Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review

John Riley reviews the new Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 full-frame prime lens for Sony E mount cameras.

| Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 in Interchangeable Lenses
BUY NOW SONY FE 85mm f/1.8

Handling and Features

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review: Sony FE 85mm F1 8 (8) (Custom)

Sony introduces the FE 85mm f/1.8 lens, a lower cost option for the full frame FE series. This new lens is suitable for the A7 series of full frame mirrorless cameras, and of course can also be employed on the APS-C models, where it gives a “35mm format” equivalent of 127.5mm. There are some stunning 85mm lenses on the market, so let's see how this new Sony lens performs, reviewed here using the Sony Alpha A7R II.


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Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Handling and Features

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review: Sony Fe 85mm F1,8 On A7rII With Hood

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 is a chunky lens, but fairly light at 371g. A round bayonet lens hood fits precisely, surrounding a 67mm filter thread. The electronic focusing ring lies immediately behind and is silky smooth in operation. Focusing is down to 0.8m, or 2.63 feet. This gives a maximum magnification of 0.13x, which is sufficiently close for a good close portrait. This is important as 85mm is the classic portrait focal length. As the lens features DMF (Direct Manual Focus) the AF can be tweaked at any time using the manual focusing ring.

Focusing is accurate, swift and silent, thanks to the double linear motor system, a silent direct drive that eliminates the need for gearing.

Closer to the camera body there is the AF/MF switch and a button that holds focus when using AF. And that's it, there are no further adornments or controls. This means there is no focusing scale, nor is there a depth of field scale.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review: Sony Fe 85mm F1,8 Front Oblique View

Lens construction is 9 elements in 8 groups, including one ED (Extra Low Dispersion). This somewhat simpler than many current designs. There are 9 circular aperture blades, aiming to create an aperture circular as possible. This should improve the bokeh of the lens, another important point for portraiture in particular. Construction is also dust and moisture resistant, always welcome in any lens.

Although we can achieve an 85mm focal length with many zoom lenses, there is something special about the view of the world through a wide aperture 85mm optic. Subject distance means a perspective ideal for portraits and other close work where a defocused background can be employed to isolate the main subject. As far as faces go, it is a very flattering working distance, yet still close enough to maintain proper communication with the subject.

This 85mm lens handles beautifully in every respect.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review: Sony Fe 85mm F1,8 Rear Oblique View

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Performance

Sharpness is amazing, and well up to anything we could expect from a classy 85mm lens. At the centre, results are already excellent wide open at f/1.8. Also excellent at f/2.8, the lens pushes into being outstanding from f/4 to f/8. It is still excellent at f/11 and f/16, reducing slightly but very good at f/22.

The edges give the centre a run for its money, being excellent from f/1.8 through to f/11. It is still very good at f/16 and only drops at f/22 where edge sharpness is fairly soft.

Clearly, sharpness is up there with the best and the simpler optical design has involved no obvious compromises at all.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 MTF Charts

How to read our MTF 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 Alpha A7R II using Imatest.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very well controlled at the centre of the field but is visible at the edges. For many subjects, this is hardly noticeable, but if necessary it can, of course, be handled in software.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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 minimise the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A7R II using Imatest.


Flare is perhaps the Achilles heel of the lens. Shooting into the light, contrast falls off dramatically and quite easily. There are no particular signs of internal reflections or image artefacts, but certainly, against the light, we lose the quality and the image becomes hazy.

The lack of distortion is amazing, with the drawing of the lens being virtually perfect. If we are being ultra picky, then distortion can be measured at 0.01% pincushion, but this is as near to zero as makes no difference. Architectural photographers will be well served indeed.

Bokeh is the quality of the out of focus areas in an image. Portraits, flower studies, any subject where a sharp object can be enhanced by a smooth out of focus background. All of these areas are well served as the lens performs so well, with a gorgeously smooth bokeh.

There is no Steady Shot employed within the lens as this is catered for in the latest Sony camera bodies. With this lens and the Sony Alpha A7R II body only a couple of stops advantage seems reliable and predictable. 85mm is a fairly modest telephoto, so most of the review did not use Steady Shot, but did use a tripod where appropriate.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Sample Photos


Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Other sample images


Value For Money

Most of the 85mm lenses on the market are f/1.4 designs, which are big, heavy and expensive. Sony has produced here a much lower cost option, the FE 85mm f/1.8 being priced at £599. By comparison, the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 costs £909.

If we look at what the DSLR users have available, there are few 85mm f/1.8 designs. Canon offers the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (£339), Nikon the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G (£430) and Tamron the SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD with image stabilisation (£749).

The new Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 looks good value against most of these, especially when we consider the excellence of its performance.

For more options have a look at the Best Sony E / FE Mount Lenses, or have a look at the Top 27 Best Portrait Lenses.


Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Verdict

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens is superb to use, and also superb in many ways in terms of its performance. The lower cost compared to most 85mm lens does not seem to have reduced the performance at all. So full credit to Sony for achieving this. The one weakness is the tendency to flare against the light, which is a shame, but it need not be a deal breaker, depending on the sort of image making we do.

To summarise, an excellent performance from a well-priced lens and one that can easily be Highly Recommended.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Pros

  • Outstanding sharpness
  • Virtually perfect drawing
  • Low central CA
  • Fast and silent AF
  • Gorgeous bokeh

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Cons

  • Some edge CA
  • Flare against the light
  • No distance and DOF scales on lens

Overall Verdict

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Sony E Mount
  • Sony FE Mount
Focal Length85mm
Angle of View29°
Max Aperturef/1.8
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size67mm
35mm equivalent127.5mm
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnification0.13x
Min Focus80cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsHood, Lens cap (front), Rear cap

View Full Product Details

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Leif Avatar
Leif 18 777
10 Mar 2017 6:24PM
This review is unreadable on my iPad. It crashes consistently and I gave up. Not sure if it is the overload of adverts, or the JPG images.
Captmatt Avatar
16 Mar 2017 4:31PM
On the Zeiss Batis 85mm lens review it stated the close focus of 80cm as a con, yet on the Sony 85mm review it states the lens focuses sufficiently close for portraits, at 80cm?
johnriley1uk Avatar
16 Mar 2017 5:16PM
Captmatt have you found me out in a contradiction? Always possible and I think for an 85mm then an 80cm closest focus is what we would normally expect and it's reasonably close for a portrait. Personally, I would have liked closer focus, so why the discrepancy. I suspect it may have a lot to do with whatever I was shooting at the time. Maybe with one lens I was working on some closer subjects than with the other and hence on one found I wasn't close enough. Both statements may be true in the context of the situation, but it's well taken and noted and I will keep it properly in mind.
Captmatt Avatar
16 Mar 2017 5:26PM
No problem. I enjoy your reviews, just trying to decide if the Zeiss name and IS are worth 500.00 more, hence comparing the two
MadKiwi Avatar
10 Feb 2018 3:13AM
Looks good, nice and sharp in the middle where it needs to be. With nice bokeh. Sweet.
roseblood11 Avatar
17 Feb 2019 11:02AM
I like lenses with this kind of bad flare control, because they react like the human eye. Flare can be quite pleasing and I often use it in an artistic way. So, personally I wouldn't count this as a Con, at least not in a portrait lens.
roseblood11 Avatar
30 Sep 2019 12:14PM
How can sharpness be "outstanding" when the Nikon Z 85mm f1.8 reaches much better values on a similar sensor?
johnriley1uk Avatar
30 Sep 2019 1:07PM
Each term doesn't refer to an absolute value, but to a band of values which is pitched against the theoretical expected maximum for a particular sensor resolution. Ideally all lenses would be checked against a standardised sensor and then results would be totally comparable, but unfortunately this isn't possible. Hope that helps!

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