All Fstoppers Tutorials on Sale!

The 12 Best Prime Lenses for Sony Shooters on a Budget

The 12 Best Prime Lenses for Sony Shooters on a Budget

The Sony system is blessed with an abundance of thirdparty manufacturers making excellent glass. Many of them are available for a discount right now, so here’s a short roundup of the best autofocus prime lenses available on the FE mount, from wide to telephoto.

Third-party manufacturers make Sony’s mirrorless cameras an appealing system for photographers on a tight budget thanks to the wide variety of lenses available. Companies such as Sigma, Samyang, and Tamron have plugged a few of the gaps left in Sony’s own lineup, as well as producing a number of lenses that perform better than their expensive Sony counterparts. In addition, third-party lenses are often smaller and lighter, and with the Sony a7C about to hit the shelves, even more, customers will be looking for glass that matches the diminutive size of their body.

Here’s a list of my recommendations if you’re pondering a new prime lens but don’t want to spend a huge amount of money.

35mm

Until last year, there was a gaping chasm in Sony’s lens lineup: the system lacked a 35mm f/1.8. Sony finally pulled its finger out by releasing a lens that felt a touch high in price ($748), and now Samyang/Rokinon, has produced something that makes the Sony seem even more expensive.

It’s not clear when it will hit shelves (hopefully in the month or two), but the AF 35mm f/1.8 from Samyang is a stellar piece of glass and comes in at under $400. It's sharp, autofocus is excellent, and it is a significant upgrade over other "tiny" lenses from Samyang, as it has weather sealing. The one downside is that chromatic aberration can be a little heavy, but probably not enough to make you want to spend more on the Sony. You can check out my review here.

Samyang 35mm f/1.8

Samyang 35mm f/1.8. Perfect for ten days of camping and climbing.

There are a number of options if you fancy something at 35mm that’s a little slower. There’s the tiny Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 (reviewed here), which is surprisingly sharp given its price and pancake-esque design, and autofocus is snappy (currently $239, down from $399).

a7 fans had hoped that Tamron would provide the antidote to Sony’s 35mm f/1.8, but the Japanese manufacturer — part-owned by Sony — opted to produce something slightly odd, albeit original: a 35mm f/2.8 lens that offers a macro reproduction ratio of 1:2. At just $349 (and right now available for $299), it’s a stunningly sharp lens and has a moisture-resistant build, though the macro capabilities mean that autofocus is far from quick. Review here.

Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD

Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD

50mm (-ish)

Sony’s nifty fifty has never compared particularly well to Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 STM, but at just $248 (currently available for $198) and regularly discounted, it’s Sony's most affordable full frame lens.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8, wide open. Not great, but not bad either. However, why aren't there more nifty fifty lenses available for the Sony system?

Sharpness is reasonable, but the autofocus is not quiet, nor is it quick, and you might find yourself fighting with some noticeable color fringing thanks to chromatic aberration.

Quite why there isn’t another fast f/1.8 fifty on the market is a bit of a mystery. Fortunately, the lens that comes closest — the Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 — is widely regarded as being excellent. Sharp and with zippy autofocus, it seems to be a lot of lens for just $399 (currently discounted to $329). As with other glass in Samyang’s “tiny” series, it doesn’t feel solid, nor does the plastic finish feel refined (and let's not forget that Sony's nifty fifty feels even worse), but cramming that amount of sharpness into such a compact and affordable form — with autofocus — is impressive.

(For anyone pondering a 50mm, it’s worth noting that the Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 is currently discounted to almost half of its regular price: $699 instead of $399. Bargain.)

85mm

Sony users are undeniably spoiled for choice when it comes to affordable 85mm lenses. Firstly, Sony’s own 85mm f/1.8 is a superb lens and priced at a very reasonable $598 (perhaps part of why Sony’s 35mm f/1.8 feels overpriced at $798).

If you want to save some money and don’t mind ditching the weather-sealing, there’s the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 II at a mere $399. As detailed in my review, autofocus is solid, sharpness is excellent, and it’s potentially the most bokeh you can get for this amount of money without forgoing autofocus. The first version of this lens magically turned into an f/1.6 thanks to a firmware upgrade, and owners such as myself are waiting to see if this Mark II edition does the same.

Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 II

Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 II. At $399, this might be the most-bokeh-for-your buck lens available without opting for something that only has manual focus.

The Sony/Viltrox conundrum is further complicated as a result of Samyang taking it upon themselves to make an 85mm f/1.4 that’s the same price as the Sony 85mm f/1.8, give or take a dollar ($599). There’s few who have anything bad to say about the Samyang, and while you don’t get the weather sealing, custom button, and overall build quality of Sony’s f/1.4 GM ($1,798) or Sigma's f/1.4 DG DN Art ($1,199) lenses, you do save yourself a serious amount of cash.

And if that’s not enough, don’t forget Samyang’s ludicrously small 75mm f/1.8. As detailed in this review, it’s not as sharp as many of Samyang’s other lenses, but the tradeoff in terms of price ($399) and convenience makes it very appealing to certain customers. I’m about to take my second trip where I’m packing as light as possible and taking only my 35mm and 75mm f/1.8 Samyang. For casual shooting, the 75mm is a great choice, and right now, you could argue that there's nothing else like it on the market.

Samyang / Rokinon 75mm f/1.8

The Samyang / Rokinon 75mm f/1.8 is a tiny lens and almost unique when you consider that there's only one other 75mm lens made for full frame cameras and that's made by Leica. Slightly more expensive, to say the least.

24mm and 28mm

Going beyond 35mm is where the affordable autofocus glass starts to get a bit thin. Three lenses come in at under $500. The first is Sony's own 28mm FE 28mm f/2 at a respectable $448. For truly affordable options, you'll be looking at the Samyang AF 24mm f/2.8, currently available for $249 instead of $399, and the Tamron 24mm f/2.8 Di III OSD, which is a similar price with a similar discount — $249 instead of $349.

Samyang 24mm f/2.8

Samyang 24mm f/2.8

Perhaps being one of Samyang's earlier lenses, the 24mm f/2.8 isn't quite on par with the manufacturer's other lenses, but this thing is tiny. Not quite as pancake-y as the 35mm f/2.8, but still insanely light (4.23 oz / 120 g) and low profile to the point that it will turn an a7C into a point and shoot. You can read my review here

The 24mm f/2.8 from Tamron is almost identical to its 35mm sibling, offering stunning sharpness and fantastic macro performance (1:2), but compromising significantly on autofocus speed. Check out my review here.

Tamron 24mm f/2.8. Super sharp and with great macro capabilities.

Tamron 24mm f/2.8. Super sharp and with great macro capabilities.

Conclusion

There are definitely a few lenses that I've missed on this list, so feel free to point out any glaring omissions in the comments below. I've tried to keep my suggestions under $400, so please keep that (and autofocus) in mind!

If you've got an urge for a new lens but can't justify spending a chunk of cash or perhaps you want something lightweight and compact, there's a veritable smorgasbord for Sony users. Will you be buying any of these?

Log in or register to post comments

7 Comments

Charles Mercier's picture

For me, corner sharpness is most important because otherwise, the kit 28-70 lens is fine. So far, the Samyang 75 1.8 and the standard Sony 50 1.8 FE are the least expensive while getting close to the more expensive ones. As for a 24-28mm, I haven't made a comparison decision yet. I'll be saving up.

Scott McDonald's picture

This article certainly helps me to make some budgetary decisions! I've been using vintage lenses exclusively on my A7R2 for my favorite subject...my 28-week old son Dylan (example below using a 58mm Topcor). It's easy using manual focus as he doesn't move around all that quickly...but...when he does get to that point where he's darting around the house or backyard, I'll definitely benefit from an AF lens. I do like saving money though so, I appreciate the suggestions in this article. I'll certainly be doing my homework and test-driving a few of them. My interests are in that 75mm and either the 24mm or 28mm. Thanks for providing a starting point!

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

As far as primes stay Sony, fast and bokeh is always best with manufactures! But if first starting out go with Canon FD with adapter to learn a lens mm and prism filters get awesome effect that digital will never get! Remember 98% of shots will be at f/8 but if portraits f/wide open. The lenses to carry always 1224 f/4, 24240 both fit in a teardrop sling bag. For the widest Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 (can be used for astro Milky Way at 30s with pin point stars with no pin cushion effects) and for max reach 200-600mm with 2x teleconverter 1800mm (in APS-C). Example I will go out at night for Milky Ways with the 1224 on A7S and the 24240 on the A7iii for wildlife (birds) while walking back through a marsh with sun behind, silent mode (saves the shutter), APS-C gets 360mm (center of sensor best AF) at 10 fps in flight shots motion stops sharply. Most time will carry clear trash bag to change lenses (no salt air in camera body) using only A7iii for both jobs and lightest carry bag (all night/ morning gets heavy). Lastly Primes will be on your shelves mostly not in your bag. Oh for a very small 12 to 27 the 1018 f/4 in FF 1218 (remove light shield) and aps-c 15-27 IS, AF, screw on filters, camera will say 12mm BUT FOV is 18mm but looks like 12mm with pin point stars (used for 2 years before the 1224). Go for value and staying power!

jose Gulías's picture

The sony 35 1.8 only is expensive in US. In Spain, diference is merely 100€ buying in amazon so I find it preferable over the samyang and its variable QC...

Harry Raja-Alho's picture

I am a Sony portraying a relatively new and when I buy a7r III body, at the same time I bought the Sigma 50 / 1.4 lens ART and just less than a week ago for budgetary reasons I bought the Sony 28/2 lens.
In less than four weeks, I had time to get used to that Sigma image quality, and I was a little amazed at how big the difference could be between those two lenses when the Sigma is really sharp and Sony is only mediocre.
In fact, when I used to shoot with the Fuji X-T2 body, for example, Fuji's own 35/2 lens, which isn't spoiled by the price, produces a much sharper image in combination than the a7r III + Sony 28/2 combo, so I really can't recommend that Sony lens if the main priority is the quality of the image quality.

Then again, it's good that it's pretty quick to specify, smaller and light, and since it's not an expensive purchase when used and yet it gets along with the image quality, that's a recommended purchase when used specifically, unlike the new one, where I'd urge you to save a little more and end up somewhere other option.

Marek Stefech's picture

so samyang is best value for money

Charles Mercier's picture

See my first comment above. As for the wide angle, the Tamron 24 seems to be the best, cheap option. As for a zoom, the Sigma Art 24-70 2.8 is a bit more than all three but heavier.