Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens Review

By Cory Disbrow on April 13th, 2011   |    Posted in:  Camera Gear   |    10 Comments

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG prime lens is an excellent (and fast) lens that I just purchased. I wanted to do a review of the lens and at the end discuss how it can be used and how well it fares in regards to Disney Photography.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 prime lens, along with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM prime lens are two of the hottest lenses currently made by Sigma. There is a lot of buzz surrounding these lenses, and many say that they are as good as or even better than their big name brand counterparts.

Build Quality

I’ve had several Sigma lenses in the past, and they have been a little on the flimsy side, nowhere near as good as their Canon counterparts. But, with this 85mm, Sigma really took it up a notch. This thing is built like a tank, and with all the glass inside of it due to the f/1.4 aperture, it needs to be. It feels wonderful when attached to both my Canon 5D Mark II and my Canon Rebel T2i, although a tiny bit top heavy when on the latter. Here’s what it looks like sans hood attached to my Canon 5D Mark II:

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 on a Canon 5D Mark II

In terms of optical quality, this thing is 100% top notch. Some of my favorite shots from the past 3 years of being in photography have been taken in the short amount of time since I’ve had this lens. I really can’t say enough about how good it is. The colors are amazing. The contrast is wonderful. The sharpness is good at f/1.4, excellent at f/2, and incredible the rest of the way up. And don’t even get me started with how good the bokeh can be. More on that later.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens review

Auto Focus

The one thing that has been a constant problem with Sigma, and is a slight bit of a deterrent on this lens is the auto focus. There have been reports of there being “bad copies” of this lens, and that some people (who I think are slightly insane) going through 3 or 4 copies of the lens until they found one that they thought was good. I am on my first (and only) copy, and I have had pretty much no issues with the lens auto focusing, even in low light. Sure, there are a couple of instances where it hasn’t locked on focus, but that has happened just as much, even more with some of my other lenses, even ones with that shiny red ring around them.

Included In the Box

Sigma is great with what they include with their equipment. In the box, you get the lens, a lens hood, a lens hood adapter for those using crop sensor cameras, a nice padded case, and a great 3 year warranty.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 for Disney Photography

So, now comes the big question. How does it perform at the Disney parks? Well, to answer that, I’ll say that on my last trip to Walt Disney World, it probably spent 50% or more of my trip attached to the camera. It just for some reason did not want to go back in the bag and let the other lenses play. It was outstanding in all situations. I loved how versatile it was, especially after reading online that it was basically branded as a portrait lens. And I know that super wide shooting is the cat’s meow in the Disney photo community, but I think that a lot of the best shots are ones that fill the whole frame. So using this tighter lens is a great way to do so.

One thing I liked in particular was how well it performed on the dark rides. For me as a full frame user, the 50mm f/1.4 is sometimes a little too wide on the dark rides, so the 85mm at the same aperture fit really nicely, like this shot from Pirates of the Caribbean:


Oh, and earlier in the review, I mentioned something about how this lens is a bokeh monster. Well, there are plenty of spots in WDW to use that small depth of field to your advantage, and with a lens like this, there is so much, both from up close…

…and from a little farther away…

As you can see, I love me some shallow DoF, and this lens gives you tons of it at Disney.

In Conclusion

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG lens is a very well built lens, with great optics. The auto focus might be an issue amongst the photography community, but I’ve had no trouble with it. The price may be a little bit steep at $899 for a single focal length, but that’s about half of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L lens. And seeing as it performs just about as well, it really is quite the value.

The lens is available for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, and Sigma camera systems, and it gets my utmost recommendation.

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Final Thoughts

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  1. Justin   |   Apr 13, 2011

    Nice review.

    I have a general question for you on using such a wide prime. I have a Nikon 50mm 1.8. When I go to the park next month, I plan to do a day where I bring only that lens with me. My concern is will it be too bright during the day? Do you use any sort of ND filter to lower the amount of light in? I seem to have problems in day light even at ISO 100, the fastest shutter speed still isn’t fast enough.


    • Cory Disbrow   |   Apr 13, 2011


      With some cameras that only have shutter speeds that go up 1/2000 or 1/4000 of a second you will need to use an ND filter during the day with such a wide aperture. The Florida sun can be very powerful, and on my last trip with the 85mm at f/1.4,the camera was telling me that 1/8000 of a second was going to overexpose the shot! So definitely bring a 1 or 2 stop ND filter with you and good luck shooting! Thanks for reading!

    • Scott K   |   Apr 13, 2011

      Cory covered a lot, but…don’t forget, just because you have an f1.8 lens doesn’t mean you have to shoot it at that. In fact, I sometimes see people get into trouble when they don’t realize how shallow the depth of field really is on that particular lens. Sometimes that’s desirable, sometimes it isn’t. The 50/1.8 isn’t at it’s best at f1.8 either. It sharpens up a lot at f2.8-f/4, I think it’s best around f/5.6. I consider the 1.8 a luxury for low-light on that particular lens.

      With that in mind I just took a couple of meter readings in the noon Florida sun; at 100ISO you’ll see 1/4400@f1.8 (1/4000@f2), 1/2000@f2.8, 1/500@f5.6 (that’s for an average green-grass…er, zone-V for zone fanatics – exposure). All pretty tolerable without NDs.

      Bottom line? Do some tests on the lens you have. If you’re really happy with what it does wide-open then carry around the NDs and go for it. I think you might find it likes f2.8-5.6 a lot more. That still gives reasonably shallow depth of field for subject isolation, but gives much sharper images.

  2. Jon Grant   |   Apr 13, 2011

    Great review. I think this might be my next lens, not only because of the great things you’ve noticed, but fore one other reason:

    Everyone should have a ‘nifty fifty’… I love my 50/1.4, but there is one thing I don’t like about it. When shooting people, to fill the frame you have to get pretty close to your subject. So close, it’s hard to take a shot without the subject turning to you and giving you the awkward ‘oh, you want to take my photo? Here, let me give you a smile’ look. Not good for documentary style shooting. I want natural expressions.

    With the 85mm focal length, you can stay out of that ‘bubble’ and get a nice, sharp portrait with great bokeh… from a distance that will not affect what’s going on.

  3. ChiSoxKeith   |   Apr 13, 2011

    Great post! I’ll add this to the lenses I want to rent in the future.

  4. Jeff Hamm   |   Apr 13, 2011

    You are definitely not making it easy for me NOT to buy this lens right now! Lol. I’m still between this or the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. I think the mid-zoom would be useful to have in my bag, but I have really been getting more into the low end and bokeh. I don’t know yet, but this lens seems to be winning the battle. :)

  5. Jenn   |   Apr 13, 2011

    Love the 85mm f/1.2 but not the pricetag so this lens is right up my alley. Nice review!

  6. Dana   |   Apr 13, 2011

    I’m so excited to hear all the good remarks about the Sigma lens. I just bought my first Sigma the other day (hopefully it’ll arrive soon!). I got the Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 pro lens. So stoked for portraits with bokeh goodness! I have a feeling it’ll be the lens that stays on my camera the longest when I bring it to WDW next month!

  7. Crystal   |   Apr 13, 2011

    Thanks for the review Cory! I’m torn between this lens and the Canon 135 f/2.0 L for my next acquisition.

  8. Cody   |   May 22, 2012

    Nice review, Cory, thanks! Seems in line with everything else I’ve heard about this lens being stellar. I’m trying to save my pennies so I can jump to full-frame when Sony releases their FF SLT model, and I plan to buy this lens with it.



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