Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 First Look: Pairing with the A7 II for portraits on a budget!


posted Friday, February 24, 2017 at 6:28 AM EST


Wake up with IR! Here's today's does of Caffeine Priority...

Professional portrait photographers tend to spend big bucks for their camera and lens rigs, and justifiably so. They need a full frame sensor for one thing (or larger!) in order to maximize image quality, ensure good performance as ISO rises, and also to yield the highly coveted shallow depth of field when desired.

Equally important to their work are quality portrait prime lenses, which work in tandem to provide good image quality and shallow depth of field. The focal length of 85mm has long been recognized as one of the most classic choices for portrait lenses, being long enough to provide shallow depth of field and to avoid the perspective distortion (especially of faces) that wider angles can sometimes produce. And yet it's not so long that it flattens the face entirely, or introduces too much in the way of compression distortion.

But full frame cameras and high-end portrait prime lenses can often strain the wallet to the tune of $5000 in combination, and often way more than that! What are the rest of us mere mortals to do if we desire something approaching that quality? Well, the engineers at Sony have been busy working on that for you, and we've just been given a pre-production sample of their new FE 85mm f/1.8 prime. We're not allowed to shoot this beta sample in the lab, but they have allowed us to post shots from the real world for you, so consider this a "first look" from us, with more to come!

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 First Look

1/800s / f/1.8 / ISO 100

I decided to pair this lens with the award-winning Sony A7 Mark II. At 24.3mp it might not be the first choice of a top portrait pro, but at a current retail street price of just $1498, this is by far the most obvious pairing for a lens that will run you less than $600. So while you're not getting the highest resolution body nor the widest-aperture 85mm lens they make (which would be their $1800 FE 85mm f/1.4 GM), you're still getting an enormous bang for the buck since you're spending far less than half the price of that top-shelf lens when combined with a Sony A7R Mark II.

1/640s / f/2 / ISO 100

So what does an 85mm f/1.8 lens on a full frame body buy you in terms of shallow depth of field? A lot! (Or, a little, depending on how you look at it.) Using a handy Depth of Field calculator for a full frame sensor and an 85mm f/1.8 lens while wide open, from a distance of about 4 feet, shows a DOF of roughly an inch or so, which is on display in the image below.

Dancing in the Bokeh

1/200s / f/1.8 / ISO 100

And how about the feel of this combination in the hand? It's amazingly comfortable and lightweight considering what you're getting in return. Significantly lighter than traditional 85mm f/1.4 lenses, it even sports a convenient "focus hold" button (more on that in our forthcoming review). And the beefier hand grip of the A7 Mark II as compared to the original A7 is a big bonus with a lens like this, making for a well-balanced combination.

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 as shown on the Sony A7 Mark II

So there's a first look at our beta sample of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens. For more images please see our Sony A7 II Gallery and look for "85mm" in the filename. And stay tuned for more to come once we receive a full production version of this affordable, full frame portrait prime.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8Sony A7 II Gallery

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Caffeine Priority is a new series of short photo-tidbits to ease you into your day, and give us a chance to share a bit more of what life’s like here at IR. We're more like a group of friends testing and talking about cameras and lenses than the buttoned-down, big-corporation world that some of our photo-friends at other companies work in; hopefully these little snippets will share some of that. So... grab another coffee and join in the conversation with us down below!




(Our cool "Caffeine Priority" logo is derived from a mode dial icon designed by Ariel Lepor. You can see other examples of Ariel's graphic design work and great macro photography at Thanks, Ariel!)