Rodney Campbell's Blog

Review: Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens…

by on Apr.09, 2013, under Life, Photography

I’m essentially the official unofficial photographer for my daughters school so I shoot lots of school events every year and as such I take a lot of candid childrens portraits for which an 85mm lens like the Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is ideal.

Depending on the event (could be sports, indoor, music and drama, band, excursions, or any special event at or for the school really) I’ll take a variety of lenses and other gear to suit the situation. However I almost always take a nice fast portrait lens because I almost always have the opportunity to get some really nice shots like head shots or small groups of children who pose as a small group.

I originally found the 50mm lens on my crop cameras (first the Nikon 50/1.8D which I replaced with the delicious Sigma 50/1.4) to be my go to lens for this type of shooting. However after getting the 70-200/2.8 I found the slightly longer focal length was more my style and gave me the compressed look I was after. So even when I was still shooting on my crop D7000 I switched to the Nikon 85/1.8G and loved it. Soon after I upgraded to the full frame D600 and I just didn’t like the 50mm on FX and the 85mm focal length still suited me perfectly.

One reason might be that whilst the 50mm lens on a crop camera might give the equivalent field of view of a 75mm lens on a full frame camera it still “acts” like a 50mm lens (from a close shooting distance distortion and compression point of view) – i.e. it still gave a slight widening of the face sort of view and made noses slightly more prominent at close distance (e.g. tight head crops). The 85mm (and longer) view however gives me the look I like.

So I shot for quite a few months (and quite a few school events) with the Nikon 85/1.8G and loved it – this lens is truly a fantastic bargain – it shares many of the same qualities as the much more expensive Nikon 85/1.4G – it’s as sharp, it’s IQ is great, it just doesn’t have the cost (and it can’t open up to f/1.4)… Why then would I trade up to the larger, heavier, more expensive Sigma 85/1.4…

Well as it happens I won my choice of $3000 worth of Sigma lenses and chose the new Sigma AF 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series Lens, the Sigma AF 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Fisheye Lens (both of which I’d been eyeing very closely anyway and was very likely to buy myself – so getting them for free was epic :)) and as I had enough left over I decided to upgrade to the Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens.

Now that I’ve shot with it for a about 6 weeks, including a couple of events I feel I can give you my views.


This is a surprisingly heavy lens – the specs put it in at 725g but it feels quite heavy in the hand. Compared to the Nikon 85/1.8G which comes in at 350g it’s noticeably heavier and larger. This size and weight is probably it’s only downside against the 85/1.8G.

One positive for me with the larger size is that it (like the 50/1.4) has a pro standard 77mm front filter thread. I own quite a number of filters but I’ve generally standardised on 77mm so it’s easy for me to attach my polariser, Lee filter holder, variable ND, 10 stop ND and UV which are all 77mm.

With the solid weight comes a very solid feel and the build quality of the lens feels excellent, the focus ring is smooth to operate and the finish of the lens is excellent (although perhaps not quite as good as their new series of lenses – e.g. the very new 35/1.4 Art Series lens).


The AF is excellent – it’s very fast and for me very accurate – I didn’t need any AF micro adjust with this lens and even at very wide apertures I’m getting an extremely high in critical focus hit rate. I’ve heard reports of inconsistent focus results with some Sigma lenses for some people on the Internet but I’m certainly not seeing this with this lens for me – it’s about as perfect as it gets. I’d say the AF speed is at least on par with the Nikon 85/1.8G and perhaps even a little faster. Focus is very quiet (not quite as silent as the new 35/1.4) and grabbing the focus ring allows full time manual focus override.

The tolerance against Chromatic Aberration is excellent with this lens – in fact it is noticeably much better in this regard to my Nikon 85/1.8G. With this Nikon lens I pretty much got purple fringing on almost ever shot (regardless of strong backlighting). It was trivially easy to fix this in Lightroom but it was annoying that it was there in the first place. With the Sigma 85/1.4 I pretty much don’t have the problem at all.

I didn’t really notice any issues with distortion with either the Nikon or Sigma 85’s and whilst you get a little vignetting (corner shading) and softness in the corners when shooting at or near wide open (as you’d expect with any fast prime) I’m not finding any of these a problem with any real world shooting I’ve done.

The quality of the out of focus areas (the Bokeh) is creamy smooth and out of focus highlights remain fairly circular with a very smooth inner area with perhaps some slight fringing around the edges.

Possibly the only thing which disappoints me about this and the Nikon 85mm lens is the relatively long minimum focus distance (80 to 85cm) which does prevent you from getting in really close to the subject – I’ll have to leave that job to my wider or macro lenses.


Note: These images (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay slideshow gallery viewer.

Given all the above it’s probably no surprise that the image quality is superb and I’ve included a few examples below – under a variety of conditions including portraits, strong backlight, landscape and even birding.


Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/800 sec at f/2, ISO 100

A close head and shoulders portrait at f/1.4

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/1250 sec at f/1.4, ISO 100

Directly into the sun

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/320 sec at f/9, ISO 100

Another with very strong backlight

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/1250 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100

The Kiss

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/640 sec at f/4, ISO 100

With a CPL

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/160 sec at f/8, ISO 100

Portrait in the shade

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/100 sec at f/2, ISO 160

A 22 frame stitched panorama with the 85mm

Sunset over the Fort - Panorama

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 0.8 sec at f/11, ISO 100 x 22 Frames

Just out and about

Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

NIKON D600 + 85.0 mm f/1.4 @ 85 mm, 1/800 sec at f/2, ISO 100


All in all I’m very happy with this lens. Would I have bought it myself… now thats a trickier question…

If you already own the Nikon 85/1.8G I don’t think I’d upgrade to either the Nikon or Sigma 85/1.4’s unless you really needed that extra 2/3rds of a stop (and for some of my night time event shots it really does come in handy – as it does when I really want the shallowest depth of field). However the overall image quality of the Sigma 85/1.4 and the Nikon 85/1.8G is probably on par and I’d say (other than the easily correctable but more obvious out of camera CA) that there’s really little to complain about with either.

If you don’t yet own an 85 then it now comes down to choosing between a smaller, lighter Nikon 85/1.8 which is roughly 1/2 to 2/3rds the cost of the Sigma 85/1.4. Again here – if you don’t need the extra 2/3rd of a stop I’d really go with the Nikon – it really is an excellent relative bargain lens. However if you can afford the additional expense of the Sigma you won’t be unhappy (and you get that little extra speed).

What did I do – well I just sold my Nikon 85/1.8G to a friend and have decided to keep the Sigma 85/1.4 so I guess that has to tell you something…

Comments are closed.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Copyright © 2015 Rodney Campbell

Images contained on this web site may not be used or reproduced in any way without prior permission.