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Sony's 50mm Wonder

I won't be the first person to comment negatively on Sony's latest lens, the Carl Zeiss T* 1.4/50mm for the α DSLT series. A lens that costs $1,500 US. I won't be the first to question why I should buy a heavily plasticized 50mm lens for that much, especially from Sony. I will try to be a bit more reserved, more "fair and balanced" in my criticisms.

Carl Zeiss didn't build the lens itself. It's a "Carl Zeiss Optics and Planar Design," meaning that it was built by Sony or a Sony partner ODM. Looking at the Big Two (Canon and Nikon) for comparison, I find the most expensive Nikon 50mm is the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 AIS manual focus lens for a measly $650, while Canon wants to sell you an EF 50mm f/1.2L USM autofocus lens for $1,500 US. Of course the Canon supporters will tell you their $1,500 50mm is worth every penny. Every. Penny. So maybe Sony is jealous of Canon.

This isn't the first Sony/Carl Zeiss expensive lens. The last time I clutched my wallet in fear was when Sony introduced the 1.8/25mm E-mount lens for the rather thrifty sum of $1,100 US. No, I didn't get one of those. I'm more than satisfied with my pedestrian 2.8/19mm and 2.8/30mm Sigma lenses.

And folks who live in µ4:3rds houses shouldn't throw stones. There's been more than a few $1,000+ lenses released, from Panasonic and Voigtländer, both zooms and primes. While I certainly won't be ponying up to purchase such a lens, someone somewhere will, and they'll produce absolutely brilliant images with that lens, images that couldn't be produced with any other lens. Or at least that's what all the web-based stories and reviews will declare.

I guess if I were going to drop $1,500 on a lens, it would be nice not to see the plastic mold marks on the lens. I can get mold marks with cheap Olympus and Panasonic µ4:3rds lenses. At least with Canon you get an extra 1/2 stop speed, and it looks like it might actually be worth $1,500.

Now that Canon 1.2/50mm certainly looks like a Manly Lens. And I don't even like Canon.


  1. Actually the Canon has been routinely panned in a wide range of reviews. When I shot Canon I compared it to other lenses and wound up using the above mentioned Nikon 50mm with an adapter ring, was happier and about $1100 richer (bought the Nikon when prices were much lower...).

    1. Yes, well, this is delivered tongue-in-cheek, at least with regards to Canon. I read about the Nikon optic on Luminus Landscape, "Nikon's Hidden Lens Jewel" in May 2012. At the time it was listed in the article for $750, and when I clicked on the link it led to a copy for $850. Price seems to fluctuate a bit with this lens. I liked the last sentence of all about the 50mm 1:1.2;

      "But if its strengths (and weaknesses) are understood, and suitable subjects under interesting light are captured, this lens' unique optical signature is a joy to work with."

      Sounds like it would be a really fun lens to own.

  2. I still use my Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM lens that I bought in August 2006 for a whopping sum of $349.95. It is a very good lens. That new Sony lens must really be something... but is it really 4.3 times better? (I never could convince myself that the Canon 50mm f/1.2 was 4.3 times better.)

    1. The problem is the Sony brand. On the one hand Sony wants to become aspirational with this 50mm (and with the RX1 to be sure). On the other hand Sony wants to sell you an even cheaper version of one of their entry level cameras (the new α58), with a plastic lens mount. You can't have it both ways. Either sell quality and charge accordingly or go pure consumer electronics with its lower price points.

      As I alluded to in the article, if I'm going to spend that much money on a lens, then do me the favor of removing the plastic mold lines off the plastic lens barrel.

  3. Bill, I'll bet you're the only person who's commented on the mould lines on this lens. Great observation, and I do think those mould lines speak volumes about how (not) serious Sony is about putting this thing into photographers hands.


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