Sony 55mm f1.8 Sonnar ZA Review

Specifications

Aperture
f/1.8 – f/22
Size
64.4 x 70.5 mm
Filter Thread
49 mm
Weight
281 g
Max Magnification
0.14
Min Focusing Distance
50 cm
Number of aperture blades
9, Rounded
Elements/Groups
7 / 5
Optical Stabilization
No
Weather Resistance
Yes

We have taken thousands of photos with the Sony 55mm f1.8 ZA lens with the Sony a7RII and the a7II. These are our thoughts about the lens.

Build Quality

Compact and lightweight at a mere 281g or 9.9oz, the lens features a sleek, black metal construction that is dust and moisture resistant. It’s a good looking lens that pairs well with E-mount APSC and full-frame bodies.

[Taken with the Zeiss Batis 85mm]

The brushed metal of the lens can show dings and scratches, so it’s a good idea to keep the lens protected from hard knocks.

We have used the lens on the a7RII during snow and rain, and neither the body nor the lens was harmed. However, we do have insurance on our gear just in case.

Autofocus

The Sony 55mm f1.8 is a silent, fast and accurate lens when it comes to autofocus. It is probably one of the fastest native E-mount lenses in terms of autofocus. It focuses without hesitation in normal light conditions, and even in low light conditions, there is very little hunting.

It performs great in our indoor studio setup in -2 EV or lower light conditions.

Image Quality

The lens focuses on optical quality rather than ultimate speed. At f1.8, it is sharp across much of the frame with a minor drop in the extreme corners. Around F2.8, the sharpness increases. Between F4 and F8, it’s razor sharp corner-to-corner, making the lens suitable for landscape purposes.

It has the highly effective Zeiss coating, which controls flare very well in backlit situations. However, there is some loss of contrast when shooting into the sun, as well as some noticeable chromatic aberration.

Under extreme conditions, it will flare more strongly. The flares can contain some geometric shapes.

The minimum focusing distance is 50cm or 1.6ft, which can fill a head and shoulders in the frame.

Background blur is generally very smooth. Under certain situations with foreground and background blur together, the “double bokeh” effect can distract from the main subject.

However, due to the use of aspherical elements, there may be some artifacts in the highlights, or “onion rings” in the bokeh.

Around the edges the bokeh can exhibit some cat’s eye, or more elongated shapes instead of perfectly circular highlights. Some people enjoy this look due to the fact that it can appear as a large swirl or circle framing the scene, but it can also be distracting.

The transition from in-focus to out-of-focus areas has a lot of contrast, so rather than a gentle, smooth change into the blurry background, this lens has the ability to make subjects stand out and give them more three-dimensionality. Some people refer to this effect as the “Zeiss 3D pop.”

Vignetting can be heavy on this lens until about f4, but it is correctable. I often leave it uncorrected because the vignetting can look good for portraits.

With the combination of good flare resistance, sharpness wide open, and slightly wider field of view, it’s a great lens for taking environmental portraiture, when we want to include the beauty of the background in the photo.

Summary

Pros

  • Small and light lens that can be carried everywhere
  • Silent, accurate and fast autofocus
  • Sharp even wide open
  • Smooth background blur
  • Very small amount of distortion
  • Good contrast and rendering

Cons

  • Only f1.8
  • Expensive at $1000
  • Vignetting is strong at wider apertures
  • Can have a noticeable amount of chromatic aberration
  • Can flare strongly in some situations
  • Onion rings in the bokeh due to aspherical elements
  • Bokeh often exhibits cat’s eye behavior (may be a positive for some people)

The Sony 55mm f1.8 ZA is a lens that we have taken with us to many places and used to take many treasured photos. Since the lens is so sharp at wide apertures, we often use it between f1.8 and F2.2. The resulting photos have the Zeiss pop, contrast and rendering, and it feels almost effortless to take more artistic looking photos.

Now there is the cheaper Sony FE 50mm f1.8, which is a bit less sharp and contrasty, but is still a good performer. The 50mm f1.8 is the lens we now use, but the 55mm f1.8 remains a special lens.

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7 responses to “Sony 55mm f1.8 Sonnar ZA Review”

  1. sunil says:

    Very good review. You keep a balance between technical and all other aspects with awesome images in between. That keeps me glued to screen till the end of article.

    I have FE 55 1.8 (bought a week back )but thinking of buying Zeiss 85 1.8 or GM 85 1.4 by returning FE 55 for my Sony A7II. What would you suggest?

  2. Hi sunil, thank you!

    Whether the 85mm focal length suits you better than 55mm is a very personal question. What do you primarily like to shoot? Do you frequently shoot indoors or outdoors? Are you interested in portraiture or more general purpose photography?

    If you find that you keep wanting to get in closer with the 55mm, then definitely give the 85mm a try.

  3. sunil says:

    Thank You for the Advice.

  4. Josh says:

    Love your work and your reviews. You mentioned that you have insurance on your gear, I’m looking into adding insurance. Any Advice? Who do you use? Many thanks.

  5. Hi Josh, thank you! We use a combination of rider on our home insurance, SquareTrade, Diamond, and BestBuy GeekSquad warranties, depending on where we purchased the gear.

  6. dileep says:

    Is it better than Fuji 56 1.2 or Sigma Art 50 1.4 ?

  7. Jesse says:

    Awesome review! I love this lens and there is definitely a distinct quality to the pictures this produces. I was just wondering what you do to create the awesome skin tones in your portraits? It looks so perfect.

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