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NOTE: I carried out this comparison with a Sony 50mm f/1.8 FE firmware V1.0, a Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 V2.0, and a Sony a7 V3.10. A lot of time has passed since I wrote this. Please be aware that results (and opinions) will vary as these parameters change over time.
ANOTHER NOTE: I will be up-front and say this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. These two lenses are in completely different classes, and readers should not be under the impression they’re equal to one another.
When Sony released its FE-mount 50mm f/1.8, the news was exciting for owners of any a7 series camera. The only option available for an autofocus, native 50mm(ish) lens was the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. While the Zeiss is an incredible lens, it is not cheap for a normal 50mm(ish)! So, the release of an affordable 50mm is definitely a great addition to the a7 line.
Of course, now there are two options for a7 shooters. The natural question for inquiring minds is, “What’s the difference between the Sony 50mm f/1.8 FE and Zeiss 55mm f/1.8?” My curiosity got the best me, so I ordered one to find out. While I am not one to review gear, I felt compelled to share my findings with the photography community.
No surprises here. The Sony retails for $250. The Zeiss costs nearly four times as much. Personally, I find the Sony to be grossly overpriced. Canon’s 50mm STM is half the price and is the Sony’s doppleganger. Meanwhile, Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8 G is a much better lens all around, yet is cheaper.
This is pretty straight-forward: the Zeiss has a metal exterior and the Sony has a plastic exterior. This includes the focusing ring. Also, the Zeiss has a sturdier feeling hood.
This is by no means to say the Sony feels cheap or fragile. The plastic is quite sturdy, the hood fits firmly into place, and it mounts securely to the camera. In fact, the build is along the same lines as any Canon (EF/STM) or Nikon 50mm f/1.8. Personally, I find its overall construction nearly identical to the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G, hood included.
Weight and Size
The Sony is slightly smaller and much lighter compared to the Zeiss. I weighed each on a standard kitchen scale:
Sony 50mm f/1.8 & hood – 7 ounces | w/ a7 (battery and card) – 24.09 ounces
Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 & hood – 12 ounces | w/ a7 (battery and card) – 29.07 ounces
Quick size comparison:
This is where things get interesting. All initial reviews of the Sony 50mm f/1.8 FE indicated its poor autofocus performance. Indeed, this is its Achilles Heel – especially compared to the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. The Zeiss is quiet, fast and fairly accurate. Such words cannot be used to describe the Sony. The AF motor is audible. It’s a bit slow. It’s not entirely accurate in certain situations. I’ll do my best to address each issue.
Noise: OK, so the Sony does make noise when focusing. Is this a big deal? That’s up to you. Is it loud and obnoxious? No. It’s still quiet. It’s just not as quiet as the Zeiss. Remember that old beast called the Canon 50mm f/1.8 EF I? How about the Mark II? Or even the newly released STM? Compared to the Sony, each of these are either louder (EF I & II), or as loud (STM). So, let’s just keep things in perspective.
Speed: Again, the Zeiss is – dare I say – a “speed demon” compared to the Sony. It acquires focus much faster, with much less hunting. Plain and simple. Another point of interest is accuracy in certain instances. I found that if the focus point is a small item in the foreground, the Sony will want to focus on whatever is behind it. An example would be a small branch with flowers. In my tests, the Sony kept focusing on the background (I was using a medium, center focus point). This could have been from a lack of contrast, but it happened quite a bit. I’ve come across many lenses that do this, on many systems. However, the Sony struggled more than I’m used to.
Again, I must stress perspective here, too. Canon’s most recent 50mm f/1.8, the STM, focuses nearly identical to the Sony 50mm f/1.8 FE. The takeaway here is that the Sony doesn’t focus as efficiently as the Zeiss. The Sony is also not that bad compared to big name DSLR equivalents. It still offers fairly reliable and accurate autofocus.
Ah yes, the most important part of any review: image quality. This is really what matters, isn’t it? A few general disclaimers: I’m not one to give much weight to 100% crops, at every aperture, in every situation (flare, close focus, infinity, etc). So, don’t look for those. They aren’t here.
With that said, here is my general take on the Sony: it takes great photos, but has expected flaws. It does suffer from C.A., has mushy corners, and has mediocre clarity. As with any lens, these issues will decrease as the lens is stopped down. Of course, the Zeiss offers clearer (i.e. sharper) photos from center to corner, suffers from less C.A. and has fewer corner issues. This shouldn’t be a surprise, however. Nor should the Sony be realistically compared to the Zeiss. It’s an apples to oranges comparison.
The above photos are Straight Out Of Camera RAW files. Zero editing of any kind. Shot at f/1.8, 1/1000 @ ISO 200.
Bokeh: This is subjective, so I’m not going to say much. All I will say is this: the Zeiss has slightly smoother and larger bokeh. This is due in part to it’s Sonnar design and the fact it’s a 55mm, as opposed to a 50mm. Still, I find the bokeh from the Sony to be nice.
Color & Contrast: The Zeiss just pops a bit more, doesn’t it? It’s a very special lens… Colors from the Zeiss tend to be just a bit cooler than the Sony. Still, the Sony looks OK to me. I’ll leave the analysis up to you.
Vignette and Corners: The Sony vignettes much more than the Zeiss, which has almost no vignetting. The Sony also has softer/mushy corners. So, either the subject should be closer to the center or the lens will need to be stopped down if absolute clarity is of concern. Clarity on the Zeiss is amazing, across the entire frame.
**Please note, most of the comparisons will include a Fuji 35mm f/1.4 XF thrown into the mix. Just ‘cuz.**
Full-Size: Sony Zeiss Canon Fuji
Again, please click on the links to see full-size photos of each sample.
Want the best lens? Buy the Zeiss. Want “good-enough?” Buy the Sony. End of story.
Is the Sony 50mm f/1.8 FE a “dog?” Not really. Is it a “great” lens? Not really. Personally, I would like to see Sony lower the price closer to the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM. They’re both very similar in terms of AF, construction, and IQ. From a consumer standpoint, there is absolutely no reason why Sony’s 50mm f/1.8 should cost twice as much as Canon’s. Even Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8G is cheaper than the Sony, and IMO that lens easily outperforms the Sony. Also, Sony seriously needs to release a firmware to fix the autofocus issues with this lens.
With that said, I’m going to close with more perspective. Sure, the Sony has its flaws, but let’s take a step back. When first released, Fuji’s 35mm f/1.4 XF was less than stellar. It was slow and made noise, just like the Sony. Canon kept a noisy 50mm f/1.8 with mediocre performance as it’s standard”thrifty fifty” for how long? Close to 30 years from Mark I to now? Its “replacement” was an STM lens – still made of plastic, still a noisy little bugger, and same optical formula. How about Nikon? Their 50mm f/1.8 G is about the same in terms of construction quality (though I would say the Nikon wins in terms of IQ and AF).
So, overall, I’d say Sony’s 50mm f/1.8 fits within the industry’s status quo for a 50mm f/1.8. Do I whole-hardheartedly recommend it? Not at all. It’s overpriced and needs a firmware update. However, it’s the only “affordable” native-mount, AF-capable 50mm lens available to a7 shooters.
Samples (Sony 50mm f/1.8 FE)
Samples (Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE)
4 Comments Add yours
the review i’d like to have written 🙂
thanks for sharing!
Thanks for this comparison, very interesting !
Great review that helped me make an informed decision, thanks a lot!