New Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review: Thank you Sony.

What I really like from a system are solid 50mm and 85mm lenses. Affordability, f/1.8 or larger apertures, and sharpness on center are welcome here. As stated in a recent blog post Sony seems intent on providing both:

  • FE 50mm f/1.8
    • A true nifty 50. Though a bit pricier than alternatives and some disparage it’s AF speeds I am not that worried since I use MF mostly anyway so any AF is about acceptable in my book.
  • FE 85mm f/1.8
    • Now released and on line tests were already touting this as a bargain Batis. And with a sub $600 asking price day 1 ’nuff said for me

First acquired of the 2 above is the FE 85mm f/1.8. I have had and loved many 85mm and crop rough equivalent lenses and one native crop, but 85mm anyway lens. Some native. Some manual focus marvels. Ranging from f/1.2 to f/2.0. This lens is better than all of those. Batis, L, G Master, and the like are too rich for my blood but I believe Sony has brought levels approaching those to the masses in my opinion. Why such a claim? Glad you asked. Here are things no 85mm lens I had before this could muster:

  • AF focusing is swift and silent. I say again completely silent and quick. So much so that I thought the AF was not working at first. This has been the achilles heel of every single 85mm lens before. For example the Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 was wonderful, but it was not the lens for candid moments and would often require that I ask portrait subjects to wait as AF caught up. Not horrible, but put to shame by the Sony FE. Case in point the sequence below was taken casually, day 2, hand held from the 7th row past the band pit.

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    No camera and lens combination I have used has ever performed this well. This is not a fluke. And I do not even know Sony’s focusing system well enough to use tracking focusing yet. This is on the A7ii with 5 fps and I would love to see how it would do with the a6### series 11 fps. Especially now that I see an a6000 can still be bought new for $500-$800 depending on whether you get body only, one lens, or two.

Continued after the break:

  • AF is accurate. I listed this separately because fast and silent focusing is meaningless if the resulting focus is not accurate. With the thin DOF that these lenses bring this can be a huge issue as a quick look at playback may fool you. only to be disappointed later This has been a struggle for other lenses requiring chimping real time to make sure you do not have to reshoot. This was a shot I took of a dog that amused me from my car seat arm extended and not braced. I had no great expectations from such a candid moment, but focus was spot on.IMG_20170401_103156_475
  • Low light focusing. Perhaps owing more to the body than anything else, but others before this one were lost in the dark. Best of any lens out there? Likely not. Serviceable? Best of any I could afford? Without a doubt.IMG_20170401_215235_934
  • Sharp wide open. This was another issue with some others. An impressive f/1.2 spec is meaningless if you need to stop down to f/1.8 to get a sharp picture. (Cough. Mitakon 85mm f/1.2.)
  • Dust and water resistant. At this price I did not expect this at all. Per my recollection not one single other 85mm was weather sealed.
  • Small and light. This 85mm is way smaller and lighter than I expected. It is sized more like a full frame 50mm. Smaller and lighter than the Sigma EX DG 50mm f/1.4 I once had for the Pentax K-1 in fact. It is barely larger than the APS-C Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2.

    I had the Pentax K-1 w/ the manual focus Mitakon 85mm f/1.2 and it was wonderful. But the two combined for a size and weight worthy of an end times melee weapon.20161207_075417The manual focus Mitakon was similar in size to, a little larger actually, the AF Sigma 85mm EX DG f/1.4 in the comparison below. The also full frame A7 II with the FE 85mm is closer in size to the APS-C Fujifilm X-T1 with the 56mm f/1.2 I had up until recently. (click on photo below for link to camerasize.com comparison)

    FE85mmComparison

Next up here are things that some other 85mm lenses have had that this lens has also.

  • Subject isolation. This is largely why you buy these lenses and this lens delivers.
  • That certain something these lenses bring. But also spontaneity friendly. Wonderful colors. Even quick pictures with this just look special. Here is a quick shot I took of my wife that I took in a quick moment before she entered the car and I love it.IMG_20170401_101429_679

This is a winner. The 56mm was the linchpin of my Fujifilm system. A large reason why I switched to Fujifilm. A wonderful lens. But after a quick post about a weekend spent with a rental I posted nothing more regarding the copy I purchased not long after largely owing to sluggish AF. Lack of a modern, swift focusing AF full frame portrait lens played a part in leaving Pentax as well. Owing to this very  affordable lens another move is under way, but more on that soon. Back to the task at hand.

I say again this is the best portrait lens I have ever owned. It tackles the big three expected from a portrait lens.

  1. Good low light performance.
  2. Sharp in focus.
  3. Pleasing fall off and bokeh.

Then it adds surprises.

  • Dust and and water sealed.
  • Fast and silent focus. After the martial arts low light performance I am looking forward to trying more sports. That is something I have never, ever said about a portrait lens before.
  • Consistently accurate focus.
  • Small and light. Here it is next to a recent film acquisition with a nifty 50 attached.Message_1490991034660Another benefit of this is that it does not scream, “Hey, I have a really expensive lens over here!”, which is a plus unless you want the attention that brings.
  • It cost $599. The real news here is that this is not the real news. Not once in this article have I uttered “for the price”. I paid way more for other factory 85mm lenses and really liked them. But none can hold a candle to this. Is the G Mater variant worth the extra cost? Not being facetious, but it must be or why would it exist. But after a few days would I want a larger, heavier, more expensive lens? Honestly no.

Thank you Sony.

Thank you Southeastern Camera Raleigh for having one available so soon after release.

I wrap up with a link to an ongoing gallery with samples below after only 2 days with it. Happy shooting.

-ELW

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