Review: Sony 20mm f2.8 (APS-C E Mount)

SAMSUNG CSC

Who doesn’t like pancake lenses? They’re small, perform well, and often are stuck to our cameras because of their portability. So when Sony created the 20mm f2.8, we just had to get it onto a camera for a try. Pancake lenses often trade performance for size, and the 20mm f2.8 isn’t an exception. It ranks on the bottom of the company’s prime offerings, but also is still better than their zoom lenses when it comes to image quality.

But that’s not why you’ll want to keep it on your camera.

Pros and Cons

SAMSUNG CSC

Pros

– Itty bitty size makes most E mount Alpha cameras feel like a point and shoot

– Fast focusing

– Really good color rendition

– Pretty darned good sharpness for a pancake, but could be better

Cons

– A bit more pricey than I’d like it to be

Gear Used

We tested the 20mm f2.8 with the Sony NEX 6.

Tech Specs

Focal Length 20mm
Aperture Max: f/2.8
Min: f/22
Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 30mm
Filter Diameter 49mm
Lens Groups-Elements 6 groups, 6 elements
AF for Movie Capture Yes
Minimum Focus Distance 7.8″ (0.2m)
Aperture Blade 7 blades (Circular aperture)
Aspheric Elements 3 aspheric surface
Direct Manual Focus Yes
Exterior Finish Metal
Focus Ring in AF Mode No rotation
Internal Motor Yes (Stepping motor)
Low Noise During Movie Capture Excellent
Maximum Magnification 0.12x (APS-C)
Mount Material Metal
Non-rotating Focusing Ring No rotation
Dimensions (Diameter x Length) 2.5 x 0.8″ (62.6 x 20.4mm)
Weight 2.4 oz (69g)

Ergonomics

SAMSUNG CSC

Sony’s 20mm f2.8 is a very plain Jane and perhaps the company’s most minimalist offering. We start at the front of the lens where the front element doesn’t move a bit–so the lens stays the same size no matter what and can always remain on, as it’s pocketable with the right camera.

SAMSUNG CSC

There are no controls on the lens. Want to manually focus? You’ll need to set that from Sony’s menus. Otherwise, it makes total sense and will place an emphasis on purely just shooting.

Build Quality

SAMSUNG CSC

This is a small and fairly sturdy lens, but the body feels a bit too plasticky for our liking. However, it’s all a single piece essentially with no external moving elements, so I’m never afraid that anything will break off at a certain point. You might want to keep it out of the reach of kids.

With the right camera, this lens makes a Sony E mount camera super pocketable. In fact, the combo can fit into a sports coat jacket or a winter jacket with ease if you don’t feel like wearing a strap.

Autofocus

We found the focusing with this lens to be amongst the quickest of the APS-C E mount lenses when mounted onto the NEX 6. It almost never missed its target except at very close distances.

Ease of Use

Just like many of Sony’s other lenses, you simply point it at a subject, focus and shoot. With a very tiny manual focusing ring that feels like an aperture control more than anything, this lens is primarily intended to be used for autofocusing anyway. Advanced and entry users alike will have no trouble using the lens.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (2 of 16)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 6.3

We’ve tested loads of Sony lenses, and although this isn’t the sharpest one that they make by a long shot, it’s still better than most of the company’s zooms. Of the APS-C E mount prime lenses, this lens is perhaps the softest and fast behind many of the f1.8 offerings. But this lens isn’t really about the numbers–or at least we think it isn’t. It’s more about an experience. It turns your Sony E mount camera into something that you can tote around nearly anywhere with you and it will give you good enough images to make you in awe of.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images others (1 of 4)ISO 16001-4000 sec at f - 2.8

The bokeh is something that we’d describe as hazy more than creamy–but make no mistake that it’s still quite beautiful to look at. If you’re a bokeh fiend, you’ll probably scoff your nose at this lens. In that case, you’d probably be better off with the company’s 24mm f1.8–which is one of our favorite lenses.

Granted, because of the way that depth of field works and the natural focal length it will be tough to get any bokeh.

Color Rendition

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (13 of 16)ISO 1001-100 sec at f - 16

Perhaps the strongest quality about this lens is its color rendition. The 20mm f2.8 is super punchy when it comes to colors. That means if you’re shooting wildlife or random street scenes, you’ll be in for a treat. In fact, it kind of reminds us a bit of Fujifilm Velvia, but not quite.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (5 of 16)ISO 1001-1250 sec at f - 2.8

Color fringing with this lens is very much under control–so for the most part you won’t need to worry about it. Even when we cranked up the contrast in our images, we didn’t see a whole ton of it that needed to be eliminated with saturation sliders or brushes.

If you’re the type to mope about this in forums, then you’ll be happy; but we suggest that you find something else to mope about.

Sharpness

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images others (2 of 4)ISO 16001-2500 sec at f - 2.8

The 20mm f2.8 isn’t the sharpest prime from Sony, but it is still better than the company’s zoom offerings. For a pancake, it does an excellent job when it comes to sharpness. Still though, we think that with good lighting it does its best job.

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images others (4 of 4)ISO 16001-3200 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images others (3 of 4)ISO 16001-1250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (16 of 16)ISO 64001-15 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (15 of 16)ISO 32001-6 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (14 of 16)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (12 of 16)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (11 of 16)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 7.1

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (10 of 16)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (9 of 16)ISO 1001-40 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (8 of 16)ISO 1001-320 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (7 of 16)ISO 1001-320 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (6 of 16)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (4 of 16)ISO 1001-3200 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (3 of 16)ISO 1001-640 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 20mm f2.8 review images (1 of 16)ISO 1001-3200 sec at f - 3.2

Conclusions

The 20mm f2.8 lens is a beautiful lens in that it will beg to stay on your camera with its small size and excellent color rendition. But if you’re looking for pure sharpness, you should look elsewhere. We have to say though that the 20mm f2.8 makes shooting fun again and almost like using a point and shoot with lots of power. Though we recommend it, we believe that people that aren’t all about performance numbers are the ones that will enjoy it the most.

You can check Adorama for pricing on the 20mm f2.8 or go for a bundle with the NEX 6.

Recommended Items and Cameras

Sony NEX 5T– The company’s mid-level 5 series camera is a perfect companion for the person that wants to toss their camera into a bag for the weekend and take photos to their heart’s content.

Sony A6000– Sony’s flagship E mount APS-C offering is great for this lens because of the fact that when coupled, they turn into a street photography shooting machine. Small, quiet, and fast–it’ll become addicting very quickly.

For more, please follow us on FacebookGoogle+Flickr and Twitter.