My Favorite E-Mount Lenses… So Far

Okay, it’s time for another post here at f1point4.net.

At this point in my photography-as-a-hobby I believe I have amassed a decent collection of lenses for my Sony A6000 (and A3000) mirrorless interchangeable lens camera(s), including a workable range of native E-mount lenses. So, I’d like to give my thoughts on my favorite lenses… so far.

Caveats. First, I only have APS-C format Sony E-mount cameras: starting with an entry-level A3000, and now also a mid-level A6000. As such, I have not tried, used, or purchased any full-frame “FE” lenses, so I cannot comment on any of those you might find on the market… and there are now many very good ones available. However, full-frame lenses, while they work just fine on the cropped APS-C bodies, do tend to be a bit more expensive (although, interestingly, under their current sale prices, the lowest price E-mount lens of any format that Sony itself offers is now the full-frame FE 50mm f/1.8 on sale at about US$150).

Second caveat: I am not a full-time or professional photographer, gear reviewer, or moneyed enthusiast, so I have not even tried or used all available APS-C E-mount lenses. So my observations will only be on those lenses that I do have, why I chose them, and the pros and cons of each for my purposes.

Now, without further ado, let me list my native E-mount lenses in reverse ranking order, with a brief note about each before I get into more detailed thoughts.

Drumroll please…

#6 (tie): Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art, a well-regarded and inexpensive prime lens in the “normal” focal length range with an equivalent field of view to a 45mm full-frame lens;

#6 (tie): Sony E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Zoom (SEL1855), the standard kit zoom lens that came with my Sony A3000;

#5: Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS Telephoto Zoom (SEL55210), the least expensive (and one of the first) telephoto zooms available for the E-mount;

#4: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS, a very good ultra-wide manual focus, manual aperture lens for APS-C systems;

#3: Sony E 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Power Zoom (SELP18105G), a good, all-around constant aperture zoom that goes from wide-angle to medium telephoto;

#2: Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS (SEL50F18), not the newer FE 50/1.8 mentioned above, but the older, and yet in some ways superior, 50mm fast prime lens for APS-C bodies; and

#1: Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary, a new-this-year fast “normal” prime that is both sharp and a nice fast f/1.4, while also being quite affordable.

And now, a bit more on each lens, again starting at the “bottom.” And by “bottom,” I do NOT mean “the worst.”  In my opinion each of these are actually quite good lenses for what they are. Indeed, the “bottom” lens in my collection may actually be the sharpest, or very close to it.

#6 (tie). Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art.

I chose this lens when I did because (a) it was the best value for a normal prime at the time I bought it (December 2014), (b) it had a great reputation for sharpness, and (c) it was on an amazing Amazon Gold Box deal of just $149, $50 off its normal low price of $199. Even at its regular price of $199 (retail, new), I think it ranked as the lowest cost E-mount lens available at the time (and perhaps still, sales notwithstanding). It was an impulse purchase and has mostly lived up to its billing. But, for whatever reason, I never really warmed up to it like some of the others on this list and in my collection. As for those reasons… well for one, it doesn’t support the full range of autofocus functions for fast hybrid autofocus cameras like the A6000, only using the fast PDAF points in just the center section of the lens. Second, I noticed in my copy what I at first thought was excessive chromatic aberrations, but learned may have just been noticeable moire patterns due to its sharpness and the weak anti-aliasing filter in my A3000. Nevertheless, this put me on guard regarding the lens’ performance and colored my opinion at the get go. And finally, at a max aperture of f/2.8, it just didn’t seem to be as “fast” – i.e., as good at gathering light in low-light conditions – as I had desired in a “normal” prime.

It’s still an excellent lens: it’s the most compact lens I have and may be the sharpest lens I have, though it is a close heat with the Sony 50mm f/1.8 and the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4. But it was that last lens, the new Sigma 30 f/1.4, that ended up relegating the Sigma 30 f/2.8 DN Art to a tie for last place in my collection.  Again, it is in no way a bad lens, it is just… redundant for me now.

#6 (tie). Sony E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS.

This lens is the oldest “kit” zoom lens Sony makes. My copy is the somewhat newer black version, which some think has slightly better optical performance than the original, but I have never seen anything definitive to prove that. It is also reputed to be somewhat sharper than the new pancake-style kit zoom Sony packages with their APS-C bodies, the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Power Zoom – again, no definitive evidence on that.  The 18-55 is not a super sharp lens, but its versatility as a “standard zoom” and its relative compactness (when compared to something like the SEL18105G) makes it a still very useful lens from time to time.

It was a close call as to whether I would rank it below the Sigma 30/2.8, as it is clearly the inferior lens from an optical performance point of view. But, I will say that I have used it more recently than the Sigma 30/2.8, if only to reacquaint myself with it and test its performance, and its zoom range lends it a versatility the 30/2.8 can’t match. Otherwise it generally resides on my A3000 and the two serve as my backup body/lens combination. Finally, the newer SELP18105G has supplanted it as my go-to walk-around zoom, albeit at a noticeable size penalty.

#5. Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS.

This telephoto zoom was the first native lens I purchased, and if I could do things over, I would actually have picked it up even earlier in a discounted bundle offered some 45 days after I picked up my A3000. Indeed, two-lens bundles with an 18-55 and a 55-210 (or 55-200, 250 or 300) zoom are rather common for consumer interchangeable lens cameras, particularly entry-level ones and particularly at places like Costco or Best Buy. By pairing a telephoto zoom that picks up where the standard kit zoom leaves off, typically around 55mm, a user can be quickly equipped with a wide range of focal lengths to work with in an affordable bundle. And affordable is the name of the game with the SEL55210 for Sony E-mount. At US$350 (and often on sale for less – I got mine as an open box at a substantial discount… notice a theme building here – I’m cheap) it is easily the least expensive telephoto zoom Sony offers.  

This lens was also one of the first telephoto zooms for the Sony E-mount system and was the longest telephoto zoom (by just 10mm) for the longest time until Sony introduced the full-frame 24-240mm lens in late 2014. Performance-wise it is… acceptable. It is not a particularly “fast” lens, with its widest aperture a mere f/6.3 at the telephoto end, so it serves best as an outdoor and good-light lens. But that’s the idea.  It’s meant for use at outdoor events where you need more telephoto range, like sporting events and even the occasional safari or other touristy activity. It’s image quality is also… acceptable. It is not bad, and it’s not particularly sharp, but when used well, it can yield good results. I got it for “vacation” and travel use mostly – I don’t really shoot sports much. But I eventually got somewhat tired of having to swap back and forth between it and the 18-55 when doing the touristy thing, so I decided to get an all-in-one zoom that would go from wide at around 18mm to a decent telephoto of at least 100mm. For that I chose the SELP18105G, more on that later. Nevertheless, the 55-210 has twice the reach of the 18-105, and that is why I’ve kept it around – for those times that I need more than 105mm of telephoto reach. 

(To be continued)

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