Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Versus Canon 85mm f/1.2L II Shootout: Which Wins?

The new Art Series of lenses from Sigma have been getting some outstanding reviews since their release, so how does the 85mm f/1.4 Sigma Art lens stack up against the tried, trusted, and far more illustrious Canon 85mm f/1.2L II?

In this review, popular photographer Julia Trotti takes the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens and puts it through some tests in a variety of situations and scenarios. In the first section, she pairs the lens with a Sony a7 III and a Metabones adapter for Canon mounts and shoots a model in good light during the day. Some of her key observations were that the lens worked flawlessly with the adapter and was super fast to focus. Interestingly, she noted that when she'd tried some native Canon lenses paired with the Sony a7 III and an adaptor, she'd experienced some lag issues with them. 

In the second part of the review, Trotti puts the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens up against the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens. She uses both on a Sony a7 III and a Canon 5D Mark IV. The key takeaways were:

  • The Sigma has a rear focus element whereas the Canon has a front focus element
  • The Canon's bokeh was a little softer and creamier than the Sigma's
  • The Canon's colors were a little warmer straight out of the camera
  • The Sigma had less lens flare (which could be a good or bad thing depending on your artistic tastes)

The most interesting part for me was that, at a certain distance (when Trotti tried to get all of the model's body in the frame), the Sigma struggled to find focus quite a bit. The example photos show many that are blurry and pretty much unusable. Up close, the Sigma was outstanding, but at that particular distance, it was very hit and miss.

The reason my eyes lit up when I saw this is that I recently got my hands on the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. I debated long and hard whether to go with that or the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. I opted for the Sigma, but in my limited use so far, I've found that it misses focus more than I like in certain scenarios. I've played with all manner of settings but haven't been able to nail down settings to guarantee a 95 percent or greater keeper rate on shots just yet.

Make no mistake, when the Sigma does get it right, the results are absolutely outstanding, and Trotti's review here confirms as much. But for a new lens that is priced at close to $1,000, I can't say I'm 100 percent sold just yet, even though I absolutely love the results when they do come out right.

What about you? What have your experiences been with any Sigma Art Lenses, particularly the 85mm f/1.4 Art Lens reviewed here or the 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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Previous comments

And so are you, because you don't realize how wrong you are LOL and you have no data to back up your fluff talk. Sorry kid

The "data" is right in front of your face in this very article, as well as user comments here. However as I said, you're free to live in denial. Have a great life!

The 85mm f/1.2L II didn't come out I'm 2013, it came out in 2006, which makes this lens 12 years old. And if that wasn't enough, the Mark II is exactly the same optical design as the Mark I, with new coatings, focusing motor, but that one came out in 1989!!! It's old, period. You may want to check your facts before you go challenging people on the internet, because you sound like you don't know what tf you're talking about.

@Mood Translator,

Do you really think that Canon's 85 1.2 L is ready to resolve 50+ megapixels at f/1.2, or even at f/1.4? And not just in the dead-center of the frame, but in the corners, or even just the rule-of-thirds area?

Normally I would agree with you; there are plenty of lenses that are 10-20+ years old which still produce GORGEOUS results.

However, this particular context is about fast primes for portraiture, and high-megapixel cameras are now involved.

Simply put, both the Canon 85 1.4 L IS, and the Sigma 85 Art, /destroy/ the Canon 85 1.2 L II, especially if you care about the corners.

Literally, the ONLY thing the Canon 85 1.2 offers, is that number, f/1.2. A small fraction of a stop. And thanks to vignetting and poor image quality overall, there's not much to that extra fraction of a stop, aside from the number itself. The quality of bokeh itself can be improved even at a smaller aperture. The vignetting of a lens can be improved such that it is literally brighter overall when it comes to total light transmission.

Simply put, you have to WANT the "dreamy look" of slightly SOFT images, in order for the 85 1.2 L II to be a better choice. And hey, that's fine! I like the dreamy look too. But, let's call a spade a spade.

Oh, and let's not even open the can of worms that is autofocus speed / consistency, at max aperture.

Poor image quality? What are you taking about. How does the others lenses "destroy" the 85mm 1.2 besides a little bit of sharpness in the corners lol

To many, "a little bit of sharpness in the corners" is a world of difference.

Hey, if you shoot at f/2.2 or smaller all the time, and value the color, contrast and bokeh that the 85 1.2 L offers, (and if you think it differs greatly from the newer 85 1.4 L, and if you don't mind the sluggish AF) ...then the 85 1.2 L is a very high-end tool.

But, yeah, very poor image quality indeed, if you value ~f/1.4 image quality in the corners. Sorry!

Poor image quality means you need a better camera, sorry!

I think she already owned the Canon and rented out the Sigma for the purposes of comparison

I figured as much, but such a comparison isn't really very useful for shoppers who don't yet own either lens, since the Canon 85 1.4 L makes so much more sense to NEW buyers, at this point.

Apples and apples is always perfect but I suppose this isn’t too far off. And if you calibrate tje Sigma and get it right, I’m not sure the Canon makes “so much more sense”. Variety is the spice of life and all that

Very well done video clear and great storyboard natural talent speaking about the subject matter good job!

Confused were both lenses tested on both camera bodies or was the canon on the canon and the sigma on the Sony if so what about the Sony on the Sony. from the focus issues in the video seems like only face recognition was use and not eye AF. can both bodies due eye AF left or right?
"they'll show focusing speed and accuracy by showing you how quickly the camera draws a green box around the subject. However, once you get the shot back to the computer and zoom in, you'll discover that it was out of focus despite getting focus confirmation" This is consistent with my experience especially with burst shooting at close range and shallow depth of field using f 1.4 which is so thin that 99% of images never benefit from that wide opening using AF up close.

Shooting a F1.2 or F1.4 is never a great idea if you need to get the shot for real with out being on legs unless you are capturing enough images to get one lucky one! The AF in any camera system will always focus on the eyelashes not the eyeball therefore you will never get the perfect focused shot when you look at the image on your screen at 100% not to mention at 1.4 or 1.2 the distance of DOF at a camera being 6-8ft from the subject is the same as the tip of the eyelash to the eyeball PRACTICALLY SPEAKING with an 85mm lens.

I agree. For all intents and purposes I really don't see a pressing need to shoot portraits at f/1.2. Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should.

I have the Sigma 85 and I use it all the time on my 1DX and its incredible, I have had problems before, but very rarely, with it hunting for focus. My Sigma 35mm art on the other hand is verrrry hit or miss and I tend to not rely on it for bigger moments as it like to miss more than hit when shooting from further distances while at 1.4. So I would highly recommend the 85, it wasn't really a lens I needed as a sports shooter, but man I don't regret buying it at all its the sharpest lens in my bag, and I have a 400 2.8.

I believe the problem she was having with the Sigma in full length shots were because of the foliage texture which the Sigma's higher contrast made the AF system lock to it. Camera AF systems typically lock on to fences, slats, and other high contrast surfaces, especially if the lens is sharper.

L lenses have been superb for many years.. my first choice for the price, unless I really want to go cheap :D

Maybe the answer is the Canon 85mm 1.8
Reliable and consistant.
Sigma lenses are heavy, AF a weakness.

Good point. You get a bit of CA and it isn't stabilized, but at $399 Canadian, it's a true gem.