Hardware review Sigma 85mm f1.4

Low Light - Hand held fire light



For today, I am happy to bring to you the latest hardware gear review – from none other than the folks at Sigma, with their 85mm f1.4 lens.  Let’s just jump right in:

1.  Focal Length – I’ve talked at length on the blog before about fixed focal length versus variable length zooms.  Their differences, both pros and cons of each are duly noted, and for the most part, I think we can skip the formalities of the technical explanations.  It’s an 85mm lens.  This means you are not going to be able to zoom with the lens, rather with your feet.  It also means that you will gain pros in IQ (See #8 below).  Normally I am shooting with either a 10-22 for wide angle landscapes or a 70-200 for portrait work, so this took a bit of adjusting.

When I did shoot portrait work, I kept on having to step further back to bring more of the subjects face into the scene, and with landscapes, I found myself rotating into portrait position (vertical) and instead of trying to get everything in one shot, rather capturing several shots, with the acceptance that I would have to stitch together in post production.

It’s not perfect for either, but a good compromise in focal length to try and meet the needs of both ends as much as possible.  If I had to choose my favorite focal length, it probably would not be an 85mm, but there are very subjective reasons for that, which probably aren’t as relevant here, so I will defer that for another post.  The focal length is what it is.  You either like the length or you do not.  I was middle of the road on it – sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t.

In the end, I think the focal length was fine for most purposes.  Even

2.  F-Stop Range – This is the reason I want this lens.  Stopping all the way open to an f1.4 gives you amazing results from two key perspectives:

  • Depth of Field – When you shoot with a low depth of field, the subject is very easily separated from the background.  This also brings up the subject of bokeh quality, and here I was quite impressed as I didn’t see any evidence of jagged lines or aperture opening sizes, which is often characteristic of cheaper lens builds.
  • Low Light photography – Low light photography to me means shooting at or near dusk, or in an incandescent environment where you don’t want to introduce flash.  You don’t want to be a part of the scene.  The photographer wants to blend into the background and be as unobtrusive as possible.  Lenses with low f-stop ranges allow you to do this, and the Sigma 85mm f1.4 is no exception!

3.  Noise – The motor on this lens is as quiet as one would expect for current technology – whisper!  I never heard anything that would cause a distraction, and at this point I am actually considering upgrading the Sigma Macro for this reason – the quieter the operation, the easier it is to concentrate on what you are shooting!

4.  Size/weight – About what would would expect for this focal length and aperture.  Remember, the lower the aperture (f1.4) the beefier a lens will have to be, because elements will need to be thicker in order to have any sort of stability.  It made for near perfect balance in conjunction with the 40D.  On a larger camera like the 5D or 1Ds Mark IV, I could see where you might not have as much a balance, but for my purposes, it works!

5.  Build – Patented and as expected, the water resistant housing, and non-slip grip that is now almost a trademark feature of Sigma was present so no surprises there.  I always enjoy shooting with Sigma gear because the heft of it just feels solid in my hands.

6.  OS/IS/VR – There is no built in motion correction here, which is what I collectively use to refer to the proprietary features of Sigma, Canon’s and Nikon’s camera shake correction technologies.  ALthough I should probably share that OS = Optical Stabilization (Sigma), IS = Image Stabilization (Canon), and VR = Vibration Reduction (Nikon).  Since this lens doesn’t have this motion correction feature, there’s really not much to discuss here.

The one note I would have is that when shooting with this lens, the benefit is primarily in that you can shoot at f1.4 which lets in a lot of light.  To that end, the need for motion correction is probably not as needed, except for the most exceeding low light scenarios, but you’ll see in a minute, that’d have to be pretty darn low!

7.  Cost – For the benefit of shooting at f1.4, the price of admission is hefty indeed.  B&H Photo prices it out at $969.  Since this is a new lens in their lineup, you likely will not find it for much less than this, as there is no aftermarket yet to speak of.

8.  Image Quality – Here, as always, I like to let the images speak for themselves.  I’ve tried to include a few samples that demonstrate both the depth of field capabilities and the low light performance.  Keep in mind – every image here was shot hand held!

Shallow DOF on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Shallow DOF #2 on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Selective Focus on the 85mm

Low Light - Handheld Sunset

Low Light - Hand held fire light

Fishing with shallow DOF

*Editor Note*  This review was done back in 2011, but still holds today after another rental session with this lens.  My review still stands!