Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Detailed First Impressions: Sigma 85mm 1.4 for Canon

Here's the video version, and the written version underneath it.

Some information may or may not pertain to you. I'll label as much as I can and you can skip to the parts you are interested in.

Reasons why I rented

I rented the Sigma 85mm 1.4 for general environmental portraiture with portrait and modeling type photography. Reasons I wanted to rent it is for

  1. One being the obvious, exploring new focal length with the wide open aperture being available. I've shot with a similar focal and aperture, the Canon 50mm 1.4, but I felt it wasn't giving the very much more appealing look I liked in the 85mm focal lengths. 
  2. This summer I was primarily focused on shooting and mastering the natural lighting for portrait and modeling photography in an environmental portraiture style.
  3. Another reason was being inspired by portrait photographer Dani Diamond. Which he stated he uses an 85mm 1.4 lens on his nikon setup. Since I loved his work a lot why not try the similar style, and a bit more towards fashion with my own twist.
  4. I was also advised by colleagues to try the current Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens over waiting for the ART version which everyone was crying over and over for, including myself. 

Test Environments
  1. 2 modeling shoots outdoor urban environments with 100% purely natural light.
  2. 1 modeling shoot indoors with artificial strobe light.
General settings 

The general settings with the Sigma 85mm 1.4  were mostly at f/1.4 for the natural lighting shots, and f/1.6-f/2 for the artificial strobe lighting.

During the shoot notes.
  1. If you haven't shot at f/1.4 or similar apertures such as up to f/2.8 you will not generally notice on the back of the camera's LCD if the shots are sharp or not, even when zooming in on the back of the camera because these are JPG files you're previewing NOT RAW files (Canon/Nikon DSLRs). Only true way to see them at their true form is to tether (or wirelessly) transfer the files while in the field and view it on a laptop or external monitor and zooming into the photo 1:1.
  2. AF/MF button, for me and my shooting techniques I did not notice my fingers switching from AF to MF... literally AT ALL! What I do notice is not hearing the AF ring moving and then freak out however many last shots were shot in MF. But once I noticed this I did change my normal shooting technique of where I place my hands/fingers on a camera and lens to a slightly different area and was much more careful from staying away from that certain area that would generally switch the AF/MF button easily. Now keep noted it was sturdy, and fine, not easy to move with fingers but when you're in a shooting mode and you are fully focused on the shots and nothing else around you its very easy to do things you don't even notice ever, i.e. backing up into a lake while walking backwards and taking photos of a model or bride/groom even.
Post Production Notes & Results of Finals

In these notes my focus was the focus hit ratio, nothing more or less. Everything like distortion, vignetting, etc. can be generally fixed in Lightroom, except an out of focus shot in most cases (without sharpening). Keep noted though my opinion is just my opinion these tests are not in super controlled studio testing like DxO would. These are real world hands-on experiences within portrait/modeling shoots. Understand my tests are based on my shooting and editing techniques I use. Shooting experiences would vary. I do not have much experience shooting in aperture 1.4 much because I lacked the more appealing focal length to shoot it more often.

Focus Tips/Notes to know

Hit and miss focus can vary into many different reasons. 
  1. One could be camera shake, as rule of thumb is shooting at 85mm you do not ever go under 1/85th (which by the way isn't a shutter number you can normally shoot from).
  2. Movement from the subject(s), such as in either action shots or non-action shots it can be caused by the movement of the subject. Rule of thumb is 1/60th should cover a "still" subject such as a modeling shoot, but also keep in mind of the previous tip.
  3. Lack of Light. For example, if you're trying to focus in pitch black your camera in 99% of the time in most of the cameras out there it will keep hunting the focus. If you lack any ambient light for the focus to find the contrast in the area you're telling it to hunt it will not find it until you add enough light to focus. At times you may not notice it but if you lack light and you're trying to focus on an eyeball it may focus on the cheek, or eyebrow, or worse other areas. Sometimes I myself will move around my camera to "help" the focus to hunt more and better but in reality I was making it worse. What I should have done was add more ambient light to the area I wanted to focus on.
  4. Focal Plane. I know a big word/term where most would not know this, but it is basically where you lock in the focus with your camera, and if you locked it in at f/1.4 and you or the subject moves any, you can get an out of focused shot. The level of being out of focus is of course dependent how far you are from the focal plane. A recent thing I've learned is to NEVER "Focus and Recompose" while shooting at certain wide open apertures especially f/1.4. This is why it is very, very tricky to shoot at wide open apertures get keep a great hit ratio, especially with experienced photographers/models as the speed of both can be very fast in poses and may be too fast where it can cause images to miss focus due to this reason. A great tip I've learned is to either use the closest focus point (manual selecting focus point) to the area you want to focus (the eye I'd assume) and if there is too much space you'd need to crop the image in post. The other option is to buy a DSLR with more focus points. I currently do not have many, the Canon 6D hence why I need to either crop, or even in some cases just don't crop and have a ton of head room (which sometimes does work with the image). But I do plan on getting a 5DmkIII to combat this issue.

Natural vs. Artificial Light with Sigma 85mm 1.4 - Focus/Hit Ratio

Once I got home from the shoot and went over the selection process based on focus (included into the video) and based on the overall hits and misses of focus I was shocked the natural light shots had more in focused shots than the artificial strobe lighting. At first yes, I only had the modeling lamp lighting the subject, sadly this was not enough for the focus to lock-in into the area I wanted it to lock-in. So I added the indoor room light, which of course was minimal but it locked in the focus every time without issue, but was it enough? I do not know if that was the cause, all I can do is assume it was not strong enough for the camera's AF system to lock onto the subject's eyeball. 

Other Thoughts

85mm Focal Length: My general thoughts about 85mm focal length, well its 85mm. It's nothing entirely special, or more interesting than a 200mm would give. Until you put it on f/1.4 to f/1.8. It is only better than a 200mm 2.8 lens only because of weight, length and ease of moving around with an 85mm 1.4 lens than a 70-200 2.8 lens. In certain circumstances such as types of shooting situations you're in I'd pick one over the other. Modeling, or portrait sessions, I'd take the 85mm 1.4 lens any day, but a wedding or other fast paced events its the 70-200mm 2.8 lens.

Shooting at f/1.4: Shooting at f/1.4 is not easy. It's especially difficult with faster paced posing in modeling shoots. I've shot at 50mm 1.4 before and it was fine , but since this is my first time using an 85mm prime lens it just made final results much more appealing to look at than a 50mm would in most cases. As I've mentioned already about taking precautions and other tips, these are vital to getting some or to increase your hit ratio shooting at f/1.4.


Should you or should you not get the Sigma 85mm 1.4. I cannot say for you. But for me and what I want to accomplish with my visions of what is appealing and interesting photography, such as using lots of depth of field while shooting at wide open apertures like f/1.4 the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens is great for portraits and modeling shoots, which for me works perfectly well. As mentioned this is not a review, just a first impressions based on 2 shoots in 3 environments. I do plan on renting this lens at least 5 more times possibly before I could afford to buy it. And if the ART version comes out before I buy an 85mm 1.4 lens I'll be renting that one for sure and posting my impressions here as well.

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