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Equipment

Lensrentals.com Review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Series Lens

The most anticipated lens of 2016 didn’t come from Sony, Canon or Nikon. But rather, Sigma finally answered so many people’s request and released the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art series lens. While Roger will be covering the MTF charts and nitty gritty numbers of the lens once we get enough stock, we still wanted to look into the real life examples of the new lens. So we handed off the lens to a select few member of staff and gathered their thoughts (and photos) to put together a comprehensive review of the new lens.

Build Quality

One of the biggest changes Sigma has had in the last few years comes in the build quality of their lenses. Before the Art series and rebranding, Sigma was plagued with stories of back focusing, and inconsistent build quality. However, in the last few years, Sigma has risen to be one of the most respected and beloved third-party lens options. And that stellar attention to detail and build holds true with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art is produced with the familiarities you’ve come to find in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 24mm Art, and Sigma 50mm Art. The matte black look is sleek and modern, and the lens is heavy and built with premium materials. Nothing on the lens feels flimsy, and the general feel of the lens is every bit as good as you’d expect from a premium Canon, Nikon, or Zeiss.

Example Photos by Zach Sutton

That said, there is one stand out to this new lens from Sigma – it’s huge. As a reference, we’ve included photos above comparing it side by side of some of our favorite 85mm lenses. As you can see, it’s quite a bit larger in size than just about any other competitor. And it’s not just big in size, but big in weight too. At 3.8lbs, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art outsizes the already substantial Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (at 2.9lbs), and the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G-Series (at 1.8lbs).

Features

The size challenge is continued in the features of the lens. With an 86mm filter thread on the front, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art series is likely going to require a new filter if you plan on using NDs filters or a Circular Polarizer. While this might not be a problem for a lot of photographers, I found it to be a hiccup in my workflow. Since I’m mostly on Canon lenses, all of my filters are 77mm, and I’m able to use a 72mm>77mm Step Up Ring for my smaller lenses. Buying into the Sigma ecosystem means I’mm need to change out many of the filters I use and love, for larger, more expensive ones.

However, the size of the lens and filter ring is about it’s only limiting factor. Included with the Sigma 85mm Art lens, and all Art series lenses for that matter – is the ability to micro adjust and install firmware updates by the use of the Sigma USB dock. Hopefully, these are features you never need to experiment with, but the addition of them is a nice touch to lens maintenance, and something we’ll always give a nice nod to.

Example Photos by Nick Hall

The lens also allows for a 33″ minimum focusing distance, shortening the distance a few inches when compared to the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II. While the ~5 inches may not seem like much, it certainly can alleviate focusing problems in small spaces.

However, the biggest feature comes in its performance. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Series is sharp. Sharper than it’s more expensive competitors, in fact. And while we’re splitting hairs by making the comparisons (Because the 85mm focal length has some of the best and sharpest lenses available), the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art still managed to outperform and outshine the competitors, even if it’s only by a little bit.

Example Photos by Joey Miller

And perhaps what people most wanted to see here is a series of MTF charts, but sadly we don’t have them yet. The key component of our MTF charts is consistency. We don’t test a single lens since a single lens may be really great or a little soft, we test our lenses in a series of 10 lenses and average out the numbers to give us the most accurate reading. So to put it simply, we don’t have MTF charts on the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art yet, because we haven’t been able to keep them on the shelf for Roger and Aaron to adequately test 10 lenses. However, I’ve spoken privately to Roger, and the initial readings of the first five lenses show that the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art is every bit as sharp as the Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Zeiss counterparts – and at a fraction of the price. For the full results of these tests, check back in the next week or two, and we should have all of our data published on this new, hard to get your hands on, lens.

Example Photos by Nick Hall

 

When it comes to the focus of the lens, it’s good and fast when compared to the slow Canon 85L. While one of us experienced some slight seeking in little light, the consensus is that even at it’s worst, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Series focuses just as good as its competitors.

Price & Comparisons

Through our testing, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Series is every bit as good as the Nikon and Canon competitors, and at a smaller price point. At $1200 brand new for both Nikon or Canon, The Sigma transcends its competitors. For the value, there is no better 85mm for the prosumer and professional market.

What I Liked

  • Look and Feel is In Line with Art Series Lenses
  • Low Price for an Exceptional 85mm Lens
  • Ability to fine tune with the Sigma USB Dock

What Could Be Improved

  • It’s big and heavy, to a seemingly unnecessary degree.

Conclusion

So is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Series great? Yes…without question. If you’re looking for an 85mm lens, the Sigma should be an obvious choice. While it doesn’t give us that extra 1/3rd of a stop that you get with the Canon at f/1.2, it does out focus, and outperform it on every other level.

Want to try it for yourself? The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is available for rental for both Nikon and Canon for as low as $74 for a week.

Author: Lensrentals

Articles written by the entire editorial and technical staff at LensRentals.com. These articles are for when there is more than one author for the entire post, and are written as a community effort.

Posted in Equipment
  • FramerMCB

    What an awesome lens! What’s even better, it’s at an amazing price point when you consider the competition. However, for the money, I still think it’s very hard to not consider the “newish” Tamron 85mm f1.8. Weather sealing, very good autofocusing, and nearly half what this outstanding Sigma is. We are living in great times as photographers with all of these stellar lenses being designed, built, and delivered to us as consumers. Options, options…decisions, decisions…how does one choose? Oh, and did I mention the Tamron has VC? πŸ˜‰

    Roger, how does the Chroma performance compare between the Sig and the Tam? I know that they both have at least a little. If I remember correctly, Tamron’s 85mm is very good at controlling chromatic aberrations but their 45mm was not real good in this department…

    Thanks for the excellent work you guys do!

  • BoatyMcBoatface

    Thanks for the well written review. Just one question, perhaps its just me, but every one of the bison photos look like they are front focused. With the actual point of focus a foot or so in front of the animal.

  • Yair

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures samples!
    Wish the review referred to optical performance like CA & Focus shift & flare.
    AF accuracy and consistency.
    Any update on MTF testes ?

  • mtnman1984

    Everything helps. The IS on my Sony is part of the equation but grip, arm position, stance, breathing, and how I press the release all adds up. It has the same feeling as shooting a rifle out to long ranges. I don’t have problems with too much blur now, but it took practice.

  • Patrick Chase

    Indeed. I’d assumed that it went without saying that the Otus’ liberal use of exotics was only feasible at an Otus price point :-).

  • I’d add that Sigma can’t make this kind of price using expensive, exotic glass types. It would make sense to use two normal glass elements that cost x each, rather than 1 highly curved exotic glass elements that costs 10x. There’s always a trade off.

  • DrJon

    I never have any issues with the focus speed of the 85 L II as long as you don’t want to adjust focus more than a few meters/yards (say 8m to 13m is plenty fast enough for me, and I’ve shot BIF with it with a 90+% hit rate). Going from MFD to infinity takes a while due to all the focus steps a f1.2 telephoto has to go through allowing for the small DoF.

  • DrJon

    The Canon is 1025g which is 2.26lbs/36oz (I always just think of mine as a kilo of glass).

  • T N Args

    Don’t forget the Tamron SP when you come to compare the lenses.

  • Mike Earussi

    Where did you get your weight information from: “. At 3.8lbs, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art outsizes the already substantial Canon 85mm f/1.2L II (at 2.9lbs), and the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G-Series (at 1.8lbs).”

    Sigma has it listed at 39.9oz or 2.5lbs.
    https://www.sigmaphoto.com/lenses/standard-lenses/85mm-f14-dg-hsm-a

  • m r

    ? have been thinking the same, even with a 24mp camera and a sharp lens ? noticed the difference between the older 16mp cameras which were a little more forgiving. ? guess at 40+mp good technique becomes more important.
    Does IS help ? wonder?
    Great little look at the S?gma, good shots. Am put off by the size but value looks good..

  • Thank you! I’m a regular person though πŸ™‚ I think for the high-res non-stabilized FF bodies the same rule should apply as to the APS-Cs due to the similar pixel density, i.e. 1/ (shutter speed * 1.5). 2x to be on the safe side LOL.

  • Jonathan

    another factual correction: the Canon 85L II is half a stop faster than the Sigma, not 1/3.
    From the article: “While it doesn’t give us that extra 1/3rd of a stop that you get with the Canon at f/1.2”

  • Bob B.

    I own the 35mm & 50mm Art a Series…and after calibrating on the dock (very tedious work! LOL!), they are incredible glass in my world. Even though my Canon 85mm f/1.2LII (I call it the grenade for its squat, large size), is old and slow to focus…I am keeping it. It’s half the size of the 85mm ART (which looks formidable), and as I keep getting images like this out of it, you may have to rip it out of my cold, dead hand! LOL!
    https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5787/22164166955_3b084cefbd_b_d.jpg

  • Patrick Chase

    As a engineer (though not an OE) I would clarify that to “no engineer who is worth anything would add unnecessary size to a design unless forced to do so at gunpoint by marketing”. It’s been known to happen. For example look at all of the lenses with cosmetic metal shells around plastic innards…

  • Troy Phillips

    Thanks for telling us that I was thinking, a 85mm prime that’s heavier than the heaviest 70 or 80-200 f/2.8. That would be crazy heavy.
    I myself don’t mind a lens up to 3.8 lbs. The Sigma 150-600 Sport is a tank and pretty hard for ME to hand hold. But I have really bad shoulders.

  • Troy Phillips

    I shoot with the Nikon d810 and d500 and on my three sharpest lenses I have noticed blurring. I think it’s called pixel blurring ???? I have the Sigma 18-35 I Shoot on the d500. It puts out fabulous pictures but I’ve noticed perfectly focused pictures looking blurry. The shutter speed should be fine. So I’ll shoot at double or more the focal lenght and get super sharp pictures. The d810 is the same way but doesn’t seem quite as sensitive. Maybe because the actual pixel density is less. I shoot the Sigma 50 art on it . Low light at f/1.4 or f/1.8 and 160-200 of a second will give super detailed resolution. I can get just fair resolution at 1/100 . I see the macro blurring. I shoot low light concerts a lot so the lowest ISO I can get is important. Shots I don’t have to crop are ok to shoot at lower shutter speeds. It keeps the grain down in the picture. But if I’m cropping at all I’ll see the macro blurring of the slow shutter speed. So I usually will shoot the higher shutter speed and deal with the grain. Higher pixel count sensors and higher resolution lenses are changing the game.
    Also I’ve noticed I am getting macro blurring Shooting my new Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 e fl Ed vr at slower shutter speeds hand held with the vr on. This compared to turning it off and upping the shutter speed . It’s again not really noticed until you crop in.

  • Carleton Foxx

    Of course not. No engineer who is worth anything would add unnecessary size to a design. It’s like the old joke when you ask an engineer if the glass is half full or half empty, s/he replies: “neither. the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.”

  • Carleton Foxx

    Lovely. You must have arms of granite and hands of steel. Those are razor sharp.

  • Canon doesn’t offer anything 1.4 with IS. You can put the Sigma on a stabilized Sony body via their adapter, and it works good, much better AF compared to a Canon lens via the Metabones IV adapter. Crank up the shutter speed to 1/160 or faster and it works a great on the 5DSR. Here is a few casual shots taken around that speed, 50Mpx:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/omproject/31093144434/in/dateposted-public/
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/omproject/31873107482/in/dateposted-public/
    And more samples (edited, some have extra vignetting added in LR):
    https://flic.kr/s/aHskRnj9a2 5DSR
    https://flic.kr/s/aHskJ1oZXa A7R2
    https://flic.kr/s/aHskHF6qD4 1DX2

  • Carleton Foxx

    With these high-res sensors and razor-sharp lenses it seems to me that we’re at the point they’re impossible to shoot cleanly unless mounted on a tripod.
    Looking at the samples here and at other sites, many of them (except for the Zach Sutton studio shots, of course) suffer from some degree of motion blur. It was bound to happen because the imaging chain is so much more sensitive and precise, but it’s kind of a bummer.

    Would we get sharper pictures by switching to image-stabilized primes like those from Canon that don’t have the same ultimate resolving power but do eliminate sharpness-robbing camera shake?

  • Patrick Chase

    One sample shot on an adapter doth not a valid comparison make.
    The thing that is clear to me from that comparison is that the 85GM vignettes less, which is why the bokeh balls from point sources stay more circular moving off-axis. That wouldn’t change from sample to sample.

  • William Dyer

    I was already to pull the trigger and get the Sigma 85 1.4 Art.. I have the following Art lenses, the 35 1.4, 50 1.4, and the 24-105 f4, as well as the Sigma 150 2.8 macro, and the Sigmonster 300-800 f5.6. So, I’m pretty close to a Sigma fan boy. But, after trying the Sigma 85 1.4 in store against the Nikon 85 1.4G, the size and weight difference, as well as the filter size difference, drove me to the Nikon. I had the Nikon 85 D before and liked it except for it’s problems with focus hunting in low light. So sorry Sigma, not this time. Let’s see how you do with the upcoming 24-70 2.8 Art…

  • Excessive amount of lube and grinding sound are definitely contribute to its exceptionality πŸ˜‰

  • Park J.S.

    Art 85mm f1.4 is great.Sony FE 85mm 1.4GM is exceptional: http://lenswork.tistory.com/entry/SONY-FE-85mm-F14-GM-vs-SIGMA-85mm-f14-ART

  • Patrick Chase

    One factual correction: The Sigma weighs 39.9 oz, which is 2.5 lbs, not 3.8 as stated in the review.

    Also, the Canon 85/1.2 II weighs 2.3 lbs, not 2.9.

  • Patrick Chase

    For use on film I agree.

    For digital the brutal truth is that color is fixable, but loss of spatial information is not (sharpening can only amplify what remains, it can bring back what is lost). Also Sigma’s coatings have gotten a *lot* better.

  • John Hopfensperger

    Sharpness is the most overrated metric. Even if the Sigma is as sharp as an Otus, its color correction isn’t in the same league.

  • Great sample pictures. Very enjoyable lens indeed. The size is adequate. Still smaller than the 200/2 πŸ˜‰

  • Patrick Chase

    I don’t agree with the assertion that the Sigma’s size is “seemingly unnecessary”.

    It you look at the optical formula it appears that they’re using a bunch of elements well out in front of the entrance pupil to manage off-axis aberrations (real OEs please feel free to correct me). To achieve that with a 60 mm entrance pupil the lens has to be wide, and to do it at 85 mm FL means that it has to be long.

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