In order to work as part of a kit, lenses need to provide great image quality and, perhaps more importantly, they need to be cheap to build. Traditional 50mm f/1.8 lenses, also known as “nifty-fifties”, tick both of those checkboxes nicely, which is why they used to be extremely popular as kit lenses a few years back, before standard zooms became the norm.
With all that expertise making 50mm f/1.8 lenses, nearly all manufacturers continue to offer one in their lineup today, usually selling them for as little as $100 or so. Of course, there are more exotic options available for those seeking a bit more speed of better image quality, but it’s fair to say that if you want the best bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat a 50mm f/1.8 lens.
The Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Sonnar T*, however, is not your typical standard f/1.8 lens, as its $1,000 price tag suggests.
Conventional wisdom dictates that, while being perfectly good, nifty-fifties are just not terribly exciting anymore. If one had to come up with a word to describe them, amateurish would be one of the first ones to come to mind. As everybody knows, real pros don’t use 50mm f/1.8 lenses, preferring to go with the far more “respectable” f/1.4 and even f/1.2 flavors instead.
Conventional wisdom, of course, is rarely ever actually wise, which is why, when the opportunity to design a new standard lens for their Full Frame E-mount system arose, Sony decided to challenge those assumptions head-on.
What if a standard f/1.8 lens didn’t have to be cheap? What opportunities for excellence would present themselves to the optical engineers and lens designers if the burden of price was removed from the equation? Would it be possible to create something exceptional, as opposed to something that’s merely good?
Similarly, speed has long been a major selling point in the eyes of prospective lens buyers, and one of the factors that most heavily influence lens design: if you’re going to charge big money for a lens, everyone is going to expect that lens to be fast. But what if that money was put towards perfecting the optical quality instead? Is it possible that pursuing speed for speed’s sake may not be the best way to go about it, after all?
The Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens — Sonnar 55mm henceforth — answers all those questions, and it does so with confidence. This product doesn’t concern itself with any existing preconceptions, and presents an entirely different value proposition for Sony users instead. And if its success is any indication, they seem to be getting the message.
Let’s take a closer look at it.
Build quality and ergonomics
The Sonnar 55mm FE lens is very solidly built. Being a Sony-Zeiss collaboration, the lens was designed by the two companies and then manufactured by Sony in Japan according to Carl Zeiss specifications. Lenses are then quality-checked by Zeiss to ensure certain design and performance parameters are met.
This lens sports an all-metal exterior, except for both lens caps and the lens hood, which are made of plastic. It feels great in the hand, with just the right amount of heft to inspire confidence, while not being too heavy to use comfortably. At 9.9 oz (281 grams) excluding both lens caps and the lens hood, it feels just right. The lens hood adds another 1.5 oz (42 g) for a total of 11.4 oz (323 g), which is still a lot lighter than the majority of all-metal Full Frame lenses out there.
Size-wise, the Sonnar 55mm lens is a bit longer than typical nifty-fifties, but it remains an overall small lens for a Full Frame system. It can be used as a walk-around lens without any issues, and it’s not so big as to make people uncomfortable when you point it towards them on the street.
The lens is also weather sealed, being rated by Sony as “dust and moisture resistant”, just like the A7-series cameras. What this means in practice is that, while you probably shouldn’t take it out under torrential rain, or dip it in water — definitely don’t dip in water — it should be just fine to use under a light drizzle. Of course, having really solid weatherproofing built into the lens would have been even better, but in order for it to be actually useful, Sony would need to start by implementing it on their cameras first.
The cosmetic appearance of the lens is quite minimalist, with lots of straight, clean lines and very little in the way of embellishments — much like the other Sony FE lenses. Since this is a collaboration with Zeiss, the lens sports the famous blue Zeiss badge on one side of the barrel, and the Sony logo on the opposite side. Other than that, there are remarkably few inscriptions on the lens, giving it an extremely clean overall look. There’s no aperture ring on the lens, which also adds to the simple exterior.
The focusing ring is generously wide and made of metal, and has a textured surface to improve the grip and make it more comfortable to use. The amount of resistance feels great, as does its consistency. Alas, there’s no depth-of-field scale on the lens barrel, and there are no hard stops at the ends of the focusing range.
Perhaps the most distinct part of the lens as far as physical appearance goes is its front element. Unlike the vast majority of lenses out there, the Sonnar 55mm lens has a concave front element, meaning that the glass curves towards the interior of the lens. That’s not to say this element somehow drastically improves its properties, but it is something worth mentioning, if only for the novelty factor.
Other than the aforementioned concave front element, the front of the lens features a 49mm filter thread, together with the lens hood thread. 49mm is not one of the most popular filter sizes though, and the only other FE lenses that share it are the Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, and the Sony FE 28mm f/2. Any of the other lenses available for the Full Frame E-mount system use larger filter sizes, with the most popular being 72mm.
The included lens hood is made of plastic, but it feels nice and solid enough, and can be reversed for easy storage. This is a super useful feature that makes it a lot easier to make sure you always have the hood with you when you need it, and we’d like to see other mirrorless manufacturers — Panasonic, I’m looking at you — do the same.
Finally, the front lens cap is without a doubt the worst element of the Sonnar 55mm lens. It feels fragile to the touch and, frankly, a bit cheap. There’s no doubt that this cap sends a very different message than every other part of the lens. It features a front-clip mechanism that allows you to put the lens cap on and take it off while the lens hood is attached, which means it’s at least functional — or so it would appear, until you actually try to put it on the lens.
The problem with the lens cap is that when you put it on, it doesn’t quite click into place unless you give it a little twist. This makes it quite unreliable, as you can never be 100% sure if it’s properly secured. Clearly, having to fiddle with the lens cap in the middle of a shoot when your mind should be focusing on more important things is not exactly ideal.
Other than that, though, the Sonnar 55mm lens gets top marks for its excellent build quality. This is a lovely piece of glass and using it is definitely a pleasure, but more on that later.
The Sonnar 55mm lens uses a focus-by-wire mechanism. That means the focusing ring is not mechanically linked to the focusing system, which is instead operated electronically. Manual focus users tend to prefer lenses with actual, hardware-based manual focus implementations, but the Sonnar 55mm lens still manages to offer an excellent MF experience thanks to the many focusing aids built into modern Sony cameras.
When used in combination with features like focus peaking and magnification, it’s remarkably easy to nail focus every time with this lens, and with a bit of practice it’s entirely possible to obtain results that are even competitive with the AF system. This is especially true in low light scenarios, where the AF system tends to hunt a little bit.
Turning the focusing ring is always a pleasant experience, and the amount of resistance allows you to fine-tune your focus point with enough leeway to achieve critical focus every time. The lack of a depth-of-field scale and hard stops is unfortunate, but considering how well the camera helps you, this likely won’t be a deal breaker for many people.
Most modern E-mount Sony cameras can be configured in DMF mode, meaning you can use the AF system to achieve general focus, then turn the focusing ring to achieve critical focus manually. In this mode, focus peaking is activated by default, but you can set the camera to use magnification instead, or both. This is a fantastic way to ensure you always focus exactly where you want to. Since depth of field is extremely narrow with this lens at f/1.8 — particularly at close distances — this ability to fine-tune focus is much welcome.
The absence of a depth of field scale and hard focusing stops means this lens won’t cut it for those who like to use the zone focusing technique. For everyone else, though, the experience is pretty solid.
At the end of the day, the Sonnar 55mm lens is perfectly usable in MF mode in most situations, and what’s even better, it makes the experience enjoyable, which is definitely a nice plus.
Autofocus performance is excellent in good light, with the lens achieving focus in a fraction of a second in pretty much any sort of scene, provided there are at least a few contrasty lines to help the AF system figure out where to focus. AF performance slows down a bit in dimmer conditions, as with most lenses, but remains perfectly usable in all but the darkest settings.
The minimum focus distance is 50cm, meaning the Sonnar 55mm isn’t a great lens for macro photography. Other than that, though, it performs really, really well.
By setting the camera to AF-C mode and with subject tracking turned on, the Sonnar 55mm lens is able to accurately track moving subjects in most situations when used on a Sony A7 II camera. Tracking performance may vary slightly when used on different camera bodies, but it should remain good enough to track most subjects. Of course, this is not a fast action lens, so don’t expect to be able to track speeding bullets with it.
The Sonnar 55mm is not only quick to focus, but also silent. Indeed, the lens makes no noise whatsoever when trying to achieve focus, so you can use it in quiet places without fear of attracting attention towards yourself. This feature makes the lens well suited for video.
Unfortunately, if you expect to use this lens primarily for video, you should be aware that it suffers quite a bit from focus breathing. That means the field of view changes as you focus closer to infinity. In this case, the field of view gets significantly wider the closer you are to infinity focus. This can be a problem when shooting video, as the frame will change slightly — but noticeably — when you change focus from one subject to another one that’s closer to (or farther away from) the camera in the same shot, a common technique in cinematography called focus pulling.
When used for still pictures, though, focus breathing is usually a non-issue, although it may have some impact on scenes where frame reproducibility is a must, so it’s always best to keep it in mind.
That caveat aside, focusing with the Sonnar 55mm lens is about as good as one could expect with the current crop of A7-series and APS-C Sony cameras – If there’s a limitation to this aspect, it sure doesn’t feel like it’s coming from the lens.
As for accuracy, results are usually excellent in good light, and perfectly good in dimmer conditions as well. The lens almost never misses focus, which is reassuring when you’re trying to capture a decisive moment. Besides, by taking advantage of the myriad of focusing configurations available on the camera, you can fine tune its behavior to adapt to pretty much any sort of conditions — and on the rare occasion when all else fails, there’s always the instant MF override to finish the job.
As its name implies, the Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 lens uses a Sonnar optical design. It has 7 elements in 5 groups, including an impressive 3 aspherical elements. The first Sonnar design was created in the 1930’s, and made famous for its excellent sharpness, contrast, and bokeh, although it presented more aberrations than the newer Planar design. By using so many aspherical elements in this lens, though, Sony managed to keep aberrations well controlled — with one particular exception, as we’ll see — while retaining most of the benefits of the Sonnar design.
At short focal lengths, Sonnar lenses are incompatible with 35mm SLR cameras due to the space occupied by the mirror, which is why a lens like this simply couldn’t exist for conventional DSLRs. Therefore, Sonnar designs were traditionally used mostly in rangefinder lenses, and Zeiss still uses it today in their popular Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM lens for the Leica M system.
Since the Sony E-mount system has a very short flange distance, the Sonnar design works extremely well, which is why Sony and Zeiss have used it in many of their modern E-mount lenses, both for APS-C and Full Frame formats. Some of the E-mount lenses that use a Sonnar design include the Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 (APS-C), the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 (Full Frame), and the recently released — but still unavailable — Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 (Full Frame).
The Sonnar 55mm lens definitely has strong genes, so let’s see how well it performs in the image quality department.
This is, without a doubt, one of the strongest aspects of this lens. It is very sharp right from f/1.8 out to the corners, and gets razor-sharp across the entire frame as soon as you stop it down a little bit. As with most Full Frame lenses, sharpness peaks at about f/5.6-f/8, and starts to decrease from f/16 on due to diffraction effects.
The Sonnar 55mm lens is so sharp, in fact, that it can excite moiré even when shooting wide open on both the 36-MP Sony A7R and the 42-MP Sony A7R II, as noted by Ken Rockwall in his own review. Moiré can occur when shooting fine-detailed patterns with a lens that exceeds the optical resolution of the sensor, and is more likely to appear in cameras without an optical low-pass (or anti-aliasing) filter.
To put it bluntly, the Sonnar 55mm is one of the sharpest standard lenses available for any system and at any price point. A comparison of the best standard lenses made by the folks over at 3D-Kraft! found the Sonnar 55mm’s sharpness to be second only to the legendary Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, a manual focus, professional-grade lens for DSLRs that, at almost $4,000, costs about four times more.
Otus lenses aside, however, there’s nothing out there that matches the level of sharpness across the frame that this lens produces. The only other standard lens that comes relatively close is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, a DSLR lens that costs about the same as the Zeiss and is about as sharp in the center wide open, but a little softer in the corners.
Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that nearly all 50mm lenses are super sharp once stopped down to about f/4-f/5.6, so if you don’t shoot much at wider apertures, the sharpness benefits of these higher end lenses may be a little bit lost on you.
Bokeh and depth of field
Bokeh is a term that refers to the aesthetic quality of the out of focus areas in an image, not the extent to which they’re out of focus. Some factors that typically affect the bokeh of a lens are the number and grouping of its optical elements, the number of aperture blades it has, and whether those blades are rounded.
Along with its outstanding sharpness, bokeh is where the Sonnar 55mm lens performs best. Out of focus areas are beautifully smooth and creamy with this lens, and subject isolation is incredible thanks to its remarkable 3D effect.
As mentioned by Edward T. over at ilovehatephotography, one of the most important things when assessing bokeh is how abruptly a lens is able to transition from in-focus to out-of-focus areas. Lenses that are able to transition quickly produce a lot more of a 3D effect even at smaller apertures, while lenses that are slower to transition have a harder time achieving this effect.
The Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens, for example, is able to defocus the background a lot more thanks to its larger maximum aperture, but it doesn’t achieve the transition nearly as quickly as the Sonnar 55mm lens. Together with its unique rendering, the Zeiss lens manages to achieve the classic 3D-pop even better than the Canon, despite its smaller maximum aperture.
Out-of-focus light sources, commonly referred-to as “bokeh balls”, are rendered as perfect circles in the center thanks to the use of 9 rounded aperture blades. They do take a bit of a cat’s eye shape towards the edges of the frame, though. The use of aspherical elements in the lens may cause some onion rings to appear in these bokeh balls, but the overall effect is still gorgeous.
Color rendition and contrast
In the era of Instagram, VSCO film and in-camera film emulation filters, most people are perfectly happy with applying a preset or selecting a filter and not doing much in the way of post-processing beyond that. As a result, native color rendition, contrast and rendering have become slightly less important than they used to be.
That said, there’s a reason many photographers continue to invest in high-end lenses. The rendering of some of these pieces of glass can be extremely unique, and sometimes it can be exactly what the images call for. It’s good to know that you can edit the files if you need to, but having a strong starting point is just as important.
In that regard, the Sonnar 55mm lens doesn’t disappoint. Despite being a Sony-made lens, it has the classic Zeiss rendering, producing images that are quite contrasty and have a rich tonality right out of camera, even when shooting in RAW mode. If there is such a thing as the Leica look, then there’s definitely a Zeiss look as well, and this lens has it in spades.
Vignetting is light falloff that occurs in the corners of an image, particularly at large apertures.
Vignetting is one of the few shortcomings of this lens, not because it is extremely pronounced — it’s not — but because it doesn’t really improve until you’ve stopped the lens down to f/4-f/5.6. Most lenses are typically a lot cleaner by f/2.8 already, so in this regard the Sonnar 55mm lens is a bit of a disappointment.
Vignetting isn’t always an unwanted property though, and in fact many people enjoy the artistic effect it creates in some images. That said, should you want to eliminate it completely, there is a built-in lens profile in Lightroom for the Sonnar 55mm lens, meaning vignetting can be automatically corrected at the click of a single button, making it a non-issue in practical shooting.
Chromatic aberration and fringing
Chromatic aberration (CA) and color fringing refer to the lens’s ability to capture a full range of colors of visible light at the same point. Heavy chromatic aberration typically appears in the form of purple or green fringing around the more contrasty borders of an image.
This is another aspect where the Sonnar 55mm’s performance isn’t quite up to par with the expectations that its price suggests. Chromatic aberration, particularly spherochromatism, is quite heavy with this lens.
Spherochromatism is caused when spherical aberrations are not equally corrected for all wavelengths in visible light. It manifests itself in the form of a magenta cast in the region immediately preceding the focal plane (closer to the camera), as well as a greenish cast in the region immediately following the focal plane (farther away from the camera). On an actual picture, it looks like this:
It can be nasty, and often needs to be corrected manually in post production. That said, it only appears on very specific patterns and in very specific situations, which means you’re not likely to encounter it often in real world shooting. Here’s a corrected version of the same shot:
As for color fringing, it’s also quite present, particularly in the form of green and purple fringes around high-contrast areas. These are easy to correct in post-production though, and the built-in Lightroom profile usually takes care of them just fine.
It’s unfortunate that a lens like this has such a poor performance when it comes to CA. This may be a limitation of the Sonnar optical design, but even so, it’s just not quite as good as this lens deserves.
Ghosting and flare
Lens flare may occur when a bright light source is caught in the angle of view of the lens, in such a way that its light rays hit the front element of the lens directly. Those rays may then bounce off other elements or even the sensor itself, producing several artifacts along their path. Lens flare usually presents itself in the form of severe haze and a pronounced loss of contrast across the entire frame.
Modern Zeiss lenses have the famous T* coating, which ostensibly reduces ghosting and flare to a great degree. As such, the Sonnar 55mm’s resistance to flare is quite good, although it is still possible to encounter it on occasion. Luckily, the excellent hood that comes with the lens provides even more protection against flare, and since it’s reversible, you can always have it with you when you need it.
All in all, ghosting and flare are not usually a problem with the Sonnar 55mm lens, and it’s not something you need to be particularly mindful of when shooting with it.
Distortion is virtually non-existent, and the lens usually requires little or no correction whatsoever in this department. The built-in Lightroom profile will take care of any residual barrel distortion on those rare occasions where you may notice it.
Real world usage and image samples
Using the Sonnar 55mm lens in the real world is an absolute pleasure.
When a lens has fast and accurate autofocus, impeccable ergonomics and an astounding build quality — not to mention exceptional image quality — there’s very little left to complain about.
With the Sonnar 55mm, you don’t need to worry about sharpness, which means you can shoot wide open whenever you choose to. Similarly, you needn’t worry about distortion, and the only issues you’re likely to encounter — chromatic aberration and vignetting — can be easily fixed by Lightroom’s built-in profile in post production.
All this amounts to a near worry-free experience that lets you focus on enjoying the photographic process, which is about the highest compliment one can pay to a piece of gear.
The Sonnar 55mm lens has a slightly longer focal length than most nifty-fifties and as such, it’s great for half-body portraits, where you want to show a little bit of the environment alongside your subjects.
Using the lens in low light is also great thanks to its bright f/1.8 maximum aperture, and the generally good high-ISO performance of most Sony cameras. Unless you’re trying to shoot inside a cave, you should be able to make it work without serious problems.
The Sonnar 55mm is also great for street photography, although in this case, being a bit longer than your typical 50mm lens means it’ll probably take some getting used to. Once you adapt to its slightly narrower field of view, however, it works beautifully.
All in all, this lens offers impressive performance in most situations, and what’s even better, it makes the entire process much more enjoyable, which is definitely a nice win in our book.
Room for improvement
Clearly, there’s no such thing as the perfect lens. Lens design is a game of compromises: in order to get faster, for example, a lens also needs to get bigger and heavier, so in this case, it’s all about striking the right balance between speed, size, and weight.
Indeed, as great as the Sonnar 55mm lens is, there are definitely a few things that could be improved, and there’s also plenty of room in Sony’s lineup for a different take on this same focal length.
Here are a few areas where Sony could improve upon what is already an excellent lens:
Improve control of chromatic aberration and fringing. This is by far the worst aspect of the Sonnar’s performance. Hopefully, Sony will address it in any upcoming 50mm lenses for the system.
Reduce vignetting. Another area where there’s ample room for improvement. Every fast lens is going to have some vignetting wide open, but well corrected lenses are almost completely devoid of it by f/2.8, and this one should be no different.
Add a better MF implementation. Not that the current one is bad, but if they were to add a depth of field scale and hard stops, it would be pretty much perfect.
Include a better front cap with the lens. Seriously, the current one is so bad it’s not even funny.
Make it faster, while keeping it as compact as possible. It’s clear that with the Sonnar 55mm lens, Sony went for compactness instead of speed. While that’s a perfectly valid choice, there’s also room in the lineup for a faster 50mm lens, so we’d like to see an f/1.4 version sometime in the future.
While Sony is doing an incredible job lately, their Full Frame E-mount system is still very much in its infancy, which means there are not many 1st party alternatives for most lenses in the lineup yet.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for 3rd-party manufacturers to step up to the plate, releasing some very interesting manual focus alternatives for the E-mount system. Finally, there are also plenty of manual and even some autofocus lenses for other systems that can work very well with adapters.
With that in mind, if the Sonnar 55mm lens turns out to not be your cup of tea, take a look at some of these other pieces of glass instead:
The Zeiss Loxia 50mm F/2. This is one of the few 50mm manual lenses that are native to the Full Frame E-mount system, and being made by Zeiss, it could almost be considered a 1st-party lens. The lens has built-in electronic integration with E-mount cameras, so you’ll automatically get all the EXIF data as well as the necessary info for the IBIS system in recent A7-series cameras to work correctly. If you can live without autofocus, this is clearly the best manual focus implementation you’ll get for the system. The Loxia is a gorgeous piece of glass, and though it won’t be for everyone, plenty of people seem to absolutely love it. At $879 it is definitely not cheap, but it is cheaper than the Sonnar 55mm, so there’s that.
The Rokinon 50mm f/1.4. This manual lens was originally designed for Canon, Nikon and Sony A-mount DSLRs, but now comes in a native E-mount version as well. Being an f/1.4 lens, it’s naturally bigger and heavier than the Sonnar, but not unreasonably so. While it’s not as sharp or as good as the Sonnar, this lens is a pretty solid all-around performer in its own right, especially when you consider its attractive $399 price tag.
The Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 FE lens. This is another manual lens that is native to the Full Frame E-mount system, and it’s also the fastest. However, as most f/0.95 lenses, it’s not a technically perfect lens. Soft and with heavy fringing wide open, it cleans up nicely once stopped down to about f/4. All in all, a different take on the 50mm lens for those seeking a bit more character in their images.
Those are the main 50mm lenses that are available natively for the E-mount system. If you’re ready to go with an adapted lens, though, there are several other very interesting offerings out there you can consider:
The Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar ZM or the Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar ZM + Metabones or Fotodiox Leica M to Sony NEX adapter. Zeiss makes not one, but two very interesting 50mm lenses for the Leica M system. The C Sonnar ($1,200) is a classic design, so it’s not as technically perfect as most modern lenses. It’s a bit soft in the corners, for example, which makes it great for taking pictures of people, where you want to draw attention towards the center. The Planar ($860), on the other hand, is a more contemporary design, and will produce images that are technically more correct, and more similar to modern 50mm lenses like the Loxia, for example. This is not to say one is better than the other, though, as both of these lenses are equally compelling in their own way.
A Canon FD 50mm lens + Metabones or Fotodiox Canon EF to Sony NEX adapter. If you want to go old-school and try a manual lens from the 80s, the FD lenses from Canon are a great choice. These pieces of glass are surprisingly good for their age, and since they were massively popular in the past, they still can be easily found online for just a few bucks. Whether you end up going with the classic 50mm f/1.8, the 50mm F/1.4, or the 50mm f/1.2, you really can’t go wrong here, especially considering the price. Finally, there’s also the more exotic 50mm f/1.2 L lens, which was the flagship model back then and can be found today for about $800 used. A bit pricey, yes, but an awesome piece of glass nonetheless.
If you need autofocus, the only way to get fast and reliable performance with adapted lenses is by using Sony’s own LA-EA4 adapter — unless you own the Sony A7R II, that is. Because Sony built the whole AF mechanism into the adapter itself, A-mount lenses will continue to focus almost as quickly and accurately as they did on their native system. Unfortunately, this adapter is a bit bulky and at $350, not exactly cheap. Here are some of the lenses you can use with it:
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art (Sony A-mount version) + Sony LA-EA4 adapter. This spectacular lens from Sigma is the only 50mm lens for DSLRs — other than the Zeiss Otus — that comes close to matching the Sonnar in sharpness, bokeh and overall image quality. This lens is absolutely wonderful, but unfortunately it’s not available in a native E-mount version. The next best thing, then, is to buy the A-mount version instead. The Sigma lens is faster than the Sonnar, but it’s also about twice the size and weight, so it’s all a matter of preference, really. It currently retails for $850, but be sure to factor in the cost of the adapter as well.
The Sony 50mm f/1.4 (Sony A-mount version) + Sony LA-EA4 adapter. This is Sony’s own 50mm lens for the A-mount system, and it currently retails for about $450. If you want a lens + adapter combo that will better approximate the cost of the Sonnar, this can be a good solution.
Finally, if you own a Sony A7R II, you can use most Canon EF lenses with the Metabones EF-NEX Mark IV adapter and get pretty good AF performance thanks to this camera’s much-improved AF system with 399 phase-detection autofocus points. That being said, do keep in mind that once you factor in the cost of the adapter — a rather painful $460 — things can get quite expensive pretty quickly.
Now, there are other Canon EF to E-mount adapters available that are considerably less expensive, but we’ve come across several reports of finicky performance and even a slight degradation in image quality across the frame when using them, which is why we recommend using the Metabones instead. That being said, if cost is a critical factor for you, they may be worth checking out.
After buying the Metabones adapter, the lens that gets you closest to the Sonnar in terms of price is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. This is a perfectly fine piece of glass, but once again, given how ridiculously good the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art is, we have to recommend you go with that one instead if at all possible. If you already own the Metabones adapter, there’s a Canon EF-mount version of the Sigma lens that would be perfect for you.
All of these alternatives can be great, but this is obviously not an exhaustive list. If you don’t mind not having autofocus and using an adapter, there are many, many more suitable lenses in the market, so it’s just a matter of doing some research and finding the one that better suits your particular needs.
What if a 50mm f/1.8 lens didn’t have to be cheap?
It’s no secret that whenever a new camera system arises, its manufacturer is under tremendous pressure to release an affordable nifty-fifty to market as soon as possible. This is by far the most popular lens in the world, so it makes a lot of sense to build your system around it.
And yet, not only did Sony not release such a lens when they launched their Full Frame E-mount system, but they still haven’t done so a full two years and over 11 FE lenses later. Not that long ago, this would have been considered madness.
But it isn’t madness, because what Sony has created with the Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 lens is something much more remarkable. It is expensive, yes, but it’s also one of the finest pieces of glass available for any camera system, at any price point. In that sense, it can very well be considered cheap.
The Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar T* is not for everyone, but if you appreciate quality, it is a lens you need to try.