A 50mm prime lens will always be the go-to standard for any type of photography. This focal length provides a happy medium between a relatively wide view and the ability to get in close when needed. The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA is one such lens, which offers a fast aperture and some of the lovely design principles that come straight from ZEISS.
As this lens is designed to be a one-stop solution for most shooting scenarios, it has to provide the best quality possible, especially considering the price. With so much competition in this arena, it will be interesting to see how Sony measures up in the real world and against the competition.
These days, high-end optics take precedence over a compact form, which is why the Sony weighs in at 778g and has a length of 10.8cm. When the lens is fitted to the likes of the Sony a7R II, it feels rather front heavy. But with sufficient hand cradling, it is easy to work with over long periods of time.
As expected from this quality of the lens, it has a full metal lens barrel, which has been dust and moisture-sealed against the elements. Most of the lens barrel is taken up with the focusing ring, which is also accompanied by a manual aperture ring split into third-of-a-stop increments with an on-off switch.
The other main feature on the lens barrel is the standard AF/MF switch. Full-time manual override is not featured, but at least the switch is there if you need to minutely tweak the focus in manual mode.
Optically, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA comprises 12 elements arranged in nine groups. This arrangement is wrapped around the ZEISS Planar design, which features an advanced aspherical and a regular aspherical element. They’ve thrown in an extra-low dispersion element and the renowned Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating to increase image clarity and definition.
The Sony can also be used on crop sensor camera bodies, providing an equivalent focal length of 75mm. On crop sensor type cameras the lens provides a 32-degree viewing angle, rather than 47 degrees when fitted to full-frame cameras.
If you want to use the Sony in manual focusing mode, the focusing ring doesn’t have any hard stops to accurately focus to infinity. However, the focusing ring is very smooth to turn and very accurate for setting precise focus. Autofocusing is where this lens excels, being extremely fast to lock onto a subject. The focusing system is also extremely quiet, which makes it a very good solution for video applications.
When it comes to the usual amount of lens anomalies, Sony deals with chromatic aberration very well. The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA only displays small amounts of purple fringing on very high-contrast areas with the aperture wide open. The lens also displays a small amount of vignetting or light fall-off in the corners at the maximum aperture of f/1.4. This effect quickly goes away when the aperture is stopped down to f/5.6.
With any type of lens that has a maximum aperture of f/1.4, low-light capabilities are a prerequisite, as is the standard of bokeh. Sony has a higher than normal, 11-blade rounded diaphragm, which is very adept at producing a very smooth background blur. The extra few diaphragm blades help in producing rounded highlight balls, which only turn into cat’s eye shapes at the very edges of the frame.
In terms of overall sharpness, the lens has a relatively good resolution in the center of the frame at f/1.4, increasing slightly when stopped down to f/2 and producing the best results at f/2.8. The edges of the frame are only a touch behind in definition at f/1.4, with plenty of clarity from f/2.8 and upwards. For total edge-to-edge sharpness, the best possible settings came in at f/4-f/11, and at f/16 diffraction starts to take a toll.
Overall, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA produces a nice, neutral definition, with colors and contrast being not too oversaturated. This is clearly a very high-quality 50mm prime lens, which will produce excellent results even in low-light conditions.
How the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Compares
There’s always a dilemma when you reach this price point: should you spend a bit more or a bit less? To gain just a slight increase in all areas you’ll have to spend quite a bit more money, so we have opted for the slightly more cost-effective ZEISS Loxia 50mm f/2, which provides excellent image quality and all the usual ZEISS optical niceties.
The ZEISS Loxia doesn’t have as wide an aperture, but it is a far lighter lens weighing in at only 320g. This lens is also manual focusing only, which may be a deciding factor to some. But when this lens is in focus, it can provide equal amounts of sharpness and character to a Sony 50mm. As usual, it’s a good idea to try out both of these lenses before you buy to see which one you prefer to work with.
|Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA||ZEISS Loxia 50mm f/2|
|Diaphragm Blades||11 rounded||10 rounded|
|Min. Focusing Distance||45cm||45cm|
The Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Is a Prime Lens in More Ways Than One
There’s no denying that the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA is an extremely well-built lens, designed for regular use. The lens may feel initially quite heavy, but in practice, the extra cradling needed is not as tiresome as you may initially think. The build quality is excellent and with the high degrees of weatherproofing, the lens can be used for outdoor photography without needing to be babied.
The lens also provides very good sharpness levels at f/1.4, but really starts to stand out from f/2.8 and upwards. When the aperture is set to f/5.6 the lens cannot be faulted for its sharpness, making it an equal to other 50mm lenses in this category. It’s a shame the lens doesn’t have a full-time manual override, but at least the autofocusing system is extremely quick to react and lock onto a subject.
The price point of the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA may seem initially high, but it also delivers in every department. This makes the lens one of the go-to standard primes for the Sony platform.