If I prefer to manually focus, should I still get the FE 55?

Started Nov 11, 2013 | Discussions thread
sroute Senior Member • Posts: 2,497

Myself, I don't prefer manual focus, I prefer lenses that work for me optically, whatever that means. Sometimes it means a nice but old fashioned rendering that can be obtained with many old manual focus SLR or RF lenses. Sometimes it means ultra modern high resolution. Sometimes it means a mix of both - creamy out of focus areas, sharp in the central area wide open, across the frame stopped down.

I thought I once preferred manual focus lenses - for their build, for their potential for vendor independence, for their look - but now I much prefer to focus on performance and rendering and if a lens that pleases is AF or MF I don't care and in fact I would not want a bag full of nothing but manual focus lenses. Despite having used them for years, I know there are many times when AF will do a better job than my eyes, manual focus, and time will allow for.

When NEX came out the lens selection wasn't great but thanks to adaptability I was able to reuse good lenses I already owned, an assortment of Zeiss ZM rangefinder lenses plus some Contax mount Zeiss SLR lenses. I'd like to have purchased some solid AF lenses for NEX but by the time optics that interested me arrived on the scene I'd moved on to another mirrorless for my rangefinder lenses, painting myself in a corner actually as that platform offers no AF (Leica M mount) possibilities at all. I still shoot that camera and find it limiting to this day.

I've since sold some of these lenses as I didn't expect the symmetrical wides would be a good long term investment given larger sensors and resolutions coming (now here) in the mirrorless world. Would I  repurchase others that can work well (longer focal lengths, retrofocal designs) for use on the Sony A7(r) cameras? The answer for me is only a definite maybe.

We already know some of the ZM's and Leica M glass are not going to perform well on the A7(r) cameras (the Biogons in general and other similar designs) so I'm looking for alternatives. I've ordered and likely will keep the FE35/2.8 if it performs well.

When it comes to 50's there is a richness of choice in manual focus glass, so why have only one? The Zeiss 50/2 Planar appears to work well on the A7(r) cameras so that's a decent choice, and the Zeiss C Sonnar 50/1.5 has a lovely rendering useful for portraiture but some find it too specialized to be a one and only one 50mm.

The Sony FE55/1.8 looks to be a markedly better performer than the 50/2 Planar; it is brilliant at f/1.8, lovely smooth out of focus area rendering - it just looks superior. For that reason I've ordered the FE55/1.8 and will use it in AF mode most of the time, MF via Sony's Direct Manual Focus mode when necessary.

I'll keep some manual focus glass in my bag, particularly for special needs like night time photography where I want a hard infinity stop, but I'm not choosing lenses for any other reason than look. Having come from an all manual focus past, I've no problem stating that I like AF now and for some subjects I want AF, not MF. In my bag there'll always be a mix.

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