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Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 E Lens Review

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 E Lens Review - John Riley reviews the new full-frame 50mm f/1.8 prime lens for Sony E mount cameras.

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Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Sony Fe 50mm F1,8 Front Oblique View

Most camera marques now have an inexpensive 50mm lens in their ranges. These are often described as “nifty fifties” or "plastic fantastics", the implication being that they are cheap and cheerful, but often superb performers as well. Certainly, a small lens with a bright maximum aperture can be a useful addition to any kit. Here, Sony offers what appears to be a light, mostly plastic, fast 50mm full frame lens that falls into this category. Is this a “plastic fantastic”? - let's find out.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Handling and Features

Sony Fe 50mm F1,8 On A7r

This full frame E mount Sony lens was supplied with the Sony a7r camera body for the purposes of this review, the two balancing together very well. Of course, it can also be used on APS-C cameras, where the "35mm equivalent" field of view would be similar to a 75mm lens on a full frame camera. The lens is compact and very light, weighing a trim 186g. Although most of the specification is as classic as any 50mm lens has ever been since the 1960s, the focusing is electronic and indeed the focusing ring is the only control to adorn the well made plastic body.

From the front, the 49mm filter thread is surrounded by a bayonet that accepts the supplied round lens hood. This fits well and clicks into place without any fiddling. Closer to the camera body is the aforementioned focusing ring. This is an AF lens, but after AF has locked on manual tweaks to focus can be made. Sony call this system DMF, Direct Manual Focus. There is no need here for an AF/MF switch. The aperture is controlled by the camera, so there is no aperture ring. Interestingly, the 7 blade diaphragm does not open for focusing and then close for the exposure as we might usually expect. It stays put at whatever value is set. This is less significant with a monitor finder or an EVF, as opposed to an optical viewfinder, so causes no handling issues in practice.  


Sony Fe 50mm F1,8 With Hood On A7r

The lens focuses down to 0.45m (1.48 feet), a maximum magnification of 0.14x. This is close enough for most general photography, but we have become used to kit lenses focusing rather closer into near-macro distances in some cases. The optical formula is 6 elements in 5 groups, a classic Double Gauss construction that should be capable of yielding excellent results.

There is so little to the lens that handling is totally straightforward. This in itself is quite refreshing and encourages a certain freedom in its simplicity. There is little need for manual focusing as the AF locks on predictably and final adjustments can always be made using the DMF feature. It must be said though that AF on the a7r provided is really quite pedestrian, or downright slow to put it another way. This is fine for static subjects as it is also accurate, but it is too slow for moving action shots and even proved a slight inconvenience when shooting location portraits. This worsens as the light fails, so may be related to the fixed aperture mechanism, which reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor when focusing at smaller apertures.


Sony Fe 50mm F1,8 Rear Oblique View
 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Performance

The lens has some excellent qualities, and of particular note is the near perfect drawing, with a measurement of just -0.282% barrel distortion. Architectural subjects will not be a problem.

 

Sony Fe 50mm MTF
MTF
 

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. 

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. 

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony a7r camera body using Imatest.

 

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is extremely well controlled in the centre of the frame and it is only at the edges that fringing becomes visible. This can, of course, be corrected in software.

Bokeh is very acceptable, the smoothness of the out of focus areas being relaxed and pleasing to the eye. It is not in the same league as some more specialised lenses, but very acceptable for general purpose use.


 

 
Sony Fe 50mm CA
CA

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony a7r camera body using Imatest.

 

Flare control is excellent and is unlikely to be a problem. Multi-coating is obviously very effective and in any event, with just six elements in the lens construction, there is a smaller chance of internal reflections.

Centrally, sharpness starts off well with a very good performance at f/1.8. This becomes excellent at the peak of f/2.8 to f/4, showing the general tendency of modern lenses to peak quite early at wider apertures. Results are very good from f/5.6 to f/11 and are still of a good standard at f/16 and f/22.

The edges do not fare so well and are soft by comparison. Results can be described as fair, but f/8 and f/11 do deliver a good level of sharpness.


Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Sample Photos

Value For Money

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 appears to be aimed at the “nifty fifty” market, but the price of £239 does pitch it a little high. It is almost inevitable that this price will fall to more realistic levels over time. When this happens, the lens will be a much more attractive proposition.

The full frame competition would be from DSLR lenses. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM lens is priced at £97, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G AF-S at £169 and the SMC Pentax-DA 50mm f/1.8 (APS-C format) at £89. These prices can vary quite dramatically so it is worth looking out for bargains.

 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Verdict

The appeal of the inexpensive fast 50mm “standard lens” is easy to appreciate and this Sony lens has much to recommend it. However, the edges are relatively soft and the price maybe a tad too high. Time will no doubt settle the latter point.

However, the lens is also very easy to use, performs reliably and produces impressively crisp looking images. When the price falls this could well become a bargain. It does fit well into the category of the inexpensive kit lens and in that context is very acceptable.

 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Pros

Excellent central sharpness
Low central CA
Very easy to use effectively 
Direct manual focus feature 
No flare issues 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Cons

AF slow 
Visible edge CA 
Fairly soft edges 
 

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

 

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Specifications

ManufacturerSony
General
Lens Mounts
  • Sony E Mount
  • Sony FE Mount
Lens
Focal Length50mm
Angle of ViewNo Data
Max Aperturef/1.8
Min ApertureNo Data
Filter SizeNo Data
StabilisedNo Data
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min FocusNo Data
Construction
BladesNo Data
ElementsNo Data
GroupsNo Data
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
WeightNo Data
HeightNo Data

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