In recent times, Sigma’s EX series lenses have proved to be more than a match to camera manufacturer’s efforts.
The 85mm f/1.4 from Sigma is yet another example of the company’s growing strength in the premium end of the market.
Design and Build Quality
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens is beautifully finished in dull black and feels every bit professional. The outer body is made from metal and engineering plastic; the lens mount is metal. Filter thread appears to be made from plastic. The distance scale in white (in feet and meters) is very legible.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is designed for full-frame camera bodies but can be used with bodies having APS-C size sensors. It is constructed with 11 elements in 8 groups and includes 1 x SLD glass element and 1 x asperical element which ensures superior sharpness and control over aberrations. The lens elements are coated with Super Multi Layer Coating, which offers better control over flare and ghosting. The 85mm f/1.4 employs rear focus system and HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) for quicker AF. Autofocus can be manually overridden. The lens’ overall length does not change during focussing. A 9-bladed diaphragm ensures soft bokeh of out of focus backgrounds. The focal length is perfect for portraiture and the very wide maximum aperture of f/1.4 makes it a breeze to focus easily and accurately. The lens comes with a petal type lens hood and a lens adapter for APS-C bodies. With APS-C sensor bodies, you first attach the adapter to the lens and then attach the lens hood on the adapter. The lens weighs 725g and has a 77mm filter size.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens is available in Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax mounts. Sigma’s website clarifies that if a camera body does not support HSM, autofocus will not be available.
The lens was tested on a full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II body. This combination balanced perfectly well. The manual focus ring on our test sample appeared slightly over-damped (may be because the lens was brand new), but actually I prefer it that way.
Autofocus was quick, smooth, and precise, even in low light. Readers would definitely like to know whether it was quicker than the AF on the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens (which is also reviewed in this issue). Sorry to disappoint you, but to make such a comparison you need to test the lenses on the same body. The Sigma lens had Canon mount and was tested using the 21 megapixel Canon 5D Mark II; the Nikon lens was tested using the 12-megapixel D700. The autofocus modules on both these cameras are different and hence, trying to compare AF speed between the two lenses is wrong.
The front element does not rotate during focussing, making it convenient to use graduated ND and polarizing filters. As mentioned also in the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 review, depth of field at f/1.4 and f/2 is extremely shallow and hence the user must ensure that, after AF is achieved, the distance between the lens and the subject does not change even a little bit, or else the image may not be very sharp. Overall, the Sigma produced very good image quality and the out of focus backgrounds at the wider apertures were beautifully soft. Corner darkening was noticed at f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, and slightly at f/4 but considering that the lens is very ‘fast’, this could be considered as acceptable. Flare was noticeable in shots that included the direct sun and strong longitudinal chromatic aberration (magenta fringing) was very clearly noticed.
In the sharpness arena, the Sigma proved to be a good performer. As expected, the corners were not as sharp as the center at f/1.4 and f/2. By f/2.8, center sharpness as well as the corner sharpness improved. f/5.6 and f/8 seemed to offer optimal performance. At f/16, at higher image magnifications, we felt that diffraction was setting in, making the images appear slightly ‘soft’. If you are using a APS-C sensor camera with this lens, corner sharpness at wider apertures would definitely be superior.
Value For Money
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is available at an MRP of Rs.66,990. Notwithstanding our comments on image quality at very wide apertures, the lens is very good value for money.
+ Very Fast (f/1.4)
+ Very sharp
– No optical stabilizer (OS)
– No image stabilizer
Design and Build Quality 16/20
Key Features 15.5/20
Distortion Control 4/5
Darkening of Corners 3.5/5
Extra Features 3/5
Value for Money 9/10
Grand Total 81/100
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is a lovely lens. Overall, very sharp and cost-wise, almost 50 percent of the competition. We have no hesitation to say ‘Best Buy’.