Ever since Sony first released its hugely popular mirrorless camera formats, photographers have had a good choice of primes and zoom lenses to fit all budgets. Sony and third-party makers were soon quick on the draw, producing some very credible lenses, with some the very best coming from Sony’s own topline G-Master series.
Today, we will be looking at the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM, which basically has no expense spared when it comes to the build or optic quality. You will have to dig deep to afford one, but if the quality matches the price point, it should be worth every penny.
The design of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM has been kept clean and simple, with just basic features to play with. One standout feature on the lens barrel is the Auto/Manual aperture ring, which can be either controlled via the ring or automatically by the camera.
The aperture ring can be de-clicked via a switch on the lens barrel and rotates in 1/3rd stop increments. The lens barrel also features an AF/MF switch and an AF Hold button, which can be programmed for multiple functions.
The focus ring, which has a manual override, is a focus by wire system and provides a smooth and consistent feel throughout its rotation. It’s also heavily ridged for easy gripping, which should help in cold weather or if you’re wearing gloves.
The lens also comes with its own hood, which has its own handy locking mechanism. This is a great little feature as I’ve lost track of the number of times a lens hood has been knocked, comes loose, and nearly lost. Features like this just give that extra peace of mind. The last thing to mention on the exterior of the lens barrel is the 77mm filter thread, which is a common enough size to fit a good deal of filters.
Inside the lens are some heavyweight features, which wraparound 11 elements arranged in eight groups along with a generous 11-blade rounded diaphragm. Most top-end lenses have nine blades, which in theory should make this lens produce nicely rounded highlights and a sweet background blur. The elements also include one XA element, three extra-low dispersion elements, and a Nano AR coating to cut down on any reflections or lens flare.
The aperture ranges from f/1.4-f/16, with a minimum focus distance of 80cm and an angle of view of 29 degrees. The whole lens being topped off with a total weight of 820g. Not exactly lightweight, but neither the heaviest 85mm prime out there.
The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM in Use
The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM uses the linear SSM (Supersonic Motor) which is quite rapid for small focus movements, but for large focus changes, the system can hesitate. During large focus changes the motor is slightly audible, which is not a problem for still shooters but can be a dealbreaker for the videographers.
However, for static still shots, the AF system is very quick to snap in place. Not the fastest out there, but still a good performer. Action shots and in particular subjects moving rapidly towards the camera can trip up the system with a few missed frames. As this is an ideal portrait focal length lens, coupled with Sony’s Eye AF, the lens locks in fine in this scenario and works equally well down to low light conditions.
As for general lens anomalies, the lens performs very well at the widest aperture. Chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum, which is not always the case with an f/1.4 lens. Due to the Nano AR Coating, the lens produces very good contrast and when stopped down a little has no problem pulling out the full resolution of the camera. The cleanest results for light falloff and distortion are at f/2.8 and above, with f/11-f/16 starting to suffer from diffraction
At f/1.4 the Sony has only very slight softening in the corners and by f/2.8 has great resolution across the frame. There are no complaints from the center sharpness, even when wide open, but as the lens has such a shallow depth of field, anything with more than one subject in the frame needs stopping down to f/5.6 to get everything in focus. Shooting distant subjects at f/2.8 provides great detail and resolution and is a great performer when the light levels start to drop.
The lens is also very good at rendering skin tones past f/2.8, with rich contrast and saturation. The lens has no problem in capturing the smallest of details and when you nail the depth of field, the lens is great at punching out the subject from the background. Which leads us nicely to the bokeh effects, which are rendered beautifully with help from the 11 blade diaphragm. Circular highlights are exactly that, with a smooth and soft blurred background, which is rendered in a very pleasant way.
One great advantage of the f/1.4 aperture is that at medium distances, it works great as an indoor lens capturing action or events. The wide aperture allows you to get more natural shots, which means the lens could be a good alternative to a 70-200mm in the right circumstances. Think along the lines of wedding shoots, public events and indoor sports.
In total, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM renders images with fantastic degrees of resolution, with little to complain about in lens anomalies.
How Does It Compare?
One lens that has been whipping up a storm recently at 85mm is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. It has much of the same workings as the Sony, great optical quality, an f/1.4 maximum aperture, and high-quality rendering of images. Neither have built-in stabilization, but the Sony has the most robust build, is weather-proofed, and has the most seamless fit with a Sony body.
The Sony definitely beats out the Sigma at f/1.4 for chromatic aberration, as the Sigma displays a good degree of purple and green fringing when wide-open. But, when stopped down, both lenses produce very good resolution. The Sigma is a superheavyweight, which may not be as much of a problem on a DSLR body, but on a lighter weight Sony, this could be a dealbreaker in itself.
Both the Sigma and the Sony are fantastic solutions at this focal length, but the Sigma may be the consideration as it is considerably cheaper than the Sony. This goes back to the law of diminishing returns and if the Sony is the right solution for you, it’s really down to your budget and if the extra bit of quality is worth it from the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM.
|Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM||Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art|
|Optics||11 elements/ 8 groups||14 elements/ 12 groups|
It only seems like a few years ago that the lens options for the Sony platform were limited. Now there are 85mm options from Sony and third-party makers, with ever closer levels of quality. Making the decision even harder for a top-quality portrait lens.
For those who want the peace of mind workflow between same-brand lens and camera, will obviously go for the Sony option. Fantastic optics and sharp throughout the range. If you look no further, you won’t be disappointed with this lens.
However, for far less money in some cases, third-party makers such as Sigma are producing great quality for the money. Basically, if you don’t mind the extra expense, the Sony is a fine lens that won’t let you down.