This review is intended to be a few things; honest, straightforward, and simple--as told from the perspective of an outdoor portrait photographer. There is a lot of hype and praise surrounding the Sigma Art Lens series, and the 85mm entry (released in November 2016) is my first foray into the Sigma brand. This review is not a still life and lab-tested, micro-sharpness comparison review. My goal for this review is to provide you with my honest thoughts on equipment performance after using this lens exclusively for a few months.
First, a little context about me and how I'm using this lens. I'm a portrait photographer from Colorado specializing in location-based portrait sessions. This means that I'm outdoors, in the elements, and changing seasons constantly. Hot and cold, wet and dry, snow and sun, you'll find me outdoors laying in the grass, kneeling in the snow, or walking around the city streets in constantly changing weather. Now to be fair, I usually plan my sessions for calm and clear days, but no matter when shooting, I'll always be outdoors using natural lighting.
Now to move onto the lens itself. First and foremost, this lens is enormous and heavy. This might not be much of a consideration for experienced photographers, as most are fairly accustomed to lenses of varying sizes and weights. However, I feel this detail is worth mentioning as this may be a concern for some. I'm not exaggerating when I say that for an 85mm, this lens is gigantic. If you have a smaller, lighter camera body, this lens will take some getting used to. (It definitely did for me!) I was initially turned off by the sheer size and weight of this lens when attached to my Nikon D750 body. Luckily, it's something that I have been able to adjust to quickly and am now quite comfortable with. Simply be prepared and understand before purchasing that this is a large and heavy piece of equipment.
Perhaps the most important factors I considered while debating this new purchase was image quality and performance. Would the quality justify the purchase? I'm happy to report that the answer is yes! This lens performance is outstanding. As a prime lens, this 85mm is extremely fast; finding focus quickly and quietly. The auto-focus finds its mark with impressive speed. I love a shallow depth of field somewhere in the range of f/2.2 to f/3.2, so being able to nail the focus exactly where I want it is vital. The Sigma 85mm performs very well, focusing between shots faster than I would have expected.
The image quality is also quite impressive. The lens allows for very clear edge sharpness and detail while still producing a beautiful bokeh background. Personally, I love shooting with back-lighting around sunset. This means I often have sunlight hitting the lens either angled or directly and the Sigma 85mm handles this style with ease. Some lenses, understandably, are a bit cranky about auto-focusing while shooting towards the sun. I'm pleased to say that this does not seem to be an issue with this lens.
Overall, I think that this is a great piece of gear. The 85mm is currently the only lens that I own and it serves my needs perfectly. The price point is steep, at around $1200, so I encourage you to weigh your options before you commit (I called it an early Christmas gift to myself for the next year. . . or two!). The 85mm focal length is fantastic for portraiture and is the focal length that I most often recommend when asked for gear recommendations. To summarize, This particular 85mm is heavy as can be, but it makes up for weight with lightning fast focus and great image sharpness, colors, and detail. I give this lens the ol' two thumbs up, Sigma has definitely impressed me with this one!