Sony FE 1.8/85 vs. Sony FE 1.4/85 GM – The Big Shootout

This is the long promised Sony FE 1.8/85 vs. Sony FE 1.4/85 GM shootout. This article should clarify what the  differences between these lenses are. Even the physical appearance sets both lenses apart. Does the FE 1.4/85 GM also punch in a higher class optically, or just in terms of size and weight? Let’s find it out.

This is a classic shootout article. For sample images and further informations, check out the dedicated lens reviews of the Sony FE 1.8/85 and the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM (coming soon).

Side note: It is obvious that the Batis 1.8/85 would have fitted nicely into that comparison. I am a private person and review my own gear. I simply can’t afford to own all of them simultaneously. I have commented on the Batis 1.8/85 in the alternatives section of the Sony FE 1.8/85 review.

Warning: This comparison is very detailed because I had to decide which lens I want to own personally. If you get bored by crop comparisons, just move on to the conclusion and make your decision.

Comparisons like these are a huge amount of work. This is also the reason why there are not many comparisons like this on the web. If you appreciate this article, please consider buying the lens of your choice using one of these affiliate links:

The Sony FE 1.8/85 sells for around 500€/$ (used) to 600€/$ at Ebay.de and Ebay.com. It is also available at Amazon.de and  Amazon.com

The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM sells for 1.350€/$ to 1.800€/$  at Ebay.de and Ebay.com. It is also available at Amazon.de and Amazon.com.

The differences on the paper

 Sony FE 1.8/85Sony FE 1.4/85 GM
Diameter:78 mm89,5 mm
Length*:82 mm107,5 mm
Weight:371g820g
Filter diameter:67 mm77 mm
Aperture blades:9 (rounded)11 (rounded)
Elements/Groups9/811/8
Close focusing distance:0.8 m0.8 m
Mount:Sony-ESony-E
Price (Aug. 2017): 580€1.670€

This the easy part of the equation – The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is significantly larger, longer, needs larger filters, is more than twice as heavy, more than three times as expensive and also more complex. Not much to say about it, it’s obvious. Save your time and and just get the FE 1.8/85 (which already turned out to be a good performer in our Review)  if you are just looking for a nice, light, small and cheap native 85mm lens.

Build quality

The FE 1.4/85 GM screams quality in every aspect of its appearance. Its outer barrel is made from high quality plastic, which is a good thing in my opinion, because it is very scratch and shock resistant. The rubberized focus ring is nicely dampened and the focus hold button as well as the AF/MF switch are larger and feel nicer than the external controls of the FE 1.8/85. The aperture ring has a smooth and well defined feeling and can be declicked for video usage. The weather sealing of the GM lenses seems to be improved – at least the rubber gasket around the lens mount indicates that. The lens hood has got a locking mechanism and a rubberized front ring. A practical lens pouch is also in the box. The build quality of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM reminds me of a even more worthy interpretation of Canon’s L series which is a compliment.

The FE 1.8/85 is also a nicely crafted lens. It’s made from light metal and feels very light and well put together. The focus ring is smoothly dampened and I appreciate that the lens features a focus hold button which can be reprogrammed for things like Eye AF.

Nevertheless it doesn’t give you the feeling of a super robust tool like the Sony GM 1.4/85 does. The lens hood feels much cheaper, the feeling of the focus hold button and the AF/MF-switch is plasticky and I wouldn’t have too high expectations of the scratch resistance of its painting. No real criticism, especially regarding the price – I just want to clarify what sets them apart.

Handling

First of all, the FE 1.8/85 is much easier to carry around for longer times, especially if you own an APS-C body or don’t use a battery grip or L-bracket with your A7 series cameras. It makes its way into my camera bag much easier while I think twice if I really want to carry the glass brick (85 GM) around.

In general, the operation of the FE 1.4/85 feels a little more satisfying to me because of the better feeling of the external controls.

The manual focus by wire of both lenses is virtually the same and features direct transmission of the focus ring movement to the focus motor which is a good thing and comes closer to manual lenses.

The biggest difference in terms of handling is the quality of the autofocus. The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM makes a audible scratchy noise when focusing. That doesn’t sound too healthy but seems to be unproblematic since I have never heard of long term problems. In contrast, the autofocus of the Sony FE 1.8/85 is virtually silent which might be an important aspect for video. The autofocus speed of both lenses is also significantly different. The Sony FE 1.8/85 is very fast and action-ready, the Sony FE 1.4/85 is quite slow although the last firmware update improved its speed. Not an issue for portrait photography but too slow for sports and playing kids.

Sharpness

Infinity – Center

The central sharpness of both lenses wide open is quite comparable and a little affected by LoCA and/or purple fringing (only FE 1.8/85). At equal apertures (f/1.8 vs. f/1.7), the GM pulls ahead and is visibly more contrasty and crisp. The GM is superior at large apertures but the FE 1.8/85 catches up at f/5.6.

Infinity – Midframe

Surprisingly, the FE 1.4/85 doesn’t have a midzone dip and this area is already very sharp at f/1.7. The midframe looks pretty much equal to the central area and the FE 1.8/85 needs again f/5.6 to catch up to the GM.

Infinity – Corner

In the corners, the FE 1.4/85 looks already very sharp at f/1.7 and improves a little at f/2.8. The FE 1.8/85 needs again f/5.6 to catch up to the performance of the GM.

Close Up

Both lenses feature the same minimum focus distance (0.8m) although the magnification of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is a bit higher due to the slightly longer focal length. The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is quite soft at f/1.4 at the minimum focus distance but it gets a great boost in sharpness at f/1.7. It is clearly sharper and more contrasty than the Sony FE 1.8/85 at every aperture.

LoCA

I tested LoCA on a very sunny day. You can see the scene in the image below – A metal ladder which is reflecting the bright sunlight. It’s hard to think of more demanding scenes to test LoCA, keep that in mind.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4

The Sony FE 1.4/85 at f/1.4 shows the highest amount of LoCA in that comparison. Both lenses show almost the same amount of LoCA at f/1.7|f/1.8 but I see a that the color of the aberration is quite different and the saturation of the GM’s fringing is a little higher. The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM shows less traces of LoCA at f/2.8 and is virtually free of it at f/4 while the Sony FE 1.8/85 still shows some color inacurracy. Keep in mind that the FE 1.8/85 has a tendency to show purple fringing, the FE 1.4/85 doesn’t show this.

While the LoCA look quite intense in this sample, I have never had the LoCA-problems with these lenses that I had with the Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA. Both lenses don’t perform that bad in absolute terms but this is my subjective rating.

One last thing that is visible but barely noticeable is that Sony FE 1.4/85 GM exhibits slight forwards focus shift on stopping down.  I imagine that this is also the reason why the lens focuses stopped down at larger apertures (which upsets many users).

Flare performance

I have prepared three setups:

Scene 1 – Sun almost in the corner

The Sony FE 1.8/85 shows a big green ghost image opposite to the sun. Furthermore, there is a visible but not too obstrusive amount of veiling flare around the sun.

Sony FE 1.8/85 { f/11

The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM shows a higher amount of veiling flare around the sun but no ghost images. This position was the worst case for the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM with the sun in the frame.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM { f/11

Scene 2 – Sun centrally on the edge of the frame

The second scene is the worst case that I could find on that day for the FE 1.8/85. It still gets a little worse but the sun has to sit lower on the horizon for that. You can find a sample of that in the Sony FE 1.8/85 review.

In this case, the Sony FE 1.8/85 shows a large green bulb which is surrounded by massive veiling flare. You have to provoke a scene like that but it is possible to encounter it in the field.

Sony FE 1.8/85 { f/11The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM looks much cleaner in that scene. There is some veiling flare but nothing that would be an serious issue for me.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM { f/11

Scene 3 – Sun just outside of the frame (no lens hood)

A little later on that day, I have shot an additional scene and overexposed it a little.  The sun was not in the frame but just a little outside of it. You can see here what happens if you don’t use the lens hood.

The FE 1.8/85 shows a large green bulb and a rainbow arifact. There is also a warm veiling flare on the top left corner.

Sony FE 1.8/85 { f/11

The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM shows a large amount of coating- or sensor-reflection in the center of the image.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM { f/11

Both lenses didn’t handle that situation well and I’d recommend to use the lens hood if you plan to shoot against the sun or bright light sources.

In general, the flare performance of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is less problematic than the flare performance of the Sony FE 1.8/85

Landscape Rendering

The images below should give you an idea how a typical landscape scene can look like when imported to Lightroom. I see a more saturated image of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM and also a much warmer color. To me, that looks more appealing and natural, but it is a matter of taste and can be a adjusted to a certain amount in the postprocessing.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/11
Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/11

Bokeh

This is of course one the most important aspects of a bright 85mm lens. Most people will use these lenses for portrait work and therefore I will take the most detailed look. I will always compare three images:

  • The FE 1.4/85 GM wide open at f/1.4 to demonstrate the difference between f/1.4 and f/1.7/1.8
  • The FE 1.4/85 GM stopped down to f/1.7 and the FE 1.8/85 wide open at f/1.8 to demonstrate the differences in lens rendering despite of the depth of field
Scene 1 – Roses

This scene shows a typical half body portrait distance. The background is quite packed with different objects at different but quite close distances and there is also a branch in the foreground.

This is a scene where the image really improves from the more shallow depth of field of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM at f/1.4. The foreground is less distracting and the subject gets more isolated from the background.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4

The image at f/1.7 and f/1.8 is also quite different between the two lenses. The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM shows quite consistently rendered highlights to the edges while the Sony FE 1.8/85 shows some tendency to cat eyes and swirl. The foreground bokeh of the 1.8/85 looks also a little more contrasty.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.7
Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/1.8

If you take a closer look at the 100% crops close to the edge, the differences become even more obvious. The bokeh of the Sony FE 1.8/85 is in general much more contrasty, structured and nervous. Furthermore, there is some green outlining around the bokeh balls of the Sony FE 1.8/85.

Regarding the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM, the contrast of the bokeh wide open is lower than the contrast at f/1.7 and looks therefore even more smooth than just because of the depth of field difference.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4
Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.7
Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/1.8
Scene 2 – Tree at mid distance

This scene shows a young tree at full body portrait distance. The relative distance between the subject and the background is lower than at typical headhots and half body portrait distances. Therefore, the transition zone between sharpness and blur becomes more visible and is very important.

The images in total look already quite different. The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM handles the very structured background well and is able to seperate the subject more from it than the Sony FE 1.8/85. This leads to a more three dimensional appearance of the GM image, especially at f/1.4.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4
Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.7
Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/1.8

A closer look to the branches in the background makes it clear where this impression comes from.  The 85 GM images at f/1.4 and f/1.7 don’t look too different, there is just a little more structure in the f/1.7 shot.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4
Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.7

The crop of the FE 1.8/85 GM looks very different. The greenish outlining changes the color impression of the tree. Furthermore, the bokeh looks simply sharper, with much more structure and contrast. This is the reason why the subject has problems to stand out from the background.

Interestingly, the Vignetting wide open of both lenses is about the same (FE 1.8/85 @f/1.8: 2,1EV, FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.4: 2,2EV) which doesn’t explain the sharper impression. I didn’t notice field curvature with either lens. There the magic seems to happen at a point that we can’t understand totally with our simple methodology.

Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/1.8

Finally, we take a look at the transition zone in the lower part of the image. The transition zone is always the most critical part of the bokeh because the dispersal circles are very small. The transition zone shows reed which is a very demanding subject. The FE 1.4/85 GM seems to render that critical area quite calmly, especially wide open.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4
Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.7

In contrast, the Sony FE 1.8/85 is much more nervous. Take a look at the nettle in the sharp area. It has real problems to stand out in front of that busy background.

Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/1.8
Scene 3 – Plant close up

The third and last scene that I want to discuss in detail, shows a plant at the minimum focusing distance.

Both lenses still render this scene quite differently and it is easy to tell them apart, even if you don’t read the captions. Nevertheless I think the differences are not as dramatical and game changing as in the scenarios at larger distances.

The  FE 1.4/85 GM melts away the background, especially at f/1.4. It’s not easy to see the different dispersal circles because they are rendered that smooth and melt into each other. There is also a quite big difference in the size between the dispersal circles at f/1.4 and f/1.7.

Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.4
Sony FE 1.4/85 GM | f/1.7

The bokeh of the FE 1.8/85 has still more contrast and less melt than the bokeh of the FE 1.4/85 GM. There is also a small tendency to swirl at the edges due to the more defined dispersal circles and the cat eye shape of it wide open. In contrast to longer distances, there is no outlining and the bokeh balls look very clean. Personally, I still prefer the rendering of the GM but I think we are in this scenario at a point where it is a matter of taste.

Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/1.8

Conclusion

The FE 1.4/85 GM and the FE 1.8/85 share the same focal length and the same lens mount. Even the user interface is comparable despite of the dedicated aperture ring of the GM. But this is where the similarities end. I see two very different lenses with very different strengths.

The FE 1.8/85 is a very practical lens. It is cheap, small, silent, decently built and has very fast autofocus. It delivers sharp and nice images in most cases and most people will also be happy with its optical performance and its rendering. It also doesn’t focus stopped down which is great for studio usage. It is a lens for all people that make a buying decision with the head or with the wallet. My advice to them: Stop reading here, get the FE 1.8/85 and be satisfied by it.

Nevertheless, the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is the lens that excites me and that has conquered my heart. I have had this impression before I did my comparison and it got only stronger after this test. The build quality of the lens screams quality in every regard. Optically, the FE 1.4/85 is superior in all relevant categories. For landscapers, It is sharper at infinity at equal/large apertures and very sharp across the frame stopped down. Furthermore, it is significantly sharper at close distances and renders colors more gentle and accurate, especially at large apertures. The flare performance of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is far superior to the flare performance of the Sony FE 1.8/85 and almost flawless when the lens hood is used. The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM doesn’t show the purple fringing that the Sony FE 1.8/85 has but there is a relevant amount of LoCA wide open. The GM also has a small amount of focus shift when focusing wide open and stopping down. The autofocus of the FE 1.4/85 GM makes noise and is not the fastest around. Forget about shooting running kids with it.

The most important aspect to understand the FE 1.4/85 GM is of course the bokeh. I was never satisfied by the bokeh comparisons that I have seen in the past (mostly FE 1.4/85 GM vs. Zeiss Batis 1.8/85) because they were always limited to the shape of the bokeh balls at close distances. The simple-minded message was: Get the GM if you want round bokeh balls. This is true to a certain degree, but this approach is way too simple to understand the FE 1.4/85 GM’s magic. It became visible that Sony has managed to archive different contrast levels in the focal plane and outside of it. While both lenses have high contrast in the focal plane, the contrast of the FE 1.4/85 is much lower outside of it. The dispersal circles are less harsh and clean of chromatic aberrations, outlining and onion rings. They melt into each other gently. This contributes to subject isolation greatly and the difference in subject isolation is much bigger than the aperture difference might indicate. This is especially if the background is close to the subject. These big differences are not only caused by the speed difference, that becomes visible when comparing the f/1.7 and f/1.8 samples. It is really the lens design that causes these differences.

Another special trick of the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is the f/1.4 setting. While still being sharp, it is less contrasty and renders even more gently than stopped down. Maybe there is even a small tad of spherical aberration that contributes to that behavior. This “feature” is very nice for many portrait scenarios. Already at f/1.7, the lens crisps up greatly and changes its character. It has more microcontast then but still keeps the bokeh calm. I am pretty sure that Sony has designed this “two-face” behavior intentionally.

Finally, some people claim that the Sony FE 1.8/85 is the sharper lens than the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM and refer to the Lensrentals MTF measurement. The problem with this kind of comparison is that Lensrentals only measure wide open, and these lenses have different speeds. At equal apertures, the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is visibly sharper than the Sony FE 1.8/85.

Comparisons like these are a huge amount of work. This is also the reason why there are not many comparisons like this on the web. If you appreciate this article, please consider buying the lens of your choice using one of these affiliate links:

The Sony FE 1.8/85 sells for around 500€/$ (used) to 600€/$ at Ebay.de and Ebay.com. It is also available at Amazon.de and  Amazon.com

The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM sells for 1.350€/$ to 1.800€/$  at Ebay.de and Ebay.com. It is also available at Amazon.de and Amazon.com.

Bonus Content: Scenes 4-6

These scenes should provide you an even deeper impression, you can slide the images.

FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.4 vs. FE 1.8/85

FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.7 vs. FE 1.8/85

FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.4 vs. FE 1.8/85

FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.7 vs. FE 1.8/85

FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.4 vs. FE 1.8/85

FE 1.4/85 GM @f/1.7 vs. FE 1.8/85

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Jannik Peters

I am a passionate photographer from northern Germany and I love landscape, architecture, travel, portrait and family photography. I use manual lenses but I also enjoy the comfort of autofocus lenses, therefore both can be found in my bag.

25 thoughts on “Sony FE 1.8/85 vs. Sony FE 1.4/85 GM – The Big Shootout”

  1. Very interesting and detailed review, lovely testshots.
    To my taste I like the bokeh and microcontrast of the 1.8 better.
    I wonder how a legacy lens like the Helios 40 would stack up to these modern 85 lenses.

    1. This is really a matter of taste. Lucky you, if you prefer the rendering of the 1.8/85, it’s much cheaper 😉

      I think the Helios 40 wouldn’t have a chance in that comparison. Probably a different rendering style but MUCH more flawed in optical terms.

  2. Fantastic comparison, Jannik! Thank you very much 🙂 I owned the Batis, the GM and the Loxia and eventually decided to keep the GM.

  3. Hi Jannik, Amaying review, if I buy any of the lenses i’ll use your link. BTW there is a mistake (at least i think so) when you are comparing the bokeh in bonus section the second set of photos, the first one says gm is at f1.7 but has clearly smoother bokeh than as shown in the second picture of the second comparison where the lens is supposedly at f1.4.

    I think you only made a mistake when typing and it actually is just vice versa (first comparison is at f1.4 and the second and f1.7) cheers man great review, thank you very much !

    1. Thank you! I’ve just double checked it.. It is always GM @f/1.4 vs FE @f/1.8 and then in the second sliding image GM@f/1.7 vs FE @f/1.8.

      I see it that way. You not?

  4. Great comparison. The only thing I would add is that 85gm is not a true f1.4 lens. Per Dxo it is T1.5. In terms of light transmission. So you are really getting a. 85/1.5 lens in terms of transmission. 85 1.8fe is a true 1.8 lens in transmission (source: dxo).

    85gm of course is not alone in not being a true 1.4 lens. Just look at 85L canon measurements at same dxo

    1. Thank you! The FE 1.4/85 GM is of course a true f/1.4 lens, just not a T/1.4 lens. 0.1 stops of transmission aren’t that important to me, it’s not enough to mention and a very common phenomenon in my opinon.

  5. Really well done Jannik. An excellent comparison.
    I conducted a much shorter comparison between the FE 85/1.8 and the Batis 85/1.8, just for my own interest, as to which to keep. (I’ve posted this in shorter form on the FE 85/1.8 test thread, but here seems a good place for it too. Phillip knows the standard of my testing.)
    I was really surprised by the results, as I preferred the FE overall. (My Batis is well centred and shows no signs of being faulty, though it is possible that I have a very good copy of the FE, it is my second. )
    Main traits were: Very similar sharpness all over, except at very close up, where the Batis was sharper. Bokeh is just about equal too. I didn’t try a colour fringing comparison, but I could tell from what I did take, (with CA lens correction on “Auto”), that it isn’t bad with either. Two areas that let the Batis down, were “blocked” up shadows, and worse flare handling. The latter so surprised me that I had to keep double checking that I hadn’t reversed results. The Batis had very prevalent overall veiling flare, whilst the FE had more ghosts, but a much cleaner look overall, into the sun. Most of the ghosts can be dealt with, with Lightroom spot/healing tool, the veiling can’t! The Batis is also much warmer in colouring, and because of the poor shadow detail, has a “heavy” look, compared to the FE. I prefer the FE’s cool look, but that is obviously a personal thing. The FE also has slightly better sunbursts, though they aren’t something I care about.
    Really, only in build quality and weather sealing do I prefer the Batis.
    So far I own both, but I will probably soon sell on the Batis.

  6. Thanks Jannik! The review is really helpful. Can you give us a paypal link so that I can buy you a cup of coffee? It’s not easy from my part of world to use the affiliated links 🙂
    What stopped me from keeping the GM is the very sluggish AF speed. I have missed a lot of shots where I needed fast focus. Therefore although the GM’s rendering is magic, I ended up keeping the 1.8 because it’s light and nimble and good enough for me.
    Also, in the flare section, I recall that the GM can catch some disastrous flare across the frame when the sun is somewhere out of the frame. Did you also notice that?
    Can’t wait to the full review of the GM!

  7. Very good write up–thank you. The only section that I think is important and not included is a transition shot with objects just near and behind. Often we shoot in cluttered environments and I find the transition zones an important part of a portrait lenses rendering. But great write up!

  8. Great review again :)!
    The GM is so nice but also so slow :). The AF was slow while I was testing it with the A9 and it is kinda huge and heavy. That is why I bought the FE 85 1.8. It is a perfect mach for the smaller bodies and the price is fine. The only complain I have about it is the contrast against bright light. It could have been better but… I can live with it. And for the moments that I need more bokeh I still have the Samyang 85 1.4 which is kinda close to the GM in terms of pop and bokeh and the Canon FDn 85 1.2 which is an 1.2 :).

    1. I understand everyboby who chooses the 1.8/85 and the GM drives me mad sometimes. Did you update the GM to the newest firmware? That had a big impact on speed.

  9. Hey guys, just made the switch from Fuji to Sony. (a9 +a7r2) got thé Zeiss 35 1.4 and 55 1.8
    Now i’m in the boat for a 85 and torn between the GM 1.4 and FE 1.8
    I do mostly weddings, so the a9 has thé 35 on it.
    Thé 85 would ben for on the a7rII

    Is the GM so sluggish? Before i had thé 56 1.2 on Fuji? Maybe someone can compacte it to that.
    Awesome review btw, really like what you are doing 🙂

    Thanks guys

    1. What do you mean by sluggish? It is slower than the FE 1.8/85 but the AF speed has improved with the latest firmware update. I used the GM for weddings (on A6500) and it was ok.

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