My Favorite E-mount Lenses… Part 2

In Part One of “My Favorite E-mount Lenses… So Far”, I listed my seven native E-mount lenses, “ranked” them according to my own subjective personal opinion of which I “liked” the best, and then provided some more background information on numbers 5, 6 and 7 (although it was really two number 6es, as I awarded a tie for 6th place).

Now, in Part Two, I’ll talk a bit more about the next three on my list, and then wrap up later in Part Three with my #1 favorite native E-mount lens.

#4: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS.

This is actually my most recent acquisition. And again, as with the Sigma 30/2.8, I got this on a Gold Box Deal from Amazon (actually, a Prime Day deal), so much of the motivation was down to the right price at the right time. But I had been eyeing this lens for some time, as I have a nascent interest in trying some astrophotography and this lens comes very highly regarded for that purpose, among others. As the name of this blog suggests, I have a preference for fast – i.e., wide aperture, low f-stop number – prime lenses. More about why in another article – although it is apparently an affliction I share with many photography “enthusiasts” to both good and bad ends. And at f/2.0, this Rokinon 12mm is one of, if not THE , fastest wide angle lenses in its range for APS-C systems. It also happens to have a reputation for being very sharp for its class.

I haven’t had a chance to use it enough yet to deliver a definitive verdict on its optical performance, and my own limitations working with manual focus come into play. I am satisfied so far with its sharpness in the center, at least, when focused properly. The field of view it offers is expansive and useful in certain circumstances. There is certainly a great deal of creative opportunity on offer with such a wide angle – at 12mm, it has a field of view on APS-C Sony E-mount bodies equivalent to 18mm on full-frame bodies. So far, I’ve been using it mostly for what one might call “real estate” type photos – wide angle views of the interiors of homes… of the fixed and mobile types. But that field of view can also be somewhat limiting when you want to get closer, although the Rokinon 12/2 does have a very impressive minimum focus distance of just inches. That focal length limitation is why the next lens rates above it in my collection. That said, the Rokinon has earned a place in my three-lens bag for most situations.

#3: Sony E 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Power Zoom (SELP18105G).

This lens is the most expensive I have purchased to date. It is also the most versatile. In my three-lens bag, it is the lens that is mounted by default to the camera, with the Sigma 30/1.4 and either the Rokinon 12/2 or Sony 50/1.8, depending on the event, completing the set in the bag. As I noted in Part One, after some time with the 18-55 and 55-210 zooms, I grew frustrated in certain active situations – i.e., travel situations – with having to choose which lens to mount and then having to swap in the field when the long or short focal length proved inadequate. So I began looking at so-called “all-in-one” zooms, something that starts at the wide end, like 18mm, and runs all the way out to at least a medium telephoto, like 105mm on APS-C. I looked at the various 18-200 lenses for E-mount – there are at least three… or four. But those were all either too expensive at more than $600, had wide variance in apertures of f/3.5-6.3, and/or had reputations as producing image quality no better than the 55-210. So I started to look at the Sony E 18-105 f/4 G OSS as a viable alternative.

As a “G” series lens, this lens is supposed to represent higher quality glass than non-G lenses from Sony. As a zoom with a constant f/4 max aperture, it is brighter and faster at the long end, where the others slow down noticeably. And at under US$600, it is actually the least expensive of the “wide-to-long” all-in-one zooms. Going out to only 105mm versus 200, there is a compromise to be made in its long telephoto reach compared to the others, but after doing further research, including reviewing the sample shots made using it by a number of my colleagues at the TalkEmount.com forums, I concluded that it yielded generally sharper and more pleasing results on average. It is widely criticized in reviews and forums for its distortion, but that is a compromise Sony apparently made in order to deliver sharpness and contrast across a wide range of focal lengths knowing that in-camera digital corrections or post-processing corrections can fix that in our modern era of photography. Since I usually shoot RAW+JPEG, or JPEG only, and since most of the RAW processors I use, from Apple’s own Photos for macOS, DxO Optics Pro, and Capture One (as well as Adobe Lightroom which I do not have), all can easily correct for the distortion produced by this lens and most others, I was not concerned by that issue.

Prior to using my A3000 and its manually zoomed 18-55 kit lens, all of the digital cameras I had used included power zoom lenses, so I was more comfortable with those or so I thought. Once I used the 18-55 and 55-210 manually actuated zooms, I learned to love and even prefer a manual zoom where I could more easily control and fix the focal length I wanted rather than racking the zoom in and out electronically without regard to actual focal length. So I did have some initial concerns about the fact that the 18-105G is a power zoom. My concerns were unwarranted. With two different methods for actuating the zooming mechanism, the 18-105G zooms very smoothly and feels well under control. In fact, the 18-105G was apparently designed as a lens targeted at video use, offering two separate and differently damped and accelerated zooming controls. As a power zoom it can be much more smoothly zoomed from one focal length to another than a manual lens designed primarily for still photo use.

It does have one downside: when the camera goes to sleep or is powered off, the zoom resets to its default of its widest focal length, 18mm. So if you are out shooting and take a particularly long pause between shots, the camera goes to sleep to conserve power and the lens resets from whatever desired focal length you’ve been shooting with to the default 18mm. This can occasionally be an annoyance when you’ve set a preferred focal length for a situation awaiting a photo opportunity only to have the camera go to sleep while waiting, and then when the moment arrives, the lens has reset and you have to rack the zoom out again wasting precious moments. The other minor drawback to the lens is its size. While not heavy for its length, it is rather long and wide, and does not fit in the smallest camera bag I have which I use for carrying just the camera with one attached lens. But that would be true for any all-in-one lens that reached out to decent telephoto lengths and is more a bag issue than a lens issue. Of course, its size also does not lend itself to inconspicuous street photography, as the large lens overpowers the otherwise diminutive A6000. On the plus side, the lens zooms and focuses entirely internally, so it never gets any longer, as the 55-210 and the 18-200 lenses do.

In the end, its focal length range coupled with very good picture quality – a step above my other zooms but just beneath the primes – makes it the most versatile lens I have and makes it the default lens I have mounted unless I know another lens will be more suited to the expected conditions.

#2: Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS (SEL50F18).

This lens, Sony’s SEL50F18, was my first native prime lens, purchased in August of 2014. I had been dabbling in “fast” legacy manual focus lenses in the 50mm focal length range (first a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E, then a Minolta MD 50mm f/2, and finally a Minolta MC Rokkor PG 50mm f/1.4) for several months before taking the plunge on an autofocus E-mount prime. I had been considering either this lens at 50mm, the Sigma 35mm f/2.8, or the even higher-priced Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS. The latter two being more “normal” 45-53mm full-frame equivalent fields of view versus the SEL50F18’s 75mm short telephoto full-frame equivalent field of view. My use of the legacy lenses had convinced me of the benefits of a good fast prime lens over the basic kit zoom lenses I already had in native E-mount. And after some deliberation over that summer, the decision came down to pricing and availability. I wasn’t willing to pay the apparent premium for the Sony 35mm f/1.8, which at US$450 new was above my then budget by a substantial margin. The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art, while noticeably less expensive (see my earlier discussion of it from when I eventually did pick one up), was temporarily unavailable at the time – it seems availability for Sigma ebbs and flows throughout the year. So, while the longer focal length of the Sony 50/1.8 is probably not the most versatile for everyday walk-around shooting, it’s faster f/1.8 aperture, and its attractive price tag – just US$250 on sale at the time – held the day and prompted me to pick one up suddenly at the end of that summer. I haven’t regretted it for a moment, as the lens, and particularly it’s fast aperture low-light performance, quickly became my favorite lens on E-mount.

Coupled with the fact that my two favorite “models” were my small dogs Katie and Darci, this lens enabled me to get great shots of those girls around the house in all lighting conditions in a way no other lens could. The autofocus functionality was welcome after working with the manual focus legacy primes I had become used to, and the OSS and fast aperture, plus excellent sharpness, set the lens well apart from the native AF kit zooms I had been using. The only downside to the lens is its field of view. At a 75mm full-frame equivalent, it is not particularly useful for indoor group events like family gatherings. You need to step back several feet if you wish to get more than one person (or dog) in the field of view. And that led me to continue considering wider lenses like the Sigma 30/2.8, and eventually the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN C, the lens that finally unseated the Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS as my new favorite (more on that in the next update to this series). But the SEL50F18 remains a very useful lens, particularly for shooting close-up portraits of my dogs around the house. As my 10-15 pound dogs are much smaller than humans, its reach at a short telephoto is perfect for shots of them in most an circumstance around the house. It also would make a good “portrait” lens for solo portraits of people – if I did much of that sort of thing. Plus, according to DxO’s ratings, it ranks as one of the three sharpest APS-C E-mount lenses available, again eclipsed only with the release of the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4. At US$250 when frequently on sale, it is also undeniably one of the very best “bang-for-buck” deals in lenses around, certainly for the Sony E-mount system on APS-C.

 

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