One of the complaints about the Sony fullframe E-mount cameras was the lack of full frame compatible E-mount lenses (I’ll call the full frame compatible E-mount lenses FE-mount lenses in this article for readability). Since the introduction in 2013 Sony has been working hard to expand the range of available lenses. Together with Zeiss and other brands making FE-mount lenses that problem is shrinking by the day. The other complaint about the FE-mount lenses is their price. None of the FE-lenses are cheap, and some are extremely expensive. Last year Sony introduced their first relatively affordable lens (besides the FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens), the FE 28mm f2. At 450 euro’s that still isn’t a really cheap lens, but it is a step in the right direction. Now Sony has introduced their cheapest FE-mount lens to date, the Sony FE 50mm f1.8 (SEL50F18F). At 300 euros this is a truly affordable lens. In this review I’ll tell you more about it. This is a rolling review that will be expanded over time. It will start as a first look review.
Looks, build quality and feeling
To keep the price down Sony has chosen to build the FE 50mm out of high quality plastics. The plastics Sony has used feel good and remind me of the plastics used on the Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6. That lens still looks like new after a few years of intensive use, so I’m sure the FE 50mm will withstand use well. The FE 50mm doesn’t have any buttons on the lens. It just has a wide, rubberized focus ring. The filter mount is made of plastic, so you have to be careful when mounting filters you don’t damage the filter tread. The lens mount is made of metal, but it doesn’t have a gasket to keep moisture or dust out of your camera. Not surprising since Sony doesn’t rate this lens as weather sealed.
Size-wise the lens is about the same size as the FE 28mm f2 lens, and similar to the Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8. It is a little bigger than the FE 35mm f2.8 ZA Zeiss, but smaller than the expensive FE 55mm f1.8 ZA Zeiss. This means the lens balances well on the Sony A7 series cameras. It isn’t a heavy lens, with about 186 grams it is just a little heavier than the featherweight FE 35mm f2.8 ZA Zeiss (that weighs only 120 grams). To give you an idea of the weight: the FE 50mm f1.8 is about as heavy as my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone.
The lens comes with a full round lens hood. The hood feels sturdier than the flimsy petal shaped hood of the FE 28mm f2 lens. It does add quite some size to the lens, making it about half as long. The lens takes 49mm filters, the same as a lot of other FE-mount prime lenses (the 28mm f2, Zeiss 35mm f2.8 and Zeiss 55mm f1.8 all have the same filter size).
This is a basic lens. It doesn’t have image stabilisation, but for the newer Sony A7-series cameras you don’t need it as they have stabilisation built in to the body. For users of the older A7 cameras (A7, A7r an A7s) this means you have to watch your shutter speeds when shooting. Since the lens has got a wide maximum aperture of f1.8 you can open the aperture up a little more when there isn’t a lot of light. Because the lens is quite basic there aren’t any switches or buttons on the lens itself. That means the design is clean and matches the camera quite well. The design is very similar to the Sony f3.5-5.6 28-70mm kit zoomlens.
Autofocus and manual focus
Sony has chosen to use a DC-motor in the lens for focusing. This is a first in the FE-mount lenses, all the other lenses use linear electromagnetic focusing motors (linear EM) or SSM-motors. This was probably done to reduce costs. A DC-motor is slower and noisier than the more modern linear EM or SSM-motor, and besides the price they don’t have any other advantages over the linear EM or SSM-motor. A second disadvantage is that DC-motors aren’t optimised for use with contrast detection AF-systems. The Sony A7r and A7s can only focus using contrast detection, and the other A7-series camera’s use contrast detection in tandem with phase detection autofocus for precise adjustments after initial focus by the phase detection system. Contrast autofocus finds focus by hunting the focus around the desired focus-point and search for optimal contrast (sharpness). This means the lens has to move focus front to back very fast. Something a linear EM or SSM-motor can do very fast. A DC-motor is a little slower, especially since it has to move the whole front element of the lens. It isn’t an internal focusing lens, but the front element doesn’t rotate while focusing (which is a plus if you wan’t to use circular polarizing filters on this lens). Minimum focus distance is 0.45 meters, which is quite average for this kind of lens.
The DC-motors in this lens means autofocus is a lot slower than the other FE-primes. The Sony FE 28mm f2 is a lot faster finding focus, and even the FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens manages to focus a little faster. That isn’t really a problem for all round photography and if you have it stopped down a bit (for a larger depth of field), but for action and wide open candid portraits the lens sometimes can’t keep up with the camera and subject. This is the first time I’ve used a lens on my original A7 that can’t keep up with the less than blazing focus system of the A7. Sometimes the camera confirms focus (with the green boxes on the subject and the beep) while the focus motor is still working to move the lens elements. I can only imagine that this lens isn’t a great match for the A7 RII. For normal stationary portraits the autofocus suffices. But this isn’t the perfect lens if you are looking for blazing fast autofocus. This does mean Sony has got the chance to introduce a third 50-something lens like a 50mm f1.4 with SSM- autofocus motors.
In the following clip you can see the lens focusing. As you can hear the sound of the lens focusing is quite loud in the video. That means the lens isn’t ideal for video with autofocus, unless you use an external microphone.
Manual focus is focus-by-wire. That is a disadvantage since it is a little harder to get used to focusing the lens. When you turn the focus ring fast the focus point shifts more than when you turn it slower over the same distance and you don’t have hard stops. The focus ring is wide and made of grippy rubberized plastics. The ring rotates very smooth and feels very well.
Sharpness, colours and contrast
The FE 50mm f1.8 is a sharp lens. Even wide open at f1.8 sharpness in the centre of the image is good, and to the edges of the frame is it still acceptable. You do lose some sharpness due to some slight spherical aberration (SA). When you stop down to f2 the image gets a little sharper (SA is reduced) and at f2.8 sharpness is good across the whole frame. Optimal performance is at f5.6 or f8, at those apertures the image is very sharp across the frame with the edges being just a tiny bit less sharp than the centre of the image. Very impressive at this price point.
Normally I don’t do wall photo’s to check sharpness, but since the results of my normal photos looked so nice I decided to do the wall test anyways to see what was what. In the photo’s below you can see some examples of how this lens performs at f1.8 vs f8 in the centre and extreme corner. As you can see sharpness is good at f1.8 and extreme good a f8 across the whole frame.
Colours are natural and images have plenty contrast. Don’t expect Zeiss-like results, but I really like the look the FE 50mm gave me. From f1.8 to about f2.8 there is some vignetting in the corners (before correction in Lightroom). At smaller apertures the vignetting disappears. There is also almost no visual distortion, maybe just a tad of pincushion distortion, but that is so little it will be easily correctable in Lightroom (or by the cameras auto correction in JPEG).
As seen in the sharpness test there is some slight spherical aberration at wide open apertures. It get less pronounced from about f2 and seems completely gone by f2.2-2.5.
Chromatic aberrations seem well controlled. I did see some at apertures wider than f2.8. Since that can be fixed in post processing quite easily I don’t think that is a big problem. At smaller apertures CA seems to be almost completely gone. The lens has got a seven bladed aperture, making it possible to get nice sunstars.
Bokeh is quite good on this lens, especially for an affordable 50mm lens. I think the bokeh is less distracting than the Nikon AF-S 50mm f1.8 lens. I like the transition of the in focus and out of focus parts of the image. Bokeh is very smooth when the distance from subject tot background is short to medium. At longer distances the bokeh can get a little more nervous. Out of focus highlights render mostly round at wide apertures, with some egg / cat eye shaped highlights at f1.8 at the edges of the image. At f2 the highlights get rounder, but can sometimes have pronounced outer rings. From f2.8 onwards the highlights can get a little hexagonal, showing the shape of the aperture. I didn’t see pronounced union rings in the bokeh rings, which is good.
In the following GIF you can see the Bokeh at f1.8-f2-f2.8-f4-f5.6-f8-f10.
In the following gallery you’ll find some images I’ve shot with the Sony FE 50mm f1.8. The images in the gallery are downsized, you can find the full size images on my Flickr page. I’ll add more images over time. Some images SOOC, others edited to taste in Lightroom.
Sunstart at f22
RAW image converted to JPEG in Lightroom without corrections
Sony has done a great job with the new Sony FE 50mm f1.8 lens. The lens is made of high quality plastics and feels well built for an inexpensive lens. At just 186 grams the lens is light and size wise it matches the A7-series just perfect. Image quality is very good, the lens costs 300 euro’s but image quality is allmost that of a 600 euro lens. Sharpness wide open is acceptable, and stopping down to f5.6-8 will give you very good, cross frame results making the lens a good option for landscape photography. Bokeh is pleasing (to my eyes) and doesn’t distract from the subject of your image. Out of focus highlight render quite nice.
Wat isn’t that great is the slow autofocus, this lens would have been perfect if Sony had used faster and quieter autofocus motors. Now it still is a very nice lens to combine with your Sony A7-series camera and a viable alternative if you can afford or don’t want to pay up to a 1000 euro’s for the excellent Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 lens. I can’t really advise this lens for candid portraiture of fast moving children or other action shooting wide open, in those situations the autofocus may be just too slow. In all other situations this lens offers great performance for its price.
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My name is Rick Roeven, I live the Netherlands. I’m an amateur photographer, tech and gadget lover and I've started this blog to share my passion with others. If you have any questions, feel free to post a reply or send me an email at rick (at) ricksreviews.org