© Wataru Nakamura

SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art  Impression

The desired 85mm F1.4 from the "Art line,"
the avatar of SIGMA's present state

SIGMA's Art line lenses are dream lenses for photo enthusiasts, even though SIGMA doesn't prioritize it over other product lines of lenses. People pursue their dreams. The Art line embodies the dream of an optical equipment manufacturer in a tangible way and symbolizes SIGMA's present state. The 85mm F1.4 is a special lens that everyone wants to own. It was predicted to be renewed when the concept of the new product lines was announced, and I was waiting to try it. As far as I can tell from the product information, this lens has everything SIGMA can put into.

Rethinking the association between
85mm and "portrait"

It appears that the general public associates the word "portrait" with something artistic. While it is widely believed that portraits in photography are typically shot with the 85mm, other focal lengths are used as well. Jeanloup Sieff, for example, uses the 21mm. Some photographers use the 35mm to include the background, while others pick the 50mm to further zoom in to the subject. Our understanding of portraits is based on the pictures shot with a variety of focal lengths. However, when shooting portraits with a lens with a minimum focus distance of 85cm, a horizontal angle of view of 28.6 degrees, and a maximum F-number of 1.4, it's best used by shooting straightforward just like the original "portraits" in painting. So, I started with shooting a subject that way to see what this lens can deliver.

You can view all the sample images at their original size from the gallery at the bottom of this page.
© Wataru Nakamura

Natural facial expression is found only in everyday scenes.

Shooting close people is a wonderful thing, no matter what kind of equipment we use. Yet, shooting with the large-diameter fixed-focal 85mm F1.4 like this one is undeniably cool. By shooting wide open with a distance only realized by the relationship, you can shoot a picture like the above effortlessly and it should look special to someone who doesn't know much about photography and cameras. Someone close to you shows natural facial expressions in everyday situations and you cherish them. You're the best photographer because you frame his/her facial expressions that only you know and these pictures shot in a straightforward manner become your personal records and memories. A stranger would shoot differently because his/her distance would be different. This lens adds natural effects to the very pictures shot straightforward because of its remarkably realistic rendition and beautiful bokeh.

© Wataru Nakamura

There's nothing special about this shot. I mean, if I were someone who isn't very close to her, I would try to shoot pictures with the eyes wide open. Actually, I shot that way, too. Interestingly though, I like the shot with the eyelid half-open best. Why? Because there's no "pause" in everyday life. Time keeps flowing. I believe shooting such scenes enriches my life.

© Wataru Nakamura

Shooting like the 35mm or the 50mm to include background is difficult unless you step way backward. Because of the reasonable power of compression and the extremely thin depth of field, the 85mm naturally emphasizes the person, regardless of the elements in the background. Therefore, in my opinion, the 85mm must be able to capture the air that the subject has. More precisely, I'm interested in how it "adds" such air. The model is Mina Koike, a pianist living in New York. Even though she plays in public, being photographed isn't her job. Though she didn't mean to pause, she brushed her hair back. The background is an exact replica of the brilliant scene with a transparent Autumn light. Besides, the sharp focal peak and the beautiful back bokeh add something more to the memory.

© Wataru Nakamura

Walking around the neighborhood. The sunshine feels warm, but it was freezing cold. I focused on her right, better-lit eye. This picture reproduces the atmosphere faithfully. You can tell that I shot from some distance because of the composition, but the defocusing effect of the foreground is still very strong. Yet, the bokeh doesn't look as if everything was completely dissolved: it still looks substantial. Without this bokeh taste, I wouldn't be able to get the desired results.

© Wataru Nakamura

Break time at a cafe. After feeling warm, she started looking at the menu. Only for the very first shot of this report, I gave her instructions. I did so because her facial expressions changes depending on the angle. For all other shots, I shot straightforward. I guess she felt nothing special being shot. She told me that as a pianist she has been photographed many times. As for this session, I'm sure she found it disarmingly casual.

This lens formulates beautiful images.
It's the best lens to capture someone before you.

Mina koike > Web site (Japanese)
Pianist based in NY and Japan. Adjunct faculty at New York University.

© Wataru Nakamura

TELEPHOTO

Next, I shot this 85mm in the field. The best two approaches to enjoy the angle of view of this focal length are to "compress time" and to "shoot passage of time."

© Wataru Nakamura
© Wataru Nakamura

The 85mm is less flexible than the 50mm which can be shot like a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens. Instead, it has a strong cropping power which works to zoom in to the scene and express compressed time. In addition, if you use leading lines in composition, you can express passage of time. I think these interesting effects are unique to the focal length around 85mm.

© Wataru Nakamura

Summarizing all the information inside the frame just like making collages is also fun. The 85mm lets us enjoy omitting and extracting.

© Wataru Nakamura

Wide angle lenses are not the only choice for vast scenes. In fact, I shoot them most often with focal lengths longer than around 85mm. It's thrilling to shoot it wide open, too.

© Wataru Nakamura

When choosing a telephoto lens, I guess many people would think of the 70-200mm F2.8 first. However, the world projected by the angle of view of 85mm is unique. Because it has existed for a long time, it must have something special. The large-diameter of F1.4 stimulates the desire to shoot. When this lens was delivered from SIGMA, it came with their notes. They were so powerful that I decided to take all shots wide open. I was deeply impressed by the high performance that withstands such demanding condition and I truly enjoyed shooting it. You can use it for portraits following the royal road, but it has many other applications. In any case, this lens inspires you to grab your camera.