As I mentioned in my last blog post, I purchased a new lens, the Sigma 85mm EX DG HSM f1.4. This quick review is from using a full frame Nikon D700 camera with this lens. I typically only buy Nikon lenses, so I have some top of the line lenses to compare the Sigma too, such as the latest Nikon 24-70 f2.8. Nikon’s high end lenses have incredible optics and lens coatings that really control typical problems like chromatic aberration and lens flare. My main concern is taking the highest quality pictures possible, currently Nikon’s 85mm f1.4 lens is $1700 vs $1000 for the Sigma which is a nice difference, but the big problem is you just can’t buy Nikon’s version. I checked all of Nikon’s authorized dealers and I just can’t find it in stock. I had read really good reviews of the Sigma lens from photographers such as Ryan Brenizer that I really respect, so I decided I would give it a try.
First of all, the lens has beautiful Bokeh, or the nice smooth out of focus areas in the background and foreground. At f1.4, you are going to get a very shallow depth of field, a very small area of the picture that is in focus. However, different lenses even at the same aperture, can vary a lot in the quality of the out of focus area or Bokeh. The out of focus areas of a picture can be as important as the in focus areas. I included the first shot below, not as an example of a really good picture, but because I wanted to show the quality of the Bokeh. If you notice there is very little flare from the sun, even in the harsh lighting conditions. The spots of light coming through the trees have turned into beautiful rounded discs, this means there is a high quality rounded aperture. Of course I knew the Bokeh would be nice from the reviews I had read.
Focus and handling of the lens is really something you need hands on time with to know if it works for you. My Nikon lenses such as the 24-70 and 70-200 focus extremely fast on the Nikon D700 body. I knew the Sigma would not be that fast, but I’m pleasantly surprised with how quickly and spot on it locks the focus. I occasionally miss focus on a shot, but it always seems to be my fault. When you are shooting wide open at f1.4 you have to be really careful to keep your subject in focus, it’s almost impossible if they are moving. I actually was more afraid of shooting at f1.4 than I should have been, almost all my shots had almost perfect focus, or at least close enough it looked good.
To sum up my quick review, so far I’ve found the Sigma to have excellent focus, beautiful Bokeh, and fast performance. I haven’t tried it in low light yet such as at a wedding reception, so I will see how it goes. But so far I’m more than happy with the results I’ve been getting. I hope you enjoy some of the shots below, they were all shot with the Sigma 85mm wide open at f1.4. I’ll update this after using the lens more this summer, so far it seems like an excellent addition to my always growing bag of gear.
Note: If the things I talked about in the post sound confusing, there are lots of links that explain everything. You will learn a lot if you check them out.
Update to this article: A few days after I wrote this I actually found the Nikon version of this lens in stock at the Nikon store for $1699. I ordered this and will likely be returning the Sigma. Everything I said about the Sigma is true, it’s a fantastic lens. So why did I get the Nikon? It’s all about build quality. I was getting frustrated at my recent wedding because it was raining and I knew the Sigma is not weather sealed. While the picture quality is fantastic, I use my lenses so much and in such harsh conditions I decided I should go with the Nikon. Nikon builds their high end lenses like a tank, and while the build quality of the Sigma is fine, I decided I would prefer the weather sealing of the Nikon. But if you aren’t a pro, get the Sigma. It’s great for normal use.