Sony FE 55mm f1.8 Lens - school
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Sony FE 55mm f1.8 Lens

Photos and review by Ben MacAskill, Head of SmugMug QA. Thanks to our friends at for supplying the gear for these reviews!

What motivated you to choose this lens?

In short, I chose the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 lens because of the autofocus and reputation for excellent image quality.

I own the Sony A7, and have been shooting exclusively with the Voigtlander 35mm F/1.4 manual focus Leica M mount lens. I am totally smitten with this combo: The image quality is excellent, shooting with it is really fun, and the super compact size is appealing. The main drawback of this lens is that it's manual focus only. Despite my initial fears, I have been fairly successful at shooting action shots of my children.

Voigtlander 35mm

While I have gotten even better at manual focus in the last few months, we have a trip to Disneyland coming up and fast rides are looming. Would my manual focus lens mean I miss the most important shots?

This is why I wanted to try the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8. It's known to have great image quality and quick autofocus, being a Sony lens on a Sony body. It's an intriguing lens, but surprisingly expensive for a prime lens in that focal length compared to Canon and Nikon offerings. At just under $1000, it definitely was well beyond impulse buy territory. I wanted to rent it for a week to see if I fell in love or not. The test grounds would be Disneyland Resort in Anaheim with two little girls who like the fastest roller coasters and spinning tea cups.

A bit of pixel peeping

As soon as the lens arrived, we decided to compare it to the 50mm lenses we already had in the office. The compared lenses are:

• Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4

• Leica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95

• Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5

We knew the Sony 55mm had a reputation for being remarkable sharp, so we set it up for success on the very first test. We shot a professional sharpness chart at various apertures on the 4 lenses, all on an A7R body to maximize pixels we could peep.

Results at f/2.8

Results at f/4

Yup, this is a pretty impressively sharp lens. In retrospect our test wasn't perfectly set up, and I will definitely try things a little differently next time. The results were pretty impressive though, and fairly consistent with the reviews from Dpreview and DXOmark. The Sony 55mm was at the very least competitive across the range with the $4k Summilux and the $11k Noctilux. It was undeniably sharper than the Voigtlander, by a significant margin.

We then decided to test aesthetics by comparing the bokeh of the various lenses. This is where we expected the Sony to fall short of the M mount lenses. We shot all of them wide open, though I included the Noctilux at f/1.4 for comparison sake.

This is obviously a subjective test, and the apertures didn't line up neatly with all lenses, so it is hard to declare an absolute winner. If pressed to make a choice, the Sony is probably in last place here. That being said, it was MUCH closer than any of us expected. The image quality and bokeh on the Sony lens was pretty impressive all around.

As a delicious sidenote though, check out the dreamy bokeh on the Noctilux at f/0.95:


The field test at Disneyland

While not exclusively specific to this lens, the Sony A7 autofocus performed very well with the 55mm lens. I hadn't had a chance to put the autofocus through the paces with my M mount lens. I got a lot more shots than I would have gotten on my manual focus Voigtlander, including rapidly spinning tea cups and speedy roller coasters.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the sharpness of the lens after our studio tests, but it still managed to really shock and impress me. I am not a particularly experienced photographer, and I have only had this camera for less than 2 months. Due to the manual nature of my Voigtlander, I still don't know a lot of the settings on the A7. Despite these shortcomings, I came away with some of the best photos I have ever taken. In short, the lens (and camera) made me look like a better photographer than I am.

Overall it was a really amazing lens. It was a joy to shoot with. The photos that came off the camera were tremendous as well, which really is the most important part. 55mm turned out to be a really great focal length at Disneyland. I was able to shoot over the fence at a lot of rides to get action shots, but still be able to get shots sitting across the table during breakfast. The versatility of this focal length made shooting prime a total non-issue.

The lens is bulky compared to the various M mount options, but still surprisingly light. It was easy to use one handed when needed, and was small enough that I didn't mind carrying it around.

Are there specific situations in which you'd use it?

If I am going out to dinner or somewhere that I want my camera to be as small a presence as possible, I will take the Voigtlander 35mm I already own. If I were headed to the park to chase my kids around the playground, I would absolutely take the Sony 55mm instead. As a short range action or portrait lens it is simply fantastic.

Would you buy this lens?

The size and price are the only two negatives about this lens, but I think the image quality justifies both. I just placed the order today, so that pretty much sums it all up. 

Who's Ben?

I am the head of QA here at SmugMug, spending my days breaking the site in as many ways as I can. As a photographer, I definitely fall under the category “Family Photographer.” I shoot photos of my kids, but not nearly as much as I should. I also don’t spend enough time practicing photography, but I really love to geek out on the gear involved. I really need to spend more time shooting, less time obsessing.

Sony FE 55mm @ f/2.8
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