Zeiss vs Zeiss. The Sony 50 1.4 vs 55 1.8.

Zeiss vs Zeiss. The Sony 50 1.4 vs 55 1.8

By Steve Huff

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IMAGE ABOVE – The A7RII with the 50 1.4 Mounted. The 55 1.8 is on the side. It is much smaller. 

Yesterday I posted an image that showed a quick test snap with the Sony 55 1.8 Zeiss and the Sony 50 1.4 Zeiss lenses that is also shown below. It is quite the difference in output and is what it is. Like it or not.

The new 50 1.4 Zeiss, to me, is a masterpiece in 50mm lenses. Up there with the Leica 50 Lux, and close to the Zeiss Otus 55 1.4. The old Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 has been with me since it was launched and while I was never a huge fan of that lens, many praised it for its sharpness and rendering..which I found slightly dull and sterile (many LOVE this lens, so no offense…just my personal taste). Even so, in good light and with some slight PP the 55 does great, and gets the snap that is missed with out of camera RAW files. Even so, it does not match up to the 50 1.4 Zeiss, which is stunning and improved from contrast, color, detail and micro contrast.

The issue with the shot I posted yesterday came down to flare I think. Neither lenses had the hoods on, and both were shot wide open. I believe the 55 suffered from slight flare causing the wash out, which also tells me the new 50 1.4 could be more flare resistant, another improvement.

If you missed my Zeiss 50 1.4 review, you can see it here…but it is an IQ machine. 

Below are a few more side by sides..including the one from yesterday for reference..

When we look at a few samples of each lens, we see the differences are clear…CLICK THEM FOR LARGER!!

My feet…yea, I know..awful subject but it works. The 1st one is from the new Zeiss 50 1.4. The 2nd is from the older Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8. Both wide open. 

The new 50 1.4 has more contrast, micro contrast and deeper color which is a result of deeper contrast. Much like going from a Leica 50 Summilux to a Leica 50 APO. The APO has richer color, bolder contrast and better everything. CLICK IMAGES for larger and 100% crop!

EXIF IS EMBEDDED. NO PP ON ANY, ALL FROM RAW.

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Example 2: Not a huge difference here. More of the same. The new 50 1.4 offers more contrast and looks more bold. It’s also f/1.4 vs f/1.8. Truth be told, we could use some PP on the 55 1.8 shot to bump up contrast. But to me, I see the 55 looking flatter and more dull here.

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Example #3: I prefer the color, bokeh and overall vibe of the 50 1.4 over the 55 here

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Example #4: More of the same..even more detail in the crop for the 1.4

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Example #5: The image from yesterday which I feel is a flare issue with the 55 1.8 and which is bringing out angry individuals who feel this is a bogus test. It is what it is and appears to be a flare issue that is softening the 55’s contrast and even color. So the win for the 50 1.4 in this one. Shots were taken one after the other, wide open. 

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So at the end of the day, no surprises. The new Sony 50 1.4 is a better lens than the older 55 1.8. It should be. It is larger, has a much better build, much larger lens elements, and while it is not a G Master, it is just about as good as one. Maybe Sony will release a G Master 50 1.2? Hmmmm. If they do, expect it to be larger and pricier and a 1-2 years away. Thats IF they ever do it.

For those who think my 55 1.8 is off or needs adjustment, then maybe it does (I’ve used it like this since launch and release) but wouldn’t you expect Sony’s latest and greatest 50 1.4 to beat the old 55 1.8? It does and it should. It is larger, more expensive and a more pro style lens. I would not expect the 55 1.8 to meet or exceed the new 50 1.4. My copies here, show that it does not. This leads me to “sample variation” which many say is high with Sony. I have seen variation with Leica glass as well where one copy is slightly or even moderately better than another. To make sure this 55 1.8 I have here is not off, I will rent another copy and do a quick test on my own. If they are different I will make a new post, if the same, I will not.

In any case, while the older 55 1.8 Sony/Zeiss (made by Sony) is a great lens as well as very small and quick, the new Sony/Zeiss (Made by Sony) is even better, and at $500 more it should be. While the new 50 1.4 is very expensive to many, to others it is a deal and priced fairly. At $1500, the new Zeiss 50 1.4 performs much like a 50 Leica Summilux ASPH that comes in at $4000 and is manual focus only. At $500 more than the $999 55 1.8, one will need to consider size vs performance. If you value size, go with the 55. If you value all out performance, go with the 50 1.4 for $500 more but be sure you do not mind the size difference. One could also get the best of both worlds…snappen up the 55 in PP to get 85-90% of the way to the new 50 1.4. All images above were straight from RAW, no PP.

BUT do not just take my word for it, look at the user reviews at B&H Photo where the new 50 1.4 lens is averaging a perfect 5 stars from actual owners…here is one from a guy who upgraded from the 55 1.8 to the new 50 1.4, and his thoughts…seem much like my own.  

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Steve

See more on the Sony 55 1.8

See more on the Sony 50 1.4

Buy the 50 1.4 at Amazon (Prime)

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MANY Crazy Comparisons from over the years are HERE

29 Comments

  1. Main difference is exposure variation, the FE55 has always been set to a brighter exposure which results in brighter colours and less depth – otherwise both lenses would have looked quite the same (just download, adjust brightness a bit and see for yourself) – no exifs embedded in the pictures

  2. I saved one as You suggested but the exif remains empty (Bridge)

    Meanwhile; could You please just explain if you did, or not, change the distance with the tripod between the two “example 4” photos, please, and if yes, why.

    Because I still have the fear these might be inverted by accident.

  3. mhm so after arguing with me over and over and defending your results from yesterday, now you have to admit you were wrong. Waiting for your apology now…. 😉

    • I was wrong on what? What you see here is what came out of the cameras. No apology, no being wrong, it IS what it is. If I rent another 55 and it IS better I will let you all know, if it is not, then this post will remain as is. But the 50 1.4 is leagues above the 55 1.8. Not just me saying it. So nothing here was “wrong”.

  4. I made the jump from the 35 2.8 to the 35 1.4 for color and overall rendering and live with the bulkier (and more expensive) lens. It is worth it for me. But shooting the 35 at 1.4 gives results you cant get with the 35 2.8 anyhow. I assume color and overall rendering will be more pleasing with the 50 1.4, too, but in terms of bokeh i am really pleased with the 55 1.8 and dont think the 1.4 (being 5mm shorter) will give you vastly different results.
    Thanks for sharing some comparison shots. Very helpful.

  5. Sample varitation with Sony is higher than any brand from my experience. Even with the more costly lenses (35 1.4 for example seem to have lots of quality problems). Really frustrating. I am happy that i can visit my local dealer and choose from several samples (and bring back copies that are not well put together). I also hear custumer care is low class also. I am happy that i have no issues with my Sony gear til now.

    The 50 1.4 shows more contrast in every shot compared to the 1.8. When you add contrast, color will change (gets more bold) with the images from the 1.8, too. So after a few minor tweaks i think you will get almost indistinguishable images. Judging from the raw files, the 1.4 wins for shure.

  6. So what we learn from this is: To fully utilize the potential of A7R2 we need rather big, heavy and expensive lenses. Great to see that Sony can provide those!
    Myself will stick to the “rather light, small and not too expensive” concept. My current lens line and grading:
    1. Batis 25mm – super
    2. Batis 85mm – great
    3. Soneiss 55mm very good
    4. Soneiss 35mm good
    5. Samyang 135 MF Super IQ
    6. MicroNikkor 55mm MF (Sharper center and more contrast than Soneiss 55mm)

    • Hey Per! The Batis 25 is super indeed, as is the 85. Both world class lenses, and light. I always forget about some of these choices as there are so many now. But yes, it seems that any full frame sensor camera besides a Leica M has huge lenses.

  7. I have the 55 1.8 and an a7ii. I went to that setup from a om-d e-m5 i with a 20mm 1.7 pan/lumix. Honestly when I first used the sony setup I was disappointed with the raw. I felt my old M43 setup offered a far more interesting and ooc usable image. Additionally the 55 1.8 seemed to suffer with more purple fringing (to the point that I contacted Zeiss about it…they assured me it was normal…and since then I have become used to it).

    Only when I put the files into LR and performed some very slight adjustments to contrast did I realise how good the 55 1.8 is (with the a7ii). Lots of potential in that lens, just honestly not as good raw files as I might like. So if you are going to pp anyway (which chances are you are) then its a great lens. Likely with some pp you could get the 50 1.4 and the 55 1.8 to look almost identical (in terms of pop, colour, contrast etc). Just my two cents worth.

  8. Interesting because I find most of the time my 55 mm is too constrasty. More contrast than any lens I’ve used.

  9. Hi Steve,

    Another great review – thanks! The new 50 looks really special. Two questions: 1) how would compare the AF performance and image quality of the new 50 1.4 ZA compared with the 35 1.4 ZA and the 85 1.4 GM? 2) what do you get in the GM (85) that you don’t get in the other two…i.e.) the other two seem like they are practically GM quality (both in build and IQ), but what are they missing? I am interested in all 3 and I want top performing primes for my A7RII, but would like to understand how each perform and would be interested to see a side by side comparison of these 3 similar to what you did on this review.

    Thanks!
    Greg

  10. There’s little in the contest in terms of sharpness. Both are very sharp lenses. If the 55/1.8 is a sterile lens, then so too is the 50/1.4. I see little difference in this regard. I actually prefer the lower contrast of the FE 55/1.8. It is often preferable with digital to have a lower contrast lens in order to maximize the dynamic range of the sensor. It is easy to add a little contrast in post but not always so easy to go the other way.

  11. Would be nice seeing some shots at infinity and also not wide open. It would appear that the 50/1.4 has advantages in the center at close range and wide open, but the pics don’t tell us much about infinity/landscape use or stopped down performance. The MTF’s would suggest the 55/1.8 has some advantages over the 50/1.4 but those do not appear to be explored by your quick comparison.

  12. I don’t trust this simple revue. You had plenty of time to do a more serious and more comprehensive aproach, including explaining you have good reasons to believe to have very good copies of each.
    Is it all for You to justify a part 3, and. ..?

    BTW 1 : I think you mixed up within a couple of samples
    BTW 2 : I’m quite sure you will Zensor my post as You did in you part 1.
    Right?

    • NO, NO PART 3, SORRY. Just doing what I have done for 8 years, in a way I have always done it 😉 Don;t like it, you do not have to look at it. But it is what it is. No “zensoring” anything unless it is a rude attack, much of like what you are bordering on here. Thank you. Also, no mix ups…feel free to look at the EXIF of all of these shots. It’s there.

      • Example 4 : Photos seem unversed to me; because the 55mm is “framed” wider, as opposed to the 50mm, witch doesn’t make sens jet.. Why would You (presumably) have moved the tripod ?

        Where can I find the Exifs (I might be really lacking the trick)?
        (I presume You don’t mean the overlays on the photos.)

        As to censorship : I admit that my post is more on the rude side, ‘but’ that I was convinced it would not be public (although not hiding in anonym or false e-mail), that it was a way to communicate directly to You, since I know for shure I did post my much motivated (but not rude attacking) reserves regarding Your first part of Your report about this new lens (of YOUR site, You may do as You please, yes). Maybe it disappeared by accident and not by censorship (I was explaining why I consider however good verbal explanations to be unnecessary when real and extensive comparisons would be far easier – and then making real sens.

        That all said, (on another level!) I add that I’m “angry” with Sony to make this lens now and let us confused as to how this new lens can be justified next to the now G-Master series.
        It somehow means it does not disserve G-Master label. If they come up with a G-master alternative then they will definitely be rightfully labeled as mean.
        It’s not that I want this lens to be bad !
        I remain open to the perspective that I’ll change from the 1.8 to this 1.4, but I consider I’m not allowed to be jet convinced by today’s (still lacking) reviews.
        Not sharing these views of mine with You would be “more unfriendly”.

        • The EXIF is embedded in the photos…you save the photo, use your own image editing software to look at it, or use a plug in. EXIF is always in all of my photos here. As for this lens vs G master, there is no 50mm G Master lens made or available, so not sure what your concern or anger is over that. The G Master series consists of the 85 1.4 and 70-200 f/2.8. This lens is a Zeiss (made by Sony like the 55) but it is comparable to the Leica 50 Summilux which is a $4k lens. It’s that good. The 55 is not as good as a Lux. It is what we expect, a larger, more expensive, faster (1.4 vs 1.8) lens that is $500 more expensive than the 55, and it does give $500 worth of better performance IMO, and others who own the lens (that I know) agree with me on that. That’s to be expected. The 55 was one of the 1st lenses made for the Sony A7 full frame bodies and over the years they have improved and with this 50mm 1.4, they have created a lens that while not perfect (no lens is, well..maybe one) is beautiful in its color, bokeh, sharpness, low light abilities and build and surpasses any other Sony/Zeiss 50mm option when it comes to all out IQ. Thank you for your thoughts and concerns. BTW, if they ever do make a 50 1.2 G master I would expect it to come in at $2500 but I also doubt they will make that lens.

          • I saved one, cant see the exif that remains empty.

            Meanwhile; maybe just explain if you did or not change the distance with the tripod for the example 4, and if yes, why.

            I’m still in favor of never invoking/mention price-difference to be even considered reasonable argument regarding performance.

            (I think they “missed the opportunity not to do this lens”.
            It should have been simply totally and obviously much better, and if it is, then G-master label, to whatever price (less than Otus). Now they really must do a G-Master 70mm (not longer) f1.2. My hope.)

          • I am a tad confused. Neither of these are G master lenses, and the 50 1.4 Zeiss/Sony is one of the best 50mm lenses ever made, for me just under the Leica 50 APO and Leica 50 Lux and Zeiss Otus (to which is is very close, but with AF and much less expensive).

  13. Wow that 50 1.4 looks very special!
    Off topic Steve but have you had a chance to use the SL with any R lenses yet?

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