Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Review

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens

This lens is slated to begin shipping on Thu, May 13, 2021. In the meantime, I'll share my expectations.

Welcome to number 60, the 60th Sony FE lens. Sony made this milestone a memorable one by delivering the first FE lens with an f/1.2 aperture.

Also notable is that with the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens, the ultra-popular 50mm focal length gets the professional-grade Sony G Master treatment. I mentioned in the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens review that, before reviewing the ZA lens, I found it surprising that a 50mm GM lens was not available long prior. However, after reviewing that high-performing ZA lens, the need for a GM version seemed considerably less urgent, and the 50mm GM lens could be nothing less than incredible to justify its existence.

In addition to having a pro-grade build quality and the widest-available aperture, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens's Quad XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors will deliver high-performing AF, and the realized image quality will be outstanding. While this lens is premium-priced, it is easily within reach of professionals and serious amateurs.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Angle View

Focal Length

When selecting the ideal lens for a particular use, the focal length always becomes a primary consideration. The focal length determines the angle of view, which determines the subject distance required for the desired framing, and the distance from the subject determines the perspective.

On a full-frame body, a 50mm focal length provides an angle of view that seems natural, and that aspect brings great general-purpose usefulness. So useful, and thus, so popular, is this focal length that 50mm (or very similar) focal length prime lenses are found in all major brand lens lineups, with some brands having numerous options. Sony has four FE 50mm prime lenses at review time, plus a 55mm option for those who need a little more.

Fifty mm lenses are frequently used for fashion, portraiture, weddings, documentary, street, lifestyle, sports, architecture, landscape, commercial, around-the-home, and general studio photography applications, including product photography. As you likely noted, a number of useful applications for this lens include people as subjects. While a 50mm lens used (on a full-frame body) has a modestly too wide angle of view for tightly framed headshot portraits (a too-close perspective is required), but it is excellent for wider portrait framing.

Having a 50mm focal length and f/1.2 aperture available opens many artistic opportunities, including those found in nature.

To visualize where 50mm fits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from a zoom lens review.

Focal Length Range Example

24mm | 35mm | 50mm | 70mm | 85mm | 105mm

On an ASP-C/1.5x sensor format body, the 50mm focal length provides an angle of view similar to a 75mm lens on a full-frame sensor format body. Uses for this angle of view coincide with most uses of the 50mm focal length, with modestly tighter framing or modestly longer perspective for the same framing being the difference. The APS-C angle of view favors tightly-framed portraits.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Front View

Max Aperture

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens's massive f/1.2 aperture opening is unsurpassed in an AF interchangeable lens. Most lens manufacturers offer a 50mm lens with an f/1.4 aperture, but only Canon and Nikon also offer the f/1.2 AF lens option. An f/1.2 aperture has a 17% larger diameter with a 40% larger aperture area over f/1.4 for an additional nearly 0.5-stops of light.

An ultra-wide f/1.2 aperture allowing vast amounts of light to reach the imaging sensor provides tremendous benefits. Use that light to enable action (subject and camera) stopping shutter speeds in very low light levels, along with low ISO settings for reduced noise. It seems there is always enough light for handholding 50mm at f/1.2.

Another advantage of a wide aperture lens is the background blur it can create. F/1.2 with a close subject creates a very shallow DOF, drawing the viewer's eye to the in-focus subject. Longer focal lengths better magnify a background blur, but with an f/1.2 aperture, this 50mm lens can also do that. Add artistic capabilities to this lens's list of highly-desired features.

While waiting for the Sony lens to arrive, I'll share an aperture comparison example created with the Canon 50mm lens.

Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens Aperture Comparison Example

At f/1.2, the foreground trees stand out against the blurred background trees, and the viewer's eye is directed to them (even one of the foreground trees is slightly blurred in the shallow depth of field illustrated here). At f/16, the background trees appear to be part of the image, which is sometimes desirable. Compare your current 50mm lens's widest aperture to f/1.2.

Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens Maximum Blur Example

Above is a look at the maximum background blur the Canon version of this lens can produce. Expect similar from the Sony lens.

If you are shooting under a full sun at f/1.2, you will likely need a 1/8000 sec shutter speed at ISO 100 to avoid over-exposure. Positive is that there is little action that a 1/8000 sec shutter speed cannot stop, but if the subject has very bright or reflective colors, even 1/8000 might not be fast enough to avoid blown highlights. Some cameras have an extended ISO setting as low as 50 that can optionally be used in this situation (though dynamic range may be impacted). Optimal is to use a camera offering shutter speeds faster than 1/8000. Using a neutral density filter is a good solution to retaining the use of f/1.2 under direct sunlight when the shutter limitation is exceeded. Stopping down (narrowing) the aperture is always an option for preventing over-exposure, though stopping down negates the need for the wide f/1.2 aperture, and the subject-isolating shallow depth of field is lost.

The notable drawbacks to lenses that feature very wide maximum apertures relate to the larger, heavier lens elements required by design. Those larger elements translate directly into larger, heavier, and more expensive lenses. Impressive is that the FE 50mm f/1.2 lens weighs the same as the FE f/1.4 lens and measures only slightly wider, though the price is, as expected, moderately higher.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Click Switch

Many Sony prime lenses, including this one, feature an aperture ring that enables a manually-selected aperture. With the ring in the A (Auto) position, the camera controls the aperture setting. All other settings electronically force the aperture to the chosen opening, and a 2-position switch on the bottom right side of the lens toggles the aperture ring between 1/3 stop clicks and smooth, quiet, non-clicked adjustments, ideal for video recording.

Aside from a slightly more complicated design, the primary disadvantage of an aperture ring is that inadvertent aperture changes can be made. Making the A click stop firm reduces this concern.

For most photographers, the benefits of a wide max aperture prime lens far outweigh the drawbacks. Wide apertures are a highly-desired lens feature. Usually, no flash is required.

Image Stabilization

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens is not optically stabilized. The good news is that Sony takes care of this omission with Steady Shot or IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) in their mirrorless cameras. In addition to reducing camera shake, the stabilized imaging sensor provides a still viewfinder image, enabling careful composition. Sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.

With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu must be used to enable or disable IBIS, a slight impediment to working quickly, going from tripod to handholding, for example.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Side View

Image Quality

As I shared earlier in the review, the expectation is that the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens will produce incredible image quality. Sony MTF chart shows the bars pushed very high, backing up that premise. I can't wait to see how this lens performs in real life.

Have you noticed the concave shape of the front element in the product images and this diagram?

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Design

The design of this lens is illustrated above. "XA (extreme aspherical) elements and other advanced technologies combine to achieve extraordinary resolution and contrast from the image center right out to the edges." [Sony]

In an interview, Atsuo Kikuchi, Product Leader and Optical Design Lead, shared some interesting information.

"Essentially, increasing optical performance is all about how you reduce aberrations.

Historically, 50‑mm lenses have typically used a Gauss-type layout. The Gauss layout has groups of lens elements distributed symmetrically on either side of a central aperture, which causes aberrations from each side of the aperture to cancel each other out. It is particularly well suited to the 50‑mm angle of view, so the majority of 50‑mm lenses in the past have utilized this arrangement.

However, this symmetrical structure by itself only compensates for distortion and curvature of field aberrations, and does not, for example, efficiently compensate for spherical aberration or sagittal flare. In short, this optical design choice wouldn't have allowed us to achieve the high aberration compensation performance that we were aiming for."

"Our aim with this lens was a level of optical performance where one can be absolutely comfortable shooting at maximum aperture. To achieve that, our optical arrangement partially "breaks" the symmetrical design and thoroughly suppresses aberrations difficult to suppress with a symmetrical lens design."

"Our new optical arrangement uses just three XA (extreme aspherical) lenses, avoids enlarging the diameter of the front element, and keeps the number of lens elements to a minimum—achieving a compact overall size."

"As you may know, the surface accuracy of the XA lenses used in the G Master series is adjusted down to submicron level. The large F1.2 aperture and large outer element diameter of this lens demanded a substantial increase in the precision of each step of the manufacturing process of the three XA lenses used, in order to achieve the increased surface accuracy required. It was the highest manufacturing hurdle we've ever faced. But integrating the design and manufacturing processes improved each step, and facing the new technological challenges head-on helped us to attain both a large diameter and high precision.

In particular, the XA lens positioned second from the front in the above Lens Configuration Chart contributes greatly to reducing the number of lens elements required in the front assembly, and also reducing its size and weight. Being able to use, in this position, a large-diameter aspherical lens with a manufacturing precision that only Sony can achieve was a huge advantage that underpins the whole optical design of the compact F1.2 lens."

Again, optical performance short of outstanding is extremely unlikely.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Linear Motors

Focusing

"Fast, accurate focus is assured, even with extremely shallow 50 mm F1.2 depth of field. Four XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors smoothly deliver high thrust to position the large, heavy focus groups for fast, accurate AF." [Sony] Sony's first and only other lens utilizing quad XD motors driving AF is the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens, a very high-performing lens.

Expect the FE 50 f/1.2 GM lens to internally focus with good speed. Remember that (at least some) cameras, including the Sony a1 and a7R IV, defocus the image slightly before final focusing in AF-S mode even if the subject was initially in focus. This process adds significantly to the focus lock time. Sony camera autofocus speed is noticeably faster in AF-C mode.

During AF, only faint clicks should be audible to a very close ear in a quiet environment. The AF accuracy from this lens is expected to be excellent, and low light AF performance from a lens with capabilities approaching night vision should be outstanding.

A customizable AFL button is provided. While in continuous focus mode, this button can be pressed to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique. This button also acts as a custom button and can be programmed to another function using the camera's menu.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported via Sony's DMF (Direct Manual Focus) AF mode. This lens has an AF/MF switch, allowing this frequently used camera setting to be changed without diving into the menu system.

Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as the focus is pulled from one extent to the other, referred to as focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing negatively impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone very-critically framing while adjusting focus. Images illustrating this behavior will be shared here, but most lenses show a modest-moderate amount of focus breathing.

The nicely sized ribbed-rubber manual focus ring should function nicely.

"Linear Response MF ensures the focus ring responds to subtle control when focusing manually and is ideal for creative focusing effects when shooting video. The focus ring rotation translates directly to a corresponding change in focus, so control feels immediate and precise." [Sony]

I'm happy to see linear response featured in this lens. Electronic focusing (vs. gear driven) AF can enable a variable rate of focus adjustment based on the focus ring rotation speed. However, this feature must be tuned precisely to avoid frustration when rocking the ring back and force to obtain a precise focus setting. As Sony mentioned, the variable rate can be problematic when pulling focus during video capture.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens's 15.8" (400mm) minimum focus distance spec generates a 0.17x maximum magnification spec. While that spec will be thought remarkable by no one, it is normal for the class and adequate for the common uses for this type of lens.

ModelMFDMM
Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens15.7"(400mm)0.19x
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM Lens11.8"(300mm)0.25x
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens18.0"(457mm)0.15x
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S Lens15.7"(400mm)0.15x
Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens15.7"(400mm)0.15x
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens15.7"(400mm)0.18x
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens9.8"(250mm)0.26x
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens15.8"(400mm)0.17x
Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens17.7"(450mm)0.14x
Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens6.3"(160mm)1.00x
Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens19.7"(500mm)0.14x
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens31.5"(800mm)0.12x
Tamron 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens11.4"(290mm)0.29x
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens19.7"(500mm)0.14x

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a very significant decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. As of review time, Sony does not publish extension tube specs, nor do they manufacture these items, but third-party Sony compatible extension tubes are available.

This lens is not compatible with Sony teleconverters.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Side View with Hood

Build Quality & Features

The G Master lens series represents Sony's best-available lenses. They are the complete pro-ready package, and the FE 50 GM's family resemblance is obvious.

Sony FE lenses have a rather narrow mount with an obvious diameter increase occurring not far in from the mount end. Once the wider diameter is reached, the lens maintains a mostly straight design with a slight diameter increase at the rubber-covered focus ring, making it easy to tactilely find. The outer lens barrel construction is engineering plastic.

Overall, this lens's build quality is expected to be high, with all rings and switches having a precision feel to them. The AF/MF switch is again recessed, making it hard to inadvertently change, and making a bit more effort required to intentionally change it, especially with gloves on.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Weather Sealing

"Effective dust and moisture resistance." [Sony] This is a great lens to use outdoor, and its dust and moisture-resistant design, including a gasketed mount, can save the day out there.

According to Yuki Mizuno, Actuator Control Lead, "We also considered environmental temperature variations. The properties of mechanical and electrical components—such as the thrust power of actuators—vary with environment and temperature. The lens contains software that constantly optimizes performance by autonomously calculating various control parameters to maintain accuracy even under severe conditions. As a result, creators can be assured of high performance even when shooting under harsh conditions in the field, such as extremely cold or hot environments."

The front element is fluorine-coated to resist dust, moisture, and fingerprints and for easier cleaning.

The FE 50 F1.2 GM is only slightly longer than the FE 35 GM, a relatively compact lens. However, the 50's similar size addition to the diameter (0.4", 11mm) is going to feel a bit fat in comparison. That wider diameter increasing the 50's weight by nearly 50% over the 35 f/1.4 GM is going to be even more noticeable. Still, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens will be easy to carry and use.

Perhaps most remarkable is the FE 50mm F1.2 GM lens having a size and weight nearly equivalent to those of the FE 50mm F1.4 ZA (and FE 85mm F1.4 GM) lens.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens33.5(950)3.5 x 4.3(89.8 x 108.0)772018
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens10.2(290)2.9 x 2.0(74.0 x 51.0)581993
Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM Lens5.6(160)2.7 x 1.6(69.2 x 40.5)432020
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens9.9(280)2.9 x 2.1(73.5 x 54.2)582008
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S Lens14.6(415)3.0 x 3.4(76.0 x 86.5)622018
Sigma 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens42.4(1200)3.5 x 5.2(87.8 x 131.0)822018
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens28.8(815)3.4 x 3.9(85.4 x 99.9)772014
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens18.5(524)3.0 x 3.8(76.0 x 96.0)672021
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens27.5(778)3.4 x 4.3(87.0 x 108.0)722021
Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens27.5(778)3.3 x 4.3(83.5 x 108.0)722016
Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens6.6(186)2.7 x 2.3(68.6 x 59.5)492016
Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens8.3(236)2.8 x 2.8(70.8 x 71.0)552016
Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens9.9(281)2.5 x 2.8(64.4 x 70.5)492013
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens28.9(820)3.5 x 4.2(89.5 x 107.5)772016
Tamron 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens19.2(544)3.2 x 3.6(80.4 x 91.4)672015
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens32.5(922)3.2 x 3.8(82.5 x 97.5)672015
Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens36.4(1030)3.6 x 5.7(92.4 x 144.0)772013

For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

Based on this lens's shape relative to its 85mm sibling, I expect knuckles to uncomfortably contact the barrel of this lens when tightly gripping the Sony a7R III and IV.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens accepts common 72mm-sized filters. Note that the front element of this lens is surely very expensive. Consider the merit of a protection filter for this lens.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM ALC-SH163 Lens Hood

Sony includes the semi-rigid, round-shaped plastic hood in the box. The Sony ALC-SH163 lens hood's shape permits standing the lens on the hood, and the rubber-coated end of the hood is helpful in that regard (and it looks cool). The hood has a flocked interior for superior reflection avoidance, and a push-button release makes the bayonet mount easy to use. The size of this hood is adequate to protect the front lens element from contrast-robbing, flare-inducing light and from impact, including from light rain.

A soft lens case is included in the box.

Price, Value, Wrap Up

While the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is an expensive lens, the price is in line with the major competitors' offerings (and less expensive than Canon's RF 50 F1.2). Combined with the expected performance of this lens, the FE 50 GM should be an excellent value for those looking for the ultimate image quality.

As an "FE" lens, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including full-frame and APS-C sensor format models. Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.

I expect the reviewed Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens to be sourced online-retail.

Alternatives to the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens

As I hinted at the beginning of this review, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens performs so well that developing a GM lens in the 50mm focal length seemed of low urgency. If the GM lens matches the ZA lens from an image quality perspective, I'll be happy. I expect to be very happy.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens vs. Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens comparison shows these lenses remarkably similar in many regards, including identical weight. The GM lens has a very slightly larger diameter and a slightly higher maximum magnification (0.17x vs. 0.15x). The GM lens is priced moderately higher, but don't forget about the noticeable nearly-0.5-stops of aperture advantage that lens has. If the f/1.2 option is in the budget, it should be the better option.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Compared to Canon RF F1.2 L USM Lens

If evaluating between camera brands, the Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens becomes the obvious comparison lens.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens vs. Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens comparison shows these two lenses sharing a length spec. The Sony lens shaves about 3mm from the Canon lens's diameter, but overall, the size of the lenses is not differentiating. From a weight perspective, the Sony is 18% lighter, and the 6 oz (172g) difference will be modestly noticeable.

The Sony lens has 11 diaphragm blades vs. 10. The Sony lens's odd (vs. even) blade count number will generate 22-point starbursts when used at narrow apertures vs. 10 stronger points from the Canon lens. Which count is preferable is a matter of taste. All else equal, more blades result in rounder bokeh effects at narrow apertures.

The Canon lens features a focus limiter switch, enabling a shortened focus distance range for potentially less focus hunting in some scenarios. The Canon lens has a slightly higher maximum magnification capability, 0.19x vs. 0.17x.

The Canon lens is more expensive — $300.00 more expensive as I write this. Will the higher price be justified? The optical performance comparison potentially holds that answer. From what we've seen from Sony GM lenses so far, the optical performance of the new FE 50 f/1.2 should be similar to that of the impressive Canon option. Choosing the lens to match the favored camera brand will likely be the wisest option.

Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens Top View

Summary

It was only a matter of time until Sony included a 50mm lens in the GM family. Offering that focal length and an ultra-wide aperture combination in the flagship lineup seemed a no-brainer.

"Speaking as an optical designer, it's no exaggeration to call this lens the pinnacle of the G Master series, with the ultimate in resolution and bokeh." [Atsuo Kikuchi]

I expect that price will be the only hurdle keeping the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens from joining most Sony lens kits.

Because this focal length and aperture are so useful, it makes sense to ensure the best quality lens providing such is in the kit. The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens will be that lens.

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Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens
Bryan Carnathan
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