The Sony 85 f/1.8 Lens Review. All the 85 you may ever need!

The Sony 85 f/1.8 Lens Review. All the 85 you may ever need!

As I get older, and move on in my years (am now 47) I start to realize that the small stuff, eh…doesn’t matter. What matters to me these days is that I enjoy life, love life, be happy, spend time with friends and family and in regards to camera gear, I go with what I love and also, what is “good enough”. Most camera systems today simply rock, and rock hard. Yep, it’s tough too get a bad camera or lens today, and with prices ranging all over the map what we pay for today is niche cameras and lenses. The new Fuji Medium Format of example. Fuji saw they really had no where to go with their APS-C line as everyone already loves what they have done, ad face it…today with cameras we are starting to reach the limits of what can be done with standard APS or 35mm formats. The newest models are fantastic and truly, what else can they do to keep selling new cameras every year? Exactly. Hmmm, so how about making a new Medium Format line? Yep, that is where we are headed. Today, most cameras in the APS-C, Micro 4/3 range and Full Frame range are as good as they can get in regards to image quality.

I’ll throw you a detail shot first from this new 85 1.8. Click on the image below, which was shot wide open at f/1.8. See the crazy detail in the 100% crop. If you are on a nice large display you will see this and be amazed. This is Sony’s “budget” 85 1.8. It’s good. Very good. Dare I say…”Too Good for the Cost”? NAHHH, NEVER! Too good is always good. 

As for lenses, we have all kinds to choose from no matter the brand we shoot with. Exotic glass like Leica that costs us a limb can be used on almost all formats via adapters, lenses from 3rd parties that give us crazy deals (Rokinon) and of course there is Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, or whatever system you shoot. There are thousands of lenses out there to choose from when it comes to mirrorless systems. So what to choose? What do we need? What do we want?

MY VIDEO REVIEW OF THE LENS!

I’ll admit, when it comes to photo gear, I usually (especially in the past) let my “wants’ come before “needs” and that is not always a good idea for my bank account, but hey, I have fun with it and for me, that’s a huge part of living life..having fun. As long as a purchase does not stress me out, and I want it, and feel it would fulfill my life in some way I usually get it if I can. But sometimes buying big exotic lenses, for me, is a mistake. If I spend $2k or more on a lens I usually start to regret it…(usually). Especially if it is for a focal length I rarely use. For example, the 85mm focal length is one I love but rarely use. While I loved the Sony 85 1.4 G Master for my Sony A7rII I knew it was overkill for my needs and use. As much as I lusted after that huge hunk O glass, I knew that if I bought it I would have remorse as my intelligence would kick in and say “Steve, you rarely use that focal length so why would you spend $1800 on a lens like this? Yes it is dreamy, creamy and one hell of a lens but there are other options, and especially NOW.

Debby  – Shot with the A7RII (My most used camera) and the new 85 1.8 from Sony. Click it for larger and better version .The Bokeh is smooth, and yes…this lens is a “cream machine”

Sony has just announced and released (March 30th 2017 release date) the new 85 1.8 FE lens. I have had one for the last two weeks and it’s small, it’s light and it’s DAMN AMAZING. While not up to the level of the G Master for color and deliciousness, it is not very far off. It is also close to the Zeiss 85 Batis in real world use (I do not do scientific wall shots or pixel peeper tests as those, IMO, have nothing to do with real world use). I have shot the G Master and preferred its rendering to the Zeiss Batis 85 1.8. See my review of the 85 G Master HERE. See my review of the Zeiss 85 1.8 Batis HERE. 

The 85 1.8 at f/1.8, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

While those two lenses are indeed nicer and can offer more micro contrast and pop than this “budget” 85 1.8 from Sony, which comes in at $599 or so, it is NOT that far off from those beauties and it is smaller, and just as quick to AF, if not quicker. Yes, this lens is GOOD ENOGH for 99% of users. It’s beautiful. I will be going over it and letting you know my thoughts after using it for the last coupe of weeks. I will also try to showcase what most like to see in a fast 85mm. BOKEH quality. So you will get plenty of those shots here. If the lens is sharp when wide open, you better believe it gets even sharper stopped down. With this lens I have seen no issues or negative problems. No distortion or CA and to me, that is pretty amazing in an affordable fast 85mm prime.

Beautiful color and Bokeh. Shot at 1.8

I remember many years ago when the Nikon 85 1.4 was all the rage. I am talking LONG ago, like Nikon D2 days. I owned a D2H and D2Hs and loved them. Everyone was raving about the 85 1.4 from Nikon and I purchased one back then for around $899 or so. I was not a huge fan of it, at first. Took some getting used to but that old version of the Nikon? I feel this Sony is much better for color, contrast and Bokeh. How times have changed. Since then Nikon has updated that lens and technology has improved but it goes to show that what was once raved about as the best 85mm lens ever made can now be surpassed with a lens that is almost half the cost and considered a “Budget” 85mm lens in comparison to the big guns.

I used that old Nikon for about a year and many did dub it the “Cream Machine” due to it’s shallow DOF and Bokeh quality. I made many memories with that 85 but today I am more of a 50mm guy so rarely use the 85mm focal length. Even back when I did, I was using it on an APS-H body, so it was giving me more than 85. But on the Sony A7RII, this new Sony 85 1.8 is indeed an 85. It is a full frame lens. made for full frame.

Two with the 85 1.8, both wide open. Look at the subject isolation in the 2nd image. Amazing and lovely. Almost, to me, looks very painterly. THIS is what I like. I am not a fan of perfection in lenses these days, and love some character. Not only does this lens offer us character, it does so while retaining sharpness and bringing a lovely quality that almost mends some vintage styles and modern styles. This lens is a gem in the Sony standard lineup. Click em for larger and better!

Many of us buy lenses and photo gear with our brain, some with our heart and then some who just want what is new. The good news here is with this lens, we can use all three because using our brain? This lens is a smart no brainer buy if you want an 85mm lens, or of  course “need” one. It’s affordable when compared to the G Master and Zeiss. It is smaller, lighter and fast to AF. The IQ is gorgeous (IMO) and it’s also a tad unique. It may not have the all out micro contrast and color pop of the Zeiss Batis, and it may not have the all out IQ and color/creaminess of the G Master but hey, for $599 (vs $1800 and $1200) it is much less explosive while offering a beauty all of its own. IN fact, if I were going to buy an 85mm for my Sony system? It would be this one. A smart buy all the way around and there would never be any “Buyers Remorse” with this one.

Two more with the 85 and A7RII

Now, if you want that extra bite of contrast, color, and micro contrast I recommend the Zeiss Batis. If you want ultra creaminess and color performance go for the G Master but remember, that G Master is HUGE and HEAVY. The Zeiss is lighter weight and more manageable but not as small as this Sony. I have become a fan of the bokeh and color of THIS lens. It reminds me of some classic lenses while also remaining me of the best of the modern day beasts, in performance. Use it carefully and with good light and BAM, you have some wonderful shots.

This 1st image below? A 100% crop from the A7RII using the 85 1.8 WIDE OPEN. This is a 100% crop, but looks like a normal full image. Click it to see the detail in the woman’s face for being a 100% crop. Amazing. The next two show some of the color you can expect from this lens on a Sony A7RII.

Sony has just been hitting it out of the park lately, for years now. They just keep pumping out products that are so good. This makes me very curious as to what is coming next from them. They have released a slew of lenses over the last two years. They have released high res and low light monster cameras (A7RII and A7SII) that have been very well received and even had some Canon and Nikon people switching. What Sony needs now? A PRO camera. They really do not have a pro body. Olympus has one (EM1 II). Canon and Nikon have them. Leica even has one (SL). Sony does not, and that leads me to believe that we will see a pro body from Sony sooner rather than later. They have stated they want to compete all out against Canon and Nikon, so they need one. I feel that when they do release one, it will be off the charts amazing. Build, speed, sensor…I think it will be pretty special and may have things we did not expect. Sony always pushes the tech envelope and I feel they may just about be ready to do that again. Hope I am right. They need something with dual card slots, pro build, great battery life, good built in IS, great video capability, and a knock out sensor, etc.

If they do this, I suspect even more will be going Sony over the big N & C.

This 1st shot of the Parrot we can see some of the bokeh may not be as smooth as a G Master lens but hey, it’s 1/3 the cost and size and for me, I like a little character in my Bokeh,

This 85mm lens could be used for just about anything. Normally, many feel 85mm is strictly a portrait lens. This is not true. While great for portraits, even almost being the perfect focal length for them, you can use an 85mm on full frame for just about anything where  you need a little distance from your subject. With this lens, I am seeing fantastic subject isolation and depth. I am seeing good but not “wow level” color reproduction. I am seeing great sharpness, even when wide open or stopped down. Early on in this review at the top I started it off with a Parrot image to show how sharp this lens is at f/1.8. Here is one more at f/1.8 and then 3.5…crazy sharp for what this lens is and what it costs…

Click on this picture of the camel to see the 100% crop and the detail it can provide. 

Stopped down to f/3.5 (click to see 100% crop)

I have used so many lenses in this 75-90mm range. Most have been great. Ones that stick out? The Olympus 75 1.8 (but this ends up being more like a 150mm lens for reach, so not like a real 85mm FOV), the G Master Sony 85 1.4, the Leica 75 Summilux and 90 APO Cron, the Sony 90 Macro 2.8, the Canon 85 1.2 L (one of my all time fave lenses) and others. Almost all of the lenses I just mentioned cost more than this Sony 85 1.8, and this reminds me of another lens dilemma many have in life. The Canon 85 L vs the Cann 85 1.8. Those two lenses have been compared to death and one camp tells us the f/1.8 is just as good yet smaller and cheaper, yet I know better. That 85 f/1.2L is a beautiful lens. If I shot Canon I would own the 16-35 L III (and I do own this lens), the 35 1.4 L II, the 50 1.2L and the 85 L 1.2. All gorgeous lenses. When it comes to Sony though, we have the G Master 85 1.4 and this guy, the cheaper, smaller and quick footed 85 1.8 at 1/3 the cost of the G Master.

Take a look at my G Master review and see the differences in real world every day images. The G Master will bring you superior color, and a faster aperture at 1.4 (vs 1.8). It will bering pro build quality and just a richer image..that pro look. BUT, at the end of the day, what I see from this lens is almost as good. It may not be as refined as the G Master (it is not) or as good in overall quality but at the end of the day you have to decide if you need that extra 15-20% of quality that comes with the G Master.

I love that G Master lens, it is drool worthy but this lens is excellent, especially for the money.

PROS & CONS

PROS

  1. Small and lightweight for a fast 85
  2. Fast to AF
  3. Sharp when wide open
  4. Creamy bokeh that is not offensive
  5. Price is under $600
  6. Full frame coverage, so perfect for the A7 series

CONS

  1. Not weather sealed, nor pro build
  2. Color not as rich as the G Master or Zeiss Batis
  3. Af Can unt a little in LOW light

So there ya go. When it comes down to it, this lens is a sleeper. It’s something that some will pass on because it is not a G Master or ‘pro” lens but it is a pretty amazing lens for IQ and size. Perfect for the A7 Series and perfect as an everyday lens or whatever you ned it for. It can pull off portraits and anything else you throw at it. No CA, no distortions that I was able to see in my images. At $599 this is one of those “You MUST at least check it out” lenses. Sure, the Zeiss Batis is more exotic as is the G Master but sometimes we go where we do not need to in this hobby ;) I do it all the time. If I were in the market for an 85mm for my A7RII, this would most likely be the one I would buy. WHY? Well, I do not use 85mm too often, so with minimal use it would be a waste for me to buy the two other options and $600 is about right for what I would spend for a lens I would use a few times a year. BUT, Let us not forget about the Zeiss Lioxia 85 2.4. THAT lens was phenomenal as well but manual focus only. See my review of that one HERE.  If I were stepping it up that would be my #2 choice as it was small (thin) and easy to manual focus and I love the Loxia line from Zeiss due to the MF nature of the lenses.

So if you are in the market for an 85mm for your Sony camera, check out all of my Sony mount 85 Reviews:

Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8

Sony G Master 85 1.4

Zeiss Loxia 85 2.4

and of course the one you are reading. This lens is fantastic, no way around it and while it will not give you the pop and color and all out snap as the $1300-$1800 85mm lenses, at $600 it’s damn good and punches above its price point. An enjoyable problem free lens that performs.

Buy the Sony 85 1.8 using the links below:

Amazon (prime)

B&H Photo


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14 thoughts on “The Sony 85 f/1.8 Lens Review. All the 85 you may ever need!”

  1. I am debating between this lens and the Batis for my a6300. Was leaning towards the Batis because of OSS. Do you think the lack of OSS on the Sony 85 f1.8 is a big deal for those of us with non-stabilized camera bodies like the a6300?

    1. Could be, you will have to keep your shutter speed up there without any IS. But even so, we used to shoot 85’s without any IS, so we should be able to now ;)

      1. Thanks Steve. I think I’ll save some some money and get the Sony 85 f/1.8 instead of the Batis. Thanks again for the wonderful review!

  2. Hi Steve, as ever a well balanced and genuine review. You said everything of true value in the header and first three sentences but appreciate some require their shot of G.R.S. (Gear Review Syndrome). Keep up the good work. Debby must have the patience of a saint when you suggest yet another portrait shot!!

  3. I have to say that for overall look and bokeh, the original Nikon 85mm f1.4 still beats the new Sony by quite a way. There was a reason that lens was called ‘The Cream Machine’, and to me the Sony’s bokeh is quite distracting, rather than the softer one of the Nikon.

    Of course, there are now more advanced lenses (like the new Sony 100mm G Master) which can create even more luscious bokeh – but at a hefty price and weight.

  4. So Steve, you are 47 – not much :-) I am 69 and would like to add the OSS dimension to the discussion. For my old hands the Batis OSS plays very well with the A7R2 IBIS. Essential. Having said that I am happy this new Sony 85 was not even at the horizon when I bought the Batis as the Sony performance/price is very attractive.

  5. Great writeup and photos. You’re right, it does have a slightly classic look. As you say, the bokeh is nicely painterly, and I also believe I’m seeing a tiny bit of swirl, which I think gives these pictures character. If I didn’t have a Batis from a research grant, this is definitely the one I’d get with my own money.

  6. Thanks for another great review Steve, always look forward to seeing updates on your site.

    I’m currently looking at moving into a second system camera to compliment my Leica Q, mostly to expand my shooting envelope beyond what I am doing at the 28 native and 35crop range. I just walked away from a SL/75Lux setup I couldn’t quite bit the bullet on (but really regretting not doing).

    You mention that particular lenses in like-company in this review, and while I have used the Sony A7 bodies, I have never gelled well with them. (too heavy for that small a size, hands too big, I dunno?!) given your druthers; if camera body was not in the equation, what would you pick for a #1, #2 spot in the 75-90 focal range for lenses? I used to shoot on the 85/1.2, man that setup is heavy, before going to the Q (much accredit to your reviews). Keep up the great work!

    Jim

    1. Hey Jim, thank you. If I was not thinking about any system for an 85mm lens…Hmm.

      Well, I love the 42.5 f/1.2 Nocticron for the M 4/3 system and that would give you a 85mm equip. I have a review here of that lens. I also really like this lens, site a bit but I do have love for that Canon 85 1.2 as well. Tough to say but probably my all time fave 85 is that Canon though I agree its heavy and slow to AF.

      1. Thanks Steve, appreciate the insight. I have read your 42.5 review (several times admittedly) and do keep coming back to it. I may have to rent it and the OMD em1-ii and give it a go, might be just the ticket and come in way below the pricing on the SL/75. Plus that opens the door to that brilliant Oly 300/4 if I wanted to shoot some more timid wildlife.

        Take care,
        Jim

  7. Sony has done with cameras and lenses what the local ‘Family style’ restaurant has done with food….There are enough offerings that you can’t eat them all at one sitting… It is a great time to be a photographer….one can satisfy almost any nuance of style or technique by choosing from the variety of equipment available…
    Stuart

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