Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens Review
The Sony MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) lens lineup would not be complete without a high quality, wide-aperture 85mm prime lens to satisfy the discerning needs of bokeh-loving portrait photographers everywhere. As such, Sony included the FE 85mm f/1.4 in its introductory announcement for the top-of-the-line GM (Grand Master) lens series. But while the 85mm and f/1.4 combination may be renowned by portrait photographers the world over, a medium telephoto focal length combined with a blur-inducing wide aperture is also prized for a varied range of purposes.
And as far as 85mm primes go, at review time, the FE 85mm f/1.4 GM is hands-down the best option for those invested in Sony-based camera kits, especially from an image quality perspective where this lens delivers impressively.
A prime lens, by definition, has one focal length. So when you purchase a prime lens, that one focal length must suit your needs. Thankfully, there are many uses for the 85mm focal length, though the standout use is, as already alluded to, portrait photography.
Primarily for perspective reasons, the classic portrait focal length range is from 85mm through 135mm (after FOVCF is factored in). An 85mm lens hits the bottom classic range figure on a full frame camera and, at a 127.5mm angle of view equivalent on an APS-C 1.5x body, it remains in the ideal portrait range on this format also. An APS-C format camera of course requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full frame camera (and therefore will have more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture).
The “portrait photography” designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video use including with subject framing variations ranging from moderately-tight head shots to full body portraits and with a wide variety of potential venues including both indoors and outdoors. Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups. Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle … all are great uses for the 85mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with an 85mm-provided angle of view. I have done entire senior sessions with a wide aperture 85mm lens and subjects always love the results from this focal length.
That portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing genres out there helps justify the acquisition cost of this lens (you cannot buy stock photos of most people). I also argue that there are no subjects more important than people.
The image below shows the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens capturing a portrait during a recital (captured at f/1.4).
Regardless of the camera format being used, the 85mm focal length can be useful for landscape photography.
Some sports, such as basketball, can be captured with an 85mm lens, and thanks to the ultra-wide aperture, this lens can capture such events in very poorly-lit venues including gymnasiums. This focal length also works very well for architecture, products (medium through huge), commercial, general studio photography applications and a wide range of other subjects.
With only a few exceptions, the f/1.4 max aperture made available by this lens is as wide as MILC lenses get. The wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits freezing action, handholding the camera in lower light levels and/or use of a lower (less noisy) ISO setting.
Increasing the opening also permits a stronger, better subject-isolating background blur. The shallow f/1.4 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you in these circumstances, but a shallow depth of field is a highly-desired lens capability, perfect for making the subject pop from a blurred background. I love the shallow DOF look which draws the viewer’s attention to the subject by eliminating background distractions. This capability also adds artistic-style imaging to this 85mm lens’ capabilities list.
The images above and below demonstrates how the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM can make the background melt away.
While I had decent lighting at this recital, it was still indoor lighting and that I could easily handhold this lens at an also-subject-motion-stopping shutter speed using only ISO 100 was awesome. The f/1.4 wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, under shade and when shooting indoors, including indoors using only ambient window light.
Note that, especially under full sun conditions, you might find even 1/8000 second shutter speeds not fast enough to avoid blown highlights in f/1.4 images. Use of a neutral density filter may be needed to keep images dark enough at f/1.4 under such conditions. Shooting with a narrower aperture always remains an option.
Unique for a lens of this class is that an aperture ring is provided, permitting a manually-chosen aperture to be selected. With the ring in the A (Auto) position, the camera controls the aperture setting. All other settings force the aperture to the selected opening and a 2-position switch on the bottom right side of the lens toggles between 1/3 stop clicks and smooth, quiet, non-clicked adjustments, ideal for video recording. The aperture is electronically controlled by the ring and the response, though fast, is not immediate and when de-clicked, not perfectly smooth.
There are notable drawbacks to lenses that feature very wide maximum apertures compared to lenses with narrower max apertures. Wider max aperture lenses require the use of larger and heavier glass elements which, in turn, lead to larger and heavier lenses. Unfortunately, those larger elements are not only evidenced by the increased weight, but also in the increased price of the lens.
For most photographers, the benefits of a wide max aperture prime lens far outweigh the drawbacks.
The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens is not optically stabilized, but Sony 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 and AF-based image are being read from the imaging sensor – which is stabilized. Therefore, when the 85 f/1.4 GM is used on one of these cameras, the viewfinder image is very nicely stabilized.
Mounted on a Sony a7R III with Steady Shot enabled and shooting in ideal conditions (indoors, concrete floor), I was able to handhold this lens with nearly perfect results down to a 1/15 second shutter speed. A sudden drop to a just under keeper rate a 50% was experienced at 1/13 sec., followed by an improved just-over-60% keeper rate at 1/10 second. Results steadily became worse at longer exposures.
Again, this testing was under ideal circumstances and your results will vary dependent on your own skills and the conditions you are shooting in, but IBIS contributed very nicely to the handholdability of this lens. Combine f/1.4 with IBIS and it seems that this lens can be handheld in even the darkest circumstances (as long as the subject is relatively still), greatly aiding the versatility of this lens.
How sharp is the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens? That is a highly relevant question and we’ll begin that answer by looking at the lab image quality results where we see this lens turning in very good sharpness from full frame corner to full frame corner. The resolution at f/1.4 is excellent with even very fine details being captured. Sharpness, notably contrast, shows a significant bump of improvement at f/1.6. Another touch of improvement is visible at f/2 where image quality becomes quite impressive throughout the frame. At f/2.8, the sharpness this lens delivers is amazing.
In addition to our standard lab tests, I like to share some real world examples. Following are center-of-the-frame 100% crops from images captured with a Sony a7R III. Capture One processing settings include a natural creative style with a sharpness setting of “30” and no lens aberration corrections. Sony a7R III RAW images were processed to 16-bit TIFF, cropped to show 100% resolution and output to 70-quality JPG images.
Again, we see the f/1.4 results showing excellent resolution. Add a touch of contrast increase and they will appear especially nice. F/2 brings that contrast increase naturally and the results at f/2.8 are very impressive.
I didn’t need to include the f/4 and f/5.6 results as they primarily show increasing depth of field. However, I was observing a slight focus shift toward the rear as the aperture narrows and wanted to show that evaluation in the samples. Especially since Sony cameras focus with as-set apertures vs. these sharpness samples being focused once at f/1.4 prior to all of the test image captures, there should be practically no real world issues in this regard.
Now let’s look at the Sony 85mm GM’s corner image quality with similarly processed images.
If I told you the f/1.4 crop was from the center of the frame, you would likely be impressed. That it is from the absolute top left corner of the frame raises the impressiveness dramatically. By f/2.8, with peripheral shading clearling significantly, the corner of the frame is razor sharp.
Corner of the frame performance is not important for all uses of an 85mm lens, including many portrait uses, but sometimes corner performance matters a lot and this lens is ready to capture your scene with razor sharp corners.
Certain is that a wide aperture full frame lens is going to show peripheral shading when used on a full frame body and this one exhibits that feature. At f/1.4, full frame corners are darkened by about 3 stops. At f/2, between 1.5 and 2 stops of shading is evident and at f/2.8 through f/4, a little more than a stop of corner shading remains. Rarely will the .5 stops of shading at f/5.6 show. Corner shading remains level at about .5 stops through f/8 and drops to a negligible roughly .3 stops through the narrower 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 and this option often works well for portraits – unless the subject’s face falls into the shaded area 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. Let’s look at a worst-case example from this lens, a 100% crop from an extreme corner of an ultra-high resolution a7R III frame. This is the top left corner.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the lack of easily visible additional colors show lateral CA being very well controlled. Fortunately, when lateral CA is evident, it is easily software corrected (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide.
Another common lens issue affecting sharpness in ultrawide aperture lenses is 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). 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 – and create a challenge for evaluating a lens. Since all colors are not focused identically, the perfect test focus distance setting becomes vague with the high resolution black and white test chart being especially unforgiving. The focus distance setting that shows the highest resolution must be selected, but with colors not being focused identically, some fringing is commonly seen at very wide apertures.
Below are 100% crop samples taken from near the center of the frame.
The primary subjects are silver bracelets and obviously, the highlight fringing color is not the same in the background as it is in the foreground. This attribute is not unusual for fast 85mm lenses, but it is not stellar either.
The Sony 85 f/1.4 GM handles flare very well. With the sun in the corner of the frame, minimal flare effects (primarily a loss of contrast) can be seen at the widest apertures. Minor flaring effects become visible by the middle of the aperture range and through f/16. This lens’ flare performance is 85mm-class-leading.
Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma becomes quite visible mid-frame and in the corners of images captured at wide apertures and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Astigmatism is another lens image quality attribute that is especially apparent in the corners and the pin-point stars in the night sky are a subject that makes these aberrations, along with some others, easily recognizable to me. The following image is a 100% crop taken from the top right corner of an a7R III frame.
While the stars are sharp and nicely rounded, the wings are a bit ugly.
One of many good reasons to buy a prime lens (vs. a zoom) is for low linear distortion and that is a good reason to get this lens. The Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens shows a only small amount of pincushion distortion, barely discernable at the bottom of this reduced-size un-cropped image.
Here are some examples of out-of-focus specular highlights this lens creates with BG and FG representing background and foreground respectively.
The f/11 100% crop examples are from near center of the frame and show the results of aperture blade interaction. These results look very nice and the specular highlights are especially round for an f/1.4 lens stopped down this much. That feature is courtesy of the huge blade-count aperture – the 11 rounded blades keep things nicely round even at this tiny aperture.
The wide open results are reduced-size crops from near the lower left corner of the frame. These examples are looking for cats eye bokeh, a form of mechanical vignetting common in similar lenses and a normal amount is seen. Stopping down reduces the entrance pupil size and the mechanical vignetting absolves completely
The last two bokeh example images are 100% crops showing natural backgrounds being rendered very smoothly at f/8.
With an odd-numbered aperture blade count, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture and showing a star-like effect will have twice as many points as aperture blades or 22 points in this case.
Are 22 points too many? That answer is a personal preference. I tend to like many points on my stars, but 22 might be too many for me.
I don’t see image quality stopping anyone from buying this lens. In fact, image quality is going to sell a lot of these lenses. The Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens delivers superb image quality.
The 85 f/1.4 GM lens’ AF system utilizes Sony’s Direct Drive SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor). This system is quiet and the lens can focus very fast, though unfortunately in this case, the speed of focusing is in part controlled by the camera. The Sony a7R III (and most/all other current Sony MILC cameras) de-focuses the lens slightly before focusing on the subject, even if focusing to the same distance as the lens is already focused to and even with the same motionless subject, for an overall mediocre focus speed.
The lens focuses quickly and the focus speed is adequate for most uses, but don’t expect to hit the shutter release and have an instant photo captured. There is a slight pause and this was a bit of an issue for me when photographing the recital mentioned earlier in the review. When photographing a violinist, the position of the bow changes rapidly and not all positions are equally photogenic. With the a7R III and 85 f/1.4 GM, I needed to prefocus and then time the shutter release to capture the desired position, hoping the subject didn’t move in the meantime.
Sony’s always-stopped-down-to-the-set-aperture strategy has some benefits including constant depth of field preview, but it also means much slower AF is experienced at narrow apertures with hunting and failure-to-lock issues becoming more prevalent.
The Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens focuses internally with impressively-consistent accuracy. In AF-C (Continuous AF) focusing mode capturing action, performance was decent with a good majority of images being properly focused. While the lens and AF system appear ready for action photography, it must be noted that the EVF in the a7R III and most of Sony’s other current MILC cameras (excluding the Sony a9) are not. The viewfinder blackout/freeze time is too long to permit the photographer to adequately track moving subjects and timing the first image in a burst is a good tactic with these camera models.
Unique to a lens of this type is an AF hold button. 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 (C5) and can be programmed to another function using the camera’s menu (note that not all models are supported).
FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported via Sony’s DMF (Direct Manual Focus) AF mode.
The manual focus ring is nicely sized, is very smooth, is ideally dampened and the 127° of rotation is just right for precise manual focusing at all distances. With an ear to the lens, the very-well-done focus-by-wire implementation can be discerned by blips of motor noise interacting with the focus ring adjustment. There is a moderate change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made.
Focus distance marks are not provided and the lens does not feature hard stops at the extents of its focusing range. However, a focus distance meter will show in the lower portion of the electronic viewfinder during manual focusing.
The Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM has a 31.5″ (800mm) minimum focus distance spec and the related maximum magnification spec is 0.12x. That number is closer to the bottom of lenses in general and certainly nothing to get excited about, but this number is practically a standard for 85mm f/1.4 lenses.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens37.4″(950mm)0.11x Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens33.5″(850mm)0.12x Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens33.5″(850mm)0.12x Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens39.4″(1000mm) Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens33.5″(850mm)0.12x Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens33.5″(850mm)0.12x Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens31.5″(800mm)0.12x Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens31.5″(800mm)0.13x Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens31.5″(800mm)0.14x Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens31.5″(800mm)0.13x Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens31.5″(800mm)0.12x Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens39.4″(1000mm)0.10x
Perhaps most important for this specific lens is that it is capable of framing relatively tight head shots. Following is a maximum magnification example with the largest flower measuring about 2″ (51mm) in diameter.
To reduce the MFD and thereby increase the MM, mount an extension tube behind this lens. Understand that infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an ET in use.
The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens is not compatible with the Sony FE 1.4x or FE 2.0x Teleconverters.
Build Quality & Features
The G Master lens series represents Sony’s best-available lenses and as expected, this one qualifies for its GM badge.
Sony FE lenses have a rather narrow mount and, to accommodate an 85mm f/1.4 lens design, a substantial diameter increase not far into the lens is necessary. Once the wider diameter is reached, the lens maintains a mostly straight design with a slight diameter increase occurring at the focus ring, making it easy to tactilely find. The outer barrel is an engineering plastic design.
Sony focus rings make distance adjustments by turning in the same direction as Canon lenses (the opposite of Nikon lenses).
Overall, this lens’ build quality seems very high with all ring and switches having a precision feel to them.
While this lens will often be used indoors, it also shines outdoors and since the sun doesn’t always shine, weather sealing can save the day. This lens features weathering sealing, including a gasketed mount as seen below.
More specifically, the owner’s manual states: “This lens is not water-proof, although designed with dust-proofness and splash-proofness in mind. If using in the rain etc., keep water drops away from the lens.”
This is a medium-sized lens with a somewhat heavy weight, similar to most lenses in its class. A lot of glass is required to create an 85mm f/1.4 lens and glass is not light. While you will know that you have been carrying some weight if using this lens for long periods of time, I find the dense design to be advantageous for steady holding.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens36.2 oz(1025g)3.6 x 3.3″(91.5 x 84.0mm)72mm2006 Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.5 x 4.2″(88.6 × 105.4mm)72mm2017 Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens23.3 oz(660g)3.4 x 3.3″(86.2 x 84.0mm)77mm2010 Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Lens18.2 oz(516g)3.1 x 3.1″(78.0 x 78.0mm)72mm2011 Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens39.9 oz(1130g)3.7 x 5″(94.7 x 126.2mm)86mm2016 Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens25.6 oz(725g)3.4 x 3.4″(86.4 x 87.6mm)77mm2010 Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens28.9 oz(820g)3.5 x 4.2″(89.5 x 107.5mm)77mm2016 Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens13.1 oz(371g)3.1 x 3.2″(78.0 x 82.0mm)67mm2017 Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens24.7 oz(700g)3.3 x 3.6″(84.8 x 91.3mm)67mm2016 Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens42.4 oz(1200g)4.0 x 4.9″(101.0 x 124.0mm)86mm2014 Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens45.2 oz(1280g)3.5 x 4.4″(90.0 x 113.0mm)77mm2015 Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens20.1 oz(570g)3.0 x 3.4″(77.0 x 86.0mm)72mm2008
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
While this lens is very nice to hold and use, Sony’s current MILC cameras (such as the a7R II, a7R III and a9) provide an inadequate grip size. There is not quite adequate room for my upper-side-of-medium-sized hand’s fingers to rest between the camera and the lens. Near the edge of the primary diameter increase, the lens presses into the first joint of my middle and ring fingers when the camera is gripped surely. Of course, the lens is not soft and the grip is not comfortable. The pressure is lessened if the lens is hanging downward from a loose grip or if I rotate my grip away from the lens, but … that does not give me the grip assurance I would like to have. This issue applies to all of the Sony lenses I’ve reviewed to date and this scenario will not likely change until a camera grip redesign occurs.
The 24-70 f/2.8 GM lens is shown in the above photo, but the issue is similar with the 85 f/1.4 GM. Smaller hands avoid this problem.
I always find it helpful to visually compare the size of lenses and here we see the Sony fitting into its group nicely.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens
keep in mind that the Tamron has a narrower f/1.8 max aperture, but it includes the VC feature omitted on some of the comparables. The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens to other lenses.
Notice that the Sony lens appears to be positioned higher than those around it? The lenses in the comparison image are vertically aligned on their camera mounts and the Sony has a shallow lens mount cap. While the smaller lens cap size does not affect the lens’ in-use size, is does modestly impact storage space requirements when unmounted, such as in a backpack.
Filter sizes used by 85mm f/1.4 lenses vary significantly, ranging from 72mm up to 86mm in the above table. The Sony 85 f/1.4 GM lens uses the good-old 77mm standard, matching many other lenses that could end up in a quality kit.
Sony includes a semi-rigid plastic hood in the box. The hood has a flocked interior for superior reflection avoidance and a push-button release makes the bayonet mount easy to use. Like most lenses in its class, the Sony 85 GM’s hood is the rounded style, enabling it to stand on its hood, even with the camera attached in situations where you are comfortable with that. Nice is that the end of the hood is rubberized, protecting both it and what it is against from scratches and making it less likely to slide. The rubber is also nice to have when bracing the camera against something to steady the shot. And, it looks nice.
Sony includes a nice zippered, padded nylon lens case in the box. This case has a belt loop sewn onto the back and a shoulder strap is provided.
Price and Value
At this time, quality Sony lenses are expensive and this one is no different. Sony cameras are currently viewed as being very competitively priced, but a set of quality lenses generally equalizes the differences. Regardless, to a serious photographer with a Sony-based kit, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens is going to be worth every penny of its cost.
As an “FE” lens, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM 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 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens was sourced retail/online.
Alternatives to the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens
Cutting to the chase, if you can afford the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens, get the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens. It is a very impressive lens that, overall, at review time, outperforms any other Sony E-mount or adapted to E-mount 85mm lens. That said, comparisons are fun and I won’t disappoint you by skipping them.
Note that the Sony’s 11-blade aperture is unique for this class of lenses, with most having 9-blades. I’ll skip repeating that difference for each comparison. I’ll also skip mentioning again that the Sony is the only lens being compared that has the manual aperture option.
The Canon camp has the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens. In the Sony vs. Canon 85mm f/1.4 image quality comparison shows these two lenses competing closely. At f/2, the Sony appears somewhat sharper, but it has more moiré, showing that differences in the processing pipelines are coming into play. At f/2.8, both lenses are outstanding. The Sony shows fewer flare effects.
The Sony vs. Canon 85mm f/1.4 specifications comparison shows these lenses more the same than different. The Canon has in-lens image stabilization while the Sony relies on IBIS. The Canon’s price tag is roughly 10% lower (at review time).
Until the Canon and Sony lenses hit the streets, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens was my easy favorite 85mm f/1.4 lens and the Sigma still competes very strongly from an image quality perspective and it wins hugely from a price perspective. Sony vs. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 image quality comparison shows the Sigma performing at least as well as the Sony. The Sony has less vignetting and the Sigma has slightly less linear distortion.
The Sony vs. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 specifications comparison shows the Sigma to be the larger lens, measuring 3.73 x 4.97″ vs. 3.52 x 4.23″ (94.7 x 126.2mm vs. 89.5 x 107.5mm). Weighing in at 39.9 oz vs. 28.9 oz (1130g vs. 820g), the Sigma is also the heavyweight in this comparison. Also larger are the Sigma’s filters, 86mm vs. 77mm. With relatively few lenses having filter threads larger than 82mm, the Sigma joining a kit may require the purchase of a new set of filters and those large filters can reduce the price differential.
Zeiss offers a pair of exceptionally-well-built, high-optical-grade, manual focus-only 85mm f/1.4 lenses, the Otus and the Milvus. The Otus is an extremely-high-priced lens that competes strongly from an image quality perspective, including less linear distortion. The Otus is considerably larger and also has 86mm filter threads.
The Milvus is, at review time, priced $1 more than the Sony. The Sony vs. Milvus image quality comparison shows these two lenses also performing similarly. I like the Sony’s f/2 results better, but the two are essentially equals at f/2.8. The Sony shows slightly less flare and the Zeiss has slightly less linear distortion.
The Sony vs. Zeiss specs comparison again shows the Zeiss as the noticeably larger and heavier lens. Both Zeiss lenses have significantly longer focus ring rotations.
Sony’s FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens remains on my to-review list at this time, so I can’t tell you a lot about it. Obvious is that it gives up the f/1.4 aperture and along with that, it loses a lot of size and weight and a huge amount of cost.
Tamron has an f/1.8 entrant in the 85mm class, the 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens, featuring in-lens vibration control. I see the Sony being sharper than the Tamron. The Sony shows less vignetting in the same wide aperture comparisons and the Tamron has a touch less linear distortion. The Tamron is a bit smaller and lighter.
If f/2.8 is wide enough for your needs, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Zoom Lens becomes an option. The zoom lens of course has a big focal length range advantage, but the prime lens has the wide aperture advantage along with an image quality advantage in the comparable aperture range.
Sony calls it “The ultimate portrait prime” and, at least for Sony systems, I think they are right. The focal length is ideal for portraits (and a wide variety of other subjects) and there seems to always be enough light to photograph with this lens handheld. Highly-reliable focus accuracy is an important part of the image quality equation and this lens checks that box. The nicely-built Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens consistently delivers very impressive image quality and the look of images captured at this focal length and max aperture combination are remarkable.
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