As we’ve noted on many occasions before, prime lenses are back in fashion and so everybody is making them, but few as well as Sigma, with its much-awarded Art series. These are premium quality lenses which are designed to compete with the best in the business from the likes of Zeiss, but at a more affordable price. They’re beautifully made and finished on the outside, with all the lens tech Sigma can muster on the inside. 
The 85mm f1.4 DG HSM Art model joins the current renaissance in this short telephoto focal length – driven by the growing number of interchangeable lens cameras with full-35mm size sensors – so there’s plenty of competition. The optical construction comprises 14 elements in 12 groups, including two made from Sigma’s FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) glass and one with anomalous partial dispersion and high refraction characteristics. The FLD glass offers ultra-low dispersion in combination with high transmittance and the anomalous dispersion characteristics of fluorite, but without the high cost.
A new, higher-torque HSM focusing drive increases the autofocusing speed, and a full-time manual focus override can be engaged at any time by simply rotating the focusing ring. The 85mm f1.4 Art lens has a minimum focusing distance of 85 centimetres and a minimum aperture of f16. A nine-blade diaphragm gives smoother out-of-focus effects which really compliment subjects such as portraiture, as it produces softer and less distracting backgrounds. The combination of a short telephoto focal length and very fast maximum aperture makes this lens suitable for a wide range of applications – portraiture and people, weddings and events, street photography, night scenes.
As with many primes, it’s a lot more versatile than many photographers imagine, but it’s the optical performance which makes Sigma’s Art series 85mm f1.4 a winner. Sharpness is exemplary even when shooting at f1.4, while distortion is virtually non-existent and chromatic aberrations reduced to a minimum at any aperture. Slight vignetting is evident at f1.4, but completely eliminated by stopping down to f2.0. Beyond all the technicalities, images taken with the 85mm have truly beautiful visual characteristics, balancing definition and smoothness in a way that’s mesmerising… and makes every one a winner.