Lens Guides

SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art for Cinematographers

Working as a full-time Cinematographer, but previously a professional still photographer, the folks at SIGMA Cine asked me to take their new 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art lens for a test drive. I was on set shooting a new film in Flagstaff, Arizona and decided to use the SIGMA fp camera as my “B” cam on this project.

85mm F1.4 DG DN Art and SIGMA fp on Set

Although my first inclination was to attach the MC-31 PL mount converter on the little SIGMA fp, I decided to leave the original L-Mount intact on the camera and shoot with photo glass. The new 85mm lens was a great choice to get close, tight “hero” shots on actors, to get any type of shots that required low light, and to have the ability to move quickly with a small camera. Its F1.4 aperture, mated with the fp, gives you a low light monster quite capable of getting any filmmaker the shot in challenging conditions.

Besides the 85mm on the fp, I also had the SIGMA 35mm F1.2 DG DN | Art, 45mm F2.8 DG DN | Contemporary, 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art, and the 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art available in the lens case for this project. I found myself going to the 85mm on my B Cam to cover close-ups of actors, while my A Cam got the establishing and medium shots for the scenes. Typically, I would use my A Cam with the SIGMA Cine 18-35mm T2 and my B Cam with the SIGMA Cine 50-100mm T2. This time around, the B was the SIGMA fp with the 85mm on it 75% of the time.

85mm F1.4 DG DN Art Advantages for Cinematographers

Film and video production shooters will appreciate the lockable and de-clickable aperture ring (F1.4 to F16) on the lens. Although the lens is focus by wire for manual focus film/video shooting, I found the focus smooth and very useable on set. The focus ring is ribbed and has a great tactile feel when you pull focus manually. Ergonomics are big deal with a cameras, lenses and any tools you have in your hand all day long. This lens simply feels good in your hand and around your fingers.

People tend to ask me “What camera do you recommend and what lenses do you recommend?” My answer is always the same… “The one that feels good in your hand and feels like it’s a piece of you.” This lens is not too large, nor too small, and the weight is just right. It feels like you have a great piece of glass in your hand that is evenly balanced, and the small details have been engineered with that in mind. Additionally, the lens is dust and splashproof. If you’re in the field using the lens in challenging weather, this is always a welcome feature to any professional.

The sharpness of this lens cannot be understated. When I was working as a full-time still photographer, I shot with many different 85mm lenses over the years for portrait work. All of the fabled portrait lenses from various manufacturers. This lens is the sharpest 85 I’ve used in my career. In film production, being tack sharp isn’t always the desired effect, but for Cinematographers working today, we all know that you can either “dial back” the sharpness in post production or simply use filtration in the front of the lens while shooting.

If you love to light your subject with a strong backlight, whether that is the sun or hard light source like a Fresnel, your subject gets this nice creamy and dreamlike quality to the shot. Although tack sharp, when lit correctly, it provides a soft and pleasing look. The bokeh you get from the lens is beautiful and has characteristics all its own with its eleven blades.

A Compact Filming Package

For handheld and small gimbal shooting on set, this lens is very lightweight and makes shooting in your hand a breeze. When paired with the SIGMA fp it gives you a compact and fast package while on set. SIGMA has given users a new lens that is a great match for the wonderful, small 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary.

When I’m working on productions, regardless of size or budget, it’s always nice to have a small camera on set where I, or a camera operator, can be quick and nimble grabbing shots. I like to have at least one camera to move about quickly, getting moments that aren’t always planned. When shooting like this I almost always go to a fast “portrait lens” like the 85mm. When pairing it with a camera like the fp, I can shoot full frame at 85mm or shoot the fp in Super 35mm mode and have a great 136mm focal length punched in.

In those situations where you need a little more distance but can’t get close due to the other camera shooting a medium or wide, the SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG DN | Art is a go to choice for me. On film sets, one thing that we’re always asking for is more time. We all want things to run smoothly, but time is something we all run up against on the set. Shooting with SIGMA photo glass like the 85mm on a small camera simply helps me get shots I would otherwise not get. By using photo glass like the 85mm I can give myself the opportunity to quickly grab shots that normally would take time and extra crew to get. Additionally, when using SIGMA Cine glass on set, I need glass that matches. By using the SIGMA photo glass, I get a perfect match to the larger cine lenses on the set.

SIGMA pays attention to research and development, engineering, and most importantly, they pay attention to their customers. Keeping the 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art lens on the SIGMA fp for 3/4 of the time on a film set says this about the lens… it’s a winner. I love it!

Comments (1)
  1. Alexander Kubak says:

    Wonderful review, thank you. I have one question about the 85 mm 1.4 lens. Is this lens suitable for manual focus using a focus pulling sytem. Since it is fly by wire, I understtand the marks sometimes may not work, but how much of an issue is that, can it be used for most situation for simple manual focus pulls? Thank you very much.

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