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Sony 50mm F1.4 review

December 2008 | By Andy Westlake
Buy on GearShop$448.00

The Sony 50mm F1.4 is the company's current offering in the classic 'fast standard' category, and was introduced at the genesis of the Alpha system in July 2006. Of course its origins go back well before then; this lens is essentially a reworking of the Minolta AF 50mm 1:1.4 RS from 1990, which was itself a restyling of a 1985 design that, alongside the Maxxum/Dynax 7000, formed part of the world's first autofocus SLR system. And that original AF version was itself heir to a long line of manual focus Rokkor lenses dating back many years before. To consumers brought up on the 'use it for a year, throw it away' upgrade cycle which electronics manufacturers (and until recently, credit-card companies) have so encouraged, such longevity may come as a real surprise, making the design seem positively antique. But in truth it really serves to illustrate the maturity of the traditional standard lens formula, which has been refined over many years to a quality level difficult to surpass without a major redesign.

The current Sony 50mm F1.4 has been cosmetically refreshed for the Alpha branding, with smooth rubber grips giving a distinctly minimalist look broken only by a few trademark orange accents. It also adds a couple of useful refinements to the older Minolta design, including modified coatings more suited to the demands of digital SLRs, and the addition of ADI focus distance encoding for improved flash metering. However the underlying design appears to be otherwise the same, and size and weight are identical. It features the classic 50mm F1.4 lens formula of 7 elements in 6 groups, with all-spherical lens surfaces. However there is one standout feature compared to similar lenses, a circular aperture diaphragm using 7 rounded blades, again inherited from Minolta's designers who were concerned about the aesthetics of out-of-focus backgrounds long before the internet popularized 'bokeh' as a buzz-word every savvy on-line photographer needed to know (if not necessarily understand, or even be able to pronounce).

The 50mm F1.4 was obviously designed as a 'standard' lens for 35mm film, and therefore will behave as such on the Alpha 900 full-frame DSLR, with an angle of view offering none of the 'perspective distortion' associated with wideangle or telephoto lenses. However its mainstream usage will now be with APS-C cameras such as the Alpha 700, on which it behaves like a short 'portrait' telephoto, a role requiring subtly different characteristics (including high sharpness at wide apertures and attractive bokeh). But this year we've seen the first genuinely new-design mainstream contender in this lens class for many years, the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, which we found to offer precisely these benefits. So how does the Sony fare against such stiff competition?

Headline features

  • 50mm focal length
  • F1.4 maximum aperture
  • Alpha mount for Sony and Konica Minolta DSLRs

Angle of view

The pictures below illustrate the angles of view on 35mm full frame and APS-C camera bodies:

50mm (35mm full-frame) 50mm (APS-C; 75mm equivalent)

 

Sony 50mm F1.4 specifications

Street price • $350 (US)
• £250 (UK)
Date introduced July 2006
Maximum format size 35mm full frame
Focal length 50mm
35mm equivalent focal length(APS-C) 75mm
Diagonal Angle of view (FF) 47º
Diagonal Angle of view (APS-C) 32º
Maximum aperture F1.4
Minimum aperture F22
Lens Construction • 7 elements / 6 groups
Number of diaphragm blades 7, rounded
Minimum focus 0.45m (1.5 ft)
Maximum magnification 0.15x
AF motor type 'Screw drive’ from camera body
Focus method Unit focus
Image stabilization • None
Filter thread • 55mm
• Does not rotate on focus
Supplied accessories • Front and rear caps
• SH0011 lens hood
Optional accessories None
Weight 222g (7.8 oz)
Dimensions 65.5mm diameter x 43mm length
(2.6 x 1.7 in)
Lens Mount Sony Alpha/Minolta MA

* Supplied accessories may differ in each country or area

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

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