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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?