Several third-party 50mm lenses for the Sony mount, including the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens, were announced last week. A comparison review is forthcoming, as it’s particularly unusual for native and third-party lenses in the same focal length and aperture to be released back-to-back.
Sony’s G Master line is its highest-end, and the lenses with that classification boast excellent optical characteristics, fast focus, and build quality. The FE 50mm f/1.4 GM does not disappoint in these areas. With a price of $1,299, it’s also more affordable than Sony’s previous 50mm f/1.2 GM, which cost $2,000.
The $700 price difference mostly goes toward the half-stop wider aperture in the 50mm f/1.2 and the bigger glass needed for a wider aperture. The price is also likely higher because the f/1.2 has four XD linear motors, twice as many as the f/1.4, which are required to push the heavier glass of the f/1.2.
Sony’s $1,300 is also $400 more than the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG DN Art lens. While this isn’t a head-to-head review (as mentioned, I’m in the process of writing that piece), it’s with noting that the Sony 50mm f/1.4 GM is lighter and smaller than the Sigma.
The size difference between the two isn’t massive; the Sigma lens is only about 15mm (around half an inch) taller than the Sony, but the weight difference is noticeable. The Sony, which is 144 grams (around a third-of-a-pound) lighter than the Sigma, feels more balanced when mounted to a camera.
The smaller size of the Sony lens becomes obvious when mounted to a Sony body and mounting to gimbal, such as a DJI RS 3 Mini. The 50mm GM makes for a great, compact companion for that diminutive gimbal.
The Sony FE 50mm GM is constructed of 14 elements in 11 groups and has two XA (extreme aspherical) elements and one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element. The bottom line is that these optical components are designed to align and fix incoming light to reduce aberrations.
The number of aperture blades in portrait lenses is significant as it is responsible for the soft background defocus we call bokeh, and this lens has an 11-bladed aperture. Many less-expensive 50mm lenses have seven or nine-bladed apertures, which can still produce good background defocus but, generally, the more blades, the better.
Sony has also employed its new Nano AR II coating, which is designed to reduce (or eliminate) flaring and ghosting, and indeed I’ve found it very hard to cause optical flaring in this lens.
The front is also coated with Flourine, which is claimed to reduce the build-up of dust and debris and oil and water on the front element. Generally, I have considered this type of spec to be primarily marketing-driven. Still, while testing the Sony 50mm and several other lenses, I had only a red cotton t-shirt to clean some dirt off the lens.
The Sony 50mm was nearly dirt-free after a quick wipe of the cloth, but one of the other lenses I was shooting with ended up with red cotton dust stuck along the edge of the front optics and required a dust blower to get it off. So, chalk one up to marketing hype.
While I wouldn’t use the 50mm as a macro, it has a minimum focus distance of 0.14 meters (about 6.3 inches) and a 0.16x magnification when used in autofocus. That means it’s decent at close-up shots but doesn’t resolve like a macro.
Externally the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 GM has a design that’s becoming familiar not only on Sony’s GM lenses but increasingly across the line, starting with the manual aperture ring. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I’m a huge fan of additional manual control surfaces, which is something I miss about the film era.
In addition to the aperture ring, there is an aperture lock switch to prevent the aperture from being moved out of the Auto aperture setting and a click/de-click switch, which is fantastic for video shooting.
There are also two programmable focus hold buttons, which I now use on the a7R V to toggle between subject recognition modes. A traditional manual focus/auto focus switch can also be found on the barrel.
As with all of Sony’s recent GM lenses (and even its recent G-series lenses), the FE 50mm f/1.4 GM is a fast lens. In my tests with the Sony a7R IV, the lens instantly finds the subject’s eyes, can pick out birds and other animals, and locks focus onto quick-moving objects with no problems.
I did have a few instances where the lens wouldn’t grab instantly onto an eye of a subject when they were very close to the lens but still outside what I thought was the minimum focusing distance. I’ve seen this with the Sony a7R V a few times since it was introduced, and it is also an issue that the A7R IV was mainly known for. Once you move back a bit and the system can see the whole face, AF picks the eyeball back up.
This didn’t happen with the 50mm f/1.4 GM every time, so I’m willing to chalk this up to focus from the a7R V as opposed to this particular lens, and I couldn’t make it happen intentionally either. The frequency of this happening was around once every few hundred shots, so the hit rate is still way above average.
Low light focus is exceptionally fast, even without the lens stopped fully wide open, and the 50mm f/1.4 GM focuses more quickly in low light and more accurately than any of the other 50mm lenses I’ve shot with recently—including both the 50mm f/1.2 GM and the Sigma 50mm f/.1,4 DG DN Art lens.
Background blur is (as you’d expect) lovely, with a slightly warm tone to the lens and a nice dropoff between in-focus and out-of-focus areas in a photo. As with any wide-aperture lens, it’s essential that backgrounds not blow out, as an overexposed highlight presents as an attention-grabbing highlight.
Aside from the slightly more remarkable light-gathering ability and a hint of more bokeh-like-bokeh on the 50mm f/1.2 GM, I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation when that would be a better choice.
Photographers shooting with the Alpha 1 will get full 30 frames per second (FPS) performance out of this lens, which is something that can’t be said for third-party manufacturer glass. I’m not sure what the future will look like for Sony’s frame-per-second specs, but with Canon capturing as high as 40 FPS in the R6 Mark II, I’m sure we’ll see faster frame rates, and I expect the G Master lenses to keep up.
This is one of the significant advantages of manufacturer lenses over third-party glass: the lenses and the autofocus systems are designed by the same company, with engineers looking at the same roadmaps. A lot of what’s going into these lenses today is what they’ll need to keep up with tomorrow’s cameras.
The increased emphasis on video in Sony’s product line is why developments like the silent AF motors and de-clickable aperture dials were introduced, resulting in a completely quiet and high-speed video experience. The Sony 50mm GM is a perfect lens for video production, with hyper-accurate autofocus and a consistent focus pull dial for manual focusing.
While the original Sony GM lenses were great performers, Sony’s been hitting their newer lenses out of the park the last few years. Sony’s XD Linear motors were initially found only on the company’s most recent and highest-end telephoto lenses, but they’ve worked their way down the product line. The small size of the motors allows for a lighter lens design. At the same time, Sony’s optical engineering teams seem to be working on reducing the size and weight of the elements while still improving their visual performance.
Even Sony’s G-series lenses have recently boosted performance, and optical quality as the G Master technology trickles down to more consumer lenses.
This lens is meant to perform better optically and in focus operation than the now-aging Sony Planar FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Full-frame. Sony indicated they would not discontinue the Planar due to the cult following that lens has gained. Still, this lens is a better choice for the majority of users.
The fact that it’s $100 less than the current price of the Zeiss-badged Planar is nice, too. You end up with more for less in a smaller package.
Again, while this isn’t intended to be a comparison article, it’s good to note that the Sony Alpha 1’s 30FPS can’t be matched by the (also excellent) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG DN Art lens, and there’s no telling what’s to come in terms of Sony autofocus. A lens that’s mostly future-proof is a good investment for most people.
There are dozens of 50mm lenses available for Sony E-Mount, not counting the number of older lenses designed for other systems that people still shoot with adapters.
Even discounting manual focus or adapted lenses, there are still multiple 50mm lenses with good AF for the Sony platform.
For those with price sensitivity, the 50mm Sigma Art is a fantastic alternative, the only box it doesn’t check is the high-speed 30FPS capture spec, but the $850 price will be enough for many 50mm shooters, okay with that limitation.
For $2,000, the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM is also an excellent choice, though I can think of very few situations in which the f/1.2 aperture would be enough to justify the additional price. High-end portrait and wedding shooters may spring for that lens version, but they would be hard-pressed to see any real-world optical benefits.
Yes, if you want the Sony name on your lens and the future-proofing that the GM label practically guarantees now. The Sony 50mm f/1.4 GM will provide years of excellent service with the fastest capture rates, lightning-fast autofocus, and superb image quality available.