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Sony FE 85mm f1.8 review

The Sony FE 85mm f1.8 is a portrait lens for the masses

Sony FE 85mm f1.8
(Image: © Sony)

Digital Camera World Verdict

While the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens is the company’s most exotic ‘money no object’ portrait prime, this f/1.8 is only about a third of the cost and less than half the weight. It therefore lightens the load for handheld shooting and is easier on your bank balance. Handling is refined, build quality is impressive and image quality is excellent in all respects, making this lens a great buy.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent image quality

  • +

    Compact and lightweight

  • +

    Weather-sealed construction

Cons

  • -

    No optical image stabilizer

  • -

    Looser depth of field than an f/1.4 lens

The Sony FE 85mm f1.8 follows on from Sony’s 35mm and 50mm f/1.8 lenses, and has a similar look and feel. It’s certainly not cheap for an 85mm f/1.8 but only costs about a third as much as Sony’s f/1.4 G Master lens and is much more manageable in size and weight. If you don’t feel the need for that extra two-thirds of an f/stop offered by the G Master lens, the f/1.8 is a much more cost-effective proposition.

Specifications

Mount: Sony E (FE)
Full frame: Yes
Autofocus: Yes
Image stabilisation: No
Lens construction: 9 elements in 8 groups
Angle of view: 29 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 9
Minimum aperture: f/22
Minimum focusing distance: 0.8m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.13x
Filter size: 67mm
Dimensions: 78x82mm
Weight: 371g

Key features

With a minimalist design, this lens has no aperture ring nor a focus distance scale, although it does have an AF/MF switch and a customizable focus hold button. Autofocus is courtesy of quick and virtually silent dual linear stepping motors, with an electronically coupled manual focus ring that works with smooth precision.

The weather-resistant build quality feels very good, while the optical design incorporates an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element and a well-rounded 9-blade diaphragm. Relatively compact and lightweight, compared with Sony’s 85mm G Master lens, it measures 78x82mm and weighs 371g. The f/1.8 lens is therefore more comfortable for prolonged periods of handheld shooting, although it lacks optical image stabilization, which can be an issue with older Sony cameras that lack in-body stabilizers.

Performance

Center-sharpness is absolutely outstanding, even when shooting wide-open, and it remains highly impressive right out to the extreme corners of the frame. Indeed, there’s virtually nothing to be gained in sharpness by stopping down to f/2.8. The quality of bokeh doesn’t match that of the f/1.4 G Master lens but it’s nevertheless very dreamy, and remains smooth when reducing the aperture a little.

Lab results

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).

Sharpness:

(Image credit: Future)
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Center-sharpness is fabulous from f/1.8 to f/11 and only really drops off at the narrowest aperture of f/22, due to diffraction. Sharpness also remains very good even at the extreme edges and corners of the frame.

Fringing:

(Image credit: Future)
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Lateral chromatic aberration is very minimal throughout the aperture range, even in the corners of the frame. Axial chromatic aberration is also very well controlled.

Distortion: 0.15

There’s a virtually imperceptible amount of pincushion distortion, even with in-camera correction disabled.

Verdict

While the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens is the company’s most exotic ‘money no object’ portrait prime, this f/1.8 is only about a third of the cost and less than half the weight. It therefore lightens the load for handheld shooting and is easier on your bank balance. Handling is refined, build quality is impressive and image quality is excellent in all respects, making this lens a great buy.

Read more:

• Best camera lenses (opens in new tab) to get
• Best Canon lenses (opens in new tab)
• Best Nikon lenses (opens in new tab)
• Best Sony lenses (opens in new tab)

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Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 


His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 


In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.