Perhaps no other Sigma Art series lens was more highly anticipated than the 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. And fortunately, Sigma delivered a great product. This is a beautifully designed lens that delivers very impressive, near-best-in-class image quality, at a very reasonable price. Though that sentence could aptly be applied to the rest of the Art series lenses, what makes this lens special among the others is the look it provides. That look is especially great for portraits and while photographers may first acquire it as a portrait lens, they will surely find themselves using the 85 Art lens for many other purposes, if for no other reasons than the great image quality and strong background blur it can create.
This lens' predecessor, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens, was itself a good lens – one of the best 85mm f/1.4 options at its introduction. So, the new Art lens did not have tremendous strides to take to become one of the best ever options. From my perspective, it was inconsistent autofocus accuracy that most-limited the EX lens, giving pause to those considering adding that lens to their kits. Does the 85 Art lens fix that issue? Determining the answer to that question was high on my to-do list.
With a prime lens, you get one focal length. This means that prime lens focal length selection is much more critical than choosing a zoom lens such as one of the 70-200mm options. What is the 85mm focal length good for? The standout use of the 85mm focal length is, as already hinted to, for portraits.
The classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm (after FOVCF is factored in). An 85mm lens hits the bottom classic range figure on a full frame DSLR and, at a 136mm angle of view equivalent on an APS-C 1.6x body, it essentially remains in the ideal portrait range on this format also. An APS-C format DSLR of course requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full frame DSLR (and therefore will have more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture).
Move in as close as moderately-tightly framed head shots or move back as far as you care to. Without modifying this lens' minimum focus distance, there is no perspective problem from getting too close and being too far away is seldom a problem.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing (from full body to head shots) and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from children to seniors and individuals to large groups. Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all 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 a wide aperture 85mm lens.
Helping to justify the high acquisition cost of this lens is that portrait photography is one of the most-revenue-producing genres and I argue that people are the most important subjects available.
The young lady in the above image was standing just under a porch roof on a cloudy day, a great scenario for soft lighting. This example also shows what an 85mm f/1.4 head shot can look like.
Regardless of the camera format being used, the 85mm focal length (like most others), can be used for landscape photography. Some sports, such as basketball, can be captured with an 85mm lens, and this lens can capture such events in very poorly-lit venues including gymnasiums. This focal length also works very well for architecture, products (medium through huge), commercial, general studio photography applications and a wide range of other subjects.
With only a few exceptions, the f/1.4 max aperture made available by this lens is as wide as DSLR lenses get, with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens being the most relevant exception. The wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits freezing action, handholding the camera in lower light levels and/or use of a lower (less noisy) ISO setting.
Increasing the opening also permits a stronger, better subject-isolating background blur (at equivalent focal lengths). The shallow f/1.4 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you in these circumstances, but shallow depth of field is a highly-desired lens capability, excellent for making the subject pop from a blurred background. I can't get enough of the shallow DOF look that draws the viewer's attention to the subject by eliminating the background distractions. This capability adds artistic-style imaging to this 85mm lens' capabilities list.
F/1.4 enables the higher precision AF capabilities (most often the center AF point) in all cameras supporting this feature and presents a bright viewfinder image. This wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, under shade and when shooting indoors, including indoors using only ambient window light.
Note that, especially under full sun conditions, even a 1/8000 shutter speed will not likely be fast enough to avoid blown highlights in f/1.4 images. Use of a neutral density filter will be needed to keep images dark enough at f/1.4 under such conditions. Shooting with a narrower aperture of course remains an option.
A useful focal length and wide aperture are great to have, but if the lens does not deliver in the image quality department, it will not generate much desire to own or use even with those traits. With zoom lenses now delivering what we previously considered prime-grade image quality, more than ever we buy prime lenses for their ultra-wide apertures and that off course means that wide open image quality is paramount. Not that long ago, using a short telephoto prime lens at its widest aperture meant sacrificing image quality, especially sharpness. Times are changing and there has never been a better time to be a photographer.
While few of us buy lenses to shoot test charts with, the charts are quite revealing to the performance a lens delivers. The black and white chart details make many flaws readily visible. And the good news it that the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens rocks this test. This lens performs very impressively at f/1.4 and with a slight contrast improvement at f/2, this lens is basically unphased by the ultra-high resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R test camera. All four extreme full frame corners appear identical and they are only very slightly less sharp than the center of the frame. The biggest stopped down difference seen in the corner is reduction of vignetting.
This lens delivers great image quality and the best reason to stop it down is to gain depth of field if desired.
Moving to a 3-dimensional subject provides a look at sharpness in the field and shows some additional traits of this lens. The following images were captured in RAW format with an EOS 5Ds R and processed in Canon's DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1".
I should point out that sharpening can completely change the appearance of a lens' performance. Increase the sharpness setting and even a mediocre-performing lens can appear to deliver sharp-looking images. However, sharpening is destructive to image details and the end result is not as good as capturing a sharp image in the first place. My standard DPP sharpness setting for the 5Ds R (a natively very sharp camera) with a sharp lens is "1" unless I use an aperture narrow enough to show diffraction and in that case, I'll often go to "2".
The following examples, from the center of the frame, are cropped to 100% resolution.
There are a few things I want to point out in these images. The first is that that the f/2 aperture shows a slightly more noticeable increase in contrast over f/1.4 than the chart does. Another aspect made visible here is a very slight shift of the center of depth of field slightly rearward (watch the left-most bud relative to the top-left details when changing the aperture selection), though the subject remains adequately covered within DOF. Also, the second set of examples reveals some color fringing. Look for purple bordering the foreground twigs and green surrounding the background tree trunks and branches. I'll discuss this issue later in the review. Note that the "Sharpened" f/1.4 samples were given a light high pass sharpening in Photoshop and provide an example of how additional sharpening can affect these results.
Let's take a look at corner performance next. These 100% crop samples are similarly-processed to the above and taken from the extreme bottom right corner of the 5Ds R frame.
Turning in corner results this nice places this lens among an elite group.
An ultra-wide aperture lens is expected to have some vignetting at its widest apertures, but the approximately 2 stops of full frame corner shading at f/1.4 is relatively mild. That amount of shading drops to just over 1 stop at f/2, an amount that's just-noticeable in some photos. The shading drops from visibility in most images by f/2.8 (about 0.6 stops). At f/4, the vignetting drops slightly to about 0.4 stops with no further decrease seen at narrower apertures. Overall, this performance is very good.
It would be much easier to design a lens if the all wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum refracted identically. But they don't and hence we get aberrations caused by various wavelengths of light being magnified and focused differently.
The easiest type of CA (Chromatic Aberration) to recognize is lateral (or transverse) CA. This aberration shows as different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii). The periphery of the image circle is most affected as this is where the greatest difference in magnification of wavelengths exists. A typical benefit of a prime lens over a zoom lens (at least over the longest and shortest focal lengths in a zoom lens) is a low amount of lateral CA.
While lateral CA is easily software corrected by radially shifting the colors to coincide, much better is to have none in the first place. And, this lens again shows its optical greatness in this regard, showing a negligible amount of lateral CA. Here is a 100% near-extreme corner crop taken from a 5Ds R image. The strong lines of contrast running tangentially will quickly show this defect and ... there is essential no color fringing seen here.
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) is another common lens aberration to look for, especially in an ultra-wide aperture lens. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while 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. These defects are what we saw in the second set of center crops in the sharpness example above. Here is a set that makes this defect more clear (the processing is again the same as described above).
Purple fringing encircles the foreground elements while background elements have green fringing with the amount of fringing decreasing as the aperture is narrowed. The second f/1.4 example shows a strong case of purple fringing. The aperture range examples also show a hint of focus shift as mentioned earlier in the review.
This lens avoids flare quite well. Note that a totally clear day did not happen during my time with this lens, but I really wanted a solid flare test and made the most of what was available. The good news is that this lens has standard flare test results available in the site's tool. The bad news is that there is a slight haze in the sky, potentially reducing flare effects very slightly. Still, I think this lens performs well in this regard.
Comatic aberration, or more-simply, "coma", is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma is most visible in wide aperture corners and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. The pin-point stars in the night sky are the subject that makes this aberration, along with some others, including astigmatism, most easily recognizable to me. Here is an extreme top-right 5Ds R f/1.4 corner crop captured at 10-seconds (without a tracking mount, but with the camera pointed toward a section of the northern sky where rotational effects are minimized).
The amount of coma is mild with some astigmatism stretching the stars the other direction.
One of many good reasons to buy a prime lens (vs. a zoom) is for low linear distortion and that reason applies to this one. The Sigma 85 f/1.4 Art Lens shows a negligible amount of distortion. Feel free to run straight lines along the edge of the frame as they will show no curvature in the image.
One of the many good reasons to buy an 85mm f/1.4 lens is for the background blur that it can create. Along with the strong blur capability this lens has, the quality of that blur appears nice. Here is an example of out of focus specular highlights in a blurred background.
The above image is a 100% crop captured at f/5.6, illustrating the effect the 9-blade aperture has on image results. Though the blades can be clearly seen at this sample, the overall shape of the highlights is relatively round and, aside from a smudge showing near the center, they are very smoothly filled.
Point light sources captured with a narrow aperture will show 18-point stars that can look like this:
From an overall image quality standpoint, this lens performs very well with wide aperture axial/spherical/spherochromatism issues being the only downside worthy of consideration.
To date, all of Art lenses feature Sigma's HSM (Hypersonic Motor) driving AF and this statement covers the 85 f/1.4 Art Lens. This lens' predecessor also had an HSM AF system, but according to Sigma's press release, "A re-engineered AF system brings 1.3X the torque of its predecessor, while other features such as a full-time manual focus override have been added, which can be controlled when the focus ring is rotated, even during continuous AF."
Without doing a side-by-side comparison, I can't tell if that "torque" difference is noticeable, but autofocus happens reasonably quickly with short distance changes. Focus at 3' (1m) and then at 20' (6m) and you will not likely consider the word "fast" for a descriptor as you wait for the subject to come into focus. Especially in lower light levels, some minor autofocus distance adjustments are often made after the initial focus acquisition, increasing the overall AF lock times of even shorter distance adjustments. While this lens may not be the fastest-focusing model available today, it focuses fast enough to be adequate for most intended uses.
You can check off the quiet focusing checkbox for this lens. Even in a quiet environment, only a quiet shuffling ("shhhh") is heard during focusing. Focusing is internal and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported (unless intentionally disabled using the Sigma Dock).
With an ultra-wide telephoto lens being able to produce very shallow depth of field, AF system accuracy takes on increased importance – far more importance than autofocus speed to most of us. A mis-focused image heads straight to the trash can most of the time and AF accuracy performance testing is always a high priority for me. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, AF accuracy was the biggest detractor from the predecessor EX model lens, heightening my sensitivity level to this issue on the new one. After capturing over 600 tripod-based images of various subjects strictly for the purpose of testing AF, each capture starting in an out-of-focus condition, I found that this lens focuses consistently accurately. Not every image is perfectly sharp, but a very considerable percentage of them are. Expect peripheral AF points to be slightly less accurate than the center, but they are still working mostly well for me.
When photographing at near minimum focus distance such as for head shots, this lens has extremely shallow depth of field. So shallow that even the eyelashes are modestly out of focus if the iris is in sharp focus or vice versa. I point this out now because, if handholding this lens for portraits, you and the subject are not perfectly motionless. And, you may focus on the eye, but the camera gets to determine if the eyelashes or the iris are the subject, adding some additional variability. Both you and the subject should probably then hold your breath because even the little bit of movement that activity causes can take precise focus off of your subject's eye.
My advice is to not avoid, but seek out these shots because they look awesome. However, you might want take multiple photos to ensure that you get the one you want. Of course, if the subject's face isn't square to the camera, the other eye will be out of focus. Focus on the closer eye and don't worry about the sharpness of the other.
As illustrated earlier, the 85 Art has a small amount of focus shift rearward as it is stopped down. Most will not find the amount to be a problem and of course, there is no shift at f/1.4.
Focus calibration is also a key to accurate focusing and compatibility with the Sigma Dock (more later) ensures that this issue, if it were to exist, can be easily resolved. Cameras with the autofocus microadjustment feature also have the ability to adjust calibration in-camera.
When this lens' focus distances are changed significantly, expect subjects change size a noticeable amount. While this attribute is not unusual, photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques involving focus distance adjustment should be aware. Videographers pulling focus are sometimes also concerned about this attribute. When critical framing is necessary, focus should be fine-tuned while adjusting subject distance.
Sigma provides a small depth of field scale on the focus distance window of this lens, though f/8 and f/16 are the only marks provided.
The 85 Art lens' manual focus ring is ... massive. This ribbed 2.6" (67mm) long, 3.7" (95mm) diameter ring consumes much of the length of the lens. You will have no problem finding it. Although very large in the hand, the focus ring is very smooth, has no play and has ideal resistance. The 142° of rotation provides for ideal manual focusing precision over the entire focus distance range.
The 85 Art lens breaks no ground in regards to MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and the related MM (Maximum Magnification). This lens performs essentially the same as the other wide aperture 85mm prime options – and below average for lenses in general.
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens||37.4"||(950mm)||0.11x|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens||33.5"||(850mm)||0.12x|
|Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.12x|
|Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||34.4"||(875mm)||0.20x|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.12x|
|Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.14x|
|Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.13x|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.12x|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.10x|
The following image was captured at this lens' MFD.
The tufted titmouse sitting on the basket is about 6" (150mm) in length. The bird is obviously not filling the frame, but ... the lens focuses close enough to create a nice image with the shallow f/1.4 depth of field making the bird the clear subject despite the busy scene. This 5Ds R photo was captured handheld at 1/200 (ISO 200), so ... this is potentially not showing the ultimate sharpness this lens can attain, but I thought this image's Sharpness = "1" results looked very good at 100% and thought you might appreciate seeing another real-life result. The "Sharpened" example had a light high pass sharpening applied to it in PS.
You may find yourself wanting to focus closer than this lens natively permits and a good option for making the shorter focus distance possible is via extension tubes. By positioning the lens farther away from the camera, extension tubes permit the lens to focus at a closer distance, increasing MM, but infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an ET in use.
This lens is not compatible with Sigma teleconverters, another option commonly used to increase MM.
With the Global Vision series, Sigma introduced a modern, classy-looking, tightly-dimensioned, high-quality design for their lenses and those basic design qualities continue to be infused into each new GV lens. These lenses feel as great as they look, a feature that increases their fun-to-use factor.
While the most recently introduced Sigma EX lenses are nice and they are a major improvement over their predecessors, the GV lenses are nicer still. The image above shows the EX predecessor to the left of the 85mm Art lens. The enormity of the focus ring becomes more apparent in this comparison, as does the overall size increase of this lens.
As I've already mentioned the focus distance window and covered the barrel-consuming focus ring, there is not much left to talk about in the product images. Remaining is the AF/MF switch that, like the rest of the Art lenses, has a white background indicator when in the AF position. The switch is firm and slightly challenging to change with gloves on. There is sufficient space on the fixed barrel to grasp the lens when mounting or dismounting it from the camera and a nearly 180° section of the barrel is mold-ribbed to facilitate this task.
This lens has some weather sealing, including a rear gasket seal as seen below.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens seems very well constructed, but this is a big lens. An 85mm full frame lens with an f/1.4 aperture requires significantly large lens elements, but this one is among the biggest.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens||36.2 oz||(1025g)||3.6 x 3.3"||(91.5 x 84.0mm)||72mm||2006|
|Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens||33.5 oz||(950g)||3.5 x 4.1"||(88.6 x 105.4mm)||77mm||2017|
|Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||23.3 oz||(660g)||3.4 x 3.3"||(86.2 x 84.0mm)||77mm||2010|
|Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens||18.2 oz||(516g)||3.1 x 3.1"||(78.0 x 78.0mm)||72mm||2011|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||39.9 oz||(1130g)||3.7 x 5.0"||(94.7 x 126.2mm)||86mm||2016|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens||25.6 oz||(725g)||3.4 x 3.4"||(86.4 x 87.6mm)||77mm||2010|
|Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||57.9 oz||(1640g)||4.6 x 5.2"||(115.9 x 131.5mm)||105mm||2018|
|Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens||39.9 oz||(1130g)||3.6 x 4.5"||(91.4 x 114.9mm)||82mm||2017|
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens||28.9 oz||(820g)||3.5 x 4.2"||(89.5 x 107.5mm)||77mm||2016|
|Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||24.7 oz||(700g)||3.3 x 3.6"||(84.8 x 91.3mm)||67mm||2016|
|Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens||42.4 oz||(1200g)||4.0 x 4.9"||(101.0 x 124.0mm)||86mm||2014|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens||45.2 oz||(1280g)||3.5 x 4.4"||(90.0 x 113.0mm)||77mm||2015|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens||20.1 oz||(570g)||3.0 x 3.4"||(77.0 x 86.0mm)||72mm||2008|
While the latest two Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lenses are slightly heavier and wider than the 85 Art lens, the Sigma is slightly longer than both of these. For many more comparisons, review the complete Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
In addition to the 85 Art lens being large in your hand, you are going to feel the weight of this lens when using it for long periods of time, though it is not crazy heavy. In use, the inertia provided by the weight makes it easy hold the lens steady. In use on a tripod, this lens will cause even a good tripod head to sag slightly (it almost needs a tripod ring for better balance).
Lining up many of the lenses from the above table makes it easier to visualize their size differences. Note that these lenses are aligned on their mounts and that the Sigma Art lens has a shallower lens cap, making it appear to be positioned higher than the others.
Positioned above from left to right are the Zeiss Classic, Canon L, Nikon, Tamron, Sigma EX, Zeiss Milvus, Zeiss Otus and, rising above the rest, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens.
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
To fit all of those lenses into one reasonably narrow image made each lens rather small, but much larger comparison images are available using the product image comparison tool. I preloaded that comparison to get you started and here is another that you may find interesting.
I have a lot of filters in my kit, but none are 86mm as required by this lens. I'm sure that I am not alone in this regard and for us, filters, if desired, will be an additional expense. And, these large filters are not the least expensive out there. I do have a 95mm circular polarizer filter in my kit and could opt for an inexpensive step-up filter adapter ring to meet this need. As I mentioned earlier in the review, those wanting to use f/1.4 on a sunny day may need at least a 2-stop ND filter.
The 85 Art lens ships with a lens hood included. This hood is large in size, affording a nice amount of protection to the lens from both impact and flare-inducing light. The hood is strong molded plastic-constructed with only a slight amount of flex (good for absorbing impact). The interior of the hood is ribbed to avoid reflections and a small portion of the exterior mount area is rubberized for easier grip.
Sigma Art lenses come in a nicely padded, double-zippered case. A shoulder strap is provided, but a belt loop is not.
Sigma's Global Vision lenses get a classification of "A", "C" or "S", representing a primary Sigma-intended use of "Artistic", "Contemporary" and "Sports". A full description of these categories can be found in the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens press release.
Sigma has been introducing some very nice lenses in the Global Vision series, but I have never been a fan of the narrow categorization structure. This of course is an "Art" lens and as such, gets an "A" stamped in a classy chrome circle on the lens barrel. Don't limit the lens' use to its letter designation.
A great feature of the Global Vision lenses is compatibility with the Sigma Dock. The dock, working in conjunction with the Sigma Optimization Pro software, allows the lens' firmware to be updated (bug fixes, compatibility updates, feature enhancements, etc.) and allows precise autofocus calibration at four distances. FTM focusing can also be disabled/controlled via the dock. Here are some screen grabs showing some of the functionality.
The focus calibration values were set for illustration purposes only.
While the price of this lens is reaching into the mid-tier of lenses overall, it seems like a bargain to me. The optical performance compares to or exceeds that of lenses costing far more and that AF is included gives it a great advantage over many of those competing most strongly on the optical front.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon and Sigma mounts and this qualifies for Sigma's Mount Conversion Service in case you change your mind. My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Sigma reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer electronics and algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Usually a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer via a firmware update, but this cannot be guaranteed. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Compatibility with the Sigma USB Dock is risk reducing as Sigma can release firmware updates for dock-compatible lenses. Sigma USA's 4-year warranty is superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty (Sigma's international warranty is also 1 year).
The review lens was acquired retail/online.
Most major lens manufacturers offer at least one ultra-wide aperture 85mm lens and that means there are many lenses the 85 f/1.4 Art Lens can be compared to.
The first I'll address is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM Lens. While the Canon has a 1/3 stop wider aperture, the Sigma handily beats it in sharpness at f/1.4 with less axial/spherical aberration and holds the edge through f/4. The Canon has electronic manual focusing, extends with focusing and has one less aperture blade (8 vs. the Sigma's 9). The Canon has slightly more distortion and slightly less vignetting when stopped down. The Canon is slightly lighter, is noticeably shorter, uses smaller filters and is considerably more expensive.
The next lens I'll compare the 85 Art to is this lens' predecessor, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens. I liked this lens a lot, though I found its AF consistency to leave me wanting. I'm finding the new lens to be much improved in that regard. The Art lens is even sharper than the also-good-performing EX, especially in the mid and periphery of the image circle, including stopped down a couple of stops. The EX lens is smaller, lighter, not-dock compatible and, if you can still find it on the shelf, modestly less expensive. The Art version is well worth the difference in price.
Zeiss currently has three 85mm f/1.4 lenses in its lineup, the Classic, the Milvus and the Otus. While all three of these lenses are extremely well built, none offers autofocus, a significant Sigma advantage for many purposes. The prices of the Zeiss lenses compared to the Sigma range from slightly higher (the Classic), to substantially higher (the Milvus) and on up to extremely higher (the Otus).
From an image sharpness perspective, the Sigma outperforms the Classic, is slightly sharper than the Milvus and even challenges the Otus. Note that the Otus we tested was slightly soft in the upper right portion of the frame, causing it to slightly underperform in this comparison. Compare the good corners and the Otus is at least as good. Compare axial/spherical/spherochromatism performance and the Otus comes out on top, followed by the Milvus with the Sigma trailing these other two lens. The Sigma shows less vignetting at f/1.4 than the Milvus and slightly less than the Otus and Classic, but the Zeiss lenses have slightly less at narrow apertures.
The Zeiss lenses utilize approximately twice as much zoom ring rotation to cover the similar focus range. The Sigma weighs twice as much as the Classic and slightly less than the Milvus and Otus. The filter size comparison is 72mm for the Classic, 77mm for the Milvus and the 86mm size is shared by the Sigma and the Otus.
Tamron does not field an f/1.4 entrant in the 85mm comparison, but their 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens holds another advantage – vibration control. If the subject is not moving, the Tamron is able to be handheld in much lower light levels than the f/1.4 options. The f/1.4 lenses can stop action in lower light levels and can create a stronger background blur. In a perfect world, we would not have to choose between these options, but today ... this choice must be made.
From an image sharpness perspective, the Sigma is sharper in the center of the frame at f/1.4 than the Tamron is at f/1.8 and remains so even when stopped down a bit. The Tamron has slight pincushion distortion. The Sigma has less vignetting until f/5.6 where they equalize and I found the Sigma to focus accurately more consistently than the Tamron. The Tamron is smaller, lighter, uses smaller 67mm filters, has a slightly higher MM and has a noticeably lower price tag.
With impressive 85mm f/1.4 image quality in a beautiful, well built lens with autofocus and a reasonable price, this is the portrait lens that a lot of photographers have been waiting for. While the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens, overall, is one of the greatest 85mm lenses ever made, the lack of image stabilization and bit of axial CA/spherical aberration/spherochromatism leave the door cracked open just slightly for a competitor to one-up it. But, for now and for most people, this is the 85mm lens to get. Most, if not all, of your portrait and other 85mm needs will be well served with this lens.
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