New Sony SEL 85F f.18 lens. Finally, a short portrait lens for the rest of us.

I'm happy. I love 85mm lenses but I hate paying the outrageous premium for super fast apertures, the pursuit of which ultimately compromises a bit of performance and, for the most part, are not very usable. I'm a lover of sensible, high performance 85mms with sensible maximum apertures. Like the classic 85mm 1.8s from Canon and Nikon which have been in their line ups for decades.

When Sony introduced their line of Alpha translucent mirror cameras such as the a77, one lens that came along for the ride was a much under appreciated 85mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8. It's much, much easier to design in, and manufacture with good precision, a lens with a modest f-stop. The real costs and compromises come in trying to make the fast glass perform.

I snapped up on the 85mm f2.8 lenses and found, as expected, that it was sharp and sassy from wide open on. It weighed about what the current Sony 50mm f1.8 weighs and it focused quickly and accurately. I'd buy one in the FE mount in a second, if Sony offered it...

But for now I will happily line up and pay for the 85mm f1.8 (to be shipping late March) as I expect its performance to be very, very good and, just as important to me, it will be priced so that most of us can actually afford to get one. I'm always a bit pissed when a camera maker adds the showy lenses first and makes us wait for the daily users. 

I'm sure someone can make a good argument for the G Master 85mm f1.4 and the G Master 70-200mm f2.8 but it sure won't be me. I can't imagine having to carry those heavyweight packages around all day long in a shoulder bag when I can have the same, basic image quality and performance is the 85mm 1.8 and 70-200mm f4.0 but at half to one quarter the cost. What am I giving up? Just a prestige aperture that rarely gets used in real life. Certainly not in corporate portraiture where the overwhelming majority of clients expect both the tip of one's nose and one's eyes to both be in focus in the same image....

Is there anything Sony could do to improve their offering of the 85mm f1.8? Hmmm. I've got it! They could re-price it to $495. That would feel just right.


Joel James said...

I am right there with you - the Sigma 85 Art looks tempting, but the incredibly shallow depth of field afforded by it is...well...not totally my cup of tea. The older Canon 85 1.8 stopped down to 2.2 looks great and is totally affordable in comparison.

Dave said...

Funny. I just picked up a used D610 because the price was right, and I have a number of older Nikon lenses hanging around. I was eyeballing a used Sony A7 II, but when I checked out the prices for their "normal guy" line up didn't think I could bankroll them. I'd have preferred the geewiz of the Sony (and video codec) but darn they don't play well with people that have lunch bucket budgets. I threw my $200 50mm 1.8 G lens on the D610 and had a blast.

Anonymous said...

I'm kinda with Dave, I dabbled with Sony's NEX-6 (loved it) and A7r (not so much love) but baulked at the cost of going all in. I'm back with Canon - for now - but miss the EVF and flappy screen so if I win the lottery I will consider reconsidering :)

Jay said...

I have that A Mount 85mm f/2.8 SAM mounted on an LA-EA1 adapter on my a6300. Works well.

Set the Autofocus mode on the a6300 and you will get pretty quick focus. You can, in theory, get Eye AF if you set the focus to Contrast detect, but it is PAINFULLY SLOW.

You do get Face Detect when you have the a6300 in Phase detect focus and set it to AF-S.

I will probably get the native E mount when it ships in March, too.