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Canon 85mm 1.2 II vs Sigma 85mm 1.4 EX DG HSM...which one is right for you...

MichaelVMichaelV Member
edited May 2015 in the gear
Sigma 85mm 1.4 EX DG HSM

Canon 85mm 1.2 II L Lens

You might be thinking of which 85mm to get.  At first, the Sigma 85mm and the Canon 85mm seem like competing lenses, but they are two different tools for two different purposes.

Why should you get an 85mm in the first place?  Most professional photographers usually say the 135mm is the better portrait lens.  The on-going theme is that more mm is better.  Longer focal lengths produce more flattering pictures making the subject look leaner whereas the wider focal lengths produce a fuller picture.  The 24mm and wider produce the fun-house effect.  Depends what you are aiming to do and personal preference, but most photographers would choose the 135mm over the 85mm if they could for portraits, however, they cant.  The 85mm is the perfect working length letting the photographer communicate effectively with the subject and able to move around indoors.  You may not have enough room to back up with the 135mm indoors.  Therefore, the 85mm is usually the tool of choice for portrait photographers.  

Canon created the ultimate 85mm portrait lens with the Canon 85mm 1.2 II.  It was specifically designed for the type of portrait work that most wedding photographers find themselves up against all the time.  However, it is only great for situations where you can control the situation.  It is not good for action oriented events.  The focus system is slow and I have found I never can hit the focus right when photographing action.  Its not the right tool for when you cant control the situation and have to "run and gun" so to speak.  It would be the last lens I would choose for an event.  

The Sigma 85mm 1.4 EX DG HSM was designed to fill in where the Canon 85mm 1.2 II left off.  It has a much faster focus system making it more ideal for "run and gun" situations.  The Sigma is much lighter and the ergonomics are better.  However, beyond a faster focus system and a better lighter footprint, thats where the comparison ends.  The Canon 85mm has better picture quality overall from sharpness to contrast.  The Sigma produces a flatter picture.  On the other hand, the Canon 85mm is not usable for an action oriented event whereas the Sigma is more geared for the action.  Flash cant be used all the time and we have to make do with the light we have therefore the desirability of the fast prime.  Its also a bit lighter when you are not weighed down by flash and accessories.  Therefore, the reason why you might want to use the Sigma.

I might make mention of the Canon 85mm 1.8 Non-L lens.  This lens is the fastest focusing lens that Canon makes and is also a natural candidate for situations you cant control.  The Sigma 85mm is sharper and is a faster lens at 1.4.  Contrast and sharpness are better in the Sigma 85mm.  The Canon is a very economical lens and you could afford to lose it or have it stolen whereas the Canon 85mm 1.2 cant afford to be lost or broken.  That might be a consideration when photographing portraits in questionable areas or while traveling. 

Another mention I want to make is the Canon 70-200 2.8 II L Lens.  If you really dont need the wider aperture, the Canon 70-200 II L 2.8 lens makes for a great portrait lens and is the standard lens every Canon photographer should have in their bag.  Speaking of "general purpose" lenses.  The Canon 70-200 II L 2.8 has a wide variety of uses from action to portraiture.  Its one of Canons sharpest lens.  My only "beef" with it is I wish it had more mm, but I guess we cant have everything.  The other consideration is sometimes you really need sub-2.0 aperture which that particular lens cant give you.

All of the 85mm lenses can be used for portrait work.  A well skilled photographer would be able to bring out the best with each lens.  However, the Canon just seems to outshine them all in terms of outright picture quality.  I am confident in saying that only the Canon 85mm 1.8 Non-L Lens and Sigma 85mm 1.4 EX DG HSM can be used for event and action.  I have tried to use the Canon 85mm 1.2 II L on many occasions for action, but just found that it was a paperweight in my bag.  Its horrible for action and Im pretty confident in saying that.  If you find yourself using fast primes a lot and money is an issue you may just want to get Sigma 85mm or the Canon 85mm 1.8.  I would rather choose the Sigma 85mm 1.4 over the Canon 85mm 1.8.  If I was going to the islands, Russia or some other place where petty crime is a huge problem I would take the Canon 85mm 1.8 as its more easily replaced.  I would only take the Canon 85mm 1.2 II to secured and safe places.  I would not walk out in public with it with strangers around. Its too expensive to simply walk about with it on your camera.

So I would choose the Canon 85mm 1.2 II for professional portrait photography where I can directly control the subjects in the photo.  If I cant control the subjects in the photo, I would choose the Sigma 85mm or the Canon 85mm 1.8.  Although the lenses share the same focal length, they are designed for different situations.  The Sigma 85mm 1.4/Canon 85mm 1.8 are designed for action and fluid events.  The Canon 85mm 1.2 II is a portrait workhorse specifically wedding photography where portraits go down in tight confined spaces and dark dungeons we call event halls and churches.  All of the lenses can be used for taking portrait shots, but the Canon 85mm 1.2 II seems to outshine in terms of overall picture quality.  Finally, as noted previously, most portrait photographers would prefer the Canon 135mm L 2.0 if they had the luxury of room and their clients wouldnt be so annoyed by the extra room involved.  The 85mm has the more ideal working distance where you can direct the subjects comfortably without raising your voice.  Raising your voice to talk to the subjects of the portrait may change their mood thus resulting in a less flattering photo.  The 135mm also is the least fastest lens out of all the lens mentioned in this post.  There might be certain creative effects you might be looking to create with the faster lens. 
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