About this time last year, the Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art series lens was released and I went ahead and decided to pull the trigger and invest in the new glass. I had heard great things about other entries in the art lineup and understandably Sigma's new 85mm focal length was getting a solid amount of hype. For the past year, I have been shooting exclusively with Sigma's 85mm. It's been the only lens in my camera bag and the only lens I've used for a straight year. What follows are my impressions after a solid year of use; what I like about the lens and what I don't like.
Let's start out with some of the things that I love about this lens. After a year of continuous use, I can say that there is no question that the Sigma 85mm 1.4 is a great piece of glass. I am first and foremost a portrait photographer so the focal length itself is a no-brainer for me. As a short/medium telephoto lens, the 85mm gives me a gorgeous level of background compression, beautiful bokeh, and I don't need to be overly concerned with facial distortion if I come in for a closeup shot. It's been said before and will be said again that the 85mm focal length is pretty much perfect for portraits.
As I currently live in Colorado and have generally have access to gorgeous sunsets for most of the year I have developed a love for shooting backlit images. If you've ever shot backlit before, you know that depending on the angle and position of the sunlight, as well as your own preferences regarding lens flare, some lenses can be finicky about nailing focus. This is understandable as you're basically asking your camera to nail focus while either direct or angled light is coming right into the lens. I can say with confidence that the Sigma 85mm handles backlighting scenarios like a boss. This is one of the first things that I noticed about this lens; even in less than ideal backlit situations, the lens is wildly successful at getting great focus right where you want it.
When it comes to any new lens one thing people always want to know is, is it sharp? That's a complicated question to answer as there are many factors that go beyond the scope of the lens itself such as shooting style, camera settings, stability, lighting, etc. that all affect your image sharpness. Speaking only of the lens itself, yes it is very sharp lens though there is a catch. Expect to fine tune this lens for best results. Right out of the box (and I understand this to be quite common for Sigma glass) your lens will most likely not be perfectly tuned to your camera body. My 85mm is set to +14 via the in-body AF-fine tune Nikon settings, which is quite extreme as the scale only goes +/- 20. There is an official Sigma dock available that can be used to further fine tune your specific lens (make sure you get the Nikon dock for Nikon, Canon for Canon, and so on), though I have never used the dock and can't speak to how it compares with your in-body fine tuning.
Another always relevant question about any new lens is the price point. The Sigma 85mm is not an inexpensive lens and thus may not be right for everyone. At the time of purchase, I paid $1199 which was a colossal investment for me. After I received the lens, I sold my previous 85mm and my 50mm to recoup a bit of the cost, this would not have been an investment I could make otherwise. This resulted in my year-long endeavor of shooting exclusively with the Sigma. While I have no regrets about my decision to buy this lens, it has to be noted that the price point of the Sigma lens may make other available 85mm lenses better investments for different people depending on their budgets. Always weigh your options when it comes to investing in new gear and never feel that you have to go with a more expensive option if your budget doesn't allow for it.
My single largest issue with this lens is the same complaint I had when I first took it out of the box. This lens is enormous and extremely heavy, far too heavy in my opinion. Coming in at about 2.5 pounds this feels like a dumbbell mounted on my camera. For comparison, the Nikon 85mm 1.8 lens only weighs 0.77 lbs and the Nikon 85mm 1.4 lens only weighs 1.31 lbs. While this may not seem like a big deal to some, you should never underestimate the total weight of your setup. I have a battery grip on my D750 camera body and as the total weight of the setup increases, my ability to drop the shutter speed while hand holding and still remain stable enough for a sharp shot becomes an issue. This is going to vary from person to person as we all come in different sizes, some with steadier hands than others, but I have found that with the Sigma I am rarely comfortable dropping below 1/160th shutter speed and would much prefer to be around 1/200th or 1/250th. For context, with a Nikon 50mm 1.8 I am comfortable hand-holding with a shutter speed as low as 1/60th.
After one year of use, I can confidently say that I am pleased with the investment I made with this lens. It doesn't miss a beat in backlit lighting situations and after some expected fine tuning it is a wonderfully sharp lens. It is however quite pricey and much, much heavier than I would like. Is it right for you? That's a decision that you'll need to make for yourself and it depends on a number of factors like your budget and what you already have. If you'd like to see more images from me that I've taken over the last year, find me on Instagram and have a look at what I've shot with this lens. Let me know in the comments your experience with Sigma glass. Have you shot with this lens before? Do you have similar pros and cons to say about it? What about other entries to Sigma's Art series, what's been your experience?