Macro lenses around 100 mm are among the most popular primes because they can be used for a very wide range of applications. So, how did Sony’s 2.8/90 turn out? Check out my review for the in-depth analysis.
You can find all images shown in this review in full resolution in this album.
|Filter Thread||62 mm|
|Close Focusing Distance from the sensor||0.28 m|
|Number of aperture blades||9, rounded|
I bought the review copy from amazon.de with my own money and used it for about four months.
- 1:1 Magnification
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- Focus Hold Button
- Focus Limiter
- Linear-coupled Focus Ring
- Internal Focus
The Sony FE Macro 2.8/90 G OSS offers all the bells and whistles you would expect from a modern premium macro.
Build quality and handling
The Sony FE Macro 2.8/90 G OSS offers good but not great build quality. Part of the outer hull is made from aluminum while the internal parts, the buttons, the focus ring and the front of the lens as well as the filter thread are made from plastics. The buttons and switches feel solid enough. Some markings are engraved, others like the serial number aren’t.
There is no gasket around the mount and Sony is inconsistent in claiming weather sealing. Sony.net does no claim any weather sealing, Sony.com does. I asked one guy whom I trust on the topic and he was very unenthusiastic about the Sony’s weather sealing. Personally I wouldn’t trust this lens one bit in harsher conditions.
Of course I can’t tell you how durable the lens will be in the long term. All I can do is give you my superficial impression which is good enough but hardly exciting in this case. I guess for the high price I would have expected a bit more. The FE 4/70-200 which is also a G lens felt more solid to me.
The Sony Macro has one focus stop button which you can reprogram to other functions like eye AF which is quite handy.
There is also a focus limiter which reduces hunting and a switch for the optical stabilizer. The switches and the button both work well enough and they make operation a bit easier.
The Sony Macro has a special focus ring which has two modes: AF and MF. In both modes resistance is well tuned and the ring is well placed and easy to grip.
If you pull it towards you, the MF mode is activated. So far it is unique to the FE 90 Macro. In MF-mode you have a focus scale, hard stops (don’t expect them to be useful to get correct infinity focus) and the focus ring is coupled linear. It travels a little less than 180 degrees from 28 cm to infinity which is a super steep transmission. In this mode focus is still by wire.
Because the transmission is so steep it is quite hard to focus at longer distances in MF mode but at medium distances I found it a significant improvement over Sony’s normal MF-implementation. You can switch to macro mode very fast and do your focus fine tuning by moving the camera.
If you push the focus ring away from you and switch the camera to MF the focus ring works like the one on other Sony lenses. Transmission is a lot less direct but the focus ring does not work in a linear way which slows focusing down a lot for me.
I use both modes, the “AF-Mode” for landscapes where I need very precise focus and the MF-Mode for shorter distances.
The Sony FE 2.8/90 comes with a big hood made from solid plastic. Since it doesn’t fit into my normal camera bag I never had it with me so I can’t tell you how effective it is.
Size and Weight
The Sony FE 2.8/90 Macro is one of the larger E-mount lenses. It is taller than the FE 4/16-35 but not as tall as the FE 4/70-200. Since it isn’t very heavy it still balances quite well on my Sony a7ii but it feels a bit hollow compared to the more dense 16-35 or 2/65 APO.
The Sony focuses internally and AF is nearly noiseless.
The FE 2.8/90 Macro is one of Sony’s slower focusing lenses. It’s not nearly as slow as the FE 1.8/50 or 2.8/50 Macro where AF is a real issue, but it does not focus as fast as the FE 1.8/85 or FE 1.8/55. My a7ii isn’t a fast AF camera to begin with but using it my keeper rate was a bit lower for more dynamic portraits of a little boy. For more static portraits it was fine.
The Sony FE Macro 2.8/90 G OSS has an optical stabilizer. On my a7ii it compensates about 2-3 stops which is maybe a stop more than I would expect from the camera’s stabilizer alone. This makes it possible to get decently blurred water handheld and it also makes it possible to take blue hour photographs with lower noise.
These results are based on the use with a Sony Alpha 7II.
Flare resistance isn’t overly impressive for a modern lens. With a strong light source in the frame there is significant veiling flare and minor ghosting.
That’s a real issue if you want to lift your shadows on a high contrast scene. If you keep your shadows black it is usually not an issue.
Not a strength of the Sony. Even stopped down to f/16 sunstars are fuzzy.
In general the lens has really smooth bokeh, I would rate it as one of Sony’s finest in this aspect. But let’s have a closer look.
Scenario 1: highly demanding scene at life size
Here the oof highlights are very bright which makes for a very demanding scenario. We see very minor outlining, mostly clean inner circles (well, clean from onion rings. Should have cleaned the lens before.), very little color fringing and some weird shapes towards the corners. The shape of the aperture is not distracting even at f/5.6.
Scenario 2: Short distance with semi demanding background
Here we see very pleasing background rendering with no outlining, only the cat-eye-effect at f/2.8 and to a lesser degree at f/4 is a little distracting.
Scene 3: Semi-demanding Background at portrait distance
I find it hard to find any fault in this scene.
Scene 4: Longer distance
Most lenses have significantly worse bokeh at longer distances but I think the Sony does a pretty good job here. The background is rendered pretty smooth despite the distance. The foreground is very smooth as well.
The Sony FE 2.8/90 Macro is exceptionally well corrected for axial CA and Spherochromatism. In my worst case scenario test there is a little color fringing and correction isn’t quite as good as with the CV 2/65 APO but still on a very high level.
Vignetting at f/2.8 is 1.7 stops which is quite a bit and visible if uncorrected. Stopping down to f/4 reduces it to 0.8 stops which are hardly noticeable. At f/5.6 vignetting is hardly noticeable at 0.4 stops and at f/8 I measure 0.2 stops:
The Sony FE 2.8/90 shows a very small amount of barrel distortion. It will hardly ever be noticeable in you image and if it is the supplied profile corrects it perfectly. Still most other macro lenses show no visible distortion at all.
The Sony FE 2.8/90 Macro is one of the sharpest E-mount lenses available at the moment. It is not quite as good as the Batis 135 or CV 2/65 APO which are the sharpest E-mount lenses available at the moment, but it is not far behind.
From f/2.8 it is excellent in the center with still very good corners. The corners improve a little at f/4 and f/5.6 where they reach excellent levels.
I don’t have a good setup to test at short distances but Roger Cicala ran this interesting test which showed that the Sony was the sharpest macro lens tested at a 1:2 reproduction ratio. Because he is averaging his measurements and because the Sony has serious copy to copy variation MTF for a good copy like mine will be significantly higher than Rogers results.
Sony doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to quality assurance and the Sony FE 2.8/90 is, according to lensrentals data, one of Sony’s lenses with the highest copy-to-copy variation. As a team we have so far purchased 5 copies of which 3 were badly decentered. It was only from my second copy that I came to appreciate the FE 2.8/90’s qualities.
So if you decide to buy your own copy make sure to buy from a seller with a good return policy and test it or test your lens before you buy it. It is worth the struggle to get a good copy but be prepared to invest some time into finding a good copy.
Voigtlander 2/65 APO Macro: As we have seen in the review the Sony performs on a very high level but the Voigtlander is even better with close to perfect CA correction. The Sony’s advantage is a little smoother bokeh, especially in the transition zone. If your focus is on macro photography the Sony is the better option because it focuses to 1:1 and is significantly longer. The manual focus Voigtlander on the other hand offers a more universal focal length, nicer handling, superior build quality and nice sunstars.
602 g | $998 | amazon.com (affilate link)
Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro: The much smaller, lighter and cheaper 50 mm Macro is nearly as sharp as the 90 mm with a little more CA and better flare resistance. It’s biggest drawbacks are the crappy AF-motor and the 7 straight aperture blades which are detrimental to the bokeh stopped down. The FE50 Macro is a pretty nice hiking lens whereas the FE90 Macro is better for insect macros and portraits.
236 g | $448 | at amazon.com (affiliate link)
Sony FE 1.8/85: It does not go beyond a magnification of 1:8, so it isn’t an alternative for macro use. For other applications the cheaper, lighter and faster FE85 is probably the better choice even though the FE90 is slightly better corrected. The strength of the FE90 Macro is it’s wider range of applications.
371 g | $598 | amazon.com (affiliate link)
Tokina 2.5/90 Macro: The Sony is a bit better in the corners at f/2.8, it’s axial CA correction is better and flare resistance is significantly better. Apart from that the Tokina is a pretty remarkable lens even today.
530 g + adapter | about $300 used | at ebay.com (affiliate link)
Zeiss Makro Planar 2/100: The fully manual Zeiss which only focuses to 1:2 is a bit larger and heavier (with adapter) but not by much. In the end I sold it because I was too bothered by the high amount of axial CA which outweighed its otherwise awesome performance and wide range of applications.
MTF-data | 660 g + adapter | about $750 used | at ebay.com (affiliate link)
Canon EF 2.8/100 L: I haven’t used it personally but by reading other people’s reviews I think the Sony is a bit sharper off-center (if you get a good copy) with better CA correction. The Canon on the other hand is a little more affordable and offers weather sealing.
The FE Macro 2.8/90 G OSS is the best lens from Sony I have reviewed so far. Optically there is a lot to appreciate: Sharpness is excellent in any scenario, CA very well corrected, there is very little distortion and bokeh is really smooth. My minor criticism would focus on the rather average flare resistance and pretty strong vignetting but these will only rarely affect your images.
Handling of the not that small lens is generally fine. The special focus ring makes manual focus more pleasant than Sony’s normal implementation but it doesn’t come close to the focus ring of a manual lens. Features like focus limiter, OSS-switch and a focus stop button make handling a bit quicker. I think the build quality is good enough but for that much money I would have expected a little more. Good enough is also a good description for the AF.
I think the Sony is your best choice if you are serious about shooting macros with your E-mount camera. In this field it excels with class leading performance. It also works well as a general purpose lens for portraits and landscape but of course it is quite large and expensive if compared to non-macros. So if you like to occasionally shoot macros you might prefer it over the FE 1.8/85 which is more versatile for these applications but doesn’t do macro.
All in all the Sony FE Macro 2.8/90 G OSS is one of Sony’s finest lenses and will master most challenges which are thrown at it with excellent results. The moderately fast aperture and focal length make it one of the more universal FE lenses and I think it will deserves a spot in many camera bags. The price is very high but so is its performance. If you get a good copy.
More Image Samples
You can find these and more images in full resolution in this flickr set: Sony FE Macro 2.8/90 G OSS.
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