The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is the 16th 85mm prime lens I've fully reviewed, and we tested ten additional such lenses in the lab. Of those twenty six 85mm lenses, only three had an aperture narrower than f/1.8.
Driving the popularity of these medium telephoto focal length lenses with a blur-inducing, dim-light-inviting wide aperture are bokeh-loving portrait photographers whose lens kits would be incomplete without a high quality, wide-aperture 85mm prime lens. Additionally, most photographers prize these lenses for a wide range of purposes.
The ultra-high image quality the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens delivers will only serve to increase the 85mm prime lens fan base.
Sigma already had the modern, high-performing Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens available in a Sony E-mount. Why was a replacement model needed? When you see the size and weight difference, that question will be solidly answered. The Sigma DN is considerably smaller and dramatically lighter than the HSM lens, and smaller and lighter than other 85mm f/1.4 lenses. Especially photographers who carry a lens for long periods will appreciate this Sigma DN lens.
"The 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is SIGMA's new “ultimate portrait lens” for the mirrorless age. And with it, SIGMA proposes a whole new world of possibilities provided by this “85mm F1.4 lens for everyday use,” thanks to the unprecedented level of portability, free from size- or weight-related limitations." [Sigma Corporation of America]
With a high-quality build and an attractive price accompanying the great specs and superior image quality performance of this lens, Sigma has created a winning model in the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens.
The 85mm focal length is an exceptionally popular one.
With a prime lens, you get one focal length, and that focal length provides a specific angle of view. That angle of view drives focus distance decisions for desired subject framing, and that resulting distance provides the perspective. While there are many uses for an 85mm lens, a standout use is, as already alluded to, portrait photography.
Primarily for perspective reasons, the classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm. An 85mm lens hits the bottom classic range figure on a full-frame camera and, if used on a camera with an APS-C format imaging sensor, the 127.5mm full-frame angle of view equivalent lands close to the top of this ideal range. An APS-C format camera requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full-frame camera and, therefore, will create more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture and subject framing.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video uses ranging from moderately-tight headshots to full body portraits, with a wide variety of potential venues including both indoors and outdoors.
Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups. Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle, etc. are great uses for the 85mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with an 85mm-provided angle of view. I have done entire senior sessions with an 85mm lens, and subjects always love the results produced by this focal length.
Portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing genres, helping to justify this lens's acquisition cost. Photos of most people are not available in stock libraries. I also argue that no subjects are more important than people.
People in action are in this lens' capabilities. Some sports, such as basketball and volleyball, can be captured with an 85mm lens, and thanks to the wide aperture, this lens can capture such action in very poorly-lit venues, including gymnasiums.
This focal length is well-suited for photographing products of all sizes, including food. This focal length can work very well for commercial uses, general studio photography applications, and a wide range of other subjects. This angle of view is inviting for architecture, street photography, and simply walking around, getting creative with whatever subjects you find.
Regardless of the camera format being used and like most focal lengths, 85mm can be useful for landscape photography. The short telephoto focal length will keep distant subjects relatively large in the frame.
To visualize where 85mm fits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from the Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens review.
The 85mm focal length is modestly longer than the 70mm focal length found on the long end of many standard 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lenses and is at the short end of the range covered by the 70-200mm zoom lenses.
The view into the front of this lens, taking in the large-diameter glass, is sweet.
With only a few exceptions, the f/1.4 max aperture made available by this lens is as wide as MILC lenses get. The wider the aperture, the more light that can reach the imaging sensor. Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits freezing action, handholding the camera in lower light levels and use of a lower (less noisy) ISO setting.
Increasing the opening also permits a more substantial, subject-isolating background blur. The shallow f/1.4 depth of field must be acceptable to the scenario, but a shallow depth of field is a highly-desired lens capability, perfect for making the subject pop from a blurred background. I love the shallow DOF look that draws the viewer's attention to the subject by eliminating background distractions. This capability also adds artistic-style imaging to this 85mm lens' capabilities list.
The following examples illustrate the background blur at each full-stop aperture.
The background is a significant percentage of many images, and when the background is not complementary to the subject (or even distracting), blurring it away is highly advantageous. That capability is in this lens's skill set.
Notable drawbacks to lenses that feature very wide maximum apertures are increased size and weight, directly reflecting the use of larger and heavier lens elements. Unfortunately, those larger elements are not only evidenced by the increased weight but also in the increased price of the lens.
For most photographers, the benefits of a wide max aperture prime lens far outweigh the drawbacks.
Note that, especially under full sun conditions, you might find even 1/8000 second shutter speeds not fast enough to avoid blown highlights in f/1.4 images. Use of a neutral density filter may be needed to keep images dark enough at f/1.4 under such conditions. Shooting with a narrower aperture always remains an option.
Sigma included an iris (aperture) ring on this lens model, permitting a ring-selected aperture. With the ring in the A (Auto) position, the camera controls the aperture setting. All other settings force the aperture to the selected opening, and a 2-position switch on the bottom-left side of the lens toggles between 1/3 stop clicks and smooth, quiet, non-clicked adjustments ideal for video recording. An iris ring lock switch on the right side of the lens enables only the A (Auto) setting or only the full range of manual settings to be locked.
The following is one more look at the maximum blur this lens can produce.
The details are gone, leaving a non-distracting backdrop for your subject to stand out within.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is not optically stabilized. Omitting the optical stabilization system reduces the size, weight, and cost of a lens. However, image stabilization is a very useful feature.
Fortunately, Sony takes care of that omission with Steady Shot IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) in their mirrorless cameras. On a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder, IBIS results in an unstabilized view, meaning that stabilization was not helpful for composition or for providing a still subject to the camera's AF system. With EVFs being prevalent in Sony's compatible E-mount lineup, the viewfinder image is directly from the imaging sensor, which is stabilized. Therefore, the viewfinder image is very nicely stabilized, and sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.
On a relatively shaky morning, I was able to get a high percentage of sharp results at 1/10 sec exposures, and results at 1/5 second were sharp at a high enough rate to be worth using this duration.
With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu must be used to enable or disable IBIS, an additional step that is annoying when speed is essential such as when going from tripod to handheld.
Could Sigma reduce the size of their 85mm f/1.4 Art lens so greatly without affecting the image quality we love in the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens? Remarkably, mostly yes is that answer.
In the center of the frame at f/1.4, this lens delivers excellent sharpness, and by f/2, the center of the frame results are razor sharp.
In general, lenses are not as sharp in the periphery, where light rays must be bent more strongly than in the center. This lens's peripheral performance is as impressive as its center of the frame performance. The center of the frame image quality description holds throughout most of the frame, with only the extreme corners rendering slightly soft at f/1.4. The improvement through f/2.8 is swift, and the corner image quality by f/5.6 is outstanding.
Below you will find sets of 100% resolution center of the frame crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a7R III. The images were processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method with the sharpening amount set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening, but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
Be sure to find details in the plane of sharp focus to base your opinions on.
Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture these images.
Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners in this case, can be counted on to show the worst performance a lens is capable of.
Corner sharpness does not always matter. When shooting at wide apertures, the corners are most often out of focus and not supposed to be sharp. Videos captured at typical wide-aspect ratios also avoid the use of corners. When detailed landscapes and architecture are in the viewfinder, peripheral performance matters greatly, and this lens works exceptionally well for these purposes.
In some lens designs, the plane of sharp focus can move forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected. This effect is called focus shift (residual spherical aberration or RSA), it is rarely desired, and this lens does not exhibit such.
An expectation from an ultra-wide-aperture lens mounted on a full-frame camera is that peripheral shading will be noticeable when the widest apertures are in use. That said, the about-2.5 stops of shading in this lens's corners is not bad. As the aperture narrows, evenness pushes out from the center of the frame until only the deep corners remain modestly shaded at f/11.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the just-under 1-stop of shading showing at f/1.4 may be visible in some images, especially those with a solid color showing in the corners (such as a blue sky).
One-stop of shading is the amount often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better not to have the problem in the first place. Color misalignment can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example. This is a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of an ultra-high resolution a7R III frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should only be black and white colors in this image, and these results are great.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to observe. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down, with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused, and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
In the examples below, look at the fringing colors of the foreground vs. background out of focus specular highlights. Any fringing color differences from the neutrally-colored subjects have been introduced by the lens.
Overall, this performance is good, though some color fringing differences remain at f/5.6.
Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting (but often destructive) artifacts. This lens performed very well in our sun in the corner of the frame testing, showing few flare effects even at f/16.
Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality.
Two lens aberrations are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma) or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The image below is a 100% crop taken from the top-left corner of an a7R III frame.
This performance is among the best I've seen from this test.
"Furthermore, by making the most of the in-camera aberration correction functionalities, SIGMA was able to concentrate on the correction of aberration that could be handled by the optical system alone, which further contributed to making the lens smaller in size." [Sigma Corporation of America] Geometric distortion was left to the camera or post-processing software to remove. This lens turns in some of the strongest pincushion distortion we have seen from a prime lens. Note that this lens's strong pincushion distortion is the reason its center-of-the-frame details appear smaller in our image quality tool.
I get that most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available that easily remove geometric distortion. However, that correction is destructive at the pixel level. Some portion of the image must be stretched using artificial intelligence, or the overall image dimensions must be reduced. Most will find the strong pincushion distortion this lens's biggest optical shortcoming.
As seen earlier in the review, the amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show, and wide-aperture telephoto lenses are advantaged in this regard. Assessing the quality is more challenging due in part to the infinite number of variables present among all available scenes. Here are some stopped down (for aperture blade interaction) examples.
The first example shows defocused highlights looking very nice, with the 11-blade aperture keeping these shapes round despite the aperture being stopped down six stops. The second f/11 example, captured outdoors, shows a pleasing blur of color. The f/8 example shows a full image reduced in size.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the corner of the frame does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the corner of the frame, the shape is not round, and that is the shape seen here.
While the corner shapes are not round until f/4, the amount of deformity is not strong. These test images were not framed with geometric distortion testing precision, but that effect is made obvious here.
The eleven blade count aperture creates 22-point sunstars from point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting. Wide aperture lenses usually produce the strongest sunstar effects. However, the star shown below is only mediocre in quality, likely in part due to the high blade count and rounded blade shape.
In regards to the design of this lens, Sigma Corporation of America states: "In addition to five SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements and one aspherical lens, the 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art has incorporated the latest high refractive index glass, which works to thoroughly correct aberrations that cannot be handled by the correction functionality on the camera side. With a particular emphasis given to the correction of axial chromatic aberration, users will enjoy sharp images with no color bleeding, all the way up to the maximum aperture of F1.4."
Overall, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens turns in impressive image quality. Primarily, geometric distortion is this lens's shortcoming.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens utilizes a stepping motor for AF.
This lens internally focuses rather quietly, with clicks and buzzing being slightly audible (expect the in-camera mic to pick up the sounds). The focus speed is relatively fast, though Sony cameras' normal defocusing prior to focusing increases lock time significantly in AF-S (single shot) mode. Focus accuracy has been very good, and Eye AF is supported.
FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in Sony's DMF (Direct Manual Focus) mode with the shutter release half-pressed or the AF-ON button pressed.
Sigma provides a customizable AF hold button on this lens. While in continuous focus mode, this button can be pressed to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, facilitating a focus and recompose technique. This button also acts as a custom button (C5) and can be programmed to another function using the camera's menu.
Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as the focus is pulled from one extent to the other, referred to as focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing negatively impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone very-critically framing while adjusting focus. This lens shows a normal/moderate change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made.
A focus distance window is not provided, but a focus distance meter shows in the lower portion of the camera's electronic viewfinder during manual focusing.
The rubber-coated, sharp-ribbed focus ring is large in size and, being raised from the lens barrel behind it, is easy to find. This ring is very smooth, has a nice amount of resistance, and, when turned slowly, the 1260° of MF rotation adjusts focusing at a rate allowing precise manual focusing even at close distances. This is a variable response MF ring - turn it quickly, and about 280° of rotation will complete the full extent focus adjustment. While I often prefer a linear response MF ring, this lens's multi-speed adjustment rate works well. This lens has an AF/MF switch, a feature that is going missing on many modern lenses, and one that I appreciate greatly.
With a minimum focus distance of 33.5" (850mm), this lens has a 0.12x maximum magnification spec., adequate and normal for this lens class, but exciting to none.
|Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.12x|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.13x|
|Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.14x|
A subject measuring approximately 9.9 x 6.6" (251 x 167mm) fills a full-frame camera's viewfinder at the minimum focus distance.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a reasonable decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, which allows shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. Sigma does not publish extension tube specs, nor do they manufacture these items, but third-party Sony extension tubes are available.
This lens is not compatible with Sigma teleconverters.
From aesthetic and construction perspectives, Sigma's Art lenses are beautifully built.
"In addition to the dust- and splash-proof structure, the lens uses materials such as aluminum and TSC (Thermally Stable Composite) where they are best suited, achieving a level of build quality that is worthy of the Art line. In addition to the durability of the body, the lens pursues quality in terms of how users “feel” as well, such as the smooth motion in which each ring or switch works, and the precise hand feeling." [Sigma Corporation of America]
Mounted on a low profile switch bank, the three easy to use 2-position switches (already discussed) click firmly into position with a white background displayed when the enabled position is selected.
As indicated in the Sigma quote, this lens has weather sealing, including a rear mount gasket.
Though not small, this lens is remarkably small and lightweight for an 85mm f/1.4 model, making it a favorable choice for long-term carry.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens||42.2||(1196.3)||4.1 x 4.6||(104.1 x 116.8)||82||2019|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens||33.5||(950)||3.5 x 4.1||(88.6 x 105.4)||77||2017|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens||22.2||(630)||3.3 x 3.7||(82.8 x 94.1)||77||2020|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||39.9||(1130)||3.7 x 5.0||(94.7 x 126.2)||86||2016|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens||28.9||(820)||3.5 x 4.2||(89.5 x 107.5)||77||2016|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens||13.1||(371)||3.1 x 3.2||(78.0 x 82.0)||67||2017|
|Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||24.7||(700)||3.3 x 3.6||(84.8 x 91.3)||67||2016|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.
My knuckles uncomfortably impact a sharp edge of the lens barrel when using the Sony a7R III and IV.
Sigma takes up the bookends in this visual comparison:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens to other lenses. I preloaded that link with another interesting comparison.
The Sigma 85 f/1.4 DN accepts front filters with 77mm threads. This size is not small, but it is extremely popular, making effects filter sharing easy.
Sigma includes the lens build quality matching LH828-02 lens hood in the box. This is a rather solid rounded plastic hood with a ribbed interior designed to avoid reflections. The hood offers a good amount of protection from impact and bright light, and the round shape allows the lens to stand on the hood. A release button makes installation and removal easy with the rubberized rear portion of the hood enhancing grip.
Sigma provides my favorite lens packing material in the box — a nice zippered padded nylon case. This case does not feature a neckstrap or attachments for such, but a belt loop is provided.
Priced well below the Sony alternative yet competing very strongly from optical and build standpoints, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is a great value.
The "DG" refers to full-frame camera compatibility, and the "DN" refers to short backfocus mirrorless cameras. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including APS-C sensor format models. It is also available in the Leica L mount.
Made in Japan, each lens is tested with Sigma's proprietary MTF measuring system, ensuring a quality product. Sigma provides a limited 1-year limited warranty, and Sigma USA provides a limited 3-year warranty extension. The reviewed Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens was online-retail sourced.
It usually makes sense to compare a lens with the manufacturer's most similar option, which in this case is the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens. While identically specified, there are some significant differences between these lenses.
In the image quality comparison at f/1.4, I see the Sigma lens being sharper in the center of the frame and slightly softer in the periphery. Which is better depends on where your subject will be positioned in the frame. By f/2, both lenses are razor sharp in the center, and the Sigma lens remains very slightly softer than the Sony lens in the periphery. Both lenses are incredible at f/2.8. The Sigma lens has considerably stronger geometric distortion.
In regards to specs and measurements, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens vs. Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens comparison shows the Sigma lens the better carry option, being noticeably smaller and considerably lighter. Otherwise, these lenses align very closely in most other factors. Not aligning are the price tags. The Sigma lens costs far less, a factor that will resolve the choice for many.
I mentioned earlier that Sigma has another 85mm f/1.4 lens available in the Sony E-mount, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. The image quality comparison at f/1.4 shows the two lenses performing similarly — both very sharp. Again, the Sigma DN lens has considerably stronger geometric distortion.
In regards to specs and measurements, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens vs. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens comparison shows two lenses at opposite ends of their class in terms of size and weight. The Sigma DN lens is over a pound (about 0.5 kg) lighter, far thinner, and noticeably shorter. The lens being thinner results in narrower (and more common) filter threads, 77mm vs. 86mm. The DN lens has 11 aperture blades vs. 9, and a stepping motor vs. a hypersonic motor (HSM) driving AF. At review time, these lenses share the same list price with the older HSM lens advantaged by a promotional discount.
Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is an aesthetically-beautiful, optically and physically high-performing lens in a useful focal length and aperture combination with a relatively small size, light weight, and low price. This lens delivers very sharp imagery, potentially with a strong background blur, without the burdensome size and weight of its predecessor and competitors, and with an affordable price.
I find the biggest negative factor for this lens to be the strong pincushion distortion that Sigma has handed off to software for correction.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is a smart choice for portraits and other 85mm needs. In the latter regard, you will find more needs if this lens is in your kit.
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