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Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art Review | The Beauty Of This Beast

By Shivani Reddy on November 12th 2016

The 85mm focal length is known for its ultimate portrait utility and indescribable compression, but is it the prime lens you need in your tool kit? Sigma has delivered exceptional & durable lenses in the past, compatible with top-tier camera bodies, and their latest contender gives meaning to their ‘Art’ series lineup. We had the privilege of receiving one of the first two production units of the new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art to test in real world applications – let’s see how it fares in all things portraiture.

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For those that don’t want to jump into the nitty gritty details, here is a TLDR version of our review:


  • Image Quality – There are negligible differences in the quality of the images of the Sigma 85 Art vs. the Canon 85L (see images below). Bottom line is, the images produced make this lens worth the purchase.
  • Auto-Focus – With a new AF motor, this lens is the star-performer of the Art lineup and is engineered to be unparalleled to its predecessor, and rivals top-of-the-line competitors.
  • Sharpness – Definitely gives the Canon 85L a run for its money and blows the Sigma 85 EX DG HSM out of the water.


  • Price – Having a $800 difference in price from the Canon 85L is significant even though the Canon is 1.2, but the $400 difference from the Nikon 85G makes this lens a hard sell there.
  • Weight & Size – This is definitely a huge factor to pose against its opponents, and in more ways than one. The overall weight and size of the Sigma 85 Art proved to be a hindrance/ cumbersome aspect of the lens. What sold me beyond it’s bulk? Its outstanding image quality and performance on all fronts.
  • Not weather resistant, but weather sealed – The lack of weather resistance might also push people to purchase the name brand competitors, but do keep in mind that it is in fact weather sealed.



There is a certain finesse to this specific Art lens that you don’t find in the others, and maybe it’s the size speaking here, but the 85 Art is truly in a class of its own. Weighing in at 39.9 oz, Sigma’s new release is heavier than both its predecessor, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMand the Canon 85mm f/1.2L. With 14 glass elements contained within this beast, its weight is no surprise, however, this may deter folks from purchasing it considering the Canon equivalent is more compact and weighs in around a not-entirely-significant 3.74 oz. less.

What will really shock upon first-touch is its girth. An 86mm filter size is no joke and its focus ring is quite large, but it still maintains the buttery flow that Sigma has so brilliantly designed into their Art series.sigma-85mm-art-reviewThe actual exterior is identical to its Sigma Art siblings, ensuring that your dollars are well spent on premium quality metal. It is made of Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material, along with traditional metals, for greater precision and use in wide temperature variations. Although it isn’t fully weather sealed, it does feature a new rubber gasket on the mount that makes it highly resistant to dust and water, as well as water & oil repellent coatings on the front and rear lens elements. The Canon 85L (somewhat) and Nikon 85G are weather resilient, and therefore, have a slight upper hand, but to think that the real world application of this lens is meant for all weather conditions seems like more of a nicety than a necessity.

Now, if aesthetics are your thing, know that this lens is bulky once on a camera body and adds an extra bit of weight that you usually don’t expect from primes, especially the Sigma Art collection. At 85mm for a full frame, to get it to be as bright as 1.4 means it has large glass elements, and likely a lot of them, and thus heft and added weight. So here, the choice of making it f/1.4 has led to the engineering issue which requires it to be a more heavy-set lens.

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Easily the most asked question we received prior to testing this lens was whether or not consumers could expect tack sharp imagery and speedy AF. And the short answer to that is, most definitely.


Using back-button AF with cross-type AF points on a Canon 5D Mark III, we put it through its paces. Out of all shots fired, the Sigma 85 Art only missed 30% (70/250) of the shots taken, and some due to unexpected movement of the subject. That is extremely proficient, especially considering that the Canon 85L, when put in the exact same scenarios, missed 40% (100/250) of shots, so chew on that.


The focus consistency is similar to the previous Art lenses, but perhaps a bit improved. The missed focus moments aren’t as apparent as seen in the 50mm and 35mm Art lenses, meaning that the 85mm barely misses the mark and then regains focus upon the next click while it’s Art siblings take a bit more time to compose themselves.


Nobody can refute the value and image quality that Sigma is offering in their new Art and Sports series lenses. However, I think it’s important to note that over time I have experienced significant Auto-Focus drifting in Art series lenses. Far more than I would notice in Canon and Nikon Professional lenses.

Over time, Sigma Art lenses simply don’t maintain their consistency in AF and my hit rates would drop dramatically compared to when the lens was brand new. In my experience, Sigma Art Lenses require more AF micro adjustments via the USB dock, as well as more factory servicing to maintain focus consistency than that of a Canon or Nikon professional series lens. That being said, we have word directly from Sigma that they will do a calibration for free is the lens is under warranty, should this occur.

These lenses still offer a fantastic value in image quality for their price, but it is going to be important to see how the new Sigma 85mm Art holds up in durability and consistency over time.


The new AF motor in the Sigma 85 Art was evident when compared to its predecessor the 85 EX DG HSM f/1.4. The 85 Art locks focus faster each and every time, leaving the older Sigma in the dust both in speed and in accuracy. It is faster than the Canon 85L, only faltering in low-light, but just barely, which makes for a compelling selling point for the Sigma brand.

Image Quality & Performance

Compression takes on a whole new meaning when photographing with an 85mm focal length, sending the background into a hazy blur with incredibly beautiful focus fall off. The Sigma 85mm Art does not disappoint when it comes to compression qualities making it the perfect portrait lens for any professional.

The above images are SOOC JPEGs and you can see that there is also a bit of a color difference between the Canon & Sigma images. You’ll notice that Sigma produces more of a contrasted image with darker shadows and truer skintones, while the Canon appears to have more of a faded color look, even though both images were shot at f/1.4. Skimming through the juxtaposed images in the article you will see a similar characteristic among the images.


14-image Brenizer Panoramic Stitch – 1/8000th of a second, f/1.8, ISO 100



Bokeh & Depth of Field

While the Canon 85L wasn’t designed for peak sharpness, it has an almost ethereal fade from sharpness to blur. The “bokeh balls” do have more of an ovular characteristic to them compared to Canon’s circular appearance. Both have a soft transition due to their wide apertures and the difference is negligible.


chromatic aberration

Many know of the unfortunate CA/bleeding issues plaguing the Canon 85L, but how does it fare in comparison to the Sigma 85 Art? We’ve seen in the past that the Art lineup has a bit of a CA problem, casting a purple streak on the edges when placing a subject in front of a highlighted background. Can you guess which of these was taken on a Canon 85L?


If you guessed the image on the right, you are indeed correct, and it’s surprising isn’t it? Given Sigma’s history in this department, we were pleasantly surprised with this discovery.

low-light capabilities

The Canon 85L definitely has issues of its own when it comes to low-light performance even though one of its original selling points upon release was that it could produce superb images in low-light conditions with no problem. When pit against each other, the Sigma definitely took more time trying to lock focus on the subject in low light. Both lenses gave trouble when placed in dimly lit path with a subject against a dark background.


Three out of five shots fired in this scene with the Sigma 85 Art were out of focus, while the Canon 85L only missed focus once. This is definitely something to note regarding Sigma’s low-light track record with their Art series as a whole, but not enough to deter a consumer considering its opponents suffer the same issues, just to a slightly lesser extent.


The Sigma 85mm Art is available for your pre-ordering pleasure for $1,199, which is definitely on the higher end of the Art series line but justifiably so considering the optical performance of this lens. Dropping in only $800 cheaper than the Canon, this is definitely a tough sell for most consumers considering the track record of the Sigma Art lens lineup being consistently more inexpensive across the board of 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm name-brand equivalents.



From left to right: Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art, and Canon 85mm f/1.2L II.

The Sigma 85mm Art is up against several lenses in it’s same class, considered alternatives. Although Canon doesn’t have an identical f/1.4 equivalent, there are still options that it can be weighed against:

Final Verdict


who should purchase the new Sigma 85 Art?

Serious portrait photographers need this focal length in their tool kit because it is just a portrait essential. It definitely isn’t a recreational lens to have on hand at all times, as it is highly specified and catered to perform in the realm of portraiture.

As far as weddings are concerned, it is definitely an ideal focal length to have for bridal  & couples portraits, but consider the limiting circumstances that weddings are burdened with (small rooms, tight & confined spaces, etc.) before purchasing any 85mm. A 50mm should definitely have a place in your kit before leaping to the 85, at least, that’s what we recommend.





Is this the portrait lens for you?

It would almost be criminal not to purchase the new Sigma 85mm Art if you are a Canon user. Compared to the 85L the huge leap in price doesn’t quite justify the name brand because although giving you a wider aperture at f/1.2, its affected by the same issues as Sigma Art lenses: chromatic aberration, inconsistent AF issues, and low-light performance problems.

Nikon users should likely consider sticking to the Nikon 85, specifically due to the price difference being not nearly as significant as the Canon-Sigma difference, and the bulky nature of the Sigma. Either way, this is definitely a great addition to a portrait photographer’s arsenal, giving you the resilience and accuracy needed for consistently dynamic imagery.

Get yours here.











Purchase the new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art for Canon, Nikon, or Sony.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Shivani wants to live in a world where laughter is the cure to pretty much everything. Since she can’t claim “Serial Bingewatcher” as an occupation, she’ll settle for wedding/portrait photographer at Lin and Jirsa & marketing coordinator here at SLR Lounge. For those rare moments when you won’t find a camera in her hand, she will be dancing, eating a donut, or most likely watching Seinfeld.

Follow her on Instagram: @shivalry_inc

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Engr Shams

    Hi  Shivani,

    I have Canon 80D(APSC) and I love portraites photography and I have budget no issue and need fast prime lens required in my kit, so do you really recomend Sigma 85 mm f1.4 art for me. Will it work good on APSC like Canon 80D  I have please and will its AF will be good on 80D.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Engr,

      It’s fantastic that budget is no issue for you, however what about your interest in carrying a very, very heavy lens? That is one thing that happens to some people who buy a very “exotic” lens because they can afford it, only to realize that it’s just too heavy for their daily shooting preferences.

      Having said that, if weight is no object just like money, then the Sigma 85 can’t be beaten for sharpness, although it /can/ be beaten for autofocus reliability. The Canon 85mm f/1.4 L probably offers the best AF performance on the Canon system right now, either that or maybe the Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC, that one is also quite “snappy” to focus. Plus, it’s much lighter and more affordable than the Canon 85 1.4.

      Having said that, if money is no object, might you consider adding a full-frame body to your kit, for even better control over the bokeh of your portraits? 85mm is a bit long on an 80D, a 50mm f/1.4 might be a better choice for medium-close types of portraits on that camera body.

      Hope this info helps!

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  2. Mike Photo

    Fantastic lens, great focal length for portraits, sharp wide open. Sigma are killing it with these new art lenses.

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  3. Jonathan Cross-Jones

    i recently purchased the 85 art after being fed up with the Nikon 1.8G and 1.4G 85mm lenses. Their sharpness at f2 and below was mediocre, the focus accuracy in low light or flat light drive me mad and i ended up having un-usable shots wheel photographing weddings. Im personally happy with the 35 and 50 art focus ability, so when the 85 was announced i jumped on a pre-order. I’ve only had a brief chance to test the lens, but I’m instantly impressed with its performance, it makes nikons offerings look pathetic. sharpness at 1.4 and up is outstanding, and after calibration (as i do with ALL of my lenses), AF is fast and accurate. If you are a nikon user, i highly highly recommend this lens. Yes, its big, very big, but its performance greatly outweigh this one negative.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Thanks for that vote of confidence Jonathan. I unfortunately am a Canon user and didn’t get a unit to test for Nikon so couldn’t provide the stats, but this is great! I agree, I think the initial impression of the lens isn’t an accurate depiction of its quality – its size shouldn’t deter people from investing in its value.

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    • Marek Kunicki

      I went through three new copies of the 85mm 1.4g and they were all having terrible focus problems. If you used AF fine tune at one distance, you’d need another value at other distances, and so I sent it to Nikon. Waited almost three weeks for service under warranty (for brand a brand new lens), two separate times and they returned it unchanged with no calibration done. I’m a pretty good, mellow person but I was livid and called them up and unleashed my fury. I sent it in a third time and it was finally calibrated and is spot on at every subject distance. Still have weird things happening from time to time under certain light but it’s definitely one of the sharpest primes I’ve used, wide open at f1.4 and at F2.0 it’s extremely sharp. I would bet yours had the same problems mine did at first.

      Needless to say, I’d recommend the sigma to anyone that doesn’t want to go through Nikon’s B/S service since you can calibrate them yourself with the dock.

      But for me, after all that effort, my 85g is gold, like it should have been the day I bought it.

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  4. Randy E

    I get that this is still a rare lens, but the complete failure to compare with ANY Nikon lens is disappointing to say the least. Comparisons with the Canon 1.2L do me no good whatsoever.

    The most informative part of the article was the mention that Sigma lenses tend to drift in AF calibration over time.

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  5. Duc Hong

    very nice and informative article, really love your review.

    I’m in mixed feeling when it comes to my next len choice, I really love to try out that Sigma 85mm focal length but at the moment I already have a 135mm f2. The Sigma Art lenses are do doubt out of this world since I’m already owning a 35mm Art and it’s always my first choice when heading out.

    Because of not having wide angle len, Im thinking of having a 12-24mm Sigma for my landscape, traveling purpose. Now reading your review makes me really hard to choose one.


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    • Ricky Long

      I also have the Canon 135mm. The problem with such a long focal length is the DOF is razor thin at f/2. Natural light portrait shoots frequently require a fast aperture to raise the shutter speed. The 135 to get a decent DOF for head shots is around f/3.2 for this lens ……. A shorter focal length like a 85mm will have much greater DOF. Don’t get me wrong the 135 creates beautiful images just to long of focal length to get good DOF opened up. I learned the hard way, will be selling the 135 to get a 85mm

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    • Holger Foysi

      Ricky long: The 85 doesn’t necessarily have larger DOF. 

      If you frame your subjects similarly (same magnification) and use the same f-stop, DOF is similar (easy to check with DOF calculator or the DOF equations), as you have to change your distance accordingly. At f1.4 the 85A will have  lower DOF. If you shoot from the same distance, the 135 will have a shallower DOF, but this could mean your composition is off.

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  6. Amy Altland

    Thanks so much for this review! I already have Sigma’s 35 mm & 50 mm Art lenses. I’ll be adding this one to my wish list! ;) What advice can you offer on the AF issue with the other 2 Art lenses I have? Are there any adjustments I can do myself to fix this problem? Or does the company need to do that? Thanks!

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  7. Fab G.

    So you didn’t test AF on any Nikon bodies, right?
    And you didn’t test AF in backlit situations (the both problematic and common situation)?

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hi Fab,

      Unfortunately no, we had the Canon mount 85mm. The only backlit situation we tested it on was the Chromatic Aberration example I have above. Both the 85L and the 85 Art had a hard time focusing but once the Art locked focus, it was tack sharp, even if it took a couple of seconds to do so. Thanks for reading!

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  8. Jack Bates

    I shoot with the A7rii. How do you think the 85art would do with the mc11 converter compared to the native batis 1.8?

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  9. Straight, No Chaser

    Thank you for the review…what would you say the winner is without considering the price…the new Sigma or the Canon 85L?

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  10. Photo Trope

    I found it really interesting that in your Chromatic Aberration test, I found the image produced by the Canon 85mm 1.2L much more appealing. It looks more natural and has a haze and a glow to it, which are effects a lot of photographers add in post processing. Even though technically, this makes the Sigma Art the better lens in this department, I would prefer the Canon 85L just for this reason. Just shows how subjective the realm of “artistic” imagery is. Great article by the way.

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  11. Oleg M

    Shivani, did your copy require any AFMA? Thanks!

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  12. adam sanford

    And NOW it’s official:

    Now you can go buy this lens. The AF was tested and it works.

    (Also — it handily outresolved the Otus 85mm f/1.4.)

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    • Stephen Jennings

      No, it didn’t. It out resolved the 28mm Otus on a 22mp camera. Which, it should be pointed out, isn’t even the “sharpest otus” .. On a D810 the sharpest lens is the Zeiss 135 APO, which it doesn’t look like the 85 art is going to come close to. Even throwing DXO’s BS aside, the 135 is still the lens to beat, and from the sample RAW’s I’ve seen, doesn’t seem to beat the 135, 85 or 55 honestly.

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    • adam sanford

      Stephen, am I misreading this chart?

      See second plot on page. The *text* prior speaks to the Otus 28mm, but the plot is a head to head with other 85mm primes, including the Otus.

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  13. Lakin Jones

    “Dropping in only $800 cheaper than the Canon, this is definitely a tough sell for most consumers”

    I’m not sure which world you’re living in that $800 is not a significant savings. The Sigma lens is 40% cheaper than then Canon alternative and you demonstrated it out-performed the Canon in most use cases.

    I have no idea what you consider to be a significant savings, but I’d put $800 in that category any day of the week.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hi Lakin,

      I do consider $800 to be a significant amount, I even mentioned it in the beginning of the article:

      “Having a $800 difference in price from the Canon 85L is significant even though the Canon is 1.2, but the $400 difference from the Nikon 85G makes this lens a hard sell there.”

      The “tough sell” pertaining to the Canon is because some may argue, even with the evidence listed, that the Canon outperforms and is superior at f/1.2, defining its value. I would buy the Sigma simply to save that $800 but I am sure there are consumers out there that have been saving up for Canon’s 85L due to its proven track record, versus taking the risk on the new Sigma (even though it has been nothing short of amazing).

      Hope that clears that up, and thanks for reading!

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  14. Russell Hinton

    Hi Shivani – Nice review – Firstly, using the 5DSR, In almost all cases, Good lenses become excellent & excellent lenses become outstanding :) :) (If this is any help to Asim) – The images shown here, using the Canon 1.2 appear unclear! – This is a razor sharp lens (if used with extreme care) I have used this lens for a long time, & if one takes the necessary, sometimes laborious care shooting, & “nails focus” correctly, the images are outstanding & an absolute world better than the review comparison shots! – one only has to visit photo libraries packed full of truly amazing 1.2 images! That said, unlike the new Sigma, that I imagine, is speedy & excellent with regard focus, one has to invest time in learning to use the Canon 1.2 correctly & to know the correct time / job that will warrant this truly amazing, but very particular lens! Especially when using a truly brilliant, but fussy camera like the 5DSR! (much easier to snap great shots with a 5D MKIII or 4! – to reiterate, the above images do not, do justice to the 1.2! – that said, due to the character & care required with the 1.2 to achieve the required result, – following a personal test, I am most likely to invest in the super new Sigma – I look forward to further reviews – God bless

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Russell,

      Thanks for reading! I do agree that the Canon 1.2 is a superior lens, however, it was soft in alot of scenarios we placed it in. A user mentioned something on my first impressions article that really resonated with me:

      “Keep in mind he 85 L and 50L were not designed for peak sharpness — they were designed for best bokeh, light falloff, etc.”

      And you can see that with the shots above, they have the latter mentioned attributes that the Sigma just cannot duplicate at 1.4 and although the 85L can produce sharp images, it isn’t quite as reliable when it comes to accuracy. This is obviously just my experience comparing the two in a month’s time, but Pye came across a similar result. Now, like we mentioned, over time we don’t know if the Art will keep up in both AF speed & accuracy, but its initial performance record says otherwise.

      Thanks again!

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  15. Misty Christensen

    I want to see how it compares in backlit situations! My Nikon 1.8 struggles with flare and not tack sharp images and i’m trying to find something that will work better. I tried the Nikon 1.4 and it wasn’t a significant enough difference me to pull the trigger on it….I’m hoping the Sigma outperforms both of them in that aspect!

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Misty,

      Another one of our members has brought this up and I am interested to see how it fares as well. The only backlit image we tested it on was the example of CA, and in that scene it did have a bit of a hard time locking focus, but the Canon did as well. I will test it out this week and update the post with results!

      Thanks for reading!

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  16. Brett Hatten

    I just got my Nikon-mount 85mm ART, today. Soooo excited to run it through the paces, but people were not kidding. It’s heavy. I have the 20mm ART and this is bigger than that. Still…excited!

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Brett,

      How exciting! Should be interesting to see what images surface now that orders are shipping. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

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  17. Michelle Ford

    you just solved my xmas list shivs. i was rallying hard to buy this one. between the note on the low light (which isn’t much different than the canon L) and the weight and girth (even worse than the canon L), i’m cured. i’m going back to the 85 1.8 for practical wedding use.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      I don’t have an 85 to go back to… so it’s going to be hard to part with this one. I’ve been meaning to shoot around with the 1.8, everyone says good things.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Michelle, you should try the Tamron 85 1.8, if you’re itching for a better 85 but don’t want to lose out on the portability / snappy focusing. :-D

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  18. Adrian Ong

    Great review Shivani! I’ll have to hold on to my Nikon 85 as per your suggestion.

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  19. adam sanford

    Hooray for AF hit rate studies!

    *Thank you* for answering the #1 ‘would make it dead to me’ issue — AF consistency.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Adam,

      It was definitely top on my list as a consumer as well, hope you found the review insightful, thanks for reading!

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    • Pye Jirsa

      This is my main concern as well, and not so much out-of-the-box but rather down the road, will it hit as well. Only time will tell though. As is, it’s a great lens for the price. Sigma’s support has been awesome, but AF consistency over-time has been my primary area of concern as noted above.

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  20. Cary McCaughey

    As much as I love my art series lenses, I will not be picking this up. Why? It’s just too dang bulky. Why must it be this StarWars sized photon cannon? I’ll hold out for their 135mm f/2 :D

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hi Cary,

      I can see that point being a valid reason not to purchase it, but there is something to be said of the quality of the lens Cary. Thanks for reading, and we look forward to the 135mm as well!

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  21. Asim Qureshi

    Hi, wonderful clicks, Lets me first tell you of my gear and the type of photography i am interested in,
    I have a 5D Mark3 with 70-200 L f2.8 IS2 cannon , Tamron 24-70mm f2.8, 50mm 1.8 canon, 85mm 1.4 Samyang, basically I like portrait photography, So the gear I wanna jump in is to upgrade to 5DSr alongwith 85mm sigma Art, I want your advice as my 5D is working perfectly, I am a hobbyist.

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hi Asim,

      I personally haven’t had much experience with the 5DSr on hand, but the product shots you see above were all taken on the 5DSr, first time using it actually.

      When you are contemplating which gear to upgrade to I think that the first question you need to ask is, “is my quality of work suffering in any way – resolution, dynamic range, etc.”. I see that you have an 85 f/1.4 in your bag, so do you find that the image quality is suffering in any way? If you didn’t have that lens in your bag already I would have highly recommended the Sigma 85 Art. It would hard for me to advise you to jump to the 5DSr if you are purely a hobbyist, because the Mark III should meet all of your needs.

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  22. Ramon Acosta

    So…Do you think if we already have either the Canon f1.2 or Nikon f1.4, there is not much of an improvement in quality that would justify the sigma?

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Ramon,

      If you already have the Canon, I wouldn’t see the need to upgrade since you have a wider aperture, a and a less bulky/lighter lens on hand. The quality between the two is negligible but the Canon definitely performs better in low light conditions.

      Thanks for reading!

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  23. Black Z Eddie

    Nice. Too bad I already have the previous model months and months ago. I tried to hold out but needed (wanted) an 85 f1.4. :( :)

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Hey Eddie,

      Ah, that is a shame. The older model seemed to perform poorly in comparison to the other two, but still produces great quality images… it just takes a couple of missed focuses to get there haha.

      Thanks for reading!

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    • Black Z Eddie

      Hey, Shivani, mine actually hardly misses. I have it on a A7RII + LA-EA3. I normally shoot between f1.4-f2 and on moving subjects.

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