The 85mm focal length has always been a great solution for portrait shots, which is why every lens maker has an option somewhere in their lineup. Sigma, just like the rest of the third-party lens makers, has its own versions, which do not get released very often. This is mainly due to this focal length being a very competitive niche, where only the best examples are accepted to stand the test of time. This is why today we are focusing on the best Sigma 85mm lenses – and why there are only two of them!
If Sigma glass is your preferred brand, the limited options can be both a positive and negative point. Positive in that the options that are available are hard to beat, even when compared against same-as camera brand versions. But negative in the fact that we don’t have the variety for the usual amount of window shopping.
Luckily, we have consistently used the two Sigma 85mm lenses that are available. Both have proven their worth and the positives more than make up for the lack of variety of lenses.
1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens has been a solid performing portrait lens since its initial release, available for a variety of camera mounts, with a version soon becoming available for mirrorless cameras. This lens is part of Sigma’s Art series, which puts optical qualities above everything else. This may result in a rather heavyweight lens of 1.13 kg and large dimensions, but the final image quality more than makes up for the slight bicep strain.
The lens itself has a wide and fast f/1.4 aperture, which works great in low-light conditions, along with producing wonderful bokeh or background blur.
Optically, the lens is made up of 14 elements arranged in 12 groups. This arrangement has the addition of two SLD, one anomalous partial dispersion, and one aspherical element to correct for lens anomalies such as chromatic aberration. It also helps improve overall image definition and clarity. Sigma has added a super multi-layer coating to all lens elements to help eliminate lens flare and ghosting, at the same time improving overall color and contrast rendition.
Sigma’s highly efficient Hypersonic autofocus motor has been included, which features full-time manual override via the very smooth turning focusing ring. Although the lens isn’t officially weatherproofed, it is made from a thermally-stable composite material that feels rock-solid and robust enough for most general applications. In other words, it may be able to take the occasional drop of rain and is perfectly fit for regular studio use.
In use, the f/1.4 aperture provides wonderfully smooth background blur, with a very pleasing transition of colors. There’s also zero complaints with the sharpness of this lens, providing plenty of punch from f/1.4-f/11. When the lens is stopped down to f/2, it can give any other 85mm lens a run for its money in terms of overall detail, with a very neutral overall look which gives a great starting point for post-processing.
The autofocus system is also impressively fast, with the only hiccups coming every so often in very low-light conditions when the lens tends to hunt a little for focus, especially when using the outer focus points.
In terms of negative points, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art can display chromatic aberration when shooting high contrast areas with the aperture wide open at f/1.4. But this effect quickly goes away when the lens is stopped down to f/2. Plus, any evidence of blue or purple fringing can be easily remedied in the likes of Lightroom.
In many ways, the 85mm Art lens can be seen as a one-stop shop for this focal length. Sigma has squarely hit the nail on the head with this lens. You can read our full review of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art to learn more about it.
2. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM (Budget Winner)
When you’ve only got two lens options to choose from, it’s not exactly hard to choose an overall and budget winner. But the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is far from a budget-level lens, as it still provides professional-level portrait image quality.
This lens follows Sigma’s old design aesthetics, trying to blend in with a barrel design which is more like a Nikon lens if you squint hard enough. It wasn’t until Sigma came out with the Art, Contemporary, and Sports models that they opted for a more sleek design, which definitely stands out from the crowd.
This particular lens, like the Art lens above, isn’t exactly lightweight, coming in at 725g, with a 77mm filter thread, which actually seems quite small when compared to the 86mm version on the option above. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM also contains a good amount of glass, with an optical arrangement of 11 elements in eight groups, one SLD, and one glass-molded aspherical element to maintain image definition and clarity. Each element has also been treated to a super multi-layer coating to cut down on the likes of ghosting and lens flare.
This lens also features an f/1.4 aperture which not only works great in low light but is also essential for getting those very shallow depth of field shots. A Hyper Sonic motor covers autofocusing duties, with full-time manual override, which is quick and quiet enough for both stills and video use.
The bokeh from this lens is everything you would expect from a high-quality portrait lens, with very smooth transitions of color and very pleasing looking highlight balls. The lens is also very sharp at f/1.4, with the best results across the frame coming from f/2. Since the 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM can be picked up for a few hundred dollars less than the Art lens above (depending on the individual camera mount), it makes for a great second option.
Narrowing Down the Best Sigma 85mm Lenses
If the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens didn’t exist, then the 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM would still be a worthy option at this focal length. But Sigma has somehow released a #1 hit single with the 85mm Art, which is not only everything you need in an 85mm but it has also elevated the reputation of the Arts series in general.
Both of the Sigma 85mm lenses are worthy candidates as high-quality 85mm primes, with the Art version being one of the best around for its price point and features.