Sony has announced a high-end ‘normal’ prime for its Alpha E-mount line of cameras: the Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA lens. As the third normal prime for the system, we wanted to know what it offers over the already excellent FE 55mm F1.8 ZA, so we set about performing some benchmark tests.
We’ll take a look at sharpness on this page, and bokeh, coma, and longitudinal chromatic aberration on the next.
Below, you’ll see a series of aperture progressions for the 50mm F1.4 ZA and 55mm F1.8 ZA. Have a look around the scene at various apertures to get an idea of the capabilities of these two lenses – with the caveat that this performance is only representative of our single copy of each lens.
Wide-open, the 55/1.8 is slightly sharper than the 50/1.4, both centrally and peripherally (the advantage is retained on the left side of the frame as well, despite the fact that our 55/1.8 is slightly decentered and has poorer left side performance). But none of this should be too surprising, since sharpness at F1.4 is far more challenging than at F1.8. In fact, the 50/1.4 holds up very well considering the 2/3 EV disparity in f-stop.
Comparing both lenses at F1.8 (a more level playing field), the 50/1.4 catches up to the 55/1.8 in terms of center sharpness, but still lags in peripheral sharpness on the left and right sides of the frame. By F2, though, the 50/1.4 just surpasses the 55/1.8 in central sharpness, though off-center it still lags a bit. By F2.8 though, the 50/1.4 pulls ahead of the 55/1.8 even here off-center, and particularly at center where it pulls and stays ahead at higher F- numbers. Peripherally, though, the 50/1.4 never quite catches up to the 55/1.8, not at F2.8, and not even by F5.6 (the lenses are a bit more even on the left side at F2.8 and F5.6 due to the weaker performance of our 55/1.8 on the left but, technically, the F1.4 is still a little bit behind).
What does this mean?
The new 50/1.4 ZA displays impressive sharpness and contrast at F1.4. Not quite as much as the venerable 55/1.8 wide open, but a respectable amount considering the 2/3 stop light and depth-of-field advantage. These new lens designs deliver sharp and punchy images wide open, instead of the soft and hazy images you may be used to getting if you slap on old F1.4 designs on such high resolution sensors (remember that we’re using the unforgiving 42MP a7R II for this test).
That said, the new 50/1.4 does not retain sharpness across the field as well as the impressive 55/1.8, which outperforms the 50/1.4 in field uniformity at all apertures. By F2, though, the new 50/1.4 ZA surpasses the 55/1.8 in central sharpness, and retains this advantage at all smaller apertures. Considering the high bar set by the 55/1.8 ZA, performance is very impressive. You gain some sharpness with the 50/1.4 in the center at smaller apertures, but give it up off-center at the widest apertures. If we were forced to pick an overall winner here in terms of sharpness, we’d probably go with the 55/1.8, but really there isn’t a huge difference between the two.
It’s worth noting that Roger Cicala at LensRentals found the central sharpness wide open of the 50/1.4 to exceed the 55/1.8, while our results don’t show the 50/1.4 to exceed the 55/1.8 until F2.8. We can’t rule out the possibility that our copy of the 50/1.4 slightly under-performed relative to the average; however, it’s reassuring that he also found peripheral sharpness to favor the 55/1.8.
All that said, sharpness isn’t everything. How does the new 50/1.4 fare in terms of bokeh, coma, and purple/green fringing? Let’s take a look on the next page.