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Here's a brief look at the Sony 50mm F/1.4 lens.  Scroll down for the review.

Lens

SAL-50F14  Sony 50mm F/1.4

Box contents

Front and rear caps, hood, and users manual.

Cost

$450 retail

Build quality

Very good

Additional information

Check out the great performing, but more expensive Sigma 50mm F/1.4 HSM.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

7 elements in 6 groups

Angle of view

47° (full frame)  32° (APS-C)

Aperture

7 blades, circular

Full frame and APS-C

Yes, made for full frame.   APS-C equivalent, 75mm

Depth of field and focus scales?

Yes and yes

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

18"  (450mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

13.5"  (343mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

Yes

Length changes when focusing?

Yes

Focus ring turns in AF?

Yes

Filter size

55mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes

Max magnification

0.15x

Min. F/stop

F/22

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Dimensions W x L (my measurements)

2.58" x 1.7"   65.5mm x 43mm 

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

1.96"  (50mm)                                                      

Weight bare (my scale)

7.8oz  (221g)  8.6oz (245g) with caps


Requisite product shots.

Aug08/s50mmft.jpg
Front glamour shot
Aug08/s50mmbox.jpg
Box and lens
Aug08/s50mmcam.jpg
Front on A700
Aug08/s50mmbk.jpg
Backside
Aug08/s50mmsdba.jpg
Side shot
2012/s5014mtf2.jpg
Sony X-ray view and MTF chart


All testing done with the Sony A 700 and A900.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of my review methods and terminology, go here.
 
The Sony 50mm F/1.4 is a compact lens, just a little larger and heavier than the Sony DT 50mm F/1.8 SAM.  Build quality is very good.  It has a satin black finish with rubber inserts around most of the circumference.  It has a focus distance window with ft and m in different colors along with DOF hash marks. The lens is made in China.  This lens has a fairly short focus throw, and focuses very quickly and very accurately using the A700.  There's a tiny bit of slop on the focus ring if you wiggle it by hand when engaged, and none in actual MF use.  Manually, the ring is easy to manipulate with a finger and thumb.  Less than a third of a turn gets you from close focus to infinity.  The focus ring turns in auto-focus mode.
 
This lens was designed by Minolta in the mid 1980s, and updated with newer coatings, larger focusing ring and rounded aperture blades in the late 1990s.  It was re-introduced by Sony with a new focusing ring in 2006.
 
The lens has a green/magenta multi-coating which lends itself beautifully for product shots.  
 
Filter size is 55mm.  This is Sony's most popular filter size, other Sony lenses sharing this size are: 35mm F/1.4, 50mm F/1.4, 50mm F/2.8 macro, 100mm F/2.8 macro, 18-70mm kit lens, 55-200mm and the 75-300mm.
 
Filter use.  No additional vignetting when using a regular filter, even with full frame. 
 
Coma is strong at F/1.4, much better at F/2.0 and gone at F/2.8.   See crops below.
 
Color looks the same as other Sony lenses. 
 
Close up filter.  Works good, +4 tested. 
 
Bokeh is neutral to good.  In other words, F/1.4 has stylized ovals (occurring off-center), which don't look so good, they're properly round and even at F/2, so close background to subject distances look better at F/2.  If the background is a little busy The bokeh is so-so at F/1.4, F/2 is good.  More even backgrounds and more distant backgrounds look fine (no surprise) wide open or stopped down.  See sample crops below.
 
Color fringing is strong wide open and exacerbated by spherical aberration.  It's mostly purple/red, but stopped down to F/2, it's negligible, and not noticeable in regular photographs.  Overall, good to very good results here.

Random samples below.
 

Sun in shot, F/5.6

Sun centered, F/5.6

october08/5014sunoff.jpg

october08/5014sunctr.jpg

Bokeh, F/1.4

Bokeh, F/2.0

october08/5014ffbok14.jpg

october08/5014ffbok20.jpg

Swirling bokeh, F/1.4

gone at F/2.0

october08/s50f14bok1.4.jpg

october08/s50f14bok2.jpg

 

When the sun is in the frame at an angle, some ghosting shows up, mostly a purplish/green blob seen in the lower right of the first image.  When the sun is centered, everything is fine.  This lens has an updated multi-coating and has much better resistance to flare and ghosting than the older Minolta AF 50mm F/1.7Bokeh is a little harsh at F/1.4, but smooths out at F/2.  At F/2.8 the aperture shape starts to show up.  The bottom shot shows an example of large aperture "swirling bokeh," which some people like, and some people don't.  These (bottom row) shots were taken with the A900, but it still shows up in cropped sensor cameras.  In the F/1.4 crop it looks like the background is spinning.  I hate it, but that's just me.  By F/2 it looks better.

 

Coma samples below.

 

F/1.4

F/2.0

october08/s50comf1.4700.jpg

october08/s50comf2700.jpg

 

Coma is strong at F/1.4, but goes away quickly with the cropped sensor camera.  If this looks bad to you, don't scroll down and check out the full frame results! 

 

Example of veiling haze cropped from the center.

 

F/1.4

F/2.0

Aug08/s50mm14ca.jpg

Aug08/s50mm20ca.jpg

 
It's tough to look past the veiling haze and color fringing here.  It improves much at F/1.6, and is nearly gone at F/2.  Don't shoot at F/1.4 in daylight.
 
Distortion below.
 

Aug08/s50mmdisb.jpg
Barrel distortion.

 

Distortion is almost flat, and isn't noticeable in real shots.  For those of you who look at your images with a grid overlay, there is slight barrel distortion.

 

Light fall-off.

 

F/1.4

F/2.0

Aug08/s50mmlf14a.jpg

Aug08/s50mmlf20.jpg


Light fall-off or corner darkening is very mild, even wide open. 
 

Aug08/s50mmover14.jpg

 

Shot at F/1.4, no adjustments.  Light fall-off in real images is not noticeable on a cropped sensor camera.  You'll only see natural light fall-off from the sun position and your shooting angle in the sky.

 

I wonder how sharp the corners are?

 

         F/1.4

          F/2.0

Aug08/s50mm14cn.jpg

Aug08/s50mm20cn.jpg

         F/2.8

          F/4.0

Aug08/s50mm28cn.jpg
Aug08/s50mm40cn.jpg

         F/5.6

          F/8.0

Aug08/s50mm56cn.jpg
Aug08/s50mm80cn.jpg

 

These crops are from the extreme bottom left corner.  Things look fuzzy here at F/1.4, but it's dumb to shoot like this.  Things sharpen up gradually to F/5.6.  The corners aren't really much different from the centers as far as sharpness goes.

 

How sharp are the centers if the image is enlarged to a staggering size?

 

c50mm28pcspl.jpg
This is the full shot, below are the center crops.

F/1.4

a50mm14pc1.jpg

F/2.0

b50mm20pc1.jpg

F/2.8

c50mm28pc1.jpg

F/4

d50mm40pc1.jpg

F/5.6

e50mm56pc1.jpg

F/8

f50mm80pc1.jpg

F/11

g50mm11pc1.jpg

F/16

h50mm16pc1.jpg

 
When shooting wide open at F/1.4  the frame is very soft, due to veiling haze, which nearly disappears one stop down at F/2.0.  At F/2.8 things sharpen up nicely and from F/4.0 to F/8.0 the whole frame is very sharp.  The results at F/11 to F/16 aren't too bad, that's quite a high sharpness range (F/2.8 to F/11) I think.  The above shots are from the Sony A100. 
 
 
 
Look at a dark shot below.
 

Aug08/s50mm14nite.jpg
Hand held one candle shot in otherwise totally dark room,

 
I played around for a while and took some candlelight pictures in otherwise total darkness, check out the one above, F/1.4, ISO 800 at 0.4" sec, hand-held and fairly repeatable as nothing is really sharp at this aperture.  Low light is the proper use for this lens at wider than F/2.8.  This isn't the the most interesting of shots, but it shows you that softness doesn't necessarily show up in low light, especially with small prints.  You don't see any low contrast haze here, just the slim DOF at F/1.4.  A more realistic shutter speed would be two stops faster, at 1/10 sec, which would put the ISO at 3200, if you used an F/2.8 lens for another two stops difference, you'd be looking at either a tripod or ISO 12800. 
 
If you need to stop motion, use a faster shutter speed, Image Stabilization doesn't stop motion, it only lessens the severity of blur on the image caused by camera movement.
 
 

Close focus sample.
 
Below, check out the close focus shot, a 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2mp camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1"x 3/4" or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; In this case, 13.5" or 343mm, measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
 

Jan2009/s50mm41mac3.jpg
Click for larger image (143kb) F/8


This maximum magnification shot is sharp, but it's small.  I chose the F/8 example, but it's the same at F/5.6.  If you want to get a little closer to a small subject, add a +4 close-up filter, like I did in this review.
 
 

Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.

 

Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I'm only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don't show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

 

Light fall-off 

 

         F/1.4

          F/2

october08/s50cnvig14.jpg

october08/s50cnvig2.jpg

         F/2.8

          F/4

october08/s50cnvig28.jpg
october08/s50cnvig4.jpg

 

Light fall-off is worse than the APS-C crops shown earlier.  At F/1.4 it's heavy, and noticeable in real shots, but don't shoot at this aperture in daylight. 

 

Full image from A900 below.

 

october08/s50over14b.jpg

 

The dark corners are noticeable here, but this is the wrong thing to do with a F/1.4 aperture.  Save the fast part of the lens for low-light shots where this kind of stuff isn't noticeable.  This picture was F/1.4 at 1/8000sec.

 

Corner samples next.

 

         F/1.4

          F/2

october08/s50cn14.jpg

october08/s50cn2.jpg

         F/2.8

          F/4

october08/s50cn28.jpg
october08/s50cn4.jpg

         F/8

          F/11

october08/s50cn8.jpg
october08/s50cn11.jpg

 

The corners are softer than the APS-C crops show.   Don't worry about this too much as a normal landscape shot would be at least F/5.6, and low light shots would probably hide soft corners depending on subject matter.  It appears that F/11 produces the sharpest corners, but F/4 is acceptable.  I left out the F/5.6 crop because there's little difference in that step, and I can save a row.  The exposure differences are from light fall-off.

 

october08/s50cnbrldis.jpg
Barrel distortion on A900

 

There's slightly more barrel distortion using the A900.  It looks very similar to the Minolta 28mm F/2 distortion. 

 

Coma results with full frame.

 

F/1.4

F/2

october08/s50cmaf1.4900.jpg

october08/s50cmaf2900.jpg

F/2.8

F/4

october08/s50cmaf2.8900.jpg

october08/s50cmaf4900.jpg

 

This is coma on the A900.  At F/1.4 it looks like birds coming in for a landing, ya think?  You need an extra stop and a half to get rid of it with the A900 as opposed to an APS-C body.  F/2.8 looks OK in real images.  The crops are taken from near the edge of the image but coma can be seen over 2000 pixels in from the corners towards the center at F/1.4, 600 pixels at F/2, and about 300 pixels at F/2.8.  This lens performs nearly the same in this category as the Minolta AF 28mm F/2 reviewed here.  Don't try and make direct comparisons to the crops above and the APS-C crops at the top of the page as they were taken at different distances and slightly different angles.

 

 
 
My final thoughts. 
 
The Sony 50mm F/1.4 lens turned in an good performance overall.  It's nice and light, compact, and very fast.  Performance wise it's a little soft with low contrast at F/1.4-2.0 though F/2.8 is perfectly acceptable, then hits max sharpness at F/4-8.  This is a good lens to have if you really need shutter speed in poor lighting and don't want to ramp up the ISO-or you're out of ISO(!)  It's also two plus stops faster than a regular zoom or prime lens.  If you don't need a fast shutter speed, use your regular slow lens and a tripod for the best results.  On a cropped sensor camera, it's equivalent to a lengthy 75mm, not so useful indoors or in confined areas.  For APS-C users, get the spectacular Sony 35/1.8 SAM, it's much sharper at large apertures than the 50/1.4.  
 
Full frame users will want to watch the night time street scenes where coma will mess up a shot wide open.  Also, you need to stop down more to get sharp corners, but that's no big deal in regular light.  For the best performance at large apertures, check out the sensational Sigma 50mm F/1.4 HSM.
 
Reality check; the Sony 50/1.4 is becoming dated, meaning it needs to be replaced with a more modern optical formula, and SSM focusing.  Both alternative lenses listed above perform much better at large apertures, and are either much less expensive, or about the same in price as the Sony 50/1.4.