Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens Review
Looking for a convenient little full frame Sony FE lens with excellent utility and a great price? The Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens just might have your name on it.
This compact, ultra-light wide angle lens with a wide aperture is easy to take with you and works well in so many situations.
Selecting a focal length that will work well for your application is always the important first step in choosing a lens and this lens’ 28mm focal length falls in the middle of the ultra-popular 24mm and 35mm focal lengths. So what is a 28mm lens useful for? The moderately wide angle 28mm focal length has a vast range of great uses, many of which mirror the slightly wider 24mm focal length. Combine the 28mm field of view with a wide f/2 aperture and the list of uses this lens is well suited for grows considerably.
Landscape photography is a great use for a 28mm lens. This focal length is relatively wide and allows an entire scene to remain in focus, but 28mm is not so wide that it complicates composition.
Architectural photography, large product photography, interior photography, birthday parties, and documenting around-the-home life (especially pets) are all great uses for the 28mm focal length.
Wedding and event photographers often utilize a wide angle lens for capturing the large scene, for environmental-type portraits and for larger group portraits in tight spaces. Photojournalist’s needs are often similar to those of a wedding photographer and can also make use of 28mm. These Photographers will especially appreciate this lens’ f/2 aperture when shooting in dimly lit conditions.
A 28mm f/2 lens is a good choice for night sky photography. Videographers often find the 28mm focal length to be just right for their needs.
While telephoto lenses are more frequently used for sports, a 28mm angle of view allows for a very different perspective to be captured at these events. This focal length can be used to capture the big picture of the venue, overhead shots of the star athletes and their coaches being interviewed after the game and, when access permits, full body environmental action sports photos showing lots of venue in the background.
Here is an example of what a 28mm focal length looks like on a full frame camera, along a 24 and 35mm example (all were taken with a different lens).
There are many times when a 28mm lens can be ideal for general purpose use. When I’m reviewing a lens, it is often mounted to the appropriate camera and pressed into whatever uses come into play. When a lens has general purpose utility, a higher number of uses typically present themselves and this lens was an ideal one numerous times during this evaluation period. For example:
Mikayla spent many days preparing her garden this spring and all was going very well. That is, until a family of groundhogs figured out how to burrow under a buried double perimeter fence. In just a few hours, the groundhogs devastated her sweet peas and many other plants were eaten. She was so sad.
That’s when Mikayla became a trapper. Borrowing a Havahart trap from her grandparents, she managed to catch three of the raiding rodents in a short period of time. Of course, I found it humorous that my cute little daughter was trapping groundhogs and wanted a quick photo before the raider was taken away.
The 28mm focal length worked very nicely for this use and for many others.
APS-C sensor format cameras have smaller imaging sensors than their full frame siblings. That means these sensors use a smaller portion of the image circle and the angle of view being realized is narrower. When used on an ASP-C (1.5x FOVCF) sensor format DSLR, a 28mm lens’ angle of view is similar to that of a 42mm lens on a full frame DSLR. While many of the uses for this AOV remain the same as for 24mm, the narrower angle of view obviously requires more distance for the same subject framing and the longer distance changes the perspective modestly. Perhaps the biggest shift is, modestly at least, from landscape and environmental portraits to full and partial body portraiture.
The full list of 28mm uses is massive. Consider the uses just mentioned and let your own creativity bolster that list.
Among prime lenses, an f/2 max aperture is not greatly exciting, but for lenses in general, an f/2 aperture is very wide. Compared to the 28mm max aperture found in kit lenses, f/2 is a huge opening and an especially large aperture when the compact size, light weight and very low price of this lens is considered.
Use the wide aperture to gain a faster shutter speed, ideal for stopping motion, including moving subjects and a shaking camera, under even very low light conditions. A lower ISO setting is the alternative to a faster shutter speed and lower ISO settings mean lower noise images. Also use the wide aperture to create shallow depth of field, making the background strongly blurred and making the subject clearly stand out against an attractive, non-distracting background.
Note that, especially under full sun conditions, a 1/8000 shutter speed may be only marginally fast enough to avoid blown highlights at f/2. Cameras with shutter speeds limited to 1/4000 may need the assistance of a neutral density filter to keep images dark enough at f/2. Shooting with a narrower aperture of course remains an option.
What I love most about using wide aperture lenses is that I always seem to have enough light to handhold the camera. Or … maybe it’s the background blur.
As the aperture widens, the depth of field becomes shallower and the background blur becomes stronger. The previous example illustrates the maximum background blur this lens can produce. Here is an aperture range comparison illustrating the depth of field differences between the apertures through f/16.
The differences are more apparent at larger image sizes.
The Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens is not optically stabilized, but Sony generally takes care of that issue with Steady Shot or IBIS, the acronym for “In-Body Image Stabilization”. On a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder, IBIS results in an unstabilized view, meaning that stabilization was not helpful for composition or for providing a still subject to the camera’s AF system. With EVFs being prevalent in Sony’s lineup, the viewfinder image is being read from the imaging sensor, which is stabilized. Therefore, the viewfinder image is very nicely stabilized and sensor-based AF has a stabilized view of the subject.
Mounted on a Sony a7R III with Steady Shot enabled, I was able to handhold this lens with a nearly perfect sharpness rate at 1/5 second exposures. Combine an f/2 aperture with a 1/5 second exposure and this lens is ready for very dark conditions. About 50% of my 1/4 second exposures were sharp. At longer exposures, the sharpness rate dropped significantly through 1/3 second, but I have very sharp images captured at exposures as long .8 seconds.
This image stabilization testing was conducted under ideal circumstances (indoors, concrete floor) and you should expect your results to vary based on your own skills and the conditions you are shooting in. My experience showed a nice 3 or 4 stops of assistance being provided by IBIS for this lens.
With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu must be used to enable or disable IBIS and that is annoying when I need to work quickly.
Prime lenses are often chosen over their zoom counterparts for a number of reasons, but good image quality is typically one of them. While some high quality modern zoom lenses now surpass some prime lens counterparts, designing a lens for a single focal length is considerably easier than for a range of focal lengths and designers often bring us better image quality in their prime lens designs. When the prime lens has a very low price tag, a caution flag is raised in my mind. But, I have an open mind and was anxious to see how this one performed. Was it a great bargain? Or not?
Starting with the lab testing, the first thing I learned was that this lens is soft at f/2. With decent resolution in the center of the frame, f/2 images respond nicely to sharpening and increase in contrast, though the periphery remains challenged. The center is looking better even by f/2.2 and becomes very sharp at f/2.8. With another solid improvement at f/4, the center of the frame becomes razor sharp. Stop here unless you need more depth of field. Or sharp corners.
Figure an additional stop narrower aperture needed to bring the corners up to very impressively sharp status. The f/2 corners are not terrible, but they have a dreaminess to them.
We shoot the charts so you don’t have to. Let’s take this lens outdoors for some real-life (more fun) subjects. Below you will find sets of 100% resolution 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. These examples are from the center of the frame.
Natural subjects tend to go easier on a lens’ image quality than our ultra-high resolution black and white test chart, but if you look carefully, you will recognize the contrast improvements in the stopped-down results.
Very positive is that this lens is essentially void of focus shift issues. The center of the depth of field stays nicely centered as the aperture narrows.
Moving to the extreme corner brings out the worst in any lens and this one turns in soft (and dark) results at f/2. But, f/2 details are still very recognizable.
Corner improvements are seen through f/5.6 where this lens is going to make photographers happy. Sharp corners are not always needed, but when they are, this lens performs quite well at f/5.6 and narrower.
I mentioned “dark” when referring to the corners. As usual, this lens shows peripheral shading (vignetting) when used at its widest apertures on a full frame camera. The amount at f/2 is about 3.5 stops. While not an unusual amount, it is a noticeable amount. Stopping down one stop removes about 1 stop of shading and stopping down another stop removes another about-1-stop. A sometimes-noticeable 1.4 stops remains through the balance of the aperture range.
Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty. Vignetting can also be simply embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the frame.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). 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 greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. With only one focal length to tune, prime lens designers can often dial out the lateral CA. That is … if their budget allows doing so.
Let’s look at how well this budget lens handles lateral CA. Here is a 100% crop from the top left corner of a Sony a7R III frame.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the additional colors are showing lateral CA. The amount of CA here is not bad, but interesting is that the fringing colors change farther into the image circle. It is always better to have a lateral CA-free lens, but this defect is usually easily corrected with little pixel-level destruction realized by radially shifting the colors to coincide via software (often in the camera). I seldom worry about this issue.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or 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 look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while 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.
Below are 100% crop samples using silver jewelry as the subject. Notice the foreground vs. background color difference and how that changes as the aperture narrows.
So, we see that this lens exhibits these defects.
A low lens element count, 9 lenses in 8 groups in this case, typically translates into great flare avoidance and that is the case with this lens. Even at f/16, there are essentially no flare effects showing even when the sun is in the corner of the frame.
There are two lens aberrations that 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). 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).
Below is a 100% crop taken from the top-left corner of a Sony a7R III image.
While the 28mm focal length and f/2 aperture could make an excellent astrophotography combination, this lens is not going to amaze you with its f/2 star photos. As the aperture narrows, the results improve.
Another lens image quality attribute typically very minimized in a prime lens is geometric distortion. Apparently, this was another area where costs were cut. This lens has a very strong barrel distortion profile and Sony is apparently trying to hide the elephant in the room.
Most cameras today have built-in lens aberration correction that can optionally be enabled/disabled. Sony’s a7R III and similar cameras are included in this group.
When testing lenses, we disable all lens aberration correction. We want to see how well the lens performs without any software enhancements. Software enhancements can be applied to the results from any lens, but some of this processing can be destructive and distortion correction is especially so.
For this lens, Sony disables the distortion correction menu option, forcing it to be enabled. Again, the distortion correction menu option is grayed-out and distortion correction is always enabled when this lens is mounted.
With distortion correction enabled, the corrected image is seen in the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and we are not able to determine the required precise test chart framing for the uncorrected view. So, understand that the image quality results for the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens include distortion correction and that this lens has very strong barrel distortion.
Capture One permits the distortion correction to be turned off and this is what the final ISO chart framing looks like:
Barrel distortion this strong will challenge you to keep images level (without relying on your camera’s electronic level), but with the camera correcting the distortion in the EVF, that issue is avoided.
While a wide angle lens is not going to blur the background like a telephoto lens can, the wide f/2 aperture will add nice separation between close subjects and distant backgrounds. The quality of this lens’ blur, referred to as bokeh, is reasonable. Here are some f/8 examples showing the results of this lens’ 9 rounded aperture blades interacting with the image.
All of these samples aside from the cat’s eye results are 100% crops. The of out-of-focus specular highlights appear reasonable and nicely-rounded with OK smoothness. At f/2, cat’s eye bokeh, a form of mechanical vignetting, can be seen in the corners.
With a 9 aperture blade count, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture and showing a star-like effect will have 18 points.
This lens creates nicely-formed stars that will be found appealing in many images including nighttime cityscapes.
Overall, this lens is not optically impressive at f/2, but stopped down one or two stops, it becomes quite impressive. The low cost of this lens makes it easier to overlook any image quality flaws.
The quality of an autofocus system is often sacrificed for cost savings, but … the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens’ AF system works very nicely. Of utmost importance is that a lens consistently focuses very accurately and this lens has that feature.
Another important factor is AF speed and this lens’ linear autofocus motor internally drives AF with good speed.
While the speed of focusing is in part the lens’ responsibility, the camera has a role and currently, Sony cameras de-focus the lens slightly before focusing on the subject in AF-S single shot focus mode, even if focusing at the same distance with the same subject. Even when the lens focuses very quickly, the camera sending it on a hunt significantly impacts the overall focus speed. In AF-S single shot focus mode, expect the AF time to far exceed the camera’s shutter lag spec. If you need to focus and shoot quickly, to catch a fleeting moment, you need to be aware of this behavior.
Switch to AF-C continuous focus mode and focus acquisition speeds are far faster. This motor can drive AF very fast and with the defocus-then-focus routine gone in AF-C mode, the experienced speed is much faster. Why shouldn’t AF-C mode be used all of the time? AF accuracy is sacrificed with a lower frame-to-frame focus accuracy consistency being realized with a still subject.
For the current Sony FE-compatible cameras, this lens focuses with very good speed relative to the other FE lenses.
This is a very quiet-focusing lens. Only some very light clicks and whirs can be heard in the lens while focusing – if your ear is close to the lens.
With no AF/MF switch provided, this lens relies on the camera’s menu system for that feature. I’d rather have the switch.
FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in Sony’s DMF (Direct Manual Focus) AF mode.
The manual focus ring is very nicely sized, is very smooth, is ideally dampened and the slow rotation speed is just right for precise manual focusing at all distances. This is a focus-by-wire AF system and faster rates of focus distance change initiate higher speed focus distance adjustments. While I typically dislike these designs, this implementation seems to work well, with enough rate change needed to make the speed shift change happen more intentionally. Only a short rotation of the focus ring is required to go from minimum focus distance to infinity if the rotation speed is fast.
There is modest change in subject size as focus is adjusted to full extents. Here is the focus magnification illustrated:
While a distance window is not provided, a focus distance meter shows in the lower portion of the electronic viewfinder during manual focusing. Of course, the camera must be powered on to see that meter and to adjust focus distance.
This lens’ 11.4″ (290mm) minimum focus distance creating a 0.13x maximum magnification will be found limiting for some uses.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens9.8″(250mm)0.18x Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens9.1″(230mm)0.23x Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens9.4″(240mm)0.24x Nikon 28mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens9.8″(250mm)0.22x Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens9.8″(250mm)0.16x Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens11.4″(290mm)0.13x Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens7.9″(200mm)0.40x
Expect a roughly 8.8 x 5.9″ (224 x 149mm) subject to fill a full frame image at this lens’ minimum focus distance. The rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) flowers below measure about 3″ (76mm) in diameter and illustrate this lens’ maximum magnification capability.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance from this lens? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a significant improvement. Extension tubes are hollow tubes with electronic connections that shift a lens farther from the camera, which permits shorter focusing distances, though at the expense of long distance focusing. Sony does not publish extension tube specs nor do they manufacture the product, but third party Sony extension tubes are available.
The Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens is not compatible with Sony teleconverters, but Sony does offer products to take the angle of view in the other direction. Uniquely are the optional dedicated 21 mm ultra-wide and 16 mm fisheye converters for even wider angles of view:
Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens for FE 28mm f/2 Lens (SEL075UWC) Sony 16mm Fisheye Conversion Lens for FE 28mm f/2 Lens (SEL057FEC)
I have not used the conversion lenses, but they are well-rated by consumers.
Build Quality & Features
It is a cheap lens, but the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens does not give away that fact from its construction. Like many other Sony FE lenses, this one has a very smooth shape and features a semi-gloss black metal barrel exterior with “FE 2/28” etched in.
With the already-discussed focus ring being the only externally moving part on this lens, there is little remaining to discuss regarding this lens’ exterior. The focus ring consumes most of the barrel, leaving enough room behind it to grasp for installing and removing the lens.
As already mentioned, I personally miss having an AF/MF switch and, with IBIS, a stabilization switch. The switches are much faster to use and it is easier to visually confirm settings than looking at menu options. Of course, it is harder to inadvertently change a menu setting than move a switch and switches add moving parts that could be a source of failure and, minimally, increased cost. Switches also provide another entry point for moisture.
Sony claims that this lens has a “Dust and moisture-resistant design”, but the rear mount is not gasketed. That seems like a big omission in this regard and I strongly suggest using a rain cover when working in (potentially) wet or dusty environments with this lens.
This lens has a small size and light weight that maintains the spirit of Sony’s compact mirrorless cameras. The small lens size means that fingers are not too cramped in Sony’s compact camera grips and, along with the mostly-straight exterior design, the light weight makes this lens comfortable to carry for very long periods of time.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens10.9 oz(310g)2.9 x 2.2″(74.0 x 56.0mm)58mm1995 Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens11.8 oz(335g)3.1 x 2.5″(77.9 x 62.6mm)67mm2012 Nikon 28mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens11.6 oz(330g)2.9 x 3.2″(73.0 x 80.5mm)67mm2012 Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens10.8 oz(305g)2.8 x 2.8″(72.0 x 71.5mm)58mm2014 Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens7.1 oz(200g)2.5 x 2.4″(64 x 59.9mm)49mm2015 Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens16.9 oz(479g)3.2 x 3.2″(80.4 x 81.3mm)67mm2015
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
Here is a visual size comparison. Keep in mind that the lenses are aligned on their mounts, not their caps.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens Nikon 28mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens
Why include the huge Otus 28 in this product set? Apparently Sean thought it would be fun to emphasize the smallness of the Sony 28. I asked him to give me an interesting comparison and this is what I got.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens to other lenses.
The Sony FE 28mm f/2 uses 49mm threaded filters. Among typical lens filter sizes, 49mm is quite small and affordable. But, they are not abundantly common. We have 10 filter sizes available in the lab and this is not one of them. A standard thickness circular polarizer filter might avoid peripheral shading, but I suggest using a slim model such as the B+W XS-Pro to be certain.
The Sony ALC-SH112 lens hood is included in the box. This is a very small, semi-flexible plastic, petal-shaped hood with enough flat surface on the front to stand the lens on, though careful discernment should be used when doing so. This hood is adequately-sized to provide reasonable protection to the front lens element from both light and impact.
No lens case is included in the box, but finding somewhere to stow this lens should not be challenging. Lowepro’s Lens Cases get my vote as very nice and affordable solutions for single lens storage, transport and carry.
Price and Value
It is not likely a surprise by this point in the review to learn that the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens has a very-low-for-Sony price tag. While the wide open f/2 image quality of this lens may not be amazing, the price is low enough for many to lose all concern over that issue. This lens represents a very good value among moderately wide focal length primes.
As an “FE” lens, the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full frame and APS-C sensor format models. Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens was online-retail acquired.
Alternatives to the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens
For this review, I’m going to list some comparisons you might find interesting. Sony FE 28mm f/2 compared to Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens Sony FE 28mm f/2 compared to Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS Lens Sony FE 28mm f/2 compared to Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens Sony FE 28mm f/2 compared to Nikon 28mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Lens Sony FE 28mm f/2 compared to Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens In comparison to these lenses, the Sony 28 f/2 is looking quite good.
At review time, the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens ranks #4 on B&H’s best selling Sony FE lens list. The primary reason for that ranking is the utility for the cost.
The moderately wide angle focal length can be used in a wide array of scenarios. This lens is nicely designed and very compact, making it burdenless to take with you. The wide open image quality is just OK, but stopped down, this lens impresses. Well, except for the barrel distortion. But, for the price, many will overlook that shortcoming.
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