Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS Lens Review
Affordable, sharp, well-built, and stabilized—can you really ask for more?
When evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.
The Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS does well in most of these areas, with pleasing bokeh, very little distortion, minimal chromatic aberration, and extremely sharp performance—especially from f/4 through f/8. It's a bit soft in the corners from f/1.8 to f/2.8, but the center and partway (50% from center) performance is strong throughout.
A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.
The Sony 50mm f/1.8, like many fast fifties, provides very strong center sharpness right from f/1.8 and through to the diffraction limit. It kicks off at 1,950 lines at f/1.8 and tops out around 2,340 lines at f/4 and f/5.6. The corners hit just 1,075 lines at f/1.8, but quickly improve to around 1,525 lines at f/4 and peak around 1,875 lines at f/5.6 and f/8.
Of course, many lenses are sharp in the center and soft in the corners wide open. But the Sony 50mm f/1.8 is also quite good in the midway sections. At f/1.8, these regions average about 1,510 lines, but by f/2.8 that's up to 1,775 lines. That trend continues, peaking at 2,200 lines at f/5.6. The performance drops across the board at f/11, as sharpness is limited by diffraction from there on out.
We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp images, causing normally straight lines to curve.
There are two primary types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses. A third, less common variety (mustache distortion) produces wavy lines.
Like most 50mm primes, the Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS does a good job of keeping distortion to a minimum. In our lab tests, we only detected about 0.57% of pincushion distortion. That's well below the 2% threshold where it becomes truly problematic, and it's barely visible in most shots.
Chromatic aberration refers to the various types of “fringing” that can appear around high contrast subjects in photos—like leaves set against a bright sky. The fringing is usually either green, blue, or magenta and while it’s relatively easy to remove the offensive color with software, it can also degrade image sharpness.
Just as it does with distortion, the Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS keeps chromatic aberration to a bare minimum. Though it varies slightly as you move through the aperture range, CA never rises above the "minor" level and hardly ever makes it out of the "insignificant" range. Wherever it does appear (typically toward the corners in high-contrast scenes), it's very easy to correct with photo editing software.
Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot.
While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most simply aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce bokeh with circular highlights that are free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).
Both in and out of the lab, we were impressed by the Sony 50mm f/1.8's bokeh. In most scenes, the combination of the 50mm (75mm effective) focal length and f/1.8 maximum aperture is enough to create marked separation between your subject and the background; the lens renders these areas in a buttery smooth way.
Very busy backgrounds (chain link fence, tree leaves) can give this lens minor fits, but in most shots the background will just melt away. That's what you'd hope for from a good portrait lens, and Sony's delivers. One word of caution, though: If you've got points of light in the background, they'll take on a slightly ovid form if they're located near the edges of the frame.
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