Last week, Dustin Abbott (whose reviews are generally well regarded) published a video comparing four popular 85mm lenses from Canon, Sigma, Tamron, and Zeiss. The purpose of his test was to evaluate the four lenses for pure resolving ability and to then publish his findings about which (if any) proved superior to the rest. His test was presented in two parts with a video for each part. The first part illustrates his comparisons of resolving power between all four of these lenses. Then, in part two, Abbott dives further into the details like bokeh, vignetting, chromatic aberration, etc., to provide a more detailed analysis of these lenses individually and as a group.

Rather than conclude his review by simply crowning the "winner", Abbott describes these lenses in terms of which are better suited to different shooting styles or conditions which made this review especially helpful.

85mm Lens Shootout: Sigma vs Zeiss OtusShots taken with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss Otus f/1.4 shown side-by-sideCredit: Dustin Abbott

Part 1: Resolution test

Abbott prefaces his test by conceding that for things like portraiture, pure resolution is not always the best metric by which to judge a lens and offers, as an example, the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L MkII that was absent from this lineup (according to Abbott, this test compares four of the most recent class-leading 85mm lenses). Abbott compares these four lenses head-to-head against each other which was a helpful way to do it (rather than simply shooting each lens and posting results and then ranking them). Are you interested in seeing how the Canon lens stacks up against the Sigma? Do you want to see which is sharper—the Zeiss Otus or the Tamron (two lenses at the opposite end of the price spectrum)? See all of that in Part 1 of this review, below.  

If you don't have time to watch the whole video, here's a recap. Part 1 is all about pure resolution. How sharply, did each of these lenses render fine detail in the final images? In the video above, Abbott compares all four of these lenses looking for sharpness at the middle of the frame and out toward the edges. He also points out that though these are all "85mm" lenses, there is a focal-length difference among the four with the Sigma being the shortest, the Tamron being the longest, and the Otus and Canon being roughly equal. So how did these four lenses stack up in terms of pure resolving power?

Zeiss Otus wins the resolution test

The Zeiss Otus was the clear winner of this group. There was a marked difference in how sharply details were rendered at center frame with the Zeiss Otus lens. Abbott claims that in real-world applications, this lens will consistently provide superior resolution at the center of the frame where it matters the most. 

The Sigma and Tamron lenses found themselves in a virtual tie for second place after the initial resolution test in Part 1 though Abbott does say that he'd give a slight edge to the Sigma because it's slightly sharper even at a wider aperture (f/1.4 vs f/1.8). 

With regards to sheer resolving power, the Canon 85mm f/1.4 seemed to be the least sharp of the four lenses reviewed, but as Abbott points out, the difference is negligible. And while the Canon has less contrast than the other lenses in this review, it is more contrasty than the more sought-after the Canon 85mm f/1.2. For portrait shooters, more sharpness and contrast may not be desirable. 

All of these lenses, bottom-line, are very, very sharp lenses that are going to deliver pretty exceptional resolution performances.

Part 2: Rendering

As Abbott states several times, while Part 1 of this test is all about resolution, resolution is not the be-all and end-all of evaluating a lens—especially at a focal length of 85mm (an ideal focal length for portrait shooting). So in Part 2, he takes a look at a lot of other characteristics that all shape the aesthetic quality of the images these lenses capture in order to provide us with the most well-rounded evaluation of these lenses' physical abilities. Simultaneously, Abbott points out that these differences aren't "good or bad," but rather they make each of these lenses uniquely suited for different shooting styles and applications. Dustin Abbott's full Part 2 video is below. 


The Zeiss Otus produced far and away the most well corrected, highest resolution images with the most contrast. It is also the most expensive lens of the group with a price tag of around $4,000. Furthermore, the enormous amount of resolution and contrast might be a detriment for portrait photographers because it could mean more post-processing work to retouch skin. Also, for portraiture, a lot of contrast in skin areas may go against the aesthetic you're trying to achieve and so while it is the most resolute, contrasty, and well balanced lens, it's not necessarily the best lens for every shoot or for every shooter. 

Abbott claims the Sigma has the "best performance across the board." He seems to conclude that while the Sigma lens isn't the best at everything, it's very good at most things, and where it does have weaknesses, those weaknesses aren't as great as they are in some of the other cameras. For example, the Sigma's resolution isn't quite that of the Otus but is still very good, its color rendition is good and that while it's also the shortest of the lenses and, thus, can't provide as soft a background, it's bokeh is nice while exhibiting less busyness than the Otus' bokeh.

The Canon seems to display the greatest amount of light transmission of the group and so it produces the brightest images. Abbott says that the IS (image stabilization) feature on the Canon 85mm f/1.4, makes it especially well suited for shooting on-the-go in low light. Additionally, the Canon seems to produce the most pleasing bokeh of all four lenses reviewed. So, for portrait photographers, the Canon might be the best option of the group. Finally, Abbott says of the Tamron, "It's amazing how well this lens hangs with the rest of the group considering it's the smallest, the lightest, and by far the cheapest."

Zeiss Otus: 

  • Pros: Highest quality lens of the four reviewed. The most well balanced lens, provides a neutral look with tons of resolution and the most contrast. 
  • Cons: Most expensive ($4,500). Resolution and contrast might be "too much" for certain applications, like portraiture where a softer look may is more desirable
  • Recommended for: Those who can afford it and shoot a lot of high fashion and work with professional models.


  • Pros: Best lens "across the board". Great resolution and contrast but less than the Otus. Great color rendition. Less expensive than the Otus.
  • Cons: Shortest of the four lenses and so may not render backgrounds as softly as the others. Bokeh is busier than Canon and Tamron lenses.
  • Recommended for: Studio photographers.


  • Pros: Best light transmission of the four lenses delivering the brightest image. IS feature makes it especially well suited for handheld low-light photography. Nicest looking bokeh of all four lenses and has great facial rendering. 
  • Cons: Doesn't quite have the contrast or resolution of the Sigma or Otus and so unless you're shooting events where the priority is being able to capture images in low-light, you might be better off with the Sigma. 
  • Recommended for: Event photographers.


  • Pros: Price (< $800), the smallest and lightest lens of the group, all-around performance (considering its price). 
  • Cons: Least appealing skin rendering.
  • Recommended for: Non-specialist photographers who want an 85mm lens at a great price.

Source: Dustin Abbott