Usually, the merest mention of the Sony prime lenses under $100 will make most photographers waft away the subject like a medieval aristocrat. This is because high-quality lenses generally require lots of pennies in exchange for their optical superiority. Also, more specialist lenses abide by the usual laws of diminishing returns, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t cost-effective lenses out there.
So why would someone plump for a Sony prime lens under $100? There can be many reasons, you may have acquired a camea body without a lens and you simply want to try the thing out, or you simply only have a budget of a hundred dollars to play with.
So, without further ado we will dive into the options available, with many examples providing far more quality than the price would suggest.
1. Neewer 35mm f/1.7 (Overall Winner)
When we are talking about lenses under the $100 mark, zoom lenses are out of the question. Zooms lenses require far more glass and optical correction than prime lenses, so they would be a waste of money in this price bracket. Prime lenses on the other hand have a radically simpler design at tried and tested focal lengths, which is why the Neewer 35mm f/1.7 hits the top of our list.
Good lenses usually come from Neewer, and this particular one provides a wide and bright f/1.7 aperture, wrapped around an optical design of six elements arranged in five groups. This is a fully manual lens, which means there is no autofocus and you have to rely on the manual focusing ring. The aperture is also set manually via the basic aperture ring.
The f/1.7 maximum aperture can very easily produce a relatively smooth background blur, or bokeh, which is ideal for portrait shots. The focal length makes it ideal for general use as well, for anything from landscapes to street photography.
It’s not often you can say a lens under $100 can provide optical quality far outweighing its price point, but in the case of the Neewer 35mm f/1.7, this is definitely the case.
2. Vivitar 50mm f/2.0
Vivitar is a blast from the past, being a company from back in the film days that supplied everything from cameras to loads of different accessories. This is why it was somewhat of a surprise to find a very cost-effective prime lens from the company which could fit the Sony E-mount.
The lens itself is made for the APS-C format Sony E-mount, producing a 75mm equivalent focal length. This focal length is ranging into the medium telephoto range, which will be ideal for portrait shots or for those who want a slightly longer reach than the standard 50mm lens.
The lens doesn’t have any type of fancy optical elements, but it does have a multi-layer coating for increasing color and contrast. As is the theme here, this is a fully manual lens with a manual focusing and manual aperture ring, wrapped around an all-metal construction and a reasonably bright f/2 aperture.
The lens is surprisingly sharp at f/2.8, but will need stopping down between f/4-f/8 for the best center to edge sharpness.
3. Meike MK 25mm f/1.8
If you need a lens to produce a wider-than-normal viewpoint, then the Meike MK 25mm f/1.8 is a good option. On APS-C sensor camera bodies, the focal length comes in at 37.5mm, which means you can achieve relatively wide-angle shots without diving into more expensive, superwide lenses.
The Meike MK 25mm has an f/1.8 aperture for producing nice shallow depth of field shots and the minimum focusing distance of 25cm means you can get really close to the action. This is a manual focusing lens, with the optics arranged in seven elements in five groups, wrapped around a full-metal lens barrel and weighing in at only 190g.
The aperture will need stopping down to f/2.8 for sharp results and f/8 for ultimate sharpness. But once you get a handle on the sweet spot of this lens, it produces respectable images for its price point.
4. Meike 35mm f/1.7
The Meike 35mm f/1.7 is another very affordable standard prime lens, which is not so much in the cheap category, but very much budget-conscious. Just like the Neewer above, the Meike 35mm is a lens under the $70 mark, which when mounted on a crop sensor body provides a more or less standard view of 52.5mm.
The lens is also fully manual, with a multi-layer nano-coating to reduce the likes of lens flare and ghosting, along with increasing color and contrast. It also has a full-metal construction, which is not weather-sealed but still feels respectably high quality for its price point.
Although it’s counter-intuitive, a manual only lens will help you practice exposure settings in different environments which will definitely serve you in the long run. The lens itself will need stopping down to f/2.8 for the sharpest results.
This lens may not be the best solution for video work, but for stills it produces very respectable images for it’s asking price.
5. HUABAN 35mm f/1.7 (Budget Winner)
The HUABAN 35mm f/1.7 is one of those lenses that is worth a punt, just to see how it performs. Any glass under this price point is really pushing the boat out in terms of quality levels. This means if this lens was relatively sharp at any aperture point, it would be a bonus.
Focusing and aperture settings are manual in operation on the HUABAN, wrapped around an aluminum lens body weighing in at only 171g. The aperture is respectably wide at f/1.7, which can produce reasonable background blur for portrait shots. The lens needs to be stopped down to at least f/5.6 to get a subject as sharp as the lens allows.
More than anything, the HUABAN 35mm f/1.7 is the type of lens you would buy into as your very first steps into the prime lens world. Especially if you’re on a very limited budget and you’re just testing the waters before laying down your hard earned cash for more expensive options.
Trying Out Best Sony Prime Lenses Under $100
You’ll find a common theme above as the majority of the recommended Sony prime lenses under $100 either fall into the 35mm or 50mm categories. These are the most tried and tested focal lengths and are considered the most versatile. Also, they all have manual workings as autofocus simply costs more money.
In this arena, you will have to make do with some compromises, such as cheaper build quality and inconsistent copies. But if you lean towards the examples at the top of the list, they should provide you with a great start point in the prime lens world.