The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is a standard lens in Sony’s GMaster series. That means: high image quality, solid construction and good control options. In this series, however, Sony also has a slightly brighter model. You may think of the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM as its slightly smaller, lighter and cheaper sibling. But the image quality is not inferior to it.
TESTRESULTS Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM:
The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is the cheapest 50mm if you want all the control options combined with high brightness.
There is no shortage of standard lenses for Sony’s 35mm cameras. If we just look at what Sony makes in terms of lenses with a focal length of 40 to 55mm, we count 7 of them (50mm F1.2 GM, 50mm F1.4 Planar, 50mm f1.8, 50mm F2.8 macro, 55mm F1.8 Sonnar, 40mm F2.5 G, 50mm F2.5 G). The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is the successor to the FE 50mm F1.4 Zeiss Planar. You may also think of the lens as the smaller brother of the Sony 50mm F1.2 GM. A little less brightness, a little less size and a little less expensive, but otherwise with the same features and similar image quality. This makes the FE 50mm F1.4 GM a little more pleasant to buy and a little more pleasant to carry around than the FE 50mm F1.2.
The differences with the standard lenses that come below the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM are a lot bigger. In terms of price, the Sonnar T* 55mm F1.8 ZA comes first. That is one of the very first lenses Sony released for its mirrorless 35mm cameras. It is 2/3rd stop less bright, but the sharpness is still excellent and it is also much more compact and lighter than the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM. But what is out of date, for a €1100 lens, is the lack of gaskets to make the lens weatherproof and the lack of things like an AF/MF switch, an aperture ring or a button to lock the autofocus. You do get all those things with the compact 50mm F2.5 G, but it is that one more stop less bright.
So the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is the first choice if you want all the control options and a modern build combined with high brightness. The only thing that may be missing is image stabilisation. But for lenses with relatively short (fixed) focal lengths, all manufacturers these days rely on in-camera stabilisation. With the quality of stabilisation in most high-end cameras, which a lens like this will no doubt be used on, it’s only right.
The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is smaller and more lightweight than the Sony 50mm F1.2 GM. This makes sense, of course, as it also has a lower brightness. It is also slightly thicker but a lot shorter and significantly lighter than the recently introduced Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG DN Art. This is notable because that Sigma is again smaller and lighter than its predecessor and has the same focal length and brightness as the Sony. So you could say the Sony is lightweight and compact. However, compared to older 50mm F1.4 lenses for SLRs, it is still a hefty lens. This, of course, has everything to do with the higher demands placed on modern lenses. The high brightness of a lens for SLRs was especially useful to get a clear viewfinder image and a shallow depth of field so you could more easily see where your field of focus was. Good image quality often required at least one and sometimes as much as two stops of aperture. We expect a modern, bright 50mm to perform well even at full aperture and then also on a sensor with 40, 50 or even 60 megapixels.
The lens is of course fitted with gaskets to make it weatherproof, though of course with the usual footnote that this does not make the lens water- or dust-proof. The lens is solidly built and, as you might expect from a GM lens – has all the controls Sony has to offer. Apart from the focus ring, the lens has an AF lock button, an AF/MF switch , an aperture ring and two aperture switches. With one you can lock the aperture in the A position, so you can set the aperture via the camera, with the other you can make the aperture ring clickless, which is useful if you want to infinitely adjust the light for film shooting, for example. With clicks, the aperture ring snaps in 1/3rd stops.
The optical design consists of 14 elements in 11 groups and has 1 ED glass lens element and 2 aspherical lens elements. The front lens element is coated to repel dust and dirt. The filter size is an all reasonable 67mm and the aperture has no less than 11 blades that should ensure a rounded aperture and thus a nicer bokeh. The lens comes with a lens hood.
For focusing, the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM naturally features Sony’s linear XD motor, which is very fast and very quiet. For video work, the autofocus is basically inaudible. What is less ideal for video is that the focus breathing on this lens is quite hefty. On the most modern Sony’s like the A7 IV and the A7R V, this need not be a problem as you can have the breathing compensated on those cameras. However, you should then bear in mind that you lose part of your angle of view. So the focal length effectively becomes slightly longer.
The shortest focusing distance varies. With autofocus it is 41cm and manually 38cm. The maximum magnification you get with this is 0.16x with AF and 0.18x when focusing manually. Enough for a close-up but still far from macro, of course.
The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM has a sharpness that is very high even at full aperture and it extends well into the corners. Without lens profiles, the distortion is quite significant and at full aperture you also see a clear vignetting. With the lens profiles on, you no longer suffer from the distortion and the vignetting also becomes a lot less and at F2.8 the vignetting is actually only visible in the most critical shots.
Both corrections are basically not without loss. However, the sharpness in the corners is so high on this Sony that we can’t really see correcting the distortion as a downside. Correction of vignetting does cause a loss of dynamic range in the corners, but fortunately vignetting is not so high that you will notice this.
Chromatic aberrations are almost absent. A little longitudinal chromatic aberration is visible at full aperture if you look closely, but all in all it is very little. The Sonnar T* 55mm F1.8, for example, suffers much more from this. The bokeh is beautiful, with a nice, soft blur and a nice gradient from sharp to blurred. Bokeh balls at full aperture are actually only nicely rounded in the centre and towards the edge quickly take on the shape of cat’s eyes. They don’t have a real hard edge and don’t really suffer from onion rings either, but they are not completely smooth either. If you want to keep them as round as possible, you will have to aperture a stop or two.
Then the bokeh balls become smaller and you can already see something of the shape of the aperture, but they also remain slightly rounder. Sun stars can be produced with some effort. You then have to aperture considerably and they don’t become very large, but nice in shape.
You not only feel the high quality of this lens when you use it, but you also see it in the shots. The image quality is so good that we don’t really see any reason to recommend Sony’s F1.2 G Master, unless you really need that extra brightness or can only settle for the very smallest depth of field.
Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM
|field of view (diag)||47°|
|min. setting distance||41 cm/ 38cm (AF/MF)|
Conclusion Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM
The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is smaller and more lightweight and functionally offers just a bit more than the new Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG DN Art. However, the Sony is a lot more expensive.
The Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is a serious competitor to the Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM. €1850 for the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM is not cheap, but still €450 less than the F1.2. For that, you get a smaller and more lightweight lens that is a bit easier to carry around and only slightly less bright. That’s pretty attractive, unless you really need that F1.2. A more difficult choice is between the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM and the Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG DN Art. The Sony is clearly smaller and lighter, but also about twice as expensive. Surely that hurts. Whether the Sigma is optically as good as the Sony, we don’t know yet, but one obvious difference is of course at least that the Sigma cannot use the advanced features like focus breathing compensation for film or the highest shooting speeds for photography. If you already know you’ll need that or you just want to make sure your lens can get the most out of your camera in the future, then the Sony is the best choice. Of course, that does not take away from the fact that the Sigma is a very interesting alternative at almost half the price.