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Summary

Highly Recommended awardThe Sony FE 50mm f1.8 is an affordable standard prime lens for Alpha mirrorless cameras. It delivers standard coverage on full-frame bodies making it an ideal walk-around lens, and becomes a short telephoto on APSC bodies, equivalent to 75mm, making it perfect for portraits. Meanwhile the bright f1.8 focal ratio lets you shoot more easily in low light while also delivering shallow depth-of-field effects. Sony's lens catalogue isn't short of 50mm options with many higher-end alternatives available with better quality (especially regarding corner sharpness and rendering) and quieter focusing. But none come anywhere near the low price of the FE 50mm f1.8, making it a no-brainer for Alpha owners starting out in prime lenses. It's also possible to assemble an affordable threesome by adding the FE 28mm f2 and FE 85mm f1.8. All come recommended if you can't stretch to the higher-end options.

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Sony FE 50mm f1.8 review
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Intro

The Sony FE 50mm f1.8 is an affordable standard prime lens for Sony’s mirrorless cameras and corrected for use on full-frame models. Announced in March 2016 it delivers standard coverage on full-frame bodies making it an ideal walk-around option, and becomes a short telephoto on cropped-frame APSC bodies, equivalent to 75mm, making it perfect for portraits. Meanwhile the bright f1.8 focal ratio lets you shoot more easily in low light while also delivering shallow depth-of-field effects.

Sony’s lens catalogue isn’t short of 50mm (or thereabouts) options, but the FE 50mm f1.8 is by far the most affordable and as such is a no-brainer for many owners. Indeed it’s possible to assemble a fairly low-cost threesome of bright primes with the FE 50mm f1.8 and its affordable siblings, the FE 28mm f2 and FE 85mm f1.8. If you’re after something higher-end, there’s the original FE 55mm f1.8 ZA at round four times the price, or the Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f1.4 ZA that’s even more still. If you want autofocus, none can match the price of the FE 50mm f1.8 which, like low-cost 50mm lenses on other systems, represents a great first prime for anyone exploring low-light or shallow depth-of-field photography on a budget.

 

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For this review I tested all three Sony standard prime lenses mentioned above on the 42MP Sony A7R II camera body. I also included the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art as an interesting third party alternative. So if you’re interested in which standard prime lens to choose for your Sony mirrorless system, you’ve come to the right place!

 

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Facts from the catalog

As usual I’ll have a look at the technical data of the Sony FE 50mm f1.8 first. I’ve rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it’s better than average or even state of the art, a [0] if it’s standard or just average, and [-] if there’s a disadvantage. For comparison I use the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA, the Samyang AF 45mm f1.8 FE (“Samyang” for short) and the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art (“Sigma Art” for short).

Size (diameter x length): At 69 x 60mm (2.7 x 2.4in.) plus 26mm for the lens hood (76mm diameter) the Sony FE 50mm f1.8 is shorter than the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA (64 x 71mm + 49mm lens hood) which already is a small lens. Only the Samyang is even smaller at 62 x 56mm but then it has only 45mm focal length. The “elephant in the room” is the Sigma Art which shows its heritage as a DSLR design at 85 x 126mm + 47mm lens hood. [+]

Weight: Only 166g (5.9oz.) plus 18g for the lens hood which is similar to the Samyang (162g). The Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA is 281g + 41g lens hood. The Sigma Art is the heaviest lens in this comparison at 910g plus 43g for the lens hood. [+]

Optics: The lens is a very simple design with only 6 elements in 5 groups with one aspherical element. The Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA and the Samyang have 7 lenses with three resp. two aspherical elements. The Sigma Art is a more complex design with 13/8 elements/groups [0]

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Closest focus distance is 0.44m (17in.) in manual focus with a magnification of 1:6.6. This is similar to the other Sony lenses in this comparison and better than the Samyang with 1:8.3 magnification at 0.45m. Only the Sigma Art offers a slightly better magnification of 1:5.4 at 0.38m distance. The Sony FE 50mm f1.8 achieves a magnification of 1:10 at 0.62m distance. [0]

Filter-thread: 49mm, just like the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA and the Samyang. The Sigma Art takes 77mm filters. [+]

Image stabilization: No optical stabilization of the lens. The Sony A7 Mark II bodies onwards provide built-in sensor-shift stabilization. Same with the other lenses in this comparison. [0]

Auto focus: Built-in AF drive. Manual-focus override is by simply turning the focus ring. The focus ring has a non-linear gearing that allows for precise manual focus but makes smooth focus pulling for videographers almost impossible. Only the Sigma Art in this group has linear gearing. The Sony lenses and the Samyang have no distance or dof markings. Focus on the Sigma Art works differently as it has a direct linear mechanical coupling between the focus ring and the focus action. It also offers the distance and dof markings that normally come with lenses designed for DSLRs. [+]

Covers full frame/FX or smaller. Same with the alternatives. [+]

Price: The lens currently sells at around 200 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 250 USD. The FE 55mm f1.8 ZA costs four times as much (830 EUR / 1000 USD), the Samyang is around 400 EUR/USD, and the Sigma Art goes for 700 EUR / 850 USD. So the Sony FE 50mm f1.8 is the absolutely cheapest alternative to get a full-frame, autofocus standard lens with a focal ratio of f1.8 for E-mount. [++]

The Sony FE 50mm f1.8 comes without a pouch but the lens hood is included and is reversible for transport. The FE 55mm f1.8 ZA comes with a soft pouch, the Sigma Art comes with a nice padded pouch but no strap. [-]

Aperture ring: No, just like the other lenses in this comparison. [0]

Sealing: The Sony FE 50mm f1.8 is not especially sealed, just like the Samyang and Sigma Art. The Sony 55mm f1.8 ZA has special weather-sealing throughout the construction but lacks a rubber sealing at the lens-mount. [0]

The score in the “features-department” is 1[-]/5[0]/7[+], the most prominent features of the lens being that it’s very small and light, and comes at a bargain price.

 

Four standard prime lenses

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

 

Alternatives

If you want a standard lens (45 to 58mm focal length) with a focal ratio of at least f2.0 and autofocus for Sony E-mount full-frame cameras there are quite a few alternatives:

  • Sony offers the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA from 2013 for 830 EUR / 1000 USD. See my Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA review where it earned a Highly Recommended. And there is the FE 50mm f1.4 ZA from 2016 for 1500 EUR/USD. It is much bigger and heavier than the FE 50/1.8 but also offers 2/3 of a stop better light-gathering power. It earned a Highly Recommended in my Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA review.
  • Sigma offers their 50mm f1.4 Art lens for E-mount since 2018. It’s an optical design from 2014 and came Highly Recommended in my Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art review when tested on a 36MP Nikon D800 in 2014. It costs 700 EUR / 850 USD.
  • Samyang has two interesting alternatives: The AF 45mm 1.8 FE from 2019 for 400 EUR/USD and the AF 50mm 1.4 FE from 2016 which sells for 480 EUR/USD.

Other alternatives include manual focus lenses or lenses with  even shorter focal length. To get the angle-of-view of a 55mm lens from a 40mm shot it needs a 38% crop which means almost halving resolution:

  • Sigma has their 40mm f1.4 Art now also available for E-mount for 1200 EUR / 1400 USD. The lens is huge and heavy but optically excellent. See my Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art review where it earned a Highly Recommended. But with its shorter focal length you have to crop 25% to achieve the same angle of view as a 50mm lens which reduces your effective resolution of a 42MP full-frame sensor to 27MP.
  • Samyang has several manual focus 50mm lenses one of which is the 50mm 1.4 AS UMC which sells for around 350 EUR/USD.
  • Zeiss offers the Loxia Planar T* 50mm f2.0 from 2014 which is manual focus only. It sells for 750 EUR / 950 USD. And there is the Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF from 2018 which offers autofocus and has a very impressive close-focus capability. It costs 1200 EUR / 1300 USD and came Highly Recommended in my Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF review. With its shorter focal length of 40mm the same remarks hold true as with the Sigma 40mm f1,4 Art.

How big is the difference between 50mm and 55mm focal length? Here is the angle of view that the Sony FE 50mm f1.8 covers on a full-frame body compared to the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA:

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Above: Sony FE 50mm f1.8 (left), Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA (right)

 

Focus

Focus accuracy and repeatability is critical to consistently produce sharp shots especially with large aperture lenses. Repeatability (the accuracy of focus on the same subject after repeated focus-acquisition) of this lens is very good (measured 97,3% in Reikan FoCal) with no outliers over a series of 40 shots. There is only a very slight focus variation whether the lens focuses from a closer distance or from infinity.

The lens focuses in around 0.7 sec on a Sony A7R II from infinity to 0.62m (1:10 magnification), which is relatively fast and comparable to the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA and the Sigma Art (on a Nikon Z7 with FTZ adapter). The focus ring of the FE 50mm f1.8 is 20mm wide. Both Sony lenses and the Samyang offer very smooth focus by wire operation which can easily be operated with one finger. Only the Sigma Art has a much stiffer mechanical coupling between the focus ring and the focus action.

AF-operation of the Sony lenses in this comparison is inaudible from the outside and if you record video with the built-in microphone only the FE 50/1.8 registers a tiny bit of noise. The Sigma Art produces an audible focus noise. As you pull focus, you’ll notice quite some focus breathing: the image of the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA becomes 11% more magnified when I adjusted the focus from infinity to 0.62m. This can be quite distracting when shooting videos and is worse than from the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA and the Sigma Art which are around 7%.

 

Next check out my quality results!

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