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Review by Markus Stamm and Klaus Schroiff, published April 2011
Special thanks to Thomas Koch for providing one of the review units!
We had to wait quite a while for a fast 85mm prime lens made by Sigma. Prime lenses may be niche products these days anyway but within this group the 85mm variations are certainly among the most popular, especially for those interested in portrait photography. It is bit surprising that the world's biggest SLR lens manufacturer didn't offer a solution for decades. In early 2011 they finally released the full format Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM.
They're entering a market segment which has been traditionally dominated by the genuine manufacturers. In Nikon land we are talking about the well-established but not flawless AF-D 85/1.4 as well as the just recently introduced AF-S 85/1.4. There is also some competition by the Zeiss Planar T* ZF 85mm f/1.4 and the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 - both manual focus lenses and as such not everybody's darling. The Sigma features the same specifications as Nikon's latest offering but is significantly more affordable at just above half the price.
The build quality of the Sigma lens is excellent. It is a member of Sigma's professional grade "EX" (excellence) lineup. However, unlike previous EX lenses it does no longer feature a crinkle finish but a smooth rubber coating on top of a metal body. The new finish seems to be a better approach in our opinion - it doesn't collect as much dust for instance.
The rubberized focus ring operates smoothly. It has a constant physical length regardless of the focus setting. Sigma provides a petal shaped lens hood. Interestingly DX users can mount an extra extension barrel for even more efficient light shading (more on that in our DX review of the lens).
The Sigma has a rear focus group so its length remains constant regardless of the focus setting and the front element does not rotate. Using a polarizer is therefore no problem.
The HSM ("Hyper-Sonic-Motor") AF is very fast and virtually silent. The tested sample was spot-on in terms of accuracy. Full-time manual focusing is supported. Manual focusing is a bit on the delicate side because the focus path is rather short (which is, on the other hand, also a reason for the fast AF).
The Sigma AF 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is a G-type lens and thus does not offer an aperture ring.
|Optical construction||11 elements in 8 groups inc. 1x aspherical and 1x SLD elements|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (circular)|
|min. focus distance||0.85m (max. magnification ratio 1:8.6)|
|Filter size||77mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||petal-shaped, bayonet mount, supplied|
|Other features||Lens provides distance (D) information to the camera, Silent Wave AF motor|