For this independent review I bought the Sony Sonnar FE 1.8/55 ZA T* and used it for a period of several months during which I performed many tests and used it in a wide range of applications.
|Filter Diameter||49 mm|
|Weight||281g / 324g with hood|
|Close Focusing Distance from the sensor||50 cm|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (circular)|
|Elements/ Groups||7 / 5|
I wouldn’t call the rather light FE 1.8/55 a small lens but it is still very manageable and very well balanced on my a7II.
The Sony FE 1.8/55 feels nice since it has a metal hull and a nice, wide focus ring with zero play. Most markings are engraved and filled with paint. The serial number though isn’t engraved which I find a bit annoying for a $1k lens.
While having a metal hull (inside it is made from plastics) feels nice it comes with a downside: The FE55 (and all the other ZA lenses) easily attract scratches in the rather soft aluminium. I think the premium feeling was prioritized over actual premium longevity. Canon’s L series and Sony’s GM series which use less metal are more durable.
I asked Roger Cicala of lensrentals.com about the FE55’s reliability and he told me that “It’s really not problematic at all for a Sony. Good in-service rate and no obviously recurring problems. Like all Sony’s when it breaks it costs a fortune to repair, but no more likely to break than the average lens.”
Although Sony claims that the design is “dust and moisture resistant” the lens has around the , so weather resistance will be limited. Personally I wouldn’t dare to expose it to much humidity since Sony has a rather weak track record in that regard.
The lens hood is made from thick, high quality plastics and attaches firmly. It is rather large and increases the volume of the lens a lot. The upside is that it protects the front of the lens very well.
AF-performance depends a lot on the camera you use the FE 1.8/55. On my Sony a7II it is usually quick enough in good light but it leaves quite a bit to be desired in lowlight. On a camera with a more advanced AF-system like the a6500 or a7rIII the FE 1.8/55 can focus super fast though.
The FE 1.8/55 focuses internally and is nearly noiseless.
As mentioned before, the, what too much is .
One problem here is that it matters FE 2/28 a lot., if I turn it by 45 degrees very fast the focus changes from 50cm to infinity. If I turn it slowly it takes more than 360 degrees (one full turn) to change focus from the close focusing distance to infinity. In theory this sounds like a great idea because focusing should be either super precise or very quick, depending on what you need. But so far I have , and I have used manual focus with this lens and the
The other problem is that there isbetween the moment when you turn the focusing ring and when the lens reacts. It is only a small fraction of a second but noticeable.
Another problem I noticed when shooting my sharpness test was that focusing happened in small steps and it was quite hard to focus exactly at infinity. That was on my a7II. Bastian on his a7rII found it impossible to focus exactly.
I am used to manual lenses where the focusing ring is coupled directly to the focusing helicoid and I am faster and as precise with them. So hardcore manual lens user).(says a
Zeiss has a reputation for very effective coatings and it is justified in this case, the lens does not loose contrast even in very demanding situations.
I could provoke minor ghosting under extreme conditions but still I would call the FE 1.8/55 an excellent performer in this regard.
While lateral CA are very well corrected longitual CA correction is one of the few weaknesses the lens has. This is a torture test but with high local contrast you can easily run into issues. Most classic normal lenses are no better here but some modern lenses like the Sigma Art 1.4/50 or Sony 1.4/50 ZA correct axial CA a lot better.
The FE 1.8/55 shows minor barrel distortion which can easily be corrected by profile in your Raw-converter of choice.
The FE 1.8/55 has pretty smooth bokeh while most normal lenses are rather busy. Oof highlights are rendered with very little definition and smooth transitions.
Since the FE55 uses three aspherical surfaces it is no surprise that it can show distracting onion rings. We also se rather strong cat-eyes. Thanks to 9 rounded aperture blades oof-highlights are rendered more or less round at smaller apertures.
In this series we see a rather smooth transition zone.
There are situations where cat-eyes or onion rings can be an issue but all in all I would rate the bokeh very positively.
Vignetting of the Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA is pretty strong. Even if you set vignetting correction to off a correction is automatically applied in LR. Here are my measurements (before and then after correction):
- f/1.8 – 2.3 stops | 1.4 stops
- f/2.8 – 1.4 stops | 0.5 stops
- f/4 – 1.1 stops | 0.4 stops
- f/5.6 – 0.8 stops | 0.3 stops
In reality these won’t often cause issues but especially at f/1.8 you might notice increased noise off center.
f/1.8: very good to excellent in the center, very good in the midframe region and good to very good in the corners where some coma is visible.
f/2.8: Excellent to the corners with a minor drop in the far corners. f/4 to f/8: Excellent across the frame.
f/11: Some softening due to diffraction.
This is a pretty remarkable performance.
Of course I can only test one copy but my results seem to agree with Roger Cicala’s average MTF. Also note the above average variance of the FE 1.8/55.
Compared to other Lenses
- The Zeiss Loxia 2/50 is a more traditional design with not as smooth bokeh and not as sharp corners at faster apertures but it has no onion rings and less LoCA. Since it has a little higher contrasts, very nice sunstars and is a joy to focus manually it is preferred by many landscape photographers.
- The Sony FE 1.4/50 ZA: I have never used this 800 g behemoth but from other people’s comparisons I know that the 1.4/50 offers significantly better CA-correction and higher central sharpness. Downsides are the price and a bit worse off-center sharpness. An excellent choice for environmental portraits.
- The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is nearly as slow focusing as the 1.8/50 so not for action but for landscape and nature photography it can be an interesting alternative since it is easier to focus manually and as good as the FE55 stopped down with excellent flare resistance.
- Voigtlander 2/65 APO: Twice as heavy and fully manual the macro outperforms the Sony with even higher sharpness and excellent CA correction. This is the lens I personally chose as my “normal lens” since it is a joy to use and such an exceptional performer.
- The Samyang 1.4/50 is less sharp with an inferior AF drive and quite a bit bigger but more affordable and with even smoother bokeh.
- The Mitakon 0.95/50 is much faster and bigger special lens. It performs quite well at f/0.95 but it is not as sharp as the FE55 and I wouldn’t want to carry it around as a general purpose lens but it delivers when shallow depth of field is called for.
- The Zeiss Planar 1.7/50 is not as sharp at wider apertures, especially in the corners and bokeh is a lot less smooth (for most scenarios). Flare of the FE55 is also superior but for landscape photography I would prefer the Planar none the less because of the superior handling and because the differences in sharpness are minor at typical settings.
- The Minolta MC 1.7/55 has less smooth bokeh, is much less sharp at f/1.7 and much more susceptible to flare. When I compared it to the FE55 I was surprised to see that there is very little difference between them at f/8.
- The Canon nFD 1.4/50 is nearly as sharp in the center at f/1.8 but it is much less sharp in the corners. Bokeh is also inferior but it is much more affordable and still a very good lens.
The list of the FE 1.8/55’s achievements is quite respectable. It’s one of the sharpest normal lenses around. You can use any aperture and put your subject everywhere in the frame never worry about sharpness. At the same time you get smoother bokeh than with most other normal lenses. Cat-eyes and onion rings can be a bit distracting at times though. Another thing you don’t need to worry about is flare which is very well controlled. Handling of the smallish lens is pleasant with quick AF and a very good balance.
Is it a perfect lens? No it isn’t. I found the manual focusing experience unpleasant so if you prefer manual focus this lens is probably not for you. The only aberration which can be really bothersome is LoCA. I should also mention the strong vignetting even though it has fewer practical consequences.
I would recommend the FE 1.8/55 to most FE-shooters since you can cover a very wide range of applications with great results while keeping your kit small and light. Only a 1.8/35 would be more universal but we have no good native option there. Only those who prefer to focus manually or are chasing after quality without any compromise will be served better by the alternatives.
All in all the Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA T* is a very well balanced lens which is both a very good performer in about any discipline and yet it is so portable that you don’t have to think twice about putting it into your bag. Few lenses manage this balance as well. In light of this performance the rather high price seems to be justified.
The FE 1.8/55 costs $898 at amazon.com or B&H photo, 848€ at amazon.de (affiliate links). You can buy the lens used at ebay.com ($650-700) or ebay.de (600-700€).
If you purchase the lens through one of these affiliate-links I get a small compensation with no additional cost to you.
More Sample Images
More samples in this set: Sony FE 1.8/55 on flickr
- Sony FE lenses: A comprehensive and independent guide
- Sony FE 4/16-35 ZA OSS – Review
- Sony FE 2/28 -Review
Latest posts by Phillip Reeve (see all)
- A Photography Ride through Spring - June 21, 2020
- Review: Voigtlander 75mm F1.5 Nokton VM - April 13, 2020
- The Team edits your images part 1: Aurora Borealis - April 11, 2020