With it’s ultra-wide 114-degree field of view on full-frame cameras, the Sony FE 14mm F1.8 G Master is designed to let you see the bigger picture. It’s eminently suitable for capturing sweeping vistas in landscape photography, cityscapes, architectural interiors and more besides. The fast aperture rating also makes it ideal for astrophotography and the lens is engineered to suit both stills and video capture. A notable competitor is the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art lens, which costs about the same price. However, the Sony is more compact and much lighter in weight, at 460g compared with the Sigma’s 1,170g, as well as boasting additional handling exotica.
Mount: Sony E (FE)
Sony product number: SEL14F18GM
Lens construction: 14 elements in 11 groups
Angle of view: 114 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 9
Minimum aperture: f/16
Minimum focusing distance: 0.25m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.1x
Filter attachment: Rear gel slot
Top of the features list is the expansive viewing angle. Not just for shoehorning more of a scene into the image frame, it also enables creative expression, as you can get in close to subjects and exaggerate the perspective between foreground and background elements. The f/1.8 aperture makes it a fast lens, and it’s also super-speedy in terms of autofocus, utilizing dual XD (eXtreme Dynamic) linear stepping motors. Typical of the breed, the autofocus system is also virtually silent in operation, as well as enabling smooth transitions during video capture.
Despite its lightweight build, the lens packs 14 optical elements. Specialist glass includes two ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, one Super ED element and two high-precision XA (eXtreme Aspherical) elements, plus a regular aspherical element. The mix intends to maximize sharpness, contrast and clarity while keeping aberrations to a minimum. Nano AR Coating II is also applied to minimize ghosting and flare.
Typical of ultra-wide-angle lenses, the petal shaped hood is an integral part of the barrel and can’t be removed. This helps to give physical protection to the bulbous front element, with the usual downside that there’s no front filter attachment thread. This can be a drawback for landscape photography, where you might want to use ND Grad or high-density neutral filters. We wouldn’t advise using circular polarizing filters with such a wide-angle lens anyway, as the polarizing effect will vary across the image frame.
Build and handling
Handling is sublime. The electronically-coupled manual focus ring has a smooth and precise action with a linear response that’s well suited to both stills and video shooting. A further bonus for the latter is that the manual aperture ring can be de-clicked via a switch located on the right hand side of the barrel. For stills, one-third f/stop click steps are available. On the left of the barrel, there’s an AF-MF focus mode switch and a function button which is nominally for AF Hold, although its action can be customized via in-camera menus.
The most spectacular thing about this lens is its performance. As well as being very rapid, the autofocus system proved unerringly accurate throughout our testing. Levels of sharpness are superb, right out to the extreme corners of the frame, even when shooting wide-open at f/1.8. There’s also remarkably little coma and astigmatism. That’s great news for astrophotography and shooting nighttime cityscapes, as it ensures that stars and pinprick lights don’t take on irregular shapes towards the edges and corners of the frame, especially when shooting at the widest aperture.
Clarity and contrast are excellent, and there’s highly effective control over ghosting and flare, which is impressive given the ultra-wide viewing angle of the lens. It might sound odd to comment on the bokeh of such a wide-angle lens, given that the depth of field tends to be enormous. However, when shooting close-ups at wide apertures, you can effectively defocus the background and the quality of bokeh is very smooth.
We run a range of lab tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master testing suite. Photos of test charts are taken across the range of apertures and zooms (where available), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberrations.
We use Imatest SFR (spatial frequency response) charts and analysis software to plot lens resolution at the center of the image frame, corners and mid-point distances, across the range of aperture settings and, with zoom lenses, at four different focal lengths. The tests also measure distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration).
Lab-tests never tell the whole story for ultra-wide-angle lenses, the large viewing angle demanding that test charts need to be shot from extremely close distances. Even so, sharpness scores are superb at the center of the image frame and, in real-world shooting, the edges and corners are similarly impressive.
There’s virtually no color fringing across almost the whole image frame and it’s very minimal right out at the extreme edges and corners, even when uncorrected in-camera or during raw processing.
As with sharpness, the close proximity demanded for shooting test charts with ultra-wide-angle lenses tends to give unflattering lab results for distortion. Either way, the Sony scores very well for keeping barrel distortion to a minimum, and it’s hard to spot in regular, real-world shooting, even with in-camera correction disabled.
This Sony gem is surprisingly compact and lightweight for an ultra-wide-angle, full-frame compatible lens with such a fast aperture rating. Even so, there are no compromises in terms of build quality, refined handling characteristics and all-round performance. Image quality is simply stellar. Indeed, the lens takes sweeping landscapes in its stride, it’s epic for cityscapes and it scintillates when the stars come out at night. It’s undeniably pricey but worth every cent.