Review: Sigma 85mm 1.4 Lens

The 85mm focal length has always been my favorite for portrait provides the perfect working distance between the subject and I, at least for my tastes. About a year ago, I bought the Nikon 85mm 1.4D lens. I absolutely loved the lens, and was blown away at how elegantly it melted the backgrounds away in my images. The lens was a champ in good light, showing crazy sharpness wide open at 1.4, but started to show noticeable weaknesses in low light and contrasty light. I found out that the lens (at least my copy), struggled in indoor and night settings, which was when I needed it the most for my wedding work. I'd get a lot of misses on the AF, and couldn't rely on it 100%. In addition, I found out the lens couldn't handle strongly backlit subjects at all. The AF would fail to lock on, and would just zip through its focus range without achieving focus. As much as I loved the lens (it rendered the best skin tones I've ever seen in a Nikon lens), I finally sold it due to the AF. 

 There were two candidates to fill the space in my lineup: The Nikon 85mm 1.4G lens, and the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens. The Nikon had been nearly impossible to find, and most places were selling it for $2K+ because it was in such limited supply, but high demand. I had been eyeing the Sigma 85mm 1.4 when it came out about a year and a half ago, and decided to look into the lens more. I went online, reading a ton of lens reviews, from top wedding and portrait shooters. They had a lot of good things to say about the Sigma, and it significantly raised my interest in the lens. I finally decided to bit the bullet and bought the Sigma. All I can say is I'm glad I did. 
Build Quality: While the Sigma doesn't have the same build quality as its Nikon counterparts, it is still very well made by my standards. The outer body is constructed of a sturdy, dense, plastic, and it has a smooth, matte finish, which doesn't chip off like Sigma's older EX lenses. The lens has a metal mount, which interestingly is slightly wider than the Nikon F mount, so the lens mount is visible when it is mounted on the camera. 

I love the focus ring on the lens! It is smooth, well dampened, and easy to grab.  There is a AF - M switch that allows you to use the focus ring during AF, or just use it for manual focus. The supplied lens hood is quite solid, and clicks into place. The hood is also reversible, unlike the Nikon 85mm 1.4D's hood, which was a screw on, and a pain in the ass to use. The Sigma balances well on my D300, which is featured here. 

*note: all images in this post, except for the B&W ones, are straight off the camera, with no adjustments in Photoshop. 
Image Quality: Here is a bokeh shot from the Sigma, shot wide open at 1.4. The 9 bladed aperture creates very pleasing bokeh, and in my opinion, outperforms the Nikon 85mm 1.4D by a slight margin. 

100% crop of the image above. CA is present, but decently handled, given the lighting conditions.

taken with the Sigma, wide open at 1.4

100% crop, center of the frame. Sharpness is nothing ground breaking, but solid for my needs. 
100% crop of flower at left edge of the frame. 

AF Performance: The whole reason why I bought this lens! I know some people have had issues with AF on this lens, mostly due to the quality control issues that plague Sigma products, but my lens focuses fine on both D300 bodies. The Sigma was fast enough to keep up with three of my digital media students, racing during recess. In my experience, I'd say hands down, that the Sigma has a faster and more accurate AF than the Nikon 85mm 1.4D. 

The Sigma's performance in low light has just floored me. I've shot three weddings with this lens, since purchasing it, and it's proved to be amazing in low light. It easily locked on to this scene, in which the lights went out during the reception, and the emcee had to use a cell phone light to continue the program. A memorable moment that the Nikon 1.4D would have most likely failed to capture. 

Since this lens has a 1.4 aperture, naturally, the depth of field is incredibly thin. When used close range to the subject, this lens has the ability to mimic the lensbaby, as seen in this image. 

Here's a few more images to show what this lens is capable of :)

Image info: f2.8, ISO 400, 1/800 sec
f2.8, ISO 200, 1/800 sec

image info: f2, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec

image info: f1.6, ISO 2000, 1/100 sec

image info: f1.6, ISO 2000, 1/100 sec

f1.6, ISO 250, 1/1600 sec

image info: f2, ISO 250, 1/160 sec

image info: f1.8, ISO 1250, 1/2000 sec

image info: f1.8, ISO 800, 1/1250 sec

To summarize it all:

--well built
--decently sharp wide open
--very fast and accurate AF
--easy to use focus ring
--excellent lens hood
--price (I got mine for $300 less than my Nikon 85mm 1.4D version)

--overall color rendition is solid, but I still prefer the skin tones from the Nikon 1.4D. 

This concludes my review! If you have any questions regarding this lens, leave a comment and I'll get back to you!


  1. that's a big step for you to go 3rd party. the bokeh is awesome! next you should get the sigma 30 1.4. that's a solid lens my brother-in-law and i borrowed for a costume shoot of our kids. was a really nice lens.

  2. The Siggy 30mm 1.4 is on my list, although I do wish Nikon made a similar one for crop sensors :)

  3. great review and some great photos you've taken with the lens. good thing you mentioned that the AF performance is better than Nikon's own 85mm f/1.4, certainly looks that way. the focus on the kids running were nicely done. great great job! :)


  4. Thanks Ihsan! let me know if you have any other questions about the lens!

  5. Because of your recent posts I did some research of my own and can concur, the Sigma is the better overall (except for re-sell value) 85mm/f1.4.
    Thanks for sharing Reese!

  6. Hi Reese,

    Very nice review with nice sample pics. I am using a D7000. I mainly will be doing weddings, and want a fast lens. I would like the 70-200 VR II, but it is too pricy, so I may consider a Sigma 70-200 2.8 OS, though, I prefer to have a better F value like 1.4 or 1.8. Now as I have not seen this on any lens so far, I was thinking of the Sigma 85mm 1.4 as a mid-tele at 127.5mm, and use my feet and creativity. I know the Sigma 85mm is a prime, and so no VR / OS, but will it really be needed which such a fast lens?

  7. Thanks! :) this is one of the better reviews i have seen. and i t makes my want to look a bit closer at the sigmas version of the 85mm. thank yo again :)

  8. Thank you for the review. Some photos are not showing, could you please update them?

  9. I just checked the posting info for this post...everything looks okay. Maybe you need to refresh your browser?



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