A large aperture medium telephoto lens that is ideal for portraiture and low light photography. Sigma's new 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens is designed for use with full frame digital cameras but can also be suitable for cameras with smaller APS-C sized sensors. On the Nikon D7000 body we used for our tests, it provided the 35mm focal length equivalent of 127.5mm. On a Canon APS-C body, the equivalent is 136mm. Slightly longer and 130 grams heavier than Nikon's similarly-specified equivalent, it is also roughly $500 cheaper. . . [more]
Sigma's new 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens is designed for use with full frame digital cameras but can also be suitable for cameras with smaller APS-C sized sensors. On the Nikon D7000 body we used for our tests, it provided the 35mm focal length equivalent of 127.5mm. On a Canon APS-C body, the equivalent is 136mm. Slightly longer and 130 grams heavier than Nikon's similarly-specified equivalent, it is also roughly $500 cheaper.
Sigma's new 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens, shown without the supplied lens hood and end caps. (Source: Sigma.)
Available with mounts for Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony, this lens ships with front and rear lens caps, a petal-shaped lens hood and a special hood adapter for use when the lens is fitted to an APS-C camera body. The adapter expands the length of the lens hood enabling it to block out extraneous light more effectively.
Build and Handling
Constructed mainly from matte black polycarbonate, the 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens is very well built and has a stainless steel mounting plate for added durability. It felt well balanced on the Nikon D7000 we used for our tests but its weight (725 grams) could make it front-heavy when fitted to a lighter camera body.
The optical design combines 11 elements in eight groups and includes one SLD (Special low Dispersion) glass element and one glass moulded element to improve optical performance. Nine diaphragm blades close to a circular aperture, providing attractive bokeh. Super Multi Layer Coatings have been applied to reduce flare and ghosting, particularly for backlit photography.
The rear focus system is coupled with Sigma's HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) technology to ensure fast, accurate and near-silent autofocusing. But AF won't be available if the camera body doesn't have the appropriate electronic contacts to support HSM.
The focusing ring is positioned near the front of the lens and distinguished by a 20 mm wide rubber grip with the ridges running parallel to the lens barrel. This ring moves easily through roughly one quarter of a turn, increasing in resistance at each end of the focusing range and even allowing you to focus just past the infinity point.
Just behind the focusing ring is a recessed distance scale that carries distance markings in metres and feet from a close 0.85 m to infinity. Stamped on the barrel just behind the window is a depth-of-field reference at ƒ/16. No infrared index is provided.
The outer barrel steps in slightly behind the distance window. Located on this 15mm wide section of the barrel is a slider switch for swapping between auto and manual focusing. There's no built-in stabilisation; and no aperture ring but the front of the lens is threaded to accept 77 mm filters.
The front element does not rotate during autofocus, allowing use of angle-critical attachments. In addition, the lens supports full-time manual AF over-ride, which means you can refocus manually by simply turning the focus ring.
The supplied lens hood adds roughly 60 mm to the length of the lens. We can't comment on the APS-C hood adapter because it wasn't supplied with the review lens.
With or without the adapter attached, the lens hood reverses over the front of the lens for storage. The inner surface of the hood is ridged to minimise the chance of stray light affecting shots.
We tested the review lens on the Nikon D7000 body, which we were reviewing at the time. Unfortunately, this lens wasn't available with a Canon mount, restricting us to testing on a body with an APS-C sensor ( but we would be happy to test it with a 'full frame' body when the Canon mount arrives).
The review lens was an excellent fit on the medium-sized D7000 body and would be equally comfortable on larger and heavier cameras, although less suitable for small, entry-level DSLRs. Our Imatest tests on JPEG files showed it capable of matching the resolution of the D7000's sensor and it's safe to assume higher resolutions would be possible from raw files.
While resolution at the widest apertures was a little disappointing, our tests showed a distinct 'sweet spot' in resolution between about f/3.5 and f/9, where diffraction began to affect performance. Interestingly, differences between centre and edge resolution were small from about f/3.5 onwards, indicating very good flatness of field. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Lateral chromatic aberration was consistently negligible at all aperture settings. In the graph below showing the results of our tests, the red line marks the boundary between ‘negligible' and ‘low' CA.
Rectilinear distortion was effectively negligible with only slight barrel distortion detected. Vignetting was barely detectable at the widest apertures and gone by f/2.
Autofocusing was as fast you would wish for from an f/1.4 lens and accurate under different lighting conditions. We noticed very little hunting when shooting after dark.
Although it was possible to force this lens to flare in extreme conditions, shots taken with the sun just outside the field of view were remarkably flare-free and showed plenty of contrast and detail. Bokeh was smooth and silky at the widest aperture settings.
Although no stabilisation is provided, we were able to shoot with the camera hand-held at shutter speeds as slow as 1/15 second, which is roughly 2.5 steps slower than the recommended hand-held shutter speed for an 85mm lens. The comfortable handling characteristics of this lens played a significant role in facilitating this.
Buy this lens if:
- You want a prime lens that is ideal for portraiture.
- You require good edge-to-edge sharpness for copying.
- You want fast and quiet autofocusing.
Don't buy this lens if:
- You require built-in image stabilisation.
Based on JPEG files taken with the Nikon D7000:
Vignetting at f/1.4.
Vignetting at f/2.
ISO 100, 1/25 second at f/1.4.
ISO 200, 1/200 second at f/11.
ISO 800, 1/40 second at f/1.4.
ISO 800, 1/20 second at f/2.
Bokeh; ISO 800, 1/25 second at f/1.4.
Taken in late twilight; ISO 1600, 1/15 second at f/1.4.
Strong backlighting; ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/4.5.
Picture angle: 28.6 degrees
Minimum aperture: f/16
Lens construction: 11 Elements in 8 Groups (includes one SLD glass element and one glass moulded element)
Lens mounts: Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony/Minolta
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (closes to a circular aperture)
Focus drive: Hyper-Sonic Motor
Minimum focus: 85 cm
Maximum magnification: 1:8.6
Filter size: 77 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 86.4 x 87.6 mm
Weight: 725 grams
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Handling: 9.0
- Image quality: 8.5
- Versatility: 8.0
- OVERALL: 8.8