The Sigma 85mm f1.4 as a macro lens?

Almost anyone who has been photography for awhile knows that an 85mm focal length lens is considered perfect for portraits. The lens is flattering to the human face and an 85mm lens is relatively small and unobtrusive. With a fast aperture of f1.4 you can get micro-thin slice of focus that makes your subject pop off the screen in a sea of blur. No wonder wedding photographers, journalists and fine-art photographers love a fast 85mm lens (see this review of the Sigma 85mm lens for portrait shooting).

I had planned to use my Sigma 85mm lens to do pet portraits and kid photos but have not yet set up any shoots of these subjects. This weekend for grins I went out with just the 85mm to see what I could do with nature subjects. Right away I found out that the Sigma focuses really close and at f1.4 I got a really lovely wash of blur that looked painterly (see below).

Closest focus with the Sigma 85mm lens at f1.4

I loved the look of the shallow depth-of-field but wanted the lens to focus even closer. The easy answer of course is too add an extension tube which is simply a hollow tube that pushes the lens away from the camera and allows the lens to focus closer. To learn more about extension tubes see this link.

I grabbed my set of Kenko extension tubes and slapped the 36mm tube between the camera and the Sigma 85mm lens. Suddenly the Sigma portrait lens focused super close and I could make frame-filling photos of all sorts of wee things in nature. I loved the soft painterly look I was getting using the lens wide open at f1.4. And the best thing, at such wide apertures, is that shutter speeds were lightning fast so I could just hand hold the camera and get tiny pricks of sharp focus in a wash of blur. The Sigma 85mm f1.4 is now going with me in my nature photography photo bag  as my ‘artistic ‘macro’ lens. I am looking forward to taking it with me on my upcoming spring photo tour. Watch out Monet!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

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11 Responses to “The Sigma 85mm f1.4 as a macro lens?”

  1. Very interesting – great bokeh and nice and sharp, especially for being hand-held! Really something to think about.

  2. I adore your “Points” image! Beautiful!

  3. I have the Nikkor 85mm 3.5 macro, and just can’t put that lens down…it’s Amazing!!!!! I love that Itty Bitty world we have out in nature as well as in our homes!!!! The subject matter is endless!!!!!

    • Yes but the difference in the small slice of focus between f3.5 and f1.4 is startling! If only true macro lenses had super wide aperture openings for that painterly look!

  4. Robert Skoye Says:

    exquisite ‘painterly’ photos, darwin. did you use your sigma 85mm on a full frame sensor or aps? i have the sigma 50mm 2.8 macro, but have to get in way too close to my subject with my full frame, and so i tend to use it as a 75 mm on my crop sensor (1.5x) camera.

  5. Fun stuff! Rock on Darwin!

  6. Gorgeous! Oh, gear. Just when I think I have everything i could want, I read another blog post . . .

  7. Hey there, been watching this lens with much interest!
    thanks for the wonderful photo’s and insights!
    cheers,
    Evan

  8. Looks very impressive…. infact I have been thinking of procuring one for myself. Wasn’t sure which one will be good and value for money – 85mm or 105mm. A line of advice will be highly appreciated. Thanks.

    • IF you are talking MACRO lenses (e.g. an 85mm macro vs the 105mm macro) get the 105 (longer macro lenses give you more working distance from the subject and narrower backgrounds). The lens I was using is not a macro lens but rather a portrait lens made to focus close with extension tubes. It is unique in offering a f1.4 aperture that no macro lens has.

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