New Toy, the Siggy 85 (Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM)
I finally bit the bullet and got one of those Sigma 85mm f/1.4 in a Nikon mount. It was a bit hard going Sigma way as their reputation for building lens is not exactly stellar but then again even the Business's Big Dogs had left a few of those dogs out their shops lately. I also found it very hard to justify spending almost double the Siggy's price on Nikon's brand new counterpart given the slightly unfavourable wind coming from some few select spots on the net. A few fellow photogs from the Digital Wedding Forum also seemed to lean heavily on Sigma's side.
So, can Sigma deliver at around half the price of the Nikkor? Who cares?!?! More to the point, I won't be able to compare it with the Nikkor, but rather rely my hands-on experience after using it for the past few weeks.
A few words about how it feels and works first.
It might be significantly less costly than Nikkor's 85 f1.4G but $1000 is not exactly pocket change for most of us and at this price point it would be nice for Sigma to include a 50 cent body seal gasket around the lens mount, thus completing an otherwise good, chunky, solid feel one has on first contact. Sigma's "old-pro" crinkly finish is mercifully gone, replaced by a confidence inspiring flat rubbery coating which helps handling, especially on lens changes. The rubber seems OK, hopefully will turn out longer lasting then what I've seen on Nikon's best (hint Nikon's rubber is disappointingly rubbish) . Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the "in hand", tactile experience this lens offers, the first Sigma I actually like holding.
Instead of a simple weather sealing gasket, Sigma does include a novel hood extender for DX format cameras, extender who shall remain safely in the box untouched as I have no intention of ever buying a DX sensored Nikon but might be of some use to other people.
Chunky is a word I need to revisit here. Any time I look at the front element I'm reminded this is a BIG piece of glass. The stuff inside is equally big and one will be on occasion reminded of this size, mostly when shifting the focus from near to infinity. The full focus path is short (maybe 1/4 turn of the ring) and the action is surprisingly quick so when the internal optics are shifted back and forth, the resulting inertia is enough to slightly press the whole camera on my nose.
Speaking of autofocus, I was about to break out the AF charts and dwell into the micro adjustment when I noticed a rather odd behaviour. Unlike any other lens I've ever owned, the AF is slightly in front on normal daylight but veers into slight back-focus on any other kind of lighting, including the SB900's AF assist. Odd indeed and impossible to compensate via camera's micro adjust. The difference is actually small, requiring no more than a +/- 2 each way to be dead on so I'm simply focusing on either corner of the eye appropriately for the light I'm under. No big deal.
Things could get tricky however when shooting wide open, which this lens actually begs one to do. At f1.4 the depth of field could easily pass off the Gillette ProGlide Challenge. Yep, THAT thin and anything out of focus gets blurred out of existence very quickly. On the center and the 2/3rd composition areas the lens is plenty sharp and surprisingly contrasty wide open, but if your life depends on shooting charts, brick walls or other exceedingly flat objects at minimum focus distance, wide open, the corner sharpness is bound to disappoint you (it recovers by f4 or so).
For portrait work however, this lens is very satisfying. Anything that requires selective focus, creamy OOF areas for both the background and the foreground but biting sharpness everywhere else you need it, the Siggy is very hard to fault. It will point to your lacking technique and poor handling instead. This lens proved I'm not as hot as I thought I was, my tendency to rock back and forth a bit while focus-recompose being mercilessly highlighted at anything f2.8 or under. Want to flaunt your f1.4 shots around the net? Make sure you have everything, down to your breathing technique, done to a "t". Or use a tripod. The margin of error on this lens wide open is as big as its DOF. Period.
So am I happy with this lens? Yes, her minor foibles aside (funny how everything we love becomes a HER) the 85mm Siggy earned her place in my bag. She's one of those lens begging to be used even when you would actually need a 24mm :). Nice chunk of glass...
Not quite sure how to post samples here, but I have plenty for anyone interested, ranging from my cat (I could not miss the opportunity...) to my mediocre wedding work. Details to either contact me or blog work are in my profile. Please feel free to ask any questions.
Cheers Everyone and thanks for reading this far
Minor issues: lack of weather sealing, slight AF shift depending on lighting conditions, minimum focus distance could be closer.
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