Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras have created a lot of buzz in the photography world, and they keep improving with each rendition. It’s true that the FE lens options for Sony still are more limited than the offerings for Canon and Nikon cameras, but the collection is growing and far more impressive than it was even a year ago. Below we break down the best Sony FE (full frame) lenses, including zooms and primes from wide angle to telephoto. Given Sony’s strong relationship with Zeiss, there are plenty of high-end options that should make even the most discerning of photographers happy. For more background information, see our FE lens buying advice below the picks.
Weight: 31.3 oz.
What we like: Superb image quality.
What we don’t: Heavy and expensive.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is the lens that made Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras truly competitive with Canon and Nikon DSLRs. For Sony FE, first came the mediocre Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6, then the decent Sony 24-70mm f/4, but neither was up to professional standards at this crucial focal length range. Enter the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, which was released last year and is super sharp, creates superb bokeh, and is extremely well built. All things considered, it may be the best 24-70mm f/2.8 on the market from any brand.
If you’re looking for the top FE zoom in terms of optical quality, the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is it. But this lens does have its shortcomings. The first is price—$2,200 makes it considerably more costly than either the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 ($1,749) or Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ($1,797). It’s also heavier than either of those two lenses at a whopping 31.3 ounces. On a compact camera like the Sony a7R II, it definitely feels like a bulky piece of glass. But the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM more than makes up for it with image quality, which is the reason it has become the premier FE-mount lens.
See the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 18.3 oz.
What we like: Very solid optics for a wide-angle zoom.
What we don’t: Some people are clamoring for an f/2.8 version.
For everyone from landscape professionals to those who want to just dabble in wide-angle photography, the Sony 16-35mm f/4 is one of our favorite FE-mount lenses. It’s pretty much the whole package in a wide-angle zoom: impressive sharpness, reasonable levels of distortion, fast focusing, and a weather-sealed build for protection from the elements. If you shoot outside and want to go wider than the 24-70mm f/2.8 above, the 16-35mm f/4 is the way to go for FE.
Sony currently does not make a 16-35mm f/2.8 version, but we think the value in doing so is debatable. Most wide-angle photos are shot in daylight, not to mention that bokeh is at much less of a premium than with a portrait lens. For these reasons, we think that f/4 does the trick for most photographers and uses. If you do want a faster wide-angle lens, we suggest the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 or Loxia 21mm f/2.8 below. Sony is rumored to be working on a 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens that will cost in the same ballpark as the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM.
See the Sony 16-35mm f/4
Weight: 9.9 oz.
What we like: Sharp and much lighter than the 50mm f/1.4.
What we don’t: If you’re a bokeh fanatic, this lens falls a little short.
For our top “normal” lens for Sony full frame, it was a close call between the 55mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.4 below. Professionals and enthusiasts love the faster f/1.4 maximum aperture of the latter, but the 55mm f/1.8 offers great sharpness and is cheaper. Both lenses are far superior to the disappointing 50mm f/1.8, which hits an attractive price point but is just not up to the standards of Sony’s full-frame cameras.
From an image quality standpoint, the 55mm f/1.8 is surprisingly impressive. You get a whole lot of sharpness and bokeh for an f/1.8, and autofocus is excellent. More, the 55mm f/1.8 is considerably lighter than the 50mm f/1.4 (9.9 ounces vs. 27.4 ounces). The truth is that you can’t go wrong with either, but we prefer the smaller size and lower price of the f/1.8.
See the Sony 55mm f/1.8
Weight: 28.9 oz.
What we like: The top FE portrait lens.
What we don’t: Autofocus can be slow and noisy.
But for the lack of versatility, there’s a strong argument that the Sony 85mm f/1.4 could be the top lens on this list. It’s exceptional from an image quality standpoint, with superb sharpness all the way to the corners, lifelike bokeh, and build quality that we’ve come to expect from Sony’s “GM” series lenses. For professional portrait photographers and those who want the very highest in quality, you won’t find a better FE-mount lens.
The Achilles Heel of the Sony 85mm f/1.4 is autofocus. The lens tends to do just fine when capturing portrait photos, which is what the majority of people do with an 85mm prime, but focusing can be slow and downright noisy when shooting action or video. All in all, we love the 85mm f/1.4 for still photographers using a camera like the Sony a7R II, but wouldn’t recommend it as strongly for action or video on a camera like the Sony a7S II. For a less expensive 85mm lens, try the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8.
See the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 11.6 oz.
What we like: Incredible sharpness and color rendition.
What we don’t: Not heavy but a little bulky.
A camera like the Sony a7R II is a super attractive option for serious landscape photographers, with a low weight and high-resolution sensor. And although the 16-35mm f/4 above may be the most versatile wide-angle option for FE, the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 is the premier prime. At this focal length, it will far outperform any other Sony FE-mount lens and is a dream pairing for the a7R II.
Just how good is the Batis 18mm f/2.8? It’s extremely sharp all the way to the corners (Zeiss primes are known for their sharpness), has little distortion, incredible color rendition, and fast autofocus. In addition, the lens is reasonably light at 11.6 ounces and built to last. Other wide-angle prime options from Zeiss include the 21mm Loxia, but that lens is manual focus and not quite as wide as we prefer.
See the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8
Weight: 29.6 oz.
What we like: As sharp as the f/2.8 version for less than half the cost.
What we don’t: Not great when natural light is low.
As you might expect from a newish camera system, the telephoto options for Sony FE still remain somewhat limited. The 70-200mm f/2.8 GM below is best in class in terms of optical performance, but that lens is more than twice as expensive and much heavier than the f/4 version. Given that the majority of people shoot telephoto in daylight, and that Sony’s latest generation of full-frame mirrorless cameras have built-in image stabilization, we give the nod to the f/4.
Have no fear: the Sony 70-200mm f/4 is no slouch. The lens is reasonably sharp, and distortion is present but not overwhelming. All things considered, we love the value and recommend this lens for those who want a telephoto option in their camera bag. Professionals may want to consider the pricier f/2.8 GM below, but it’s worth noting that it consistently has supply issues and you may not be able to get a new version for a couple of months.
See the Sony 70-200mm f/4
Weight: 21.2 oz.
What we like: Tack sharp.
What we don’t: Certainly not the most versatile lens on this list.
For those who frequently shoot macro photography and close-up portraits, the Sony 90mm f/2.8 is a no-brainer. This lens is outstanding from an optical perspective, offering excellent sharpness, depth of field, and color rendition. And with a minimum focusing distance of just 11 inches, it’s great for capturing those small details where other lenses struggle.
The reason that the Sony 90mm f/2.8 isn’t ranked higher is that the focal length is lacking in versatility. 90mm is fairly close—it’s great for headshots but not usually larger scenes or street photography. This means that the 90mm f/2.8 is not a true walk-around lens like a 50mm yet doesn’t offer the low light performance or bokeh of the 85mm f/1.4. These points aside, the image quality produced by the Sony 90mm f/2.8 is outstanding and it’s far and away the top macro lens for Sony FE-format cameras.
See the Sony 90mm f/2.8
Weight: 4.2 oz.
What we like: Super light and good optics.
What we don’t: At f/2.8, this lens could be priced a little cheaper.
We aren’t enamored by either of the 35mm offerings for Sony FE, but the f/2.8 version is our top pick at this popular focal length. Full-frame lenses are expensive, but the 35mm f/2.8 is priced decently and super lightweight at only 4.2 ounces. In many ways, it’s one of the only FE lenses that will make your Sony Alpha camera set-up feel truly small (full-frame mirrorless lenses can be nearly as large or sometimes larger than their DSLR counterparts).
In terms of image quality, the 35mm f/2.8 is sharp, focuses quickly and accurately, and has a sturdy build. The lens does have some distortion—more than we would expect for a prime—but image quality is solid overall. Another option at this focal length is the Sony 35mm f/1.4, which is faster and sharper but too pricey for our tastes at nearly $1,500. It’s possible that Sigma will bring its “Art” series to Sony FE down the road, but until then we like the Sony 35mm f/2.8.
See the Sony 35mm f/2.8
Weight: 27.4 oz.
What we like: Better low light performance than the 55mm f/1.8.
What we don’t: Heavy for a prime.
As mentioned above, we appreciate the lower price point and smaller size of the 55mm f/1.8, but for those who want even more low light performance and bokeh, the Sony 50mm f/1.4 is the ticket. This lens is super sharp even when wide open, produces creamy bokeh that you just can’t replicate with a slower lens, and boasts excellent build quality. It’s the real deal at 50mm.
The issues with the Sony 50mm f/1.4 are that it’s super heavy for a prime and quite expensive. Both are easy to overcome if this is your most used focal length, but the 55mm f/1.8 does a pretty good job without those downsides. And if you have a true affinity for 50mm and deep pockets, there’s the Meyer-Optik Nocturnus 50mm f/0.95 II, which will be available this spring for Sony mirrorless for around $3,000.
See the Sony 50mm f/1.4
Weight: 52.2 oz.
What we like: Pro-grade image quality and build.
What we don’t: Super heavy and expensive, not to mention the lack of inventory.
Since its release last fall, photography retailers just can’t seem to keep the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM on their shelves. To be sure, this is the best Sony FE telephoto lens and very impressive in terms of image quality. It’s sharp, focuses quickly, has minimal distortion, and a “GM” build that is second to none for this system.
The real question is: given that Sony’s latest round of full-frame mirrorless cameras have built-in image stabilization, who needs an f/2.8 telephoto lens? It’s certainly the model of choice for professionals and enthusiasts, and particularly those who frequently shoot in low light, but we think the masses generally will be satisfied with the cheaper and lighter f/4 version.
See the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM
5 Sony FE Lenses That Just Missed the Cut
Weight: 27.5 oz.
What we like: The ultimate in convenience.
What we don’t: We think Sony full-frame cameras deserve better.
Amateur photographers often are attracted to the convenience of all-in-one lenses, and rightfully so. It can take most decision making and lens switching out of the equation. In other articles we recommend all-in-one lenses more highly, and particularly for APS-C cameras, but it’s more difficult for such a stellar system like Sony FE.
The Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 does cover a healthy range of focal lengths from wide angle to telephoto—it’s the only lens on this list that does so. It’s also reasonably priced: for around $900, you can replace an entire camera bag. However, from an optical standpoint, this lens just doesn’t stack up with the zooms above. It’s not super sharp, has healthy levels of distortion, and the autofocus is mediocre. All in all, we understand the convenience factor and think it’s an okay solution for those on a budget, but ultimately falls short.
See the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
12. Sony 28mm f/2 ($423)
Category: Wide angle/travel
Weight: 7.1 oz.
What we like: Bargain basement price (for an FE lens).
What we don’t: Slightly awkward focal length.
There is a lot to like about the 28mm f/2 from Sony, and most notably the price. At around $425, this is the cheapest FE lens on this list by quite a bit. Sony didn’t partner with Zeiss on this one, but pretty much everything still lines up: the lens offers good sharpness, solid low light performance, and a sturdy build. The 28mm f/2 certainly isn’t targeted at professionals, but it’s great for getting started on a budget.
One notable issue we have with the Sony 28mm f/2 is the focal length. 28mm is narrower than we prefer for big landscape shots, but a little wide for travel photography and portraiture. You can always walk closer to your subject to mimic a 35mm or 50mm lens, but 28mm wouldn’t be our first choice. 42mm on Sony’s APS-C cameras is more palatable, which is how many people end up using this lens.
See the Sony 28mm f/2
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 13.9 oz.
What we like: Extremely sharp all the way to the corners.
What we don’t: Manual focus isn’t for everyone.
If you’re going to buy a wide-angle prime for Sony mirrorless, Zeiss is the way to go. In terms of options, the biggest point of differentiation between the Loxia and Batis series is that the former is manual focus. This may be a deal breaker for some, but those who try manual focus often find that it’s relatively easy, accurate, and fun.
As far as image quality goes, the Zeiss Loxia 21mm will not disappoint. It’s ridiculously sharp all the way to the corners, reasonably fast at f/2.8, and built like a true pro lens. It’s a tough call between this and the Batis 18mm above, which has autofocus and is wider but offers similar overall image quality. We think you can’t go wrong with either, and for those who specialize in wide-angle photography, a Zeiss prime is a real treat.
See the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8
Weight: 30.1 oz.
What we like: The longest reach of any FE lens.
What we don’t: Low light performance and softness toward the edges.
Someday there will be a super long telephoto for Sony full frame, and possibly of the GM variety. Until then, the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is the only way to shoot further than either of the 70-200mm lenses above. In fact, it has the longest reach of any FE lens to date. Having said that, the image quality leaves us wanting. In particular, the lens tends to be sharp in the middle but softer toward the edges. It also will struggle in low light with a maximum aperture of f/4.5-5.6. On Sony full-frame cameras like the a7R II, it’s going to have trouble standing up to the resolution of the sensor. All in all, we like the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 more for APS-C cameras (the focal length equivalent is a whopping 105-450mm), but less for full frame.
See the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
Weight: 15.2 oz.
What we like: The versatile focal length range.
What we don’t: Distortion and softness.
Before the release of the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, our top pick on this list, the 24-70mm f/4 was the only FE lens option at this popular focal length. We want to like this lens, but the f/4 version just doesn’t quite do it from an image quality perspective. Distortion is heavy, softness is present and particularly in the corners, and the OSS image stabilization is unnecessary (Sony added built-in image stabilization to all its latest camera bodies). It’s not a bad lens by any means, and particularly when matched with one of the older Alpha cameras like the original a7. But for a newer and higher resolution camera like the Sony a7R II, we prefer spending up for the f/2.8 version or going with one of the faster and sharper zooms above.
See the Sony 24-70mm f/4
- Zoom Lenses vs. Prime Lenses
- Maximum Aperture
- “GM” Grand Master Lenses
- The Sony/Zeiss Partnership
- Sigma Lenses for Sony FE are Coming
- FE Lenses on APS-C Cameras
The zoom vs. prime distinction varies by camera type, and Sony in particular has a very strong batch of FE primes. In general, zoom lenses are more versatile covering a range of focal lengths, while primes often are superior optically with faster maximum apertures and less distortion. Primes usually are smaller as well, but you may need to carry multiple lenses to cover your desired focal lengths.
Compared to Canon's EF-mount lenses or Nikon's F-mount lens offerings, there are far fewer Sony FE zoom options at this time. The result is that you should choose your zoom carefully and probably avoid some of the older models like the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 and 24-70mm f/4. Sony’s three “GM” Grand Master lenses are particularly strong, but the primes shine most for FE. More than for any other system, we would seriously consider grabbing a prime or two. And the Sony/Zeiss relationship is unique and worth capitalizing on (more on that below).
Aside from focal length, maximum aperture is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when choosing a lens. In short, aperture is the size of the lens opening through which light passes, and it impacts just about everything related to image quality: bokeh, depth of field, and sharpness. Aperture is measured in f-stops, and the lower the f-stop (f/2.8, f/1.8, etc.), the larger the opening and the more light can enter. You can see the full f-stop scale here, and lower numbers make for more desirable (and expensive) lenses.
In terms of numbers, we generally make the professional cutoff at f/2.8. Lenses with this maximum aperture or faster are solid low light performers and can achieve the creamy bokeh that professionals love (all three of Sony’s current GM zoom lenses are f/2.8 or faster, for example). Primes are the fastest type of lens, reaching f/1.4 for Sony FE, while some cheap zoom lenses have a maximum aperture of f/4 or slower. It’s worth noting that because Sony’s latest full-frame cameras have built-in image stabilization, camera shake will be less prevalent than with older models.
Last year Sony released its first “GM,” or Grand Master, lenses, which are the premium full-frame zooms for Sony mirrorless. As of 2017, there are three GM lenses to choose from: the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, 85mm f/1.4 GM, and 70-200mm f/2.8 GM. Rumors are circulating that a 16-35mm f/2.8 is next, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a 50mm f/1.2 option at some point down the road.
Similar to Canon’s “L” series, Sony “GM” lenses are the best of the best. You can expect pro-grade image quality including excellent sharpness, minimal distortion, and lifelike bokeh. In addition, the build quality of GM lenses is superb, with premium elements and weather sealing (outdoor and travel photographers make up a big part of Sony’s constituency so this makes a lot of sense).
Interestingly, Sony mentioned in its GM press release that these lenses, “will inspire and ‘wow’ photographers and videographers for years to come.” People in the industry report that Sony is working on an 80-megapixel a7R III camera next that shoots 6K video, and that GM lenses have been tested on and were built to match that powerful of an image sensor. If all that is true, it means that with GM lenses you are future-proofing your purchase in a way—it takes a very precise piece of glass to match that magnitude of an image sensor.
The Sony/Zeiss marriage is somewhat unique in the world of photography and has been going on for two decades and counting. A large number of FE-mount and E-mount lenses are co-branded (called “Sony/Zeiss”). In addition, Zeiss has created another bunch of its own lenses for Sony FE-mount cameras (“Batis” and “Loxia”). Because of Zeiss’ stellar reputation in optics, these are highly regarded lenses that can go head-to-head with just about anything on the market.
When buying lenses for your Sony full-frame camera, keep a close eye on the title and the blue Zeiss logo on the barrel. Lenses with both “Sony” and “Zeiss” in the title are co-branded, while lenses with “Batis” and “Loxia” are exclusively Zeiss. It’s also worth noting that Sony’s GM series of Grand Master lenses described above are not associated with Zeiss, although they are regarded as being some of the finest zoom lenses for the FE system.
If you already own Canon, Nikon, or third-party lenses, you can buy a separate adapter for your Sony mirrorless camera. What are the downsides of going this route? Generally, adapters are known for slowing down autofocus, which obviously is a key component of any lens. This makes adapters less attractive for those shooting action or video, but it can be a hindrance for stills, too.
In addition, adapters are expensive and aren’t exactly known for their reliability. The best adapter for Canon to Sony FE, for example, is $399 and is on its fourth rendition to date plus firmware updates. You definitely can have a positive experience with adapters, but it is a potential headache that you won’t have when using native FE lenses.
Third-party lenses abound for full-frame DSLRs, including from brands like Sigma and Tokina. For Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, Zeiss dominates the landscape and calling that “third-party” is stretching it a bit (the relationship between Sony and Zeiss is quite close). However, it’s worth noting that Sigma recently expressed serious interest in bringing its fast and reasonably priced lenses to Sony FE. In September of last year, the CEO of Sigma raved about Sony’s future and mentioned that they plan to come out with FE lenses down the line.
For more background, Sigma’s relatively recent “Art” series of full-frame lenses for Canon and Nikon full-frame DSLRs have been very popular and are cheaper than the native options. Primes include the 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/1.4, among others. Time will tell how much Sigma needs to alter the structure of its current lenses for FE, or whether they need to be mostly built from scratch. But the concept of Sigma for Sony FE is an exciting prospect for many photographers.
Sony has two lens mount types: FE (full frame) and E (APS-C). The good news is that FE lenses are compatible on APS-C cameras. Full-frame lenses certainly are expensive and heavy compared to their crop-sensor counterparts, but you can buy lenses for your a7R II and use them on your a6500 when need be. And the image quality probably will be excellent as full-frame lenses are the real deal. Make sure to keep focal length equivalent in mind: FE lenses will be 1.5x longer on an APS-C camera (a 50mm lens will behave like a 75mm lens, etc.).
On the other hand, Sony E-mount (APS-C) lenses are not compatible on Sony full-frame cameras. There are a healthy number of E-mount lenses that continues to grow each year, but none can be mounted on your Sony full-frame camera.
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