This review is all about the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens, it’s a telephoto prime lens that is ideal for portraiture and somewhat useful for everyday shooting. It has been on my Sony a7riii for almost half of the time since in purchased it and it’s my go to lens for most of the professional work that I do. 85mm on full frame is really a portrait lens and is not a very versatile focal length because you need to get a decent distance away from your subject to get them framed well. The means lens excels with outdoor shooting, or in large indoor spaces where you can get far away from your subject. The 85mm though provides great compression and paired with the 1.8 aperture it can completely obliterate the background of photos into a wonderful blurry background, which is a look I love. For video work this lens is great for getting a close image of your subject or getting b-roll footage that highlights parts of the scene you’re capturing because this lens’ ability to get a very shallow depth of field. In rest of this review I’m going to do a comprehensive overview of the lens, talking about the build quality, the performance in both video and photos and also how it compares to the current options on the market.
As far as the build quality goes this lens is very nice and compact and comes in at a meager 373g, making it a very light weight lens for an 85mm lens for any camera manufacturer. With its light weight though it still has a solid build quality with a hybrid plastic and metal body that feels study in the hand. It is not weather sealed but is advertised to be weather resistant, I’m not terribly confident in that though as it lacks a rubber sealing gasket and I’ve never really taken this lens out for a spin in anything more than a drizzle. A very nice feature this lens does have though is a programable focus button on the side of the lens as well as a manual/auto focus toggle which is strangely missing from many of Sony’s other mid-tier lens, and is a awesome feature I regularly use while shooting.
Image Quality: Sharpness, Minimum Focal distance and Bokeh
Now I’ll move on the to image quality, which is superb, and ranks one of the highest lenses on DXO marks rankings. This lens is exceptionally sharp throughout its aperture range, and when I first got this lens I was blown away how well it performs in non-ideal settings like heavy backlighting and low light. At f1.8 this lens does suffer from some softness, but relatively speaking its very sharp, and as you stop it down to f4.0 it becomes pretty ridiculously sharp, and it pushes my Sony a7riii to its max resolution. Using this lens with flash results in absolutely stellar portraits. Being an 85mm prime, this lenses minimum focusing distance is decently far away, which is 80cm, meaning this lens isn’t going to be getting you any intense macro shots, however, it can still get some decent magnification, and you can always mess around with extension tubes also. This lens is more tailored to portraiture work and it is awesome at blurring out the background of the images. The bokeh produced by this lens is phenomenal, it does have a cats-eye effect on the bokeh balls near then edges of the image however overall, they out of focus areas renders beautifully, and is why I find this lens always ending up on my camera.
Auto-focus performance and Manually focusing
The autofocus performance of this lens is superb and I can’t find any real criticism of it, I’ve taken thousands of photos with this lens and hours of footage and I’ve found its autofocusing is only limited by the cameras ability, it’s snappy and accurate. The manual focusing though is not near as good. It uses a fully electronic focus by wire system, meaning the focus ring and turn around infinitely and has no mechanical interaction with the focus mechanism. This in itself is fine and is how almost all Sony native lenses focus, my issue is the focus ring on my version of the lens has very little resistance making it difficult to get focus super easily. This realistically is a matter of preference though, and it is functionally fine.
Price, Value, and Competition:
The real area where this lens comes into its full glory is its darn good dollar to performance value. It comes in at 600$ American or 800$ Canadian, and regularly goes on sale. I got this lens with my Sony a7riii when I moved back to Sony after using canon for a few years, and I didn’t expect the performance I got from this lens for the price I paid for it. The image quality you get from it feels like a lens that should cost far more. With that said though, I will compare it to the current options on the market, and how they all stack up. (I am only going to be comparing autofocusing lens also)
The most apples to apples comparison native comparison to this lens it the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8. The batis lens shares a very similar size, but weighs a little more and boast a better build quality and weather sealing. In terms of image quality, its roughly the same as the Sony, however the Batis has Zeiss’s lens coatings, theoretically making the Batis have higher contrast in more challenging lighting scenarios. However, the Batis cost twice as much as the sony currently at 1200$ USD, which honestly makes this lens pretty much impossible to recommend.
If you have that kind of cash and want a 85mm there is this lens’ big brother, the Sony GM 85mm f1.4. It comes in three times the price of the f1.8, at 1800$ USD and weighs 820g, which is well over double the weight of the sony f1.8. With this increase in price and weight though you get an aperture of f1.4, making this lens better in low light and providing great subject isolation. Personally, I am tempted to try this lens out one day, however, I have never found myself needing more then f1.8 at 85mm, and I really value smaller lenses when size doesn’t sacrifice on image quality. So the G-master is certainly a great lens, but realistically the 85 f1.8 gets the job done for much less.
The only real current competitor to this lens in my opinion is the Sigma Art 85mm f1.4 for sony E-mount. This is becoming a theme in my videos now that I am always amazed by sigma’s lenses and their 85mm doesn’t disappoint. It costs 1200$, but it is not uncommon for it to go on sale for closer to 1000$. It’s as sharp as the sony GM and has the appealing f1.4 aperture. The real issue with the lens is my normal criticism of all the sigma art lenses on sony right now, and that is that they are just the canon versions with an adapter hard wired on, this doesn’t affect performance, but in everyday use, this shifts the heavy 1.1 kilogram weight of the lens farther away from the camera body, making it not very well balanced and ergonomically an nightmare that I did not enjoy when I had the lens on my camera.
In conclusion though to my review of the lens, the sony 85mm f.18 lens is a great lens, and I absolutely love it. Its small size and extremely good performance makes it honestly a must have for any Sony shooter. It does suffer from a lack or weather sealing, however 85mm primes are really tailored for portraits, which are not usually taken in extreme environments. In perspective with the other option on the market, it is the best value and is more than adequate for professional use and pays itself off very quickly.