SIGMA f1.4 L-Mount Review - The Sharpest Lens I've Ever Used
I’ve used and owned many lenses from Sigma and you’ll always hear me vouch for their fantastic quality and performance for the price you pay. In late August of 2020, Sigma released their 85mm f1.4 for the L-mount, and I just had to get my hands on it. After using this lens for a while both for personal use and commercial use, I was blown away. This lens encapsulates everything that I look for; it’s extremely fun to use, the optical quality is on another level, and its one of the most robust and well-built lenses I’ve used. I’m in a very fortunate position where I’m able to test out lots of different glass because of my job, however, it’s been a while since I attached something new to my S5 that literally made my jaw drop. The colours, sharpness, contrast, you name it, coming out of this lens are just sublime. When I first removed the SD card from my camera and imported the RAW images into Lightroom, I was stunned by the image reproduction straight off the camera; hardly any editing required. Before I get too overly-passionate, let’s break down a few things about this lens first.
So first off let’s talk features. This lens comes packed with features, including a fully-customisable AFL button for a function of your choosing, an AF switch, and an aperture click switch. The aperture click switch is probably my favourite feature, allowing you to switch between a clicked and de-clicked aperture instantaneously. When I’m shooting, the precise control of a clicked aperture is great, although when I’m filming, the de-clicked aperture is perfect for getting those buttery-smooth changes on the go. I honestly think this feature should become more common amongst lenses within this price category because I really find myself missing it when I move to other L-mount lenses without this. Speaking of the price, this lens will set you back around £1,000 here in the UK, so it definitely isn’t cheap, in fact it’s almost double the price of the equivalent Panasonic 85mm f1.8. With this in mind, you’ve certainly got to be an individual who adores the 85mm focal length and have many uses for it, otherwise it will end up being a very expensive (albeit pretty) paperweight. If I’m being completely honest with myself here, the Panasonic 85mm is more than good enough in terms of its sharpness and overall performance, although there’s this intangibility with the Sigma lens that just makes it feel so special. Quick summary here to any of you looking for an 85mm lens on a bit of a budget: go for the Panasonic 85mm f1.8; you’ll save yourself some pennies and you certainly won’t be disappointed by the quality; there are even some things which I think this lens has over the Sigma...but we’ll get into that later.
Now onto the build quality of this lens. Presuming you’re someone who likes to take their camera gear out into the real world, the build quality is a crucial metric for determining how something might last. The build of this lens is nothing less than perfect. Every nook and cranny feels air-tight, its weight is reassuring, yet not too heavy for those longer shoots, although it is bordering on the chonky side of life. The aperture ring is smooth when de-clicked, and robust when clicked, and the buttons are as tactile as anything. All in all, this lens ticks every box in terms of its build.
Look at us, hey! Look at us....who would’ve thought? Not me.If you’re someone with experience using Panasonic cameras, I’m sure it’s no surprise that the AF performance on this lens is lacking when paired with a Panasonic body. If you’re a photographer, this issue certainly won’t affect you as much since the AF for photography is great and works just fine for the applications you’d want to use an 85mm prime for. For video, things do take a turn for the worst like most other L-mount lenses from Sigma. When I compared the continuous AF to the Panasonic 85mm, there were plenty of shortcomings and I would quite happily brand this as unusable for any serious client work. Its AF tracking is extremely poor at the best of times, and the only time I would see myself using the AF on this lens is by tapping the AF ON button and then flicking the camera back to MF so the focus remains on the subject I’m filming. To be honest, this is the method I usually opt for when using AF anyway, so the lack of reliable AF tracking really isn’t that much of a concern for me. It seems to me that Sigma have been behind the competition in terms of AF performance for their native L-mount lenses for quite some time, with their glass displaying more pulsing and an almost sporadic performance across the board. This is certainly an area where I’d like to see Sigma actively work to improve on because everything else about their lenses is just killer. Again, I do just want to clarify that this is ONLY for continuous AF mode when shooting video - in every other area, this lens works perfectly fine.
For me, the nicest feature of the lens for the video work I do is the ability to de-click the aperture, allowing for swift aperture changes while shooting video. This is such a big improvement from that horrible stepping you see from a clicked aperture ring on lenses without this feature. Sigma have absolutely smashed it out of the park here by allowing their uses to disable and enable the aperture click depending on what they’re shooting and I can see this being a huge benefit to those who shoot a lot of photo and video simultaneously. The package that you get with this lens and its incredible optical performance is the best in class, and it’s an absolute joy to use. Every single time I use it, I get giddy with excitement, almost like asking your parents on the way home from school if you can go to McDonalds and they say ‘yes’...just pure excitement. For this reason alone I think this lens is a justifiable purchase because it makes me fall in love with shooting over and over again.
The Sigma 85mm is literally perfect to me in terms of its image quality. The colours are vibrant, the contrast is rich, and it’s probably one of the most sharpest lenses I’ve used for both photo and video. It renders images beautifully, and if you do find yourself wanting this focal length on a regular basis and want the best image quality possible, then look no further - you have found THE lens. There really isn’t any other lens for the L-mount worth considering because it truly does outperform every other lens i’ve tested. It’s difficult to put into words...it’s the kind of thing you just have to use for yourself to understand what I mean. Anyway, I’m sure I’ve made it apparent enough how much I love this thing. It’s earned its rightful spot in my camera bag and you can bet that I’ll be using it as one of my staples in my lens lineup.