Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM Review | The New Benchmark Of Fast Aperture Wide-Angle Lenses
I have a confession to make: when Sony first announced their GM series 24mm f/1.4 prime lens for their full-frame (FE) mirrorless system, I immediately “judged the book by its cover” and assumed it couldn’t possibly be very good, let alone perfect. Well, I was wrong, and I’ve learned my lesson, again. Never judge a lens until you’ve tested it for yourself.
Why did I jump to a conclusion, you might ask? Because, at just under $1400 and 1 lb, I immediately assumed the lens just wouldn’t deliver the goods. The corners would be bad, possibly really bad. Indeed, I kept asking myself, “how could such a compact and relatively affordable lens be truly great?”
I don’t know how they did it, but they did. Maybe there was magic involved. Maybe it’s the elusive “mirrorless advantage” that we failed to see with many other lenses. Don’t ask me, I’m just a muggle and I’m not an optical engineer.
Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM (FE) Full Specs
Price:$1398 (Get it here)
Focal Lenght: 24mm
Optical Formula: 13 elements, 2 XA (extreme aspherical), 3 ED, Nano AR coating
Aperture Range: f/1.4-f/16 (11-blade rounded)
Filter Threads: 67mm
Length: 3.62″ (92mm)
Weight: 15.7oz (455g)
Weather Sealing: Yes, rear gasket & other
Other: AF/MF switch, customizable button, de-click-able aperture ring
Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens Review – Pros
Most lenses that I review have quite a few pros, and at least one or two cons. You might be wondering, do I ever review terrible equipment? The good news is, these days, every lens and camera that I’m actually interested in is a pretty good product. I’m grateful to live in the age of computer-aided optical design, and other amazing camera technologies. If something is producing truly terrible photos, it’s probably the photographer, not the gear.
Having said that, very few lenses that I review are truly perfect. They are all a compromise, in one way or another. Or, if they are “perfect”, then they’re probably massively big and heavy, or incredibly expensive, or both.
With that in mind, here are a lot of pros, and maybe not even a single con, about the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM…
Sharpness & Image Quality
Not only is this lens very sharp, and capable of easily resolving the high-megapixel sensor of the A7R3 with ease, it also exhibits amazing overall image quality, from the center to the corner.
In fact, thanks to modern lens design technology, almost all lenses on the market today are tack-sharp in the image center, even wide-open. It’s off-center, at the edges and in the corners, where you separate the winners from the losers.
Well, even at the edges and corners, the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM delivers the goods. It’s a flagship lens, after all, and for the price tag, I’d expect no less when it comes to something as simple as resolving power.
Yes, at faster apertures from f/1.4 to about f/4 or f/5.6, there is a difference in sharpness between the dead-center and extreme corners; that is the case with any lens. But the differential is impressively small, and by f/5.6-8 the sharpness is just stunning, especially if you focus perfectly for the corners, instead of some sort of hyperfocal compromise.
Enough about sharpness and megapixel, what about the more complicated (but equally important) aspects of image quality? I’ll list them below. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty much all good news.
Coma & Astigmatism
For me, this was definitely the most impressive aspect of the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM’s optical design. Every wide-angle lens I’ve ever tried that is faster than f/2.8, has suffered from coma and/or astigmatism. The older Canon/Nikon 24mm’s are pretty old and not very good, and the newest option, the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art, also has quite a bit of coma despite being extremely sharp in the center.
So, for a comparison, I went straight to the current 24mm champion of low coma, the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 UMC. It used to have incredible sharpness in the center and almost no coma in the corner, but that was when we were still shooting 12-20 megapixel cameras. We’re in 42+ megapixel territory now, folks.
Sharpness Test | 100% Crop, Center (pardon the slight star trail)
Sharpness Test | 100% Crop, Extreme Corner (pardon the slight star trail)
The extreme corners of the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM are jaw-droppingly good, even on a 42-megapixel sensor. The coma “wings” are the faintest, smallest I’ve ever seen.
The corners will be essentially flawless on a 24-megapixel sensor, let alone in 4K video/time-lapse. Stars (and any point of light, or other types of fine detail) are rendered almost as perfectly pin-point as in the center of the image.
Color Fringing & Aberration
Faint chromatic aberration and color fringing are present wide-open at f/1.4, but it’s still less than other f/1.4 wide-angle primes, that’s for sure. Any color fringing is cleaned up by f/2, and any corner issues with “CA” are easily removed by a lens profile.
Distortion & Vignetting
Both are minimal, and easily corrected with the Sony-provided (and/or Adobe?) lens profile.
I will say, however, that I’m not a huge fan of this trend of “baked-in” lens profile corrections. Sony, Nikon, and Canon are all doing it with their latest-generation (mirrorless) lenses, and while it is very welcome in some regards, I’m also concerned that they may be tempted to sweep too much under the rug.
Also, it’s a little strange that in Lightroom, there seems to be both a built-in profile applied, and another Lightroom profile that can be turned on or off as usual. (That’s what you’re seeing above.) Who knows how much total vignetting is being corrected! This could be very bad news for shadow recovery in the image corners, especially when shooting at ISO 6400 or higher.
Bokeh, Flare, & Sunstars
Check, check, and check. Bokeh is nice and smooth, and “busy” things like contrast patterns, chainlink fences, etc. are rendered as softly as possible.
Flare is very well-controlled, offering as few of those annoying dots as possible while also allowing for beautiful loss of contrast when intentionally shooting into the sun for those types of portraits. Sunstars are good, though not as pin-point sharp as oldschool non-rounded blade apertures, of course.
One area where I never expected an f/1.4 prime to be truly impressive was low-light autofocus precision and consistency. I’ve always felt like f/1.4 primes had so much glass in them, and the autofocus motors just weren’t adequate to make autofocus “snappy”, let alone consistent and reliable. The Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM features a new type of AF motor, however, (Direct-Drive SSM) and it is not just silent, but also high-tourque and extremely snappy.
Pair such a lens with Sony’s best autofocus technology as far as camera bodies are concerned, such as in the flagship Sony a9, and the overall autofocus reliability even in low light is better than anything I’ve never experienced in my entire career as a wedding & portrait photographer.
On the Sony a9 in particular, I found myself using face-detection autofocus even on a wedding reception dance floor in extremely dark and difficult light. To my surprise, I had more in-focus, tack-sharp keepers than I’ve ever seen on a dance floor.
f/1.4 100% Crop, Sony a9 (24 megapixels)
In a later article, we’ll talk a little bit more about Sony’s new autofocus system update, which is currently available for the A9, A7iii, and A7RIII, and which enhances the performance of subject tracking, Eye-AF, and even adds wildlife face-detection.
Build Quality & Portability
As I’ve already mentioned, the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM seems to defy the laws of optics when it comes to how small and compact it is, compared to how impressive the image quality is from center to corner. I’ve simply never seen a lens this portable that is this good.
If anything, this lens is proof that the so-called “mirrorless advantage” of a shorter flange distance is indeed helpful in making gear compact, even with such good corner image quality at such fast apertures.
But, enough about portability. I’m sure many people don’t care as much about weight and size as I do, being a hiker/backpacker.
The other major advantage related to physical quality is, durability. In this regard, it’s more good news: The Sony 24mm GM is weather sealed to Sony’s highest flagship standards, and the overall construction is very solid.
As a side note: personally, I’ve stopped paying attention to whether a lens’ spec sheet says that it is constructed of metal or plastic. I’ve seen metal lenses suffer serious damage from a slight bump, and I’ve seen “high-grade” plastic lenses that seemed impervious to all kinds of abuse.
Really, it’s all about how a lens is actually engineered and assembled. In this regard, so far Sony GM lenses have proven to have a generally good reputation.
Yes, this is one of those rare occasions when I put PRICE in the “Pros” column. Because, quite honestly, $1398 is an absolute steal these days for a truly flagship quality lens.
By comparison, Canon’s newest flagship wide-angle f/1.4 prime, the EF 35mm f/1.4 L II, debuted at $1799 in 2015. Nikon’s newest flagship wide-angle f/1.4 prime, the Nikkor 28mm f/1.4E ED N, debuted at $1999 in 2017. Neither company has updated their 24mm f/1.4 optical design recently, and I can only guess at this point that they’re waiting to create mirrorless updates instead of DSLR updates, to take full advantage of their new FF/FX mirrorless lens mounts.
Might such a lens for Canon RF or Nikon Z match this Sony? Sure, it’s possible. But based on current trends, we can certainly expect such lenses to be much more expensive than ~$1400, and likely much bigger and heavier too.
Thus, the Sony 24 1.4 GM is a bargain. It’s also a bargain even compared to some of the more affordable options, by the way, such as the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art which is available in native FE mount.
Why is that, when the Sigma 24 Art for Sony E mount can be had for just $850? Because, the Sony is that much better, both optically and (more importantly, to many) in terms of autofocus reliability, and overall durability and longevity.
To be frank, the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art has an issue with optical de-centering or other misalignments, which can lead to extremely soft edges. Also, even if you do take very good care of it, you might still have issues with autofocus reliability.
If you want a Sigma Art Prime that compares well optically to the Sony 24 GM, you’ll have to check out the much more recent 28mm f/1.4 Art, which (surprise surprise) …is about $1400. It’s also a massive lens, as far as 24/28mm’s go.
Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens Review – Cons
I’m only including this category because “Pros and Cons” go together. Really, there are no cons worth mentioning that concern most photographers.
Sony has hit a home run with this lens, and really the only thing I can say that might stop you from buying this lens is this: I can’t wait to see if Sony makes a killer 20mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 GM! If such a lens were to exist, I might have a harder time deciding which lens to buy.
Other than that, the only drawback that I can think of is related to how the lens handles manual focusing when photographing astro-landscapes. The manual focus precision is great on the 24 GM, indeed, however, the all-electronic interface does still have some drawbacks compared to an all-manual (physical/mechanical) focusing experience.
In other words, with a lens such as a Rokinon or similar, there’s always a physical infinity mark that I can go to whenever I start trying to achieve precise focus on stars. And, generally speaking, unless I’m dealing with extreme temperatures I can even memorize the exact focus setting down to the last fraction of a millimeter, where perfect sharpness is achieved for stars.
With Sony’s all-electronic interface, the distance scale is digital, and the precision, although accurate enough to get the job done, does leave a little bit of wiggle room when trying to nail focus on stars. Some times I felt that perfect star focus was at 14m (meters) on the electronic distance scale, and other times I felt that perfect star focus was at 17-20m or so.
This slight issue with focusing can be a bigger problem than it sounds, in nightscape photography situations. There does seem to be a faint amount of field curvature or something else, and it can cause you to achieve perfect star focus on one side of the image, yet still have slight de-focused stars on the other side of the image.
100% Crop, Same Image, Two Different Sides…
(This is AVOIDABLE if you focus CORRECTLY!)
This is an extremely common issue with all fast-aperture lenses and focusing on stars, however, so it’s really more of a learning curve that you have to get used to- always double-check perfect focus for nightscapes in the dead-center, as well as both edges, before committing to a shot at f/1.4-2.8. And, of course, double check those different parts of the image after you click the shot, too.
Who Should Consider the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM
So, who is this lens for? If you already know you want a 24mm f/1.4 for whatever reason, and you shoot Sony, then get this one. Period. But, what if you’re not sure which lens is right for you, in general? Here’s a quick list of which types of photography this lens could be perfectly suited for…
All Prime Shooters
Hands-down, if you just love primes, whether it’s for their fast apertures, their portability, or their overall image quality, then this is one of the best choices of any wide-angle prime lens around. In fact, this Sony lens could even be a lure that convinces Canon/Nikon prime shooters to switch, in my opinion.
Wedding & Portrait Photographers
Even if you own a 24-70mm f/2.8, you might still love this lens for general low-light photography, from low-light environmental portraiture to wedding reception dance floors.
Action Sports Photographers
Some action sports are all about big telephoto lenses, but some (usually the more “extreme” types) can also really benefit from a fast, snappy wide-angle prime. If you need that action-stopping power of 2 EV extra shutter speed compared to an f/2.8 zoom, then give this lens some serious thought for your Sony a9 or whatever high-FPS camera you’re using.
Nightscape & Timelapse Photographers
For astro-landscape photography, the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM is a unicorn. It delivers incredible wide-open image quality, including not just decently low vignetting but also near-zero coma/astigmatism, as well as minimal general color fringing/blooming.
Like I’ve already said, as a nightscape shooter, I simply didn’t think such image quality was possible, at least not for less than $2K or less than 2 lbs. I guess was wrong!
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Vloggers & Cinematographers
Combine Sony’s awesome face-detection autofocus with the lightweight portability of the 24mm f/1.4 GM, and you’ve got one heck of a vlogging lens to mount on your gimbal. Also, with the built-in de-clicking feature for the lens’ aperture, and the linear response nature of the manual focus ring, both smooth stopping down and smooth focus-pulling is super easy for general cinema/video shooting.
Final Verdict – The Best 24mm Prime Lens Ever?
If you can afford this lens and are looking for a wide-angle prime for your Sony full-frame mirrorless camera, get it. If you can’t afford this lens, …keep saving! Nothing else comes close, in basically every category of comparison possible.
Although I’ve reviewed plenty of amazing, impressive lenses over the years, there are still very few times when something is so cut-and-dry as this. Usually, there are a handful of great, affordable alternatives that you absolutely should consider, if you’re on a budget, or if you prioritize one aspect of performance over another, such as sharpness instead of autofocus, or vice versa.
In this case, however, if you’re shopping for a 24mm prime lens on Sony, all roads lead to this lens.
This lens is already so successful, it might be out of stock, so check by clicking HERE, and get yours!