Lenses for Sony – Part 1 – Introduction

 

For a long-suffering victim of the notorious Sony (A mount/E mount) bait and switch, lenses have been both a sore point and an important topic.  Specifically, much thought had to be given to what strategy would allow you to get the kind of photos you wanted now but minimize the cost of eventual lens duplication when Sony finally got their act together and produced a native version.  I could go on and on about adapters for every lens mount known to photography, manual lenses of all description from the cheapest old 50mm nifty fifties made with radioactive thorium coatings to top of the line Leica glass costing in excess of $10,000.  We could discuss the perils of using wide angle rangefinder lenses on the very short e-mount registration distance and we could discuss the tradeoffs between the slower AF speed of the LAEA3 vs the light loss of the translucent mirror in the LAEA4.  We could talk about these things but let’s not.  All of these work arounds are like those very old moving pictures from the turn of the 19th century that chronicled the failures in aviation that preceded the Wright Brothers.  There were planes that flapped their wings like birds.  There were giant corkscrews that pitched around like a top until they toppled over and vibrated apart.  And there was that glider with three levels of wings mounted on a bicycle that collapsed as soon as it reached the bottom of the ramp it was on.  All these horrors are relics of the past.  The only reminders for me are a few modified Contax G lenses and a few adapters for them still hanging around my photography room (very sad).

Now that Sony has gotten around to filling out the FE lens line up to a pretty convincing degree the lens decisions that a Sony photographer has to make are much closer to the decisions that a Canon or Nikon shooter makes.  Native or third party?  Manual or autofocus?  Fast, large, heavy and expensive or slow, small, light and cheap?  Interestingly, if you’re short of cash and go for the more reasonably priced choices you sometimes end up with a very satisfactory lens.  For instance, the Sony FE 55mm and 28mm lenses are among the least expensive in the line-up but are both very good performers.  But there is no getting around the fact that gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S.) is a very common and seductive disease.  I know because I am a sufferer of this disorder.  Oh well.

So how do you go about choosing the lenses you should buy?  Well, even before you talk about budget, decide on what lenses you do and do not need to do the kind of photography you plan on doing.  If you’re a portrait photographer, you won’t need a 10mm wide angle lens.  If you shoot high speed sports like motor cross racing you probably want good autofocus capability and a manual focus lens will have limited application.  One thing I find interesting is what I find myself using in real life as opposed to what I own.  I have a Minolta 200mm macro lens that I typically use on a manual focus adapter.  Well actually it’s an LAEA3 and can autofocus but not with a screw drive lens which the Minolta macro is.  Anyway, although the primary mission of this Minolta lens is for macro, I find myself using it for all sorts of things.  It’s a very sharp lens and I like it for landscape, portraits and even cityscapes.  Another example of what I actually use vs what I have is the 35mm focal length.  I have the Sony f/1.4 and f/2.8 35mm FE lenses.  Without a doubt, the f/1.4 lens is the better lens and in a darker indoor environment it should be my preference.  But it is a much bulkier and heavier lens.  So, suppose I’m going to a family occasion and want to enjoy myself but still take a few photos.  I take the f/2.8.  It fits much more conveniently in my jacket pocket and along with the high ISO capability of the Sony A7S does a very nice job without the extra stop of light.  And how about autofocus for landscape photography?  You might say who needs it?  Just set it to infinity and have at it.  An interesting question comes up.  What if the infinity stop is off by a small amount?  Would a good mirrorless autofocus camera be able to correct for this?  These are questions that come up.  There are some very high quality manual focus lenses now available for Sony e mount.  Zeiss and Voigtlander both have some interesting wide angle manual choices.  These lenses tend to be much smaller than the autofocus lenses of the same focal length.  Should they be an alternative for you?

So, I’ve made some broad statements here that taken alone are pretty meaningless.  In the succeeding parts of this sries of posts I’ll concentrate on specifics and some things I think I’ve learned about lens choices for Sony FE cameras.

6 thoughts on “Lenses for Sony – Part 1 – Introduction

  • December 22, 2017 at 5:59 pm
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    I had A mount Sony camera for 12 years starting with an A100 and culminating with am A850 that I shot until earlier this year when I traded it for an A7RII. By that time the 850 had become a special purpose camera with my E mount A 6300 being my “daily carry”. Ironically, the small, light, compact and extremely capable A6300 is still my daily carry, the A7RII with an FE lens being massive, but that’s another story.

    I’ve got quite a collection of A lenses and not so many of E mounts, much less FE, especially considering the FE cost. I’ve got 2 FE lenses, a f2.8 24-70 G Master and a f2.8 90MM prime macro. These two lenses cost me over $3,000 and sorta tapped out my lens buying budget for the near term so I supplement them on the short and long ends with my A mounts through an LE-AH 4 adapter.

    I’ve got a Sony 11-18 for the short side but it’s a crop sensor lens so it functions as a 16-27. But even so, my next lens purchase will probably be a short FE replacement, maybe even a prime in the <16mm range. On the tall side, I've got an A mount G series 70-300. It's not very fast, 3.5-5.6. It's a full frame lens so there's no crop factor. The lens isn't particularly highly rated but maybe I got an especially good copy because I've always gotten very sharp images with creamy smooth bokeh from it.

    I've got a couple of E Mount lenses (crop) that I use on my A6300. The combination of that camera and my Zeiss F4.0 16–70 is the ultimate expression of a travelers camera that I've found. I'm very hard pressed to tell the difference between images shot with this combo and the several times more expensive A7. The main difference between them is that though the A6300 is a very good high ISO performer, the A7 is demonstrably better.

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  • December 22, 2017 at 6:33 pm
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    Tom:
    I sometimes think that if I had decided to go with Canon or Nikon all those many years ago I would have an easier time of it and would have had many opportunities that I missed out with Sony. But one thing I feel I gained. I think I have a much more thorough knowledge of the trade offs that the various equipment variables represent and the various strengths and weaknesses of the various equipment lines. And most of all I’ve learned what my own biases are with respect to photo gear. I’ve seen the improvement that small sensor cameras have made over the years. For portability the micro 4/3rds and APSC systems are an order of magnitude more convenient. But I must confess I’m a self-styled full frame snob. I like the feel of the bigger camera. Irrational but true.

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  • December 22, 2017 at 9:34 pm
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    There’s an obvious parallel between day to day cameras and pistols down here in the land of easily obtained carry permits.
    Q: What’s the best pistol for concealed carry?
    A: The one you’re most likely to have with you.
    But of course if you’re going to a prearranged photo shoot, carry the big boy and all the gear. Better than half of the good shots that I get are serendipitous, happenstance, no planning involved.

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  • December 23, 2017 at 5:35 am
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    “Better than half of the good shots that I get are serendipitous, happenstance, no planning involved.” And as much as it pains me to say, the phone cameras have gotten incredibly good. I say this because to my knowledge I am the only adult in North America without a cell phone.

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  • December 23, 2017 at 10:17 am
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    I’m zero as a social media guy but my profession absolutely REQUIRES connectivity, voice, email, text. + all of my files, budgets, plans, schedules, communication records, etc., are available to me where ever by cell phone via a cloud account.

    I’ve found that a text is a much more efficient method of business communication for the necessary simple messages that comprise 50% of my needed interactions. No phone tag, no voice mail, no preliminary pleasantries, no call backs, just a quick statement or interrogatory, maybe with a photo.

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    • December 23, 2017 at 11:58 am
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      Oh, I see the logic and convenience of them.. I just was too lazy to care. Now I think of it as another way for my job to monopolize my time. I’ll bet some day I’ll be forced to get one.

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