Thursday, November 27, 2014

Look Before You Leap: the Sony a6000 and a5100 lens guide

The Sony a6000 is an awesome camera -- it was awarded Gold by DPReview and recently came out on top of the mid-range mirrorless camera roundup.  On top of that, the a6000 is available at a $100 discount for Black Friday.  The Sony a5100 is likewise a great camera, and is one of DPReview's best cameras for beginners, with the same great sensor and quick autofocus ability as the a6000.

However, when choosing your first interchangeable lens camera, I find it helpful to consider not just the camera specifications but the system as a whole -- especially the lenses and to some extent its accessories (e.g. flash).  So if you're considering the a6000 or a5100, you may want to check out its lens selection to see if it has the lenses that you'll need.  The italicized ones are the lenses I have.

Note: to the extent DXO has tested the lenses below with the a6000, you can expect identical results for the a5100 due to the identical sensor.

UPDATE: Sony has new FE lenses that can also be used with the a6000, a5100 or other E-mount APS-C body.  I added those to this list.

a6000 + Sony 35 1.8.  The 35 1.8 is sharp even wide open and focuses quickly.
Fast normal prime
     Zeiss 32 f/1.8 ($999): If your priority is image quality, this is the sharpest fast normal prime for the a6000 (13 Perceptual megapixels).  However, it is pricey, and lacks image stabilization. 
     The next best option depends on whether you prioritize sharpness over image stabilization and autofocus performance: 
     Sony 35 f/1.8 OSS ($450): It has image stabilization and fully supports the a6000's hybrid autofocus.  The Sony 35 1.8 is equivalent to a 52.5mm f/2.7mm full frame lens in terms of field of view and depth of field.  In terms of sharpness, it is quite good, but nowhere near as great as other fast normal primes I've tried.  The 35 1.8 OSS is rated by DXO as having 11 perceptual megapixels on the a6000.  By comparison, the best-in-class Sigma 35 1.4 (not available for NEX) is rated by DXO as 16 Pmp on a 24mp D7100.  But 11 Pmp is not bad at all.  In terms of effective resolution, it is similar to the 11 Pmp of the highly regarded Panasonic 25 1.4 on the Olympus E-M1 (although the E-M1 is only 16mp).
     Sigma 30 f/2.8 EX ($189)This lens is almost as sharp as the Zeiss yet costs much less than either the Zeiss 32 1.8 or Sony 35 1.8.  According to DXO, the Sigma is about as sharp as the Zeiss 32 1.8 (12pmp vs. 13pmp on the a6000).  However, it has several disadvantages:  First, it doesn't support the a6000's hybrid phase detection and relies only on contrast detection, so it focuses much more slowly compared to the Sony 35 1.8.  Second, its maximum aperture is 1.3 stops less than that of the Sony or Zeiss.  Third, there's no image stabilization.  Please note that Sigma has updated this lens with the Art version but based on DXO's tests, the older lens performs significantly better (12 Pmp vs. 9 Pmp).
     NEW! Zeiss FE 35 f/1.4 ($1600):  This is a lens designed for Sony's full frame cameras (A7, A7R, A7S, A7II).  However, it can also be used with the a6000, a5100 and other APS-C format E-mount cameras.  If you are thinking of upgrading to full frame in the future, you might consider getting this lens, which acts as a fast normal prime on APS-C.  It also has the widest available aperture at this focal length.

     NEW! Sony FE 28 f/2 ($450):  This is another full frame lens.  On APS-C, it is 42mm equivalent, a slightly wide normal lens.  If you are thinking of upgrading to full frame in the future, you might consider getting this lens, which acts as a fast normal prime on APS-C.

a6000 + Sony 50 1.8.  The 50 1.8 has very good bokeh (even with challenging backgrounds such as foliage)
Portrait lens
     Zeiss 55 f/1.8 ($999): If money is no object, this is the best portrait lens for the a6000.  It's a full frame lens but on the APS-C a6000, it provides a field of view similar to 82.5mm on full frame, similar to the traditional 85mm portrait focal length.  It is one of the sharpest lenses available for the a6000 at any focal length (15 Pmp).  It has gorgeous bokeh (check out the Flickr pool for the 55 1.8).
     Sony 50 f/1.8 OSS ($299): It's a little short for a portrait lens but it does the job.  It is one of the sharper lenses for Sony E-mount although again, it isn't legendary compared to equivalent lenses on other systems, with a rating of 13 Pmp on the a6000.  Besides having excellent sharpness, it also has image stabilization, and is affordably priced.  The downside is that it focuses slightly more slowly than other NEX lenses on the a6000.  However, the autofocus is still fast enough to capture moving cars.
     Sigma 60 f/2.8 Art ($239): This is the sharpest lens that has been tested by DXO for the E-mount (16 Pmp on the a6000) and it is very inexpensive.  On the a6000, its equivalent focal length of 90mm is just right for portraits.  But it has similar disadvantages as the Sigma 30 2.8: it focuses more slowly (only with contrast detection), its maximum aperture is 1.3 stops less than the Sony or Zeiss, and there's no image stabilization.
     NEW! Sony FE 90 f/2.8 OSS ($1099): This is a full frame macro lens but on APS-C, it has a 135mm equivalent focal length, which is at the long end of the traditional focal length range for portraits.

Wide angle prime.
     Zeiss 24 f/1.8 ($999):  This is the best wide angle prime lens for the Sony E-mount.  It has a field of view equivalent to a 35mm lens.  It has the widest maximum aperture, it is the sharpest wide angle prime for E-mount, and it has awesome bokeh.  Unfortunately, it is also quite expensive.  Used prices are more reasonable but still kind of expensive.  I had been thinking of getting one but at this price, I could just get a Fuji X100 or X100S and have an extra body...
     Sony 20 2.8 ($349): This is a pancake lens with a field of view equivalent to a 30mm lens.  It is ok for sharpness (9 Pmp on the a6000).
     Sigma 19 2.8 EX ($139): This lens is sharper than the Sony (10 Pmp on the a6000) and is very inexpensive.  However, it focuses much more slowly.  It focuses only with contrast detection except for the middle AF point which can use phase detection.  Continuous AF also doesn't work very well except for the middle AF point.  On other AF points, the lens continually focuses back and forth when using continuous AF.  One strange aspect of this lens is that it rattles - there's a moving element inside (even though it doesn't have stabilization).

a6000 + 16 2.8 with Fisheye Converter.  A fisheye lens provides a unique perspective.

     Ultrawide Trio. The Sony 16 f/2.8 ($249) (reviewed hereis a pancake lens with a less than stellar reputation for optical performance but it is at least reasonably priced.  What makes this lens useful is that it can be paired with a Sony Fisheye Converter ($149) or a 0.75x Ultra Wide Converter ($129) for a true ultrawide lens that is equivalent to 18mm on full frame.  I just ordered this so I will be posting my experience with it.  Part 1 of the review now posted here.
     Sony 10-18 f/4 ($849).  One of the sharper zoom lenses for the E-mount (8 Pmp) but it's not cheap.
     Zeiss 12 f/2.8 ($999).  This is the premiere ultrawide prime for E-mount.  Among Sony's ultrawide offerings, it is the sharpest (9 Pmp on the a6000) but is not as sharp as some ultrawides on other mounts, and is expensive.
     Samyang f/3.5 fisheye, f/2.8 fisheye, and 12mm f/2 ultrawide.  These are manual lenses but they have very good optical performance.

a6000 + 18-105 f4.  The 18-105 is very versatile, focuses quickly, and is unique in having a constant f4 aperture
Walkaround zoom:
     Zeiss 16-70 f/4 OSS ($999).  This lens hasn't been tested by DXO, but is reportedly the sharpest walkaround zoom.  However, it is significantly more expensive than the 18-105 f4 below.
     Sony 18-105 f4 OSS ($599).  This is a very versatile lens, and at the time of this writing there's no exact equivalent lens for other camera systems.  Canon, Nikon and Fuji have lenses with similar range for their APS-C DSLRs but those lenses have variable aperture.  The constant f4 aperture is useful for low light, enabling either a lower ISO or higher shutter speed.  The 18-105 does have a lot of distortion but the distortion is corrected in realtime automatically in photo and video, or can also be corrected in postprocessing of a raw file, without significant loss of resolution.  Reviewed here.
     Sony 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 OSS ($899).  If your top priority is versatility, and you don't care about maximum aperture ("What's that?") then this might be one alternative.  There are three lenses that have similar names: the Sony 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 (SEL18200), the 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 LE (SEL18200LE), and the 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 PZ (SELP18200).  The first one is the sharpest one (7 Pmp).  The LE is smaller but is not as sharp (5 Pmp).  The PZ has a power zoom and hasn't been tested by DXO.

     Sony 70-200 f4 ($1499).  This is the sharpest zoom lens for the E-mount at any focal length (11 Pmp). It's actually a full frame lens but there are slim pickings for telephoto lenses for the E-mount.
     Sony 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 OSS ($899).  As I said, there are not a lot of telephoto lenses for the E-mount.  The 18-200 has decent sharpness for a zoom (7 Pmp).  Not to be confused with the 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 LE (SEL18200LE) or the 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 PZ (SELP18200).  As mentioned above, the LE is smaller but is not as sharp (5 Pmp).  The PZ has a power zoom and hasn't been tested by DXO.
     Sony 55-210 f/4.5-6.3 ($349).  Besides having a variable (and narrow) aperture, it's not very sharp (6 Pmp on an a6000) but it's the most economical choice here. 
    There's also the 18-105 f4 above, but it's short for a telephoto (it's usable for smaller viewing sizes if you are fine with cropping).
     NEW! Sony FE 90 f/2.8 OSS ($1099): As discussed above, this is a full frame macro lens with a 135mm equivalent focal length on APS-C.  It is not long for a telephoto, but at least it has a wide aperture, has image stabilization, and true macro capability.  It is reportedly very sharp but DXO won't be able to test it for a while.
a6000 + 18-105 f4 (cropped with Clear Image Zoom)


  1. Would you be able to comment on performance of the kit lens, Sony E 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 PZ OSS? I like the idea of a walk around compact small camera capable of making high quality images, but don't want to heavily invest in the higher end Sony or Zeiss glass.

  2. Hi Chris! Sorry I don't have personal experience with that lens (other than seeing it in stores). It is nice that it is compact and seems to be very quick at autofocus. Despite those advantages, the reason I'm not interested in it is the narrow aperture. It is up to 2 stops slower than the Sony RX100 III or Panasonic LX100. If the 16-50 is the only lens you plan to get, then I think at around 800 ISO or above, you could use an ISO that is up to 2 stops lower on the RX100 or LX100, which would yield a higher image quality. (To be fair, if the conditions are such that you can use up to ISO 400 on the a6000, the a6000 would have better image quality, even if you use a lower ISO on the LX100 or RX100.)

    One alternative may be to buy used lenses. It seems that Sony E-mount lenses tend to have disproportionately lower resale values compared to their equivalents for Canon or Nikon.

    Best regards,

  3. Hi! I would like to ask for your advice on choosing a lens for my Sony a5100. I would be upgrading from a kit lens which is a Sony 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 Power Zoom with OSS. Between the Sony 35mm and 50mm primes, which of the two should i get?

    1. Hi there! The 35mm and 50mm are different in purpose so it depends what you usually take photos of. The 35mm is general purpose, somewhat like the 16-50 in terms of versatility. The 50mm is somewhat like a portrait lens. It is less versatile than the 35mm but for portraits and other photos that require a longer focal length it will be better.

      Are you keeping the 16-50? If you are, you may want to get the 50 first because that is more different from the 16-50, so they complement each other better. If you are selling the 16-50, and you will have only one lens, the 35 will cover more types of photos than the 50mm.

      I hope this helps!

      Best regards,

  4. Hi there, I'm planning on purchasing the a6000 body only but i am having trouble trying to figure out the best lens to pair it with. I'm somewhat of a beginner with mirrorless cameras in general; I would be using the camera for portraits, sports and outdoors (I have active and crazy kids), and mostly for taking still photos of items for my shop. I take photos of items and objects up close so I'm looking for a lens that would be good for macro shots. Is there an all-around lens that I could purchase for most of my needs? Looking for something within the price range equivalent to the kit lens (both Sony 16-50mm and Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3). I feel like I should invest in a quality lens to suit my needs instead of getting the kit lens and ending up purchasing a better lens, not that the kit lens is bad. But from what I read especially from your standpoint, there seems to be endless possibilities and I'm not sure where to start.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi there! Thanks for checking out the blog.

      The lens selection looks bewildering, but if you look at only the categories that pertain to you, it's much easier to line up your choices. If you want a do-it-all lens, you may want to consider the 18-105 f4 (here is a review of it: ). It can be used for portraits. For sports, it depends on how far you are. 105mm (158mm equivalent) is not that long, so if you can't be at the sidelines, you may want to supplement the 18-105 with a lens with longer reach such as the 55-210 or if budget allows, the 70-200 f4.

      Also, do you need an APS-C size sensor? If you are ok with a smaller sensor, you may want to consider the Sony RX10, the Panasonic FZ-1000, or even a Nikon 1 camera. They all have 1-inch sensors which have substantially better image quality than a typical point and shoot. The FZ1000 also has DFD which allows it to focus quickly (useful for sports). The Nikon 1 cameras have very fast hybrid phase detection autofocus, and have a very high burst rate (as much as 60 fps) making them great for sports.

      As for macro, I'm not aware of a do-it-all lens that has true macro capabilities. The closest thing I can think of is the Nikon 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 AF-D, an old and relatively inexpensive lens that could reach 1:2 macro ratio. On an APS-C body, 28mm is not wide, but you might be able to make-do without a wide lens. On the long end, again 105mm is not that long, so the same considerations apply as for the Sony 18-105.

      If you're going to get the a6000, I would suggest looking at the Sony 30 3.5, which is a true macro lens for E-mount, with a 1:1 macro ratio. Fortunately, it is reasonably priced. If you want to take your product shots to the next level, I would also strongly recommend learning about lighting and flash if you haven't already. I highly recommend the book Light: Science and Magic. You can use inexpensive radio-controlled flashes such as the YN-560IV.

      I hope this helps!

      Best regards,

    2. Thanks for the reply! I've been eyeing the 18-105 f4, seems to be mentioned a lot on other forums as well. But my budget doesn't fit it at the moment. Do you have any suggestions for a good all around lens that is comparable to the price of kit lens, but better performance? Under 350-400? If there's such a thing... I read good and bad things about the kit lens and I just want to make sure I invest in the best piece for what I can afford. But again, I am by no means a professional, just looking for the next best lens.

    3. Hmm that's a tough one. As far as I know, for Sony E-mount, there is currently no do-it-all lens that is better than the kit lens and at the same time cheaper.

      If you are open to considering Nikon, I think the Nikon 18-140 VR might fit your criteria: it is sharper than either of the Nikon kit lenses, and a used one will be within the price range you want.

      If you are really decided in getting the Sony a6000 and sticking with the Sony E-mount, and your objective is to get the best lens for what you can afford, then my suggestion would be to forgo versatility in favor of quality. Specifically, I would get prime lens(es) instead of a zoom lens. When I first started using prime lenses, I was worried about losing the versatility of a zoom. However, I got used to prime lenses quickly, and now I don't feel dependent on zooms.

      If that is something you are open to considering, I would check out the Sony 35 1.8 and/or the Sony 50 1.8. If those are out of the price range, I would consider the Sigma 30 2.8 and Sigma 60 2.8, both of which are optically excellent yet very inexpensive, although they focus more slowly compared to the Sony lenses.

      Another possibility is if your shots are usually setup and not candid, you can get older manual focus lenses (even for other systems, as long as you have an adapter).

      Best regards,

    4. That's the problem with Sony E lenses, not much choice between kit ones and almost pro grade others. Also, they are big for a small camera.

      No I'm not really bashing Sony, I've 2 Nex ones...

    5. Yes you're right. I suggest choosing systems before choosing cameras. In my case i chose Sony because of their sensors (it seems m43 and Fuji sensors have plateaued for a few years now) and the af technology as implemented in cameras such as the a6000. They do have limited lenses but they do have the lenses i wanted (35 1.8 for general purpose and 50 1.8 for portraits) so it was good enough for me. I knew they didnt have enough telephotos but I dont need one and I have a Stylus 1 for that. As for size, for me it is significantly smaller than Nikon and I wanted to use live view so thats why I switched from Nikon.

      Best regards,

  5. Hi Mike,
    I have an a6000 with a 16/50, Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 and just picked up a Contax G 90 with an adapter to kick around. I found I like the images from the Contax. What do you think about the other G lenses, 21mm/28mm/35mm/45mm?

    1. Hi Andrey. I'm glad you like your Zeiss lens! I wish I had experience using the Contax G lenses, but I don't... :)

      Best regards,


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