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May 28

Review: Sony FE 50mm f/1.8

Sony has been cranking out new lenses in 2016, with a total of 5 new lenses announced over the first 5 months of the year.  In addition to the long-awaited fast aperture G Master line, Sony also released two options that were more modest in aperture: the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 and this lens: the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8.  Sony already has a Zeiss branded f/1.8 normal prime in the truly excellent Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8, but the 50mm is intended to fill the role of Sony’s ‘nifty fifty:’ a low-cost lens with good image quality that provides an inexpensive way to get a faster lens.  While the $250 price tag of the 50mm f/1.8 is a bit higher than the 50mm f/1.8 lenses from Canon and Nikon, it’s only a quarter of the asking price for Sony’s premium 55mm f/1.8.  Let’s find out how it stacks up.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 on the Sony A7 II

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 on the Sony A7 II

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.

Construction and Handling

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 is intended to be a low-cost lens, so as you might expect, the feel of the lens exterior isn’t quite as premium as most of the FE lenses.  However, much like the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6, the 50mm f/1.8 is quite well constructed for what it is.  The lens has an all-plastic construction, and while the plastic doesn’t have the durable finish that the GM lenses have, it is still a tightly assembled lens that feels quite well-built considering the price.  The lens does have a metal bayonet mount, and though there is no flex anywhere in the lens body, nor any slop in the manual focus ring, the lens does belie it’s cheaper construction simply due to heft.  The lens is so light that it almost feels hollow. It’s a crazy light lens.  When mounted to the body, it almost feels like you don’t have a lens mounted, which is great for a lightweight walkaround kit.

fe_50_hood

The FE 50mm f/1.8 with hood mounted

As such, the lens handles beautifully on any camera, with plenty of clearance from the lens to the grip.  While lightweight, it’s not super small, but it’s reasonable in size given the focal length and aperture. It’s roughly the same diameter as the FE 55mm f/1.8, if not slightly fatter.  It’s about 1cm shorter than that lens, however. The FE 50mm f/1.8 comes with a standard cylindrical plastic lens hood that mounts and reverses for storage using a front bayonet mount. The hood locked easily and without slop, but the detent holding it in place was a bit weak, making it a bit prone to shifting from time to time.

The manual focus ring is a plastic rubberized ribbed ring that moves smoothly and without any unwanted displacement.  The damping is fairly light, however: another casualty of hitting a price point.

The FE 50mm f/1.8 next to the much more expensive FE 55mm f/1.8

The FE 50mm f/1.8 next to the much more expensive FE 55mm f/1.8

Autofocus

The biggest cost cutting casualty, however, is the autofocus system.  Sony has put in a standard DC motor for the linear extension focusing group of the FE 50mm f/1.8.  As such, the lens focuses fairly slowly, and the autofocus motor is quite audible. The front element moves in and out from the lens body during focusing, so it’s probably a good idea to keep the hood affixed to avoid accidental contact with the focusing group.

The speed of the autofocus truly is a detriment to the lens.  It’s the slowest focusing FE lens I’ve used, as it takes a good while to obtain focus, especially in dimmer light. While wide aperture shooting outdoors allows for reasonable focus speeds, once you start stopping down, the lens also struggles to find focus sometimes.  Since the lens focuses at working aperture, when shooting at an f-stop like f/11 or f/16, the lens can slow down considerably, and sometimes accuracy suffers due to the deep depth of field at these apertures as well. In all, it was a frustrating experience using autofocus with this lens in many situations; it is by far the worst thing about the lens.

Continue: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

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  1. Michael Jardeen

    Your review is spot on with mine. I got mine the 1st day they were delivered and returned it after 2 week. Perhaps if Sony does a firmware update to allow Phase Detection in the A7II and older I would reconsider, but as it they should have spent an extra $50 to provide a better AF. I was so irritated to have to return it.

    1. Joel

      Agree with your frustration, it sucks to be hampered by such an obvious drawback, and I wish this was a first for Sony. However, I think it is a bit more complicated than a $50 upgraded part. The 50 1.8 is the only FE lens (to my knowledge) that does use an SLR design (double guass—like most nifty fifties) and moves the entire optical component instead of using internal focus. Moving that much mass in a CDAF system is difficult. Fuji’s original 35mm f1.4 struggled as well for the same reason I believe. Certainly a better motor would help but even the top shelf GM 85mm (which is internal focus but uses much heavier elements) is relatively slow.

      I hope you’re right and improvements in Sony’s PDAF system will yield acceptable results in the new low- mid-range A7 models. For now I’m sticking with the FE 55mm. I waiting patiently and snagged my copy (very good) for ~$500. Still much more than the 50 but closer…

      1. Aaron

        You can’t paint all double Gauss lenses as a SLR designs, especially when it comes to 50mm. There are quite a few 50mm dougle Gauss rangefinder lenses, plenty of RF double Gauss lenses at 35mm and 90mm as well. Obviously a lot of double Gauss SLR lenses as well, but that doesn’t make it an “SLR design.” A double Gauss makes a lot of sense for RF flange distances between 35-90mm. I think there were even double Gauss 28mm lenses (Canon LTM IIRC), something you could never pull off on an SLR.

  2. Radek

    Quick update – after latest firmware update on 09/09 autofocus is much better (although not perfect). Tested on a6k, continuous focus works quite good, singiel is improved and works “ok”.

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