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
- Native 50mm Lenses with AF
- Native manual focus 50mm lenses with contacts
- Native Manual Focus Lenses without contacts
- Editor’s Choices
- Closing Remarks
- Other Articles
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.
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.
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. You probably won’t get all those things in one package!
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 create. You may want a modern fast high contrast look, you may prefer a smooth retro sonnar-like look or 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.
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 usage 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 cost 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
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?
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.
Samyang AF 1.8/45
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*
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
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.
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
- 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.
Sigma Art 50mm 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.
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.
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.
Native manual focus 50mm lenses with contacts
Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E
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.
Zeiss Loxia Planar T* 50mm f2
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$
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
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
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.
Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E
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.
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Thanks! Juriaan, David, Jannik, Bastian and Phillip
- All our other Guides
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- User-Guide to wide-angle lenses for Sony a7 series
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