The Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 is a fast prime lens designed for full frame Sony mirrorless cameras. As a landscape photographer I usually shoot with much wider lenses, but a recent trip to Cambodia and Vietnam had me looking for something better suited to travel photography. After considering just about every full frame e-mount option, I narrowed in on the Sony 55mm. I looked online through hundreds of sample images and first hand reviews, and found it was almost impossible to find anyone unhappy with this lens. After two months of constant use, I can say that I’m one of the many very satisfied owners of this impeccable lens. In the following review, I’ll explain why I enjoy using this 55mm so much, and follow up with a few sample photos.
Lens Construction, Handling, And Build Quality:
The Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 is a very sturdy and well built lens. The smooth matte black finish is typical for Zeiss. It’s a look that I absolutely love. At 2.54 x 2.78″, it’s only slightly longer than my beloved Sony 28mm f/2, but at 9.91 oz, it’s almost 3 oz heavier. That 3oz difference is the same weight as the all plastic Rokinon 35mm f/2.8. A slight weight penalty is a price I’m willing to pay for an all metal build and quality glass.
The lens hood for the Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 is a large one. It protrudes quite a bit, and makes this lens look and feel too long on my Sony A7rii. For this reason, I don’t shoot with it often. When capturing street portraits, it’s nice to go unnoticed if possible. The short stature of the 55mm (sans hood) on my a7rii is a very deft combo.
As I mentioned above, the Sony 55mm is a solid metal lens, and this includes the bayonet. This lens is rated as weather and dust resistant, just like the Sony A7rii/iii. It will handle a drizzle, humidity, and dusty locations with aplomb, but don’t go shooting out in a storm. I used this lens in a drizzle on a visit to Halong Bay and during a short rain storm in Hoi An without issue.
The 55mm f/1.8 was designed via collaboration by Sony and Zeiss, and manufactured by Sony in Japan. Quality control is then done by Zeiss to ensure that the high Zeiss standard is met and held.
The Sony 55mm uses 9 rounded blades for a circular aperture that creates some buttery bokeh. You’ll be able to see the bokeh I’m talking about in the photo samples below. For the glass on this lens, Sony uses 7 elements in 5 groups. The elements are coated using the superb ZEISS® T*. This anti-reflective coating minimizes flares and other aberrations. The T* (T-star) coating can sound like a bunch of marketing talk, but I’ve found this 55mm to be extremely resistant to flares. The color rendering, contrast, sharpness, and resolution is also second to none.
The Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 has a lightning fast autofocus that pairs very well with my Sony a7rii to track moving subject in most lighting situations. The ‘hit rate’ on this lens is amazing. While shooting street portraits and travel shots, I very rarely get a second chance to redo a bad photo. Having autofocus this accurate very rarely leaves me feeling like I would need to.
The only negative that I’ll mention about the build and construction of The Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 is with the focusing motor. Sony uses a single linear electronic motor on this lens and it’s attached with flat surface glue. When the glue bond breaks, so does the lens. The good news is very few people have had this happen as it takes massive amounts of use before the bond breaks it’s hold. For lens rental companies like LensRentals.com, it’s a little more common. You can read more about it here.
Specs and Stats:
Dimensions: 2.54 x 2.78″
Weight: 9.91 oz
Filter Thread: 49mm
Focal Length: 55mm
Aperture: f/1.8 – f/22
View Angle: 43°
Minimum Focus Distance: 19.7 inches
Diaphragm Blades: 9, rounded
Image Quality And Performance:
The Sony 55mm has set a new benchmark for sharpness and resolution in my world of photography. It’s going to be difficult for other lenses to stack up when compared to this one. As I mentioned above, the vast majority of my photography is shot using wide angle lenses. When I do go for something a little longer, it’s to capture portraits of people and places. In the section below, you’ll see image samples with a focus on portraits, street photography, bokeh, low light, and autofocus.
Before jumping headlong into landscape photography, I did a lot of street photography. Walking around the city streets of Hanoi, Saigon, and Siem Reap made me remember how much fun it is to compose and capture street portraits. The 55mm focal range is optimal for these shots, as it’s long enough for me to keep my distance, yet short enough to capture the subject’s surroundings.
The combination of a 55mm lens and a maximum f/1.8 aperture really helps me separate the subject for their background. When the subject and the background are far apart, the background will really flatten out. The quality of the bokeh on a lens is key here, as harsh bokeh can be very distracting. The Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 gets things just right.
Street photography is one of my favorite ways to bring cities to life for my readers. It can be incredibly difficult to convey the true vibe and flavor of a locale through structured photos from well known places. If readers wanted that experience, their options are unlimited. Street photography offers something different in that the photographic encounters are random, but at the same time rather ordinary. To capture these everyday moments, the right gear is critical. For me, I like a small camera and lens combo. This helps me move without standing out. I also need a lens to be fast, since flash would kill a naturally lit scene. Finally, the autofocus has to be very accurate, as there are no re-dos. The Sony 55mm did all of this and more during my travels, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
I provided a few sample shots exhibiting the bokeh quality of the Sony 55mm in the sections above, but wanted to add a few more below.
With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, the Sony 55mm is fast, but obviously not as fast as the f/1.4 lens offerings available for Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. The problem with the Sony 50mm and 35mm lenses with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, is that they are bigger, heavier, and more expensive than the Sony 55mm. More importantly, I’ve shot the f/1.8 Sony 55mm in a wide range of low light situations and have yet to feel like I would have truly benefited from a faster lens.
I know I sound like a broken record here as I heap praise on this lens, but much like my opinions thus far, my view on the autofocus of the Sony 55mm is only complimentary. I’ve been able to track people on the street, moving animals, and my hyper toddler with a very high rate of accuracy.
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In some online circles the 50mm lens, or as some would call it, the “nifty-50” is synonymous with cheap builds, amateur photographers, and derivative cliche exposures. This Sony 55mm lens has proven to me that a nifty-50 can be so much more. Although I still prefer to shoot wide, I’ve been reaching for this lens more often than I ever thought I would. At $998.00, this lens is definitely not cheap. Luckily, it’s been out for a few years now and used copies can be found for under $800. Either way, you’re going to feel like you’ve gotten top value for your dollar once you start shooting with this amazing piece of glass.
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