Hands-On With New Lenses

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Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4ZA

Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4ZA

It was a good year for Sony shooters, as Sony worked to flesh out its lens inventory to attract professional photographers. Several months ago the company announced a new class of lens, their G-Master series (see digitalphotopro.com/gear/lenses/sony-g-master-lenses/ for our review and image samples). The G-Master lenses have an incredibly high resolution, designed to maximize the quality of images from high-megapixel sensors.

Just a month after announcing the G-Master lenses, Sony have released another high-end lens, the Planar T* 50mm FE F1/4ZA, in partnership with Zeiss. The new 50mm doesn’t have the same super-high resolution as the G-Master series, but the images are none the less impressive.

I had time to shoot with the Planar lens at a press function in San Diego, where the assembled media were able to put the lens through its paces. With a price point of around $1,500, the lens needs to live up to professional expectations, and live up to them it did.

Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4ZA
Portraits from the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 reveal details down to individual strands of hair.

Lens build quality is exceptional—this is a solid, sturdy piece of glass. The 50mm Planar has dust and water resistance, a supersonic motor for fast phase-detect focusing, and Advanced Aspherical and Extra Low Dispersion elements which Sony says “minimize flare and ghosting…” As with many of the company’s pro-lenses, the 50mm features an aperture dial and AF/MF switch, and users can manually focus their lenses after AF lock with a barrel dial.

The image quality is as impressive as the build. There is incredible sharpness from edge-to-edge and I was unable to detect any vignetteing even when shot wide-open in the super-bright midday sun of a baseball game. The 50mm F1.4ZA may not have the resolution of the G-Master lenses (which are rated to be at least 50 line pairs per mm) but the sharpness of the lens was particularly impressive. Portraits reveal the smallest details and contrast is exceptional.

The silent wave motor in the lens was fast enough that I was able to use it to capture the action of a roller derby match, where I used the 50mm to grab fast action shots from the middle of the track. The AF in the camera wasn’t always able to follow the action, but when the camera locked onto the chosen target, the resulting images were tack sharp, even when shot wide open.

Studio and location portrait shooters would be hard pressed to find any reason not to buy the new Sony Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4ZA.

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD

Time was that only the camera manufacturers themselves (and a select few artisan companies) created prime lenses that were good enough for the most demanding studio work. Thanks to the hard work of companies like Tamron, those days are gone.

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD

I tested the Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD just days after completing the test of the company’s equally excellent 90mm F/2.8 Di Macro lens, and was looking forward to trying out the portrait lens.

The SP 85mm is “the world’s first fast-aperture lens with image stabilization” according to Tamron, though they couch that a bit by saying “among 85mm f/1.8 interchangeable lenses for full-frame DSLRs.

That means that this is the first time that most photographers have had a very fast lens that can help reduce vibration.

In my testing, the vibration reduction meant that I could comfortably handhold the lens wide and still get the critical sharpness on a subject’s eyes. Anyone that’s tried to shoot a model at f/1.8 and ended up getting the nose or cheeks in focus because of slight motion in the lens will appreciate this feature.

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD
The Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 is not only sharp, but it’s super-stable, thanks to Vibration Compensation, something not often found in a portrait lens.

Contrast is excellent in the lens, there is no edge distortion that I could detect, and it created an incredibly nice soft-focus “bokeh” effect in the background. In fact, the bokeh on this lens is pretty much textbook—specular highlights turned into soft round lights behind the subject, particularly flattering when shooting against trees with dappled sunlight. In very strong backlit conditions the lens did seem to flare more often than I’d have expected, though perhaps I was being too hard on it since it otherwise performed so well.

The lens uses Low Dispersion and Extra Low Dispersion glass elements, which increases resolution “at high pixel densities” meaning on cameras like the Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS. The lens is built to be moisture and dust resistant, giving it some measure of outdoor shooting ability.

Sharpness on this lens is incredible, on par with results from the best Nikon and Canon lenses in the category. I was able to pick out details in subject eyelashes, see individual pores with ease and retouch the tips of flyaway hair strand by strand.

One of the great things about lenses from companies like Tamron is that they are available in a variety of mounts, and the Tamron SP 85mm comes in Nikon and Canon mounts (I tested the Canon version) as well as Sony, although the Sony version does not have the Vibration Compensation functionality.

The Tamron 85mm f/1.8 costs $750, which puts it above Nikon’s 85mm lens (although with vastly better image quality) and below the price of the equally-excellent Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens. It’s a great choice for photographers looking to get a perfect balance of image quality and price, and there are no reasons why this lens shouldn’t be part of any Nikon or Canon shooter’s arsenal.

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