A Guide To Sony's Ridiculous 50mm Lens Selection

A Guide To Sony's Ridiculous 50mm Lens Selection

Sony has created a few gems when it comes to lenses in the past few years, with the 90mm Macro and 16-35mm f/4 potentially being some of the best in their class. 50mm for some reason seems to be their favorite focal length to produce, seeing as they now have seven different "normal" lenses with the release of their new 50mm Macro this morning

With over double the selection in this range of their closest competitor, Canon, it may be tough to choose exactly which one to go for. Whether you're starting in the world of Sony with an a6000 or are a professional photographer with the most demanding clients, they have a 50mm(ish*) lens for you. 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 

Starting with their cheapest offering, we have the "Nifty Fifty." A full frame lens with a decent aperture of f/1.8 that's extremely inexpensive. From my experience with the lens, it's plenty sharp on the a7sII or a7II and a6000/a6300. On the a7RII, you might not be so thrilled, but a $250 lens isn't likely to be stellar on a 42 megapixel sensor. The autofocus speed is simply alright. If you're shooting portraits on single autofocus mode and you don't need good tracking, you'll be fine. With a $250 price tag, this lens is for the photographer on a budget or someone just getting their feet wet in the world of 50mm lenses. 

Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS

At $299, this lens is also pretty inexpensive. For $50 dollars more, what are you getting? It's also what you aren't getting. This lens does not cover full frame. Image Stabilization and significantly better autofocus performance are the real benefits here. If you have an a6000 or a6300, this lens is great. If you also own an a7 or plan on it down the road, maybe hold off. Optically I would say the FE 50mm f/1.8 and the OSS version here are similar. 

Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro

A brand new addition to the lineup, this is Sony's second full-frame macro lens. I have not used this lens (as it was announced this morning), but I would venture a guess that this will likely be a solid performer on all of the A7 series cameras, functioning as an excellent all around lens for macro, portraiture, and product work. On a crop sensor Sony, this is around a 75mm lens, perfect for portraits and studio work. If you like getting close, this is your lens. At $498, this is a reasonably priced lens with promising specs. Auto focus it is yet to be demonstrated so beware if good AF speed and accuracy is important to you, as macro lenses are typically underwhelming in this category. 

Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar

As with many Zeiss lenses, this is for a particular type of shooter. At $949, many folks will cringe at the lack of any autofocus and it's "slow" f/2 maximum aperture. The Loxia 50mm really shines in it's rendering capability and build quality. Being a Zeiss lens, there is a characteristic look that people crave from their lenses, and it's certainly there. With an all metal construction, this is also the best built out of the bunch. With very few electronic components and a mechanical focus and aperture, there's little that could go wrong with this lens. If you want the toughest normal lens you can buy for your Sony, this is it. For the video folks, the aperture ring can be De-Clicked, combine this with the buttery smooth focus ring, and you have one hell of a lens for your next production. If f/2 isn't fast enough, stop reading this article and buy a Noctilux

Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Macro

Yes, there are two 50mm f/2.8 Macros for the e-mount. The Zeiss is a part of their Touit line of lenses, made specifically for the crop sensor e-mount and Fuji X cameras. At double the price of the new Sony FE 50mm Macro, this lens may not be as relevant anymore. While I haven't used it (they're incredibly hard to find as few places will stock them regularly), I can imagine that when the Sony lens line was far more limited than it is now, this was a standout option for NEX shooters looking to get close and shoot portraits. The Zeiss image quality seems to be there as the lens sees some ridiculously positive reviews. With an all metal construction like the Loxia, it will likely be more rugged than the new FE 50mm Macro. 

Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Sonnar

This is one of Sony's earliest FE lenses and absolutely my favorite in this wide range of normal lenses. At $998, it's the same price as the Touit 50mm Macro, but with coverage for the A7 series and a faster aperture for low light shooting. As a ZA lens, it is designed by Zeiss and constructed by Sony, and it screams Zeiss through and through. Not a piece of the lens is plastic, it has dust and moisture resistance, and it's surely sharp enough on the a7RII to make your eyes bleed. The FE 55mm is also incredibly small at less than 3" long. For the ultimate compact setup, this and an a7Rii are hard to beat. The only complaints you could really have are no stabilization for a6000/a6300 shooters (the A7 cameras have it in the body now), and a focus by wire system that feels pretty odd. All around, it is in my opinion, the best lens in the normal focal length category that they offer for the Sony system. 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Planar

I'll be honest, I think this lens is absurd. The optics are amazing, there's no question. Many are saying that it's the closest that you can get to the infamous Zeiss Otus 55mm and still have autofocus. A fast f/1.4 aperture will let you get both brilliant focus falloff and excellent low light results. It seems like the perfect lens until you consider that it's $1,498 and enormous when mounted to the Sony cameras. It's getting close to double the length of the Canon 50mm L and it's just as wide. The FE 50mm f/1.4 is also more expensive. While I don't think we as photographers are shocked at lens prices anymore, I feel that this lens is so large that it entirely defeats the purpose of the a7 camera's being compact size. This is not a travel lens. In fact, I would almost want the battery grip on my camera just to balance it out with this lens. I think the FE 55mm f/1.8 is just as sharp. With it being far smaller, lighter, and cheaper, I don't see many Sony shooters gravitating to this lens. 

Rokinon FE 50mm f/1.4

There isn't a lot of info on this lens as of right now, but it seems to be a decent alternative to the FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA. At $699 it's priced well and has met positive reviews. Personally I think it's too big still and I would rather pay an extra $300 for the FE 55mm for a smaller lens. As for Rokinon's manual 50mm lenses, I would ignore them unless you're shooting video as they are rather soft until you stop down to f/4ish and the build isn't as nice as the others in their price range. 

I hope this guide can help you pick from one of the many normal lenses available for the e-mount. While there is a crazy number of them, I think they differentiated well between options. For folks like me that like to experiment with vintage lenses on their Sony cameras, the choice just gets harder. Whether you buy the FE 50mm f/1.8 or the FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA, remember that it's up to you to make a good photo. Your budget does not define your talent. If you shoot with Sony, what's your favorite normal lens to shoot with and why?




Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

Spencer Lookabaugh is a lifestyle and portrait photographer located in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an employee of Midwest Photo Exchange. He is a firm believer in printing, shooting film and digital, and the power of photography. He also shoots landscape work in his spare time.

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There are a lot of ~50mm options for Sony but if you're including third party it isn't all that different for Canon or Nikon. Not sure why Sony needs a guide or is this a series?

It's what's in the "news" today ;) Gotta jump on the bandwagon or loose those clickyclicks!

That said, as a Sony FE user, I'm a bit baffled by the prioritization of the lens development, like everyone else. Doesn't affect me personally, and I'm all for variety, but given that the 3 latest releases are 50mm, this warrants a WTF stink-eye!

Yeah, I suspect there are factors we don’t know or appreciate. I imagine 50’s sell really well compared to other primes and perhaps (despite the moaning) Sony really did have the APS-C crowd in mind with this lens. The 30mm Macro is a little weak (from what I’ve seen) and the 90mm is $$$ if you’re only using crop frame cameras. I suspect 50’s are also easier to design and make and that helps when Sony just needs a number to demonstrate commitment to industry pundits.

For all the complaining the only big gaps left are in the telephoto range and the FE system makes much less sense the farther you go above 100mm (IMHO) because the lenses just will always be big (if you want them fast, would love to see a compact tele like the Leica Tele-Elmarit but a tad longer). That said, for those of us who ONLY shoot Sony FE, it would be nice to have native options. Personally I’ve got the kit I NEED (28,55,85) but it is always fun to dream or rent when needed.

I am in love with my Loxia. Now I know that Canon sux ;)

50mm is a little too long for me. I'm hoping Sony will release a 48mm or a 49mm F2.0 like the 28mm equivalent

Actually the more i think about it. A 48mm F2.0 would be perfect!

The Tamron 45mm is seriously amazing. You could try that in Canon EF or Sony A with an adapter! I agree though, a slightly wider lens would be nice but something tells me they'll hold off on more normal lenses for a while.

I believe we are at a pinnacle where technology is so good in everything we have and own, there will be no differences in brands we pick and choose, it's like cell phones, they have a billion different ones, but they all do the same thing, make calls, text and apps. WHOOOOOO!!!! Apple vs Windows all do the same shit! it will all come down to the artist behind the camera for those amazing photos. in my mind a 50mm is a 50mm. I don't need 4 of them from any brand ever.

There only one of these that interests me is the 50mm ƒ/2.8 Macro. I mostly use an old M42 mount Carl Zeiss Pancolor 50mm ƒ/1.8 (on a Turbo II adapter).

It's somewhat ironic that the author actually missed one lens, the Mitakon 50mm f/0.95.

I recommend people stay away from the Sony 55mm. There is a piece of the autofocus system that is just GLUED on. It will fail. It's just a question of when. Lensrentals.com made an excellent blog post called "A look at electromagnetic focusing" that looks into how Sony does their autofocus in different lenses. Any lenses with this glued type should be avoided.

I think your comment on the 1.4 Planar is pretty weak. It's similar sized to a standard Canon/Nikon 24-70mm 2.8. Some people will not mind the size. You don't mention the Zeiss contrast and colors in this lens. This is the only lens in your list that has some real character to it. And yes, the battery grip does balance out this lens nicely on the camera.

Your list is missing the Otus and Mitakon, but they are both big lenses so I think your bias against larger lenses is showing here.

This article sounds a bit like click bait to me. "Ridiculous" used in the header, but mixing pure APSC lenses (50/1.8 OSS, Zeiss 50mm macro) with full-frame lenses, including third party lenses (Rokinon) and special purpose (macro).
For Nikon for example: 50/1.8, 58/1.4, 50/1.4, Otus 55, Milvus, Rokinon, Tamron, Sigma, so a lot to choose from, too.
Additionally, I can't understand the comment made concerning the 50/1.4. Yes, it is larger, but its performance is extremely good (look at lensrentals optical bench testing, sharper than the Otus 55 centrally). How should one construct such a high-performer with extremely low CAs, involving lots of glass elements for correction and expect it to be similar in size to the budget 50/1.4 primes? Canons 50/1.2 is not a good performer in my opinion wide open. Look at the size of the Milvus, Otus, Sigma Art lenses. Mirrorless is not about reduction of size only, in my opinion. No lens fine-tuning, EVF, eye-aF, etc. etc. But you have the OPTION with Sony to go light, in mounting the Loxia or 55.

Sorry, but I must say that Sony's FE-mount product planners are RETARDED. When you have seven products you are ensuring that none of them will sell in a good enough volume to economically amortize the tooling and development costs, so none of them are a particularly good value. It should have been TWO one cheap and one premium. Make them superlative for their class and make them affordable.

Also, it seems that the ex-minolta guys have their own pet projects in the G-lenses. The Sony guys have their own fiefdom with the Sony ZA Zeiss offerings. And, unbelievably, Zeiss is allowed to enter the brawl with their own little projects. Someone needs to bring the mallet down and end this nonsense. Let's make it VERY SIMPLE:-

(1) Sony guys get the budget line, period.
(2) Zeiss guys get the compact, premium line. And there won't be Zeiss-Zeiss and Sony-Zeiss. Pick one.
(3) The Minolta Guys can do just large aperture, size doesn't matter, cost is no object, lenses.

There, and I am being very kind here. A more aggressive product director would basically put an end the G-lenses or the Zeiss lenses. The employees can join the other group of go work for somebody else. Given Sony's finanical woes I would think that such firing wouldn't be too difficult anyway.

The Sony E-mount story is a clown show mixing great technical achievements with absolutely horrendous product sense.

(1) First of all FULL FRAME E-mount is RETARDED. It defeats the purpose of the mirrorless NEX design. The entire point of the E-mount and the mirrorless NEX idea is to shorten the mount to sensor plane distance. The flange distance is 18mm compared to 44~46mm for full frame SLRs, nice. This allows for thinner bodies and small overall system size, right? Well, not when you put a full frame sensor on it!!! Generally speaking, the ideal flange distance is about the same as the focal length of the bloody lens minus 10~15mm (give or take). This puts the optical center at the focal length! Making a lens with a focal length longer than the flange distance generally entails pushing the rear element further out negating ANY advantage of the short flange. Making a lens with a shorter focal length than the flange distance usually means making a retrofocus design with lots of extra glass whose purpose is simply to bend the light and allow the rear element to be push out -- more complexity, more cost, more light loss and less performance. Ever wonder why the E-mount full frame lenses are BIGGER than traditional SLR lenses? Because they are adding distance between the lens mount and the optical system to make it work (or work well). E-Mount should have been APS-C ONLY!

(2) If Sony wanted an mirrorless full frame line, they should have built in on the Alpha line. Go ahead and make Alphas without a mirror and with an electronic. Keep the A-mount lens line; this is already very complete with plenty of top grade, full frame glass. In fact, the A-mount 24-70/2.8 ZA for instance is easily better than the full frame FE 24-70/4 ZA. Trust me. I had both.

(3) The R&D and tech should be focused on making the APS-C E-mount the new standard of the world. APS-C allows the lenses to be small because the standard lens is now a 32mm. That is perfect with an 18mm flange. The neglected NEX-7/A6000-series is where the E-mount format would have truly shined. Also, pros and prosumers looking for smaller cameras may want superior image quality, but they can probably live with a little less speed. One lens I'll really like to see Sony or Zeiss make is an APS-C 16-32 F2.8 Variosonnar. That is basically a 25-50mm F2.8 in full frame speak. Perfect walkabout lens -- wide enough for most landscapes, long enough for natural street photography, and plenty fast enough for either role. I'll own that and a 75mm/1.4 portrait lens and that'll be all I need 95% of the time. BOTH of those lenses in APS-C coverage, and with a 18mm flange, would be about the length of the FE 55/1.8. Isn't that fantastic?

"Infamous" does not mean what you think it means.