- Decent resolution wide open and excellent sharpness stopped down
- Very pleasing bokeh
- Lightweight and compact
- Well constructed for the price
- Excellent color and contrast
- Good control of lateral chromatic aberration
- Low distortion
- Reasonably priced
- Autofocus is slow, noisy and can struggle to lock focus in low light or stopped down Edit: with firmware v03, Autofocus is reasonably quick and very accurate in a variety of shooting conditions, but can still struggle in backlit situations.
- Some softness at f/1.8, especially close up
- Longitudinal CA can be an issue in some cases
- Average flare performance
The FE 50mm f/1.8 is a tough one to judge. Optically, it’s really a very good lens. It’s very sharp over almost the entire aperture range, it has beautiful color and contrast and very pleasing bokeh. It’s also got low distortion and while the flare performance isn’t great, it’s not the worst I’ve seen. While the cons list above is short, the first one is the only major issue with the lens, but it’s quite significant.
To be blunt, the autofocus on this lens sucks. It’s slow, it can struggle to lock in low light, it has some trouble stopped down even in good light Thankfully, Sony has remedied most of the earlier autofocus woes with the latest firmware. While there are faster focusing lenses out there for sure, the FE 50mm f/1.8 on firmware 3 is plenty capable for everyday shooting. The DC motor used for focusing is a bit noisy.
When comparing to the venerable 55mm f/1.8, you get slightly less background blur and a bit softer images wide open. Otherwise, the two lenses actually compare very favorably when looking at the optics.
But ultimately, when you consider whether you should buy the FE 50mm f/1.8, the question you have to ask is: how important is quick autofocus to my shooting? If you can wait for it to lock, or will be using the lens for tripod work and can manually focus, it’s quite an outstanding lens. If you are planning on using the lens for event shooting or other situations where fast and accurate autofocus is critical, you’ll want to give this lens a pass and move to the FE 55mm f/1.8.
With the autofocus on the FE 50mm f/1.8 now predominantly fixed via firmware update, the choice between these two lenses becomes much more difficult. The 55mm f/1.8 does still focus a little faster, and much more quietly. It’s also a little sharper at wide apertures, and more even throughout the frame stopped down. However, given the wide gulf in cost, I think the average shooter will probably be better served by the 50mm f/1.8. If you are a big 50/55mm fan, and will use the lens for a large portion of your work, or require a quieter focus motor (think weddings), the 55mm f/1.8 will be the one you’ll want. However, for daily shooting, I think most photographers will be better served by going with the 50mm and putting the extra $750 towards another lens or two.
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