Sony SAL85F28 85mm F2.8 SAM Prime Lens Review Roundup2012-03-28 05:56
3/27/2012: Add review by PhotographicCentral.
On August 23 2010, Sony announced the new 14.2 Megapixels Alpha DSLR-A560 as well as three new prime lenses:
- Carl Zeiss® Distagon T* 24mm F2 ZA SSM (model SAL24F20Z) - The 24mm (36mm APS-c sensor equivalent) is built for speed and durability. It features an all-metal polished barrel and features Zeiss' Distagon design. It's capable of focusing on objects as close as .19 meters away, and uses a solid nine-blade aperture. The lens costs about $1,250. Check out the review roundup of the lens here.
- DT 35mm F1.8 SAM (model SAL35F18) - This super fast prime weighs in at just six ounces despite its fast, f/1.8 maximum aperture. Capable of focusing on subjects as close as .8 feet, the 35mm has the shortest minimum focus of any lens in its class. It also features Sony's Smooth Autofocus Motor ensuring a pleasurable and snappy operation. The lens costs about $200. Check out the review roundup of the lens here.
- 85mm F2.8 SAM (model SAL85F28) - The 85mm (127.5mm APS-c equivalent) f/2.8 lens has a sonar-type optical design and makes for a solid mid-range telephoto when used on an APS-c sensor camera. Like the 35mm, it features a Smooth Autofocus Motor (SAM) to ensure easy focus and has a minimum focusing distance of just two feet. It is ideal for general purpose mid-telephoto applications. The lens costs about $250.
Here's the detail technical specifications of the 85mm F2.8 SAM prime lens:
- Lens Type : Standard & Medium Telephoto
- Lens Mount Type : Sony A-mount
- Aperture : f/2.8
- Aperture (Max.) : f/2.8
- Aperture (Min.) : f/22
- Filter Diameter : 55 mm
- Lens Groups-Elements : 4 groups, 5 elements
- Minimum Focus Distance : 24" (0..6m)
- Distance Encoder : Yes
- Distance Scale : Yes
- Angle of View : 29° (35mm), 19° (APS-C)
- Aperture Blade : 7 blades (Circular aperture)
- Focal Length (35mm equivalent) : 127.5 mm
- Lens Weight : 6.1 oz (175g)
- Maximum Magnification : x 0.2
The 85mm F2.8 SAM prime lens is currently selling at around $249, via Amazon.com. Here's the review roundup of the lens:
PhotographicCentral: "You probably won't fall in love with its looks or build, or even it's max aperture which is "average" for a prime lens in this focal length. Instead, you'll probably like it's optical performance which is above the expectations I had set for this lens. Contrast is excellent wide open, one of the better lenses I've seen of late, and sharpness is very high too. Color is neutral and accurate, very much like how Sony G lenses have an effect on color. Aberrations are exceptionally well controlled, this includes flare, ghosting, coma, and CA's. Bokeh is also very much nicer than I had expected, but could have been even better with a 9 blade aperture instead of it's 7 blade model which shows outlines in the out of focus areas (even though Sony claim its a circular design I see straighter than said curved blades). It's only weakness with CA's seems to be at f/2.8, but even then they are very minimal (view the f/2.8 chart sample in the center section for testimony). Distortion is next to nothing (neither any barrel or pincushion distortion) and isn't relevant in field conditions at all- a good lens for making stitched panoramas for example. Vignetting, ditto on the test results- which is also a consideration for those who stitch images. It's excellent max focus distance of two feet and decent magnification aids in what is normally considered a slower aperture for a lens of this focal length (bar price remember), resulting in surprisingly good looking images with pleasing out of focus areas. You should have a lot of fun making above average looking portraits with this lens- but it's not perfect. Out of focus aperture halos will show on some aperture settings in the right kind of lighting circumstance- thankfully not in a majority of the photographs.
Focusing speed is average, typical of the latest batch of SAM lenses from Sony, but slightly quieter than other SAM lenses I've used or reviewed of late (18-55mm f3.5-5.6, 50mm f/1.8, and 30mm f/2.8 SAM) which isn't really saying much but worth noting I suppose. Overall it's not what I'd consider a "quiet" focusing lens at all. If you need to remain quiet when shooting you'll be obligated to use only manual focus. It's eye sores are a pretty wobbly front element, lack of a rear metal mount, and generally average plastics (yes some plastics are better than others). If judging on build quality and price you'd think this lens would perform very poorly, but the opposite is true. It's strengths are it's price, optical performance, included lens hood, a front element that does not rotate (good for filter usage), and very decent maximum magnification (beating the much higher priced Sony Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 for example). It's front focusing ring operates smoothly albeit with a tiny bit of lateral play (less than 1/16th of an inch) that is almost unnoticeable. Make no mistake about it, this is a bare bones affordable prime lens. That being said this is my favorite SAM lens from Sony so far optically, but the build quality and noisier auto focus is enough to give me pause on purchasing one for the long haul (sigh). If pride of ownership (good to excellent build) and resale value aren't a concern of yours- then I'd highly recommend this lens for its optical performance alone. Certainly the images/test results make a great argument and speak for themselves."... [Source]
PhotoZone, gave an optical quality rating of 4/5: "The 85mm f/2.8 is a full format lens and when used on an APS-C DLSR with its smaller image circle the vignetting is relatively insignificant. We're talking about a light falloff of just ~0.4EV at max. aperture which is already barely detectable anymore by the human standards and it's a non-issue beyond. The Sony lens is capable of delivering an extremely high resolution on an APS-C DSLR. The performance is already excellent across the image field straight at f/2.8 and the contrast level is also very snappy here. The quality increases only very marginally at f/4 and diffraction has an impact from f/5.6 onwards. However, the quality is still very good at f/11. The field curvature is marginal.
The Sony 85mm f/2.8 SAM ( SAL-85F28 ) is an impressive lens when used on APS-C DSLRs - at least with respect to its optical capabilities. The lens is extremely sharp across the frame from f/2.8 to f/8. Diffraction is a limiting factor beyond. Lateral CAs are quite low which adds to the subjective quality perception. The lens produces only a very slight amount of pincushion distortion. Thanks to its full-format design there's almost no vignetting to speak of on APS-C DSLRs even at max. aperture. The quality of the bokeh is good. LoCAs/Bokeh fringing can be visible at f/2.8 and the issues dissolves gradually when stopping down. A weakness is a tendency towards purple fringing at max. aperture. The Sony 85mm f/2.8 SAM is a budget lens and it's most obvious in its build quality - the body is made of rather average quality plastics down to the mount. The new build-in SAM drive is an improvement over the conventional screw-driven AF. The AF accuracy seems to have improved quite a bit but we haven't really noticed a significant advantage in terms of AF speed or noise. However, that all said the Sony lens remains a killer offer from a price/performance perspective."... [Source]
Kurt Munger: "This inexpensive full-frame compatible lens (made in China) features a relatively fast aperture of F/2.8 with a good fit and finish, although it has a plastic mount instead of the usual metal. Sony calls the 85mm F/2.8 an "easy choice lens," which means cheap price but excellent optical qualities. This lens will work great on your Sony full-frame digital camera, as it was designed for a full-frame camera. It can also be used on an APS-C camera, and becomes a somewhat long 127.5mm focal length. The focusing ring is at the front of the lens, and does turn during auto-focusing, so watch your fingers. The filter ring does not turn, so your grads and polarizers will work fine. Manual focusing takes just over 1/2 turn from Close-in to infinity, and adds 3/4" or 20mm in length to the lens at close focus. With over half a turn of focus ring rotation, it's pretty easy to achieve acurate focusing using the manual ring. There's a tiny bit of slop on the focus ring if you wiggle it by hand when engaged, or disengaged, this doesn't affect AF operation though. Auto-focusing is quite loud when running from one end to the other, and not whisper quiet like the real Supersonic wave motors (SSM) on some of Sony's other lenses. Unfortunately, that's the nature of Sony's SAM or 'Smooth Auto-focus Motor.'
Sony comes up with another winner in their high performance, low cost 'easy choice' lens series. This time it's a medium telephoto prime with a relatively fast F/2.8 aperture. The little Sony 85mm F/2.8 SAM lens turned in a great performance, and is very similar to the Sony DT 35mm F/1.8 "easy choice" lens, also reviewed here. The good points are; small and light-weight, center sharpness is very high, and can excite aliases at F/2.8! The mid-sections and corners sharpen up almost to match the centers at F/5.6-8, so it would make a great landscape lens. Distortion and light fall-off are very low on both APS-C and full-frame cameras. However, color fringing is a little high for a prime lens, but is not noticeable in the centers at apertures smaller than F/3.5, or along the image sides unless viewed at very large sizes. If you're a Sony user in the market for a lens in this focal length, the Sony 85mm F/2.8 offers a superb value. Also, since this lens is small and light-weight, you might put it in your pocket so you'll have it for those shots that require a little more "reach" if you normally just carry a wide-angle lens. The Sony 85mm F/2.8 would make a good portrait lens, and is a low-cost alternative to the super expensive, but two stop faster Sony CZ 85mm F/1.4."... [Source]
AmateurPhotographer: "This really does not look or feel like a full frame lens. It weighs 175g and has a plastic barrel and a plastic mount. I had to try it on the A900 just to make sure it wasn't designed just for APS-C. When on the camera it makes so little difference to the over all weight that you might need to constantly check you have a lens attached at all. Built to a Sonnar-style design it features just six elements in five groups, and uses Sony's SAM (Smooth Autofocus Motor) to drive the AF. To be honest I didn't expect it to be much good. It feels like a cheap kit lens, and a maximum aperture of f/2.8 - slow for this focal length - suggests some stopping-down to mask optical problems. The 85mm portrait lens is still very much in fashion, but most feature an aperture wider than f/2 - f/1.2 being the ultimate and f/1.8 the norm. F/2.8 seems somewhat staid in comparison. In use it actually performs very well. The unit I was using was not completely finished, but it didn't show.
The AF is quick and the pictures are sharp. Although f/2.8 doesn't allow the low-light working that wider apertures do, it is still respectable, and in fact most ultra-wide aperture 85mm lenses do not perform at their best wide open. In practical terms too, for a headshot f/1.4 presents depth of field a little too shallow - except for showing off shallow depth of field. Working wide-open and at a distance of just a few feet, I found depth of field just about shallow enough without feeling I wanted to open the aperture any more. A diffused desk lamp allowed a hand-hold-able shutter speed of 1/50sec at ISO 1600 - so I didn't feel deprived at all. The resulting images are sharp and crisp, with attractive out of focus areas. In all, I am very pleased with the results."... [Source]
User review by Andrew Siew, gave a rating of 4/5: "The SAL85F28 is one of Sony's first full frame easy choice lens. With the added 35mm focal length over the standard 50mm portrait primes (Sony has two of them, the SAL50F14 and the SAL50F18 (DT)), the SAL85F28 has the advantage of bringing your subject's face closer to you when you want the added shooting distance to i) make the subject feel more comfortable and ii) avoid any distortions that may arise especially around the edges of the frame from shooting too close to the subject. The SAL85F28 also has an unusually short minimum focusing distance for a 85mm prime, which is 60cm. This outperforms the SAL85F14Z in close-up shooting, which has a minimum focusing distance of around 89cm. You can shoot some impressive close-up with this prime lens even if the lens is not really intended for macro photography. The lens is incredibly light, although no lighter than its equally new cousin, the SAL35F18 or the SAL50F18 or the SAL50F14. For a full frame prime at 85mm, the lens is deceptively small, especially when compared to the SAL85F14Z.
This light-weightness however probably attributed to the lens' inability to open its aperture beyond F2.8, which may be a deal breaker for alot of potential buyers looking for a longer, "true" portrait lens but do not wish to spend over 1k for either the SAL85F14Z or the SAL135F18Z. The smaller maximum aperture makes it a little difficult to blur out objects that are closer to your subjects (see the sample picture), although at 85mm, even at F2.8, the telephoto magnification effect is already pronounced enough to add to the defocusing effect of the aperture alone. The defocusing effect of the SAL85F28 is comparable to some of the shots taken by the SAL35F18 and the SAL50F18 under certain conditions.
However, color fringing, as per any easy choice lens, is visible under strong contrast scenes. Fine traces of magenta and purple fringing can be seen between dark and light borders. The fringing effect goes away a little when the lens is stopped down by 2 stops or more, or when you use extensive lighting (in a studio) to soften the contrast of a scene. Color and contrast also tends to be on the weaker side, so you will probably want to shoot in RAW mode at first if you are not familiar with the optical behaviour/performance of this lens. The lens has been without question designed for the enthusiasts and beginners, that it looks really enticing on paper and has an unbelievably attractive price tag, but in real life reveals itself as a so-so performer when heavily scrutinized. If you are a professional photographer who shoots mainly in colors for galleries and sells wall-sized prints, you might be better off digging deeper (way deeper) into your pocket for the SAL85F14Z instead to save you the hassle of having to post process your exposures afterwards. "... [Source]
Lens sample photos from flickr: