I had many questions no one asked.
- Could Sony have successfully implemented a Fuji-fied firmware fix for the FE 50mm f/1.8?
- Could it stand a chance in a direct comparison with the precious?
- Could it hold its own compared to other nifty fifty lenses now?
- Is it a lens that I would consider now?
- What is it good for?
Two lenses. Similar, but also very different.
- Native Sony.
- Maximum aperture.
- Size and weight.
- Price. By quite a large margin.
- Base model vs. top model.
It could be argued that these lenses should not be compared, but I enjoy comparing top-shelf and entry-level offerings.
It makes sense why I would include the G Master.
I have recently written a glowing post on this lens and since then it has done nothing but confirm everything said. An amazing lens worthy of the price and hype.
But why the FE 50mm f/1.8?
I have written posts about this lens also, but if I am honest I have not been kind. Across many posts I have detailed my disappointment with it. Have looked with envy towards the RF Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, even purchasing my way into the RF system briefly because of it.
But it did not last. I can make do with alternate systems used for fun, but a split main system was not tenable. As much as I enjoyed that lens in isolation I preferred Sony as a system overall.
I retreated to Rokinon/Samyang a couple of times. First, the 50mm f/1.4 a couple of times.
Great lens, but AF let it down. Then I made my peace with the 45mm f/1.8 a couple of times.
A lens I really liked but later, after a quick test drive, I answered the call of the G Master. If the FE f/1.8 was good enough I might have stopped there honestly.
So what was my problem with the FE 50mm f/1.8? Well previously I found that it was:
- Slow to focus.
- Not the quietest focusing lens.
- Not always accurate with focus.
- Not the fastest to focus.
- Not consistent with IQ.
Not “special” ultimately. Perfection is not required to be special. Neither the Canon nor the Rokinon/Samyang above are perfect. I could have forgiven a couple of the bullets above, but when combined with the last bullet that will not do. But one thing bugged me. This humble lens that I have tried before more than once also did this.
So what gives? It can create a solid image. Consistency was the issue. I honestly thought it was a lens that was capable of greatness but was hobbled by the whole slow/inaccurate focusing thing. A bit of noise is easily forgiven if all the other boxes have been ticked. As a result I barely racked up 70 or so images in my Flicker sample album over two attempts with this lens. That is a very low count, especially for a 50mm lens. I usually clear at least 100 images with any lens. The only Sony lens that did worse than that was the APS-C 20mm f/2.8. But who knows maybe a firmware update did the trick for that lens as well.
Had thought a new version would be needed. But I have recently come across a couple of Youtube videos asking what we all were whinging about with this lens. They have gotten along with it just fine as shown in their videos (here and here).
So what happened? Aron J Anderson has a theory. Two things.
- Firware v03.
- Sony’s firmware update page confirms this:
- “Improves stability of the autofocus feature”
- Sony’s firmware update page confirms this:
- Sony A7III or newer.
- Makes sense.
Now I am not 100% sure about the firmware part since I had this lens after the v03 release, but the A7III part rings true. The last camera I used with this lens was the A7RII that I traded for the A7III when it came out.
If I am honest above acceptable IQ, which it was capable of, what bugged me most was the slowness and inconsistency of the autofocus. And I admittedly have sky high AF speed expectations with a 50mm prime. What good is a lens’ acceptable IQ if it is hobbled by being out of focus. What good is a 50mm lens that I cannot simply turn, frame, and shoot to get the shot?
So according to the Youtubes did they fix it? Yes. Yes, they did… Mostly.
Both videos confirmed that the IQ is quite acceptable, especially at this price point.
Chris Brockhurst outlined in his video that above f/7.1 this lens was very slow to focus. Will hunt back and forth before finally settling on the subject. This is exactly the aggravating behavior I used to see all of the time with this lens before. It was similar to contrast AF behavior, but on a phase detect camera and it caused me to miss countless shots. Shots that I would have loved to show in that gallery mentioned above, but were too out of focus to keep. But he also shows that below f/7.1 this lens is quite swift to focus. That is new.
It would not take me long to test this since I knew exactly what to look for. This caused me to get my mitts on another copy to see for myself.
And yes, I can confirm that at f/1.8 this is a new lens. Much faster to focus than it was before. And that also takes care of two other areas.
While no more silent than it was before it focuses so much faster that it does not bother me at all. I even did some video tests and I would have no problems using this lens for video. Especially with a RODE mic on board. And it is even usable with the internal mics.
Much quicker and much more accurate. As suspected an improved hit rate brings improved IQ. It was confirmed as mainly an AF issue as I had suspected. Look at this shot of our house mascot.
First attempt it hit animal eye AF spot on. This dog does not stand still for long so this would have taken several attempts and safety shots before. But now? No issue at all.
What about on the fly shots?
Also no issue.
So what about the above f/7.1 slow AF thing? Well, I have a confession. I almost always shoot lenses wide open whenever possible. And if I do close it down it is usually no more than f/5.6 as needed for bright scenes or a wider depth of field. So a non-issue for me.
So what about those questions no one asked.
Could Sony have successfully implemented a Fuji-fied firmware fix for the FE 50mm f/1.8?
- Yes. And I am quite surprised if I am honest. Fuji famously took the X-Pro1 from a non-starter to a contender and I had a great time with it. But I did not expect the same from Sony. Figured they would make you cough up money for a new lens like I experienced when Fuji addressed the disappointing AF on my old X-T100 with the also no longer available X-T200 instead of updating the firmware. Which is why I no longer have an X-T100.
Could it stand a chance in a direct comparison with the precious?
- Surprisingly yes. As good as? Of course not. But is the f/1.2 actually 8x better? No, in my opinion. Could one get by just fine with the f/1.8? In my opinion that would be a yes.
- And it could be argued that there are advantages to the f/1.8. Being less precious, smaller, and lighter are advantages for day to day use.
Could it hold its own compared to other nifty fifty lenses now?
- Also a yes. For example.
- Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM: The Canon is a better lens overall. Quieter, a little better materials wise, and it is less expensive. But… The Sony does bring a lens hood, is now a match AF speed and IQ wise, and plenty can be had used for much less, like I did here. And, for me personally, Sony is my chosen system.
- Rokinon/Samyang 45mm f/1.8: This is a very nice lens, but being one of the early tiny series lenses the materials are not as nice as later variants. AF is now comparable as well. The Sony is also a bit cheaper new (on sale that is) or used. And all other things being equal I prefer a factory lens.
Is it a lens that I would consider now?
- Definitely. Got this one mainly for this post, and figured I would return it if firmware and newer camera did not address my previous concerns. But it has found a home for daily use.
What is it good for?
- Before I would have said it was only good for stills, if barely, but I would use this as an all around stills and video lens without hesitation now.
Addendum: Have been asked why not the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA? Could also add the Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA to round out the 50mm-ish f/1.8 or faster Sony branded collective. Personal preference is the short answer. For me the Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 costs too much for an f/1.8 spec lens. Likely influenced by the myriad of digital and film 50mm lenses I have used. The small focal length difference does not play a part in my decision at all. The Planar 50mm f/1.4 is too large and pricey for an f/1.4. That is it. No more or no less. Either would be fantastic choices. Personal preference. In one instance multiple retorts were written in defense of their position. I am of the opinion that there are no bad choices, just personal preferences. Choose one and have at it. Write a post on your preferences. My preference should not bother others just as others’ preferences do not trouble me in the least. And we are back in 3, 2, 1…
A viable 6 year old lens for not a lot of spend? Well done Sony.