Equipment

The Ultimate 50mm Lens Comparison

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I want to share with you guys a personal lens purchasing journey that I’ve been on for awhile now. My favorite genre of photography is travel photography; I love capturing landscapes, on location portraits, action sports, and general tourist stuff. It’s a very broad topic, and I want my camera gear to be as versatile as possible. When I travel, I like to be as light and compact as I can get. All my clothes, other personal items, and photography gear needs to fit into one carry-on size backpack. For those reasons my current camera platform of choice is the Sony Alpha series of E-mount cameras. Specifically the Sony A7rII, the A7sII, and the Sony A6300. I find these cameras are capable of capturing fantastic images while at the same time allowing me a much smaller footprint then gear I’ve carried in the past (cough* Canon 1D Mark IV * cough).

In addition to three cameras, I’ve discovered that I don’t want to carry more than four lenses with me at any given time. A wide angle zoom (currently the Sony 16-35mm f/4), a telephoto zoom (the Sony 70-200mm f/4), and two fast primes. The Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 is one of those primes, but I am on a mission to find the best 50mm prime lens for my needs. This is no small task, but I’m determined to do just that.

More than a year ago I pre-ordered a copy of the Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95, made by a company called Zhongyi, which I had never heard of before. On paper, this lens was exciting- a heavy duty, native E-mount lens with an exceptional maximum aperture. I was hoping this was going to be the poor man’s Leica Noctilux but in retrospect, I think I let my excitement get the better of me. It was a fun lens to shoot with at first, but over time I came to realize that there was something about the final images that I wasn’t in love with. On a recent trip out of the country, in a dark, rainy environment, I was photographing a family member, taking advantage of the Mitakon’s ability, with its large f-stop, to shoot in low light conditions. On the back of the camera, the images looked satisfactory, but when we went back indoors and loaded the photos on the computer, I was not pleased with what I saw. I realized I had passed the point of no return and it was time to discover if there was a better 50mm option out there for me.

Enter Lensrentals

It turned out that we rent a lot of other options in the “50mm lens that I can mount to a sony camera” category; roughly twenty-four, to be more accurate. As a Lensrentals employee, I already had a good bit of experience with many of these lenses but I had never taken the opportunity to examine them side by side, comparing their strengths and weaknesses, exploring their image quality, and ultimately try to figure out which lens best suited my needs Well, there’s no time like the present, right? We have to do what we have to do, so it’s officially time for a shootout.

I chose 13 of the best 50mm lens options that we carry for the Sony E-mount cameras. I chose the E-Mount, for a number of reasons. First, it’s highly adaptable. Sony has done an incredible job over the last couple years to tap into the market, but their lens lineups still have some catching up to do. Using the E-Mount allows me to not only test Sony and Zeiss lenses, but Sigma and Canon lenses as well. Second, Sony has been my go-to camera for a number of years now. With the small size of the Sony a7r II, I’m able to travel easier and still get great images. Also, however, Nikon lenses were not included in this comparison. That is simply because we can only present so much information in a single post, and we simply did not have time to also test a plethora of Nikon lenses along with the mix. However, we do have extensive information on Nikon lenses if you use the search above.

Now, before we get started, I’ll let it be known that this might not be as scientific as an article from Roger or anyone else who posts to this blog. This article, is real life examples as to how well each 50mm performs. I only used one copy of each lens, I only took a few photos with each setup, and my testing environments were less than lab quality. The reason I went this route is because the 13 lenses that I chose have more differences among them than they have similarities. Yes, they are all prime lenses with a roughly 50mm focal length and yes, I can mount them to an E-mount camera (albeit, some require an adaptor), but other than that they have very little in common with each other. The specs are all over the board. Different weights, sizes, filter threads, optics quality, brand, maximum aperture, focus abilities, and not to mention, price. There’s a huge difference in the costs between the most expensive and least expensive lenses in this group. Coming up with a fair way to judge which lens is actually “the best” would have been an impossible task from the start. So instead I chose to look at these lenses from the point of view of which is the right one for me and that means incorporating my opinion and shooting ability into the mix. So take anything you read here with a grain of salt, as it’s just one photographer’s viewpoint with emphasis on the qualities that are important to them.

Without further adieu, here’s the lineup and I’m going to skip ahead and mention the top pros and cons that I discovered while shooting these lenses. Keep in mind that my primary end goal is a lens for travel photography.

Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
 High-quality lens with a good professional design. I didn’t feel like it matched well with its price point. It produced a good image, just not a great one.

Lens Specs

Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 47°
Minimum Focus Distance 17.72″ (45 cm)
Magnification 0.15x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:6.67
Elements/Groups 12/9
Diaphragm Blades 11, Rounded
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 72 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.29 x 4.25″ (83.5 x 108 mm)
Weight 27.44 oz (778 g)

MTF Charts

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
 Very Impressive for a $200 lens Build quality wouldn’t give me too much confidence when traveling – it feels delicate.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 47°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.48′ (45 cm)
Magnification 0.15x
Elements/Groups 6/5
Diaphragm Blades 7, Rounded
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 49 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.70 x 2.34″ (68.6 x 59.5 mm)
Weight 6.56 oz (186 g)
Packaging Info
Package Weight 0.7 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 4.7 x 4.1 x 3.2″

MTF Charts

Not Found

Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Compact, great IQ, fast AF, and the price is reasonably in the middle of the road Filter size. 49mm means that I would have trouble sharing neutral density and polarizing filters with the other lenses in my kit. It’s not an insurmountable problem, more of an inconvenience. Also, in the studio tests, there seemed to be some small color shifts that would need to be addressed.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 55mm
Comparable APS-C Focal Length: 82.5 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 42.9°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.64′ (50 cm)
Magnification 0.14x
Elements/Groups 7/5
Diaphragm Blades 9
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 49 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.54 x 2.78″ (64.4 x 70.5 mm)
Weight 9.9 oz (281 g)

MTF Charts

Loxia-Biogon-T-35mm-f2-vs-Sonnar-T-FE-35mm-f28-ZA_MTF_sml

Rokinon AF 50mm f/1.4 FE

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
 $700 is a pretty good price for a f/1.4 lens with autofocus. Everything else. Seriously, I tried to give this lens the benefit of the doubt considering it was a new design that I wasn’t very familiar with but it fails in every category that’s important to me. It flared easily, had horrible colors, and even though I wasn’t purposefully testing autofocus, I did notice that its abilities were far from great.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 47°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.48′ (45 cm)
Magnification 0.15x
Elements/Groups 9/8
Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.89 x 3.85″ (73.5 x 97.7 mm)
Weight 1.29 lb (585 g)

MTF Charts

Not Found

Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Extremely compact, World renowned Zeiss image quality, and confidence inspiring weather sealing. At f/2 it was one of the slowest lenses in the group, and there are other lenses in the same price range that offer a few more features. It’s a great little lens, but it’s not the only fish in the sea.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Sony NEX (APS-C)
Angle of View 46.8°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.48′ (45 cm)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:7.1
Elements/Groups 6/4
Diaphragm Blades Not Specified By Manufacturer
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus No
Physical
Filter Thread Front:52 mm x 0.75 mm Pitch
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.44 x 2.33″ (62.1 x 59.2 mm)
Weight 11.29 oz (320 g)

MTF Charts

Loxia Planar T 50mm f2 vs Planar T FE 50mm f1.4 ZA_MTF_sml

Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
On paper, the specs are impressive for this price point. It’s a lot of fun being able to shoot at f/0.95. The aperture allows you to shoot in the dark. My personal copy of this lens seems to have declined in quality since I’ve owned it. It’s constantly a struggle to nail focus which leads me to believe that there’s a slightly decentered element or something else that needs to be repaired.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/.95 – 16
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Sony NEX (APS-C)
Angle of View Not Specified By Manufacturer
Minimum Focus Distance 1.64′ (50 cm)
Elements/Groups 10/7
Diaphragm Blades 9
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus No
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.70 x 3.43″ (68.5 x 87 mm)
Weight 1.58 lb (720 g)

MTF Charts

Not Found

Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Almost everything about this lens is awesome, and it has so much heritage that it’s exciting just to hold it. The price is really steep, and the images have more chromatic aberration (i.e. purple fringe) then a lens in this price range should have, but I don’t think that’s anything new for anyone who has ever shot with this lens. The minimum focusing distance of 1 meter is limiting.

Lens Specs

Performance
Lens Mount Leica M
Focal Length 52.3 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/0.95
Minimum: f/16
Format Compatibility Full frame 35 mm film and digital image sensors
Angle of View Diagonal: 47°
Horizontal: 40°
Vertical: 27°
Minimum Focus Distance 3.3′ (1 m)
Reproduction Ratio 1:17
Optical Construction 8 elements / 5 groups
Diaphragm Blades Not specified by manufacturer
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus No
Coding System 6-bit
Physical
Filter Thread 60 mm
Dimensions (Diam. x L) 2.9 x 3.0″ (73.0 x 75.1 mm)
Weight 1.5 lb (700 g)

MTF Charts

Noctsfinal

Leica Normal 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Super compact and it’s everything you’d expect from a Leica lens. While the images were great I don’t think they were so far above the rest of the lens offering in this list that it justifies the price difference. This lens doesn’t make me want to buy it; it makes me want to rent it, along with a Leica camera body, and get the whole rangefinder experience. For me, kind of a “go big or go home” situation.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Camera Mount Type Leica L
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Elements/Groups 11/9
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar None
Physical
Filter Thread Not Specified By Manufacturer
Dimensions (DxL) Not Specified By Manufacturer
Weight Not Specified By Manufacturer

MTF Charts

Not Found

Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Phenomenal image quality, super sharp, beautiful skin tones. It’s the only lens in this group that makes me have irrational internal monologues like “who cares that it’s got a 39mm filter thread, using any filter or other glass in front of this thing is insulting.” Or “the price isn’t that bad. It would pay for itself in just a few years.” The price. That’s it.

Lens Specs

Focal Length 50mm
Aperture f/2 to f/16
Camera Mount Type Leica M
Angle of View 47°
Smallest Object Field 10.7 x 16.0″ / 271 x 407 mm
Entrance Pupil 0.96″ / 24.4 mm (position from bayonet flange)
Minimum Focus Distance 2.3′ / 70 cm
Reproduction Ratio 1:11.3
Optical Design 8 elements in 5 groups
Diaphragm Blades Not specified by manufacturer
Focus Manual
Filter Thread 39 mm
Dimensions 1.9 x 2.1″ / 47 x 53 mm
Weight 10.6 oz / 300 g

MTF Charts

Not Found

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Not just from these shoots, but I know this is a workhorse lens that’s very reliable. If I were moving from a Canon system and already owned this lens, I wouldn’t hesitate to use an adapter and keep this lens around. With an adapter it’s bulky and clumsy plus it’s an older model lens that may get an upgrade soon so it wouldn’t be a sound investment considering I don’t already own it.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.2
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Canon (APS-C)
Angle of View 46°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.5′ (45 cm)
Magnification 0.15x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:7
Elements/Groups 8/6
Diaphragm Blades 8
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 72 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.38 x 2.58″ (85.8 x 65.5 mm)
Weight 1.30 lb (590 g)

MTF Charts

avg-50mm-f12

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
I was crazy impressed with the images coming from this $125 little lens. Any Canon shooter should have this lens around just because of the value it provides. It has a plastic body, and an adapter to use this on a Sony camera is probably going to run 2-3x the cost of the lens itself.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Canon (APS-C)
Angle of View 46°
Minimum Focus Distance 14″ (35.56 cm)
Magnification 0.21x
Elements/Groups 6/5
Diaphragm Blades 7, Rounded
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 49 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.7 x 1.6″ (68.58 x 40.64 mm)
Weight 5.7 oz (162 g)

MTF Charts

avg-50mm-f18

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Definitely one of the sharpest lenses in this test and very low distortion for a lens at that this price point. Distortion is not usually the first thing I notice when looking at studio images but in this case the lack of is noticeable. You have to use an adapter. It would be so exciting if Sigma could make this lens in a native E-mount without losing any quality.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 50mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 46.8°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.31′ (40 cm)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:5.6
Elements/Groups 13/8
Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front:77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.36 x 3.93″ (85.4 x 99.9 mm)
Weight 1.79 lb (815 g)
Packaging Info
Package Weight 2.6 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 7.1 x 4.8 x 4.7″

MTF Charts

avg-35mm-f14

Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon

Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
In my opinion, it produced the best images from the entire shootout. All of the “high resolving power” you hear about with this lens is not marketing hype. You can see it in the photos. Size and weight. This thing is huge and in reality it was never a contender for me as a lens for travel photography.

Lens Specs

Performance
Focal Length 55mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4 – 16
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 43.7°
Minimum Focus Distance 19.7″ (.50 m)
Magnification Not Specified By Manufacturer
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:7
Elements/Groups 12/10
Diaphragm Blades Not Specified By Manufacturer
Features
Image Stabilization None
Autofocus None
Tripod Collar No
Environmental
Operating/Storage Temperature Not Specified By Manufacturer
Physical
Filter Thread 77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.64 x 5.66″ (9.25 x 14.38 cm)
Weight 2.27 lb (1030 g)

MTF Charts

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

OlafOpticalTesting, 2016

I wanted to test these lenses in a way that made sense to me and see what I could discover from shooting with them that I couldn’t tell by just looking at the specs for each lens. I may have heard a rumor that one lens vignettes a lot, but what does “a lot” look like exactly? Or, “Lens A is more expensive, but it’s sharper than Lens B.” Ok, how much difference am I going to notice, what’s my acceptable level of sharpness, and how much am I willing to spend to get it? The best way for me to answer these questions for myself is to create some real world shooting scenarios where I can use all of the lenses in the same manner, in the same place, on the same subject and then look at the results.

50mm Lens shootout

So for the first test shoot, I went into the studio, fired up the strobe lights, got a model, filled the room with haze, and proceeded to set up a quick scene that I could photograph with all 13 lenses. I chose the camera settings ahead of time. Manual exposure, ISO 100, 1/125th of a second shutter speed, and an aperture of f/8. Now, a f/8 aperture should be near, or at, the “sweet spot” for each of these lenses. They should all be at their best level of performance regarding image quality, including sharpness, resolving power, color, and hopefully, a lack of any aberrations. When comparing so many different lenses, this is about as even of a playing field as it gets.

After framing the shot, I locked the camera off on a tripod and began shooting each lens 4 or 5 times, making sure to reset and manually focus between each shot. Lather, rinse and repeat. During this process, we attempted to keep an even level of haze in the room and our model, Stephanie, sought to keep the same pose throughout all of the shots. Like I said before, it may not be as scientific as an MTF chart, but neither is shooting.

50mm Studio Preview

Right Click, Open in New Tab

 

Back in the office, I loaded the images on the computer and culled through all of the shots, selecting the best example from each lens. I want to make these 13 raw files available for anyone that wants to download them and make their own comparisons because I know I’m not the only one that likes to pixel peep every once in awhile.

Download Studio Test Shoot Raw Files

Here’s a full summary of what I saw after spending time zooming around each image, playing with lens profiles, and comparing various cropped portions of the photos: When just considering image quality, there’s not always a direct relationship between quality and price. The best example of this can be seen when comparing the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 and the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8. The former is more than 7 times the cost of the Sony’s entry level prime. It’s IQ is virtually the same, it’s certainly not 7x better. That means the $1300 dollar price difference between the two is going towards something else, supposedly build quality, or maybe a better focus motor.

I discovered that my bias against Rokinon is justified and I don’t have to feel like a snob for not wanting to use it. While the Mitakon and Noctilux share a few similar traits, mainly their f/0.95 apertures, my copy of the Mitakon can’t hold a candle to anything with the name Leica on it. Even at f/8, it has terrible field curvature. The price tag associated with the APO-Summicron is about more than just sharpness. It has probably the best color tones of any lens that I have ever shot. I would not have been able to guess the price point of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 by just looking at the photo. Canon’s Nifty-Fifty is better than Sony’s and the Zeiss Otus produced the best overall image from all 13 lenses.

50mmnaturalfinal

The second test shoot was designed to show how the lenses performed at their maximum aperture. This is more about the lens’s raw ability. Wide open, their strengths and weakness should become more apparent. Even if you don’t often shoot wide open or have the need for low light performance, the aperture number on the side of the lens is often a big part of what you’re paying for so it’s nice to know what you’ll get if you ever need to go there.

Just like in the studio, I created a scene that I thought would showcase several aspects of all of the lenses. We took our model outside and stuck her in between some low hanging branches from a tree down the street from our office. We framed the shot at a slight angle giving us elements in the foreground and the background so we’d see more differences in the depths of field these lenses created. This time, I shot in aperture priority mode and let the camera make the exposure decisions because there was a variety of different maximum apertures in our test group. Just like before though, we fired off 4-5 shots with each lens, making sure to reset and manually focus between each shot. Afterward, on the computer, I again culled through all of the images, selecting the best example from each lens.

Now for this test, I was using just natural light. The setting sun was behind the model, off-camera right, and I was using a Sunbounce reflector, camera left, to bounce fill light back into her face. Everything was going well until we got through all of the native e-mount lenses and were about to move onto the EF and M mount lens. I reached into my camera bag and realized that I had left the lens adapters back in the office. I ran back inside and got them but in the short time it took me to do that, the sun dipped just below the treeline and our lighting conditions changed drastically. If you download the raw files from this shoot, you’ll see what I mean.

At this point, I had a couple of options. Re-shoot all of the lenses in the new lighting conditions, chase the setting sun around, or reschedule the shoot. I did none of those things and here’s why: I decided at that time that I didn’t want to have to rely on an adapter in this lens decision. It’s one more piece of gear to keep up with, it’s another potential point of failure, and it’s more bulk. If I had an investment already in lenses from another camera platform, it might make more sense to use an adapter and continue to rely on the glass that I already had. In my case, I don’t need to do that as I’m building my lens kit from scratch.

Side note: In order to be as unbiased as possible when comparing this round of images, it’s helpful to try and remove any strong distractions such as the huge color and contrast differences between the two lighting scenarios. I chose to use some automated features in Adobe Lightroom to make this process easier. I went through each image and using the custom white balance tool selected the sclera, or white part, of Stephanie’s right eye. I then selected the entire group of photos and used the “Auto Tone” feature of Lightroom.

naturallightcspreview

Right Click, Open in New Tab

 

To summarize these natural light test shots, you tend to get what you pay for in terms of sharpness which the exception being the Zeiss Otus as the clear winner, even though it’s actually not the most expensive lens in the group. Most other aspects remained the same as they were in the studio shoot. The Mitakon continued to yield bad colors as did the Rokinon which also proved to be the least sharp and exhibited horrible flaring even though we were not directly shooting into the sun. Also worth noting, the more expensive lenses nailed the focus point (the model’s left eye) much more consistently. I used the focus peaking in addition to the focus assist (zoom) features of the Sony A7rII but still struggled with the less expensive lenses. The only other real revelation was the tough reminder that the Leica Noctilux has a close focus distance of 1 meter, which happened to be exactly the distance that I was shooting at. Depth of field is related to focus distance, that means that even though the Leica has a f/0.95 aperture, lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 are capable of achieving a more shallow depth of field image just because it can shoot closer to the subject.

Natural Light Test Shoot Raw Files

So with the test results in mind, it’s time to look back at some of the specifications of each lens that I consider to be important.

Lens3-Day Rental PricePurchase PriceFilter SizeWeight (in grams)Max, ApertureMin. Focus Distance (in cm)
Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA$59$149872mm7781.445
Sony FE 50m f/1.8$15$19849mm1861.845
Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA$47$89849mm2811.850
Rokinon AF 50mm f/1.4$40$69967mm5851.445
Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar$35$94952mm320245
Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95$47$84967mm7200.9550
Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH *$343$1065060mm7000.95100
Leica Normal 50mm f/1.4 Summilux m *$134$379546mm3351.470
Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH *$240$779537mm300270
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L **$41$134972mm5901.245
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM **$11$12549mm1621.835
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art **$45$94977mm8151.440
Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon **$118$399077mm10301.450
* requires the use of a Leica M lens to Sony E camera adapter
** requires use of a Canon EF lens to Sony E camera adapter

Personal Summary

My purpose for doing these shoots was to find a 50mm prime lens, well suited for travel photography, to replace my quickly aging Mitakon Speedmaster. For me, the compact nature of both the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 and the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar, combined with average price points but above average image quality means these are the two lenses I’m considering. Although the Loxia has a slight advantage over the Sony regarding image quality, I need to decide whether or not I’m willing to sacrifice that to gain great autofocus. I have a couple of trips coming up, including the Photo Plus Expo in New York, so I’m going to spend some more time renting and using both of these lenses before I decide which one finds a permanent home in my bag.

If you guys have any questions, comments, or arguments, leave them below.

Author: Chase Reynolds

Posted in Equipment
  • Yitzchal Levy

    I have it and it’s a nice lens; shoots uber soft at 1.2 (think “Lensbaby” soft), no comparison to the greatness of the Canon 50 1.2 IMO….

  • Yitzchal Levy

    Though I’ve used it over the years, I’ve never liked the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8, and in fact, I think it is about the most boring 50’ish lens I’ve ever used… Give me a SMC Takumar 50 1.4 or Auto Sears 58 1.4 with an adapter any day over that lens… The Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 is about as exciting as a clean dentist’s office, showing little character… just my opinion.

  • KWNJr

    The Sony Planer T* FE 50 mm f/1.4 ZA has non-MTF charts ( field flatness ? ) displayed when the MTF tab was selected.

  • goodtoberight1

    Reading this detailed review, I detected the tester to be possessed with strong biases, predisposition and favoritism which undoubtedly colored the results of this comparison. For example since Chase excoriates the Sony 50mm f1.4, I have researched that lens extensively and find this review diametrically opposed to almost all reviews and comparisons of the 50mm f1.4. Can everyone else be so wrong and only Chase correct? I seriously doubt it. His extreme strong disfavor of that lens causes me to question the credibility of the Chase’s entire comparison.

  • Leo

    C-Sonnar would perform better on the Sony than on the Leica because it has a focus shift that will cause you to misfocus at close range unless you manually correct for it (without Live View EVF on Leica bodies)

    However, optically, M-mount lenses will never reach optimal performance unless the Sony body have its sensor glass replaced.

  • Robert E

    Thank you for the article, Chase. Now that you are two months “down the road” from the review, do you have an update on which of the two lenses, the Sony Sonnar FE 55mm or the Zeiss Loxia 50mm, that you prefer? I have another question about the reliability of the Sony Sonnar lens. Some time back, Lensrentals did a strip-down of a Sony FE 24-70 mm lens because it was no longer able to focus. As you are aware, a glued connection had failed. Does the Sony Sonnar FE 55mm have a similar arrangement? If so, do you think that the Zeiss 50mm, being a traditional manual focus lens, will be more reliable in future years? Thank you.

  • Great breakdown!
    I’ve done less scientific comparisons with the Otus & Summilux and found the lux resolved just as well, and other flaws were easily corrected. The weight difference was the deal breaker. Saying that, I won’t let go of my Otus 85mm… The new 85mm 1.4 G Master is a fantastic lens, but I keep both for different uses.
    Also looked at the Mitakon, Noct and the Dream lenses side by side and came to the conclusion that the Mitakon was the best value while the other two were marvelous. Color can be corrected on the Mitakon. Actually sold all three! If anyone is interested, go to the blog at Bitchinlight.com.
    Thanks!

  • Gabriel

    Yep his “comparison” lacks a LOT to be desired. Look on Fred Miranda for real life examples of the 50mm 1.4 ZA it is simple stunning so to claim, with the horrible examples here, that its not much better than the kit 50mm is just laughable. For the record I own the 55mm but I cannot BS telling others my 55mm is better.

  • Gabriel

    Except the Panasonic camera cannot touch the IQ of the Sony A7Rii…you missed that “tiny” detail 😉

  • sickheadache

    I use Sigma’s 50mm Art…Other than that Heavy And Heavy Priced Otus…Sigma is the best at sharpness and zero problems with focus. Can’t wait to Rent from Lensrental the Sigma 85mm Art….Soon.

  • David Bateman

    Yep there are about 10000 different 50mm lenses to test on a highly adaptable camera like the sony. To limit it I would say what could be AF. That may help you decide. But then in your comments I see you have a M43rds system as well. So my suggestion is don’t buy a 50mm for the Sony at all. The times you need 50mm, use the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 lens on your whatever M43rds camera. Cheaper, easier to carry, and no lens changes. On my Panasonic GM5 its a small package.

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