Hands-On With the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA, The Newest Addition to the Full-Frame E-Mount Lens Lineup

Hands-On With the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA, The Newest Addition to the Full-Frame E-Mount Lens Lineup

There’s no question that if Sony wants their mirrorless system cameras to succeed, they must be supported with a vast and varied collection of lenses. Today they unveiled the FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA lens, a large aperture prime lens utilizing a Planar design that will soon be found in portrait, wedding, and street photographers’ bags. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to see and use this lens for a day’s worth of shooting, so take a look at some sample images and my first impressions.

On the heels of another recent large aperture lens release from Sony — the FE 85mm f/1.4 GM — comes the FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA sporting a wider focal length that many call home. However, it is interesting to note that this 50mm is in fact not a G Master release (Sony’s new premium line), rather a new Sony-Zeiss partnership lens. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, not at all, as there’s been a number of nice quality Sony-Zeiss lenses.

The Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA is similar in looks to the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA lens construction features 12 elements in 9 groups, with 1 extra-low dispersion element and 2 aspherical elements. As you may suspect, there’s also a Zeiss T* Coating to manage lens flare and ghosting which benefits overall clarity.

With an 11-bladed aperture, the lens is able to attain some really beautiful, all-important bokeh. Also, by utilizing a Planar design for the glass, sharpness is held from the center of the frame to the corner and there’s minimal distortion.

The lens holds straight lines well with very little barrel distortion - 1/800 s @ f/8, ISO 640

50mm is a little wider than most would prefer for studio portraits, but the sharpness is most definitely there. 1/60 s @ f/5.6, ISO 800

Moviemakers will benefit from the lens’ ring-drive SSM autofocus system which operates at near silence as well as the manual aperture ring and the ability to de-click it for seamless transitions through f-stops. Of course you can always set the aperture ring to “A” for on-camera control. In addition to the on/off switch for aperture clicks, there’s also a AF/MF focus mode switch present.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA lens will ship in July and cost $1,500 USD or $1,950 in Canada.

First Impressions

First of all, the exterior shape is much like the FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA with only a few differences. Not far from the base of the lens mount it shoots out and meets the sides of the barrel. If you have trouble gripping an a7II-series camera with the 35mm ZA or 85mm GM due to the minimal gap between grip and lens, you might run into the same issue with the new 50mm ZA.

Certainly bigger than the previous Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA and Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.

The tight-ribbed focus ring is very much like a Zeiss lens, and unlike the FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA there is now ribbing around the entire aperture ring so you can always feel where you are on the lens without looking. The matte black finish looks right at home on Sony a7II-series cameras just as you would expect. I think I picked this up at an early age in my photography life, but petal-style lens hoods always seemed to look more “professional.” Luckily for me, this lens has it — although honestly they can really bug me by snagging on everything when trying to pack the lens away front down in a shoulder bag.

The 50mm ZA measures in at 3.375-inches by 4.375-inches and weighs 1 pound 11.5 ounces. There’s no mistaking it for one of Sony’s earlier slimmer and lighter mirrorless lens varieties. I do appreciate that it uses the same 72mm filter size that many other FE lenses have so I don’t have to buy and carry around another adapter for my Lee Seven5 filter kit.

I noticed very little to no chromatic aberrations or flaring while shooting with the 50mm f/1.4 in a number of lighting scenarios, from flash photography to high-contrast scenes outdoors when the sun was low. The lens construction with ED and AA glass elements and T* coating really do an outstanding job at controlling any negative effects that could harm image quality. The contrast you get from this lens is also up to par with expectations of a Zeiss.

1/60 s @ f/8, ISO 100

No chromatic aberrations in the high-contrast areas. 1/200 s @ f/8, ISO 100

Paired with the flagship Sony a7R II camera, image quality is excellent from what I see. Again, I only used the lens for a day at this point but it does produce clear, sharp images and there’s no reason to shy away from inspecting photos at full resolution. I also have to say that the out of focus areas that the 50mm f/1.4 produces are really clean. Combine the 11-bladed aperture with a shallow depth of field and you are really cooking.

As a walk-around lens I think it’s a solid choice if 50mm suits your style. It isn’t overly cumbersome and if anything the weight keeps your camera from flopping around when hung from your shoulder.

Shot wide open at minimum focusing distance (1.48 feet). 1/640 s @ f/1.4, ISO 640

Shot wide open at minimum focusing distance (1.48 feet). 1/400 s @ f/1.4, ISO 100

1/5000 s @ f/1.4, ISO 100

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA is priced at $1,500 which lines up well with its closest relative, the $1,598 FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA. There is not really any other 50mm range E-mount lens that compares at the moment with a high number of elements and aperture blades, wide aperture, and autofocus. As I said in the beginning however, this is where Sony wants to be. They need incomparable lenses joining their lineup in order to continue building a healthy platform.

The Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA is now available to pre-order through B&H Photo.

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12 Comments

Norbert Tukora's picture

So, is it, sharp??

Nick Dors's picture

Thought mirrorless system ment smaller lenses? This is one of the biggest 50mm around..

Matthew Thomas's picture

There are compact and large options, the Sony/Zeiss 55mm 1.8 is very compact, only slightly larger than a rangefinder lens. This appears to be a trend as there are also large and compact 85mm lenses and 35mm lenses from Sony and Zeiss for the FE Mount.

References:
85mm G-Master 1.4 vs 85mm Zeiss Batis 1.8
35mm Sony/Zeiss 1.4 vs 35mm Sony/Zeiss 2.8

If you want even more compact lenses you could mount rangefinder lenses such as the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.4.

The usual stupid comment from a clueless person or troll defending DinoSLRs...

Nick Dors's picture

Granted that I don't know everything about mirrorless but calling me stupid is pretty rude mate.. I've read some where that because mirrorless has no mirror the lenses can be way smaller than dslr lenses. Even 1.4 lenses, so why don't we see them? (ps: I am considering jumping ship so I am not defending anything Mark..)

Gil Gamesh's picture

Have you seen the size of this leviathan? Hilarious. Almost as massive as the 35,, f1.4 which is a complete joke.

For goodness sake, take a page out of the Leica handbook, design a petite, unobtrusive, synergetic lens system for a petite, mirrorless camera such as the a7R mk2, Sony, cease playing the fool, give us an unobtrusive lens to better suit the landscape it finds itself in - this one looks utterly , utterly ridiculous.

What is this photographer doing, not condemning such a beast in the text?

Worse still, look at the football shot, is that in any way f1.4? If it is, is that lack of separation and poor 3D effect what you expect from a f1.4 lens?

A lens which deserves to fail.

Sorry - a pointless and inept piece of journalism.

You know, even though your lens is f/1.4, does not mean you have to shoot it at f/1.4 for every shot. In fact, some shots are better at a smaller aperture. Photography is not a game where you shoot as wide open as you can for each shot.

Ian Eisenberg's picture

I have to laugh at some of the comments regarding the sample photos.
They certainly look fine to me and as far as the "football" shot, even at 1.4 if you are going to shoot @ 5000 you aren't going to get the same bokeh you would at say 400 or 640 which is clearly visible in other shots.
Pixel peepers gonna complain, Pros gonna be happy.

craig john's picture

Have you seen the size of the new Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux SL (autofocus lens)? It's nearly the same size as the Sony and Sigma 50/1.4.

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/overview_galler...

It's a wee bit larger than the Leica 50 Lux M...

Travis Alex's picture

I love my Sony Cameras and the Sony Lenses I do have...but this pricing? Outlandish. I can buy Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 Art with the MC-11 adapter for $500 less and I would even bet, it would be just as sharp, if not sharper.

I'll stick with my 55mm f/1.8 for now, as many of us Sony shooters will. In all honesty, if anyone is looking to buy great Sony Glass, save your pennies and snatch up the 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. For $900, it's a solid lens.

I absolutely love this lens. Yes, expensive. But razor sharp and a very elegant bokeh. Planar design is decades proven and many see images and comment about its "Leica-like" quality.

I'm wondering if this lens work well with the sony a6500!