First Impressions: New Sony Full-Frame Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Prime Lens

A high-end 50mm prime lens meant for Sony A7-series shooters

Sony Full-Frame Planar T* FE 50mm F/1.4 ZA Prime Lens First Review
The Sony Full-Frame Planar T FE 50mm F/1.4 ZA Prime Lens attached to an A7R Mark II camera body. Stan Horaczek

Sony seems to be on a bit of a new 50mm lens kick lately. Not long ago we met the new “nifty fifty” in the form of the FE 50mm f/1.8 lens and now Sony has introduced its high-end Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA prime geared toward professionals and advanced amateurs withE-mount Alpha interchangeable-lens compact (mirrorless) cameras. I had some time to shoot a bit with the new Planar lens in San Diego to get a few first impressions.

The lens uses a Zeiss Planar optical design, much like the layout used for the 50mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* ZA lens that Sony has had in its Alpha-series full-frame line up for quite some time. The claimed effect is an image that minimizes overall distortion in the lens. Neutrality is a big plus for a standard 50mm lens like this, so it’s a logical optical design to choose.

Sony Full-Frame Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Prime Lens First Review
Sony Full-Frame Planar T FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Prime Lens next to the lens hood. Stan Horaczek

The body of the lens has a built-in aperture ring with clicks that can be turned on and off. It can also be set to auto so the aperture can be controlled through the camera like with other modern lenses. I liked having the option of the ring, but found myself defaulting to the on-camera controls more often than not. Being able to turn off the clicks in the aperture ring is a nice touch for video shooters.

Inside the lens are advanced aspherical and extra-low dispersion elements, both of which should sounds pretty familiar in high-end lenses like this one. As the name suggests, the glass is equipped with the Zeiss T* coatings to help fight ghosting and flare. As someone who has spent a lot of time messing with lenses and finding out how they flare, I’ll admit that I was pretty impressed with how tough it was to get with this lens, even with the sun directly in the frame.

Sony Full-Frame Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Prime Lens First Review
The Sony Full-Frame Planar FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA Prime Lens (right) compared to the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 prime lens (left). At this price point, the Sony is more likely to compete with the EF 50mm f/1.2L Canon, but I had the f/1.4 non-L version with me, so here’s the comparison. Stan Horaczek

The motor inside is an SSM Super Sonic wave Motor that is, in fact, very quiet and relatively snappy considering the bulk of the glass inside the lens. The aperture is an 11-blade circular setup designed to produce appealing bokeh, which has clearly been a priority for Sony’s glass designers, especially considering the recent launch of the G-Master series pro lenses.

The the Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA will be available in July for $1,500 (U.S.), which is roughly the same price as the A-mount version for Sony DSLRs, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Keep scrolling for more sample images and impressions.

Tech Info: f/4 for 1/60 sec at ISO 2500

*(Note that all of these images are JPEGs spit directly out from a Sony A7R II camera unless otherwise stated.) These skates have seen better days, but the assortment of dark colors and bright, neon hues make it a great scene for observing how the lens does representing a variety of different colors. The green looks pretty good, but I’m more impressed with the reds and the pinks. Also note the relative lack of distortion in the straight lines of the bricks.*

Tech Info: f/1.4 for 1/80 sec at ISO 100

This scene was getting most of its light from an overhead skylight. The scene itself is cluttered, but I wanted to see how well we could isolate that lonely fan using the maximum aperture. The focus appears nice and sharp for a wide-open lens, especially in detailed areas like the extension cord (which is also rendered very nicely in its tricky orange color). This is, however, the first time that you’ll notice the vignetting when shooting at wider apertures, which seemed pretty common.

Tech Info: f/5.6 for 1/60 sec at ISO 2500

For a shot like this, I typically default to a complicated lighting setup (or at least one really big modifier), but this one has little more than an LED for fill, which seemed to fit the overall gritty tone. Again, sharpness looking good and the distortion on the beams and straight lines around the frame seem to benefit from the optical formula.

Tech Info: f/11 for 1/160 sec at ISO 400

This was a studio setup using some Profoto heads. Posting a shot like this straight out of the camera feels very odd, but such is life when shooting a sample image gallery. At f/11 things (predictably) get very, very sharp. In a situation like this, it’s clear the FE 50mm f/1.4 has no problem keeping up with the high-resolution capture of the A7R II. Even the high-contrast edges look nice and clean.

Tech Info: f/1.4 for 1/80 sec at ISO 100

Once again we have a relatively small LED providing our fill, but the idea here is to show off the bokeh on the lights in the background of the subject. It gets more circular as you approach the center, of course, but the actual quality of the bokeh is pleasing.

Tech info: f/2 for 1/2000 sec at ISO 100

The composition is a little out there, but this image does provide a wealth of high-contrast edges which seem to show a very small amount of purple fringing that’s easily removed in post. In fact, unless you’re looking at the image zoomed in to 1:1, you might not actually see the fringing at all. Impressive.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/800 sec at ISO 100

Shooting in bright, midday sun isn’t the simplest task, but this shot of some fellow journalists demonstrates a few interesting things about the lens. The separation at f/2 is very nice, with good sharpness on the subject. The bokeh also looks nice, with some brightly-adorned fans way in the background rendered as delightful little blobs of blur. The only spot where the contrast gets out of control is that green hat in the left third of the image, which isn’t a huge surprise due to its neon nature.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/320 sec at ISO 100

Brightly colred beer cans and bokeh give this basic image a lot to look at. You get to see the same can in focus and out of focus, as well as a specular highlight in the background that, once again, seems to show very little in terms of fringing. The focus hits the can on the far right, which allows you to very clearly see the printing pattern on the can at 1:1 magnification.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/60 sec at ISO 100

I find plants are often a great way to observe how gracefully a lens transitions between focus and blur and this one is no exception. The more out of focus the backgrounds get, the better they look with this lens, in my opinion. That back left corner looks downright shimmery and the light on this scene isn’t that contrasty.

Tech Info: f/8 for 1/250 sec at ISO 100

A hazy evening in San Diego. The contrast comes right up in editing and the haziness is from the atmosphere not the lens.

Tech Info: f/1.4 for 1/8000 sec at ISO 100

Of course, I wouldn’t typically shoot this landscape scene wide open, but it’s a good opportunity to show off the vignetting that happens when you’re at f/1.4. The coming lens profile will likely help to eliminate it, but honestly, I think some shooters will embrace it.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/640 sec at ISO 50

Again, the middle out of focus area looks pretty good, but the focal plane and the far-out-of-focus areas look great. It focuses to about 1.5-feet, which isn’t particularly close, so it takes a little getting used to.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/125 sec at ISO 50

This is the kind of image I would typically use a 50mm to shoot during a wedding reception, so I found the result pretty interesting. There are a lot of very subtle tones in this frame and they’re all nicely represented. The white balance and exposure were slightly adjusted from the original image.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/1000 sec at ISO 50

I would like this image better if I had shot it at f/2.8 instead of f/2, but there are a lot of interesting areas to check out, including the very high-contrast edges on the railings and the singer’s hair. The in-focus area looks sharp and clean to the point where you can see the threads that make up the dress.

Tech Info: f/11 for 1/100 sec at ISO 50

I love seeing how a new lens will flare, but that T coating really is serious about fighting it. The sun pretty much obliterated this frame and all we managed to get in terms of flare were some slight little green blobs in the bottom right quadrant. Even moving the sun around in the frame couldn’t get it to go all J.J. Abrams.*

Tech Info: f/11 for 1/30 sec at ISO 50

I have big hands, so holding the 50mm f/1.4 isn’t much of a problem for me, but the weight is substantial. In order to make sure this was sharp at 1/30 sec (an intentionally slow shutter speed for this test shot), I braced it against a railing.

Tech Info: g/2 for 1/160 sec at ISO 100

This photo is almost all about bokeh, which is why it has my boring hand as a model rather than, well, a real model. Here’s where you can see that 11-blade aperture showing off a bit. The points of light coming through the bush in the back are rendered as nice, big circles of blur. I think it’s very pretty.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/100 sec at ISO 100

Another detail shot that doubles as a selfie.

Tech Info: f/2 for 1/800 sec at ISO 100

The focus hit the book on the music stand rather than the singers, but on the web (and with a crop to clean up the edges) it would still look acceptable.

Tech Info: f/2.8 for 1/640 sec at ISO 320

The fill in this photo was provided by a flash fired by Sony’s new EX-RT radio trigger system.

Tech Info: f/2.8 for 1/250 sec at ISO 100

This dessert plate was lit with a constant LED light source from behind. By f/2.8, things are looking very sharp.

Tech Info: f/1.4 for 1/2500 sec at ISO 100

An edited image of the singers shot at f/1.4.

Tech Info: f/2.8 for 1/320 sec at ISO 500

Another shot using fill provided by a wireless flash with a small soft box pointing straight into the model’s face.

Tech Info: f/2.8 for 1/320 sec at ISO 1,600

With its big size, it’s not exactly the ideal street photography lens, but the quick focusing and nice, flat contrast make it worth the bit of effort.