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Review: Sony 50mm f1.8 (NEX)

by Chris Gampat on 02/14/2012

As part of the package that Sony sent to us, the Sony 50mm f1.8 for their NEX system was included. As the current speed demon of their lineup, you’ll be able to get some wonderfully smooth bokeh with this lens. We stacked it up against the Canon 85mm f1.8 and 5D Mk II and asked for your opinions as well. Many of you were impressed by this little Sony.

But is it really all perfect?

Gear Used

Tech Specs

Taken from B&H Photo’s listing of the lens

Performance
Focal Length 50 mm 1
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8 – 22
Camera Mount Type Sony (E Mount for NEX)
Angle of View 32°
Minimum Focus Distance 15.3″ (0.39 m)
Magnification 0.16x
Groups/Elements 8/9
Diaphragm Blades 7
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 49 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.44 x 2.44″ (62 x 62 mm)
Weight 7.25 oz (206 g)

Ergonomics

The lens is one of the most basic I’ve seen. It is almost completely plain silver with very little markings and just a focusing ring that happens to be extremely large. The front of the lens features a thread mount and there is also a hood that comes with the lens. But otherwise, this lens is just as plain Jane as Canon’s 50mm f1.8.

It is extremely well balanced with any NEX body. Additionally, it’s small size makes it a perfect compliment to any of the cameras. Combined with the fast aperture on the lens, you’ll never want to take this one off.

Focusing

The Sony 50mm f1.8 focuses relatively quickly when it comes to the grand scheme of things. However, it focuses the fastest of any of the Sony NEX lenses I’ve tested, and I’ve played with almost every one of them. For the absolute best results, try to manually select your focusing point because the system isn’t always the smartest and doesn’t always know what you want in focus.

When it comes to manually focusing the lens, use Sony’s peaking feature. Of all the lenses I’ve manually focuses, it seemed to have worked best with the 50mm. Sometimes though, even peaking can’t show you what you’re trying to focus on and that’s when I’d recommend the magnification feature.

Coupled with the super large focusing ring that takes up almost the entire lens’s exterior, it will be a joy to focus. You’ll be able to wrap your fingers around it and manually fine tune and adjust your focusing when needed. Indeed, the size of this ring puts lenses from Canon and Nikon to shame.

Image Quality

Due to the long field of view on an NEX camera (approximately 75mm) I’d also recommend that one uses the OLED viewfinder for extra stability. Otherwise, it can hard to snap sharper photos in real darkness.

Additionally, stopping your lens down will also give you your sharpest results. Wide open, the lens is fairly sharp but as soon as you stop down to F2, you’ll start to see lots more details. It’s the difference between sharp eyes to sharp eyes and pores on your skin.

In low light, the lens also renders colors extremely accurately and almost no post-production needs to be done in terms of color correction. Think of it as you being blind and then suddenly getting a stronger prescription for your eye glasses. The world becomes really just that clear with this lens once stopped down a bit.

The bokeh on this lens, though quite nice, isn’t always the creamiest. There are lots of times when it will look amazing; and that’s mainly in daylit situations. However, the bokeh almost makes me wish that Zeiss worked with them on the construction of this lens. It could have been much better even in bleaker situations above.

For capturing candid moments on the streets or in public (or someone’s nice shoes for example) you’ll also really appreciate the quick focus, color rendering, and sharpness that is available in this little package.

The lens can surely also be used for professional applications in a studio type of environment. I used it to capture the image above for a shoot I did for a men’s lifestyle site. The above image isn’t the final render, but the lens did a damned good job.

In fact, if you ever do want to take your NEX camera into the studio, I’d highly recommend this lens. The sharpness that it offers will make it an essential to any photographer for portraits, products, etc.

When coupled with the NEX 5n you’ll get some wonderful colors but will sometimes face focusing issues that I couldn’t always get past unless I manually adjusted the lens.

Generally speaking though, you’ll often be pleased with the focusing, sharpness and quality results. At the moment, there are no competitors for this lens. If anything, it would be the Olympus 45mm f1.8; but that’s a totally different system.

The people that would really love and appreciate this lens though are the portrait photographers, street photographers and those that don’t mind using primes and walking right up to their subjects if needed. It doesn’t seem like a lens for most NEX users I see walking around NYC (who instead seem to value the kit zoom lens more.)

Conclusions

I was extremely impressed with the NEX 50mm f1.8. Of all the lenses I’ve tested so far, it by far has the best image quality for the system. The fact that I was able to use it for a professional product shoot also blew my mind away. Generally, I leave all of that to my 5D Mk II but the fact that I did it with this little camera makes me thrilled for the mirrorless future. Additionally, it also makes me wonder how many people may already be shooting professionally with mirrorless cameras already.

If you’re a Sony NEX user, this is the lens to get no matter what camera you may own. If you weren’t impressed with Sony’s 16mm f2.8 pancake (which was also their first prime lens and not impressive) then throw it out and spring for this one instead. This is the lens that breathes life and hope into the system. And it also proves to us that Sony can do amazing things with small primes.

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