Sony FE 50mm f1.8 Review

Specifications

Aperture
f/1.8 – f/22
Size
68.6 x 59.5 mm
Filter Thread
49 mm
Weight
186 g
Max Magnification
0.14
Min Focusing Distance
45 cm
Number of aperture blades
7, Rounded
Elements/Groups
6 / 5
Optical Stabilization
No
Weather Resistance
No

The Sony FE 50mm f1.8 lens is the smallest, lightest and cheapest lens we currently use with the Sony a7RII and Sony a9 cameras.

Build Quality

This is a fantastic plastic “nifty fifty” lens that every major camera manufacturer releases for around $150 to $250. It’s a well-loved category of lenses, partially because 50mm is a fairly standard focal length, and f1.8 is a pretty fast aperture, especially on full-frame. But that also means that the lens itself won’t have any weather sealing, nor will you find top notch build quality.

[Taken with the Sony 100mm f2.8 STF GM]

We have quite a few medium-size lenses, some of which are rather heavy, so the small and lightweight nature of the 50mm f1.8 is a welcome addition to our bag. Rose can toss it in her camera purse and be out and about with the kids, and have a generally portable and unassuming package.

Autofocus

The autofocus is definitely the main detractor of this lens compared with other native E-mount lenses. When taking stills, the continuous autofocus is a bit choppy and has a noise. It is not a loud noise, and it’s barely perceptible under normal conditions, but it is certainly there.

If you get this lens, grab the firmware update from Sony’s website. It improves the autofocus speed quite a bit.

Interestingly, during video continuous autofocus, the mechanism is smooth rather than clunky, and the small amount of autofocus noise that would be present during stills operation is gone.

Because we take lots of photos of our busy and active kids, we have to be smart about timing our shots. The autofocus of the lens doesn’t keep up as well with large, fast movements, so we wait until the kids settle down a bit and sneak a few shots in.

On later Sony camera bodies, the autofocus is decent enough to be able to catch kids in action and running. The autofocus accuracy only becomes noticeably worse at closer focus distances.

Image Quality

This is not the sharpest lens we own, but it is not too shabby wide open at f1.8 for portrait purposes. According to some tests, it is sharper at f1.8 than nifty fifty lenses from other manufacturers, but it can’t beat the Sony 55mm f1.8 ZA lens in a sharpness contest, at least for outer edges. In the central areas, the Sony 50mm f1.8 is almost on par with the 55mm f1.8, which is impressive.

When the depth of field is thin, the background blur is generally very smooth. When there are highlights in the background, “soap bubble” outlines can sometimes be seen in the bokeh circles.

Under high contrast situations, some chromatic aberration can be seen, but they’re well-controlled. Some minor fringing are in the highlights of the near eye in this large crop:

When shooting into the sun with veiling flare, the lens loses a lot of contrast, giving it a kind of dreamy quality.

In the worst case scenario, there are rainbow flares and so little contrast that it can be difficult to see the subject.

It can focus close enough to almost fill a child’s head in the frame.

Background bokeh take on cat’s eye qualities, but are fairly clean.

The lens has very little distortion, though there is some vignetting when wide open. We leave these uncorrected because they don’t generally detract from the image.

The more we use the FE 50mm, the more we grow fond of it as a general purpose lens to take with us everywhere we go.

From indoor candid shots to outdoor fun shots, it is a nifty fifty that does the job very well.

Summary

Pros

  • Small and lightweight
  • Good value for the money, often on sale for $200
  • Sharp when stopped down a little
  • Low distortion

Cons

  • Cheaper build quality
  • Somewhat slow autofocus (improved with firmware update), not completely silent during operation
  • Some chromatic aberration and vignetting at wider apertures
  • Can flare strongly in some situations

Despite the compromises of the Sony FE 50mm f1.8 lens, the combination of low price, compact size, and quite good image quality won us over. Though it won’t win any sharpness contests, it is among the smallest and lightest autofocus lenses for Sony full-frame E-mount cameras, and it’s a pleasure to use as long as we recognize its limitations.

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