Review of Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens (SEL85F18)

The is regarded as one of the true gems of the Sony E-mount lens line, mostly because of the high image quality and its low price. And it well should be, considering the price is actually twice lower than the , released couple of years earlier, while the differences in build and image quality is negligible. I’d even go so far as to claiming the Sony FE 85mm being better built or at least better equipped because of the customisable button on the side (Eye AF, yay!). Of course, the Batis has optical stabilization that works together with the in-body stabilization, but this is no walk-around lens and the stabilization is not nearly as important as on more general use lens. So who would pay twice as much just to be able to claim they have a Zeiss, especially considering it is not the top of the line 85mm ever since 2016 when Sony announced the 85mm f/1.4 GM?

I’ve no idea, so let’s find out.

First things first – there are plenty of people that own the Zeiss Batis since it was released two years or so before the Sony FE and about a year before the GM lens, which also costs 50% more. Then the FE lens came out and people started wondering whether it’s worth it to buy the Batis, when they could buy the Sony FE f/1.8 and something else for the same price. In fact they are pretty similar in image quality (which says a lot about how good the 85mm FE is), and you will never get a different impression by reading reviews. What “similar” is is not “the same”, and the FE has some small issues, at least from my experience.

Click for higher res. Flares over Maribor, Slovenia. f/16 – and I’ve no idea why.

Namely – the out of focus aberrations. It’s hard to show these without flooding the post with 100% crops, yet I get to notice them easily now that I know to look for them. Purple cast on the side of bright lines when you would expect a smooth gradient is visible on many images.

The shot was usless anyway, but serves well to illustrate how close to dealbreaker the lens can go in certain conditions. And this is not 100% crop, so imagine the weidth of the aberrations!

Cyan rings in other places where you don’t expect to see them. And if it was a pixel or two, I’d live with it, but it is not. Sometimes it just too visible. Does it show when stopped down? It’s there atleast until f/4, and in my book that’s far from what I got the lens for. Mind you, it requires certain specific scene to show up, check the images.


Problem is that fast removal doesn’t work on every image, as seen on the second image.

All in all, the Sony lens, even some of the GM ones, have some problems controlling aberrations in the out of focus areas. Even the mighty 24-70 GM has a slight cyan cast in the transitions. From what I know, the Batis have these under better control, although not completely.

 

What’s good about it?

Well, apart from the mind-bogglingly low price compared to other portrait lenses?

Djakovo, Croatia. 1/400 @ f/8 spreads the sharpness everywhere

Build quality is great, and the size of it is just right for what it does. Having a dedicated customisable button is great too. I’m using mine for Eye AF and I hae a hard time going back to lens that don’t have the button. The Sony A7R II doesn’t have another button I can use so easily (lately I startd using the AF/MF switch small button with my thumb, but it’s so small…).

Djakovo, Croatia. Bokeh is awesome! Even at f/2.5 it manages to soften the background

It is sharp. Since it’s a portrait lens you can expect near perfect sharpness in the center of the image. Compared to the Batis – no winner of loser here, whatever level of pixel peeping you apply, the results are pretty much the same. And they are good at f/1.8 and get better at f/2.2. Stopping down boosts it even further, at least until f/4 to f/5.6, where I think you get the most out of it.

100% crop @ 1/1000, ISO 100, f/3.5. LR Heavy sharpening, just to point out how much you can expect from it.

It has good bokeh, although it gets a bit swirly in the corners depending on the background, and shows up some artefacts on highlights (see below). I wouldn’t call it soft, it’s nice and that’s all.

Zagreb, Croatia Zoo. Some cropping., click for higher res, 1/250, ISO 100, f/3.5

AF is fast enought to track, even if it is no instant by any means. Using Eye AF usually nets useful images, unless you have a 1.5 year-old that runs, swings or jumps all the time.

Djakovo, Croatia, Park. One out of ten, that’s my current success with Sammy. 1/125 @ f/2.8

What most people fail to admit – it has a nice skin tone rendition.

 

Conclusion

I love it and hate it at the same time. It is so much lighter than the 135mm that I can actually have it with me all the time, yet the results are not as good when it comes to head shots and bokeh. I can best describe the 85mm FE f/1.8 as “a must have lens, unless you already have something better”.

I will post a comparison of the sharpness of Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, Sigma DG HSM 135mm f/1.8 Art and the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA in few days.

 

Posted by Nikolai Tsekov

My goal is to collect all the “native” compatible autofocus FE lens and review every new one released in the future for as long as Sony keeps supporting the E-mount. Clicking on any of the ads and buying stuff from Amazon following the links in the blog would help me a lot.

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