infocus's reviews

  • Sony 35mm f/1.8 DT SAM SAL35F18

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very high resolution
    Nothing considering the low price

    This is a perfect std. lens for the Sony a77 with a field of view equivalent to 52.5mm in 35mm camera terms (x1.5 comparison factor), and with the Sony DSLRs you always have image stabilisation. It is very well corrected and delivers top IQ. I use it when I need as much details as possible in my buildings and landscape pictures. For full figure and candid shooting in nature as well as studio it provides a comfortable working distance; skin tones are pleasing and depth of field easy to control. This equipment is a fast and reliable companion enhancing interactive creativity using the EVF for checking WB, highlights and contrast, and the tilting LCD for composing in awkward positions. Regards JvE.

    reviewed October 4th, 2011 (purchased for $251)
  • Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 DT SSM SAL1650

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    excellent results throughout zoom range and from landscape to close-up
    a bit stiff zoom ring on early examples, but just about right on current ones

    In this focal range it is as good as it gets using the Sony a77 to reveal the full capacity of the lens. It is sharp from edge to edge when focused correctly, and only a little flare is seen even when the sun is in front and low. On top of this the lens is quite reasonably priced. The zoom range is extremely useful, with minimal distortion and CA with in-camera lens comp., from a very wide 16mm to a useful 50mm, which can be cropped a bit for further reach thanks to the very high resolution even at 50mm. The Sony DSLR in-camera image stabilisation allows a large aperture construction at a very reasonable price. The lens is comparable to CZ optics in a high quality composite barrel. The AF is fast and precise. The best every-day photographic tool I have used in my 50 years of photographic experience. Regards JvE.

    Note spring 2013: As all sorts of flowers pop up now in April, I'd like to mention that this lens on the a77, with the TILTABLE LCD screen and both AF and IS, is very useful in the close-up range zooming in as close as 4 inches from the lens even at the 50mm setting. (Check out Kurt Munger's shot of a US stamp! Click on it for actual 100% view). The results are very sharp indeed, and the background smooth. Placing the camera flat on the ground gives a beautiful view of small flowers - almost impossible to do with a fixed LCD screen DSLR camera.

    Note January 2014: Look out for the Sony a77 kit with this lens in the shops now, the price may be extremely favourable. This is one of the best photographic tools I can think of, even at much higher price. Using anything else with a passive optical finder I feel like shooting blindly, having to check the result afterwards. I know what I get when I press the button!!!

    Note July 2015: Added the impressive upgraded Sony a77 mk.II with its own Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 DT SSM lens to my equipment. The lens is rock solid with smooth zoom function. Now the camera has standard flash shoe. Sony deliver!

    reviewed March 27th, 2012 (purchased for $575)
  • Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SAL-70400G

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    This replaces all exspensive tele-lenses combined (including TC), excellent even at close-up, very reasonably priced. Silent supersonic AF (SSM) with direct manual focusing (DMF)
    Heavy (but that's good for steady hh shooting at 400mm)

    This FF lens is quite heavy and extremely well built, but surprisingly compact and has a very useful zoom range; similar lenses are not offered at a reasonable price by anyone else in the business to my knowledge. It is not particularly fast at f4-5.6, but performs very well from wide open and extremely well just one stop down, just a bit softer at the long end. Most top quality fast lenses need more stopping down to match this performance, so the working aperture becomes about the same anyway. Fast lenses were needed before for accurate manual focusing, but were stopped down to f5.6 or f8 for the exposure. Resolution is just as superb, only stopped down one step more, as the Sony 70-200 f2.8 lens, the four times more expensive Sony 300mm f2.8 lens, and the Carl Zeiss Sony 85mm f1.4; each at the aperture where these are at their best. It may come as a surprise that this 70-400 lens is extremely useful for close-up photography as well, delivering a lifelike surface texture of leaves and flowers not often seen in the APS-C format. CA and distortion is very well controlled throughout in practical photography. In fact, it compares quite well with the Micro Nikkor 200mm f4 AF-D IF-ED. I use it with the Sony a580 and the a77 cameras. If image quality and value for money are first priorities, this is it (by a camera or two to go with it from the savings using this one). No one else offers image stabilisation, fast supersonic AF, this long zoom range and high IQ more reasonably priced in a single compact unit. Regards JvE

    By the way: It was in part due to this lens I wrote off all my quite outdated Nikkor AF lenses when going digital (80-200 f2.8, 60 & 105 f2.8, etc.), they apparently don't compare too well with resent lenses. On the better new ones VR was somewhat scarce and sometimes useless. I wanted to take advantage of the new technology. Now I have Sigma 8-16, Sony 16-50 f2.8, 35 f1.8, 50 f2.8 Macro and the 70-400. All are among the very best available in their category regardless of price and make. JvE

    NOTE: The a77 (and all its siblings) has no optical viewfinder like most D-SLRs. The advantages are for most practical purposes overwhelming - and it is an SLR camera by definition: Using the taking lens for the finder image. Whether the redirecting of the image to the viewfinder is accomplished by mirrors or wires is irrelevant!

    UPDATE: Sony has released a new version of this lens for 2013 finished in white rather than the much preferable dull silver finish, proving Sony's confidence in this product and willingness to respond to whimsical demands from customers more into looks than function. This makes the original product even more desirable at a lower cost. The new specifications can hardly make much difference, given the performance of this highly rated original product - and if the AF really is better, that's good too!

    reviewed March 27th, 2012 (purchased for $1,650)
  • Sony 50mm f/2.8 Macro SAL-50M28

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Extremely sharp results and flat focal plane, no corner shading using APS-C
    Expensive, but price is coming down

    The macro lens is possibly the lens most often acquired for the wrong reason: for close up work picturing flowers and small things. This is just half the ability of this type of lens; the prime design concern is to provide a flat field and very little distortion, none of these features are particularly important for close up work. Today close-ups are easily taken with a good compact digital camera, probably costing less than the macro lens alone. The compact camera has a wide angle focal length of about 1/10 of the classical macro lens, making them particularly suitable for photographing small things like insects, flowers and toy models.

    The full frame Sony 50mm f2.8 Macro lens, however, is a Minolta design having proved its worth for a long time, possibly the overall best 50mm macro lens performer among the 35mm SLR camera systems, employing a double floating elements design. The AF is operated by the camera AF motor, which is fast but not silent. It focuses to 1:1, which covers about the area of 15 x 23 mm using the Sony DSLR APS-C cameras. It has a focus range limiter working three ways: Close-up range or Far range, depending on the lens focusing position when setting the switch, and Full range. Similar to a FF 75mm it gives discrete working distance, soft backgrounds and very pleasing skin tone and texture, without exaggerating size of close body parts of the model. It is also very useful copying 35mm negatives and positives, or any other film size. The results are excellent, focusing fast and accurate. The build quality is quite satisfactory with a classical optical and mechanical construction taking 55 mm filters. Regards JvE

    reviewed March 27th, 2012 (purchased for $570)
  • Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Extremely useful (and funny) lens for general wide-angle and travel photography
    Absolutely none to worry about (and the Sony version is also HSM!!)

    This is probably a lens you don't think you'll need until you have tried it. I use it on a Sony a580, which means having a tilting screen that allows framing while holding the camera in awkward positions. In auto exposure and auto focus mode it can be used in ways you never have done before: Standing in the corner of your room holding the camera above your head you get a wall to wall picture capturing the entire room. Alternatively, you may point the camera at your face a few inches from your chin, getting an unusual portrait, or enhance items with extreme depth of field.

    In normal situations you can take spectacular almost undistorted architectural photos. When people say they see much lens distortion, it is more likely they see the normal perspective effects for which no lens can be corrected. If you keep the sensor-plane of the camera parallel to the subject features you want to appear parallel (like a tall building or a long row of buildings in a street), they appear parallel in the picture. If you frame an image with the center pointing at a spot at the same level horizontally as yourself, you will be surprised how high up on buildings the frame reaches, even using the landscape format. In this way almost half the image is foreground, which often is a good thing, or you can leave it out later.

    This lens cannot take filters, but many effects are available in post processing. I have never missed it; probably because my Sony camera has HDR in camera processing of 3 separate images, obviating a grading filter altogether with much better result. The lens focuses fast and accurate and provides full time manual override. It is a unique lens and very well built. Regards JvE

    reviewed March 27th, 2012 (purchased for $675)
  • Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM SAL-1855

    9 out of 10 points and recommended
    Quite decent performance, very inexpensive as a kit lens
    Non to worry about at this price point

    This is an A-mount DT lens (DSLR APS-C format), quite different from the somewhat inferior E-mount variety with built-in IS. IS-lenses will probably, regardless of manufacturer, tend to have a negative effect on image quality! The Sony A mount 18-55mm, however, always turns out quite satisfactory images using it on a Sony A-mount camera with in-camera IS. There is absolutely no reason not to buy this as part of a camera kit. The 18-55mm zoom range is the most popular among the lens manufacturers, and this one is nearly as good as the Pentax equivalent; both at the same price point, while the more expensive Canon is somewhere in-between performance wise. The much more expensive latest Nikon zoom gives very soft corners at the wide end and some weird behaviour. This Sony lens is not impressively built, but that has no effect on the photographic results, justefying in my opinion a top overall rating for this price. Regards JvE

    Note: The new mark-II version of this lens is apparently somewhat optically improved, but with a much improved zoom operation that is very smooth and precise, and I think, better appearance without the unnecessary silver ring. (Also tested)

    reviewed May 7th, 2012 (purchased for $53)
  • Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR AF-S Nikkor

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very convenient focal range, compact and very sharp except corners
    Not perfect for full frame cameras, despite being kit lens for D600!

    I chose this for my full frame D600 for general use, because the 24-120mm f4 is bigger, heavier and twice as expensive, and according to several tests not much better - and soft above 85mm. It is quite sharp and contrasty, but for distant subjects even at f5.6 only the central field is rendered critically sharp, closing in reduces the problem. The VR seems to work quite well using the lens element decentering method that most likely results in the observed asymmetric image field sharpness (one image edge region less sharp than the opposite), so it's best left off when not needed. Apart from the limitations already mentioned, it's an OK all round lens. The problem is really not the lens as much as the full-frame camera in general, which demands much larger and costlier lenses for good results than those needed for the smaller formats. At today's rate of image-sensor development, the APS-C format only lags about one generation behind the FF performance; making the smaller format a practical proposition for most purposes. This lens is a very good APS-C alternative; scoring one or two points more on image quality.

    The old disreputable AF24-50mm f3.3-4.5 (1987 version) seems to perform just a tad better edgewise than this new 24-85mm VR lens, while the contemporary AF35-105mm f3.5.4.5 is quite sharp almost to the corners, and the macro at 105mm is extremely sharp, but works only in MF.

    PS - I bought the new D600 for my rather large collection of idle old Nikkors (25 lenses of which 11 fits this camera - 7 is AF). It is the first sensible priced FF Nikon DSLR-camera for old 35mm film users! It came rather late though - I switched to the Sony Alpha system in the mean time, and I don't regret it.

    Note November 2013 - Although I'm quite happy with this zoom lens, I'm not satisfied with the edge sharpness for landscape and city photography. The only lens I've tested successfully so far for city scapes on the D600 is the old manual focusing Nikkor 50mm f1.8 E, which I picked up secondhand some twenty years ago; the result is comparable to that obtained with the Sony a77 and Sony 35mm f1.8.

    Note spring 2014: The new 16 Mp Nikon Df would have taken all my 25 Nikkors due to the ability to flip away the small AI aperture coupling tab that otherwise would interfere with the older lenses. However, it is only 7.1Mp in DX mode and I don't particularly like it. It is a petty decision not to incorporate this feature on the D600.

    reviewed January 9th, 2013 (purchased for $525)
  • Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8D AF Nikkor

    7 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very sharp
    Too much play in the front focusing group making the lens wobly

    I had this lens (new 1990) on my F4s for two years, the images were very good, but the push-pull zoom was heavy and uncomfortable - I had to rest the camera against my forehead to move it back. Also, the rotating front focusing group was very wobbly in my copy compared to other examples I came across. The image in the finder moved around. The lens was returned to Nikon who applied heavy grease on the helical threads where no grease should have been applied. The result was a very sluggish AF performance and heavy battery drainage. I got rid of it.

    reviewed January 23rd, 2014 (purchased for $670)