There is a latent GAS sufferer somewhere within me that would have liked to at least take that new f/1.2 out for a spin. He would already be gathering gear to trade towards this f/1.2 and doing the gear value calculations in his head. Would have been fun. I miss that manic so and so even though he wreaks havoc on my bank account and occasionally trades lenses that are repurchased later.
Well… That latent GAS sufferer is back.
I have been actively avoiding this lens since its release. Like I also said in that earlier post:
I do see why this lens is a big deal. In today’s full frame mirrorless landscape a full frame 50mm f/1.2 is a must. Canon and Nikon have already released theirs. Sony had to counter, especially after Leica and Nikon theorized about the limitations of Sony’s E mount and brighter AF lens apertures. And as Sony usually does they did not just answer, but did so decisively with the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM.
I had survived reviews like this one from Manny Ortiz…
…even though as he pointed out:
- Compared to the Canon and Nikon offerings the Sony variant is:
- Smaller and lighter.
- As good or better optically. Pin sharp across the frame wide open with little vignetting.
- Has an aperture ring that is de-clickable by a switch.
- Focuses faster.
- Less expensive.
And I remained complacent up until recently. So what happened? This story has a familiar start.
So I walked into my local camera store.
Was rambling away with the folks there and then I looked down and saw it in the display case.
At first I thought, hah! I do not even have a Sony body on me so I am… dang it, they have Sony bodies in the used gear case.
Could not use the SD Card formatted for the camera I had with me since I had some shots from the day I wanted to keep. No reviewing later. But it turns out even that was not necessary. What I noticed right off the bat:
- As reported in reviews it is one of the fastest stills focusing lenses I have ever used. Which is amazing considering the aprture spec.
- A quick video test confirmed the same AF speed there also.
- A quick punch in on the borrowed A7RIII showed it was as sharp as everyone reported wide open.
- As expected it has that wonderfully thin depth of field.
- But the biggest surprise was this… It is not nearly as large and heavy as I expected.
Quite a bit smaller and lighter than the closest AF f/1.2 FE lens I had tried up to this point, the SIGMA DG 35mm f/1.2 Art. While impressed by the spec and performance the SIGMA is on the other side of the ‘this thing is too big and heavy for daily use’ tipping point. I find that the Sony is not a chore to use and easily fits in a normal camera bag lens space without adjustments.
As I began to swoon I attempted to bail while telling the folks at the shop that one of two things was about to happen:
- I dodged the bullet and the crisp December air would clear my head once I left the store.
- I would go home and peruse my menagerie of gear for a trade purge of massive proportions.
Yeah… Option 2 happened. I am not as bothered about all of this as I had thought I would be. My reasoning was fairly sound actually. As sound as the reasoning for any camera gear can be anyway.
I have and have had a number of different f/1.8 or faster 50mm-ish lenses, but while all had a certain purpose they all also had a downside. For me anyway. Here is a run-down followed by a comedian’s joke.
Purpose: Thin DOF and low light performance. And it sure does deliver.
Downsides: No AF and still managed to weigh near as much as the Sony 50mm f/1.2 G Master and felt less well balanced as well. Due to FE mount it is not possible to employ AF like the significantly less expensive M mount…
Purpose: Ridiculously thin depth of field, great low light performance, and AF courtesy TECHART.
Downside: While it is a fun lens, due to struggles with moving subjects and low light conditions like those above this lens is not accessible enough to be used when you just want the shot.
Purpose: Near 7Artisan levels of low light gathering and thin depth of field with better AF.
Downside: Better AF than TECHART is not a ringing endorsement. (The new one
will likely be better is no better according to initial reviews. Seems they kept the original AF tech instead of upgrading to their newer AF tech which performed much better on the 35mm and 85mm. An odd omission if you ask me. AF was the main reason why I did not keep the first generation version after two tries.)
Purpose: Reasonable weight, size, and film-like IQ and colors. I prefer it to the faster, but larger and slower focusing Rokinon/Samyang 50mm f/1.4 above. Much preferred to the larger and slower focusing Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 mentioned below.
Downside: Not much actually. Does not feel “special” compared to some other lenses on this list is about all I can say.
Do not buy this lens. That is all. Ok… A little more. Can squeeze out a proper pic with it now and then,…
…but IQ is hit or miss most of the time and the AF with this lens ruins one of the best Sony features which is swift and accurate AF. Again, hit and miss. (Update: A firmware update improved things immensely I must say. A valid option now.)
Honorable mention 1: Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8
Costs too much for an f/1.8 lens. Personal preference. That is all I have got.
Honorable mention 2: Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA
Have read that it is a good lens, but has some aberration issues and that the AF is not top tier due to its vintage. Almost as large as and priced too close to the f/1.2.
Add in some other lenses of varying spec and performance and focal length over time. My thinking was that since there was no one lens that could do all things that I would acquire a lens for each purpose.
But after I finally did a quick test drive with the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master an old Ellen DeGeneres standup routine joke came to mind.
She was saying how the hotel room she was in had no shampoo so she called the front desk. The staff then came to her room, told her that they ran out of shampoo, and gave her several bottles of conditioner. Her response:
You do understand that no matter how many bottles of conditioner you bring me that does not make it shampoo.
After a quick test, I realized that all of the lenses above are conditioner and the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master is shampoo.
I can already tell you that if I could have only one lens this lens would be near the top of the list if not the first on that list. Which is good because as many will point out it costs as much as a bunch of lenses. But I argue that it is worth it.
It does everything well. Everything. Every single thing.
I will just bunch everything together in one category item.
Stills AF, Video AF, low light AF, AF speed, silent AF, sharpness wide open, bokeh quality, bokeh balls, close focus for spec, fall off, flare resistance, aberration control, and colors…
Best I have ever seen. Better than lenses that cost considerably more.
Breaking it down more is pointless. Seriously. Do you have a lens you like now? Regardless of brand, format, heritage, etc. this lens is most likely much better in every category above. Simply the best lens I have ever used. It is so good that I will make excuses to use this 50mm lens instead of any other prime lens focal length or zoom if at all possible.
Every compromise I had believed prevented the perfect lens (for my purposes) from being made has proven to be a lie.
- A 50mm Sony FE mount lens this bright has to be MF only.
- Not true.
- An f/1.2 lens will not be sharp wide open.
- Not true.
- A brighter than f/1.4 lens has to have slow AF.
- Not true.
- A lens this fast will not be sharp across the frame wide open.
- Not true.
- An AF lens this bright that performs this well has to weigh like a 70s Buick.
- Not true.
- If someone did manage to produce such a lens it would be as expensive as a small used sedan.
- Not true.
This lens upends the commonly held belief that something has to give lens-wise. This lens also adds practical features some or none of the lenses above offer.
- An honest to goodness aperture ring.
- For video folks that don’t want clicks with their aperture? There is a switch for that.
- Weather sealed.
- Focus hold buttons.
- 11 aperture blades.
- AF/MF switch.
- Brings a very nice hood and lens bag.
- It has a G on it with a red background.
It can also be legitimately argued that this lens offers value. How?
- As is no surprise to anyone that has followed this blog space I have a digital medium format problem. More accurately I cannot swing the price of a digital medium format camera and lens. A medium format lens fast enough to provide the major benefits of medium format anyway. The two currently available AF medium format lenses that come anywhere close to a comparable full-frame aperture equivalency cost more. One considerably so. The brightest of the two, at f/1.7 (Your “80mm f/1.7” lens will look like a 63.2mm f/1.34 according to mmcalc.), is still technically not a match for the 50mm f/1.2 G Master. But on top of that slightly more expensive lens price there is the significantly more expensive cost of the GFX camera required to use it. While far more accessible than they used to be, which is good news, these cameras are still quite expensive.
- I used to have an M Mount problem as well and premium native lenses (Sorry Voigtlander and the Artisans.) at this spec or better are far, far more expensive. Leica adherents look away for a bit. With no AF mind you. Camera body price of entry limitations apply even more here. I acknowledge that many would never cross shop these systems, but I do. Money no object, subjectively Leica pixie dust all day for the win. But back here in reality, objectively the features/price/performance triangle prize goes to Sony
- Of the new generation of mirrorless full-frame 50mm f/1.2 lenses not only is it the smallest and lightest, but it is also the least expensive. What of the L mount alliance? There is no 50mm f/1.2 option available currently. And two of the three f/1.4 offerings cost more.
Sidebar: What is the big deal about f/1.2?
Admittedly there are plenty of f/1.4 lenses on the market that cost less. What does it matter above a “This one goes to 11.” Spinal Tap moment? In an age of good ISO performance and IBIS it is not light gathering. It is not simply bokeh alone, but bokeh under certain conditions. For me, it is a look that I describe as subject isolation at a distance. That is the main practical reason for my medium format fascination.
Many lenses can create bokeh at close distances, even ones with modest aperture specs. But subject isolation at a distance seems reserved for only the brightest of full-frame apertures (f/1.2 or more) and medium format with bright glass (f/2 or more). And the G Master delivers, even with large objects.
Admittedly a personal pursuit, but appreciated. And we are back in 3, 2, 1…
That was all a long-winded way of saying this.
I was wrong.
Had previously said that I did not want it. But I did not get it.
Now I do.
Am I saying that this is a lens for everyone? No.
Its price, size, and weight may be too much for some. Completely understandable.
But if you are like me and have considered a trade-a-palooza to access the latest and best cameras and camera formats on the market, where any of them cost far more than this lens…
You might consider a recent personal epiphany of mine that it is really about the glass. If a lens can squeeze stellar performance out of a simple film camera perhaps investing in glass instead of a more expensive camera is the correct digital path forward. Put another way:
Buying the best lenses for the cameras you currently have instead of spending even more money for a camera upgrade might be the way to go. In my case even though I am impressed by the latest Sony offerings I am perfectly happy with the Sony camera bodies I already have. The same logic could be applied for any chosen brand/mount/format.
Back to this lens. In addition to the unobtanium specs this is a lens that can also be used as an everyday lens since it does not sacrifice on performance at all.
- Just reasonably sized enough not to be a chore to use.
- Swift enough AF for any stills or video focus scenario.
- Silent enough to be used anywhere.
- Lowest light, brightest of day, rain, inside, outside and anything in between this lens can do it.
- Need a portrait lens? Covered.
- Fast moving kid or quick candid shots? Covered.
- Also focuses more closely than I expected.
- Anything else I can think of… Covered.
Here is where I throw in some quick, early sample shots.
Here are a few more samples.
In my opinion, it is the best lens I have ever tried. And as far as I can tell it is the most perfect lens on the market for my purposes at this time. My appreciation for Sony up to this point has been an exercise in consistency and practicality, but for the first time I may actually be developing an emotional attachment to a Sony product… while still being consistent and practical.
Well done Sony.