Friday, June 20, 2014

Sigma HSM 85mm f/1.4 - Better than the Nikkor?

This review has been long overdue, I've used this lens extensively in the past year or so. There is no reason I was postponing this review, except one: I wanted to compare it to the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4, and so I waited until I had the opportunity to do so. The findings are interesting, especially considering an important price gap between the two lenses. So, is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 better than its Nikon Nikkor counterpart?

+ optically close to flawless. The tiniest loss of contrast wide-open, nothing to worry about
+ very good protection from flare (and a special, DX-extended hood, too!)
+ superb value, you get a lot of performance for not a lot of money (compared to the Nikkor anyway)

- the bokeh is very good, but not as ethereal as the Nikkor. Pity...
- my copy is still going strong, despite the abuse, but there is some disconcerting squeaking and thudding when operating the autofocus. Probably nothing to worry about, but...
- in the greater scheme of things, this is a special lens for special occasions.

Intended Users
Great for:
  • FX users looking for a top-quality fast portrait lens but can't afford the Nikkor
  • stellar for low light sports, but only if the distance is "just right". 85mm is a weird focal length for anything other than portraits
  • stopped-down to f/5.6 makes it a killer medium-long landscape lens. Phenomenal resolution figures.

Not for:
  • beginner or intermediate photographers without focus discipline. f/1.4 is very unforgiving, practice with the cheaper 85mm f/1.8 instead.
  • general action/sports use. An f/2.8 tele zoom is a more flexible option there.
  • in absolute terms, the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4 is better (mostly due to the better bokeh)

Sharp, contrasty images. Top-glass, for sure.

Final Verdict
In absolute terms, this is a superb lens. At nearly half the price of the Nikkor, it's definitely a serious contender. If it weren't for that bokeh difference, one would wonder why Nikon asks us to pay so much. Don't get me wrong, the bokeh of the Sigma is very, very good. It's just that it lacks this creamy, ethereal quality of the Nikkor.

So, which one should you get?

- If money is not a problem, get the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4- it's the best, period.

- If money is kinda to be considered but OK, get the Sigma 85mm f/1.4- excellent value, and you don't have to sell the car.

- If money is a concern, then get the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 and never look back. Optically, it's equally superb, almost, and apart from bokeh quality and 2/3 of a stop, you don't miss much more.

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