Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA Sonnar T* – Review

DSC06789The Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA set a new standard for normal lenses, surpassing the competition in many aspects. For this review I bought the lens and used it on my Sony Alpha 7 for about a month.

Sample Images

edge of the forest
Sony Alpha 7 | FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8
DSC09468
f/1.8

DSC06715
f/1.8

Specifications

Diameter 64 mm
Length 70.5 mm
Filter Diameter 49 mm
Weight 281g / 324g with hood
Max. Magnification 0.14
Close Focusing Distance from the sensor 50 cm
Number of aperture blades 9 (circular)
Elements/ Groups 7 / 5
$998 at amazon.com or B&H photo,  858€ at amazon.de (affiliate links)

Built Quality

Sony FE 1.8/55 with hood
the hood is very solid but also quite large

The lens is built to very high standards with a metal hull and a focusing ring which has zero play.

One nice touch is that all the markings are engraved and filled with paint. Not just printed on the hull like with the FE 2/28.

The lens shade feels very solid as well and attaches very firmly to the lens. It is made from thick, high quality plastics with a matted inside. It is also quite large which can be an annoyance if you want to keep your kit small.

Although Sony claims that the design is “dust and moisture resistant”  the lens has no gasket around the lens mount, so weather resistance will be limited.

Autofocus

My impression is that the FE55 is one of the slower FE lenses when it comes to autofocus, my FE 2/28 and 4/16-35 are bit faster and less likely to hunt. On my Alpha 7 I found AF to often be too slow, especially when using the small Flexible Spot. I am often faster using manual  focus despite the mediocre manual focus implementation.

I guess that it will perform better on the a7II or a7rII. The AF drive is very quiet and the lens does not extend.

Manual Focus

DSC06791

As mentioned before, the focusing ring feels nice nice, what I don’t like too much is the focus by wire implementation.

One problem here is that it matters how fast you turn the focusing ring,  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 failed to get to a point were my I am able to use this subconciously, and I have used manual focus with this lens and the FE 2/28 a lot.

The other problem is that there is a small lag between the moment when you turn the focusing ring and when the lens reacts. It is only a small fraction of a second but noticeable.

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 manual focus works okay but it isn’t very enjoyable (says a hardcore manual lens user).

Flare resistance

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.

DSC09318
no contrast loss in the most demanding scenario I could come up with

I could provoke some ghosting under extreme conditions but I have never tested a lens with a better performance in this regard.

Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/9
a tiny little blob.

Chromatic Aberations

DSC09280
f/1.8 abvious LoCA on the chain and the camera in the foreground

While lateral CA are very well corrected longitual CA correction is one of the few weaknesses the lens has. LoCA can be very visible in some situations, even my 45 years old Minolta MC 1.7/55 has less LoCA.

Distortion  Sony FE 1.8/55 | distortion

The FE 1.8/55 shows minor barrel distortion.

Bokeh

The FE 1.8/55 has smoother bokeh than any classic normal lens I have ever used.

Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8 | bokeh
f/1.8 short focus distance | click on the image for the full resolution
DSC09267
f/1.8 a little longer distance

Because the lens contains aspheric elements you can sometimes see so called onion rings in specular light sources.

Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8 | LoCA
this picture shows a worst case scenario for the FE 55: onion rings and LoCA
Sony FE 1.8/55 | bokeh , LoCA
100% crop from the image above

I think the smooth rendering will be visible much more often than the onion rings so all in all bokeh is exceptional.

Vignetting

Sony FE 1.8/55 | coma and vignetting test
This image is processed but I did not correct vignetting. The FE55 has very little coma at f/1.8.

At f/1.8 vignetting is quite obvious. At f/2.8 it is mostly gone.

Sharpness

Sony_FE_55mmf1p8 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.

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. It might be the better solution for lovers of manual lenses.
  • 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.
  • 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 Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO is about three times as expensive and heavy but it is a bit faster and LoCA is much much better corrected. I think it is also a tad sharper in the corners at f/1.8. It is also a manual focus only lens.
  • The Sigma 1.4/50 ART plays in the same league as the FE55 but it is a lot bigger. See this interesting comparison.

Conclusion

 

good

  • sharp across the frame from f/1.8
  • very smooth bokeh
  • built quality
  • very high contrast and excellent flare resistance
average

  • size
  • value
not good

  • manual focusing experience
  • LoCA
  • onion rings

 

The Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA T* is one of the best ~50mm lenses available today.

While classic normal lenses at faster apertures are only sharp in the very center, the FE55 is sharp to the corners. I don’t need sharp corners at f/1.8 very often but it can be liberating in some scenarios.

Built quality, Bokeh and contrast also set it apart from the competition. You simply never have to worry about the bokeh or any light source, the Sony FE 1.8/55 simply works well.

Is it a perfect lens? No it isn’t, I found the manual focusing experience unpleasant and LoCA can be bothersome in some scenarios.

What I find quite important is that it performs so well without being a large lens, so you don’t have to think twice about putting it into your bag. The price is a higher than CaNikons normal lenses but those do neither perform as well nor are they built as well. Compared to Zeiss’ or Leica’s premium normal lenses it is priced very competitively. Prices have come down since the lens was released and I think the lens offers decent value now.

All in all it comes much closer to being the perfect normal lens than any other normal lens I have used so far.

———————–
You can support my work on this blog by ordering through one of these affiliate links:

The FE 1.8/55 costs $898 at amazon.com or B&H photo,  858€ at amazon.de.

You can buy the lens used at ebay.com ($650-700) or ebay.de (600-700€).
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Full Resolution Sample Images

Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/1.8
f/1.8 sharp across the frame
Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/2
f/2 | very sharp and contrasty

Sony FE 1.8/55 | f/8
f/8 | excellent sharpness stopped down

more samples in this set: Sony FE 1.8/55 on flickr

Other Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

33 thoughts on “Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA Sonnar T* – Review”

  1. Great review once again. Thanks for sharing all these tests and information. Personally I am most interested in the comparison of new lenses with old manual lenses. This gives good insides how good the old lenses are, but why it’s worth buying premium lenses.

    Great work, keep it going!

  2. Thanks again for your review! Your site continues to be the killer A7* user site for users of native AND legacy lenses
    I would love to see a similar review and discussion of legacy manual tele zooms (and primes) vs the FE 70-200 F4, though my sense is you don’t do a whole lot with telephoto zooms.

    For your style/process, what is the single native lens you find to be most worthwhile over legacy options?

    1. I own a few tele lenses but as you said I don’t use them that much. Right now I have little inclination to test the 4/70-200. I will probably shift my focus back to manual lenses for the next few blog posts.

      About the most worthwhile lens: thats a tough question but I guess it is the 2/28 FE because it is both smaller and better than my manual 28mm lenses.

  3. Good afternoon. Thank you for your blog. A lot of useful information. Often I come to you to check out the new articles.
    In this photo i can see a small speck in the sky https://www.flickr.com/photos/96189377@N08/19671598984.
    This dust on the sensor? On my camera I observe the same spot on the f > 8.

    Can you tell me how often do you clean the camera’s sensor, and how do you do it?
    Thank you.

    1. Glad to hear that you come hear regularly 😉

      thats definitely dust. I use a dust blower similar to this: http://amzn.to/1OZAiDj and it works very well. I am often not that bothered by dust so I forget to clean the sensor. How much cleaning it needs depens a lot on the conditions. Normally I am fine with cleaning it once or twice a month which takes about 30 seconds.

      1. Thanks for the answer. Dust blower does not help me. Recommended to use wet cleaning to me. With the help of this tool: http://photosol.com/products/.
        Which is called Eclipse. You do not have to use it?

        P.S. Sorry for the English, i am use a translator 🙂

  4. I just got my hands on the FE 55mm 1.8 on a good deal I found locally. I am planning some massive testing against my FD 50mm 1.4 but I noticed you mentioned the Mitakon .95 which was the lens I REALLY wanted to buy instead.
    I am not in need of AF although playing with it yesterday it was an interesting feeling to have AF again lol
    I just feel that a .95 lens, when stopped down should be able to match or get close to this 1.8 lens plus I get the .95 options which could create some interesting images…and these days, you need every tool at hand to be different from the rest I think.
    What are your thoughts? Have you personally tested the .95 mitakon? I can get it for $630 shipped.

    1. I haven’t personally used it, only read a few tests. I am very certain that it has a much worse corner performance than the 1.8/55. And it weights about three times as much.

  5. “The FE 1.8/55 has smoother bokeh than any classic normal lens I have ever used.”
    That’s what I feel about the Voigtlander 58/1.4 Nokton SLII, my favourite standard, very closely shared with the MC 58/1.2
    Like you, the AF and focus-by-wire would put me off this, though the rendering does look good.

  6. After more comparisons to my FD 50mm 1.4 (best copy of 3 I tried and also other brand 50s I tested against it) I can say that at 1.8 the FD is close but move a little away from that center focus and its a no contest right away…not even in the same universe.
    There is one interesting thing though…at 5.6 the FD gives the 55mm a run for its money and at F8 it seems to keep improving where the 55mm does not seem to get the same benefits from stopping down any more over all. Heck, I could swear that there are some areas on the frame where the FD actually looks a tad sharper at F8. 😀
    Then again, the so called microcontrast etc and overeall rendering its all for the FE55mm but I found it interesting on how the FD seems to improve more at F8.

    1. Modern lenses seem to be designed to reach their peak performance wider open (often around F/5.6), than older designs. Maybe because of the “fashion” for out of focus/bokeh backgrounds guiding designers, where in the past, sharp front to back was the desired look, and F/8-11 the sweet point designers aimed for.

  7. Hi! Great review indeed…
    Since 2 years I had been slogging with Canon APSC 70D+(10-18)+(18-55)+50/1.8+(55-250) with tripod & flash. Felt it was too heavy and cumbersome. Such a relief it was when I switched to Sony A7R2 + FE1.8/55 recently. Need to increase the focal range now – mostly for the stills of landscapes, family, travel & portraits.
    Kindly advise whether to go by primes or zooms. Do you think making use of APSC mode on A7R2 (thus adhering to a limited number of primes) is a good-enough strategy to eliminate zooms altogether? If so, I will add a FE2/28 immediately, instead of the FE4/16-35. Possible to add the 21mm converter later (slightly contrary to your views though) if needed…
    While meeting the tele-side, adding at least 1 heavy lens becomes inevitable…. How about Samyang manual lens – say 135 manual-cine?
    Appreciate your kind advice. Many thanks in advance.

    1. I think the zoom vs prime decision is up to your taste. If you prefer faster and smaller lenses a prime is probably the better solution. If you value flexibility a zoom will suit you better. The FE 2/28 and 4/16-35 are my only FE lenses and I pack the 2/28 wen I want to travel lightly. The 16-35 when weight doesn’t matter too much.

      The Samyang 2/135 is a phantsatic lens optically and very affordable for what it does. One reason why it is so cheap is that Samyang has lousy quality control. Thats the reason why haven’t bought one yet.

    2. PS
      By reading elsewhere in your web-pages, now I realize of a recommendation of yours (Minolta manual 135mm). I am yet to read further about this lens. Probably needs an LEA3/4 adaptor to suit A7R2 mount???

          1. Kurt Munger reviews a different lens.
            On my Minolta Site I mention the Minolta MD Rokkor 2.8/135. It is important that all three words, Minolta, MD and Rokkor are in the name

  8. Regarding the Mitakon 0.95/50mm, why do you consider it not a general purpose lens? What makes it worse off than your other manual lenses? The size/weight? The lens flare? Or is it because you see no point in carrying it around if you stop it down to f2 ( or something slower than f0.95)? I am currently in the process of deciding if I could use the Mitakon for my photography and I see some people saying it isn’t a general purpose lens (and its been a love hate relationship from online reviewers). Thank you so much if you could answer everything!

    Or do a review of the Mitakon 😛

    1. Well it is mostly about the weight. Stopped down to f/2 it become an average performing f/2 lens which weights about 5 times as much as other 2/50 lenses. So if you want to shoot at f/0.95 half the time it is probably a decent general purpose lens for you but I wouldn_t.

      1. Thank you very much for your input!

        Keep up the amazing work on your photography and the reviews! They really help out a lot 😀

  9. Hi Phillip, firstly thanks for your reviews, keep up the nice work.
    I am in market for 50mm, i had three options in mind, the one on this page, i.e zeiss 55/1.8, the slr magic 50/1.1 and the new fe 50/1.8 sony just released, any suggestions as to which is good?

  10. I’ve found that with the latest firmware as long as there is enough light for PDAF to be active the FE55 is quite fast on my A7. Rarely have a problem unless my subject is moving very quickly (and no lens on the A7 does well with that!) but then I use AF-C and back button AF so maybe its partly an AF technique?

  11. Can you please tell me which adapter you use for your Minolta MC 55 mm / f1,7 lens to mount it on a Sony A7 body? Thanks!

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