Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA review - Verdict
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Verdict

The Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA is a “standard” prime lens specifically designed for Sony’s E-mount full-frame mirrorless bodies. Judged on its own merits, Sony’s lens performs very well with regard to contrast, resolution across a full-frame sensor, Bokeh, focus reliability, color aberrations, and has practically no coma. It produces sharp and contrasty images even under adverse contra-light situations plus it is hardened well against the elements.

There are only minor annoyances: The APS-C-corner is not as sharp as the center and the full-frame corner, there is magenta haloing at high-contrast transitions, and the Bokeh is not as smooth as one could wish.

To put this into perspective let’s have a closer look at how the Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA compares to some alternatives.

 

 

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Above from left to right: Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA, Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA, Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art, Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 (Sigma and Zeiss in Nikon F-mount version)

 

Compared to Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA

The Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA from 2013 is a much smaller and lighter lens than the FE 50mm f1.4 ZA. But then it only offers an f1.8 focal ratio. Still, the difference in size and weight is astounding and the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA is a much better fit for a mirrorless body than its larger sibling. Optically the smaller lens performs very well: It does not show a slight softness at the APS-C-corner and it focuses faster. It is only let down by the less than pleasing Bokeh with onion rings and a pretty strong cat’s-eye effect. But it’s also much cheaper than the FE 50mm f1.4 ZA and did I mention much lighter and smaller, too? So it depends where you have your priorities: if it’s small and light with excellent optical performance across the full-frame sensor, then the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA is an excellent choice. If you want/need a softer Bokeh and the 2/3 of a stop better light gathering power then the small lens is not ideal.

For more details see my Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA review which I’ll be updating to a full review shortly.

 

Compared to Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

The Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art from 2014 may be one of the cheapest alternatives for E-mount with a focal ratio of f1.4 and auto-focus but its performance does not look cheap: Sigma’s lens has one of the best Bokehs of a 50mm lens and it produces a very sharp center with a gradual softening towards the corners – a characteristic that many prefer for portraiture. But that also means that it is softer at the APS-C-corner than the Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA and also the softest lens in the full-frame corner in this comparison. But regarding longitudinal CAs and focus-speed the Sigma Art is comparable or even better than the Sony. And it might be a bit bigger and heavier than the Sony but not exceedingly so. With a price that is only half of the Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA and the overall performance the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art is a very attractive alternative.

For more details see my Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art review.

 

Compared to Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4

The Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 from 2013 delivers excellent optical performance: Sharpness, contrast, coma, loCA, purple fringing, and Bokeh are all on a very high to exceptional level even at f1.4. This all comes in a package that exudes quality in every aspect of its physical presence. But compared to Sony’s FE 50mm f1.4 ZA the Otus does not pull far ahead optically: It has less field curvature, a better performance at the APS-C-corner and a nicer Bokeh but its resistance against contra light is a bit weaker than from the Sony. The main disadvantages of the Otus in comparison: it is a very large and heavy lens, has an exorbitant price, and can only be focused manually. But manual focusing on modern mirrorless camera body is so much easier than on a DSLR that this has become much less of an issue. Still, it takes much longer to focus precisely, which makes the Zeiss Otus not suited for many types of photography. And considering the price I’d say the Zeiss Otus might only be the best choice for some very select photographic tasks.

For more details see my Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 review.

 

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Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA final verdict

The Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA is a very good large aperture standard prime lens for Sony’s mirrorless bodies: it is very sharp in the center and produces one of the best full-frame corners I’ve seen. Plus its resistance against flare and glare in adverse contra-light situations is commendable. It’s Bokeh is good albeit not best in class and it’s a bit slow to focus. But it is sealed thoroughly and is smaller and lighter than the f1.4 alternatives in this comparison. That said, if small and light are what you’re after, also consider the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA which loses two thirds of a stop of aperture and some of the bokeh quality to meet a much more compact size and lower price. But if you desire the more attractive bokeh and faster focal ratio, the Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA is a well-rounded package that justifies the price and deserves a Highly Recommended.

Good points:

  • Very good resolution and contrast.
  • No coma.
  • Only little longitudinal CA.
  • Very good resistance against flare, glare, and ghosting.
  • Minimal distortions (through lens profile).
  • Weather sealing.
  • De-clickable aperture ring.

Bad points:

  • Visible focus-breathing.
  • Bokeh could be a bit smoother.
  • Large and heavy lens.

 

Check prices on the Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA at Amazon, B&H, Adorama or WEX. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!
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Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA

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