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.
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.
Top pick: Sony FE 4/16-35
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.
Alternative Top Pick: Sony FE 2/28
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.
- 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.
Top pick: Sony FE 1.8/55
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- Sony FE landscape lenses Part 1: Only the best is good enough
- Review: Zeiss Batis Distagon T* 25mm f2
- Sony FE lenses: A comprehensive and independent guide v1.2