Sony FE 50mm F2.5 G Review
July 15th, 2021
Lost in the midst of the high profile releases of the 35mm F1.4 G Master (my review here), the Sony FE 14mm F1.8 (my review here), and the yet untested (by me!) Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM is a trio of compact, smaller aperture prime lenses by Sony. The Sony FE 24mm F2.8 G (my review here) FE 40mm F2.5 G (my review here), and FE 50mm F2.8 G lenses are all very nicely built, fully featured, optically sound little prime lenses with smaller than typical maximum apertures. Each of them retails for roughly $600 USD, which, while not cheap, is considerably less expensive than the larger, heavier, more expensive large aperture alternatives. In many ways these lenses most resemble the Sigma iSeries in both design and function; very small autofocusing build with a surprisingly premium build. This review focuses on the Sony FE 50mm F2.5 G lens, a lens that is a little hard to categorize. It is more expensive than the cheaper Sony FE 50mm F1.8 and FE 50mm F2.8 Macro options, but is also a much more premium lens in build, autofocus, and optics despite having a smaller maximum aperture. It is smaller and lighter and yet has the better build and is the only one of any competing lenses to have weather sealing. This is a lens that is going to seem overpriced to those who don’t “get it”, but in actuality this is a lens that competes more directly with larger, premium lenses in build and performance…it just happens to have a smaller maximum aperture. As I said, this is a difficult one to pin down, but I’ll do my best to do so in this review. *The tests and most of the photos that I share as a part of my review cycle of the 50G (as we’ll call it for brevity) have been done with the new Sony Alpha 1 which will serve as my benchmark camera for the foreseeable future (my review here).
I’ve praised Sigma and their iSeries for the recognition that not everyone wants massive, large-aperture prime lenses. Many people initially transitioned to mirrorless cameras because they liked the concept of having smaller, lighter gear that continued to deliver exceptional image quality, and in the early years of transitioning to bigger sensor full frame mirrorless cameras that compactness was often lost. There has been a “Renaissance of compactness” recently, though, and while companies continue to produce the larger, more expensive professional grade lenses, many of them have also begun to supplement those options with smaller and lighter alternatives. It used to be that the market was bifurcated between “professional” (large, heavy, expensive, but with features) and “consumer grade” (smaller, lighter, smaller apertures, but cheaply made and without features). Lensmakers have finally figured out that many people want smaller lenses that are still premium in terms of performance and features. That is the case here, as the 50G, while very small, is also feature rich and has a beautiful construction…and can make beautiful images.
Though there are many, many 50mm options on Sony from a variety of lensmakers, I find it hard to offer up a direct competitor to the 50G. It’s more premium than the cheap lenses, but has a much smaller size and maximum aperture than the premium lenses. In some ways this is a lens more akin to an autofocusing Zeiss Loxia lens and stands alone in its own category.
Want to discover more? You can watch either my long format definitive or shorter standard video reviews…or just keep reading!
Thanks to Camera Canada for getting me a loaner of the lens. They are my personal source for my gear and have been great to work with. As always, this is a completely independent review.
Sony 50G Build, Handling, and Features
Sony has followed a pattern that I’ve seen with a number of lensmakers over the past few years in that they have released a group/series of lenses with obvious design sharing as opposed to individual lens releases. Tamron did the same with their 20mm, 24mm, and 35mm F2.8 OSD primes in late 2019. This enables a company to fill out their catalog somewhat inexpensively, as there is a lot of shared engineering and design elements along with shared tooling for the manufacturing of the lens. These are relatively inexpensive lenses, but I suspect the profit margin is a little better for Sony on them due to saved development and manufacturing costs. It’s a smart move, really, and the only downsides that I can see are 1) each individual lens gets less “splash” at introduction as it shares the limelight with other lenses (though that is only a factor at introduction, as buyers later on won’t really know the difference) and 2) it can lead to some minor design compromises. In this case, the 40mm and 50mm F2.5 lenses end up with a slightly unusual maximum aperture (F2.5) that is the compromise to getting quality optics at those focal lengths into very small bodies. The upside, though, is that these are all really, really nicely made lenses that have premium metal housings but are also extremely compact. The shared design DNA is very obvious across all three lenses.
The 40G and 50G lenses are essentially identical in their external dimensions. They are both 68mm (D) x 45mm (L) (2.7 x 1.8″) and are only one gram difference in weight (173g for the 40mm and 174g for the 50mm). Their lens profile is identical, too, up to and including the unique hood/filter adapter (you need the hood in place to use filters). The 24G has a unique (and more traditional) lens hood along with more typical filter threads (all three use 49mm filters, however), and as a byproduct has the most traditional look. If you remove the lens hoods, however, the three lenses are identical in profile and external dimensions (see photo above). As noted in the introduction, there are some alternatives at other maximum aperture values and price points, but none of them are really direct competitors.
The build quality of this little prime lens is really, really high, and in many ways it simply strikes me as a compact G Master lens. It not only has that lovely metal housing but also a thorough degree of weather sealing, beginning with a gasket at the lens mount and internal seals at the rings, switches, and front of the barrel. I count 10 different seal points, which is a very impressive amount in such a compact lens.
This is a more thorough degree of weather sealing than any of the alternative lenses will offer up. This is sealed more like the FE 50mm F1.2 G Master. As I said, it defies categorization.
Also impressive is the number of features and options packed into this little lens. There is an aperture ring, which, like the GM lenses, allows for one to either have a “clicked” aperture ring with traditional detents at one third stops or a “declicked” smooth aperture by using a switch on the right side of the barrel. You can also put the lens into automatic mode on the ring and control aperture from within the camera.
The lens also has an AF/MF switch on the left side of the barrel along with Sony’s “Focus Hold” button that can be programmed to different functions from within the camera. All of these controls are miniaturized to fit into the compact dimensions of the lens.
The downside of this miniaturization is the the controls are little harder to find and operate by feel, and also means that the aperture and focus rings are very close together. You’ll have to be careful to make sure you are moving only the desired ring, which will be hard to do by feel in cold weather when wearing gloves. I also found the AF/MF switch a little hard to operate even with bare fingers due to its small size and flush mounting, so that tells me that these buttons and switches will be very tough to operate with gloves on.
The focus ring itself is located near the front of the lens, and, like the aperture ring, is made of metal with nicely defined ribs. Both rings protrude a bit from the lens barrel, so, like the Sigma iSeries, I’m reminded of cine lenses that are designed for gearing. The quality of focus is very positive, with smooth, linear rotation and a consistent feel. Damping feels good, making for a smooth, precise manual focus experience.
The lens hood here is a bayonet style lightweight metal hood with the same black anodized finish as the lens barrel…but, like, the 40mm, it’s not a conventional hood. It is actually the hood that is threaded for taking filters (at a tiny 49mm size), though you can thread filters on the lens itself, too…just not at the same time as using the lens hood. The opening in the front is not completely round, either, but is flattened on the top and bottom of the opening (the hood will only mount in one position). This gives the lens a bit of an anamorphic lens look, though this is a spherical lens. The primary negative of this lens hood is that it cannot be reversed for storage. You either leave it at home or keep it attached at all times. I prefer the latter, as the lens is so compact that it really isn’t a hardship to just keep the lens hood in place. The lens cap will fit on the hood just fine.
There are seven aperture blades in the aperture iris, and while they are listed as being “rounded”, they aren’t nearly as rounded as Sony’s better aperture irises. Even at F4 (a mild 1 1/3 stop closing of the aperture), you can easily see the shape of the aperture. I think the overall quality of the bokeh blur from all of these lenses have been great, but “roundness” isn’t a huge strength. On a positive note, the geometry is quite good, with circular shapes even towards the edges of the frame.
The Sony 40G is the strongest of the trio for magnification, but the 50G isn’t far behind. It has a minimum focus distance of 35cm (1.15 ft) when autofocusing, but, like the 24mm and 40mm G primes, you can manually focus a little closer (31cm, or 1.02 ft). When autofocusing, this gives you a maximum magnification of 0.18x, but if you manually focus you can bump that figure up to 0.21x, which is actually fairly high for a 50mm lens.
While the 40G has a little higher magnification, the 50mm F2.5 delivers stronger up close performance with better contrast and detail along with a nicely flat plane of focus. Here’s a look at the difference in magnification from autofocus:
to manually focused:
Pretty easy to see that extra bit of magnification and the advantage it gives to producing a softer, more defocused background. It’s a useful trick.
This is a beautifully made little lens and handles very nicely. The lens hood application is slightly odd (and I don’t love the look of the lens profile with it attached), but everything functions just fine. It’s much like an autofocusing Zeiss Loxia lens – small yet premium.
Sony 50mm F2.5 G Autofocus and Video Performance
Sony has developed a winning autofocus formula in their lenses over the past few year lenses by utilizing Linear Motors. They evaluate the amount of torque needed to drive the focusing element(s) and then calculate the number of linear motors needed for fast, quiet focus. A smaller lens like this ended up getting dual linear motors (I was actually surprised that there was more than one), which are typically situated on either side of the focusing element or element group and move the focusing elements back and forth with great speed.
Autofocus here is fast, smooth, and silent in operation for either stills or video. When I did my focus pull video test, I couldn’t hear anything at all from the focus motors, and focus pulls were quick and confident. When I ran my test tracking tracking of my face as I approached the camera and moved in and out, the tracking was consistent without any visible stepping. No problems at all!
I was also happy for stills. Autofocus was quick and accurate. This shot of a daisy, for example, is crisp and well focused despite the fact that the wind was whipping it around, forcing the camera/lens to have to real time track its movement.
Both people and pet eye AF worked well, and you can see that the shot of me in my 4th of July suit delivered perfectly focused results.
Autofocus was excellent during my various hikes with the lens, and it proved a great companion for capturing the wildflowers alongside the trail.
The 50G also focused well at smaller apertures, without any of the pulsing and hunting that I used to see a bit of on Sony.
I used the lens for a number of video segments and got reliable tracking of my face with the lens mounted on either camera. This lens would be appealing to video shooters due to having both excellent autofocus and excellent manual focus. The only downside I could see for video was a fair bit of focus breathing.
All told, autofocus is a real strength for this lens. Autofocus is as good on the 50G as any of the GM lenses I’ve tested.
Sony 50G Optical Performance
The Sony 50mm F2.5 G utilizes an optical formula of nine elements in nine groups. One of these elements is a special aspherical elements, while two others are ED (extra-low dispersion) elements. The MTF charts show a strong optical performance with great center and midframe performance with some drift towards simply very good performance in the corners. Stopped down performance should be universally excellent.
This suggests a very strong real world performance, and thankfully, that’s what I see:
To put this in perspective, the MTF charts show that the 50G is sharper at F2.5 than the 50mm F1.8 FE lens is stopped down to F8…and its not particularly close. At F8 the 50G is essentially as sharp at the 50mm F1.2 GM. This is a very sharp lens.
The 24mm F2.8 G was hiding some really ugly distortion and vignette behind its profile corrections, but the 40mm F2.5 G was much better. The 50mm F2.5 G is better still, with lower levels of both distortion and vignette.
There’s a tiny amount of pincushion distortion that cleaned up nicely with a -3 in the Lightroom distortion slider. Vignette is moderate at a +38 to correct, so around 1.5 stops in the corner. Nothing serious or difficult to correct for here, and the standard Sony profile does a great job of correcting things smoothly in camera for JPEGs and video, and there is already a profile available for many pieces of post software.
Lateral chromatic aberrations are well controlled, with little evidence of fringing in black to white transitions near the edge of the frame.
There is a small amount of longitudinal chromatic aberrations on either side of the plane of focus, though a bit less than I saw on the 40G.
I didn’t find anything really objectionable in real world use, however. This bright white wildflower would be a very natural place to see some strong fringing, but that’s not the case.
Low amounts of chromatic aberrations often translate into good contrast, so let’s take a look at contrast and resolution. Here’s my test chart that crops and comparisons will be taken from. My test photos are at 50MP.
We’ll start with crops from across the frame at F2.5 (center, midframe, and extreme corner).
As suggested by the MTF results, everything looks very good here. There’s great detail in the center and midframe, with only a minor drop-off in the corners. You can tell that there is less acuity in the corners (details are a little less crisply defined), but the sharpness is completely usable across the frame. That’s a great performance that is backed up by real world sharpness. This F4 landscape shot shows great detail both in the center of the frame and from lower down on the edge.
Stopping down makes the detail pop even more, whether it is in the center of the frame:
This wide open shot and its crop shows that this is a lens that has no problem with the 50MP sensor of my test camera.
You might not expect a lens with a maximum aperture of F2.5 to be a high performer for bokeh, but I found the bokeh from the 50G to be really special. It’s a cut above the typical 50mm F1.8 in the quality of the blur and overall rendering from the lens. This shot, for example, I love!
Here’s another shot that stood out to me as just being exceptionally creamy for a lens with an unimpressive maximum aperture:
As I noted, this is my favorite lens optically of the series, and it is the beautiful rendering and combination of color, sharpness, and bokeh that makes it stand out to me. Here’s a few more “bokeh images” at varying distances.
Flare resistance is fairly strong on the 50G, and I didn’t really see any ghosting artifacts or loss of contrast at any aperture or positioning of the sun.
Overall the 50G produced surprisingly special images with great color, contrast, and and detail. It’s got a lot of optical goodness packed into a tiny package. Feel free to check out more images by visiting the image gallery here.
The Sony FE 50mm F2.5 G and its two companions will make for appealing options for a certain photographer. They are very much premium lenses in compact, lightweight packages. The build quality is essentially a miniaturized G Master lens, with all metal construction, rich features, and quality weather sealing. 50mm is a very popular focal length for a reason, and this lens belies its relatively small maximum aperture by producing stunning images, and the high degree of weather sealing and low weight (174g) also make it a great option for adventuring in the outdoors. You can carry it all day without noticing the weight.
I was very pleased with the autofocus performance and general handling of the lens, though the miniaturized rings, buttons, and switches may prove challenging to operate when wearing gloves in colder weather. That’s hard to avoid when you pack so much into such a compact lens. The optical performance of the lens is really special, and there’s just no way that a typical 50mm F1.8 can match the level of “specialness” that this lens produces.
Sony’s great challenge will probably be a matter of marketing. An uninformed customer who sees a 50mm F1.8 lens for $250 and a 50mm F2.5 lens for $600 will probably think that buying the “better” F1.8 lens is a no-brainer, but the reality is that the 50mm F1.8 is by far the inferior lens. That’s true for the optics (the 50G is sharper at F2.5 than the FE 50mm F1.8 ever gets), for the autofocus (smoother, faster, more reliable), and for the build (metal, weather sealed construction). I know the 50G is the better lens, and now you know the 50G is the better lens, but will a casual customer know that? Probably not, so somehow Sony is going to have to effectively market this lens to help inform the uninformed…and that will probably need to include salesmen. I found this little lens a real joy to use for both stills and video, however, and if you want a tiny yet premium 50mm lens, think of this as being a budget Loxia lens that just happens to have great autofocus. Those who love the aesthetic of design philosophy of the Sony a7C may find the 50G and its companion lenses the perfect miniature premium pairing. After shooting with these three lenses, this would be the one that would get my money…it’s in a class of its own in so many different ways.
- Exceptionally compact and light while still having a premium design
- High grade of build
- Quality weather sealing
- Good features and general handling
- Fast, quiet, and accurate autofocus
- Excellent wide open sharpness across the frame
- Low chromatic aberrations
- Very good flare resistance
- Gorgeous bokeh quality in most situations
- Better than average magnification and close up performance for a 50mm lens
- Good color rendition
- Some photographers will find it overpriced
- A fair amount of focus breathing
- Tiny rings, switches, and buttons may prove a challenge when wearing gloves
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