Most photographers, your author included, will admit to a nagging case of lens lust. Fast primes, ultra sharp zooms, and monster telephotos are marketed as must have. No doubt, the modern professional lens is required equipment for demanding client work, but do we always need the biggest and fastest to get the job done? A promise of mirrorless has always been a smaller piece of equipment, and the new line of G primes from Sony (24mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2.5 and 50mm f/2.5) were designed to make good on that pledge.
I recently received my copy of the 50mm G and have spent enough time with it to put some thoughts to Internet. I was curious if this “baby GM” could do the work of the larger fast 50mm primes in situations that don’t depend on low light, ultra-fast aperture performance, and specifically, would this compact everyday 50mm satisfy for portraiture?
Before we dig into the performance, let’s talk about how this new G looks and feels. Sony has been criticized for a somewhat disjointed design language across its earlier lens releases, but in recent years the company landed on an industrial design with the GM line that has been very well received by the market. In these latest G primes, Sony has extended that GM design portfolio of a de-clickable aperture ring, AF/MF switch, and custom button, with a high quality polycarbonate and metal chassis, weather sealing and linear focus motors, to a smaller package. It’s a handsome look, where form and function meet in the middle. The lens feels great in-hand – dense but still lightweight, solid aperture clicks and tight tolerances. The add-on hood is a bit funky but keeps the envelope compact and does its job. Overall, I’m a big fan of this design and hope to see Sony expand the line to more focal lengths.
All the sample images taken here were with a loaner a7C. A camera that perfectly matches the compact ethos of the 50mm G. The combination is extremely lightweight and easy to shoot – perfect for travel or street photography if you want to keep a low profile. At just 174 grams, the 50mm G is just as nice on the larger a7 and a9 series cameras and really helps keep the overall system weight down.
So it looks great, saves space and weight in the camera bag, but does this G live up to its badge in terms of image quality? Short answer is yes. I don’t measure lenses on a test bench so you will have to search elsewhere for detailed measurements on resolution, distortion, CA, etc, but shooting the lens in real world environments can tell you everything you need to know.
If we are reasonable as to what a 50mm f/2.5 lens is capable of – as in, not expecting it to deliver razor thin depth of field – I think the G easily falls into the category of excellence. Wide-open, the lens resolves with great sharpness and micro-contrast, but what caught my attention was the overall life-likeness of the rendering. For portraits, there is plenty of subject isolation at f/2.5 and the gradual roll off towards the fore and background makes for lovely, natural looking transitions. I also noticed when comparing the G to my ZA 50mm 1.4, the G appears to have a 1/4 to 1/2 stop better light transmission at the same aperture setting, so perhaps we are getting something closer to an f/2 in terms of T-stop!
You would not expect an f/2.5 50mm to be a cream machine, but the bokeh is remarkably pleasant and well behaved. I especially like the way the lens renders light sources in the background with almost perfect circles, minimal highlighting and no onion rings.
Going the opposite direction, stop down the G and images are razor sharp edge-to-edge. I’d have no issue using this G for serious landscapes, and the light weight and compact size will be greatly appreciated by anyone lugging gear into the wild.
Color looks to be accurate and neutral with no odd casts, but note that all images here are edited from RAW to taste, so don’t judge them as a measure of the native color the lens is producing. The G exhibits some minor CA but nothing egregious, same with distortion. Overall, it’s just a pleasure to edit files from this little 50mm. I’ll happily take any minor and easily corrected imperfections the G may have if it results in such a compact and capable performer.
One quick note on the autofocus performance – the new dual XD linear AF motors that Sony has been producing are just so darn good! Absolutely no complaints regarding focus speed. AF was fast, silent and accurate on both the a7C and the a1.
On the whole, it appears Sony has delivered an honest lens with the G label to fairly represent its capabilities. No, it isn’t going to deliver ultra-narrow depth of field and low light capability, but it doesn’t try to be that lens. Instead, the 50mm f/2.5 G is the lens that you could (and probably should) have in your camera bag for 90% of normal fov photography. It does not penalize you for carrying it and renders images that will make you seriously question whether you need to pack that fast 50mm.