Sony 50mm f/1.4
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Except for exterior materials and branding, it's the same lens as the MAXXUM AF 50mm f/1.4 introduced by Minolta in 1985 for use with the MAXXUM 7000. This current lens with 8 rear gold contacts adds distance encoding for better flash exposure accuracy. Other than that, it's the same lens optically as it was 1985.
Autofocus is via a screw on the lens, driven by a motor in the camera. As the lens focuses, the focus ring turns.
There is no instant manual focus override, unless your camera (like the Sony A99) has a DMF ("Direct Manual Focus") override mode. For manual focus with older cameras you must move a switch on the camera.
Optically it's exactly as expected for a traditional 50mm f/1.4 SLR lens: softer wide open with plenty of Spherochromatism in the center and coma in the corners, and it improves to near perfection as stopped down a stop or two.
It has moderate barrel distortion, which new cameras like the Sony A99 can correct automatically as you shoot.
Sony 50mm f/1.4.
Sony calls this the model number SAL50F14.
7 elements in 6 groups, standard augmented double-Gauss SLR lens.
Sony 50mm f/1.4 at f/22.
7 rounded blades.
Round at larger apertures, heptagonal from f/4 and smaller.
Stops down to f/22.
35mm film, full-frame and smaller format digital.
Focal Length top
When used on an APS-C style camera, sees an angle of view similar to what an 80mm lens sees when used on a full-frame or 35mm camera.
Close Focus top
1.5 feet (0.45 meters) from the image plane.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio top
Hard Infinity Focus Stop? top
This is great for astronomy; just turn to the stop and you have fixed laboratory-perfect focus all night.
Focus Scale top
Depth-of-Field Scale top
Infra-Red Focus Index top
Aperture Ring top
Filter Thread top
Does not rotate, but moves in and out with focus.
Sony specifies 2-9/16" (65.5 mm) diameter by 1-11/16" (43 mm) extension from flange.
7.805 oz. (221.2g), actual measured.
Sony specifies 8 oz. (220 g).
Plastic ALC-SH0011 hood, included.
Caps and hood.
Made in Japan.
1 year, USA.
Microcorrugated cardboard box with formed pulp innards.
Box, Sony 50mm f/1.4.
Sony Product Number top
Price, USA top
$450, May 2013.
Sony 50mm f/1.4.
The Sony 50mm f/1.4 is a classic 50mm f/1.4, performing the same as Minolta's and Nikon's comparable lenses.
AF speed is pretty fast, with one full turn (two half-turns) of the AF screw bringing it from infinity down to 5 feet (1.5 meters).
On the Sony A99, focus is dead-on every time at f/1.4.
Manual focus is traditional, and feels pretty plasticy.
Bokeh, the character of out of focus backgrounds, not simply how far out of focus they are, is marvelous around f/4.
The Sony A99's program mode rarely shoots at larger apertures. If I shift it the hard way out to f/1.4, bokeh is only mediocre:
Lamp at f/1.4. bigger.
Coma (saggital coma flare) often causes weird smeared blobs to appear around bright points of light in the corners of fast or wide lenses at large apertures.
The Sony 50mm f/1.4, like other conventional 50mm f/1.4 lenses, has loads of coma at f/1.4 and f/2.
It's pretty much gone at f/2.8, and completely gone by f/4.
This can be corrected for critical use by plugging a figure of +2.0 into Photoshop's lens distortion filter for use at 3 meters (10 feet) on full-frame. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
Used on recent digital cameras like the Sony Alpha 99, a menu can be set to correct the distortion completely. Bravo!
Sony 50mm f/1.4.
Ergonomics are OK, but this lens feels like crappy plastic to me. It's all plastic; the only exterior metal is the mount. Manual focus feels gritty and plasticy.
Used on MAXXUM cameras you won't have instant manual-focus override as we do with the newest lenses Nikon (AFS) or Canon (USM), but on the Sony A99, this lens does have great instant manual-focus override.
This lens, just like Nikon's (AF-D) and Canon's (EF non-USM) older-model lenses, requires moving a switch on the camera, or fiddling in menus, to swap between auto and manual focus.
This lens moves its focus ring all by itself as it autofocuses.
Other than this, it's easy to mount and unmount; 90% of the barrel is grip.
It doesn't mount and unmount as smoothly as a compatible 1985 Minolta MAXXUM lens mounting on a 1985 MAXXUM 7000, sad to say.
Falloff on FX and 35mm is visible at f/1.4, and gone otherwise.
The Shading Correction in the Sony A99 improves it a little if you turn it ON.
I've exaggerated this by shooting a gray field and placing these on a gray background.
There is no problem with vignetting, even with combinations of thick stacked filters, even on full-frame.
The filter ring doesn't rotate, but it does move in and out as focused.
Of interest mostly to cinematographers focusing back and forth between two subjects, the image from the Sony 50mm f/1.4 gets larger as focused more closely.
Ghosts are no problem with this multicoated lens, even on the complex Sony A99 which has all sorts of internal mirrors in the optical shooting path.
Here's looking directly into the disk of the noonday sun, which was blinding in person:
Sony 50mm f/1.4 at f/8. enlarge.
Enough glare to blind a dead man, and the worst I could show for it after several tries was one dim blue blob.
It looked worse through the A99's finder, probably because the A99 views with the lens wide-open. For all I know, the A99 will catch fire doing this before you'll see any significant glare.
The dinky plastic hood is included.
I never use it.
There are no lateral color fringes on the when shot on the 24 MP full-frame Sony A99, with lateral color correction turned OFF.
Oddly, there is some very minor lateral yellow-blue on the A99 when this correction is turned ON along with shading and distortion correction. I'll presume that the distortion correction somehow isn't quite perfect and interacted with the lateral color corrections. Your camera will differ.
It gets exactly as close as every other 50mm SLR lens has for the past 40 years:
Complete image at close-focus distance on full-frame camera.
Crop from above image at f/8. If this is 6" wide on your screen, the complete image printed at this same magnification would be 18 x 26." (45 x 65 cm.)
Stopped down to f/8 as shown here, it's super-sharp, too. Shot at large aperture like f/2, there's nothing in focus, and if anything is, it's not this sharp.
Sony 50mm f/1.4. enlarge.
The Sony 50mm f/1.4 is mostly plastic, except for the mount, and it feels that way.
Plastic; rubber covered.
Feel like plastic, look like they might be metal.
Mounting Index Dot
Red plastic nubbin.
Sticker glued on barrel.
Sticker glued into a recess on the bottom of the lens.
Moisture seal at mount
Noises When Shaken
Yes, it's very sharp if you know what you're doing. Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens, and lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers.
The shot above is actually cropped from a small segment of this frame:
While amateurs waste time worrying about lens sharpness, pros know that lens sharpness has little to do with making sharp pictures. This said, the Sony 50mm f/1.4 is super-sharp stopped down, and softer at f/1.4.
As shot on the full-frame 24MP A99:
The corners are dark and blurrier due to coma (which only matters if they are in focus in the first place), while the center is sharp enough.
The center is better — nice and sharp, while the corners are still a bit blurry, but corner sharpness only matters if they are in focus in the first place.
The corners are much sharper, and the center is just about perfect.
The center is perfect, and the corners are even better.
The corners are even a little bit better than at f/4.
This is the optimum aperture; the corners are at their best.
Diffraction limits performance.
Diffraction limits performance.
Spherochromatism, sometimes mistakenly called "color bokeh" by laymen, is a minor aberration which can add slight color fringes to out-of focus highlights.
At f/1.4, the Sony 50 1.4 shows spherochromatism as expected.
Sunstar at f/8. enlarge.
With its 7-bladed diaphragm that's reasonably straight from f/4 and smaller, the Sony 50/1.4 can make great 14-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light. Bravo!
The Sony 50mm f/1.4 may be plastic, but it has no motors.
If you don't beat on it mechanically, I expect it will last for many decades as have its MAXXUM brethren. The worst I expect will happen with wear is that maybe a focus encoder will wear out, and if you can't get the part, just clip it out with a pair of dykes.
To my surprise, while the f/1.7 lens has much less distortion, neither of the f/1.7 lenses was as sharp under the microscope as this f/1.4 lens, and the ancient lenses lack distance encoding for optimum flash exposure accuracy on the newest cameras.
Therefore, I'm sorry to say it, but you may as well get one of these instead of using an old MAXXUM lens — but only if you're counitng your pixels wide-open.
The Sony 50mm f/1.4 feels junky, but works great, especially with the newest Sony A99 which corrects its distortion and gives this old-design lens instant manual-focus override.
I prefer this fast fixed lens to zooms. Midrange zooms are bigger and slower. With this fast and light lens, I can move to get a better shot than standing like an idiot in one place with a zoom.
There are many good reasons Why Fixed Lenses Take Better Pictures.
If you've found the time, effort and expense I incur researchign and sharing all this information for free, this free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to this lens at Adorama or at Amazon when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these lenses when you get yours through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you "scab" and buy elsewhere. I'm not NPR; I don't get any grants.
Thanks for your support!
I'd leave 55mm Hoya HD UV on the lens at all times for protection. I would leave the hood at home.
If I was working in nasty, dirty areas, I'd forget the cap, and use an uncoated 55mm Tiffen UV filter instead. Uncoated filters are much easier to clean, but more prone to ghosting.
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