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Sony FE 24mm F1.4 G Master Review

Dustin Abbott

March 3rd, 2020

I have gotten a LOT of requests to cover the Sony FE 24mm F1.4 G Master lens since its release, though it took me a while to get to it.  The idea of having a premium wide aperture of F1.4 in a wide focal length (24mm) in a reasonably compact size is obviously an intriguing one to many people.  I’ve spent time with a number of the GM lenses, and they have always been highly quality optically, though they are also often among the largest lenses in their respective classes. In many ways the Sony 24mm GM has been one of my favorite GM lenses thus far in large part because it combines the optical performance with a great form factor.  It is substantial enough to be high quality while not being gratuitous.  I’m a little fatigued with ever-larger prime lenses, so the 24GM (as we’ll call it for brevity in the review) has been a breath of fresh air.

24mm is a little outside the standard “trinity” range of 35-50-85mm lenses, with a wider angle of view that is better for landscapes than 35mm but a less flexible tool for photographing people.  But not all photographers “see” the world the same way; for some their standard (preferred) angle of view is a little wider, and 24mm is the focal length that lets them tell their stories.  The 24GM helps accomplish that by having lower distortion than most 24mm lenses along with great punch at F1.4:

That being said, nearly $1400 USD is a lot to pay for a 24mm prime (it’s about $550 more than the Sigma 24mm F1.4 ART, which is also available in Sony E-mount (my review here).  Is this 24GM worth the extra money?  Ultimately that choice will be up to you, but read on to see why I think it just might be…

If you prefer to watch your videos, I have both the definitive (long format) and standard (shorter format) video reviews available.  Just click on your choice below!

Thanks to Sony Canada for the loaner.  I’ll be reviewing the Sony 24mm F1.4 GM on my Sony a7RIII and Sony a9 bodies; the text and video reviews contain photos and video taken with both.

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Sony 24GM Build and Handling

The Sony 24GM is a lens that I wish more manufacturers would use as a blueprint.  It’s not a small lens, per se, but rather a great balance of size to quality and performance.  It’s a great match for Sony’s mirrorless bodies and looks great on them.

Here’s a look at how the 24GM compares to some other lenses in the class, though the Sigma is the only direct competitor in terms of focal length and aperture combination.  

It’s worth noting that the difference to the Sigma is greater than what is reported here.  Sigma has rarely bothered to update either the length or the weight of lenses like the 24mm F1.4 ART which were originally designed for DSLRs (2015) and ported over to mirrorless in 2018.  The E-mount versions of the various ART series lenses required the inclusion of essentially a built-in adapter to allow focus to work properly on Sony, so both the length and the weight grew a fair bit.  I measured the overall length of the Sigma 24mm F1.4 ART as being 126mm (about 34mm longer than the 92.4mm of the Sony) and the weight at 768g, which is a whopping 72% heavier than the GM’s 445g.  To put that in perspective, you could add the Sony FE 85mm F1.8 into your bag and have a combined weight of 816g – less than 50g more than the ART series lens alone.

I do think that modern lensmakers have often underestimated how big a deal size and weight are to photographers.  I get a lot of anecdotal feedback from photographers around the world, and I know that many of them won’t buy lenses that are unnecessarily large and heavy.  Even more telling, however, is how many of them do purchase such lenses but eventually sell them because they find themselves not using them as often because they don’t want to carry them.  It’s ironic that the professional camera/lens market is contracting as more and more people find the photos taken with their phones “good enough” for most situations even while lens makers seem to keep making their lenses bigger and bigger.  Correlation?  

It’s rare that I get a chance to praise a Sony G Master lens for its compact size, so I’ll certainly seize this opportunity to do so!  Despite it’s modest dimensions, this is unquestionably a premium lens.  It has a rugged, sturdy feel to it, and has a flocked finish that experience says is more resistant to fingerprints, rub marks, and scratches.  It also has the right weather sealing credentials, with a gasket at the lens mount, internal seals at the switches and rings, and a fluorine coating on the front element that resists oils and moisture (and makes it easier to clean).

Like other G Master lenses, the 24GM has a very flexible approach to controlling aperture.  There is a manual aperture ring that gives you the option of selecting A (automatic) and allowing the camera to control aperture (or you to control it from the camera) or to manually select the desired aperture with one third stop detents throughout the aperture range from F1.4 to F16.  

There’s also a switch on the lower right side of the lens barrel that allows you to “declick” the aperture and smoothly rotate through the aperture range without resistance.  This option is particularly popular with video shooters.  

Regardless of what option you choose, it’s worth noting that aperture is controlled electronically rather than through a mechanical coupling.  If you rotate the aperture ring without the camera powered on, nothing will happen.  

The same is true of the manual focus ring, which is deeply ribbed and with a rubberized texture.  The focus ring is “focus-by-wire” (as are essentially all lenses designed for mirrorless), which means that input on the focus ring will be routed through the focus motor.  There is no direct mechanical coupling with the lens elements.  The focus ring is pretty good here, though the weight is a little too light to really emulate the feel of true manual focus.  It’s better than what many DSLR autofocus lenses are, however, as it lacks that “scratchy” feel so common to many of them.  When manually focusing an electronic distance scale will pop up on screen and the active focus area will be magnified to help visually confirm focus.  Also nice is that the focus ring is linear, which means that focus distance  remains consistent regardless of your speed in rotating the ring.  This allows more repeatable focus throws (important for video).  The focus throw is also good, with enough distance for precision at difference distances.

Completing the package is an AF/MF switch (which I always prefer to have) and Sony’s Focus Hold button, which can be programmed to a variety of different functions from within the camera.

Up front there is a very common 67mm filter thread, which is useful as it is shared with a variety of other lenses. 

The lens can focus down to 9.45″ (24cm), where is has a slightly below average 0.17x magnification.  The performance at minimum focus is above average, however, even at F1.4, with a lot of fine details nicely resolved.

It’s also worth noting the aperture, which has a higher than average 11 rounded aperture blades.  This gives the 24GM a couple of advantages.  First of all, the aperture stays nice and round when stopped down, meaning that bokeh circles remain, well, circles.  Here’s a look at F2, F2.8, and F4.

At F4, the lens is stopped down three full stops and yet the circles are very circular.  Stop the lens on down, however, and you get a really nice 22 point sunburst effect:

I think that Sony has done a great job with the build and handling of this lens.  There’s nothing that I have to criticize; this is the blueprint that I wish more lens makers would follow, and I would personally love for Sony to build a 35mm G Master lens similar in size.

Autofocus and Video Performance

The Sony 24mm F1.4 G Master is the second lens I’ve evaluated that has Sony’s DDSSM (Direct Drive SuperSonic Motor) focus motor.  I’m definitely a fan of this focus motor, as it clearly can deliver a lot of torque (the other lens was the awesome Sony 200-600mm OIS) while also being essentially silent in operation.  The focus motor in the 24GM is fast (near instant) and accurate.  In my video tests doing focus pulls (see the video reviews above), you cannot hear the focus motors in operation, and focus pulls were smooth and accurate.

The 24GM also gets good marks for grabbing foreground objects and locking focus accurately.  Some lenses don’t do as well with this. 

I also had no problem locking focus with a ND1000 filter (ten stops) attached, resulting in a 15 second exposure at F5.6.  

I also had very good results with Pet Eye AF, with quick, accurate focus of my dog and cat.

I had a minor issue in one situation where a hanging lock of hair tricked Eye AF into focus on the hair repeatedly even though the box was centered on my subject’s right eye.

My only other minor negative was that I experienced a bit of pulsing and errant focus in a strongly backlit landscape scene and all points active.  The second shot shows accurate focus after I overrode focus by selecting a specific focus point.  The same scene is shone in the third shot at a small aperture (F11).

I’ve seen that pulsing with other wide angle lenses at times.  It’s a rare problem, fortunately, and seems to be reserved for certain situations and typically with all points active.

While I’ve cited what negatives I saw, I want to circle back and make it clear that my focus experience by and large was actually excellent.  This is a great focus motor and achieves focus quicker and quieter than the competing Sigma lens and is one of the best-focusing large aperture prime lenses that I’ve used.  Many large aperture primes perform more poorly than their smaller F1.8 or F2.8 alternatives, but that’s not the case here.  I’ve not used a 24mm lens that did a better job at focus than the 24GM. 

This is one area where it really differentiates itself from the Tamron 24mm F2.8 M1:2 lens that I reviewed a few months back.  That lens has slower, louder focus, and wouldn’t be as good for either video or event work.

Speaking of video:  the 24GM will be a tempting video lens for a number of reasons.  As a first party lens, it gets the best support in terms of in camera corrections, producing pristine footage.  The focus motor is quiet and smooth, and shows no propensity for nervous microadjustments during static shots.  The linear focus ring along with the ability to declick the aperture gives one a reasonable ability to implement some manual controls (though I always say that if you want to use a lens manually, buying a good manual focus lens is actually the best option).

The focal length is a very useful, giving one a nice wide angle of view in standard full frame mode along with a nearly 35mm framing in Super 35.  I would consider this a very useful tool in a videographer’s arsenal.  It would make an amazing lens for wedding work mounted on a gimbal.  Video performance in the clips I used the lens for during my review period (everything from product shots to landscape scenes) worked great.

Sony 24GM Image Quality

The Sony 24mm F1.4 G Master gives lie to the assertion that a lens has to be massive to deliver a great performance.  This is optically one of the stronger lenses at this focal length on the market and has very few optical shortcomings.  It sports an optical formula of 13 elements in 10 groups, with two of those elements being extreme aspherical elements (XA) and three being extra-low dispersion elements (ED).  That may not mean much to you, but these are the more expensive, exotic elements that help to achieve more special performance.

Neither vignette nor distortion are real issues here.  There is a very mild amount of barrel distortion that is unlikely to be visible in almost any shot, and a mild amount of vignette that natural clears up almost entirely by F2.  Below we have the uncorrected image, the image after the Lightroom profile for the lens attached, and the third image shows vignette being a non-factor by F2.

Good stuff there, and an area of clear advantage over most competitors.  Here’s a look at my test chart globally:

Here’s a look at the crops from center, mid-frame, and the corner at F1.4:

They reveal excellent center performance, excellent mid-frame performance, and a slight loss of contrast and detail in the corners.  

The difference between center and edge performance is a little more marked at infinity.  There’s a lot of wide open punch at F1.4 in the center, but definitely a softening along the edge of the frame.

In this scenario there is a radical improvement by F2.8, where the edge now presents as completely sharp:

There is a very mild improvement (mostly in contrast) from F2.8 to F4, though now we are at excellent levels anyway:

This is an excellent landscape lens, with good color, high sharpness and contrast, low distortion, and nice acuity in rendering fine details.

If your composition is a typical one favoring some foreground object, you can shoot perfectly good landscape images even at F1.4:

That being said, few people buy an F1.4 lens to only shoot at smaller apertures.  Most of us want the benefits of shooting at wide apertures in lower light, or of creating some background blur by using the large maximum aperture strategically.  In some ways the standout attribute of the 24GM is the unusually fine bokeh signature of the lens.  Check out a wide open look at the bokeh:

Those bokeh circles are very smooth and round, maintaining good geometry even close to the edge of the frame.  Let’s take a closer look:

While you can see a faint amount of fringing on the bokeh circles, they are remarkably smooth inside, with no signs of onion rings or general busyness.  This translates into real world quality of blur.  In this shot, for example, you can see that there is great sharpness on the in focus portion of the dog while the general scene falls away cleanly.

In these examples you can see that both the foreground and background bokeh is fairly smooth and clean:

In one final example, you can see that there is a fair bit of the image in the difficult transition zone, but I feel like the image is still very nice.

I did see some small traces of longitudinal chromatic aberrations (LoCA) in different situations, but never noticeable enough to make a negative impact.  You can see the faintest traces of purple fringing in the bare branches here at F1.4, but even at a pixel level they aren’t impactful at all.

I’m less delighted about the control of coma.  The lens is very sharp, has low vignette, and has a bright maximum aperture.  That combined with a great focal length makes this a tempting lens for astro work, but some struggles in controlling coma diminish my enthusiasm somewhat.  If you look at the middle crop below, you will find that star points are nice and round (and crisp) at F1.4 in the middle of the frame, though bright points show some purple fringing (LoCA) around them.  As you move towards the edge of the frame (crop 3), however, you see some rather obvious “wings” and “tails” growing on the star points.

Stopping down does reduce the size and obviousness of the coma, but you can see that it persists to some degree even at F2:

I think at F2 it’s good enough to be usable for astro, though I wouldn’t buy the lens specifically for that purpose.  A lens like the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 ART does a bit better a job.

But that basically sums up my very brief list of optical complaints.  I’ll finish with another strength.  

Flare resistance is very good.  There is a bit of veiling and increased proclivity for a bit of fringing in high contrast area with bright sun in the frame at F1.4, and I could see some mild ghosting effects panning back and forth across the sun doing video, but it was mild enough that I couldn’t hardly replicate it in a still photo.  Stopped down the lens is even better, with minimal artifacts and a very clean end result.  That, combined with the nice sunburst, makes this a lens that I would want to point at the sun fairly often!

So all told there is a lot of goodness in the Sony 24mm F1.4 GM.  If the focal length suits a need for you, the optical performance is going to make you happy.  You can see more photos by visiting the lens image gallery here.

Conclusion

If you have read through the review to this point, then you probably already know my conclusion.  The Sony FE 24mm F1.4 G Master lens is one of Sony’s best prime lenses.  It combines features, optical performance, and good autofocus into an attractive, reasonably sized package.  It is capable of producing a lot of fantastic images even shooting at F1.4:

Or stop on down to landscape apertures, where it becomes a very capable landscape lens.

The real strength, however, will be for wedding, event, and portrait photographers who happen to value a wider angle of view.  The sharp performance at F1.4 combined with fast, confident autofocus will allow them to use that large maximum aperture to keep the ISO down and also to have a bit of subject isolation.  The quality bokeh will set the images apart from more pedestrian options.  The Sigma 24mm F1.4 ART is only a suitable alternative if you can’t afford the 24GM (It costs $849 USD vs the $1399 USD for the 24GM), but if it were me, I would save a little longer and spring for the G Master.  It’s smaller and yet sharper (the 24mm F1.4 ART is not the peak performer in the ART lineup in my tests), has better autofocus, and weighs only a little more than half that of the Sigma.  

While the Tamron 24mm F2.8 is much, much cheaper ($349 USD), but isn’t in the same class for build, handling, or performance.  It’s maximum aperture is two full stops smaller.  It does perform quite well optically, but the autofocus isn’t really competitive with the GM.  If you are on a tight budget, then go for it, but if you are looking for the best autofocus 24mm on the Sony platform, the Sony 24mm F1.4 G Master is the way to go.  So if your wallet is crying over my conclusion, take heart in this:  the 24GM may be expensive, but it is the cheapest of the G Master lenses by a good margin!

Pros:

  • Excellent balance of size to performance
  • Beautiful, feature rich build
  • Weather sealed design
  • Smooth, quiet, and fast autofocus
  • Manual focus ring is linear and nicely damped
  • Excellent wide open performance over most of the frame
  • Extremely sharp corners from F2.8 on
  • Low vignette and distortion
  • Very smooth bokeh

Cons:

  • Fairly expensive
  • Coma performance isn’t incredible
  • A bit of focus pulsing in certain backlit situations

 

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Keywords: Sony 24mm, Sony Fe 24mm F1.4 GM, Sony 24mm GM, Review, Sony, 24mm, F1.4, 1.4, GM, G Master,  Dustin Abbott, Review, Autofocus, Sony a7RIII, Sony A7RIV, Sony a7R IV, Sony a9, Hands On, Video Test, Portrait, Video, Sharpness, Real World, Comparison, Action, AF-C, coma, Tracking, Eye AF

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