85mm lenses head-to-head

25 July 2017 | Category: Stills

85mm lenses head-to-head

 

One of the classic focal lengths, 85mm is incredibly useful for a variety of subjects. Portrait photography, especially, is pretty much built on this focal length. It’s also useful for events, still life, music and low light, and many other things besides. Right now there is a lot of choice on the market when it comes to 85mm. While that’s great news for consumers, it can also leave you feeling a little confused about which is the best option for you. For this test we have used Nikon mount lenses, however, we do also stock them in Canon EF mount, and we’re going to focus on the Nikon 85mm f/1.4, the Sigma 85mm Art f/1.4 and the Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 compare in a few key areas, with some pros and cons for each lens. 

 

Portraits 

Of course, 85mm is the classic focal length for portraits (when using a full frame camera). Remember, if you intend to use an 85mm lens on an APS-C camera such as the Nikon D500, the equivalent focal length will be 127.5mm - which is still a great focal length for portraits. We used the Nikon D5 for this set of portraits.

All three of the lenses yielded excellent results when it came to portraiture. In terms of ease of use, the Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 is manual focus only - that can be trickier to use, especially if you’re trying to work quickly, or the subject moves. The Nikon 85mm lens is the lightest of the three lenses. If you’re looking for a balance of sturdy build, with the benefits of autofocus, the Sigma 85mm Art lens is ideal. Overall, the Sigma Art lens seemed to produce the most pleasing colours and results, while the Zeiss, when focused correctly, proved to be the sharpest. 

Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Sigma 85mm Art f/1.4

Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4


Still Life 

None of these lenses is a true macro lens, but they can never-the-less be useful for classic macro type subjects, such as flowers. We wanted to look at the detail produced by these lenses, so we used the Nikon D810 for these shots - with its high-resolution 36-megapixel sensor, we should be able to see exactly what the lenses are capable of. We used manual focus for these shots, with the D810 mounted on a sturdy tripod and live view engaged. By zooming in at 10x, critical focus is ensured.

Although all of the pictures are attractive, once again it’s the Zeiss which is the sharpest. Colours are also slightly different from the Zeiss. The Sigma has a large focusing ring, as does the Zeiss, while the Nikon is a little fiddlier to use. How background blur is rendered is often down to the personal taste of each individual photographer, but the Zeiss produces ever so slightly more defined shapes in the background blur than the other two lenses. 

Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Sigma 85mm Art f/1.4

Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4


Bokeh 

The out of focus bokeh areas produced by all three lenses is very attractive. While it may be down to personal taste which you prefer, we can see that the Sigma lens produces the smoothest, roundest and softest bokeh when compared to the other lenses. The Zeiss bokeh is a little more defined, which leads to an overall feeling of sharpness - which may be preferable to some. The Nikon bokeh is somewhere in between the two. For this comparison, each lens was mounted on a Nikon D5, which was in turn mounted on a sturdy tripod. Manual focus was used for all three cameras, and the lens set to its maximum aperture of f/1.4.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Sigma 85mm Art f/1.4

Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4


 

In conclusion, all three of these lenses have their pros and cons, and it’s likely to depend both on the type of pictures you want to shoot and how you like to use your lenses which one you might eventually go for. Here’s a quick look at how they stack up: 

Sigma 85mm Art f/1.4 Lens

Pros: Sharp, sturdy build, lovely bokeh, large focusing ring. Cons: Heavy, large. 

 

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 Lens 

Pros: Light (comparatively), easy to use. Cons: Cheaper construction, not quite as sharp as the others.

 

Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 Lens

Pros: Super sharp, well-built, large focusing ring, lovely bokeh. Cons: Heavy, manual focus only.