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Apr 09

Review: Sony FE 85mm f/1.8

Conclusion

Pros

  • Outstanding sharpness from f/1.8 over most of the frame; excellent to the edges stopped down
  • Nice bokeh in most situations.
  • Excellent color and contrast
  • Well controlled vignetting
  • Well constructed lightweight body
  • Low distortion
  • Quick, silent and accurate autofocus
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Longitudinal CA and purple fringing visible at wide apertures
  • Average performance against bright light
  • No image stabilization

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 fills the low-cost niche among several FE-mount 85mm options, and it does so without major image quality compromises.  It’s certainly not a perfect lens, as chromatic aberration can rear its head at wide apertures.  Bokeh is good, but can show some issues at specific focus distances, and I’ve seen better flare performance on lenses, though the 85mm f/1.8 isn’t terrible in that regard.  However, those negatives are more than made up for by the excellent color and contrast, outstanding sharpness and a very pleasing rendering.  The lens is sharp at f/1.8 over the majority of the frame, and when stopping down for other uses, sharpens up nicely into the corners.

Given the very reasonable $598 price tag, the lens exceeded my expectations.  The nearest competitor is the outstanding Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8, which provides similar sharpness and bokeh with slightly lower levels of chromatic aberration, but at double the price. For the vast majority of shooters, the Sony 85mm is going to be the lens of choice between these two.  It’s an outstanding value and an excellent lens. Sony has produced a winner with the 85mm f/1.8, and it has earned a spot in my bag.

Image Samples

Click on an image to enlarge.

Hot Sauce - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Hot Sauce – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

LeVeque Tower - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/16

LeVeque Tower – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/16

Icee - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Icee – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

At the Counter - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

At the Counter – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Window Geometry - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/4

Window Geometry – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/4

Meredith - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/5

Meredith – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/5

- Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Web Blossoms – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Columbus at Sunrise- 6 image stitch - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/11

Columbus at Sunrise- 6 image stitch – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/11

Church Doors - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @

Church Doors – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/4

Homework - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8

Homework – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8

Court Lions - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @

Court Lions – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/8

Tomato Basil - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Tomato Basil – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Concern - Sony a6000 with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Concern – Sony a6000 with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Launchpad - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/5.6

Launchpad – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/5.6

Running from the Law - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Running from the Law – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Ordering - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Ordering – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Downtown Computers - Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/5

Downtown Computers – Sony A7 II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 @ f/3.5

If you enjoyed this review, please check out my other reviews in the Review Index

 

About the author

Jordan Steele

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

23 comments

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  1. Bakhtiyar Tleubekov

    Wonderful Review as always. Thanks a lot for being objective and fair!
    I have ordered mine as well (after deep thought against Batis) and look forward to make my first shots with new 85mm.

  2. Tom

    You had stacked the Batis against the 90mm 2.8 Contax in a previous post. I believe you mentioned holding onto the Contax given it’s remarkable performance.

    What’s your thoughts on that. Do you still consider the Contax a worthwhile purchase? Thanks.

    1. Jordan Steele

      The Contax is definitely still an excellent lens optically. I no longer have the Contax, though. It’s a great option if you don’t need faster than f/2.8 and can deal with the somewhat frustrating AF with the Techart adapter.

  3. pepou

    I’m hesitating to change my m4/3 system to Fujifilm or Sony FF.

    About you, which combo 55mmF1.8/85mmF1.8 or 35mmF1.4/56mmF1.2 can you recommend for children/adult portrait (overall rendering, character, sharpness, bokeh quality, joy of use, AF speed…) ? They are similar price.

    The built-in IBIS of Sony is a must-have with comparaison with Fuji system ? or not necessary.

    1. Harvey

      Portrait lenses are typically about 85mm, or a little longer, as they provide the necessary compression for flattering portraits. So, those shorter focal lengths you mentioned would not be considered ideal for portraiture. Although, the 55mm and 56mm lenses you mentioned would likely be good enough for full-body shots.

      As for whether IBIS is necessary, that depends on whether shooting at faster shutter speeds (or faster flash duration with the ambient killed) is consistent with your style of shooting and whether you posess good hand-holding technique (or a tripod). Photographers have been taking sharp, blurry-free, images for years before image-stabilization came around. If your technique is solid, you can definitely do perfectly fine without the IBIS. Two caveats, though: (1) IBIS is certainly nice to have as it does provide you greater flexibility in lower light without flash or a tripod, (2) IBIS is very helpful for video. If you plan on shooting a fair amount of video, then get the IBIS.

      Perhaps, Jordan has something to add.

      1. Jordan Steele

        Remember that with the Fuji, you’re cropped, so the perspective distortion will be identical between these setups (Fuji with 56 yields the same FOV and therefore the same level of ‘compression’ for the same subject as an 85mm on full frame).

        Read here for additional information: http://admiringlight.com/blog/perspective-correcting-myth/

        As to the first, I think that either will make an outstanding combination. The 55/85 combo of the sony is a bit sharper, especially the FE 55mm wide open vs the Fuji 35/1.4 wide open, but the Fuji lenses in both cases produce a bit creamier bokeh, and the Fuji 56mm is quite sharp (if not quite as sharp) even at f/1.2. I’m actually going to be doing a head to head with these two in the next week, so stay tuned for that.

        1. Kyle

          Thanks for this review, Jordan. I am looking forward to the Fuji comparison…. noodling on whether I can downsize to one system with this lens and still handle the occasional family portrait (senior pics) decently. Before this came out, I had been thinking that a Fuji or Olympus kit for these photos would be useful for these. My hesitation is on colors and aberrations with the Sony 85 and that PP will take much more time.

    2. Harvey

      I should add one more point. Even with IBIS, you may find that your constraint, in regards to slower shutter speeds, is not camera-shake caused by the photographer but rather motion-blur caused by the subject. Particularly with portraits of children, who often have difficulty staying still, you are still going to want to shoot at faster shutter speeds, even with IBIS.

  4. Harvey

    Excellent review, once again, Jordan! How much would you say the lens needs to be stopped down, so that Longitudinal CAs become negligible?

    1. Jordan Steele

      It’s hard to say since it varies in its visibility based on focus distance, and whether you can see it depends largely on the contrast in the scene or the background. I have many images taken with the lens where there’s no visible LoCA at f/1.8, and I have some that show a touch of it at f/5.6, though for the most part it’s the f/1.8-f/4 range where it generally crops up. In practice, I really don’t think it’s a big deal. It controls CA better than a lot of similar lenses in this range, though not quite as good as the Batis and 85 GM. Still, I don’t think it’s worth worrying about as far as ‘I’m going to stop down to eliminate it.’

  5. Harvey

    Thank you, Jordan.

  6. Harvey

    Thank you, Jordan, for clarifying the perspective myth, which you explained so well. I too, have heard respected experts (including educators) perpetuate the notion that the crop factor should not be taken into account for perspective, just the focal length of the lens, regardless of the format.

  7. EM

    I would like to know when this is going to be available in the US? I see it is available on pre-order in most outlets but would like to ensure I have it by the time Summer vacation comes around in July. Any ideas?

    1. Jordan Steele

      It is available in the US. The tested lens is my personal copy, which I purchased from B&H on March 30. Now, a lot of gone out of stock and backordered, but if you check around, you’ll likely be able to find one.

      1. EM

        Thanks Jordan, I enjoyed your review.

  8. Stevedexteruk

    Excellent review. Really well done. Looks like a really great lens at a good price.
    I already have the more expensive FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS, which seems to be pretty good as a portrait lens also. I wonder how that compares to the 85mm lenses when used for portraits. The 90mm might be a good option for those who want the portrait type focal length and also wish to do macro. But obviously its twice the price.

    1. VPR

      I was wondering the same thing.

      The FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS is a nice lens and, although I’ve read many adverse comments about the “laggy” auto-focussing performance of that lens, in fact the only time I noticed a problem was when I was doing something it was not designed for (trying to take photos of moving subjects). But, as you noted, it is almost twice the price…

      I don’t own the lens, BTW, I’ve only ever used it for short periods of “borrowed time”.

  9. VPR

    I enjoyed reading your review.

    I’ve been visiting your website on and off for the past few years. The style and approach you’ve adopted enlivens the subject material. You’ve taken some lovely photos with the equipment you review.

    Thank you for all that. Ohio looks lovely, BTW.

    1. Jordan Steele

      Thanks!

  10. Chris

    Great review, the scooter “Oh NO” shot is awesome.

  11. VPR

    Oh… I forgot to ask. How well do you think this lens would go with the A7RII?

    I note that the photos displayed here were taken using either the A7II or the A6000; is it possible that the sensor on Sony’s flagship mirrorless camera might “out resolve” the lens?

    1. Jordan Steele

      I think it’ll go very well. The a6000 has higher pixel density than the A7R II, and it was quite sharp on that as well.

  12. Baha

    I recently got the lens, and so far it is on my camera. Love the form factor, build quality and handling. But CA sucks. They are everywhere as long as you shoot wide open.

  1. 85mm f/1.8 FE review by Admiringlight: "the lens exceeded my expectations" - sonyalpharumors sonyalpharumors

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