I recently tried out a Sigma 85mm 1.4 for sports photography. Sigma’s new Art series lens has certainly been getting some positive press in other areas so I’d thought I’d try it out for sports photography. I shot some high school basketball games with it to test the autofocus, sharpness, and vignetting. All-in-all, the Sigma performed very well. I tested the lens on a Canon 1DX Mark II at the Denver Coliseum, a moderately well-lit venue.
Perhaps the most important element for sports photography is autofocus. A lens has to be capable of fast and consistent autofocus. The Sigma definitely has one of these 2 traits and isn’t too bad on the other front. Its autofocus is very fast. In fact, it is faster than a Canon 70-200 2.8 L! The the lens isn’t quite as accurate as I’d like, but consistency wasn’t a major factor either. For example, out of 30 shots I might have 3 that are out of focus with the 70-200 2.8 L but the Sigma would get more like 7-8 out of focus over that same stretch. While 75% is still a good hit rate, it’s not in the league of the top Canon lenses for sure.
As far as sharpness goes, the Sigma 85 1.4 is stunning. I would say the lens is razor sharp at most apertures except for under f2.0. This is truly extraordinary performance from an 85mm lens.
Well, everything good in life has a price and weight is the price you will pay for the high performance of this lens. The Sigma weighs in at 40 oz. If you think of it as a replacement for a 70-200 2.8, the weight won’t bother you so much. But if you’re used to lightweight primes, the size of this lens will probably bug you a lot. The narrow depth of field at wide apertures is also a drawback. I am not one to drool over shots taken at f1.4 with completely blurred backgrounds. In addition to the background being blurred, so is much of the subject at this aperture. This was no different for sports. The extremely narrow depth of field combined with some issues of autofocus inaccuracy makes this lens virtually unusable for moving subjects below f2.0 unless you’re willing to put up with a lot of images going in the trash bin.
At apertures like f2.5 and 2.8, I really loved this lens for basketball. Having an extra stop of light when you need it like in poorly lit high school gyms is one reason to highly recommend this lens for some types of sports photography. And of course, this lens just cannot be beat for portraits. If you are in need of an 85mm lens, look no further than the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art.