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Which Sony 85mm Lens Is Best For Your Portrait Photography Needs?
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Which Sony 85mm Lens Is Best For Your Portrait Photography Needs?

Gear Guide and Lab test; Updated for 2014

If you own a Sony DSLR, you may be thinking about buying a portrait photography lens. This guide is designed to help you determine which one is best for your needs.


Most professional photographers recommend the 85mm lens for portrait photography. If you're a Sony shooter, you are faced with a choice of 4 different lenses available at Adorama at prices ranging from approximately $270 to well north of $1,000. All are designed to work with both full-frame and APS Sony DSLRs, but which one is best for you? That depends on your budget, but also on what kinds of portraits you want to shoot.

Here are the key Sony-mount 85mm lenses, with test results (courtesy DxOMark) and selected online review highlights, from lowest to highest priced.

Sony SAL-85mm f/2.8 Telephoto Lens (Adorama price: $298)
DxOMark Score: 21

Overview:
Sony’s entry-level 85mm lens is the least expensive AF 85 on the market today, and offers a quality performance at all apertures, especially when shooting wide open.  Light and compact, its only downside is its wide aperture of f/2.8, which will still give you good focus fall-off, but not as dramatic as what you would get with a wider aperture. Still, at this price, who’s complaining? The lens fits all Sony and old Minolta DSLRs, has a simple optical construction of 5 elements in 4 groups, and 7 circular aperture blades for pleasing bokeh.

Web reviews: Photozone declares the Sony 85mm f/2.8 is "an impressive lens when used on APS-D DSLRs" and gives it a top price-performance rating. Kurt Munger, however, says the lens will "work great on your Sony full-frame digital camera." He says the lens turned in a great performance and impressively focused closer than most 85mm lenses. "Sony comes up with another winner in their high performance, low cost 'easy choice' lens series," he concludes.

DxOMark Measurements:

  • Sharpness 12P-Mpix
  • Transmission 2.9TStop
  • Distortion 0.1%
  • Vignetting -1.4EV
  • Chr. aberration 7µm

 

Pro-Optic 85mm f/1.4 for Sony Alpha mount (Adorama price: $255)
DxOMark Score: Not Tested

Overview:
If you are looking for a wider aperture and are willing to sacrifice autofocus, consider the Pro-Optic 85mm f/1.4 for Sony. Designed for both full-frame and APS sensor cameras, this lens has an aspherical lens, automatic aperture, 9 elements in 7 groups, and accepts a 72mm filter. (Almost identical lenses are available from SamyangBower and Rokinon.)

Web reviews: The Adorama Learning Center's Sandy Ramirez notes that this version of the lens's optics are vastly improved.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Sony (Adorama price: $969)
DxOMark Score: Not Tested


Overview:
Indie lensmaker Sigma’s sharp large-aperture 85mm pro-level portrait lens features SLD glass and a special element coated for minimized chromatic aberration and reduced flare and ghosting, even when shooting backlit scenes. Its 9-blade diaphragm consists of rounded blades for natural-looking, rounded specular highlights and pleasing Bokeh, and is a go-to lens for wedding and portrait photographers.

Web reviews: SLR Gear's Andrew Alexander exclaims the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is "as sharp as any of its contemporaries, even wide open at f/1.4." As Camera Labs points out, the lens is the cheapest 85mm f/1.4 with AF, but "you have to be very careful to focus optimally."

 

Sony Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 Zeiss (Adorama price: $1,598)
DxOMark Score: 31

Overview: Sony has teamed up with Carl Zeiss to create a precision designed, super-sharp premium portrait lens in the Sony Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZA. Designed to work on any Sony Alpha-mount camera, the lens features a focus hold button that will lock focus on your subject, focuses to 2’10”, and has an auto clutch feature to stop manual focus ring rotation. It lacks any aspherical lens, but is multi-coated, which keeps flare and color fringing under control, and tests show virtually no optical distortion.. The lens accepts 72mm filters.

Web reviews: Andrew Alexander at SLRgear observes that the Sony 85mm f/1.4 Zeiss bears "an uncanny resemblance to the Minolta 85mm f/1.4 (Sony took over Minolta's designs in 2006). Internally, the lens adds an additional element, but otherwise, the two lenses share a similar design." Declaring it an "excellent" lens, he notes that the lens benefits from Sony DSLRs' built-in image stabilization.

DxOMark measurements:

  • Sharpness 16P-Mpix
  • Transmission 16TStop
  • Distortion 0.2%
  • Vignetting -1.5EV
  • Chr. aberration 4µm

 

Return to Tested and Compared: 20 85mm Lenses for DSLR Portrait Photography

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