The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens is a compact, lightweight, affordable prime lens in an extremely useful general-purpose focal length. Focusing down to a 1:1 reproduction ratio (1.00x maximum magnification) is this lens's superpower, and that capability significantly increases the fun factor. Excellent image quality has not been forsaken. Combine those features, and the FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens presents a compelling argument to join your kit.
When selecting the ideal lens for a particular use, the focal length is always 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.
One attribute shared by all (accurately rated) 50mm lenses is the angle of view. 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 therefore, 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 three 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 good applications for this lens include people as subjects. 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 50mm is excellent for wider portrait framing.
This lens's close-focusing feature opens up a wide range of small, close, often very fun subjects ranging from jewelry to flowers. While insects are within this lens's capabilities, most bugs will be frightened by the close distance required to make them large in the frame.
To visualize where 50mm fits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from a zoom lens review.
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.
For zoom lenses that include 50mm and for lenses in general, the f/2.8 max aperture opening is relatively wide. However, few 50mm prime lenses have a maximum aperture opening this narrow. F/2.8 is a full 2-stops narrower (4x less light transmission) than the popular f/1.4 models. Compare this lens to 1:1-capable macro lenses, and the f/2.8 aperture appears among the brightest available.
The lower the aperture number, the more light the lens will allow to reach the sensor. Each "stop" in aperture change (examples: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6) increases or reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor by a factor of 2x (a substantial factor). Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits freezing action and handholding the camera in lower light levels and can also permit use of a lower, less noisy ISO setting. In addition to allowing more light to reach the sensor, increasing the aperture opening permits a shallower DOF (Depth of Field) that creates a stronger, better subject-isolating background blur (at equivalent focal lengths). An increased amount of light reaching the imaging sensor improves low light AF performance.
A narrow aperture's advantages are related to (often significantly) reduced lens element size and include smaller overall lens size, lighter weight, and lower cost. We all can appreciate those factors, and they apply to this lens relative to the f/1.4 variants. When recording video, only 1/60 second shutter speeds (twice the framerate) are typically needed (assuming you're not capturing high framerate slow-motion video), and wide apertures are not often required for 1/60 second rates in normally encountered ambient lighting.
Let's talk about close-focusing as it relates to aperture. The aperture displayed by the camera assumes an infinity focus distance. However, the effective aperture becomes darker at closer focus distances. The following chart details the measured (metered) light loss incurred at the specified subject magnification.
|Exposure Factor (loss in stops)||0||2/3||1||1 1/3||2|
This light loss is not unique to the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens or macro lenses in general. Many non-macro-designated lenses have a 1:4 reproduction ratio (0.25x maximum magnification) capability. Thus, you might notice light loss with any of your close-focusing lenses focused to their closest capabilities. However, the light loss becomes especially apparent at the highest reproduction ratios made available by the closest-focusing lenses, macro lenses.
In auto-exposure modes, the camera accounts for the close-focus light loss. With manual exposures, the photographer must account for the change. Digital preview and capture make this adjustment easy — be glad that we are no longer shooting film.
Circling back to the depth of field available at the widest aperture, I'll share an aperture comparison from the Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens review.
If you want the background to go away at the 50mm focal length, an f/1.4 lens is a better option. However, focusing closer is another method of reducing the depth of field, and this lens has that feature. Here is a maximum blur example:
When you move in close, DOF (Depth of Field) becomes very shallow at wide apertures, and at macro subject distances, DOF becomes shallow at even narrow apertures. Careful camera alignment is essential to place the plane of focus on the desired subject parts (such as the wings of a butterfly) even at f/8 and f/11 when near 1.00x magnification.
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens is not optically stabilized, but Sony takes care of that 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, such as going from tripod to handholding.
Perhaps more than any other lens quality, great sharpness, a combination of resolution and contrast, is desired.
At f/2.8, this lens is rather sharp, and as common with macro lenses, the peripheral image quality is similarly good. Stopping down by only 1/3 stop increases sharpness noticeably, and at f/4, this lens is impressively razor-sharp across most of the full-frame image circle.
I say "most" of the full-frame image circle because the extreme corners, a tiny percentage of the frame, are somewhat soft at f/2.8. The corners sharpen to very good by f/5.6.
Below you will find sets of 100% resolution center of the frame crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a7R III. The images were processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method with the sharpening amount set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening, but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
If I didn't show you the f/4 results, the f/2.8 results would look very good. The extremely sharp f/4 examples are impressive.
If present, focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration or RSA), is often made apparent in such a comparison. That issue is not exhibited by this lens (many modern lenses automatically correct for it).
Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-bottom-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture these images.
Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners, can be counted on to show a lens's weakest performance. The extreme corner image quality produced by this lens is not stellar at f/2.8, and at f/5.6, it is still not performing as extraordinarily as in most of the image circle. However, this image quality is good enough that some additional sharpening will add the extra touch-up needed. Again, only the extreme corners show this slight weakness.
Does corner sharpness matter? Corner sharpness does not always matter, but it does matter for many disciplines, including landscape and architecture photography and flat subject reproduction (such as artwork), a common macro lens use. When I'm photographing with a corner sharpness requirement, f/8 or f/11 is most often the aperture selected, and this lens works well for these purposes at these apertures. When shooting at wide apertures, the corners are usually intentionally out of focus. Videos captured at typical wide-aspect ratios also avoid the use of corners. I always prefer my lenses to be razor-sharp in the corners in case that feature is needed, but each of us must consider our applications to answer this paragraph's initial question and if no better option exists, any limitations present must be accepted.
When used on a camera that utilizes a lens's entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings. Expect about 2-stops of shading in this lens's corners at f/2.8. The shading amount is nearly halved at f/4, and just under 1-stop of shading remains at f/5.6. The vignetting decrease stops there. No further shading reduction is achieved at narrower apertures.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the nearly one-stop of shading showing at f/2.8 may be visible in some images, especially those with a solid color (such as a blue sky) showing in the corners.
One-stop of shading is often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.
Lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) refers to colors of the spectrum being magnified differently. Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better not to have this aberration in the first place. Color misalignment can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example. The image below is a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of an a7R III frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should only be black and white colors in this image. The additional colors indicate the presence of lateral CA. While there is some color separation showing here, the amount of separation is modest.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light. More simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to observe. Axial CA remains somewhat persistent when stopping down, with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused, and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation, with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
The examples below look at the defocused specular highlights' fringing colors in the foreground vs. the background. The lens has introduced any fringing color differences from the neutrally-colored subjects.
The color separation showing at f/2.8 is somewhat strong, but the results are much better at f/5.6.
Bright light reflecting off of lens elements' surfaces may cause flare and ghosting, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting, usually destructive visual artifacts. The shape, intensity, and position of the flare in an image is variable, dependant on the position and nature of the light source (or sources), selected aperture, shape of the aperture blades, and quantity and quality of the lens elements and their coatings. Aided especially by the low 8-element count, this lens produced practically no flare effects even at narrow apertures in our standard sun in the corner of the frame flare test, reflecting excellent performance.
Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality. High flare resistance is a welcomed trait of this lens.
Two lens aberrations are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma) or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Remember that Lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The image below is a 100% crop taken from the top-right corner of an a7R III frame.
These stars are not rendered as the desired points.
In general, macro lenses have minimal geometric distortion, and with near-negligible distortion, this lens fits that desired norm.
Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available (including in-camera), and distortion can easily be removed using these. Still, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level as some portion of the image must be stretched or the overall dimensions reduced.
As seen earlier in the review, the amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show, and macro lenses are advantaged in this regard. Assessing the bokeh quality is more challenging due to the infinite number of variables present among all available scenes. Here are some stopped-down (for diaphragm blade interaction) examples.
The first example shows defocused highlights. While these shapes are not smoothly rounded as (usually) preferred, they are relatively evenly filled. The three f/8 examples are full images reduced in size. These samples appear nice.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the frame's corner does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the frame's corner, the shape is not round, and that is the shape seen here.
As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced, and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming rounder.
With a 7-blade count diaphragm, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 14 points. In general, the more a lens is stopped down, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars tend to be. Wide aperture lenses tend to have an advantage in this regard, and this lens is capable of producing nice-looking stars.
The example above was captured at f/16.
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens features a seemingly simple design incorporating a couple of special lens elements.
Overall, this lens is optically a strong performer, leaving little to complain about. When stopped down to f/4, the favorite factor, image sharpness, is excellent, with only the most extreme corners falling slightly short of this definition.
AF accuracy is of utmost importance, and the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens performs well in this regard.
An economical stepping motor focuses this lens with reasonable speed, though cameras including the Sony a7R IV defocus the image slightly before final focusing in AF-S mode even if the subject was initially in focus, adding significantly to the focus lock time. Autofocus speed is noticeably faster in AF-C mode. An FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens full extent autofocus adjustment is slow.
During AF, a buzz is audible. The sound is very noticeable but not annoyingly loud.
This lens autofocuses in very low light levels, though autofocusing is slow as usual.
Focusing is external, with 1" (25mm) of extension at the minimum focus distance.
FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in Sony's DMF (Direct Manual Focus) mode with the shutter release half-pressed or the AF-ON button pressed.
This lens features a focus distance range limit switch that, in addition to enabling the full focus distance range, allows distance selection to be limited to 0.5-19.7' (0.16-0.30m) and 19.7' (0.3m) - ∞, with the narrower ranges improving AF speed in some situations. When the subject is expected to stay in one of the limited ranges, selecting that narrower range setting can potentially decrease focus lock times (reduced hunting).
A customizable AF hold button is provided. While in continuous focus mode, press the AF hold button to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique. This button also acts as a custom button (C5) that can be programmed to another function using the camera's menu.
Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame 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. With a huge range of focus distances to accommodate, this lens produces a significant change in subject size over a full extent focus distance adjustment.
While there seems to be plenty of lens barrel available for a larger focus ring, this medium-sized ring is adequate and nicely positioned. The ribbed ring is not rubber-coated. The focus ring rotation resistance is slightly sticky, but the extremely long 1160° of focus ring rotation provides easy, precise focusing. Manually turning the ring 1160° is a slow endeavor, but I like the linear action for rocking focus into perfection, and the linear aspect is useful for pulling video focus.
With a minimum focus distance of 6.3" (160mm), this lens is a real-deal macro lens with a 1.00x maximum magnification spec. Few lenses surpass this 1:1 reproduction ratio.
|Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens||9.1"||(230mm)||0.50x|
|Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens||17.7"||(450mm)||0.15x|
|Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens||17.7"||(450mm)||0.14x|
|Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens||6.3"||(160mm)||1.00x|
|Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens||19.7"||(500mm)||0.14x|
|Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.50x|
|Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro Classic Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.50x|
|Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||1.00x|
A subject measuring approximately 1.3 x 0.9" (33 x 22mm) fills a full-frame imaging sensor at the minimum focus distance, as illustrated below.
The USPS love postage stamp image area is 1.05 x .077" (26.67 x 19.558mm).
As mentioned, this lens extends 1" (25mm) at the minimum focus distance. The minimum focus distance is measured from the imaging sensor, and that extension leaves about 1.7" (43mm) of working distance to the subject. That short distance complicates lighting, and care must be exercised to avoid bumping the front of the lens into the subject.
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's working space without an extension tube is short, so only a short focus distance modification would work.
This lens is not compatible with Sony teleconverters.
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro is a great-looking lens that seems nicely built.
This compact lens has a consistent diameter that is comfortable in hand, and the narrow diameter avoids contact with my finger joints when hand holding the a7R IV.
The camera will park the lens retracted when powering down or going to sleep. Upon awakening or powering up, the camera will adjust focus to the previously set distance. This behavior avoids a maddening 1160° of focus ring rotation every time the camera goes to sleep while working at close focus distances.
With manufacturers opting to completely eliminate switches on some lenses, I welcome the (already discussed) two switches and button on this lens. These controls are flush-mounted, with just enough raised area for use with gloves. Solid position clicks reduce the challenge of selecting the focus limiter switch's middle position.
Sony indicates that this lens has a "Dust and moisture-resistant design." That said, the lens mount does not have a gasket, a seemingly significant omission in this regard. Use a rain cover if in a dusty or wet environment.
This is a wonderfully small and light lens, requiring little effort to carry in hand or case all day.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens||9.9||(280)||2.7 x 2.5||(68.0 x 63.0)||52||1987|
|Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Lens||27.5||(778)||3.3 x 4.3||(83.5 x 108)||72||2016|
|Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens||6.6||(186)||2.7 x 2.3||(68.6 x 59.5)||49||2016|
|Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens||8.3||(236)||2.8 x 2.8||(70.8 x 71.0)||55||2016|
|Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens||9.9||(281)||2.5 x 2.8||(64.4 x 70.5)||49||2013|
|Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens||25.8||(730)||3.2 x 3.0||(81.0 x 75.3)||67||2015|
|Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro Classic Lens||18.7||(530)||2.8 x 3.5||(72.0 x 88.0)||67||2010|
|Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens||21.3||(602)||3.1 x 5.1||(79.0 x 130.5)||62||2015|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.
Here is a visual comparison:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Note that these lenses are aligned on their mounts — the Zeiss lens has a deeper lens mount cap.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens to other lenses.
The FE 50 f/2.8 Macro Lens accepts 55mm threaded filters. Filters of this size are not common, but they are also not large or expensive.
Did you notice the lack of with-hood product images in this review? This lens does not have a hood included or available. The front lens element is deep inside the front of the lens, where it is already well protected from bright light and from impact.
A lens case is not included in the box, but finding somewhere to stow this lens's small footprint should not be challenging. Consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens has a relatively low price. Adding up the sum of this package, you get a lot for the cost — this lens is a very good value.
As an "FE" lens, the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro 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.
The reviewed Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens was online-retail sourced.
Staying in the Sony brand but ignoring the macro focus feature makes the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens appear the most compelling alternative. While not a macro lens, the f/1.8 lens obviously owns an also-valuable 1 1/3 stop max aperture advantage.
In the image quality comparison equalized to the widest common aperture, the f/1.8 lens is sharper in the center of the frame, but the wide-open f/2.8 lens rules the periphery. Stopping down to f/4 equalizes the center of the frame comparison, but the f/2.8 lens continues to performs better in the midframe area until f/8. As expected, the f/1.8 lens has less vignetting at f/2.8 and still has modestly less shading at narrow apertures. The f/2.8 lens has slightly less geometric distortion.
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens vs. Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens comparison shows the two lenses similar in size and weight. The f/1.8 lens is slightly lighter, is slightly longer, and uses slightly smaller filters (49mm vs. 55mm), though none of these differences will matter to most. The f/2.8 lens's macro feature, enabling 1.00x magnification, is a huge advantage over the f/1.8 lens's low 0.14x spec. Of course, opening wider and costing half as much are attractive features of the f/1.8 option.
Another Sony 1:1 macro-capable lens to compare against is the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens. The obvious difference here is the focal length. A 90mm focal length provides considerably more working distance (insects prefer you to use 90mm). The longer working distance offers a different perspective. The longer focal length requires less background to incorporate into the composition, and it creates a stronger background blur.
In the image quality comparison at f/2.8, the 90mm lens is sharper in the center, and the 50mm lens is sharper in the periphery. That comparison is nearly equalized at f/4. The 90mm lens has modestly less vignetting at f/2.8 and considerably less at narrow apertures. With just over half as many elements in its design (8 vs. 16), the 50mm lens shows fewer flare effects in our tests.
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens vs. Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens comparison shows the 50mm lens considerably smaller and lighter than the 90mm lens. The 50mm lens uses smaller filters (55mm vs. 62mm). The 90mm lens does not extend with focusing, has two additional diaphragm blades (9 vs. 7), and has a higher quality AF motor. The 90mm lens has a push-pull focus ring AF/MF feature vs. the more common switch. Many will find the 50mm lens's biggest advantage is the lower price, costing about half as much.
Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.
As I said at the beginning of the review, the Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens is a compact, lightweight, affordable prime lens in an extremely useful general-purpose focal length. Focusing down to a 1:1 reproduction ratio (1.00x maximum magnification) is this lens's superpower, significantly increasing the fun factor. Excellent image quality is featured. Combine those features, and the FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens presents a compelling argument to join your kit.
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