Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens reviewBy Paul Carroll - Tuesday November 22 2016 Lens Review
Lens options for Sony’s full-frame A7 series of mirrorless cameras are increasing all the time, and the new $498 Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro adds another choice in this popular prime lens focal length. Great for general-use photography and portraiture, the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro also boasts 1:1 macro magnification with a 16cm/6.3-inch minimum focus distance, for high-quality close-up photography. FE-mount lenses also remain compatible with Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras such as the A6300, offering an equivalent 75mm focal length, which remains a good option for portraits and macro work, if a bit long for general use. The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro features both ED and aspherical glass elements for improved performance, as well as dust and moisture resistance, and a focus limiter switch. The focus limiter offers 3 settings, including full, 30cm to infinity, and 16cm to 30cm, with the latter being helpful for reducing the amount of “focus hunting” when using autofocus for macro shots.
- FE / E mount for Sony mirrorless
- F/2.8 to f/16 aperture range
- ED (extra-low dispersion) element
- Aspherical element
- 1:1 magnification with 16cm/6.3-inch minimum focus
- Focus range limiter for macro autofocus
- Dust and moisture resistant
- Rounded 7-blade diaphragm
- Lightweight and portable
- 1:1 macro focusing
- ED (extra-low dispersion) element
- Dust- and moisture-resistant
- Outstanding sharpness from f/4 to f/8
- Well-controlled chromatic aberration
- Some corner shading at all apertures
- Expensive compared to the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8
Overall image quality
Achieving its best overall score of 37 points on the Sony A7R II, the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro achieves 37 P-Mpix of the A7R II’s 42Mp resolution, making this an incredibly sharp lens-camera combination. In fact it’s the third-sharpest lens we’ve tested on the A7R II, just behind the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro with 42 P-Mpix and the Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 with 40 P-Mpix. The FE 50mm f/2.8 costs about half the price of these top two performers, however, making it an attractive option for super-sharp results on the A7R II. Its sharpness on the 36Mp Sony A7R drops to 25P-Mpix, so the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro doesn’t achieve as much resolution potential on Sony’s first-generation high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera, but it’s still a very good score. The inclusion of an ED glass element keeps chromatic aberrations under control, and there’s minimal distortion, as you’d expect from a 50mm prime. The only real image quality drawback is vignetting, with some noticeable corner shading visible at all apertures, including a heavy –1.9Ev at f/2.8.
Specific use case
With exceptional and very nearly uniform sharpness of around 80% acutance at f/2.8, the FE 50mm f/2.8 is a high-quality lens both for shooting portraits and for low-light work on the Sony A7R II. The heavy vignetting at f/2.8 might require some post-production correction depending on the subject and composition, but of course some mild corner shading will often enhance a portrait. For macro photography, the 50mm focal length is slightly wider than many macro lenses, which could be an advantage depending on your subject and background. Sharpness at the minimum f/16 aperture for longer depth-of-field macro shots remains very good with acutance around 70%, too. The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro hits peak sharpness between f/4 to f/8, at which resolution is phenomenal and uniform.
Image quality compared
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro’s overall score of 37 points and sharpness score of 37 P-Mpix compares well to the more expensive Zeiss competition and ranks slightly above the cheaper Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 version. The $998 Carl Zeiss 55mm f/1.8’s improved low-light performance puts it ahead of the FE 50mm f/2.8 overall, and the Zeiss is one of the sharpest lenses we’ve tested with 40 P-Mpix, but the cheaper FE 50mm f/2.8 isn’t far behind. Thanks to its wider f/2 maximum aperture, improved light transmission and low-light performance, the $949 Loxia 2/50 FE also ranks above the FE 50mm f/2.8 overall, but the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro boasts slightly better sharpness (although both are very sharp lenses). The value-option $198 Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 scores very well overall due to excellent low-light performance, and although it’s not quite in the same league as the more expensive FE 50/55mm options when it comes to sharpness, it still offers very good resolution of around 80% at f/8.
Shooting full-frame, a 50mm prime is a really handy option for general use and portrait photography, as well as a relatively lightweight and portable lens. Adding 1:1 macro focusing, the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro offers greater functionality for Sony A7 series owners, making it an even more versatile optic at a sensible $499 price point. Sharpness is outstanding on the Sony A7R II, achieving 37 P-Mpix of the Sony A7R II’s total 42Mp resolution, and it’s the third-sharpest lens we’ve tested on this camera. It’s not as sharp as the Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 and lets in half the amount of light using the maximum aperture, but it’s also half the cost of the $998 Zeiss and offers macro.
For greater insight into the performance of alternatives to the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro, please see our Sony FE 50mm f/1.8, Zeiss Loxia 2/50, Mitakon 20mm f/0.95 and Sony A7R II best prime lenses reviews.