
  • That bokeh!

The lens looks and feels great with a very broad focus wheel and a nice feel to the autofocus switch.

Drawbacks of the Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art

  • The weight and size - this is a big lens! (1185g, 94 x 134.3mm)
  • No image stabilization
  • The Sigma Art series has a reputation of badly calibrated focus (doesn't seem to apply for mine, though)

Here are some photos of the lens to give an impression of its size and handling:

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Look at that diameter (ΓΈ 86mm)!

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During our quick photo walk, we did of course also take some test shots with it (exif data under each photo):

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1/1600 @ f/1.4 @ 160 ISO

I took this photo at the minimum focal distance of 85cm, which felt very comfortable for a portrait. The Canon 135mm has an impressive minimum focus distance of 90cm, but as the focal length is longer, I would still have needed to move further back than with the Sigma 85mm lens for the same crop.

The depth of field might be too narrow for portraits like this one, but the photo illustrates very well, what distrust an aperture of f/1.4 makes: one eye is sharp while the ear and other eye are blurred.

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1/1600 @ f/1.4 @ 160 ISO

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1/1600 @ f/1.8 @ 160 ISO

I was at a comfortable distance to Jonathan when taking full body photos of him in a sitting position.

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1/1600 @ f/1.8 @ 160 ISO

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1/2500 @ f/1.4 @ 160 ISO

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1/2000 @ f/1.4 @ 160 ISO

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1/1600 @ f/1.4 @ 160 ISO at minimum focal distance of 85cm.

The lens is not really a macro lens as you can't really get that close to your subject. However, at aperture 1.4 the bokeh can imitate the macro effect and provide a beautiful separation between subject, for- and background.

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1/800 @ f/1.4 @ 250 ISO

Loving the separation from the background here!

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1/250 @ f/2 @ 250 ISO

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1/40 @ f/3.2 @ 160 ISO (hand held)

I'm surprised I could take this sharp shot at 1/40 sec! Usually, I'm sticking to the rule of thumb that dictates 1/focal length as the slowest shutterspeed one can do handheld (without image stabilization). At 135mm I it get punished with motion blur, but with the Sigma lens it was no problem.

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Written by: Judith tagged with blog, gear, review