The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is a small and relatively affordable lens which can cover a wide range of applications. In this review I will check how well it actually performs.
|Filter Thread||55 mm|
|Close Focusing Distance from the sensor||16 cm|
|Number of aperture blades||7 (barely rounded)|
This lens was loaned to me from Sony Germany free of charge for three weeks.
Build quality and handling
The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is comparable in build quality to the FE 2/28. The outer hull is made from metal, the inner tube is made from plastics and markings are not engraved. It feels nice enough, much better than a FE 1.8/50, but not as nice as a FE 1.8/55.
The focusing ring travels around 35 degrees from 1m to infinity and a further 900 (!) degrees to the short focusing distance of 0.16m. So you have to turn it a lot to focus at the closest distance which is annoying but the upside is that you can focus it very precisely, even at longer distances which is often difficult with Macro lenses. The transmission does not depend on the speed with which you turn the focusing ring but is of course a focus by wire design.
One nice feature is that even after restarting the camera the Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro returns to it’s last focus position.
So all in all a good performance for a FE-lens but certainly not as nice as that of a proper manual lens.
Well… the Sony FE 2.8/50 is a macro lens and those are usually quite slow to focus. The Sony is certainly no exception.
AF is much slower than with other FE lenses like the 1.8/55 or 2/28. While those are focusing more or less noiseless and make short focus changes nearly instantaneous, this macro makes some noise and takes it’s time. It is not as bad that I would call it useless, for most subjects it is good enough, but you can forget about shooting anything more dynamic with it. I also experienced some inconsistencies at longer distances.
At shorter distances I noticed quite a bit of hunting and it can take several seconds before the AF finds it’s target.
There is no hood but the front of the lens is deeply recessed so it is well protected from stray light and scratches so there is no need for one and you also don’t need to bother with a lens cap.
Size and Weight
The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is a small to medium sized lens and very light, you barely notice the weight on the camera or in the bag. I think this is a significant advantage over the competitor’s offerings.
These results are based on the use with a Sony Alpha 7.
The flare resistance is very good. I had to try really hard to provoke any ghosting or contrast loss and then all I got was a very small green blob.
Bokeh is quite smooth at f/2.8. Bokeh circles aren’t totally clean though.
At longer distances bokeh gets a bit nervous.
Stopped down the shape of the aperture blades is clearly visible because contrary to the Sony’s marketing department they aren’t rounded.
Axial CA is well but certainly not perfectly corrected.
Vignetting is very strong at f/2.8 at nearly two stops. Stopping down to f/4 reduces vignetting to about a stop and at f/8 it remains at relatively high 0.7 stops. Adobe LR automatically corrects about 1 stop of vignetting at f/2.8.
There is almost zero distortion.
Click for my 1:1 sharpness test.
The Sony FE 50mm 2.8 is excellent in the center from f/2.8 and sharpness drops to still good levels as you approach the corners. At f/5.6 it is very sharp across the frame. Remarkably performance at 1:1 is pretty similar to that at infinity. Most other macros don’t maintain such a level of sharpness at every distance.
For Macro use the SEL50f28M has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Sharpness in the center is excellent even wide open at 1:1 so you don’t need to worry about that.
One limitation are the more or less straight 7 aperture blades, they are detrimental to the image when you are stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8 which happens quite often for when you shoot macros.
Another limitation is the very short working distance of just 45mm from the front of the lens at 1:1. For my use it wasn’t much of a limitation but other macro lenses give you quite a bit more working distance at 1:1 magnification so you won’t shade your subject and there is less of a chance of it flying away.
Focusing the Sony Macro at 1:1 takes quite a bit of time because you need to turn the focusing ring twice but the upside of that is that you can focus very precisely.
All in all it performed well as a macro lens for me but it certainly isn’t perfect.
For portraits the Sony worked well enough, there is still quite a bit of blur and the bokeh is decent. Only the slow AF was a bit annoying.
As a landscape lens the Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro performed really well. From f/5.6 it is very sharp across the frame, flare resistance is great and manual focus is among the best of all the FE lenses.
Sony FE 2.8/90 G Macro: Sony’s other macro lens is about about twice as expensive and you get a faster, basically noiseless AF drive and a bit nicer build quality. I liked manual focus on the FE50M better for longer distances and the FE90G better for shorter distances. Optically the FE90G is pretty similar as far as sharpness is concerned but it’s correction of axial CA is superior and it does have 9 proper aperture blades. The FE90G is much bulkier and more than twice as heavy. Both lenses are good solutions for a wide range of applications but the focal length is of course quite different.
Tokina At-X 2.5/90: One of my favorite manual lenses. Super sharp, very nice bokeh, not too large and pleasant to handle. Only the coatings give it’s age away.
Olympus OM 3.5/50 Macro: It costs 10% of the Sony and is built to much higher standards but it only focuses down to 1:2. Optically the Sony is superior in about any aspect, especially because the Olympus is clearly optimized for a reproduction ratio of about 1:10 but for most applications the actual difference will be rather small. With adapter it is about as long, thinner and a few grams heavier than the Sony. All in all the Sony is more versatile but the Olympus certainly offers better value.
Sigma 2.8/50 Macro: One of the few manual macros which focus down to 1:1 without an extension ring. Optically it is as good or better than most manual 50m lenses but it isn’t built to the same standards. Since my copy broke I can’t couldn’t compare it to the Sony but I would extrapolate that the Sony is still a bit but not much better.
The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro has performed well in most of the challenges I put it trough, the optics are very solid.
The Sony Macro is very lightweight and not too large. So it let’s you enjoy the size and weight advantage of your mirrorless camera over DSLRs. One trade off you have to live with is that the working distance between the front of the lens and your subject is very short.
The only aspect which I don’t like so far is the AF, which simply isn’t on the same level as other FE lenses. In light of the otherwise great performance and because it is still good enough for most applications I am willing to put up with it.
All in all the Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is a very welcome addition to Sony’s lineup. It’s optics are really solid: the Sony is very sharp, has pleasant bokeh, little CA and great flare resistance. Unlike some of Sony’s other offerings it does this without being large and heavy or super expensive. The only trade-offs are slow AF, straight aperture blades and very little distance between the lens and the subject at 1:1 magnification. I think it will find it’s way into the bags of many photographers.
Images Samples in full resolution
You can find more images in this flickr set: Sony FE 2.8/50
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