I am definitely one of those photographer's whose favorite and go-to lens for portraits is the 85mm focal length. After loads of time spent with it, I can say that even now years later, the Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art is still pretty much the king.
Back in 2017, after having already spent a solid year shooting with the lens, I wrote an article about my thoughts and impressions. Fast forward to 2019 and I'm still shooting the same lens and wanted to update my relationship status with this lens. In a nutshell, it's an outstanding lens that I am glad to have invested in and rely heavily on when I'm out shooting portraits. That being said, no piece of gear or equipment is perfect and the 85mm Art is no different.
I recently used the rental service BorrowLenses (a really convenient way to check out gear ranging from lenses to camera bodies before a potential purchase) to compare the Sigma with Nikon's official equivalent the Nikkor 85mm 1.4 lens. I wanted to see if the Nikkor could perform as admirably in the areas the Sigma does while addressing my number one complaint about the Sigma Art line; the weight. The straight-to-the-point summary based on my own experience with both lenses is that the Sigma outperforms the Nikkor, plain and simple.
The problem for the Nikkor glass is a simple one: the Art lens is incredibly sharp at the wider apertures from f/2, f/2.2, f/2.5, and f/2.8 all while performing great in back-lit scenarios and focusing lightning quick. The opportunity for the Nikkor glass is also simple; it needs to be as sharp (or near as sharp), focus as efficiently, and be lighter in weight. Unfortunately, while the Nikkor glass is a pretty solid lens, the fact that I didn't find it to be as sharp coupled with the fact that it is approximately $300 more expensive make the Sigma the clear choice.
A couple observations about each of two lenses; first, the Nikkor glass seems to produce a somewhat warmer image with a slightly more green tint in the raw files. This isn't much of an issue as correction for this is very easy but I still found it interesting that the lens yielded a noticeable color difference in the raw files. Also, the Nikkor lens is noticeably lighter than the Sigma and thus more comfortable to shoot with in my opinion. I felt very confident dropping my shutter speed while shooting the Nikon 85 without introducing any camera shake. The Sigma however reliably produced sharper images with a slightly more pleasing (to my eye) bokeh in the background. When it comes to weight, the Sigma 85 is ridiculously heavy and even now remains my biggest complaint; I am generally not too confident dropping the shutter speed while shooting with the Sigma.
At the end of the day, both lenses are pretty solid and both are fully capable of delivery great images. I'm happy with my Sigma and at a $300 price difference for a piece of gear that I feel slightly outperforms the other, was the correct choice for me. If I'm shooting portraits, it's going to be my first choice and I know that it's not going to let me down. I think that regarding my relationship status with my Sigma 85mm, it was Rick Astley who so eloquently said, “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you.”