Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA review - Verdict
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Verdict

The Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA is a “standard” prime lens specifically designed for Sony’s E-mount full-frame mirrorless bodies. Judged on its own merits, the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA lens performs very well with regard to contrast, resolution across a full-frame sensor, Bokeh, focus reliability, color aberrations, and coma. It produces sharp and contrasty images even under adverse contra-light situations plus it is hardened well against the elements. Plus its small size and weight makes it a good match for one of Sony’s mirrorless bodies.

There are only minor issues: Focus-breathing is on the visible side and focus-gearing is non-linear. Both properties might annoy videographers. And there is some magenta haloing at high-contrast transitions when used wide open.

To put this into perspective let’s have a closer look at how the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA compares to some alternatives.

 

 

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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)

 

Compared to Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA

The Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA is 50% more expensive and much larger and heavier than the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA. What do you get for it? The most important benefit is a 2/3 of a stop brighter focal ratio which gives better background isolation and can be used for shorter shutter speeds and/or lower ISO. It also has a linear gearing between the focus ring and the focus action which makes it easier to smoothly pull focus, and a de-clickable aperture ring which are both features that videographers like. Optically it’s hard to decide which Sony ZA lens is better: sometimes the 50mm lens is sharper than the 55mm lens, sometimes the 55mm has the advantage. And as both lenses are sealed thoroughly and perform excellently in harsh contra-light situations it really depends where you have your priorities: if you want/need the 2/3 of a stop better light gathering power and the more video-centric features, and don’t mind the cost, bulk, and weight that comes with it, then the FE 50mm f1.4 ZA is a very good choice.

For more details see my Sony FE 50mm f1.4 ZA review.

 

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 standard 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- and FF-corner than the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA. Regarding longitudinal CAs and focus-speed the Sigma Art is comparable to the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA and it has the added benefit of a linear focus gearing. Its biggest disadvantage is its bulk making the Sigma Art more than three times the weight of the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA.

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

 

Compared to Sony FE 50mm f1.8

The Sony FE 50mm f1.8 from 2016 is the cheapest and smallest standard lens from Sony: It is 11mm shorter and 100g lighter than the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA. But naturally it is also a simpler optical design which leads to softer performance, higher coma, a nervous Bokeh, and less resistance to flare and glare. But then the FE 50mm f1.8 is only a quarter of the price of the FE 55mm f1.8 ZA. So the old adage holds true: You get what you pay for.

For more details see my Sony FE 50mm f1.8 review which I’ll be updating shortly.

 

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Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA final verdict

The Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA from 2013 is a very successful standard lens: small, light, sharp across a 42MP full-frame sensor, with excellent resistance against flare and glare in adverse contra-light situations It may only offer an f1.8 focal ratio but its slightly longer 55mm focal length compensates a bit when it comes to background isolation. It focuses reliably and pretty fast, and it is well protected against the elements only missing a rubber sealing at the lens-mount. Its Bokeh may produce onion rings on specular highlights and a pretty strong cat’s-eye effect but with a less challenging background it can be less nervous than the FE 50mm f1.4. All-in-all the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 ZA is a compact and well-rounded package that still justifies its price and deserves a Highly Recommended!

 

Good points:

  • Very good resolution and contrast.
  • Only little coma and longitudinal CA.
  • Excellent resistance against flare, glare, and ghosting.
  • Minimal distortions (through lens profile).
  • Small and light.
  • Weather sealing.

Bad points:

  • Visible focus-breathing.
  • Some magenta haloing at high-contrast edges.

 

Check prices on the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 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 55mm f1.8 ZA

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