Sigma 85mm f/1.4 HSM. Sweet.

Sigma, long a competitor in the pro-sumer zoom lens market, has also shown it is not afraid to mix it up in the higher-end lens market. For several years they have had well-reviewed versions of 70-200mm 2.8 and 24-70mm 2.8 lenses. They have also pushed into fixed-length (see this post on why I hate the term "prime" - except when it's used properly) lens markets with 300mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4 and others. Soon (thought no date was given), their newest entry in their "fast and fixed" line will be the 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens.sigma85_1.4.png

In Sigma parlance, "EX" refers to the special finish and higher build quality on its higher-end products, and DG refers to a lens suitable for full-frame digital and film cameras (as opposed to "DC" lenses, which are only for "crop-sensor" cameras, such as Nikon D300 or Canon EOS 7D, to name a few). HSM refers to focus driven by Hypersonic Motor.

I have multiple times rented the Canon 85mm f/1.2L USM (both the original and the "II" versions) lens for specific occasions when I wanted insanely thin depth of field or was working in ridiculously low light, such as a local college dance group that seems fond of performing in near total darkness. The Canon is a great lens optically, but it handles like a shot put. In addition to being larger and heavier than seems necessary, both manual and autofocus are slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow. The "II" version improved handling compared to the original, but only incrementally. Sigma's new lens is shown here in a photo provided by the company, apparently in Canon mount. Based on the known dimension of the mount flange, this lens appears to by noticeably smaller than Canon's big-ass 85mm, while only being a measly 1/3 stop slower. I would also say it is somewhat more compact than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4.

Way back in the day (late '80's), when I was a Nikon shooter, I owned a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 for a couple of years. This was also a great lens optically, though I could never master getting basketball action shots reliably in focus with it at f/1.4. I may not do a whole lot better with that today, as that is very sparse depth of field. Nikon's current autofocus version of this lens appears to be the same basic design, though it uses the old-style body-driven "screwdriver" type AF rather than the newer, more reliable "hypersonic" style motor. Sigma's new lens will almost certainly be a faster, more accurate, and quieter alternative for Nikon users.

Do I sound like I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this lens for a test drive? Well, yes, I am. While Canon OEM zooms are my bread and butter, I do like a fast fixed-length lens at times for certain purposes, and am not married to Canon glass only. Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 lens is very attractive to me, though I've not sunk the bucks into one yet. It is well-reviewed around the 'net, but for my work, the 50mm is more of a "would be nice" than a "must have." That scale may slide once there is a sustained improvement in the economy.

With it's greater reach, the 85mm could rate as a "must have" for my work, particularly with the aforementioned dance/stage events, and also with high school/college diving and dog agility events, both of which involve fast action under dodgy indoor lighting and usually a ban on electronic flash.

Sigma's press release does not specify if the 85mm is compatible with a 1.4X teleconverter. The lens would almost definitely be a "must have" for me if it was 1.4X-ready, as that would essentially give me a dual-duty lens that would also replace a 135mm f/2.0 lens, which is another lens I rent on a recurring basis for similar events. I have an inquiry in with Sigma at this time. Not surprisingly, information on exact release date and price are not being disclosed at this time, though I was told June is a target for release. I also asked about precise weight and dimensions of the lens for direct comparison with current equivalent Nikon and Canon lenses and if the Sigma 85mm to get a better idea of the handling and flexibility of the Sigma. I am told answers on these questions may come by Monday.

I'll let you know.

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