Sony 50mm F1.4 review
Conclusion - Pros
- Unusually good performance on APS-C even at wide apertures
- Excellent image quality when stopped down on both full-frame and APS-C
- Low distortion
Conclusion - Cons
- Very soft across most of the frame at wide apertures on full frame
- Bokeh chromatic aberration, most visible at wide apertures
- Vignetting at wide apertures on full frame (essentially disappears by F3.3)
- Corner softness on full-frame - never quite sharp even at F8
- Somewhat susceptible to flare
Having reviewed four other 50mm F1.4 lenses of similar design over the past few months, we weren't expecting any major surprises from the Sony version. And in broad terms it's not hugely different from its Canon, Nikon and Pentax equivalents; as befits a quality prime it gives excellent image quality when stopped down, but struggles somewhat when used wide open, showing common problems such as corner softness, halation, bokeh chromatic aberration, and vignetting on full frame.
However the Sony 50mm F1.4 clearly does have characteristics which make it a superior performer on the APS-C format (currently by far the most commonly used in DSLRs). It shows unusually high central sharpness, making it rather more suited to shooting at large apertures than most of its peers. It even outperforms the new aspheric-design Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM in the center of the frame - no mean feat at all - although it's less sharp in the corners. However the price to pay for that APS-C performance is a slightly less impressive showing on full frame, with the Sigma giving much superior performance at large apertures. Stopped-down edge and corner sharpness also suffers (certainly in comparison to the Canon equivalent, for example), and this is readily visible under the merciless scrutiny of the Alpha 900's 24Mp sensor.
Comparison between the Sony 50mm F1.4 and its Minolta predecessor is certainly interesting - to be honest we weren't expecting to see any difference at all, so the improved sharpness of the Sony model coupled with measurably higher chromatic aberration came as something of a surprise. It's important to stress that while the two lenses consistently gave these results in our studio tests, we can't say for certain whether this indicates a slight redesign of the lens, or simply a variation between the specific samples we used for testing. However it's not inconceivable that the Sony version may have been slightly tweaked for improved results on APS, along with the addition of ADI distance reporting and new coatings. Whether you'll really see much of a difference between the two lenses in normal shooting is however open to question; certainly when stopped down the results are very nearly indistinguishable.
Ultimately this is the joint fastest lens in Sony's current line-up (alongside the 35mm F1.4G and the 85mm F1.4 Carl Zeiss), and the most economical entry point for Alpha users wishing to experiment with available light and shallow depth of field work. Indeed with the combination of a fast prime, high ISOs and in-body IS you'll be able to continue shooting handheld in the fading light after sunset long after the point when other photographers have packed their bags, given up and gone to the pub. Like any fast prime it's not perfect (shooting through all that glass at large apertures inevitably introduces more aberrations), but it has low light capabilities unmatched by any zoom, and image quality unrivalled by all but the most expensive. Its'a also small, light and unobtrusive, and therefore perfect for discreet shooting. These qualities add up to give a lens worthy of all Alpha users' consideration.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|
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Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. To provide the fairest impression of the lens itself, images are shot in RAW and converted using Adobe Camera Raw at default settings (to bypass the test cameras' automatic JPEG chromatic aberration correction). A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.