Sony FE lenses sample variation summary

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JohnNEX Senior Member • Posts: 1,160
Sony FE lenses sample variation summary

A lot of threads mention sample variation with the Sony FE lenses. I thought I would gather together all of the links to the excellent tests done by Lensrentals which cover sample variation.

The summary is simple:

1. Some of the Sony FE lenses released first, had bad sample variation. The main culprits were the 35 f/1.4 ZA and the 90 f/2.8 Macro. The 55 f/1.8 ZA was ok

2. Since then no Sony FE lens tested by Lensrentals has shown any more sample variation than similar lenses from other manufacturers.

All of the ‘reputation’ of bad sample variation in FE lenses seems to be based on a couple of the early cases. Lensrentals has actually been very positive about sample variation for Sony lenses.

Below are links to all of the tests, with direct quotes on sample variation which make instructive reading. I’ve included the “bad” lenses first, but the rest are in the random order of how I looked them up. I could not locate the tests for the 35 f/2.8, the 70-200 f/4 or the 70-200 f/2.8. If someone can find them then please provide the link and quotes.

I have not covered the APS-C lenses, which have their own history of sample variation, particularly for the 16-70 f/4 Zeiss.

35 f/1.4 ZA

The variation graphs show what our photographic experience with this lens has suggested. The FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lenses are all over the place. It actually is a bit worse than the graphs look because a lot of the variance is WITHIN a copy, not just copy-to-copy. None of the 10 copies we tested had even corners. And I’ll editorialize and say that none of the dozens we’ve tested on Imatest had even corners either. If you use this lens for centered objects, you’ll be happy. If you want 4 sharp corners, it’s not likely to happen unless your standards for equal sharpness are pretty low.

90 f/2.8 Macro

Sony has a lot of variation compared to the others. The type of variation we’re seeing is also quite different from the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4. That lens has a lot of corner variation in every copy, but the center remains is consistently sharp comparing one lens to another. With the Macro, there’s a lot of center variation and it’s not particularly worse in the corners. This suggests there is significant copy-to-copy variation in overall sharpness, rather than individual lenses have a bad corner.

55 f/1.8 ZA

The copy-to-copy variation graphs for the 55mm lens show it has a lot better consistency than the 35mm, too. There’s some variation, but it’s similar to most of the other 50ish lenses we’ve tested.

50 f/1.4 ZA

The new 50mm f/1.4 ZA Planar clearly has less variation than the 55mm f/1.8 did. It’s really nice and consistent … Overall, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 Planar has very reasonable sample variation, about what we see in most other high-quality 50mm prime lenses from other manufacturers … On the basis of these [sample variation charts], the Sony 50mm f/1.4 Planar is as good as anything available.

24-105 f/4 G

The Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS II has been the standard for consistency in this range zoom, but the Sony is a bit better (as was the Sigma we tested last week). So, let me repeat, because in the past I’ve been pretty harsh about Sony sample variation. While 24-105mm zooms tend to have a high variation, the Sony does not; it’s very consistent in copy-to-copy.

24-70 f/2.8 GM

Like the Canon and Nikon, the Sony did have more variation at 70mm. But the Sony doesn’t worsen more than the others, they all end up fairly similar. As an aside, we also checked variance in the middle of the zoom range and the Sony was really quite good there. In other words, if your copy has problems, it will almost certainly be at 70mm, but if you buy a Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 you are no more likely to have an issue than you would with a Canon or Nikon.

16-35 f/2.8 GM

I’m not posting the 16mm and 24mm variations trying to keep this reasonably brief, but at those two focal lengths there wasn’t much variation. We had one copy that was truly bad out of 11 tested at 24mm, but that copy was excellent at 16mm and 35mm. All of the copies we tested were very similar at 16mm ... But if you plan on using it at 35mm, which I generally don’t recommend for wide zooms if you have alternatives, well, you’re probably going to go through several copies before you find the one you want. Personally, I think it’s a really good 16-24mm f/2.8 zoom that can be used at 35mm if you have to.

16-35 f/4

We know from previous testing that variation for the Canon and Nikon 16-35 f/4s are pretty good as zoom lenses go; not great, but good. The Sony 16-35 f/4 OSS has very similar to a bit less variation at the wide end and very similar to a bit worse variation on the long end. Overall, both from an MTF and a copy-to-copy variation standpoint, the Sony FE lens is as good as, and sometimes better than, the Canon and Nikon offerings.

24-70 f/4 Zeiss

It really is pretty good [sample variation] at 24mm and 50mm, but there is a bit of worrisome center variation at 70mm. (Center variation is associated with an overall sharpness difference, where off-axis variance often indicates more of a tilt.) For a zoom, though, this isn’t a bad performance … So the bottom line is while there is definitely some copy-to-copy variation among the Sony f/4 zooms, it doesn’t really appear worse than most zoom lenses.

12-24 f/4 G

[Sample variation is] better than average. Sony seems to be making progress with their sample variation in the newer designs … Especially at 12mm, there is almost no variation in the center. As with most wide-angle zooms, if your copy isn’t quite like the others it will probably be at the long end, but this is really a good performance.

50 f/1.8

The copy-to-copy variation on the FE 50mm f/1.8 is superbly low. Remember, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is the standard against which all other lenses are measured. It’s amazingly consistent. The Sony is very close to that. In some ways (center sharpness variation) it’s actually a bit better. So hat’s off to Sony, they’ve made an FE lens that from a copy-to-copy variation standpoint is as good as anything on the market.

85 f/1.8

[Sample variation] was always a question with early Sony primes, but the range here is good, one of the more consistent Sony lenses.

85 f/1.4 GM

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens compares very well with these other top lenses. There’s none of the severe copy-to-copy variation we saw with the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 lens.

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