Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

FE Full-Frame Planar T✻

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Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss FE Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 (fits Sony E-mount only, 72mm filters, 27.5 oz./778g, 1.5'/0.45m close-focus, about $1,498). bigger. I got mine at B&H. I'd also get it at Adorama, at Amazon or at Crutchfield.

This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Sony and Zeiss do not seal any of their boxes, so never buy at retail or any source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, dropped, damaged or used lens, a customer return or if the warranty has already been registered to someone else online! The approved sources I use ship from secure, remote automated warehouses where salespeople or other customers never, ever get to touch your lens before you do, and they have the best prices, selection, service and return policies.

 

September 2017    Sony  Sony Lenses  Zeiss  Canon  Nikon  LEICA  Fuji  All Reviews

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8

Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8

Why Fixed Lenses Take Better Pictures

 

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Katie at Lunch at Deemer's

Katie at Lunch, 26 August 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.8 at 1/125 at Auto ISO 100, Perfectly Clear. bigger, full-resolution or camera-original © file.

Great bokeh at f/1.8, and super-sharp, too:

Katie at Lunch at Deemer's

1,200 x 900 pixel crop from above.

What more could we ask for?

 

Introduction

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The Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ FE 50 f/1.4 is a extraordinary lens optically, but it's also big, fat, heavy and expensive.

It's a fast normal lens for Sony's E-Mount cameras, both full-frame and APS-C. If you don't mind hauling it around, it's the best 50mm you can get for your Sony. Its images are superb.

The reason we pay so much for this heavy thing for our lightweight cameras is because it's ultra-sharp corner-to-corner, even wide-open at f/1.4, and has great bokeh where it's not in focus.

It has an electronic manual focus ring, that if activated in the camera, can allow manual focus.

Likewise, the aperture ring is electronic. Whether or not it works depends on how you set your camera.

 

Good

● Autofocuses over the entire frame on an A9.

● Extremely sharp, even in the corners wide-open at f/1.4.

● No visible distortion.

● Great bokeh.

● The diaphragm is silent as it operates on a silent camera.

● Fast f/1.4 aperture for really low light.

 

Bad

● Big.

● Heavy.

● Autofocus is quiet, but not silent.

● Manual focus ring is electronic, not direct mechanical.

● $1,500.

 

Compatibility

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This works on all Sony E-mount cameras, full-frame and APS-C crop-sensor. This includes all the variations of NEX, A9-, A7-, A6xxx and A5xxx series cameras.

It will not work on any Sony A-mount DSLR or any Minolta MAXXUM 35mm SLR of any kind. Those use the old A mount which was actually the Minolta MAXXUM mount from 1987.

 

Format

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It's a full-frame lens and I'm reviewing it as such.

It also works great on cropped-sensor cameras.

 

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 FE. bigger.

 

Specifications

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Name

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 FE. bigger.

Sony calls this the Zeiss Planar T✻ FE 1,4/50 ZA.

    Zeiss: Brand name of famous German lens company. (Lens is actually made by Sony under license in Thailand; it's not made by Zeiss.)

    Planar: Zeiss' trade name for a normal lenses.

    T✻: Zeiss' trademark for multicoating, standard on all camera lenses of all brands since the 1970s.

    FE: Full frame coverage lens for Sony's E-Mount cameras.

    ZA: Solidarity with South Africa.

Sony Part Number: SEL50F14Z.

 

Optics

Sony Zeiss internal construction

Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 T✻ internal diagram. Advanced Aspherical, ED and Aspherical elements.

12 elements in 9 groups.

2 aspheric elements, one of which Sony calls "Super Aspheric."

Internal focussing.

It's multicoated, which Zeiss calls T✻.

Sony says it's a "refined double-Gauss design incorporating two aspherical elements, including one precision AA (advanced aspherical) element, works with an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element to suppress field curvature and distortion while maintaining outstanding image-wide resolution and contrast from the widest aperture at any focusing distance."

 

Close Focus

1.5 feet (0.45 meters) from the image plane.

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:6.7 (0.15x).

 

Diaphragm

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 . bigger.

11 rounded blades.

Stops down to f/16.

The diaphragm is silent as it operates on a silent camera.

Sony FE Zeiss 50/1.4 Diaphragm

 

Coverage

Full frame 24 × 36mm, as well as smaller formats.

 

Focal Length

50mm.

When used on an APS-C camera, it sees angles of view similar to what a 75mm lens sees when used on a full-frame or 35mm camera.

 

Angles of View

47° diagonal on full-frame 24 × 36mm.

32° diagonal on APS-C.

 

Hard Infinity Focus Stop?

No.

You have to let the AF system focus at infinity.

 

Focus Scale

No.

 

Depth-of-Field Scale

No.

 

Infra-Red Focus Index

No.

 

Aperture Ring

Yes, electronic.

 

Filter Thread

72mm, plastic.

 

Hood

Sony ALC SH143 Hood

Sony ALC SH143 hood. bigger.

ALC-SH143 plastic bayonet lens hood included.

 

Sack

Sony Zeiss 50mm bag

Included unpadded drawstring vinyl sack. bigger.

Unpadded drawstring vinyl sack, included.

 

Size

3.29" (83.5 mm) diameter by 4.25" (108mm) extension from flange.

 

Weight

27.461 oz. (778.5 g), actual measured.

Sony specifies 27.5 oz. (778 g).

 

Included

Lens.

ALC-F72S front and ALC-R1EM rear cap.

ALC-SH143 lens hood.

Sack.

Paperwork.

 

Quality

Made in Thailand.

 

Sony's Model Number

SEL50F14Z.

 

Announced

July 2016.

 

Price, USA

September 2017: varies between $1,398 and $1,498 on different days.

 

Packaging

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE box

Box, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4. bigger.

Microcorrugated cardboard box which holds the lens in its vinyl sack in bubble wrap.

 

Performance

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Compatibility

Format   Specs    Performance   Usage

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Overall    Auto & Manual Focus   Bokeh

Distortion   Ergonomics   Falloff    Filters

Flare & Ghosts   Lateral Color Fringes

Macro   Mechanics   Sharpness

Spherochromatism   Sunstars

Image Stabilization

 

Overall

The Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 Sony's sharpest and best E-mount full-frame 50mm lens — but it's big, heavy and expensive.

 

Focus

Performance          top

Autofocus

Autofocus is fast and accurate, but it's not instantaneous and it's not silent as it is with the 24-240mm.

It makes a sliding sound as it autofocuses, far from completely silent like some of Sony's other lenses.

Sony and Zeiss claim an "SSM Super Sonic wave Motor." While the motor may or may not be silent, the lens elements sliding around inside the barrel are not. 

 

Manual Focus

It focuses by wire, and since autofocus is so great, I don't know why I'd use manual focus for anything other than to keep the focus locked.

 

Bokeh

Performance          top

Bokeh is superb. It's one of the main reasons to spend $1,500 on this lens.

Bokeh is the quality, or softness, of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus.

Here's a sample shot wide open:

Sony Zeiss FE 50mm  Bokeh

Pops commanding the GL550, 26 August 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 at 1/640 at Auto ISO 100, Perfectly Clear. bigger or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution files properly).

 

And here's a shot at f/1.8:

Katie at Lunch at Deemer's

Katie at Lunch, 26 August 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.8 at 1/125 at Auto ISO 100, Perfectly Clear. bigger, full-resolution or camera-original © file.

You can see some green fringes in the soft backgrounds of each of these shots caused by spherochromatism. This helps soften background vegetation even more.

 

Distortion

Performance          top

Even with Distortion Correction turned off, the Zeiss FE 50 1.4 has no visible distortion.

It corrects in Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool with a value of +0.2 at 3 meters if you're doing something really critical, or just turn on Distortion Correction.

 

Ergonomics

Performance          top

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4. bigger.

This is a big, fat lens, and it's easy to shoot. The front third is a manual focus ring. The focus ring turns well, but it only does something if you set your camera just right.

The AF/MF switch is too low; you have to move your thumb down to move it.

The aperture ring is big, flashy and beautiful, but not as functional as it could be. It's purely an electronic encoder, not a mechanical ring. It looks great, but it also requires a long turn to change it. It has too many clicks and it's too heavily damped. All the clicks are equa; the third stops are no more deeply detented than the full stops.

You can disable the aperture ring clicks with a slider on the lower left of the barrel.

The aperture ring is ignored unless you're in a camera mode where it has effect.

Most, if not all, Sonys, ignore the aperture ring in P mode. Instead of working properly and just forcing the system to the selected aperture as cameras like Fuji and Contax do, Sony cameras simply ignore the ring unless you're in a mode where you need to set the aperture.

My A9 properly selects all apertures to f/1.4 in program mode.

 

Falloff

Performance          top

Falloff is completely invisible as shot on the Sony cameras which correct for it by default. If you go to the trouble of turning it off and then go shooting gray fields looking for it as I've done below, yes, it has visible falloff at f/1.4, which goes away at f/2. This is excellent all around.

Here I've exaggerating it by shooting a gray field and showing it on a gray background:

 

Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 falloff on full frame.

f/1.4
f/2
f/2.8
Shading correction ON by default Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff
Shading correction deliberately turned off Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff Nikon MMmm f/FF falloff

© 2017 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Filters, use with

Performance          top

Filters work GREAT.

On full-frame I can stack several normal 72mm filters with no vignetting!

Go ahead and use all your standard rotating grad filters and polarizers; there's certainly no need for expensive thin filters here.

 

Flare & Ghosts

Performance          top

There are some ghosts and flare if you do silly things like shoot dark trees with the direct light of the sun in one corner of the frame as I've done here. The good news is that there isn't much penalty for leaving a filter on the lens.

This is reasonable performance; remember that this lens is far more complex (12 elements) than a conventional 50mm f/1.4 (7 elements).

Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 Flare and Ghosts

Ghosts at f/16 with no filter. bigger.

 

Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 Flare and Ghosts

Ghosts at f/16 with a single-coated filter. bigger.

 

Lateral Color Fringes

Performance          top

There are no fringes as shot with most Sony camera's Chromatic Aberration Correction left ON.

Even if you go to the trouble of turning it OFF, there is only the tiniest and nearly invisible amount of red/cyan fringing on the sides.

This is superb performance.

 

Macro

Performance          top

Macro doesn't any closer than any other normal 50mm lens from the 1970s.

The good news is that it's still sharp at f/1.4 (superb!), but that strong spherochromatism can put strong color fringes on edges that aren't in perfect focus.

Here's as close as you can get on full-frame. Cropped sensors will appear to be closer.

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE macro performance

Kienzle Flieger Automat 800/2843, 26 August 2017, at close-focus distance at f/1.4. bigger or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).

 

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE macro performance

1,200 × 900 pixel crop from above. bigger or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).

If this crop is about 6" (15cm) wide on your screen, then the complete image printed at this same extreme magnification would be about 20 × 30" (50 × 75cm).

If this crop is about 12" (30cm) wide on your screen, then the complete image printed at this same extreme magnification would be about 40 × 60" (1 × 1.5 meters).

 

Mechanics

Performance          top

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4. bigger.

The Sony Zeiss FE 50 is a metal shell protecting plastic innards. It looks nice, but doesn't feel that tough in-hand. It feels like a metal vanity shell over a plastic lens.

Sony claims a "sealed dust and moisture-resistant design."

Zeiss claims "Robust and weatherproof metal construction," but "weatherproof" is a dangerous word to use around American lawyers.

 

Filter Threads

Plastic.

 

Hood Bayonet Mount

Plastic.

 

Front Barrel

Thin ring in front of focus ring: anodized aluminum.

 

Focus Ring

Anodized aluminum.

 

Internals

Feels like plastic.

 

Rear Barrel

Metal.

 

Bottom Bumpers

Yes, a bit of plastic on the bottom of the front of the lens and another at the back of the fat part of the lens help prevent wearing through the black anodization to the bright aluminium underneath when you set this on a table when mounted to a body.

 

Identity

Engraved and filled with paint on metal ring inside filter threads, and engraved on top of the barrel.

Painted on the bottom of the barrel.

 

Dust gasket at mount

No.

 

Mount

Chromed metal.

 

Markings

Mostly half engraved and filled with paint, and the rest is simply painted.

 

Serial Numbers

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 . bigger.

 

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 FE. bigger.

Zeiss' serial number is engraved on the front identity ring.

Sony's completely different serial number is on a cheesy sticker sloppily glued to the bottom of the barrel.

 

Date Code

None found on the lens, but it is printed on the box as P/D (Production Date) by month and year:

Made in Thailand

Made in Thailand. bigger.

For this date to apply to your lens, be sure that the serial number in the middle of the numbers under the second bar code matches Sony's serial number on the sticker on the bottom of your lens.

 

Noises When Shaken

None. This is a tight lens.

 

Made in

Thailand.

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 FE. bigger.

Sony cheats by putting a "Tokyo, Japan" sticker to the left of the other data at the bottom of the barrel above the lens mount where people will see it, but shamefully hiding the important "MADE IN THAILAND" truth invisibly molded in black-on-black on the back of the lightshield on the back of the lens where you'll never find it except with the lens uncapped and off your camera, with a good flashlight and a good pair of eyes:

Made in Thailand

Made in Thailand. bigger.

 

Sharpness

Performance          top

This is the sharpest 50mm you can buy for your Sony, but image sharpness depends more on you than your lens, and lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers.

It's the least skilled hobbyists who worry about this and waste the most time blaming fuzzy pictures on their lenses, while real shooters know that few photos ever use all the sharpness of which their lenses are capable due to subject motion and the fact that real subjects are rarely perfectly flat.

With this warning, yes, this Zeiss is super-sharp corner-to-corner, even wide-open at f/1.4, presuming you have everything in perfect focus:

Grass growing

Grass growing, 26 August 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 at 1/2,500 at Auto ISO 100, as shot. bigger or camera-original © file.

It doesn't matter how sharp it is if it's a boring picture. Say something!

 

Umbrella

Umbrella at work, 26 August 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 at 1/3,200 at Auto ISO 100, as shot. bigger or camera-original © file.

This is shot from inside the umbrella, and the panel is sloped away from you at the bottom. You'll see that it's ultra-sharp, even wide-open here at f/1.4, from side-to-side where it's in focus, and the educated eye will see the colored effects of spherochromatism above and below where the fabric is closer and then farther away than than the plane of focus.

 

Decorative Fountain

Decorative Fountain, 04 September 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/2 at 1/50 at Auto ISO 100, split-toned print. bigger or camera-original © file.

 

Vines growing

Vines growing, 26 August 2017. Sony A9, Sony Zeiss FE 50mm f/1.4 at f/2.2 at 1/60 at Auto ISO 100, as shot. bigger or camera-original © file.

Sharp corner-to-corner, even almost wide-open.

 

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE MTF at 200mm
Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE MTF at 200mm
MTF at f/1.4 at 10 cyc, 20 cyc and 40 cyc/mm.
MTF at f/8 at 10 cyc, 20 cyc and 40 cyc/mm.

 

Spherochromatism

Performance          top

The Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE's biggest optical flaw is strong spherochromatism, also called "color bokeh" by laymen.

Spherochromatism is what causes colored fringes on slightly out-of-focus highlights, usually seen as green fringes on backgrounds and magenta fringes on foregrounds.

It is an advanced form of chromatic aberration in a different dimension than lateral color. Spherochromatism is most commonly seen in fast lenses of moderate focal length — like 50mm f/1.4 lenses — when shooting contrasty items at full aperture. It goes away as stopped down.

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE spherochromatism

Kienzle Flieger Automat 800/2843, 26 August 2017, at f/1.4. bigger or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).

 

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE spherochromatism

1,200 x 900 pixel crop from above. bigger or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).

See how the background markings are fringed with cyan and the foreground are fringed with red? That's spherochromatism.

 

Sunstars

Performance          top

Sunstars are great! We get sunstars at just about every aperture, and the 11-bladed diaphragm gives us exquisite 22-pointed stars.

Better than I'd expect with Sony's claim of "circular aperture," the blades act like they're straight and give us nice, sharp points.

Click any to enlarge:

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Sunstars

 

Image Stabilization

Performance          top

There is no optical image stabilization.

It's intended to work sensor-based stabilization in most Sony cameras.

 

Usage

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There is a slide switch to engage or disengage the aperture clicks:

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 FE. bigger.

 

And here's the Auto/Manual focus slide switch:

Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 FE

Sony Zeiss Planar T✻ 50mm f/1.4 FE. bigger.

 

Recommendations

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This is a big, fat, expensive lens that puts optical supremacy ahead of all else. While it is optically superior in the laboratory, in real-life photography it's rare that you'd see any difference between images from this lens and the ultralight Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 that costs one-sixth as much and weighs less than one-quarter of what this beast weighs.

This is a lens for a superior man, like the LEICAMAN, who has earned the right to own only the very best of everything.

A lens this good deserves the very best protective filter, which is the 72mm Hoya multicoated HD3 UV, which uses hardened glass and is coated to repel dirt and fingerprints.

For less money, the B+W 72mm 010 is an excellent filter, as are its multicoated version and the basic multicoated Hoya filters, but the Hoya HD3 is the toughest and the best.

Filters last a lifetime, so you may as well get the best. The Hoya HD3 stays cleaner than the others since it repels oil and dirt, and 10 years from now you'll still be using your filter on your next lens.

I got my Zeiss 50/1.4 at B&H. I'd also get it at Adorama, at Amazon or at Crutchfield.

Don't ever buy an exotic lens like this at a local, retail or chain store since it will have been played with by everyone before you pay full price for it as "new." Neither Sony nor Zeiss seal their boxes in any way, so never buy at retail or any source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, dropped, damaged, demo or otherwise used product, a customer return or if the warranty has already been registered to someone else online. The approved sources I use ship from secure, remote automated warehouses where salespeople or other customers never, ever get to touch your lens before you do, and they have the best prices, selection, service and return policies.

Thanks!

Ken, Mrs. Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

More Information

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06-10 Sep 2017