Sony FE Landscape Lenses – Part 3: The casual landscape photographer

User Characterization: You like landscape photography but you need a kit that can do more than just that. You look for the best jack of all trades with an eye on the budget and you appreciate autofocus. 

The typical casual landscape phographers are people who shoot landscapes as well as portraits, parents on vacation (me for example 😉 ) or people who just don’t like to different lens kits for different use cases.

Sony A6500 | Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA |  f/5.6 – captured out of a driving car, probably the epitome of the casual landscape photographer

This article is the third part of a series on the best landscape lenses for the Sony a7/a9 series in which we explore sets of landscape lenses for different user types.

Part 1: Only the best is good enough
Part 2: The light traveler and hiker
Part 3: The casual landscape photographer 
Part 4: The poor student 

Wide

Top pick: Sony FE 4/16-35

SEL1635z-4

The Sony FE 4/16-35 is the top pick for everybody who puts the focus mostly on landscape photography but still needs the comfort of autofocus and zoom. The lens performs on a high level across the zoom range (except at 35mm wide open), focuses quite closely and has handy features like fast autofocus and image stabilization. It shines for all wide and ultra wide angle uses except of envirenmental portraiture, where the lack of speed can be limiting.

Sony A7 | Sony FE 4/16-35 ZA | f/8

518g | 1.248$ | full review |  sample images

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Alternative Top Pick: Sony FE 2/28

SEL1635z-6

The FE 2/28 is a two stops faster lens compared to the Sony FE 4/16-35 which results in larger potential for subject isolation. It is my recommendation for everybody who puts the focus on environmental portraits or who doesn’t need an ultra wide angle lens. The lens is tiny, focuses very fast, has nice bokeh and is sharp enough in the center wide open. It is very attractive for the casual landscape photographer because it is sharp across the frame stopped down and can use ultra wide and fisheye converters if needed. The lens relies on auto-correction of distortion, especially for architecture photography.

Sony FE 2/28 - first steps

200g | 449$ | full review |  sample images

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Other picks:

  • The Zeiss Batis 2/25 is sharper than the FE 2/28 and has better flare resistance. It is equally fast but a bit wider (23mm effectively). It has strong LoCA wide open and less smooth bokeh.
  • The Sony GM 2.8/16-35 is probably the top pick in this category but so expensive that most people who do landscape photography just casually can’t afford it.

Midrange

Top pick: Sony FE 1.8/55

DSC06789

The Sony FE 1.8/55 is a very good standard lens and the top pick for the casual landscape photographer. It does an impressive double job as a portrait and landscape lens. The greatest feature of this lens is the very high sharpness across the whole frame already wide open. It increases even stopped down, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take portraits at f1.8 and landscapes at f2.8. The bokeh is smooth although not perfect (visible onion rings and cat eyes wide open). The autofocus of this lens is one of the fastest of all FE lenses and the lens is very light. The implementation of focus by wire isn’t as good as with the newer Sony lenses.

Sony A7II | Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA | f/5.6

281g | 899$ | full review |  sample images

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Other picks:

  • The Sony FE 1.8/50 is the budget 50mm lens of the Sony FE system. Its autofocus has a horrendous reputation but got improved via firmware updates. It lives in the shadow of the Sony FE 1.8/55 but it does a decent job as a cheap portrait and landscape lens.
  • The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is also a versatile choice in this category, but the slow autofocus and the moderate speed (for a prime lens) can be limiting for portraits.
  • The Sony FE 2.8/24-70 GM is a zoom lens that sets the benchmark in many categories. It is my top recommendation for everybody who needs a fast standard zoom lens. The Sony FE 4/24-105 looks like a respectable contender but nobody of us used it yet, could be a good single lens solution for the casual landscape photographer.

Of course, the Sony FE 1.4/35 and the Sony FE 1.4/50 are attractive (wide) standard lenses, but they are quite bulky and exhibit a midzone dip at infinity. Therefore I recommend these lenses mainly for people who put their emphasis on portrait photography.

Tele

Top pick: Sony FE 1.8/85

The Sony FE 1.8/85 offers a great price/performance ratio. A rare exception in the Sony lineup in this regard. It is already very sharp wide open with slightly reduced sharpness at close distances. The bokeh is quite good but not as excellent as the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM. The lens is small, quite light and focuses very fast. It is suited very well for landscape photography with basically zero distortion and great sharpness across the frame stopped down. Only the mediocre flare resistance can be a limiting factor. The FE 1.8/85 is a great landscape/portrait hybrid lens.

Sony A6500 | Sony FE 1.8/85 | f/2.8

371g | 599$ | full review |  sample images

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Other picks:

  • The Sony FE 1.4/85 GM is optically even better than the Sony FE 1.8/85 but is more expensive and more bulky.
  • The Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 should be mentioned here as well. It is more expensive than the FE 1.8/85 and shows some pincushion distortion but features image stabilization as well as better flare resistance.
  • The Sony FE 4/70-200 G OSS is a good tele zoom lens with very fast autofocus, image stabilization. The sharpness and the bokeh are quite good across most of the zoom range, the maximum magnification could be better.
  • We didn’t use the Sony FE 2.8/70-200 GM so far. There are mixed reports about its performance but it should be a good pick for the casual landscape photographer if the budget and the pocket size are no restraints.

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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.

10 thoughts on “Sony FE Landscape Lenses – Part 3: The casual landscape photographer”

  1. Good picks for the criterion!

    I’m more of a MF Loxia / CV type landscape photographer, but I own the three FE primes you mentioned and they indeed do a very nice job indeed with landscapes.

  2. Looking forward to the poor student section….. I am 67…..
    This was 2700 dollar..just for lenses….

    Kind regards 🙂
    Rolf

    1. US$1947 if one opts for the FE 28/F2 instead of the WA Zoom (16-35mm F/4).

      The FE 28 is a fine lens–I bought it on the basis of the recommendations offered here.

      As for the others, the 55mm Zeiss / Sony is a lovely and versatile piece of glass (I got that one with my A7Rii).

      I’ve tried the 85mm F/1.8, as well. Well worth the price, but my eyes wanted more (the focal length was too close to my 55mm, so opted for the Zeiss Batis 135mm instead).

      That WAS a lot of money, but I have no regrets. The Batis is a wonderful lens that I’ve also found to be reasonably portable (light-weight, given the focal length, albeit a little bulky).

  3. I know these are personal and subjective choices, but I just don’t get it – why would the “casual” and “eye on the budget” photographer choose the 55 over the 50, when there is the 85 for portraits? The primes seem more like “the casual photographer who mainly shoots people and only occasionally landscape”.

    Many casual photographers also seem to like flowers, butterflies and so on, so a lens with better close-up capability might be preferable. Though I’d admit that a close-up lens would do too.

    About the price: a definite weakness in the Sony lineup. One might argue that the body (if you can live with the A7) is cheaper, but no wide-angle or tele-ish zoom below 1000€ is a problem. Especially since for landscape you don’t necessarily need perfect sharpness wide open.

    1. I guess you didn’t read the title correctly 🙂

      I don’t talk about casual photographers, I talk about casual landscape photographers, these are landscape photographers with other tasks like portraiture.

      I am surely a casual landscape photographer and I need the ability to take good looking portraits with every lens that I am using when I travel with my family. There are just too many decisive moments that happen beside my landscape photography when I can’t change lenses.

      I am sure that the 1.8/55 reflects a good price/performance ratio, especially at used prices. It is at least a visibly sharper lens than my Nikkor 1.8/50 and also the FE 1.8/50, the bokeh is also superior in many ways despite of the onion rings. Mostly important, the AF speed is by far the fastest of all 50mm lenses, that was one of my main reasons to choose it as a top pick. Apart from that, I agree with the financial stress that comes with native FE lenses. It was also one reason for me to choose Nikon as a secondary system for all AF tasks.

      Don’t take my top pick as a definite must. I wrote quite a long list of alternatives that also contains the 2.8/50 macro for the casual photographers and the 1.8/50 for the people with a tight budget. I actually believe that there are many photographers who are even better suited with a 24-xx zoom lens instead of three primes, the new 24-105 could be the weapon of choice in that case.

      Regards, Jannik

      1. Two years ago -2016- I started with Sony FullFormat A7II, after many years with Canon EOS5, 1Dx and Leica M, and had just one original lens. FE 2/28mm and 21mm Converter. On a trip to Morocco I added Voigtländer VM 1,5/50Asph and an old Leitz 4/135mm to the setup for landscape and people.
        I was washed away by the results and now Sony with the A7RII is my main system. For the next time Morocco, in a few weeks, I will use FE 4/16-35 (bought used), FE 1,8/55 and Batis 2,8/135 APO.
        These three lenses rock for landscape and portrait! I would buy them all again if asked for landscape.

      2. Oh, I did read the whole title, but what I did not get was the use-case you just described: while doing landscape, to also be able snap good portraits without changing the lens. And for that case, I completely agree with the 1.8/55 choice. I had both the FE 1.8/50 and 55 for some time and actually found the edges better on the 50 starting from somewhere between f/2.8 and 4. Might have been field curvature, though – I did not investigate in detail. The 55, while far from perfect on the test bench, has, in addition to good sharpness, a special look near wide open that I’ve not yet seen in any of the double-gauss normal lenses.

        1. Yes, there is a certain smoothness to the transition zone that is hard to describe. I like that as well.

          I always found the edges of my 1.8/55 (I had three) very very sharp, but I read several reports about high sample variation. I have the APO-Lanthar 2/65 now and this is the first lens that is really better across the frame, especially wide open.

  4. My own very subjective meaning is it, that the Distagon isn‘t really bad at all for landscape. I used it a lot before I had the 24-70/2.8. And the results were some of my best pictures until now. And I often use it now, especially when I want some Zeiss Pop Effect between the nature or landscape shots. But it’s like the 1635/4 (and also the 2470GM) bad when there’s a backlight.

  5. From all I’m hearing, the new Sony FE 24-105mm F/4 G
    may be good for inclusion under this heading.
    So far I haven’t heard a negative about it, (especially following the ongoing discussion on FM Sony Forum: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1517297)
    It seems to be a lot better than the old Zony 24-70/4, and one or two people are even giving up the GM since they got it! Obviously you won’t want to recommend anything you haven’t tested, but it’s certainly a case of “watch this space”. I do hope you or one of the team can get hold of one to give it a good try-out.

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