Guide to the best 50mm Lenses for full frame Sony E-mount cameras: a7III/a7II/a7rIV/a7RIII/a9/A9II

The 50mm lens is what used to be called a “standard” lens, though perhaps a very slightly shorter focal length gives the absolutely most natural perspective. For some of us here at Phillipreeve.net it’s a length we adore, and have more 50s than any other focal length. Others of us are less keen, finding it usually too short or too long. Obviously there is no right answer here, it depends on how each photographer sees the world.

But it is a very versatile focal length with a wide range of applications. It can be used for slightly formal portraits, moderately environmental portraits, landscape, architecture – most things except wildlife or sport. You can also, with a little quality loss, crop down to a more formal portrait angle of view, and you can – with a gain in both quality and hassle – stitch frames to get wider angles of view for certain kinds of landscape.

In this article we summarize our experience with all the native E-mount 50mm lenses to give you a independent resource in one place for choosing the best 50 mm lens for your needs.We will cover AF E mount, MF E mount with electronic contacts, and lenses with the E bayonet but no contacts. There will a separate article about lenses from other mounts you might adapt to E mount.

Unlike most other review sites we have no association with any lens manufacturer apart from occasionally borrowing a lens for a review. We prefer independence over fancy trips and nice meals.

Before discussing each lens, we tell you which of us had or has the lens, and whether it was purchased or borrowed for review. In most cases we have bought the lenses new from retail stores or on the used market. 

If we have left any question unanswered please leave a comment and we will do our best to answer it.

If you purchase the lens through one of the affiliate-links in this article we get a small compensation with no additional cost to you.

5 Questions to consider before choosing a 50mm lens

There is no best 50mm lens for everyone, since individual needs are so different. This is why you won’t find any ratings in terms of stars or points out of 5 in this guide. Instead here are 5 questions to help you reflect on what you need in a 50mm lens. Some of you may decide you need more than one: be warned, that can start a very bad habit, as some of us here know well! If you already know what you need you can skip to the lenses discussion directly.

1. What will you use your 50mm lens for, and which performance aspects matter to you?

A lens might perform very well for one application and fail for others. The Voigtländer 50mm f2 APO Lanthar is maybe technically the best performing 50mm lens we have seen. It’ll be great for landscape. But if you want portraits at very wide apertures, it doesn’t have them. If you want autofocus for quick efficient event and wedding work it doesn’t have that either. On the other hand, the Sony Zeiss ZA 1.4/50, probably the best native fast AF 50mm, while it’s relatively compact for a modern design fast AF 50, is a beast in comparison, and not something that any of us would take on a long hike. That covers a couple of fifties that are best in class at certain things: but you may not want one of those either. You may just want a cheaper one, or you may want the best lens you can get that will do everything well even if it isn’t the best at any particular thing (looking at you Sony Zeiss 1.8/55), or you may want something that has a more specialised look.

mitakon 50mm 0.95 zhong yi optical dark knight speedmaster a7 series a7rii a7r2 a7rm2 a7s sony e-mount fe
Sony A7s |Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 | f/0.95

Just as we said in our guide to 35s, when shooting a wedding you will probably care most about bokeh, good sharpness across most of the frame from wide open, speed and AF which should be fast and reliable. Price may or may not be an important aspect. Requirements for shooting family are similar with a bigger emphasis on AF-speed for smaller children.

For astro-photography you want a fast lens with good coma correction and as little vignetting as possible. Many people also prefer manual lenses here.

review voigtlander 50mm 1.2 nokton vm leica m mount rangefinder messsucher sony adapted a7rII a7riii a7r3 a7rm3 helicoid 42mp
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.2 Nokton | f/8.0 | panorama from 4 shots

When photographing a landscape or architecture you will probably care about good sharpness stopped down, high contrast, good flare resistance, manual focus experience and maybe nice sunstars or small weight. Your probably won’t get all those things in one package!

mitakon 50mm 0.95 zhong yi optical dark knight speedmaster a7 series a7rii a7r2 a7rm2 a7s sony e-mount fe
Sony A7s | Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 | f/0.95

If you are shooting portraits of the kind where you don’t have to get the shot – it’s not like a wedding or an event – but it matters a lot what the look of that shot is, you’ll need to delve a bit more deeply into the different looks that lenses have. You may want a modern fast high contrast look, you may prefer a smooth retro sonnar-like look, you may find the slight edge of many classic double gauss lenses at wide aperture what you prefer.

2. What is your budget?

The cheapest AF full frame E-mount lenses are the Sony 1.8/50 and the Samyang 1.8/45. You can also adapt a good legacy 50mm for under $50. From there the sky is the limit. As a rule of thumb more money gets you better optical quality, better build quality, better reliability and faster lenses. There are exceptions to this rule of thumb which is why you need to read our guide.

taken with a $30 Minolta MC 55mm 1:1.7

How much should you spend? If you are on a very tight budget but a competent photographer you will get very good results out of a $50 lens but you will have to deal with a few scenarios where you would have gotten better results with a more expensive lens. And that $50 lens will teach you a lot about photography. If you know what you are doing then spending more – even much more – will sometimes give you better results. There will be situations in which, frankly, it’s only a slightly better result – lenses don’t turn mediocre photographers into good photographers. But there will be images that you couldn’t get with that cheaper lens. Just perhaps not as many situations as the lens makers would have you believe. And a good lens is no substitute at all for good technique; it’s the icing on the cake of good technique. Don’t upgrade you lens because you aren’t satisfied with your pictures. The lens won’t help that. Upgrade you lens only once you are very sure about your technique, and you know exactly what it is that you want and which lens will give it to you, and how it make that happen.

Like we said in the last guide: we all know that guy who reliably gets bad results out of his $4000 Leica lens. Don’t be that guy. So how much should you spend? It depends on what you want to do with the lens, and what you can afford. So perhaps reading this guide will help a little with telling what they different lenses will do for you, and you have to consider the second thing!

When considering the price of a lens also look at the long term cost of it. A cheap $350 lens which breaks after 1 year of use costs you $350 for a year of use. A more expensive $600 lens you bought used that can be sold after a year for $550 costs you $50 for a year of use. And it was probably more enjoyable to use in that year. A used lens may cost you only a few bucks a year if you sell it after a few years. There is also an effect called “early adopter tax”: the value of newly released lenses usually depreciates rather quickly in the first year. That’s fine, but think carefully: if the new Furtwängler Super Apo Magnifitar costs $2000 when it comes out, and is worth only $1200 at the end of the year, you paid about fifteen bucks a week to basically rent it over that year. You might be fine with that (some of us have knowingly made that choice). But think about it.

3. Size & Weight

five 50mm lenses of very different size

The lightest 50mm E-mount lens is the Sony FF 1.8/50 at 186g and the Samyang 1.8/45 is even lighter at 162g, while the heaviest lens, the Sigma Art 1.4/50, weighs 910g. The three most important factors for the weight of a lens are speed, vignetting and the degree of optical correction. The Sigma 1.4/50 is not only half a  stops faster than the Sony: its optical design is also a lot more complex which results in significantly higher sharpness and better correction of aberrations. The Sigma also has a lot less vignetting.

Again needs are very different: If you do a lot of hiking you probably don’t want to carry the very heavy Sigma, but a slower, lighter lens. As a wedding photographer on the other hand performance will usually be more important than weight. Lenses also need to fit into your camera bag.

4. How fast does it need to be?

A faster f/1.4 lens allows you to blur your background more than a slower f/2.8 lens and it also lets in more light, allowing for lower ISO or shorter shutter speeds. Faster lenses are usually bigger, heavier and more expensive than slower lenses but there are exceptions to both rules we mention in the discussion of each lens.

So how fast does your lens need to be? If you chose a f/1.8 lens over a f/1.4 lens this will seldom make the difference between a good and a bad picture but it often is one important factor for the look of your images. Also keep in mind that the quality of the blur (bokeh) can be more important than the amount of blur.

5. Do you prefer AF or manual focus?

voigtlander_50mm_1.2_nokton_e_title

Most users will answer that they want an AF-lens. In that case one needs to consider how fast and how reliable AF needs to be.

Some users prefer to focus manually because it makes photography more enjoyable to them. Even some native lenses are manual focus only and they are a joy to use since they have a proper focus helicoid and a smooth focusing ring. Almost all AF E-mount lenses are less pleasant to focus manually because  they are focus-by-wire designs where there is a small but noticeable lag between the moment you turn the focus-ring and the actual change of focus and, secondly, the focus ring offers the wrong amount of resistance or even has some play. Many also have variable (non-linear) throw, meaning that the amount the focus changes when you turn the focussing right depends not just on how far you turn the focussing ring, but on how fast you turn it. In theory this helps you make big changes quickly, and then focus slowly for fine-tuning. In practice many experienced manual-lens-users find it hard to adjust to and very unpredictable.

Native 50mm Lenses with AF

Sigma Contemporary 45 f2.8

Status: Never used ourselves. Reliable information available.

  • Very good resolution and contrast
  • Smooth bokeh rendering
  • High vignetting, especially wide open
  • High distortion (correction profile built in)
  • Metal casing and metal lens hood
  • Aperture ring and dampened focus ring
  • reports of AF inconsistencies at medium distances
  • Small and lightweight

A small and lightweight prime lens with great build quality. It is not as fast as many other lenses on this list, but the bokeh is pretty smooth and undistracting so in the end you might even prefer it to that of some of the faster lenses. Performance at wide apertures appears to be somewhat lower at shorter distances. There seem to have been some AF inconsistencies at medium distances, so if you want to buy it make sure it fits your needs while within the return period.

Weight: 215g | Filter Thread: 55mm | Price: $549/530€ (Jan 2020)
Opticallimits Review | B&H | amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Samyang AF 1.8/45

Sony A9 | Samyang 1.8/45 | f/4

Status: Bought by Jannik and still in use.

  • Very good central sharpness wide open, good midframe and corners
  • Gets very sharp across the frame stopped down a bit and peaks at f/5.6
  • Very small and extremely light
  • Build quality is a step below the native FE options, lens barrel is completely made of rather cheap feeling plastic although the lens mount is at least made of metal
  • Bokeh is neutral with rather high contrast and onion rings
  • Unspectacular sun stars with 18 strokes (9 rounded blades)
  • High contrast already wide open
  • LoCA is acceptably controlled, significantly better than the FE 1.8/50 and 1.8/55 ZA.
  • Low barrel distortion (+3)
  • Fast and reliable AF, also for tracking operation (On the A9 with stock firmware, A7RIV needs software update via lens dock for improved reliability)

This small and very light lens hit the market in mid 2019 and is a very welcome alternative to the FE standard lens lineup. At first glance, it looks a quite expensive and rather slow alternative to the native Sony FE 1.8/50, but it is more than that. With its more modern design and its virtually silent linear internal AF drive, is more comparable to its premium brother, the Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA. While it lacks the ultimate corner sharpness already wide open, it is already very good where it matters at f/1.8 and across the frame just a few stops down. The 45mm focal length feels more versatile in many lens lineups and the aberrations are better controlled than in case of the Sony f1.8 primes. As always: Keep an eye on the centering, also over time. It’s a very competent lens but it is still a Samyang: The only brand every team member has had serious issues with.

162g | 49mm filter thread | $399 (Feb 2020) | Samyang lens station*

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de (*affiliate links)

 

Sony Zeiss Planar 50mm 1.4 ZA

Status: Bought by David and still in use. Bought and sold by Jannik

  • Amazing central and corner sharpness from wide open.
  • Very high contrast and rich saturated colour.
  • Decent bokeh
  • Above average correction of of axial colour for a fast lens
  • Much better build quality than other ZA lenses, better finish and alloys, nice damped aperture ring.
  • Fairly low distortion
  • Reduced (but still decent) midfield resolution for the first few apertures
  • Reasonable AF, accurate and reliable but not among the fastest.
  • Fairly big and heavy, and quite expensive

This is probably the lens you need if you want speed and AF: the only alternative is the much worse Samyang, which is worse in all respects (image quality, AF speed and reliability, build) although of course it’s much cheaper. It’s a lovely lens, but not cheap. It’s also not perfect. If you buy it because it’s the best now, odds are than sometime in the next year a slightly better fast 50 will come out, either as a GM or from Sigma. But if you need it now, you need it now. Also, although this lens is not small, my guess is that a future replacement which is a tiny bit optically better may also be bigger and heavier. And this lens is good enough that maybe you wouldn’t take that upgrade.

780g | $1398

buy from Amazon.com | B&H | ebay.com |  (affiliate links)

 

Sony Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f1.8 ZA

Status: Bought and sold by Phillip and Jannik. Bought and still in use by David

  • Very sharp wide open. Extremely sharp across the field stopped down.
  • Fairly small and light for a high performance lens.
  • Very fast and accurate focus
  • Shows onion ring structures in out of focus highlights
  • More axial colour (LoCA, PF, spherochromatism) than you would like in a premium lens
  • Decent bokeh (though look above)
  • Slightly less contrasty than you might expect given its sharpness.
  • Average coma correction and average vignetting
  • Slightly below average sample variation by current standards
  • Lowish  distortion, fully correctible.
  • No aperture ring or button.
  • Poor manual focus experience: non linear fly-by-wire

Looking at the comments above, in which negatives outweigh positives, you might think that none of us would recommend this lens. But in fact for at least one of us, it’s the normal lens we would keep if we could keep only one (though some of us find the pitfalls too annoying). Why is this? Well, it’s the absolute best lens for absolutely no use individual use case. But for every use case it can do a great job! So it’s an allrounder. Need to carry a lens easily for hiking? Forget the ZA 1.4/50 or the Sigma 1.4/50. Need an unobtrusive fast AF lens for an event or somewhere where a big lens will stick out? This lens is your choice. It can do great sharp landscapes (but not as well as some of the best manual options.)  It can do wide aperture AF portraits (but not as well as the ZA). It can follow action. It travels well. It’s good for hiking. When it came out it was the sharpest f 1.8-2 class fifty ever. These are all reasons why many of you may want to own this lens, even if it isn’t the top choice at any particular thing, and has a few minor flaws.

281g | $898 | full Review | aperture series |

buy from amazon.com | B&H | ebay.com | (affiliate links)

 

Sony FE Macro 50mm f2.8

Status: Bought and sold by Phillip, bought and still in use by David

  • Excellent sharpness at all apertures and distances
  • Moderate high to high contrast
  • Outstanding macro performance
  • Good colour correction
  • Affordable
  • Very light
  • Poor bokeh in many conditions at portrait distance
  • Sluggish autofocus though better on recent bodies
  • shape of OOF highlights in some situations a bit angular.

This is not the all-round fifty you want; nor is it the best at anything (well, to be fair it’s the best native 50mm macro, as it’s the only one – and it is very very good at macro). If you want a normal macro lens for actual macro work go for it. It’s excellent: truly excellent, as in as good as many far more famous ones, even if it feels a bit cheap. But it is cheap, so that’s fair enough. Should anyone who is not a macro enthusiast buy it? The other use case we recommend it for is hiking. It is much sharper at infinity than most macros, and unless you care about sunstars and so on will give you excellent landscape images, and the macro focussing will allow to to close up nature photography — and it’s about the lightest native 50 you can get, so additionally suited to hiking.

236g | $498 | Full Review | aperture series

buy from amazon.com | B&H | ebay.com | (affiliate links)

 

Sigma Art 50mm f 1.4

Nikon D800 | Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art | f/1.4

Status: Bought and sold by Bastian in his Nikon days.

  • Very good sharpness from wide open across the frame, excellent stopped down
  • Bokeh can be a bit nervous
  • Above average CA correction
  • Low vignetting and very good coma correction
  • AF/MF-Switch and nice manual focus ring
  • The biggest and heaviest AF lens on this list
  • Good price/performance ratio

If you don’t care about the size/weight of a lens and high sharpness is more important to you than an “as smooth as possible” bokeh rendering this lens might be for you.
And if you are into astrophotography to do some stitching this is the best 50 thanks to low light falloff and very good coma correction.

Weight: 910g | Filter Thread: 77mm | Price (June 2019): $849
Amazon.com | Amazon.de | B&H (affiliate Links)

 

Samyang AF 50mm F1.4 FE

Status: Never used ourselves. Reliable information available.

  • Very smooth bokeh
  • Below average sharpness: Okay in the center, soft outside of it unless stopped down to f/5.6
  • Below average CA correction
  • Annoying manual focus and some AF-issues
  • Large size and weight
  • Moderate Vignetting

Overall we find it hard to recommend the Samyang. Maybe consider it if you care a lot about smooth bokeh and less about sharpness and CA.

Weight: 585g | Filter Thread: 67mm | Price (January 2020): $429
Opticallimits Review | Sample images Amazon.com | B&H | Amazon.de | Ebay (affiliate Links)

 

Sony 50mm F1.8

Status: Bought and sold by Phillip and Jannik.

  • Very Affordable compared to other E-mount lenses
  • Good sharpness in the center, corners need f/8
  • Slow AF on a7II and other older models. Fast on a7III and other newer cameras. AF is also a bit noisy.
  • Average bokeh: Smooth up closer, more nervous at longer distances
  • Very light
  • Build Quality is plastic but functional
  • Below average flare resistance

The Sony FE is an obvious choice if you are on a tight budget. Yes, you will have to compromise a bit in every area from sharpness over bokeh to build quality but the end result will be pleasing none the less. Most of the time. 

Weight: 186g | Filter Thread: 49mm | Price (January 2020): $198
Our Review | Amazon.com  | Amazon.de | Ebay B&H (affiliate Links)

Native manual focus 50mm lenses with contacts

Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E

voigtlander 50mm 1.2 e nokton sony fast 50 bokeh sharpness 42mp resolution a7rii a7riii review
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E | f/1.2

Status: Loaner reviewed by Bastian, now he is looking for a good deal on a used one

  • Very smooth SA-bokeh (similar to Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM)
  • Slightly dreamy at f/1.2, but more than sharp enough
  • High contrast and good sharpness stopped down (in the center always)
  • Very good flare resistance
  • Okay to fair coma correction, vignetting and CA correction
  • Nice sunstars stopped down
  • Not so great near minimum focus distance, also shows slight focus shift
  • Very compact considering its performance

Great portrait lens if you can live without AF. Good as a dual use lens for portrait/landscapes if you don’t need great corner resolution at wider apertures.
More expensive than legacy f/1.2 lenses, but also a clear step up in terms of image quality.

Weight: 440g | Filter Thread: 58mm | Price: 1099€/1099$ (June 2019)
Review | Sample images | CameraQuest | B&H | Robert White | amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Zeiss Loxia Planar T* 50mm f2

Sony a7II | Zeiss Loxia 2/50 | f/8

Status: Borrowed for Review by Phillip, bought by David and Juriaan and still in use. Bought and sold by Jannik.

  • Great build quality
  • High contrast and decent flare resistance
  • Beautiful, well defined sunstars
  • Very sharp stopped down
  • Mediocre bokeh, especially at longer distances bokeh can be busy
  • Obvious midzone dip, for best across the frame sharpness stopping down to f/8 is recommended.
  • Above average amount of vignetting

Before we had the Voigtlander 50mm f/2 APO-Lanthar that performs better in every regard, the Loxia 50mm f/2 was the best native option for landscape enthusiasts. Good flare resistance, beautiful sunstars, high contrast and good across the frame sharpness stopped down combined with its small dimensions make it a very good option for shooting landscapes. Still worth considering for that purpose since used prices have become rather low.

Weight: 320g | Filter Thread: 52mm | Price: 739€/849$ 

Review | Amazon.comB&H PhotoAmazon.de | Ebay.de | Ebay.com (affiliate links)

 

Voigtlander 50mm F2 APO-Lanthar

Status: Borrowed by Phillip for his review, bought by David and in use.

  • Best in class sharpness and contrast from wide open
  • Best in class CA-correction
  • Neutral bokeh with only slightly nervous corners at longer distances
  • High contrast and very good flare resistance
  • Well defined sunstars stopped down
  • Very compact considering its performance
  • Above average amount of vignetting
  • Excellent handling

Going by technical performance alone this is the best 50mm lens you can buy with Sony E-mount. It is also a pleasure to handle thanks to compact size and mechanical design. At the same time it is a relatively slow lens and not that cheap in absolute terms. A good choice if your focus is on landscape photography and you want ultimate image quality.

Native Manual Focus Lenses without contacts

Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 MKII and MKIII

mitakon zhong yi noctilux okton noctiron 50mm 0.95 review sony fe alpha 7 a7rii a7riii a9 42mp 42
Sony A7rII | Zhong Yi 50mm 0.95 III | f/0.95

Status: MKII bought and sold by Bastian and David.  Loaner of MKIII reviewed by Bastian.

  • Extremely smooth (and plenty) bokeh
  • Dreamy look at wide apertures, especially at close distances
  • Sharpness and contrast ok, stopped down pretty good
  • bad flare resistance, high loCA, high coma
  • MK III has smoother bokeh but straight aperture blades
  • Heavy

Special purpose portrait lens if you look for that dreamy bokeh. If you don’t intend to shoot at f/0.95 often better have a look at the other options though.

Weight: 780g | Filter Thread: 67mm | Price (February 2018): 930€/850$
Review of MKII | Review of MK III | Sample images | Amazon.com | ebay.com | Amazon.de (affiliate links)

 

Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7III | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

Status: lens loaned by a reader reviewed by Bastian who never looked back after he returned it

  • nervous bokeh with lots of outlining
  • aperture diaphragm was in the wrong position in the optical path, so black corners stopped down
  • bad sharpness at maximum aperture
  • really bad flare resistance, really high loCA, really high coma
  • huge field curvature
  • mediocre build quality
  • huge and heavy

Considering this is a modern lens that hit the market in 2019 it is extra disappointing that it’s the worst lens I have ever reviewed. When I saw the dimensions I was hoping it might improve on the Zhong Yi Mitakon. It didn’t. Don’t buy it.

Weight: 1110g | Filter Thread: 72mm | Price (June 2019): 880€
Review | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Brigthin Star 55mm F1.8

  • Good sharpness in the center from f/1.8, midframe needs f/4, corners f/8 for very good sharpness
  • smooth bokeh up close, somewhat nervous at longer distances
  • Well defined 12-pointed sunstars from f/8
  • Small Size and ok build quality
  • No aperture stops
  • Bad flare resistance
  • Affordable

Though it has small size and a good aperture design going for it, the BrightinStar 1.8/55 is a bit hard to recommend since it isn’t much cheaper than a used Sony FE 1.8/50 which is a better performer for most applications, and many somewhat larger legacy lenses perform as well in most areas for half the price.

Weight: 272g | Filter Thread: 49mm | Price: (January 2020): $99. Amazon.com | Ebay.com (affiliate links)

 

Editor’s Choices

All of us have used many lenses and we all have bought and sold some of them for whatever reason. Nevertheless there are a few lenses that simply stick, so we decided to let each of us pick one of the aforementioned lenses and tell you why we like it and/or keep using it.

Bastian’s Choice: Voigtländer 50mm 1.2 E Nokton

voigtlander 50mm 1.2 e nokton sony fast 50 bokeh sharpness 42mp resolution a7rii a7riii review
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E | f/2.8

To be honest with you here: currently I don’t actually have a 50mm lens. I just prefer 35mm and 85mm and when I carry either of those I don’t pack an additional 50mm.
Nevertheless, the Voigtländer 50mm 1.2 Nokton is such a wonderful lens. I reviewed the M-mount and the E-mount version and both I missed after sending them back.
Bokeh is beautiful, sharpness and contrast are plenty for portrait and stopped down it is more than capable of producing great results for landscape shots.
On top of that you get great flare resistance, great sunstars and all that in a small package. What is not to like?

This is me in the picture waiting for a good deal on a used 50mm 1.2 Nokton that I cannot resist:

review voigtlander 50mm 1.2 nokton vm leica m mount rangefinder messsucher sony adapted a7rII a7riii a7r3 a7rm3 helicoid 42mp
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.2 Nokton | f/4.0

David’s Choice: Sony Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 ZA  and Voigtländer Apo Lanthar 50mm f2

I’m choosing two lenses here. The Sony Zeiss f1.4 is a very contrasty and sharp lens, with only a touch of midfield dip to count against it at wider apertures. While maybe better ones will come out, I fear they will be bigger as well, and this lens (and in general modern AF fast lenses) is plenty big enough. It’s a superb optic, well built, and will give you great images.

But I wouldn’t take it around with me on the off-chance, and wouldn’t take it hiking (please don’t write in and tell me how you would. I know many people aren’t as weight obsessed on hikes as me). It also doesn’t have a nice manual brass helicoid, and I’m a sucker for the pleasure of using one of those. Until recently I would pair the big ZA with the Zeisss Loxia Planar, but now I’ve switched the the Voigtländer Apo-Lanthar 2/50. It’s as good or better than the Loxia at smaller apertures, and quite a bit better at wide ones, for a very small sacrifice in weight. The Loxia though sometimes sells used at very attractive prices, so it might make still make sense  for many. And, like I said in the review if I couldn’t have both these lenses and could have only one, it would probably be the ZA 55mm f1.8!

Jannik’s Choice: Samyang 1.8/45 and Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 2/50

Like David, I’m choosing two lenses here. One that is my current workhorse and one that is my subject of desire.

Sony A9 | Samyang 1.8/45 | f/5.6

The Samyang 1.8/45 never lets my heart beat faster when I use it, but it also never disappoints me – neither on the camera nor on my pc screen. It is a very decent performer without substantial weaknesses in a great form factor and at a very low price. In contrast to the FE 1.8/55 ZA (and it’s painful LoCA), I never had a love/hate relationship to the Samyang 1.8/45. It just sits in the cupboard without costing me much and delivers whenever I use it.

Sony A7RIV | Samyang 1.8/45 | f/8

On the other hand, the Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 2/50 is the lens that I dreamed of since I first used its bigger 65mm macro brother. That level of correction, that breathtaking sharpness and that pleasing rendering despite of it’s contrast was stunning from the first moment I used it. Unfortunately I didn’t use it much because I didn’t enjoy the size and weight and didn’t need the macro feature. The APO-Lanthar 2/50 delivers everything that I loved about the 2/65 in the shape I prefer greatly. I can’t wait to put my hands on it.

Juriaans Choice: Zeiss Loxia 2/50

I have a weakness for 50mm lenses and therefore there are quite some in my cabinet. Despite that, the Zeiss Loxia 2/50 is my only native fifty and my favorite one for landscape photography.
I really like the focus ring, the high contrast and very good sharpness stopped down a lot. The bokeh of the Loxia is in many situations not up to my taste and can be harsh, luckily have other fifties for those situations.

Sony a7II | Zeiss Loxia 2/50 | f/8

However if budget was no objection I would probably get the Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 2/50. The bokeh of the Voigtlander is calmer and sharpness is better. The Voigtlander does not suffer from a midzone dip and outperforms the Loxia in almost every regard.

Sony a7S | Zeiss Loxia 2/50 | f/2

Phillip’s choice: Voigtländer 50mm F1.2

Since the Voigtländer 1.2/40 is my standard lens I currently don’t own a modern 50mm lens. If I would own one it would be the Voigtländer 1.2/50, which has all the characteristics I like so much in the 1.2/40 but a bit better bokeh and sharpness. Recently I reviewed the remarkable 2/50 APO which is way better corrected than the 1.2/50 but the smoother bokeh and especially the 1.5 stops of separation are more important to more than the correction of aberrations which I find unproblematic in the first place.

Closing Remarks

We hope that this guide can help you in your purchase decision. If any questions are left unanswered don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Articles like this require many hours of work. If you found it helpful, you can support us by sharing it on social media and with your friends. Please be the one who actually shares it 😉

Thanks! Juriaan, David, Jannik, Bastian and Phillip

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The Team

The team, that are four gearheads: Bastian, Jannik and Phillip from Germany as well as David from Australia. All like to use manual lenses and have a passion for the outdoors. None the less they are specialized in different areas so they can provide you with a wider perspective.

34 thoughts on “Guide to the best 50mm Lenses for full frame Sony E-mount cameras: a7III/a7II/a7rIV/a7RIII/a9/A9II”

  1. Many thanks to you for the interesting contributions.

    I look at your page every day to see what new amounts there are.
    Unfortunately, the focus seems to have said goodbye to vintage lens in this amount.

    I think that’s a shame, there are such great lenses in the 50mm – such as OM 2/50 Macro or Contax 1.7 / 50 …. which I really appreciate.

    I also have the Sony 1.8 / 55, a great lens, but I can also get excited about manual lenses.

    Klaus

    1. Hi Klaus
      As we said in the article, there is another one coming with all the adapted lenses! This article was about native mount lenses – we love adapted ones too, and in fact the next article may well have more lenses than this one.

  2. Try the Nikkor AI or Auto S Micro, 55 f3.5
    great lens for a 45-50 year old design.

    Xenotar design only 5 lenses …
    I can make some comparison pictures with the Nikkor Z 50mm f1.8 S which is suberb as well.

  3. It’s worth noting just how much the Samyang 45 is comparable to the Sony 55mm. They’re incredibly similar designs.

      1. David Oastler said he thinks this lens is mature for a refurbishing, so I trust him and just wait. Has a cheep EF 50 mm f1.4 I can use in meantime with MC11-adapter. Soft at f1.4 and can have horrible chromatic aberations, but at least I can practice to shoot at 50 mm now and then. And I have the Tamron 28-75 mm I use most of the time.

  4. Great article as always!

    Bastian, let me know if you’re still interested in a good price for that Voigtlander 50 1.2! I’m selling mine currently, would be glad to send it to a good home.

  5. Good morning Bastian and David, sorry, no complaint from me.

    I just scanned the intro and overlooked the reference to another article. My mistake…
    Greeting
    Klaus

  6. Don’t overlook the older manual focus Nikkors. The 55mm f1.2 is a soft focus lens very good at female portraiture. The 50mm f1.2 is much sharper than the 55 and suitable for available light nightime photography. The former can be bought on eBay for $250 and the later for around $400. You’ll also need a $99 Metabones F to E adapter.

  7. Great review 👍
    I completely agree with you Bastian; 35mm and 85mm are better for me than 50mm too.
    But I really like Voigtlander 50mm f1.2, and I don’t know how can I put that lens in my kits.

  8. We, E-mount usesrs have most diverse native choices when it comes to 50mm-ish primes. Compared to 35mm, their design schemes are quite different from each other.
    There are characteristic 0.95, 1.2s, and sharp and light 1.8, 2.0s, and almighty 1.4s. I like all of them, even including a bit shunned Samyang 50mm F1.4. At least it is not a copycat like the 35mm brother.
    I was quite surprised Samyang 45 1.8 is also praised by you guys. Even though it is cheap and plasticky, but at least I think it proves Samyang is on the right track for their goal: cheap and useful ‘AF’ lenses. The CEO of Samyang said Chinese manufacturers are threatening their position, so they were focusing on developing competent AF lenses on the interview in 2018.
    Anyway, I’m really happy with my CV 50 1.2. I was a bit tempted to try Samyang 45 1.8 for shooting my agile nephew, but I’m too tired to repeat buy and sell used lenses till I find a good copy for now.
    Now I’m waiting for native AF 100 to 135mm lenses. I wish The Tokina 85mm F1.8 were 100mm F1.8. I’m really looking forward for upcoming CP+.

  9. I’m with David Braddon-Mitchell on this one. The Sony ZA 50mm F/1.4 does take lovely photographs (as the photo of David’s favourite model did attest).

    WRT the possibility of a GM lens “next year”, are there firm indications of such a possibility? Or would that not simply erode sales (such as they are) of the F/1.4?

    1. Better have your own lens erode sales than someone else’s.
      Just look at the 1.4/35 ZA. Before the Sigma 1.2/35 Art used prices were around 1.200€. Now you can be happy to get rid of it for 800€.

  10. Are there any chances that possible 50GM will go the 24GM route, combining great IQ with reasonable weight and dimensions?

    I believe that unlike Sigma, the Sony is now committed to make technically exceptional AND man-portable GM lenses.

    1. The GM 1.4/24 was great in that way (and every other) but so far I am not sure we can call it a trend. Other GMs aren’t significantly smaller than the competition. Also the GM 1.4/24 is so far the only mirrorless 1.4/24 so it might be that it just hit a sweetspot where a mirrorless 24mm lens can be much smaller than a than a SLR lens. I am pretty sure that there is much less room to shrink a 50mm.

  11. I’ve found out that CP+ 2020 at Japan canceled due to COVID-19 outbreak. It has become more serious day to day. I was shocked how easily the pandemic could spread by single ignorant individual. In my country, the patients multiplied by 6 times in just 2 days.
    Please take care yourselves.

  12. I love my Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 ASPH VM, it is practically glued to my Nikon Z 6. Since the Z 6 has a thinner cover glass/filter stack getting closer to Leica, the combination works so well together producing incredible colors out of Capture One 20 Pro, I could not ask for more.

  13. Love your articles. Thank you for another great one.

    Wondering how you would decide between the Sigma 50mm and the Zony Planar 50mm. Setting aside price for a very brief moment, it a weight and bokeh decision? Between the two, which has better AF speed?

    Objective for purchase is photos of family include running toddlers and night photography in the city (but not necessarily Astro)

    1. Regarding bokeh opinions vary. Some actually prefer the Sigma for less cat’s eyes.
      AF will probably be a bit more reliable in AF-C with the Sony, I don’t know about speed differences though.

  14. I got the Cosina f/1.2 50mm in part due to the reviews here and it’s great. Sold my old Sony 50mm f/1.8 which was very good for its price but I use 50mm a lot and the step up to the Cosina is noticeable to say the least! You can definitely notice optical flaws at f/1.2 but by f/2 they are much less noticeable. I feel like I have 2 lenses in 1: stopped down it’s sharp and crispy, wide open it’s dreamy.

  15. I’d like to note, regarding your evaluation of 55/1.8:
    “it isn’t the top choice at any particular thing”.

    I could name one – AF performance. Probably it’s the best lens in the list for tracking children and pets. I’ve compared it side by side with FE28/2 on Sony A7III – although the 28/2 is praised for AF performance, the 55/1.8 is quite noticeably better. And on A6300 (with older AF system) the difference between them is even more drastic.

  16. As always, a thoughtful, insightful, and well-planned review. However, as a gearhead myself, I can’t imagine taking the space for the likes of a Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 MKII/ MKIII and never mentioning the Canon 50mm f/0.95 (“dream lens”), which converted to LM mount exceeds the requirements of a very large number of pro photographers. It certainly is not because of price if the $8K+ Olympus Zuiko Auto-T 180mm f/2 deserves your ink.

    1. There are a few reasons that Canon lens is not on the list and never will be:
      a) only native E-mount lenses have been included
      b) none of us has used the lens yet
      c) it has that overcorrected spherical aberration look that none of us here likes,
      it reminds me quite a bit of the Zenitar 50mm 0.95, which we deemed the worst lens ever reviewed here.

      These days many people think that something being just different or hard to get because of its rarity and/or price
      automatically makes it good or desirable. We disagree on that.
      But considering Leica is able to sell junk lenses like the 5.6/28 or 2.2/90 at such outrageous prices there
      clearly seems to be a market for such lenses these days.

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