So this is the Sony FE 90 mm F2.8 Macro G OSS and in 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 current options on the market that have come out since its initial release.
This lens at its fundamentals is technically a medium telephoto prime lens, and in functionality has a very similar look to an 85mm in the images it can get, for everyday photography it’s a great portrait lens and long-distance-ish lens. The obvious feature that makes it special though it that it is a 1:1 Macro lens. This means that for example, you are taking a picture of a quarter, it will be able to replicate that quarter to scale on the sensor the same size as it is in real life, so if you use a 42 megapixel camera like the a7riii, you can pull a TONNE of small details in images taken with this lens. Having the combination of the lens being 90mm with a 1:1 macro reproduction makes this lens perfect for capturing subjects are easily startled if you get too close, like bugs and small animals.
Before I get too deep into the images from the lens, I like to talk a bit about the build of the lens itself, and this lens is very very solid. It comes in at a reasonable 602g, which is not light by any means, but it definitely is about norm for Macro lenses, you simply need more glass to focus that close. The lens is made of mainly solid metal, but has some portions of it that are a hardened plastic, but over all the build is marvelous and according to sony ‘a design that prevents dust and moisture from entering the lens.’ However, I do not plan on putting that to the test at all.
There a few features of this lens’ build that really set it apart from other options for sony and are the reasons I got this lens even though it’s the oldest macro lens for the sony. The best feature in my experience is the manual focusing clutch, in order to engage auto or manual focus, you can just pull or push on the focus ring and it will switch to the limited focused mode. Not only is this is terribly satisfying to use, but in practice it is very handy, because I very often use manual focus, however I like to switch to auto focus if my subject is moving, and you can bounce between them so so easily with this lens. The next nice feature is the focus limiter switch and steady shot toggle, and its worth mentioning this lens is fully stabilized, which makes a difference if you are shooting handheld, which I often do. The last nice feature is that the lens is a fixed length, so the front element doesn’t move, which means that if you like to shoot video, its very easy to put ND filters on the front.
Now I’ll move on the to image quality, and this is what make the lens worth considering. I’ll impose some video here and sample images I have from using the lens. The main thing I use this lens for is macro shots, even though realistically you can use this lens for anything, I generally just use my smaller 85 f1.8 or more versatile 70-200 in any situation I am not shooting macro.
But enough faffing about it, this lens is insanely sharp, like, its one of the sharpest lenses ever. At 2.8 this lens is sharp enough, and honestly is perfectly functional for any professional work, but realistically you will be using this lens at usually f5.6 and up most of the time for macro shots, and the lens is just beautiful at that range. I am not really qualified to make any criticisms of this lens because it performs absolutely as well as I need it to in any situation, and in my opinion is perfect. The vignetting is marginally apparent when at f2.8, but its not an issue. There is some chromatic aberration that is noticeable wide open at f2.8, however it isn’t something that gets in the was of sharp images when you stop it down slightly. The out of focus areas from this lens are fantastically smooth and you can isolate subjects with ridiculous ease, I have no real good lens in my possession currently though that I can compare to, so the best I can do is show you the images I have here and let them speak for themselves.
Auto-focus performance and Manually focusing
Most of the time when you are using this lens it will most likely be in manual focus, and as I said early, this lens is a dream to use manually focusing, and is by far my favorite sony lens to use for manual focusing. But this is an auto focusing lens, and the biggest con it’s somewhat lack lustre autofocusing. I don’t mean to say this lens doesn’t autofocus quickly enough, it absolutely does, and by using the focus limiter appropriately you can really use this lens in decently fast pace situations, however, this lens will always take a little bit longer than any non-macro lens because of the huge range the lens can focus at and how much glass is inside it. I also find that the auto focus is very accurate, which is mainly thanks to Sony cameras being mirrorless, but it never really misses focus when it says its in focus. Overall though, if sony does update this lens in the future, a better autofocus motor is the only area I can really see there being a significant improvement in besides maybe making the APO-chromatic.
Price, Value, and Competition:
In conclusion though, this review is pretty simple thankfully compared to my last few, this lens is very good at what it does, it’s a reliable, well built, and a ridiculously sharp Macro lens that I have no difficulty recommending if you are looking for a macro lens for your kit. My only real issue is if you do want to use this as your ‘do it all’ every day lens, it is a little frustrating using the slightly slower autofocus when I know I have faster lenses at the same focal length in my kit. The rest of this post is going to be looking at the most important part for you most likely, and that is the price of this lens compared to the other options on the market. It comes in at a decent 875 US or 1500 Canadian, but I got my copy on sale for 1200. This price point I think is pretty reasonable and the lens is a good value overall, but there are a few options on the market that are a better price that are also true 1:1 macro lenses for sony full frame.
I’ll start off with the other macro lens from sony, the Sony 50mm f/2.8 Macro. This lens is 500$ US, making it already a compelling option. This lens is smaller with a compact build, the key differences are that this lens focuses quite a bit slower and just overall is not as sharp. The biggest qualm I have with this lens is just that it is a 50mm lens, which makes you need to get very close to you subject to get the shot. So I think if you want a more versatile lens for you money, I think the 50mm with be great for you, but as a dedicated macro lens, this lens is not as ideal.
Next up is the option from sigma, the Sigma Art 2.8/70 for sony FE. It comes in again cheaper than the 90mm at 580$ US. This lens though is a pretty much completely different beast, in terms of sharpness, the Sigma is able to almost keep up with the sony, but the biggest difference is that the sigma lens’s barrel focuses externally, so you end up with a very long lens when you are focusing at a 1:1 ratio. And the auto-focusing is significantly slower and louder than the near silent autofocusing of the sony. So I think if you are doing some more slow paced dedicated macro work, the sigma is a ok choice, but for any subject that is alive, or anything non-macro shooting, I wouldn’t recommend using this lens and I think the sony is absolutely worth the extra cost.
The last lens I want to compare to isn’t actually a 1:1 macro lens, or even a auto focusing lens, it is the Voigtlander Macro 65mm F2 APO-Lanthar. This lens is more expensive than the sony, coming in at 1000 US, so this lens isn’t going to be winning the value game, but what it does do well is the sharpness, and this is known to be one of the sharpest lenses ever made, and is a rival to the sony 90mm. It is fully manual though and has a very nice compact build and the most notable feature is that it is an Apochromatic Optical Design, meaning there is no chromatic aberration in the images from this lens. The reason I mention this lens is because if you are looking for a more tradition shooting experience with a beautiful lens, this lens may be a good choice. But in terms of functionality as a macro lens, the sony 90mm is going to be easier to use and is actually lighter than this lens.
So that’s it for the review and comparisons, and what it really comes down to is your budget I think, the 90mm is a great lens but quite expensive, and if you are looking into stepping into macro photography, it’s a very expensive lens to just buy on a whim. With that said, the sony 50mm and sigma 70 are much more affordable but have their drawbacks if you are going to be keeping those lenses long term. What I recommend if you are starting off is to actually just get a couple of ‘extension tubes’ for your lenses you already own to practice getting some pseudo-macro shots to see if you like it, and then if you go ahead and choose what lens to buy.