Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM
Lab Test Results
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June 6, 2016
by William Brawley
Announced earlier this year alongside a 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 sibling and a forthcoming 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, the new Sony FE 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM lens marks the introduction to Sony's G Master lens family, their category of flagship professional-grade full-frame mirrorless lenses. Sony has long offered various tiers of lenses, include G-series glass and the formerly top-tier Carl Zeiss co-branded optics. The G Master series sits atop the Sony lens pyramid and aims to offer the best image quality performance and top-notch build quality.
The FE 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM lens is currently the brightest and the only native 85mm lens offered for full-frame Sony mirrorless cameras. Characterized by Sony as the "ultimate portrait lens," the 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM offers a combination of high-tech lens design features, dust- and moisture-sealed construction, a ring drive SSM AF system as well as a de-clickable aperture ring that make it useful for both stills and video work.
Given its pro-level design and featureset, the Sony FE 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM gets a rather pricey "pro-level" MSRP of $1,798. The lens ships with a 77mm front lens cap, rear cap, rounded bayonet-mount lens hood and a lens case.
Overall, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM lens is capable of very sharp images on both full-frame and APS-C Sony cameras, especially if you stop the lens down a bit. Given the very wide ƒ/1.4 aperture, it's not very surprising to see some softness out away from the center of the frame, especially on a full-frame camera. Despite the corner softness at ƒ/1.4, the center of the frame is very sharp. Stopping down, even only a few stops, sharpens things up considerably, noticeably in the corners. Around ƒ/4-5.6 on either a full-frame or sub-frame camera, the lens is practically tack sharp across the entire frame. The lens maintains a nearly flat sharpness characteristic across the entire frame throughout the remaining apertures. We did observe minor diffraction-related softness by the time you stop all the way down to ƒ/16, but the effect is quite minor on both full- and sub-frame cameras.
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM does very well at controlling chromatic aberration, even at ƒ/1.4 on a full-frame camera. While we measured slight variations between the amount of CA throughout the aperture range on both full-frame and APS-C cameras, on a whole, maximum CA never rose above three hundredths of a percent of frame height. On average, CA on both sensor sizes was very low, with only minor, easily-correctable magenta and cyan fringing visible on high-contrast edges in the corners at wider apertures.
Given the lens' bright ƒ/1.4 aperture, it's not unexpected to see some vignetting and that is definitely the case here with this lens, particularly on a full-frame camera. Wide open on full-frame, corner shading is right around the 1EV mark, but we see a steady decline in vignetting issues as you stop down, though there is some degree of vignetting throughout the entire aperture range. As you approach ƒ/8, vignetting drops to around 0.25EVs, and drops a bit further as you continue to stop down.
On sub-frame cameras, the vignetting is, as expected, much less of an issue. We still observed some degree of increased vignetting at the wider apertures, at a bit under 0.5EVs at ƒ/1.4. Corner shading decreases significantly as you stop down even the slightest amount, however. By ƒ/2.8, vignetting is extremely minimal, only around 0.09EVs. Vignetting remains at this level from here on out through the remaining aperture values.
As a medium telephoto portrait lens, the Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM displays extremely little distortion, on both sensor sizes. On full-frame, there's just a hint of barrel distortion on average, but it's not really an issue in our eyes, while on sub-frame, distortion hovers just over the zero mark.
Sony cameras include various in-camera corrections, including CA, vignetting, and distortion. The graphs here in this review, however, display results based on RAW files with in-camera corrections disabled. Our sample images, however, are straight-from-camera JPEGs, but with all in-camera correction disabled.
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM utilizes a ring drive SSM autofocus motor, but due to its optical design with large, heavy glass elements comprising the focusing group, the lens doesn't autofocus all that quickly -- taking a little over a full second to slew through the entire focus range. AF performance certainly isn't bad out in the field, but things like sports and fast action are not ideal subject matter for this lens. The 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM is primarily designed for portraiture where fast AF speeds are not typically necessary. It's not that uncommon for fast full-frame portrait-specific lenses to have slower than average AF speeds. For example, the classic Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2L II isn't renowned for its AF speed either. Sony themselves describe the AF motor of the lens as being particularly powerful in order to drive such a heavy focusing group and also incorporating two AF position sensors in order to better control focus accuracy.
Of course, manual focus is also available, with the lens itself featuring an AF/MF toggle switch on the side of the barrel. As with other FE-mount lenses, the focus ring is electronic with no mechanical linkage to the lens elements themselves, so the large focusing ring will rotate forever. With the camera powered up and manual focus enabled, the lens' manual focusing performance is very good. The ring rotates very smoothly, and there is a lot of focus throw (in other words, there is a large degree of rotation when going from minimum focus to infinity), which makes precise focus adjustments very easy.
Also of note regarding focusing is the focus hold button on the side of the lens above the AF/MF switch, which lets you override and stop autofocus operation temporarily.
The Sony FE 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM has a close focusing distance of 2.62ft (0.8m) with manual focusing or a slightly farther distance of 2.79ft (0.85m) with autofocus. With a maximum magnification of 0.12x (1:8.3 ratio), the lens doesn't provide very good macro performance.
Build Quality and Handling
Unlike a number of other Sony FE-mount prime lenses with sleek, lightweight designs, such as the FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 Zeiss and FE 55mm ƒ/1.8 Zeiss, the new 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM is drastically larger and heavier. At over four inches long (107.5mm) and around 3.5 inches wide (89.5mm), the lens weighs in at around 1.8 pounds (820g) and feels very wide and voluminous in the hand. Despite the weight and increased bulk compared to most other Sony E-mount primes, the lens balances nicely on the A7-series cameras. Even with smaller cameras like the A6000 or A6300, the lens feels comfortable and not all that front heavy despite the appearance to the contrary.
The lens construction is very solid, with what feels like an all-metal or nearly all-metal barrel construction and a metal lens mount. Sony also states that the lens, like a variety of earlier FE-mount lenses, is resistant to dust and moisture. However, unlike these earlier "weather resistant" lenses, the new 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM lens actually features a rubber gasket seal around the lens mount, which gives us a little more reassurance that this lens -- along with the other currently announced G Master lenses -- can better withstand inclement weather and dusty conditions.
In addition to a 1-inch wide focus ring with a rubberized, ribbed texture, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM lens also sports a manual aperture ring, which is something not typically seen on modern lenses (apart from Fuji's, of course). The aperture ring offers third-stop increments all the way from ƒ/1.4-16 as well as an "Auto" setting, which lets you adjust the aperture via the camera itself. For videographers, the aperture ring can be "de-clicked" at the flip of a switch to allow for smooth, stepless aperture adjustments during video recording.
Other physical features of the lens exterior are rather minimal, with only the AF stop button and AF/MF toggle switch on the left side of the barrel. The lens does not offer a focus distance window or depth of field scale.
On the inside, the 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM features a number of technical goodies to provide the best possible image quality. Comprised of a total of 11 elements in 8 groups, the lens includes three Extra-low Dispersion elements to combat CA, fringing and improve clarity. The lens also sports a newly developed precision "XA" (extreme aspherical) element that helps control astigmatism, distortion, coma and other aberrations. The lens also features Sony's Nano AR Coating to help reduce surface reflection, flare and ghosting as well as increasing contrast and color rendering. The aperture diaphragm is also rather impressive with an uncommon 11-bladed design. This highly circular aperture helps insure that out of focus areas, aka bokeh, are very smooth and pleasing.
As the first 85mm lens for the FE-mount cameras, there's not a direct competitor to Sony FE 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM, though perhaps the closest alternative would be the A-mount Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss lens. Offering the same focal length and bright ƒ/1.4 aperture, it's also extremely sharp and shows very little distortion. It does show less vignetting than the G Master lens, even with full-frame cameras, though. However, the lens itself is also quite expensive at nearly $1,700, so there's not much of a price advantage compared to the native FE-mount 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens -- plus, you'd have to budget for an A-mount to E-mount adapter too.
Given the flexibility and compatibility of FE-mount camera regarding lens mount adapters, there are other alternatives for fast full-frame 85mm lenses, including the Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2L II, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4G, Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus or a Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 EX lenses. All these would require a compatible adapter, of course, which would impact AF performance to a degree or perhaps electronic aperture control depending on the adapter. Furthermore, with the exception of the Sigma -- which is relatively affordable -- these other 85mm lenses are also quite pricey in their own right.
For a native FE-mount alternative, the closest option would be the Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis lens. This lens would provide a relatively similar medium telephoto focal length with nearly the same bright aperture performance. It also provides autofocus capabilities, unlike traditional Zeiss lenses. We've not yet had the chance to review this lens, but Zeiss glass is very well regarded so we can expect high marks for this lens. At around $1,200, the Zeiss is a little more affordable than the G Master option and might be worth considering if you don't need the f/1.4 aperture.
Representing a new level in Sony's mirrorless lens family, the Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 GM is a top-notch portrait prime. Sony claims the new FE-mount 85mm ƒ/1.4 G Master lens is the "ultimate portrait lens," and after our testing they just might be right. While it costs a pretty penny, this is a lens aimed at professional photographers, in a similar vein to, say, Canon L-series lenses, and it offers top-notch image quality. This lens is very sharp -- though watch out for some corner softness on full-frame at ƒ/1.4 -- and it also shows excellent distortion and CA control. Its build quality is also fantastic, and it actually appears to be properly weather-resistant with a gasket seal around the lens mount! Though it's quite big and heavy, it nevertheless balances well on both Sony A7-series cameras and smaller bodies like the A6300. If you're a professional or advanced enthusiast and shoot with Sony equipment and need a true fast-aperture portrait lens for your next wedding, portrait session or editorial project, this premium 85mm G Master lens is definitely worth considering.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM
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Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by coma (23 reviews)good sharpness, nice bokeh,big, expansive, slow focus, unusable in video, marketing
I had really high hopes for this, since Sony marketing claimed this was probably one of the best lenses ever made.reviewed September 2nd, 2016 (purchased for $2,100)
Thing is: it isn't. Sharpness is good in the center, but wide open it just lacks the last bit of sharpness one would expect.
Same goes for Bokeh. It's nice. Really nice to be honest. But is it best in class? No. The Sony falls in line with Panasonic, Sigma and Fuji. In front of the Nikon but just not as good as the Canon 85mm. (Of course the Sony offers more blur than Panasonic and Fuji, but Bokeh as the quality of the blur, is't really better)
Focus is slow and noise, I don't know what happened there.
All in all a very nice lens. Optically probably the nicest thing Sony has to offer. But it just falls short of what the marketing claimed.