Sony’s 50mm 1.8 is one of the most affordable prime lenses available. It’s called the nifty fifty, and is a very common lens for beginners to pick up. If you’re new to photography or videography, this is a great lens to learn on. It’s capable of giving you professional-looking results, but there are a number of drawbacks to this lens.
Given its price point of $250 for a full-frame f1.8 prime lens, it's easy to look past some of the imperfections and if you can learn to get around the downsides of this lens, you’ll be able to pick up just about any sony prime lens and get great results. Let’s go over the specs and looks at some test footage first, then I’ll give you my thoughts at the end.
First up is price. This lens costs $250 brand new and is a full frame prime lens, meaning it can’t zoom. This lens is a big step up from the kit lenses that come with your camera, but will take some getting use to if you’re the kind of person who zooms a lot with their lens. To zoom in or out with this lens, you’ll have to move closer or farther away from your subject.
The lens weighs 6 and a half ounces, and is 2.7 by 2.3 inches. It’s a very compact compared to other lenses, so it makes for a great travel lens.
The build quality on the 50mm 1.8 is about as basic as it gets. It has no switches or buttons on the lens, only a focus ring that you’ll have to adjust from autofocus to manual focus in your camera if you want to use. The front filter size is 49mm, which again is very small compared to other lenses, but on a positive note smaller filters are generally cheaper than larger filters like 77 or 82mm. The 1.8 also lacks any kind of dust or moisture sealing, so be careful when taking this lens in harsh conditions.
The Sony 50mm 1.8 has autofocus, but the motors are very old and outdated. The lens tries to find focus on a subject by hunting around the frame. The focus is improved on new Sony cameras that have strong autofocus capabilities, but overall it’s slow. On stationary objects, it can find focus but this lens struggles with moving objects. Since the motors are hunting to find focus, the motors may not accurately focus on a subject that is moving closer and farther away from the frame, like sports for example.
Another downside to this lens is the very audible sound while focusing. If you’re shooting video, your camera's mic will pick up the sound so be careful if you’re using this lens for video and want to capture clean audio. If this is an issue, I would look into other lenses. If other lenses are out of your budget, you can manually focus this lens and still be able to achieve some nice results and the motors will not make any noise.
This lens is surprisingly sharp for it’s low price tag. At 1.8, it’s sharp in the center but has very soft edges of the frame. The edges of the frame get sharper as you stop down the lens and at 2.8 the edges are much sharper. Most lenses are very soft wide open at 1.8, but the center is sharp enough to be usable with the 50mm 1.8.
Another drawback of the 50mm 1.8 is how the lens handles flares. Pointing this lens at any kind of light source will have some wild flares and be pretty distracting in some cases. Using the included plastic hood can help with some of the spill from the side, but pointing this lens at a light source will produce a lot of lens flares.
Chromatic aberration is a pretty nit-picky thing to talk about on a $250 lens, but it’s worth noting that this lens does have noticeable color fringing when you point this at a dark subject against a bright background. Not surprising that more expensive lenses handle this better, but if you're a beginner you might not even notice the chromatic aberration until you start pixel peeping your images.
Similar story with the bokeh on the 50mm 1.8, you’re able to get some nice out of focus bokeh balls with this lens, but they have some texture to them and arent the cleanest you can get. This lens also has the common problem of cat-eye shaped bokeh towards the edges while the center bokeh is more round, but the center bokeh still has some noticeable edges and isn’t perfectly round.
The minimum focusing distance is something you may have issues with if you like taking photos of things up close. The closest you can focus is 17.76 inches from the sensor to subject. If you’re looking to get closer to your subjects, you’ll have to purchase a lens that allows you to focus closer, like a macro lens. The minimum focusing distance is one of my biggest gripes about this lens, and most other 50mm lenses.
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Focus breathing is another problem this lens has, but since the autofocus is so poor for video, this is a problem that I doubt you would run into. This lens is currently not compatible with Sonys lens breathing compensation. This is also a pretty nit-picky thing to mention, if you're a beginner you can probably just ignore this for now.
The 50mm 1.8, like many other prime lenses, does not have any kind of optical steady shot. Most Sony cameras have some kind of in body stabilization these days that you can use with this lens, but there is no OSS.
If you only have a kit lens and have never used a fast 1.8 prime lens, this is a great place to start without breaking the bank.
The Sony 50mm 1.8 is one of those lenses everyone should have when they start. It’s a great lens to learn on and you can get some great results with a little practice. It will take some learning to get the most out of this lens, but once you understand how to use this lens you’ll be able to pick up other more expensive lenses later and know how to use them.
The autofocus, flares, build quality, and minimum focusing distance reflects the price tag of $250, but it's a sharp lens that can stop down and give you some great depth of field and separation from the background. The nifty fifty was my first fast lens, but on a canon back in the day, so I personally love this cheap lens and think it’s a great addition to any beginner to intermediate’s bag. If you’re looking for a more premium lens, check out the 50mm 1.2 or the comparison video I did with this $250 50mm lens to a $2000 sony lens here.
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