on October 2, 2010
The Sony 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens is one of the best lenses you will ever put in your camera's mount.
I will provide the pros and cons of this lens along with my experience with it.
What most people want to know right now is whether this lens is sharp, it is. You could cut cheese bars with how sharp it is.
The fast aperture of f/2.8 allows you to use aperture to isolate your subject from the background or use it when you work under low light. It closes down to f/32.
This lens gives you a reproduction ratio from 1:4 to 1:1, that 1:1 ratio is the one that will let you take pictures of bugs or tiny things and make them look big enough on the picture with enough detail resolved to let you crop if you need to.
It's common belief that a macro lens works wonders for macros but not for normal shooting, such as portraits or landscapes. This is not true, you can use macro lenses for both purposes with excellent results. Especially from this lens.
The focal length of 50mm applies to full frame cameras (A900/850), in APS-C cameras (from the A100 up to the A700) it will yield a focal length of 75mm, which it may be an odd length to use since it borderlines on telephoto. It's not really a problem when shoooting up close but if you shoot portraits or landscapes, you may need to take a few steps back to compose, depending on what you want to display in the image.
This lens has a metal mount, a DOF scale which let's you determine how much of the subject in front of you will be in focus depending on the subject's distance and the aperture used. Something to keep in mind here: 1: The scale is tuned for Full Frame, not APS-C, and the scale is set to show in focus subjects at f/16 and f/32. Unless you shoot frequently at these apertures going for maximum depth of field, I don't think you'll find this scale useful. The best thing you could do is to look at your optical or electronical view finders (for all those new A33/55 users out there) and engage the DOF preview button (if your camera has the option) to check how much of the image will be in focus at the selected aperture. For those of you with no DOF preview option, my advice is to shoot at different apertures and get familiar with how much in focus things get when using small apertures or how less things in focus you have at wide apertures.
At f/2.8 the lens has a shallow DOF, however, wherever you set the focus point, it will be real sharp, the rest of the image will be fuzzy if you look at detail at 100% magnification (a.k.a pixel peeping) but this is normal, shallow DOF yields few things in focus. Closing down the lens makes things sharp all over the plane. The best sharpness can be obtained at around f/5.6 and f/8, beyond that things won't change too much.
A handy feature this lens has is a focus limiter switch. The switch lets you use the whole focusing range of the lens or limit it at a range you chose so it won't go beyond that while trying to focus. If you're shooting landscapes or portraits, you don't need to go beyond 1:4 magnification and if you are shooting macros at 1:1 or 1:2, the last thing you need is the lens to go at 1:4. This speeds things up when focusing, either manually or automatically.
The lens has a focus hold button, which helps you to retain focus where you set it if you're using AF instead of having the camera look for focus again. In the A100/700/850/900 you can set this button to work as DOF preview instead of using the camera's button. For some, this will be more comfortable ,so it's a handy option as well. I don't know for sure, but I assume this will also work with the new A33/55/560/580 since those have DOF preview buttons too.
The lens is mostly build of plastic, but it doesn't have a cheap feel. It's solidly built. I would just advice to be careful with the filter threads, because those are plastic too, and if you use filters or special add-ons for macro lenses, you could wear them off with frequent use. Maybe a step-up or step-down ring will be a good idea to attach to the lens and use the threads of the ring to mount filters or other things. The thread size is 55mm.
This lens doesn't have a hood, but it doesn't need it. By design, the front element is deeply recessed into the lens, be it completely drawn in or completely extended, so there is no need for a hood. If you need one, use your hand to block light rays.
The focusing ring is wide and has a good grip, unfortunately it carries the same ribbed grip that all Sony lenses carry which is a dirt magnet and hard to clean. I wish Sony dropped this and used the smooth rubbery grips Minolta used to have or the Tamron ones.
The lens focuses real fast thanks to the wide aperture it possesses. However, be careful. When using the lens for portraits or landscapes, focusing won't be a problem, the AF mechanism will do it fast and swiftly. Where it may get annoying is when using it for macro and close up shots.
The focusing axiom you need to know and always remember when shooting macros or close ups is: The closer you are to your subject, the more careful you got to be with distances, in some cases, if you move just 1 mm, you will lose focus completely.
If you think this is exaggerated, try to shoot flowers or something really small while using manual focus and breathing. You'll see that as you breathe, the subject goes from focus to out of focus.
Therefore, you shouldn't expect this lens and camera to *know exactly* where you want to focus when shooting up real close, because there is no way they will know. You can AF at 1:1 magnification, but most of the time it will make the lens hunt for focus and go all the focusing range. Also keep in mind that the closer you are, the more focusing points the camera has to choose, so you can drive the AF nuts with this.
The best way to use this lens when doing macro, is to focus manually. That will ensure you will focus on the right exact spot you want without waiting for the camera to figure out where you want it to focus. Like I said, you can use AF with it, but the lens will be prone to hunt for focus a lot, THIS IS NOT A LENS OR CAMERA MALFUNCTION. It's just the laws of optics and photography.
If you really insist on using AF with this lens, I suggest you use spot focusing and select a focusing sensor so the camera will focus with only that one, I suggest using the central sensor.
One thing you need to determine if you're considering this lens is if you will be shooting near and static subjects or subjects that will let you get close or if you're going to need to shoot from a distance and you can't get close. If you choose the first option, then this lens is for you, if you chose the latter, then I suggest you give a look to the Sony 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens or third party options, like the Sigma 105mm Macro or the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro lenses. Why do I bring this up? Because if you're shooting things from a distance, this lens won't give you enough reach. I've gone through this before where I want to shoot things I can't get close to like dragonflies but I can't reach them as I want to because the lens just doesn't have enough length for it. There are several options for the Alpha mount of macro lenses which will give you reach for far subjects, but if you don't really need it, then go for this option. If I recall correctly, this lens is a bit sharper and has more contrast than it's 100mm brother.
The colors and contrast yielded by this lens are superb, images will have a color punch that Canon and Nikon users crave for but can't get from their system.
Aside from the possible short reach of this lens, the other con I can think of is the sound it makes when focusing, while it's not loud like a zoom, it does have a sort of loud deep noise when it focuses. For situations you need it to be silent, you're better focusing manually. But will all due honesty, this is nit picking.
This lens will open up worlds you never knew that existed at distances you could only dream of when using a kit lens. There is a difference between being close and being CLOSE.
If there is one lens that will not disappoint you and be versatile for macros, close ups, portraits, landscapes and whatever else you can think of (except shooting at long distances), is this lens.
I strongly suggest you look the review done by Kurt Munger of this lens, it will provide other technical information I may have missed to mention.
Price wise, it may be a bit expensive, but it's worth every penny. Unless you really need the reach, look into the other options I mentioned, just be aware that price may increase from this price point.
Otherwise, take the plunge now and treat yourself to a wonderful lens.