Gear Review: Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens
Sony has very quickly risen to be a photography power horse in the professional world. With their collection of impressive mirrorless cameras and fantastic cinema products, Sony has carved a name for themselves among the photography legends such as Canon, Nikon, and Leica. As such, it is of no wonder that the company has released a version of their own of the famous 85mm f/1.4 lens (Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens) – a fixed millimeter that features a beautifully creamy bokeh.
I am a very versatile photographer. My work spans a variety of niches in the field, from live concerts to portraiture, action photography to animals. I have found a use for the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens in all of these situations, and the wide aperture is a fantastic bonus for the work that I do.
I use this lens in low light situations, aiding in isolating the subject in busy locations, and creating a precise depth-of-field-look for my clients.
My frame of reference is the Canon L lenses of which this is meant to be an equivalent. I find the build of those lenses to be very high quality and durable. Upon opening the box to unveil the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens, I was actually rather impressed at the build quality. The camera weighs about 825g – almost 2lbs – a significant weight.
The outer casing of this lens is high-quality polycarbonate, and all markings are engraved and filled with paint. The physical feel of the lens in your hand is solid and sturdy. The rubberized focus ring was quite comfortable to the touch and was very smooth to turn.
The lens features a rubberized focus ring, an aperture ring, an AF/MF switch, and on the left side of the lens, there is a programmable button that you can set to work as most anything. An excellent idea for a lens!
The hood that comes with the camera is also high quality in build. The hood sports a rubberized front bumper and felt on the inside to counteract stray light. Furthermore, there is also a button which you have to press to remove the hood, which ensures the hood stays in place.
As an avid Canon DSLR and EF lens user who had recently added a Sony mirrorless to the collection, the aperture ring was something a bit new to me.
Intended to be very beneficial during cinema work, instead of adjusting the aperture on the camera body, you have the option of adjusting its width on the lens. This ring can be adjusted to either be silent or make little clicks to indicate it is turning – very useful for silent shooting.
For those that prefer to adjust the aperture on the camera body itself, you can set the dial ring to ‘A’ for automatic. My one gripe would be the location of the ‘A’ option- it sits on the f/16 side rather than the f/1.4. It seems more logical to me to place this option on the side of the widest aperture. I found myself accidentally shifting the ring over to f/16 during shooting.
The focus on this lens is very accurate if I do say so myself. Although in these types of camera combinations, much of the autofocus relies on the camera- but the speed is very much the lens. The close focusing distance is approximately 0.8m.
I have read reviews of others who have had focus issues with this model, but I have not. I was able to record an entire sequence of a dog running directly at me from start to finish in perfect tack sharpness. The body I am pairing the lens with is the Sony a7r III, which can make a significant difference.
Keep in mind that shooting at f/1.4 has its challenges- wide apertures tend to be difficult if you aren’t used to them. To quickly refresh you of the basics, when you focus your camera on a subject, it establishes a focal plane. To get your subject in focus, it has to be on the focal plane. Focal planes happen on an x (horizontal) and y (vertical) axis.
Anything along either of those axes will be in focus, and anything not on them will be out of focus. With wide apertures like f/1.4, your focal plane is quite narrow. Quick trick? Step further back to widen the plane!
Talking about the focus naturally leads to sharpness. This lens is tremendously sharp. I was very impressed with the amount of detail that this lens can capture. There is absolutely no reason to add sharpening in post-processing.
One of the first sessions I did with the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens was action portraits at the beach, and the final result managed to pick up all of the detail including specks of sand flying up.
I was also very impressed with the clarity and colors when using this lens- the glass was superb. Though I still find a significant advantage in Canon L glass (reminding that I am an avid Canon user), in regards to raw-off-of-the-camera quality. This lens is a close second best.
Depth of field
The bokeh produced from this lens is where the difference is quite noticeable to the trained eye. The depth of field (DOF) at f/1.4 looks somewhat different from that of its competitors, such as Canon’s equivalent.
I find the depth of field looks more dreamy and a bit artificial from other similar lenses, but it has an authenticity and liveliness to it. The shallow DOF has quite a bit of a subtle, calmer rotation that creates a very natural look to the images (or in the least, as natural as this shallow of a field can be).
That said, there is a vignetting that occurs at f/1.4. Some people like this, others don’t. I enjoy the natural vignetting that is contrary to popular opinion, but for those that find it a nuisance, keep in mind that this issue does occur with this lens.
A big bonus that sets this lens apart from others is its impressive flare resistance. Most of the time you can just shoot directly into the sun and you will neither have problems with a huge loss of contrast nor ghosting. This is brilliant for natural light photographers, especially during the beloved golden hour.
For me, as a concert photographer, I found this to be a significant perk as the stage lights didn’t flare too badly.
Chromatic aberration, also known as ‘color fringing’ or ‘purple fringing,’ is a common optical problem that occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, or when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane.
Unfortunately, where I lose a bit of love for this lens is the chromatic aberration issue it suffers. Though I have read reviews in which others claim that the chromatic aberration is minimal, I have experienced the contrary and consider the chromatic aberration to be rather severe.
I have used several high-quality fast lenses that have little to no aberration, and this is not one of them. I have experienced a slew of colors coming out in quite contrasted images, ranging from the purple fringe to aqua or bright green fringing. Although this can be removed in post-processing (especially in a program such as Lightroom), that is an extra step.
Pros and cons of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens
- Very fast lens – focusing is a breeze.
- The build quality is quite solid and durable.
- Very sharp and clear images.
- The depth of field is more natural rather than dreamy, which I find to be positive.
- This is a full-frame lens intended for full-frame cameras – always a massive perk.
- Excellent flare resistance.
- Very noticeable chromatic aberration in high contrast situations.
- Visible vignetting at wide apertures.
- The ‘A’ option on the aperture ring is located in an inconvenient spot (in my opinion).
- The lens has a significant weight.
- The price is a bit steep at around $1700 USD.
For those rocking Sony E-mount cameras, this lens is dreamy. An excellent and high-quality choice as a native Sony mount. I find it to be rather worth it for those sporting this brand’s camera body.
Have you used the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens? What are your experiences with it? Let us know in the comments below.