DearSusan is a free Website. No advertising, no paywall. Hence we don’t play games and tease you with sensational headlines, but hide the meat of the info behind the paywall or after pre-roll ads have played out. So you get it up front, the spanking new Sony FE 85 f:1.4 G Master has joined the very limited, very select list of DearSusan-sanctioned Überlenses.
True to belonging in that category, the G Master lens delivers first-class performance in every situation. Close-up or further out, wide open, but also stopped down, for portrait as well as for landscape. Pascal will publish later a comparison between it and the gold standard of 85mm lenses, the Zeiss Otus f:1,4. The very fact that the Sony withstands the comparison testifies to its quality.
Simply put, the FE 85 is fast (f:1.4), fully usable at that aperture, and a veritable bokeh machine, with colours and detail to boot. Add to that autofocus, and it begins to make total sense despite its not inconsiderable weight and cost.
Now before you think that I have sold my soul to Sony (I’d need to buy it back from Zeiss first, in order to be able to do that), let me tell you what is not right, or at least not perfect with that lens. First there is a modest amount of CA, even in the plane of sharpness. It is not critical, it is easy to cure, it may be a bit less than the already superlative Milvus 85, but we’d all prefer that it weren’t there, and there isn’t any in true APO designs (a claim that Sony don’t make). Then I found something unexpected. Some files looked slightly “dead”, or “artificial”, especially with regards to colours. It took me some time to map out colour and contrast treatment in post to get it to the point where I really like it, though, now that I am there, it takes me no more time to process those files than any other. YMMV.
Let’s start with the physical characteristics. The 85 Master G is a large (77mm diameter, almost 1kg) AF lens that works on Sony FE and E bodies. It is wide, and not very long. While heavy, in my opinion it balances adequately on its most natural partner, the A7RII. Manufacturing quality seems very high, as befits its price, around 2000€. There is a welcome aperture ring, allowing the user full control without resorting to the camera. AF action is not very snappy, and not very quiet either, but it does focus accurately including in very low light, except maybe, just maybe, at close range and wide open. The stabiliser of the lens+camera system is very effective indeed. I have taken sharp shots at 1/15s handheld, and I am not particuarly good that this. Focusing this lens manually isn’t as enjoyable as with the best MF lenses around, but it is as good -or even a bit better- than manually focusing any other AF lens that I have tried. Not bad at all. Of course, no infinity stop, because it is focus-by-wire, and the throw isn’t as long as with an Otus, but it does let me get the job done without fuss or muss. One disappointment is the minimum focusing distance, at 0,8m. I know it is not unusual for a 85mm lens, but it does mean you are not going to get any close-ups, and that is part of my photography. 0,5m would have been soooo nice.
Now to IQ. Sony’s marketing blurb says their twin design objectives were very high resolution, not only for this generation of sensors but all the way up to 80Mp, and lovely bokeh, and they definitely achieve these twin goals. Now bokeh is a subject of personal taste, so YMMV, but at least there are no “nasties”, such as “busy bokeh”, “Nissen boken”, etc. It will really please those of us who like it creamy rather than structured. Transition from in-focus to out-of-focus is fairly rapid, so it provides strong separation of foreground and background, though not as laser-sharp as Otus 85.
Resolution of the lens is obvious, especially if you view at 100% on a 42Mp image. Very small details abound, including minute spatial information and transitions. In this respect, I don’t know of a lens that outperforms it, though some equal it. This suggests that the lens outresolves the sensor, as it should, according to Sony.
Overall rendering is a bit warmer than the Zeiss Otii to which it was compared. Micro-contrast is a bit less, so the image prioritizes colours and detail over sharpness, though it is in fact sharp enough that one can shave with it. This is consistent with the “look” of Sony G lenses for FE (70-200 f:4.0, 90 f:2.8 macro), which display beautiful colours and great detail but don’t “wow!” with in-your-face sharpness the way a Zeiss 135 APO does.
Wide open, there is a modest loss of apparent sharpness due to a very slight loss of contrast. But first it is very slight, then it clears up not only by f:2.0, but already by f:1.6 (the aperture range moves in 1/3 stops). From f:1.7 on down, the lens hardly improves, but its rendering becomes just a tad less warm and more neutral. So, in effect, you have a portrait lens wide open, where many prefer not to show too much detail and sharpness (I happpen to disagree), and lovely, romantic colours, then a lens for close-up and street from f:1.6 to, say, f:4.0, then a landscape lens from f:4.0 onwards. But please these are small differences indeed, and the G Master is by no means a lens with split or multiple personalities.
And that is one of the 2 key drivers behind my decision to buy the Sony FE 85. Because its look isn’t quite the same as the Zeiss look, having “a bit of both” will, I hope, provide a bit more diversity to my range of results. The other reason, of course, is the AF. With it, I can take photos I cannot achieve with a MF lens. That simple. Pascal says he won’t touche a lens with AF because “it will make him lazy”. But, to you our fiends of DearSusan, I will reveal his dirty little secret: I saw him test a Sony FE 90 f:2.8 macro. I saw him shoot lots, in a really carefree way. How does one-handed grab you? From the founder of DS? So, yes, maybe just a little too flippant. But many of his shots were just excellent. Including some I know he’d never have attempted with Hubert, his mighty Otus. That’s all I’m hoping for with my FE 85. Tolerate my laziness, yet still make me happy. That’s why I call it Felix!
There is lots more to say, a lens review is never really over. I could write about its excellent flare resistance. Discuss details of AF performance. Mention weather protection (some, but not fully sealed). Talk about the 3D (good, but not earth-shakingly great) I could discuss its performance relative to its competition: the Zeiss Batis 85 f:1.8 (the FE is, without a doubt, a better lens IMHO. It better be, because it costs and weighs twice as much). The Zeiss Milvus 85 f:1.4 (I would say, roughly equivalent performance, in a different sort of way. I’d need to shoot both face to face to be more definitive). The FE 24-70 f:2.8 (I’ve read excellent things about it, and seen pics that prove it, but, for now, I’m still not lazy enough to buy it as a single-lens walk-about tool. Or maybe I’m too lazy, because mastering all aspects of a prime lens is already painstaking, so fully mastering such a zoom must be a real bear). The forthcoming FE 70-200 f:2.8 (large, heavy, expensive, and nobody yet seems frightfully excited). And so on, and so on.
But there comes a time where matters need to be wrapped up, lest Pascal does to me what bean counters in Holllywood studios do to film masterpieces that run too long. They carve them up mercilessly. So let me close the door on the review of this exciting new addition to my stable…
Ooops! I was going to finish without showing what is a typical use of a fast 85mm lens: the portrait. Preferably wide open. Here it is. Courtesy of professional model Claire, who graced our own Ze Workshop with her presence.
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