Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Review

May 3, 2017 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 is a new short telephoto prime lens for Sony's 35mm full-frame compact system cameras. It features 9 elements in 8 groups including one extra-low dispersion element to help limit color fringing and chromatic aberrations, a double linear autofocus motor, a rounded 9 blade diaphragm, and a customisable Focus Hold button. The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens is available for £600 / $600 in the UK and the US, respectively.

Ease of Use

Part of the appeal of well-priced 85mm fast primes is their low weight, and at 371g, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 is easily the lightest 85mm lens currently available for Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras. The FE 85mm is also quite a compact lens given its focal range, with a 78mm diameter and 82mm length.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens alongside a Sony A7R II

It’s no surprise that the FE 85mm’s barrel construction is all-plastic, but at least the lens mount is metal, and the optic as a whole feels well made, although we wouldn’t want to drop test it.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM has a round Focus Hold Button which keeps the lens locked to the current focusing distance, useful if you're auto-focusing and don't want the lens to try and find focus again. The preview function can also be assigned to this button through the camera's custom settings.

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 does not feature optical image stabilisation, so it relies on the camera body's own built-in stabilisation.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSFront of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSRear of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens

With no internal image stabilisation or indeed any special extra features, there are no barrel switches to negotiate, leaving you to set focus options from the camera. A large manual focus ring dominates the lens barrel. It’s smooth and precise, though there are no lens stops as manual focussing doesn’t directly actuate the lens elements.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens in-hand

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens with the supplied lens hood fitted

Focal Range

At the 85mm focal length the angle of view is 29 degrees.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS85mm

Focusing

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens has quite a wide focus ring. There are no hard stops at either end of the range, making it a little more difficult to set focus at infinity. Polariser users should be pleased that the 67mm filter thread doesn't rotate on focus.

When it comes to auto-focusing, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 zoom is a fairly quick performer on the Sony A7R II that we tested it with thanks to the double linear autofocus motor, taking about 0.25 seconds to lock onto the subject. We didn't experience too much "hunting", either in good or bad light, with the lens accurately focusing almost all of the time. It is also a very quiet lens when auto-focusing, making it ideal for movie shooting or for candid use in very quiet environments.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as blue or purple fringes along contrasty edges, were not that apparent in our test shots, only appearing in very high contrast areas.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

Light Fall-off and Distortion

With the lens set to its maximum aperture of f/1.8, there is some obvious light fall-off in the corners, requiring you to stop down by at least 2 f-stops to prevent it.

There's virtually no pin-cushion distortion evident either in the RAW files or the JPG files.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSLight fall-off at 85mm

Macro

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 offers a minimum focusing distance of 80cm with a maximum magnification of 0.13x. The following example demonstrates how close you can get to your subject.

Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSSClose-up performance

Bokeh

Bokeh is a word used for the out-of-focus areas of a photograph, and is usually described in qualitative terms, such as smooth / creamy / harsh etc. In the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens, Sony employed an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded blades, which has resulted in appealing bokeh. We do realise, however, that bokeh evaluation is subjective, so we've included several 100% crops for your perusal.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS
   
Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.