USER REPORT: Sony G Master 85mm f/1.4 Review
by Romeo Bravo – HIS WEBSITE IS HERE
A little background on me, and my style of shooting:
I love photographing beauty (close portraits), and I like the drama that comes with a narrow depth-of-field (DOF). The type of lens required to attain these two things falls in the 75-90mm range, and must be relatively fast (f1.8 or faster).
I love the Sony a7R II because I can adapt almost any lens ever made, and over this past year, I’ve given a good go at trying ALL of them 😉
All of the images below were shot wide open.
The first portrait lens I had for the a7r II was an adapted Canon 85mm f1.8 that my wife, Kelly Williams, gave to me. It rendered very beautiful images, but since it was adapted, the AF was slow, and it was very prone to purple fringing. Since I like to shoot backlit, this compounded both of these problems.
Canon 85 1.8
I then purchased a cheap Russian copy of the Carl Zeiss Sonnar – the Jupiter 9 85mm f2. It is a manual lens, and It’s built like a hand grenade. It also rendered beautiful images, but it was manual focus, and fairly slow at f2.
Then came the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8. It is SHARP. It is also comparatively light, looks great (IMO), and had fast AF. However, I found the bokeh to be a harsher than I wanted. Also, out-of-focus highlights rendered as “cat-eyes” vs round balls.
Zeiss 85 Batis
Since when are water droplets shaped like footballs? Come on Zeiss!
Enter the Leica 75mm Summilux f1.4. It is the fastest lens of the bunch, and has a reputation of being the best portrait lens ever made. I love the construction of Leica lenses, and I really like their natural colors. However, as much as I wanted to love this lens, the bokeh was harsh in certain situations. It is also big, heavy, expensive, manual focus, and the contrast plummeted in backlit situations.
Leica 75 Lux
I also tried a friend’s Canon 85mm f1.2 L II. The AF (especially adapted), was so slow that it would probably be faster to manual focus. This lens is also prone to purple fringing, and I really didn’t like the over-correction seen just at of the DOF – Seen on the subject’s right cheek (camera left) below.
When Sony announced the G Master line of lenses, I took a lot of their claims with a grain of salt – as I always do. I tried to reason with myself that I bought into a mirrorless system for size and weight, and the Zeiss Batis made much more sense in that regard. However, Gear-Aquisition-Syndrome (GAS) was in full effect and weeks of fighting with myself couldn’t keep my longing for the potential “unicorn of lenses” at bay.
I contacted one of my wife’s favorite models and asked if she wanted to test. We found a great location, and picked up some nice clothes – it was finally time to test out the new Sony 85mm GM f1.4!
My first impressions BEFORE seeing the images were:
- It’s BIG! I knew this going in – but I LOVE my Sony/Zeiss 35mm f1.4, which I also thought was BIG – so I was willing to give the 85mm a chance.
- It’s heavy! It feels quite a bit heavier than the 35mm f1.4.
- The AF does make noise (unlike the silent Batis), but it isn’t as bad as some are claiming. I didn’t notice the noise when actually shooting. I thought the AF was terrible. I’m not sure what was going on when I was shooting, but it was more difficult to get that green AF confirmation than I was used to. Just after the shoot concluded, I was expecting about half of my shots would be soft.
- I’m sending this lens back
Impressions after loading the images:
- To my surprise, at least 90% of my shots were in focus (again, I’m not sure why I wasn’t getting the focus confirmation).
- The pictures are beautiful, sharp, and contrasty.
- The bokeh is beautiful.
- I’m keeping this Lens!
Canon 85 mm 1.8 very good performance !
I am really surprised, that nobody was asking for the Zeiss Otus 1.4/85mm 🙂
I had similar problems with my Apo-Summicron-M 1:2/75 mm ASPH, very severe problems in backlit situations. I sent it to Leica and it is a bit better now ut still far away from good
Actually I think you left out the all time best portrait lens, the NIKKOR 105mm F2.5 manual focus. Yes it’s manual focus (guess what before auto focus we all used manual focus and guess what, it works just fine).
I’ve never used the NIKKOR 105mm F2.5, so I couldn’t say anything about it. I have no issues with MF lenses. I have SEVERAL, and I would say a lot of my favorite shots were taken with them.
Rick (and Kenneth), I do have the 105/2.5, and use it for b&w film portraits on my older) Nikons. It’s a great lens (a bit long for my style though), but I haven’t tried it on 36 let alone 42 MP. Maybe I should… 😉
Most likely one of the best lenses that NIKKOR ever built. Compared to the more modern lenses of today, this is built like a tank. You can find them used on EBAY for under $200……
for $200, I’m sold. Going there now…
Thanks Michiel, and Kenneth
Kenneth and Rick, don’t forget the (smaller, lighter, cheaper…) 85/2.0 AiS for portraits. I got mine (used) in 1990 shortly after I bought my FM2n body new; still have and use both (and a slew of other Ai/AiS primes). The 85 (and the new 58/1.4G; ha!) focal length suits me better for portraits than the 105, but a great lens it certainly is, with a better reputation (deserved ot undeserved) than the 85/2.0 (which I actually like a lot).
I just checked at GraysofWestminster, my goto place for that sort of stuff, and they don’t even have a 105/2.5 in stock…
Beautiful photos and your model is stunning, I’ve been debating buying a Sony A7, glass like this will make it even more tempting.
Thanks. Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot several beautiful women.
I bought the Batis 85 when it was released, and then got to try the Sony G master 85. I was going to sell the Batis, but guess what…..I bought the G master, and now I have two 85’s:). The images are so close in my testing, I figured what the heck, keep both. Use the Batis when weight is truly an issue, and the Sony G master when I have all my gear with me. Either way, you can’t go wrong. They are both stellar pieces of glass worthy of all the praise.
I, agree – they are both great lenses. It was a tough decision for me.
Interesting read, images and comparison! I agree the Sony renders best, and that the “bokeh” with some other lenses looks crude and quite frightening. Never forget bokeh (like that) is a function of both background pattern and background light.
Talking about “bokeh”; what I find much more important for the rendering of a lens as a whole is not bokeh as an isolated (and sometimes overrated) phenomenon, but the way that lens renders (from foreground to subject to background) out of focus-in focus- out of focus; as smoothly as possible.
The Nikkor 58/1.4G was designed with that (not absolute sharpness, whatever merit that might have) goal in mind and it succeeds admirably and yes, as a portrait lens.
Thank you. I completely agree with your middle paragraph as well. I’m not sure that Canon is the best in that regard, but I think they are very good…AND because so many pros use Canons, I think the general public finds Canon bokeh more pleasing because that’s how they are used to seeing a professional photo rendered.
Lovely images, especially the ones from the Zeiss and Leica lenses.
I’m still not 100% convinced by the 85 1.4 GM bokeh, but overall it looks like a stellar lens.
The bokeh of the Sony GM is nice, but it does the cat-eyes too…
Thank you. Yes it does. However, it’s more toward the edge of the shot. The Batis gives you cat-eyes except for the very center of the image.
Wonderfull lens and I have already some seen great images made with it. Since I am working with Nikon, I recently bought new the AF-S 85 1.4G. So far a super lens, and at least as good as this Sony. Blazing autofocus, wonderfull bokeh, & not too heavy!
I’ve got the 85/1.4G as well, and agree about the rendering. I wouldn’t and couldn’t say it’s better than the Sony; I haven’t seen a straight comparison yet. What I have seen of the Sony is very good, but doesn’t give rise to hyperbole like “blows the competition out of the water”.
Oops! Sorry Guys! I just realized I was posting with my other account (airjarhead).
Thanks for all of the nice comments!
Maybe its just me, but there is something over resolved and unnatural about photos with the Sony lens. The Leica and the Canon shots are wonderful with an artistic, sublime connection between the subject and the background- Not so with the Sony photos. There is too strong a transition between the overresolved subject and the background. The subject is disconnected from the environment. The background look like a backdrop.
You have a valid point. I have looked at shots taken with the 85GM, and thought that same thing.
Is it too much to ask for portraits with both eyes on focus?
When shooting wide open, it probably is a little much to ask 😉
First of all your wife is an amazing lady to allow that much exotic glass flow through your house!
All of your portraiture is beautiful irrespective of the glass used.
They each have their pro’s and con’s. If I was to choose my own personal subjective favourite…
For me (and I’m a Batis owner) the Batis has a little more character than the GM in terms of the slightly swirly bokeh that it can generate however it can indeed be a little harsher. Depending on the background or mood that can be a pro or a con.
However based on the images here my favourite is actually the Zeiss Sonnar/Jupiter 9 – it looks to be the most characterful of the bunch and I reckon it would make for amazing black and white portraits – possibly too contrasty for color for me!
The GM takes extremely precise portraits and for color is probably my favourite followed closely by the 85 1.2.
Thanks, and yes, I agree about the Jupiter, it is a great lens – especially for the price!
Great overview with stunning pictures. Makes me want to dive into portrait lenses for the Sony system. Enjoyed your post!
Very beautiful shots and composition.
Seems there are purple artefacts / moire on the blue suit with the Sony lens (numbers 2 and 3).
Yes, I just looked at the raw files, and there was a lighter spot (but it wasn’t purple), that must have been from the adjustments I made to make the skin tones better and converting to jpg.
Really nice compositions. That Canon 85 1.8 looks fantastic to me.