1. Vario-Tessar FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS
My favourite, most used and most loved lens. From sunsets, sunrises (ha, or sleep), astro-photos, environmental portraits this lens seems to do it all (almost). If I’m shooting anything other than very dim indoor photos or head and shoulder portraits – Which means I’ll be bringing a faster prime lens, or 70-200 telephoto. This lens finds its way into nearly any kit I bring with me for hobby or serious shooting. If I’m looking to create an image from a concept instead of attend an event and document it. This lens is generally what’s going to be used.
If focal length versatility is what I’m after, the 16-35 feels like I have 2-4 prime lenses that I’m stopping down the aperture to make sure I get everything I want in the scene in focus 16mm for the very wide end contrasts well with the wide-to-normal that 35mm offers me, with 21 and 28mm in the middle, offering 4 very different perspectives in one 600g package.
2. Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA
The magical 55, the “mini Zeiss Otus ($5000), the “sharp across the frame wide open at f/1.8”, the uncompromised nifty fifty, the only 50 something f/1.8 people will GLADLY pay $1100 for. This lens is the first lens I ever used after adopting the e-mount system with an a7 II along side the 16-35 f/4.
This lens makes rainbows, it makes rights out of 2 wrongs, it polishes turds, it crosses streets without looking. I adore this lens and yet, after 3 years of owning it, it’s also one of my least used.
If I had to paint a picture of the perfect prime lens, this lens would be it. It’s everything a lens should be, it’s right in the middle of the focal range, it’s the adored 50mm focal length (with 10% GST), it lets in plenty of light, it’s sharp, it focuses quickly, it’s quiet focusing, it renders colours beautifully, the contrast… oh the contrast this lens produces.
But it’s 50mm (+GST), it’s normal, it’s everyday, it’s background blur with everything in a natural perspective, it’s what camera phones are mimicking. It’s “nice!” but it’s what I’d call a photographer’s “wow”. Your target audience wont be noting the slight swirl of the bokeh at the edges of the frame, they wont be counting eyelashes, they wont look for how smooth the falloff is from in to out of focus, they won’t understand why it’s $900 more than the cheap, the cheerful, the Canikon/Sony 50mm f/1.8.
Expect to love this lens, but expect people to be spending time really “taking it all in” from your images to be photographers looking to buy one. But none of that will matter, this lens will make memories, you’ll love it when you twist your arm to use it over more versatile zooms, or perspective warping wide/tele lenses.
3. Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS
What’s sharper than Sony’s cult worshipped 55mm f/1.8 “mini Otus” – (a $5000 manually focusing lens built to be as sharp and optically great as a lens can be). This lens! If nothing matters to you more than how many pixels your moving pieces of glass can resolve into a digital image, this is the lens for you. This lens is as tested by DXOmark comparing over 11,000 lenses comes in SECOND place. Tested on a 42 megapixel a7r II this lens resolves … all 42 megapixels.
For a little perspective, your everyday 24 megapixel a6000 camera with the included 16-50mm kit lens, will resolve 6 megapixels. That “super sharp prime lens” Canon 50mm f/1.8 II sells for a couple of hundred bucks can render 20 megapixels. This lens hits the ceiling of the 42 megapixel sensor of the camera it’s tested on. If printing massive photos of tiny things is your thing – There’s no substitute for this light focusing monster.
After using Sony’s 30mm f/2.8 macro lens for APS-C and falling in love with making tiny things look larger than life, the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS was the next obvious choice for me, since with the 30mm lens I’d have the plastic lens hood resting on the ground to use it at minimum focusing distance, the 90mm focal length gives you a lot more room to work with and makes things look that much more natural than the perspective distortion of wider lenses.
Due to it’s nature of being so sharp you need to be careful zooming in 1:1 magnification in Lightroom, else you might cut yourself. It also functions great as a portrait lens, with the added benefit of being able to double as a lens that can take a photo of just your model’s eyes, the Sony 90mm macro is the one reason I can’t see myself buying the popular portrait lens, the Sony 85mm f/1.8 any time soon, as reasonably priced and exceptionally performing as it is.
The Sony 50mm f/2.8 is also a good option for macro shooting, but at time of purchase of my Sony 90mm the Sony 50mm was not yet announced.
4. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G OSS
This guy.. this guy right here, the most anticipated lens for Sony E mount, the do-all for videographers, photographers and people with a “swapping lenses in the field gives me a dusty sensor phobia”. Sony’s done it again with the 24-105mm f/4 OSS. It’s smaller, it’s lighter and it’s sharper than competitor’s branded lenses. Sometimes criticised for the undoing of the size benefit of smaller lighter mirrorless cameras when equipped with the hulking G Master series 24-70 f/2.8, 85 f/1.8 or 70-200 f/2.8. This lens keeps up with the Sony’s premise of we can do it too, but smaller and lighter.
It’s fast focusing, it renders background blur beautifully at 105mm without losing performance wide open at f/4 where telephoto lenses tend to be at their weakest. And for me, it offers a middle ground of half as wide as my widest lens and half as tele as my telephoto lens. Paired with a good low light performing camera like the generation 3 Sony cameras (a9, a7r III, a7 III) or the a7s II. This lens does it all, even making you think twice about buying any prime lens that falls into it’s focal length, it’s beautifully performing, I’ve barely had it off my a7 III this week taking images of fast moving pups.
For any photography with off-camera flash shots, I can’t see much reason to need any other lens with me than the 24-105 f/4. With the addition of lower light performance added with the a7 III, I can see this lens being with me for a long time and helping me create lasting memories.
5. Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS
The only other lens that can take the place of my adored 16-35mm f/4 is the APS-C Sony 10-18mm f/4, offering (after crop) 15-27mm, however when paired with an a6000, the 10-18 weighs as much as the 16-35 f/4 or an a7 body and is quite a bit smaller. In good light, such as outdoors taking car photos, this camera/lens combo is easy to throw into a bag or around your shoulder and almost forget it’s there weight wise, and with great light the performance is not too far off the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4. Plus an extra mm wider than 16mm is a big difference, compared to a 200mm telephoto vs 201mm.
The party trick of this lens, and my justification for buying a second ultra wide angle lens is that it works from 12mm to 16mm on a full frame a7 camera body (be sure to disable auto-crop). And while Sony does offer a 12-24mm f/4 lens. It doesn’t take standard round filters like the 10-18mm does, any wider than 12mm or from 16-18mm this lens will vignette, as will having the included lens hood screwed in backwards and some filters, but for the price, and a circular polarizing filter at 13mm this lens offers me a perspective for shooting cars in harsh sunlight without the nasty reflections that would require me to use the Sony fisheye lens adapter available for the 28mm f/2 lens (which again, no standard circular lens filters due to the bulbous front element).
6. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS
The workhorse, the moneymaker. No lens creates a head and shoulder photo quite like the telephoto focal range and the 70-200 has it all, another one of Sony’s magical releases that keeps things a little smaller and a little lighter than the competition, the 70-200 is where magic is made. 70mm being wide enough for a group of 2-5 people from the waist up or a full body in portrait orientation.
But 200mm is where it all makes sense, regarded by some photographers as too telephoto and a feature flattening focal length for head and shoulder photos, if you’re aware of how your lighting matters as much to add dimension to facial features as focal lengths do. 200mm is about as magical of a portrait focal length as it gets, everything becomes larger-than-life. While you may need to yell or use a walkie-talkie to adjust your model’s poses, if I were to pick one lens for creating the most consistently beautiful portrait photos I’d probably do them at night with an ultra wide angle featuring the milky way. But second to that I’d have to pick a f/1.8 or f/2 200mm lens.
Failing having $15,000 to spend on the beautiful Canon 200mm f/2 lens, or wanting a lens to be almost twice as big, heavy and more importantly expensive, then the 70-200mm f/4 is your best bet for someone who doesn’t use the focal length full time but appreciates the magic it can make, if you’re being paid to shoot images and you’re looking to wow your clients, you either do it with shallow depth of field (<f/2.8) lenses, wide angle lenses (<21mm), telephoto lenses (>70mm), great use of light/lighting (godox!) or spend 6 hours in photoshop making that dull flat day match the bright, wonderful scene that you imagined in your head when doing a shoot. Keeping that in mind, I believe an ultrawide, fast prime and medium telephoto belongs in every photographers kit that doesn’t have a 28/35/50mm focal length niche they stick to.
The Sony 70-200mm f/4 G also functions great for landscapes, and sports/fast moving subjects, with a handy little switch on the side for panning subjects, disabling the lenses (and camera in the case of 2nd/3rd generation a7 bodies and the a6500) optical/in body steadyshot from compensating from left/right movements, helping you achieve those sharp subject with motion blurred background photos that we see in sports and motorsports.
..or puppy sports
7. Sony FE 28mm f/2 + Ultra Wide and Fish Eye converters
I like the 28mm f/2, it’s nice, it offers a semi-shallow depth of field, it focuses fast enough. It can blur out the background if you get close enough to something, it’s sharp enough in the center at f/2, it’s pretty good in low light, it’s fairly inexpensive. It does the job, but it’s not magical, and has some severe distortion that is corrected in lightroom/JPEG, for me it just doesn’t render images as magically as the Sony G or Sony/Zeiss options. It’s not quite wide enough, it’s not quite fast enough, it’s just good. To me this lens feels like you need low light to make it shine, else due to the focal length it performs very similar to the focal length you’re given in the camera in most phones.
This is for good reason too, as most 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6 kit lenses most everyone who’s got their first camera to dip their toe into photography used at 18mm (27mm after crop) where so many people use them to “get everything in” and also mobile phone’s cameras are at, or around a 28mm equivalent focal length and with the new software emulated blurry backgrounds, the f/2 is no saving grace for this lens. Sure you wont take as great of an astrophoto with your phone and it wont be anywhere near as good in lower light situations, it feels like you have to really go out of your way to make the magic happen with this lens, or use it’s 2 saving graces – The adapters.
I’ve held on to this lens for so long for 2 reasons, the 21mm f/2.8 adapter and the 16mm f/3.5 fisheye adapters, which bundled WITH the 28mm lens are cheaper than buying the alternative E mount 21mm f/2.8 Loxia from Zeiss (not to be mistaken for the Sony/Zeiss ZA lenses) but with the added benefit of change-on-the-fly focal lengths without risking that pesky dust getting all over your sensor when out and about, since mirrorless cameras don’t have a big mirror assembly blocking dust from hitting the sensor as easily.
Where things really get fun for me with this lens though, is the 16mm f/3.5 fisheye adapter, while most people (myself included) find the rounded warped photos from fisheye lenses a bit of a “use it once then throw it in your bag for life” shooting option. The option of using a little piece of software from Imadio called “Fisheye-Hemi” which using a simple photoshop plugin for whichever style of fisheye lens (apsc/full frame/circular) you may have, undoes most of the distasteful warping of the photo, while maintaining a field of view near impossible with standard ultrawide lenses.
While you can do this similarly in Lightroom by using the distortion correction in the lens correction areas, this will stretch and crop a good portion of your image away, Imadio’s Fisheye-Hemi’s method of de-fishing maintains most of the image while taking the roundness out.
As with my mentality of my 16-35mm lens functioning like an extreme wide lens at 16mm, with the bonus of a more normal perspective lens at 35mm, this is how I see my 28mm lens. I use it for the adapters, the 28mm focal length is just a ‘normal’ bonus for me, reserved for dim indoor family events where I need the extra light gathering but can live with the perspective of a camera phone.