If you like to shoot portraits, an 85mm prime lens could be one of the best investments you'll ever make for your DSLR. Richard Sibley and Michael Topham put five models through a rigorous test

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

Resolution

When shooting wide open at f/1.4, the Sigma lens is the best in this test, just ahead of the Zeiss lens. At f/5.6, the Sigma lens matches the Samyang in the centre, although the edges are sharper. The lens is also the best on test when shooting at f/11.

Shading

There is little difference between the vignetting shown in f/1.4 images taken with the Sigma lens and the others in this test. It is around 0.7EV darker at the edges, and gradually eases by around f/4, where it is only 0.2EV darker.

Curvilinear distortion

With just a hint of barrel distortion, the Sigma lens is the best example in this test, with a mean distortion (to one decimal place) of just -0.0, and at its worst it is only -0.2. Distortion is virtually impossible to distinguish.

See our graphs explained

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

Price: £669
Available in various mounts, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens offers a lot for the price, but is there a catch?

Getting on for four years old, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is one of the most competitively priced examples on the market to feature full AF/MF workings, as well as the manufacturer’s Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) to keep AF operation as quiet and as quick as possible. Sharing the same f/1.4 maximum aperture as its Nikon, Samyang and Zeiss rivals, its construction is made up of 11 elements in eight groups and includes one SLD (special low dispersion) element and one aspherical lens. The lens uses a nine-blade aperture arrangement and, being a third-party option, it comes available in various mounts, including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Sigma.

Compatible with APS-C and full-frame DSLRs, it’s a fairly heavy optic at 725g – the second heaviest in this test. It shares a similar design and dimensions to the Nikon optic, but its focus ring doesn’t offer the same fluid movement and has noticeably more resistance. That said, it’s easy to locate from behind the camera, just like its prominent MF/AF switch. Focusing is smooth with little sign of hunting, with only a faint whir as it focuses. As for its build quality, it feels a touch plasticky when compared to the metal barrels of its rivals.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 (Recommended)

Data file

Filter diameter 77mm
Lens elements 11
Groups 8
Diaphragm blades 9
Aperture f/1.4-16
Minimum focus 85cm
Length 87.6mm
Diameter 86.4mm
Weight 725g
Lens mount Canon EF, Nikon, Pentax, Samsung, Sigma, Sony

  1. 1. Anatomy of an 85mm lens
  2. 2. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM
  3. 3.
  4. 4. Samyang 85mm f/1.4 IF MC
  5. 5. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
  6. 6. Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*
  7. 7. Second-hand alternatives
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