I've owned Sony mirrorless cameras for 4 years now. It all started with APS-C sensor NEX-5R by which I was blown away at the time of it's release and then I made my way up the product line and now shoot with Full Frame A7 (review is coming soon!). Pretty much all cameras in Sony's APS-C and Full Frame mirrorless line-up feature sensors that can rival the best in the industry and will not be the limiting factor if you want to use it professionally. What will be, though, is ergonomics and lens selection. And, if you can find a way around first issue by picking up a camera with advanced controls (such as A6000 or A7), you will be faced the second issue anyway. Indeed, from the first glance things look rather dismal: there are too few available lenses for this mount (even less for autofocus); kit lenses suck big time and those that don't are very big (compromising all the size advantage you gained by choosing a mirrorless camera in the first place) or very expensive, or both.
However, there are a few true gems among these lenses, no matter what kind of focal length you're interested in. So, in this review we'll take a look at most of the lenses available for e-mount and determine how good they are. Note that we'll only be considering native E or FE lenses but with the special adapters you can use lenses made for other mounts as well.
Disclaimer: both E and FE lenses use the same Sony E-mount. The difference being that while FE lenses can be used both on Full-Frame and APS-C sensor cameras and all are water-resistant, the E lenses were designed for APS-C sensor cameras only and so produce smaller light circle, which does not cover the whole Full-Frame sensor, making these lenses practical to use only on cropped bodies.
Best prime lenses for Full-Frame cameras (A7, A7R, A7S, A7II, A7RII, A7SII)
Sony FE 28mm f/2.0 ($450) – this is both one of the sharpest and the most affordable lenses in the whole FE line-up. It offers superb performance in all important aspects of photography: sharpness, chromatic aberrations and distortion. On DxOMark this lens shows the 8th best result among all native E-mount lenses, and is one of only two lens in the TOP 12 that costs less than $1000. Due to its quality, fast autofocus, and moderate size, it makes for the perfect prime lens to have in your camera. It's quite versatile, too: be it street-photography or landscape, on a Full Frame camera it will work well for both. And although you might wish for a shorter focal length when photographing landscapes (around 20mm) and slightly longer for street photography (35mm), I find this lens to be a good compromise and have it on my camera more than any other lens. Also, due to its fast f/2.0 aperture, this lens is perfect for astrophotography. In fact, the only two things this lens is not good for have to do with the fact that it's a wide-angle lens: isolated portraits won't look good as the wide angle decompression makes itself obvious and contributes to some comical looking faces, and you can forget about wild-life photography or any other photography where you really need to zoom in on your subject.
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 ($250) – just recently released Sony lens. At retail price of $250, it's the most affordable FE autofocus lens available and it also offers decent performance and sharpness. This will make a good companion to the above mentioned FE 28mm lens for those who prefer primes, as it can cover the area of your photography where the 28mm struggles: portraits. Although I wish there was a good-priced 85-mm autofocus lens (which is even more suited for portraits) available for FE mount, since there isn't, this lens remains the best option. Due to the low cost, Sony had to make some compromises in the lens' design, which mostly hindered the AF performance. This lens won't be as fast to focus as any other FE lenses and won't work well for sports photography, but for anything else it will spare you dialing the focus manually. Having said that, I cannot leave out the fact that the $125 Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 with the adapter will do the same job, but even cheaper! True, the Canon lens is slightly less sharp in benchmarks (but it's such a small difference that you'll never notice it in real life), however, it will end up bigger and heavier on the camera, and won't have water protection. But on the other hand, this combination – for roughly the same cost – will allow you to put any other Canon lens you (will) have and resale value will be higher. So, it's the question of what's more attractive to you.
Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F1.8 ZA ($900) – ultimately sharp lens with a price-tag to fit. If you are after uncompromising optical quality, this lens is for you. Not only is it one of the sharpest lenses ever made, it is also virtually distortion free and has very little chromatic aberration. And unlike Sony G-master series lenses that are only a slight redesign from their DSLR line-up, this lens is compact and light, allowing you to get the full advantage of the mirrorless system. Overall, with its normal focal length, superb quality and compactness this is a perfect selection to have on your camera most of the time, especially for street and journalism photography.
Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS ($1000)– the sharpest and optically perfect lens, 90mm F2.8 being the G-master lens offers the best quality you can hope for. It’s the sharpest, distortion and a chromatic aberration free lens with 1:1 magnification which means it’s suitable for macrophotography. The only downside of this lens, apart from the cost, is its size and weight. Indeed, it’s not smaller or lighter than analogous lenses from Canon and Nikon, which destroys the whole advantage of a mirrorless system. However, it can make a great studio lens, both for product and people photography, allowing you to use your A7 series body with smaller lens when you go shooting outside.
Carl Zeiss Batis 85mm F1.8 ($1800) – another top quality lens very similar to above mentioned Sony FE 90mm. Although, a little bit inferior to it in optical excellence, Batis allures with it's smaller size and one stop faster aperture, making it a better lens for creative portraiture and low-light events.
Samyang/Rokinon FE 14mm F2.8 ED (< $600) – not yet available for purchase, this newly announced lens by Samyang promises to become the one that landscape photographers drool over. This is not at all surprising given that this lens not only has a great super wide angle perspective, but also promises to be both very well performing and affordable, given Korean camera maker's reputation. Samyang hasn't reveal the price just yet, but it's expected to start selling in July for less than $600.
Zeiss Batis 18mm F2.8 ($1940) – unlike the traditional recipe used for high-quality optics, Zeiss with their AF Batis and manual focus Loxia series embraces a different approach - they incorporated the same top grade materials but then limited the maximum aperture allowing for a lens form factor that complements the A7 series mirrorless cameras. As a result, we get easy to carry around lens with outstanding optical performance. All of this, together with 18-mm focal length, makes this lens a superb choice for landscape, real-estate and even astrophotography. That is, if you can afford it.
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ($800) – optically balanced and a very compact lens, which will work great for walk arounds. But the sharpness level is less than that of Sony’s FE 28mm lens, the maximum aperture is slower and the price is twice as high. So, this lens can only be recommended if you’re yearning for the classical feel of a 35 mm or looking for minimum distortion and chromatic aberration (both of which can be easily fixed in post-processing).
Manual focus lenses
Carl Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21 ($1500) – this lens is very similar to the Batis 18mm in design with the main differences being that this is a manual focus lens with a narrower field of view and 35% lower price tag. Taking the focal length into account, this lens can be recommended over the above-mentioned Batis as getting the focus right shouldn’t be a problem with such a wide depth of field and optical performance will arguably be better (Batis 18mm F2.8 hasn’t yet been tested on DxoMark)
Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC ($330) – a great solution for those who are looking to get into portrait photography on a budget. This lens offers great optical performance and a very wide maximum aperture and narrowest depth of field imaginable. It’s also very sharp and distortion free. The only problem is that you’ll have to be really mindful of the focus as it might be problematic to nail it with this focal length. However, if your Sony camera has really good assist features and if you can live with this minor inconvenience, then this lens will give you great bang for your buck. There’s also a Cine version, optimized for video capture and features a clickless aperture.
Samyang/Rokinon 50mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC ($350) – very much optically the same lens as the 85mm described above, but with a higher price-tag and normal depth of field. And if 85mm variant is unique in its category, at 50mm the completion gets steep and there are might be better lenses which can autofocus.
Samyang/Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC Lens ($450) – very much optically the same lens as 85mm and 50mm lenses, but with even higher price-tag and wider depth of field. Just like the 50-mm variant it’s hardly the best option in this focal length as there are better alternatives capable of autofocusing. However, at this focal length, getting the focus in right spot should cease to be a big problem.
Samyang/Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC E-Mount ($550) – incredibly sharp and optically balanced lens with bright aperture perfect for night photography. It performs better than Sony’s 28mm f/2.0 but lacks autofocus, costs more and is bulkier. I wouldn’t recommend this lens over the other unless you’re planing to use it only for landscape and astrophotography where manual focus is used most of the time anyway and both the uncompromising optical quality and bright aperture will come in handy.
Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC ($340) – virtually identical in design, and just recently announced by Samyang FE 14mm F2.8 ED with the distinguishing feature that it lacks autofocus. For such a wide angle lens at a good price it offers great optical characteristics with sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberration similar to the Sony 24 mm. This lens will make for a great choice for occasions where ultra wide angle is needed, such as epic landscapes.
options only for APS-C cameras (A6300, A6000, A5100, NEX-5, NEX-6, etc.):
Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS (75-mm equivalent) ($250) – if you have an APS-C sized sensor, this is the lens to get. Just like FE 50mm, this lens is affordable but offers even more sharpness, very little chromatic aberration and virtually zero distortion. This was my favorite lens back in the days when I used a cropped Sony body. Since it's an E lens, it can only cover an APS-C sensor, making the full-frame equivalent focal length of 75-mm, which works great for portraits due to the compression effect and also the decent amount of bokeh you can get at f/1.8! But I loved the sharpness and lack of distortion of this lens so much, that I used it for much more than just portraits; even for some landscapes and panoramas although it's difficult to do with 75-mm equivalent lens.
Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN A (90-mm equivalent) ($210) – even sharper and optically excellent alternative to Sony E 50mm with the focal length even more suited for portraits but crosses that invisible line where doing walk-around photography becomes inconvenient. It is cheaper but has some shortcomings, such as absence of optical stabilization and 1-stop slower aperture.
Sony E 35mm f/1.8 (52-mm equivalent) ($450) – very similar to above mentioned lenses, but more expensive and slightly less optically perfect. However, the difference is negligible and I doubt you will ever notice the decreased sharpness or be unable to correct increased chromatic aberration in post-processing. What this lens offers instead, though, is normal 52-mm equivalent field of view, which is more versatile than telephoto-like from E 50mm.
Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN (45-mm equivalent) ($150) – this lens can be viewed as a direct competitor to Sony 35mm f/1.8 with a similar all around performance and sharpness but at half the cost. On the other hand, its 1 stop slower aperture might become a deal breaker if you’re planning on doing a lot of low-light photography.
Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC DN C Sony E (45-mm equivalent) ($340) – just recently released and tested, this lens steals our top pick for APS-C prime lens from Sony 50mm F/1.8. That is because now it's the sharpest and best all-around lens ever produced for APS-C Sony cameras and still has an affordable price. It also has a great 30mm (45-mm in equivalent) focal length to match its versatility and phenomenally bright aperture of f/1.4 which will allow you to gather maximum amount of light for night photography and will give about the best bokeh cropped cameras are capable for.
Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN (28.5-mm equivalent) ($200) – whereas 30mm Sigma competes with existing Sony lens, the 19mm version adds much desired width to the focal length range and provides a much desired wide angle to the APS-C sized camera at affordable price. Optically this lens slightly inferior to its 30mm analog but still can offer a very decent level of optical performance and remains the sharpest truly wide-angle option for APS-C sized cameras.
Zoom lenses for Full-Frame cameras:
Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS ($1400) – great choice for wild-life and portrait photography. This is the sharpest zoom lens in the E-mount ecosystem which can put some other primes to shame. It also offers a handle for convenient carrying around as this lens weighs more than the camera itself. No need to say that it costs pretty penny, but will deliver for every cent.
Sony FE 28-135mm f/4 G PZ OSS ($2500) – one of the best cinema lenses of this world with a price tag to match. Made primarily with videographers in mind and offers the full array of controls and features to satisfy their needs. It’s also a very sharp lens and can cover everything from wide angle landscape and indoor shots to beautiful wild-life and portraits. If you’re a professional videographer with A7S(II) or A6300 body this lens is a must have.
Sony FE Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS ($1250) – one of the best zoom lenses available for E-mount camera. It comes at a premium price but offers very good optical performance and focal length that covers the whole aspect of wide angle photography. It is best suited for architectural and landscape photography. It won’t match the quality of prime lenses, especially in terms of sharpness and maximum aperture, but will pay off with whole different level of versatility.
Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens ($1000) – this is probably the first lens you'll think of getting due to its small size and the most convenient zoom range that can fulfill almost all aspects of photography: landscapes, portraiture, travel. However, this lens doesn't perform well when it comes to optical performance. Although somewhat better and much more constant wide open than Sony’s kit 28-70mm, it hardly can justify the price which is twice that of the Sony. I think you’re better off staying with the kit lens and picking up the prime with the focal length you find yourself using the most. Or invest a little more in Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 16-35mm along with, again, the prime to cover the longer focal length.
Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM ($2200) – recently released FE lens that covers the same zoom range as the above-mentioned Zeiss but costs one thousand more. But it's worth it - the money buys you uncompromising quality, the best you can hope for from a zoom lens. It also has a very wide constant aperture of F/2.8, which won't make this lens a stranger even for night photography, and will give you a nice bokeh when shooting portraits at 70mm.