Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM Review | They Said It Couldn’t Be Done!
Many photographers talked about how the small Sony E-mount made it “impossible” to create fast-aperture lenses. I was one who at least entertained the theory. Well, Sony proved them/us wrong by making one of the most impressive f/1.2 primes I have ever used! In this Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM review, I’ll tell you why I like this lens even though I don’t usually like f/1.2 primes.
Make no mistake, the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is up against some stiff competition from the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L and Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S. Surprisingly, not only does the Sony hold its own optically, but it’s also the most enjoyable to use in the real world. It’s a winner because of its portability and ergonomic comfort compared to other 1.2’s, and the truly impressive autofocus performance.
With that being said, let’s dive into this review!
Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM | Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 50mm, 47° (full-frame)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E (FE full-frame)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/1.2 to f/16, rounded 11-blade iris
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: independent, floating, (2) focus groups, linear motors
- MANUAL FOCUS: Electronic, linear motor
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 14 Elements in 10 Groups, 3 XA (extreme aspherical) elements, Nano AR II coating
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal mount, plastic barrel exterior, full weather sealing
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 1.3 in, (40 cm) 0.17X magnification
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 27mm filter threads; locking rubberized plastic hood
- SIZE: 3.4 x 4.3 in (87 x 108 mm)
- WEIGHT: 1.7 lb (778 g)
- PRICE: $1,998
(B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM Review | Who Should Buy It?
Although a 50mm lens has almost universal appeal for virtually all photographers, an f/1.2 aperture is definitely a specialty feature. With that in mind, in this section, I’ll mention which photographers ought to really consider the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM, and which might want to consider something else…
The 50mm f/1.2 (and f/1.4) prime has historically been many wedding photographers’ absolute favorite lens. Unfortunately, many older primes were not very sharp and were sluggish to focus.
The complete opposite is the case for the Sony 50 1.2 GM, making it one of my top recommendations for wedding photographers who are Sony shooters and who like 50mm. (Personally, I’m a bigger fan of a 35+85mm prime combo.)
One thing that I really appreciate about having f/1.2 (and the especially smooth, creamy bokeh of this Sony GM lens) …is the ability to completely “obliterate” clutter in the background, and draw a viewer’s eye to a subject even amid a chaotic setting. This is an especially beautiful creative tool for wedding photography!
Simply put, this could be the lens that pays your bills and helps define your style as an artist, so I absolutely recommend saving up for it.
Portrait photography is a very similar genre to wedding photography, at least during some of a wedding day. However, “plain” portrait photography is where this 50mm prime lens will shine even more. You’ll be working in mostly controlled situations, where “zooming with your feet” is almost always an option. Also, you can take the extra time to achieve precision with your plane of focus at f/1.2.
There’s just something special about 50mm for portraits, whether it’s a close-up of one or two faces, or it’s a whole group portrait of a family. Indeed, if you line up your subjects perfectly enough, I would even go so far as to photograph large groups at f/1.2 or f/2; if you can use a tripod and take the time to pose your subjects perfectly, the resulting portraits with “impossible” bokeh will be magical.
Fashion & Editorial Photography
Whether you’re photographing families or fashion models, the current generation of Sony GM prime lenses are all professional workhorse lenses. The main thing is, simply deciding if a prime or zoom is right for you as an editorial, commercial, or fashion photographer.
If you do a lot of fashion/editorial work, for example, I’d probably recommend investing in a good 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for solo portraits first, and then worry about a 50mm lens later.
Candid & Street Photography
When you’re photographing candid moments, especially with strangers in public or on the street, it can be beneficial to have f/1.2 at your disposal. This makes it possible to capture portraits in almost any light, even the dark, dim natural light of a city street. Heck, with f/1.2 and the amazing autofocus system on the latest Sony full-frame camera bodies, you could even do portraits by the light of a full moon, if you wanted.
Action Sports & Wildlife Photography
This may not seem like the most useful lens for high-speed action, however, if you’re doing high-speed action of any kind in extremely low light, then f/1.2 can be beneficial. Having a slight improvement in shutter speed could help you freeze action in very dim conditions.
Personally, though, I would rather just have an f/1.4 prime for high-speed action in low light, and I’d rather save my money for a fast-aperture telephoto zoom.
Landscape & Nature Photography
Landscape photography is another realm where you just don’t need f/1.2. And, here’s the thing: If you’re going to be taking all your photos at f/5.6, then quite honestly, almost any modern lens will be about the same sharpness.
Nature photography in general, on the other hand, offers many creative opportunities for selective focus. Think of it as capturing portraits of a natural, static subject.
So, here’s the bottom line: if your landscape photography involves a lot of hiking, or even just walking or travel in general, then I’d recommend something far more lightweight and compact, but equally durable, like the Sony FE 50mm f/2.5. Or, of course, a zoom lens that covers 50mm. Only get this f/1.2 prime if your style of outdoor photography is very much like portraiture itself!
Nightscape & Astrophotography
One of the most exciting things to do with an f/1.2 aperture is, of course, photograph the night sky. It’s my favorite thing to do, period! 50mm is not as useful for astro-lansdcape photography as, say, 24mm, 20mm, or 14mm, and there are some pretty fast primes at those focal lengths, too.
However, if you’re doing a balance of deep-sky astrophotography and “deepscapes” type nightscape photography, then you’ll love what this lens has to offer.
I’d recommend stopping down just a tiny bit, maybe to f/2 or so, in order to get the optimal balance of light-gathering and sharpness, low vignetting, and negligible fringing or aberrations of any kind.
Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM Review | Pros & Cons
In this section, I’ll get technical while trying to remain grounded in real-world applications for this lens. To make a long story short, it’s almost perfect, but not quite. In the real world, what this means is that you’re going to love the images, and only notice any flaws if you’re doing highly technical work.
Ultra-fast primes used to be all the same: they had absolutely terrible image quality when used wide-open, and their only redeeming quality was smooth bokeh wide-open. So, you either bought an f/1.2 prime specifically to use at f/1.2 for buttery bokeh, despite a huge compromise in resolution, …or you bought a slower prime for shooting at stopped-down apertures where the playing field was almost completely level.
Today, things are completely different. Thanks to modern computer design, optics are truly impressive, no matter the aperture. In case you haven’t realized yet, the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM is definitely one of those lenses: its image quality is truly stellar at all apertures. You can use it at f/1.2 just as easily as you would at f/2.8 or f/8.
Honestly, due to the diffraction that a 60-megapixel full-frame camera has at f/8, I think I’m seeing sharper results from this Sony GM lens at f/1.2-f/2! It’s just that sharp.
In the extreme corners, you do see a bit of softness, when shooting wide-open, and that doesn’t fully improve until f/2.8-4. Having said that, almost the entire image frame is very sharp at f/1.2.
Bokeh is probably the reason you buy this lens, pure and simple. Not only is f/1.2 extremely shallow, but the optics themselves, including the XA elements, (“extreme” aspherical) allow for some of the softest, smoothest blur I have ever seen.
Sony did a beautiful job in terms of combining clinical sharpness with the aesthetic character of creamy, buttery bokeh. Different types of challenging conditions, such as cluttered textures and “bokeh dots”, are all rendered buttery-smooth.
There is a bit of typical “cats eye” bokeh warping in the edges/corners of your frame, of course.
Colors & Contrast
Color and contrast are always subject to raw processing, so many photographers may downplay this area of a lens review. However, I must mention just how little editing I applied to any of the images in this review! Straight out of camera, the raw images from the Sony 50 1.2 GM are just gorgeous.
Contrast is clear and crisp, and colors are beautifully vibrant. In many cases, all I did was set the Picture Profile such as “Vivid” (above) or “Portrait”, or “Landscape”. A few images required slight adjustments to highlights and shadows, of course, but very few required actual enhancements with sliders like Vibrance, Contrast, or Dehaze.
Vignetting & Distortion
Keep in mind that you can turn on the in-camera lens profile and barely ever see much vignetting, and basically zero distortion. However, technically speaking, even with vignetting correction turned on, there is still going to be some faint darkening of corners at f/1.2, which will be noticeable only in images with perfectly smooth-toned areas.
Also, if you turn vignetting correction off, the extreme corners get very dark, and even when stopped down to f/2.8 or f/4, there is still a faint amount of vignetting. (Again, it won’t be noticeable in most real-world conditions.)
If you’re not doing highly technical work such as deep-sky astrophotography, then just leave the vignetting and distortion corrections on, and enjoy! If you are doing technical, critical work, just know that this lens is still one of the best available, despite not being truly flawless.
Sunstars & Flare
Flare dots are well-controlled, thanks to all the optical coatings Sony is putting on their GM-level glass. When you do want flare, and you intentionally shoot into the sun or towards strong backlight, the warm wash of haze is not too overpowering, especially when using the lens hood.
Sunstars, on the other hand, are a bit soft and dull, which is of course the side effect of having such perfectly rounded aperture blades that are optimized for smooth bokeh.
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
This is where “the devil is in the details” for many f/1.2 prime lenses. Modern optical designs are incredibly sharp and resolve 60+ megapixels easily, but when you pixel-peep the corners, you begin to see things like chromatic aberration or coma/astigmatism.
Surprisingly, the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM performs quite well, at least for an f/1.2 prime. There is very little “blooming” of green/magenta at the edges of focus in portraits, and corner color aberrations are almost completely eliminated with the built-in lens profile applied.
For all you astrophotographers who want pin-sharp stars in the corners of your images, I have more good news: coma and astigmatism are only faintly present; some of the lowest I’ve ever seen on an f/1.2 prime lens. They are definitely still there, of course, especially in images with 40-60 megapixels. You can hit f/2 for maximum resolving power in the corners.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
Many fast-aperture prime lenses are almost useless at their closest focusing distance because they are optimized for sharpness at a greater distance. The Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM is the opposite: even at its absolute closest focusing, sharpness and image quality is incredible. There is a bit of field curvature, as you might imagine. Still, considering its respectable magnification/reproduction ratio (for a non-macro lens) of 0.17X, at its minimum focus distance, it is at least a fun lens to use for general close-up photography such as wedding details or nature close-ups.
Design & Durability
As a G-Master lens, the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM delivers flagship build quality. It’s truly rugged, with weather sealing of course, plus some of my favorite design features such as the rubberized grippy lens hood that locks firmly in place.
I must say this about overall durability and modern lenses: a lot of people complain about lenses not being all-metal anymore because they hear the trigger word “plastic” and they think a lens is going to completely fall apart at the slightest bump. In my 20 years of experience playing with all different types of lenses, this is simply not the case anymore. The high-grade plastics that are being used these days are actually preferable to all-metal designs, for me, because they absorb or dissipate impact and shock beautifully.
Of course, I haven’t dropped any review lenses on concrete, nor have I held them out in the rain for an hour. But from my experience with lenses that I personally own, and have admittedly done both of those things with, I can vouch for these modern lenses’ incredible durability. Sony’s GM primes are among the best made on the market.
Ergonomics & Portability
This is where, historically, all fast-aperture primes would fail and become highly unattractive to me. I’m one of those photographers who choose prime lenses not so much for their sheer speed, but mainly for their compactness and portability.
In other words, an f/2.8 zoom is more than enough of a fast-aperture lens for me, if I need it. So, when I look for a prime, I don’t mind if it’s “only” f/1.8 or f/2, because that’s still a whole stop faster than f/2.8. More importantly, such “slow” prime lenses are incredibly compact compared to an f/2.8 zoom.
With that said, the Sony 50mm f/1.2 is certainly not lightweight or “tiny”, but it’s still one of the lightest, smallest f/1.2 autofocus primes ever made. The ergonomics and overall balance are excellent, and it’s a joy to work with. I might leave it at home if I’m going on a long hike for landscape or nightscape photography, but for portraits, weddings, or any type of general photography where I’m not walking too far, I’d love to have the Sony 50 1.2 GM.
The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is one of the few lenses to boast one of the best features in modern mirrorless lens tech: dual floating focus motors! I’m not sure exactly how it works, but the theory is simple: With two different sets of focus elements on the move, greater precision, speed, and optical performance are possible.
Simply put, autofocus with the Sony 50 GM is incredible. Not only is it the best of any f/1.2 prime lens I’ve ever used, but it’s also actually on par with other primes and zooms that are the fastest-focusing lenses in existence.
Just 5-10 years ago, especially on DSLR bodies, an f/1.2 prime was a sluggish lens that could barely focus. Things are completely different now, with Sony’s industry-leading autofocus system in its flagship bodies like the A1 and the A9 series.
Manual Focus Performance
The manual focus control is linear on the Sony 50 1.2 GM, which just means it feels realistic and natural. The physical smoothness of the focus ring is amazing, and the precision for fine-tuning makes it easy to do challenging things like focus on stars.
Features & Customizations
The Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM has everything: an aperture ring that can be de-clicked, an AF/MF switch, plus a customizable Fn button. I’ll get more into it next in the Value section, but these add up to the most physical features of any 50mm prime lens.
Personally, instead of a dedicated aperture ring, I do prefer Canon and Nikon’s customizable “control ring” dial that you can use to adjust other settings like ISO or EV comp. Also, I’m a photographer who doesn’t shoot video and therefore doesn’t need to de-click the aperture ring. For this reason, I’m more upset that Sony omitted a complete lockout switch. If you’ve ever accidentally bumped one of your Sony lenses from “A” to f/16 or f/22, then you know what a show-stopper it can be.
It’s definitely hard to assign value to a lens that is so completely in a league of its own. As an f/1.2 autofocus prime that offers incredible image quality, its value is approximately in line with the Canon and Nikon alternatives. It’s actually a better value if you consider the superior offerings of features & customizations that I just mentioned.
However, as a 50mm prime in general, it is at least double if not triple or quadruple the price of other alternatives. There’s no way to overlook the fact that if you’re okay with f/1.4, for example, you can get 75-90% of the performance, for about 1/3 the price.
Honestly, in terms of overall value, it will depend on your priorities. The Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM does offer an incredible value, but the competition is fierce, so we’ll just dive right into that section now…
Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM Review | Compared To The Competition
Depending on what you’re looking for, you might have a vast array of alternatives, or literally none. Why is this? Because, of course, if the 50mm prime you’re looking for must have BOTH f/1.2 and autofocus, then this is your only real option on the E-mount.
(NOTE: technically, you could adapt an RF or Z-mount lens to the E-mount. However, with the significant hit you take to both autofocus performance and overall reliability, I consider them to only be marginally better than manual focus lenses.)
Most photographers are probably not dead-set on f/1.2, and are happy to consider f/1.4, f/1.8, or even slower prime lenses, depending on their needs and their creative style. With that in mind, I will rattle off my favorite alternatives that you ought to consider.
Sony Full-Frame Mirrorless Standard Primes
The lightest, smallest, and most affordable alternative is in the far opposite corner from this big, heavy, expensive Sony. It’s a lens I reviewed a few years ago: the Samyang/Rokinon 45mm f/1.8. I know, 45mm is not 50mm, but it’s close enough for me. I like this lens because it is absolutely tiny, and dirt-cheap too. If you’re looking for a 50mm prime specifically because you want to travel lightweight, be incognito, and/or save as much money as possible, then this is a great choice at a mere $329-399. Of course, optically and mechanically the Roki-Yang pales in comparison to the Sony. This is as “apples to oranges” as you can get.
If you want a high-quality, name-brand alternative that is ultralight and tiny, then check out the Sony FE 50mm f/2.5 G. At $598 it is almost twice the price of the Roki-Yang. However, I still like it more than the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 because that older lens is not a G-quality lens and lacks the aperture ring and AF/MF switch. Unlike the Samyang/Rokinon 45mm, this Sony 50mm f/2.5 is a rugged, pro-quality lens that I’d consider even though its aperture speed is something like two whole stops slower than the f/1.2 GM.
F/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.5…
If you’re craving f/1.4, then neither of these lenses will suffice. Luckily, there is the Samyang/Rokinon AF 50mm f/1.4 FE II. At $649-749, (depending on if the common “Instant Savings” is available) …this is one of the best alternatives for those who crave aperture speed and who aren’t afraid to carry around something a little bigger and heavier than the “kit” f/1.8 primes.
This “mark 2” version of the Samyang/Rokinon AF 50mm f/1.4 is an improvement in every way over its predecessor. It’s built quite solidly and offers weather sealing. It doesn’t have an aperture ring, but it does have a “Custom” switch that you can program (using the not-included USB dock) to change the function of the focus ring. There is also a regular Fn button. Personally, I’m not a big fan of either of these mechanical features; I wish the lens just had a simple AF/MF switch, but I understand this is the way that more affordable lenses are going in order to cram more features in at lower price points.
[Related: Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S Review]
[Related: Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 Review]
All in all, however, let’s be honest: there is no true competition that is native to the Sony E-mount. Its real competitors are the Canon and Nikon equivalents, on their respective mounts. For those who are curious, here is how I think they all compare: Each lens is flawlessly sharp throughout most of the image frame, and each lens offers gorgeously smooth bokeh, as well as excellent optics in every other regard. You’ll only see a slight difference if you pixel-peep the extreme corners, in which case the Nikon pulls ahead by a slight margin, obviously due to its absolutely immense size. Honestly, I’d be happier with the Sony, only because I am not a fan of extremely heavy lenses.
Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM Review | Conclusion
I’ll be the first to admit that f/1.2 prime lenses aren’t meant for every photographer. Some may simply be looking for a smaller, lighter prime lens, and an f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime is better for them. Other photographers may be happy to carry around a big, heavy lens, but unfortunately, ~$2,000 is understandably out of their budget, considering those f/1.8 and f/1.4 alternatives can be found for less than half the price.
Either way, there is also no denying that 50mm is one of the most competitive categories for lenses, especially on the Sony E-mount. Yet, despite the nay-saying regarding the “restrictive” mount diameter, Sony managed to deliver what is now my favorite f/1.2 prime. In fact, it is basically the only f/1.2 prime I would ever consider owning since I actually fall into both of the aforementioned categories: I prefer lighter lenses, and I’m usually on a tight budget.
If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment below!