We are happy to see that Sony keeps expanding it’s budget lens lineup. Especially the Sony FE 2/28 reflects a great value for the price, we also liked the Sony 2.8/50 Macro. The Sony FE 1.8/85 is the latest addition to it.
On the paper, the lens seems to hit a sweet spot between cost, brightness, size and weight. Let’s check if the lens can also deliver optically.
The Sony FE 1.8/85 has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 78 mm
- Field of view: 29° (diagonally)
- Length: 82 mm
- Weight: 371 g
- Filter Diameter: 67 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (rounded)
- Elements/Groups: 9/8
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.8 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:7,7
- Mount: Sony FE
You may also have a look at Sony’s official page.
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The build quality of the Sony FE 1.8/85 is surprisingly nice. The outer barrel and the focusing ring are made out of metal. The button, the filter thread and the lens hood are made out of plastic. Nevertheless, the construction feels very solid, I have no complaints (especially for that price).
If you take a look at the size comparison below, you see that the Sony FE 1.8/85 is much smaller and thinner than the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM. The Contax 3.5/100 which I use as a medium landscape tele is thinner but longer than the Sony FE 1.8/85.
The lens features an AF/MF-Switch and a focus hold button on the barrel. These are two features that I like a lot, especially the focus hold button can be customized to an “Eye AF-Button”.
The focus ring has good resistance and is well dampened. The focus ring has got linear coupling. Therefore, the focus throw from close focusing distance to inifinity is always 180°, no matter what speed you turn the ring. This feels much better (more manual) than the variable transmission of the earlier FE lenses.
The lens balances very good on the Sony A7II. It has just the right size for that camera.
On the A6500, the Sony FE 1.8/85 is quite large although it handles much better than it looks like. It is really a stealthy and useful combo for weddings and also for street and the zoo.
Autofocus seems to be very fast on my A6500 (the A7II is too slow to judge that properly). The motor is silent. I have hoped that the lens will behave like the Sony FE 2/28 and not like the Sony FE 1.8/50. Luckily, my hopes came true. The AF of the Sony FE 1.8/85 is noticeably faster than the AF of the Sony 1.4/85 GM.
I have read several reports that the lens only focuses at working aperture in combination with the A6500. This in not completely true, although the camera does not open the aperture completely to focus. The behavior was inconsistent so far – sometimes it opens further, sometimes it is almost at working aperture. More testing needed.
Sharpness at infinity is simply outstanding for a lens in that price category. It is perfectly usable wide open and very sharp at f/2.8 across the whole frame. It outperforms the sensor at f/4 and starts to diffract afterwards.
f1.8: The center is very sharp, the midframe and the corners are quite sharp as well,g although visibly behind the center.
f2: Same as f1.8, a tad more contrasty
f2.8: Midframe and corner get a visible boost in sharpness, very sharp across the frame
f4: Excellent across the frame, all aberrations gone
f5.6-f11: Sharpness decreases due to diffraction
The FE 1.8/85 has slightly reduced contrast and sharpness wide open at the minimum focusing distance (80 cm, between center and midframe), but performs still on a good level. It improves visibly at f/2.8. The difference between f/2.8 and f/4 is small but noticeable and doesn’t improve anymore when stopping further down.
I can’t discover any of it in Lightroom and in RAW Therapee. Not much to say here. The FE 1.8/85 seems to be free of distortion.
Sony bakes some automatic correction into the RAWs of the Sony FE 1.8/85. This can not be disabled by the user in Lightroom. If you look at the files in Lightroom, the lens shows a low amount of vignetting of 1.3 EV wide open.
However, a look on that file in RawTherapee showed that the Lightroom result is not the whole truth. The real vignetting of this lens is 2.1 EV which is a typical result for a lens in that class.
Side note: Other native lenses have also vignetting correction baked into the RAW image. Most reviews don’t mention that and the end user usually only sees the corrected image.
Flare & Ghostings
Flare performance is the achilles heel of the Sony FE 1.8/85. I have shot the lens in the toughest (brightest) conditions, therefore I could drive this aspect to the limits with this lens. As you can see in the extreme samples below, there is always veiling flare around the sun. Furthermore, there are several ghostings with hard and soft edges around the frame. In the worst case, contrast can be lowered across the whole image. This can be a limiting factor for landscape photography although I have to emphasize that these conditions are quite extreme.
Lateral chromatic aberrations are not a big issue with the Sony FE 1.8/85. There are some minor traces but nothing that you can really worry about in the real world usage. A closer look to the file in RawTherapee indicates that there is also no correction of the lateral chromatic abberations baked into the RAW image.
There are longitudinal chromatic aberrations wide open, take a look at the sample below:
This lens shows some purple fringing at contrasty borders. It’s visible but not as bad as the Zeiss Makro Planar T* 2/100 for example. The sample image below shows purple chromatic aberrations in the focal plane which is an safe indicator for purple fringing:
The purple fringing is mostly evident in very high contrast scenes. The sample below shows the worst scenario that I have encountered so far. It shows mostly purple fringing and als longitudinal chromatic aberrations. In most situations, it is not as bad as that.
The bokeh is smooth at close to portrait distances. The quality of the background bokeh is a little higher than the quality of the foreground bokeh which is a good thing in most scenarios. The bokeh balls are free of onions rings (no aspherical elements) and free of chromatic aberrations.
The quality of the bokeh decreases with higher subject distance. The sample below shows a typical distance for environmental portraits:
The image below shows a 100% crop of the top right corner. The bokeh suffers from green outlining and a mild cat eye effect, although I wouldn’t say that the lens has “swirly” bokeh.
If you use the lens as a 127mm equivalent lens on an APS-C body, you will appreciate that the bokeh balls remain almost round until the edges of the frame, even at longer distances. You can also take a look at the transition zone from the sharp to the unsharp section of the image. I’d rate its quality as ok, but not brilliant. That would be also my conclusion for the bokeh of the Sony FE 1.8/85 in general. It’s nothing to really rave about in positive and also in negative ways.
Sony 1.4/85 GM:
This lens has the smoothest bokeh of all native 85mm lenses. It is also sharp wide open and outstanding across the frame a little stopped down. It’s built like a tank but heavy and large.
I have used it for a few months now and can recommend it for portait and also for landscape work (if you can carry it 😉 ). I’ll try to shoot a comparison to the FE 1.8/85 in the future.
Zeiss Batis 1.8/85:
I have owned the Batis shortly before the GM and liked it but not as much as the Sony 1.4/85 GM and the FE 1.8/85.
I prefer the Sony FE 1.8/85 over the Batis 1.8/85, because it is lighter, smaller, has a MF/AF switch, a focus hold button and is much cheaper.
Optically, i have the impression that it is almost equally sharp, especially when you take the often necissary distortion correction of the Batis into account. The bokeh of the Sony FE 1.8/85 seems to be smoother at close to portrait distances (I have not the possibility to make a direct comparison!). The Batis still offers better CA correction, better coatings (flare and ghostings) and subjectively better contrast and more intense colors straight out of the camera. Therefore I think that the Batis justifies it’s higher price tag.
I had the impression that the OSS of the Batis 1.8/85 isn’t the most effective one and the OLED display felt pretty useless at that focal length.
Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85:
The Loxia 2.4/85 is a totally different lens than the FE 1.8/85. It’s features fully manual operation, is almost one stop slower, longer and much heavier. Nevertheless, it is much better corrected for chromatic aberrations, has better flare performance, is outstandingly sharp and beautifully crafted.
It’s the best 85mm option for landscape photography and has the best manual focus operation. Personally, I prefer to have fast AF at this focal length for my portrait work.
The FE 1.8/85 delivers what I have hoped and expected. I see very good sharpness already wide open in the center and outstanding sharpness when stopped down to f2.8 across the whole frame as well as no distortion at all. Due to it’s high central sharpness already wide open, it is also a smart choice for APS-C users. I am happy to see that the latest lens in Sony’s budget line after the FE 1.8/50 (sluggish AF) and the FE 2.8/50 Macro (aperture blades) doesn’t have an obvious showstopper.
Furthermore, the form factor and the weight feel just right on the current Sony bodies, the build quality is solid, the user interface of the lens is useful and the AF operation in general feels very satisfying.
Of course, a low priced but fast prime comes with some penalties. The lens shows some chromatic aberrations wide open. LoCA itself is not that bad, but the lens suffers from purple fringing at large apertures which also appears in the focal plane. Flare performance with the sun in the frame is bad and sharpness decreases at the minimum focusing distance at large apertures. The quality of the bokeh can’t keep up with the best 85mm lenses but its not bad either. Subjectively, I’d say that the colors and the contrast are not as intense as with the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM or the Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 and need a little more tweaking in the post processing.
Nevertheless, the lens is a great and smart addition to the FE budget lens lineup. The Sony FE 1.8/85 reflects an excellent price/performance ratio and is an serious option to work with.
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More full size samples in the FE 1.8/85 flickr gallery!
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