Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras have created a lot of buzz in the photography world. It’s true that the FE lens options for Sony still are more limited than the offerings for Canon and Nikon cameras, but the collection is growing and far more impressive in 2020 than even a year ago. Below we break down the best Sony FE (full frame) lenses, including zooms and primes from wide angle to telephoto. Given Sony’s strong relationship with Zeiss, there are plenty of high-end options that should make even the most discerning photographers happy. For more background information, see our Sony FE lens comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
1. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM ($1,998)
Weight: 31.3 oz.
What we like: Superb image quality.
What we don’t: Heavy and expensive.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is the lens that made Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras truly competitive with Canon and Nikon. For Sony FE, first came the mediocre Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6, then the decent Sony 24-70mm f/4, but neither was up to professional standards at this crucial focal length range. Enter the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, which is super sharp, creates superb bokeh, and is extremely well built. All things considered, it may be the best 24-70mm f/2.8 on the market from any brand.
If you’re looking for the top FE zoom in terms of optical quality, the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is it. But this lens does have its shortcomings. The first is price—$2,000 makes it considerably more costly than either the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 or Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s also heavier than either of those two lenses at a whopping 31.3 ounces. On a compact camera like the Sony a7R IV, it definitely can feel like a bulky piece of glass. But the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM more than makes up for it with image quality, which is the reason it is the premier FE-mount lens.
See the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
2. Sony 16-35mm f/4 ($1,098)
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 18.3 oz.
What we like: Great optics and sunstars at a reasonable price and weight.
What we don’t: Falls short of the G Master below in low-light performance.
We’ll start by saying that we were an early adopter of the Sony 16-35mm f/4. Based on extensive research, we felt it was the best 16-35mm f/4 on the market including those from heavy hitters like Canon and Nikon. And given that this was the first wide-angle zoom for Sony FE, a number of professionals readily adopted this lens during the wait for the inevitable GM version. And optical performance from the f/4 version is great overall: the lens is sharp, has reasonable levels of distortion, creates excellent sunstars, and boasts a weather-sealed build for protection from the elements. For outdoor photographers using the Sony Alpha system, it’s a must-have lens.
It’s a tough call between the 16-35mm f/4 and the f/2.8 GM below. In some ways, we were hoping that the GM didn’t live up to expectations (wishful thinking) and therefore it would have been easy to stick with the f/4. The tipping points for us have been cost and weight: the f/4 is considerably cheaper (around $900 at the time of publication) and weighs nearly 6 ounces less. Last but not least, many landscape photographers generally shoot in good natural light and don’t need the extra stop of aperture (it’s generally much less important than with an indoor lens). If you frequently shoot low-light photography, the f/2.8 may be worth it (or better yet, an even faster prime). But most people will be happy saving with the f/4.
See the Sony 16-35mm f/4
3. Sony 85mm f/1.8 ($547)
Weight: 13.1 oz.
What we like: Super sharp, lightweight, and a great value.
What we don't: Slower than the Sigma and Sony 85mm f/1.4s.
Portrait photographers have a number of intriguing options at the 85mm focal length, but our favorite of the bunch is the Sony 85mm f/1.8. For around $550, you get excellent sharpness (even when wide open), fast and accurate autofocus, premium build quality, and a reasonable weight of 13.1 ounces. All things considered, it’s one of the best values on this list and an extremely fun lens to have in your bag.
In terms of competitors, we’ve included the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art below, which also is tack sharp and faster by two-thirds of a stop, but incredibly heavy at a whopping 39.1 ounces. From Sony, the 85mm f/1.4 GM is another enticing option—we absolutely love the GM line and the image quality that it produces. However, the f/1.4 is more than three times the price of the f/1.8 and more than double the weight, and it may even be a little softer to boot. At the end of the day, all three are top-notch portrait lenses, but we like the value of the Sony 85mm f/1.8.
See the Sony 85mm f/1.8
4. Sony 55mm f/1.8 ($898)
Weight: 9.9 oz.
What we like: Much lighter and cheaper than the 50mm f/1.4.
What we don’t: If you’re a bokeh fanatic, this lens falls a little short.
For our top “normal” lens for Sony full frame, it was a close call between the 55mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.4 below. Professionals and enthusiasts love the faster f/1.4 maximum aperture of the latter, but the 55mm f/1.8 offers great sharpness and is cheaper. Both lenses are far superior to the disappointing 50mm f/1.8, which hits an attractive price point but is just not up to the standards of Sony’s full-frame cameras.
From an image quality standpoint, the 55mm f/1.8 is surprisingly impressive. You get a whole lot of sharpness and bokeh for an f/1.8, and autofocus is excellent. More, the 55mm f/1.8 is considerably lighter than the 50mm f/1.4 (9.9 ounces vs. 27.4 ounces). And with the high ISO capabilities of Sony cameras, there really isn't much reason to spend the additional $500 to gain less than a stop in aperture. The truth is that you can’t go wrong with either, but we prefer the smaller size and lower price of the f/1.8.
See the Sony 55mm f/1.8
5. Sony 24-105mm f/4 ($1,085)
Weight: 23.4 oz.
What we like: A do-everything lens at a good price.
What we don't: Can’t beat the optics of the 24-70mm GM above.
Before the 24-105mm f/4, the Sony lineup felt like it was missing that reasonably priced, Swiss Army Knife of lenses. The old 24-70mm f/4 below left most shooters feeling underwhelmed, and particularly given the ultra-high resolutions of Sony's latest mirrorless camera models. And realistically, the large focal length range of the 24-240mm means that it's lacking in pro-level optics. But with their 24-105mm f/4, Sony has a winner. At just under $1,100, this lens offers versatility and impressive corner-to-corner sharpness for everything from wide-angle photos to portraits.
Many people considering this lens are on the fence between it and the 24-70mm GM above. What are the major differences, aside from the price? You'll notice more distortion and vignetting from the 24-105mm, which can be corrected fairly easily in post processing. And you will be sacrificing low light performance and depth of field with the aperture maxing out at f/4. But with the high ISO capabilities of Sony's latest cameras, this may be an acceptable trade-off for the cost savings and increased reach. For a workhorse lens for travel and everyday use, the 24-105mm is a great option.
See the Sony 24-105mm f/4
6. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM ($2,398)
Weight: 52.2 oz.
What we like: Pro-grade image quality and build.
What we don’t: Super heavy and expensive.
There may be some G Master fatigue by the end of this article, but this premium lens series is just that good. We previously had the 70-200mm f/4 ranked higher due to availability issues with the f/2.8 GM, but that has been resolved and it’s now readily in stock online and in stores. Despite the hefty weight and price tag, the 70-200mm f/2.8 does not disappoint. The lens is super sharp, focuses quickly and accurately, and produces creamy bokeh. If image quality is your top priority in a telephoto lens, it’s a clear choice: go with the GM.
The good news is that the Sony 70-200mm f/4 is no slouch. That lens is reasonably sharp (the images do tend to soften up a bit toward the corners), much lighter than the f/2.8 at 29.6 ounces, and $1,000 cheaper. Additionally, both of these lenses offer image stabilization, which proves to be incredibly useful when utilizing the higher ends of these focal lengths. But we have a very hard time passing on a G Master lens when available, not to mention the f/4 is good but not great from an optical perspective. For even more reach, see the 100-400mm below (and yes, it’s a GM).
See the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM
7. Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 ($1,274)
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 11.6 oz.
What we like: Incredible sharpness and color rendition.
What we don’t: Not heavy but a little bulky.
A full-frame mirrorless camera like the Sony a7R IV is a super attractive option for serious landscape photographers, with a low weight and high-resolution sensor. And although the 16-35mm f/2.8 below may be the most versatile wide-angle option for FE, the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 is the premier prime. At this focal length, it's a dream pairing for the a7R IV.
Just how good is the Batis 18mm f/2.8? It’s extremely sharp all the way to the corners (Zeiss primes are known for their sharpness), has little distortion, incredible color rendition, and fast autofocus. In addition, the lens is reasonably light at 11.6 ounces and built to last. Other wide-angle prime options from Zeiss include the 21mm Loxia, but that lens is manual focus and not quite as wide as we prefer for landscapes.
See the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8
8. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art ($695)
Weight: 23.4 oz.
What we like: Super sharp and way cheaper than the Sony equivalent
What we don't: Autofocus is slightly slower than the Sony 35mm f/1.4
If you shoot a lot of street and travel photography and are looking for a simple, high quality piece of glass to cover most of your needs, we'd highly recommend picking up a 35mm prime. Unfortunately, the two available options from Sony are either a bit underwhelming (the 35mm f/1.8) or overpriced (the 35mm f/1.4). Enter Sigma's Art line, which launched with Sony mounts and comes to the plate in a big way with its 35mm f/1.4. This lens is super sharp and will save you a ton compared to the Sony equivalent.
Aside from the common complaint of Sigma lenses being bulky and heavy, the major concern with the 35mm f/1.4 Art is the speed of the autofocus. You'll get more hunting than with Sony's native lenses and the Sigma can have a hard time locking in, which can be quite frustrating when shooting moving subjects. Reports on this topic are mixed, however, and the cost savings is significant enough that the value and image quality may outweigh any autofocus concerns.
See the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
9. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM ($1,998)
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 24 oz.
What we like: Superb optical performance overall.
What we don’t: Pricier and heavier than the f/4 version above.
Back when only the 16-35mm f/4 was in existence, we were quite happy with the image quality provided by that lens. But Sony later added the G Master version, which—for serious landscape photographers and other wide-angle professionals who frequently shoot at night—is difficult to pass up. Simply put, this lens is stunning in terms of performance. It’s extremely sharp all the way to the corners, excellent in low light for a wide-angle zoom, and creates crisp, life-like images that are hard to replicate outside of the GM family.
The real question is whether you should spend up for the 16-35mm f/2.8, which is quite pricey at around $2,000. The f/4 version described above is a top-notch lens in its own right, creates better sunstars, and saves you about $900 in cost and nearly 6 ounces in weight. Moreover, most people don’t use a 16-35mm lens as frequently in low light as a more indoor-friendly zoom like a 24-70mm f/2.8, plus Sony's latest cameras have superb ISO sensitivity. The answer is that both are fine choices, but the f/4 is the more practical option for most people and uses.
See the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
10. Sony 50mm f/1.4 ($1,498)
Weight: 27.4 oz.
What we like: Better low light performance than the 55mm f/1.8.
What we don’t: Heavy for a prime.
As mentioned above, we appreciate the lower price point and smaller size of the 55mm f/1.8, but for those who want even more low light performance and bokeh, the Sony 50mm f/1.4 is the ticket. This lens is tack sharp even when wide open, produces creamy bokeh that you just can’t replicate with a slower lens, and boasts excellent build quality. All things considered, it’s the real deal at 50mm.
The issues with the Sony 50mm f/1.4 are that it’s super heavy for a prime and quite expensive. Both are easy to overlook if this is your most used focal length, but the 55mm f/1.8 does a pretty good job without those downsides. And if you have a true affinity for 50mm and deep pockets, there’s always the Meyer-Optik Nocturnus 50mm f/0.95 II, which is available for Sony mirrorless for around $3,000.
See the Sony 50mm f/1.4
8 Sony FE Lenses That Missed the Cut
11. Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 ($948)
Weight: 27.5 oz.
What we like: The ultimate in convenience.
What we don’t: We think Sony a7 cameras deserve better.
Amateur photographers often are attracted to the convenience of all-in-one lenses, and rightfully so. It takes most decision making and lens switching out of the equation. In other articles we recommend all-in-one lenses more highly, and particularly for APS-C cameras, but it’s more difficult for such a stellar system like Sony FE.
The Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 does cover a healthy range of focal lengths from wide angle to telephoto—it’s the only lens on this list that does so. It’s also reasonably priced: for around $950, you can replace an entire camera bag. However, from an optical standpoint, this lens just doesn’t stack up. It’s not particularly sharp, has healthy levels of distortion, and the autofocus is mediocre. All in all, we understand the convenience factor and think it’s an okay solution for those on a budget, but for serious photographers, it ultimately falls short.
See the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
12. Sony 28mm f/2 ($448)
Category: Wide angle/travel
Weight: 7.1 oz.
What we like: Bargain basement price (for an FE lens).
What we don’t: Slightly awkward focal length.
There is a lot to like about the 28mm f/2 from Sony, and most notably the price. At around $450, this is the cheapest FE lens on this list by quite a bit. Sony didn’t partner with Zeiss on this one, but pretty much everything still lines up: the lens offers good sharpness, solid low light performance, and a sturdy build. The 28mm f/2 certainly isn’t targeted at professionals, but it’s great for those getting started on a budget.
One notable issue we have with the Sony 28mm f/2 is the focal length. 28mm is narrower than we prefer for big landscape shots, yet a little wide for travel photography and portraiture. You always can walk closer to your subject to mimic a 35mm or 50mm lens, but 28mm certainly wouldn’t be our first choice. But 42mm on Sony’s APS-C cameras is more palatable, which is how many people end up using this lens.
See the Sony 28mm f/2
13. Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM ($2,498)
Weight: 49 oz.
What we like: A super tele to match the capabilities of the Sony a9 and a7R IV.
What we don’t: Some people may still want to add a teleconverter for even more reach.
Sony made a big splash with the release of the speedy a9 camera body, but they needed the telephoto lenses to match. Enter the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, which is another premium lens in Sony’s heralded G Master lineup. For professional sports and action photographers, it represents a viable telephoto zoom option for Sony mirrorless, and will be depended upon to perform during big events from the Super Bowl to the Olympic Games.
Impressively, the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is roughly the same size as the 70-200mm f/2.8 above and comes in reasonably light for a lens of this type at “just” 49 ounces. For those who need even more reach, Sony does offer two teleconverters, a 1.4x and 2.0x, both of which are compatible with this lens on the a9 and a7R IV. In addition, Sony recently released the 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3, along with 400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4 primes. If telephoto lenses were a weakness of Sony’s FE lineup in the past, that simply is no longer the case.
See the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM
14. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art ($897)
Weight: 39.9 oz.
What we like: Sharper than Sony's 85mm f/1.4 GM at a lower price point.
What we don't: Incredibly heavy.
Sigma’s long-awaited Art lenses with Sony FE mounts finally hit the market, and the results have been strong. One of our favorites is the 85mm f/1.4, which is extraordinarily sharp, creates beautiful bokeh, and stacks up competitively to Sony's f/1.4 GM in terms of image quality. When you factor the significant discount, serious portrait photographers should have a lot to like about this lens.
The weight of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is by far its biggest downside. At a whopping 39.9 ounces, it's 10 ounces heavier than the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM, which makes carrying it around laborious and may be a deal breaker for those looking to shave ounces from their camera bag. In addition, the Sigma isn't completely weather sealed, although it does feature a surface treatment and rubber sealing at the mount connection point, instilling a bit more confidence for those venturing into tough conditions.
See the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art
15. Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 ($1,000)
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 13.9 oz.
What we like: Extremely sharp all the way to the corners.
What we don’t: Manual focus isn’t for everyone.
If you’re going to buy a wide-angle prime for Sony mirrorless, Zeiss is the way to go. In terms of options, the biggest point of differentiation between the Loxia and Batis series is that the former is manual focus only. This may be a deal breaker for some, but those who try manual focus often find that it’s relatively easy, accurate, and fun.
As far as image quality goes, the Zeiss Loxia 21mm will not disappoint. It’s ridiculously sharp all the way to the corners, reasonably fast at f/2.8, and built like a true pro lens. It’s a tough call between this and the Batis 18mm above, which has autofocus and is wider from a focal length perspective but offers similar overall image quality. We think you can’t go wrong with either, and for those who specialize in wide-angle photography, a Zeiss prime is a real treat.
See the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8
16. Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 ($1,173)
Weight: 30.1 oz.
What we like: A relatively inexpensive telephoto option for FE.
What we don’t: Low light performance and softness toward the edges.
Before the Sony 100-400mm GM above hit the market, the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 was the only way to shoot further than 200mm. But times have changed, including the release of the Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3, resulting in more telephoto options for FE. We’ll start with the good news: this is Sony’s cheapest true telephoto lens, and it’s $200 less than the 70-200 f/4. We do like the additional reach and it’s a nice way to add a healthy amount of versatility at the telephoto end of the spectrum without breaking the bank.
Unfortunately, the image quality of this lens leaves us wanting. It tends to be sharp in the middle but softer toward the edges, and will struggle in low light with a maximum aperture of f/4.5-5.6. And on newer Sony full-frame cameras like the a7R IV, it’s going to have trouble standing up to the resolution of the image sensor. All in all, we like the Sony 70-300mm best for APS-C cameras (the focal length equivalent is a whopping 105-450mm), but less so for full frame.
See the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
17. Sony 12-24mm f/4 ($1,673)
Category: Wide angle
Weight: 19.9 oz.
What we like: A true ultra-wide for Sony full frame.
What we don’t: Doesn’t take screw-on filters.
It was big news when Sony released the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM above, but they coupled that with the 12-24mm f/4. First, we love the effort. We personally find that a quality 16-35mm goes wide enough for most uses, but there certainly is demand for a true ultra wide and Sony answered the call. Although not a GM lens, the 12-24mm does pretty much everything well: it’s crisp, has minimal falloff at the corners, and comes in relatively light at 19.9 ounces. For wide-angle specialists who love pushing the limits, this is your lens.
What are the downsides of the Sony 12-24mm f/4? The first is versatility: it’s only worth spending the roughly $1,700 if you plan on using it frequently (and know how to, which is another challenge). Second, low light performance and bokeh fall short of the 16-35mm GM. Finally, the lens does not take screw-on filters due to its bulbous shape. These issues aside, it’s a really fun ultra wide that compliments the 24-70mm f/2.8 nicely in terms of focal lengths.
See the Sony 12-24mm f/4
18. Sony 24-70mm f/4 ($698)
Weight: 15.2 oz.
What we like: Versatility at a good price point.
What we don’t: Distortion and softness.
Before the release of the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM above, the f/4 was the original FE lens option at this popular focal length. And while we want to like this lens, it just doesn’t quite do it from an image quality perspective. Distortion is heavy, softness is present and particularly in the corners, and the OSS image stabilization is largely unnecessary (Sony has added built-in image stabilization to all of its latest camera bodies). It’s not a bad lens by any means, and it matches pretty well with older Alpha cameras, but we prefer the f/2.8 or faster primes.
The main reason to choose the Sony 24-70mm f/4 is price. For around $800, you can throw it on any Alpha full-frame camera and use it as your only lens. In addition, the weight of 15.2 ounces is quite respectable for a zoom lens of this type, which is less than half the f/2.8 GM. All in all, we get the draw of the 24-70mm focal length, which makes for a true workhorse lens, but the mediocre optics here give us pause.
See the Sony 24-70mm f/4
Sony FE Lens Comparison Table
|Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM||$1,998||Travel/portrait||31.3 oz.||f/2.8||Yes||82mm|
|Sony 16-35mm f/4||$1,098||Wide angle||18.3 oz.||f/4||Yes||72mm|
|Sony 85mm f/1.8||$547||Portrait||13.1||f/1.8||Yes||67mm|
|Sony 55mm f/1.8||$898||Travel/portrait||9.9 oz.||f/1.8||Yes||49mm|
|Sony 24-105mm f/4||$1,085||All-in-one||23.4 oz.||f/4||Yes||77mm|
|Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM||$2,398||Telephoto||52.2 oz.||f/2.8||Yes||77mm|
|Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8||$1,274||Wide angle||11.6 oz.||f/2.8||Yes||77mm|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art||$695||Street/travel||23.4 oz.||f/1.4||Yes||67mm|
|Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM||$1,998||Wide angle||24 o.z||f/2.8||Yes||82mm|
|Sony 50mm f/1.4||$1,498||Travel/portrait||27.4 oz.||f/1.4||Yes||72mm|
|Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-5.6||$948||All-in-one||27.5 oz.||f/3.5-5.6||Yes||72mm|
|Sony 28mm f/2||$448||Street/travel||7.1 oz.||f.2||Yes||49mm|
|Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM||$2,498||Super telephoto||49.2 oz.||f/4.5-5.6||Yes||77mm|
|Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art||$897||Portrait||39.9 oz.||f/1.4||No||86mm|
|Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8||$1,000||Wide angle||13.9 oz.||f/2.8||Yes||52mm|
|Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6||$1,173||Telephoto||30.2 oz.||f/4.5-5.6||Yes||72mm|
|Sony 12-24mm f/4||$1,673||Wide angle||19.9 oz.||f/4||Yes||None|
|Sony 24-70mm f/4||$698||Travel/portrait||15 oz.||f/4||Yes||67mm|
Sony FE Lens Buying Advice
- Zoom Lenses vs. Prime Lenses
- Maximum Aperture
- “GM” Grand Master Lenses
- The Sony/Zeiss Partnership
- Sigma's Growing FE Lens Presence
- Weather Sealing
- FE Lenses on APS-C Cameras
Zoom Lenses vs. Prime Lenses
The zoom vs. prime distinction varies by camera type, and Sony now has a strong batch of FE zooms (the f/2.8 trifecta of 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm is now covered). In general, zoom lenses are more versatile covering a range of focal lengths, while primes often are superior optically with faster maximum apertures and less distortion. Primes usually are smaller as well, but you may need to carry multiple lenses to cover your desired focal lengths.
Compared to Canon's EF-mount lenses or Nikon's F-mount lens offerings, there still are fewer FE options of both types at this time (Sony is catching up, however). The result is that you should choose your zoom carefully and probably avoid some of the older models like the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 and 24-70mm f/4. Sony’s six “GM” Grand Master lenses are particularly strong and the collection of primes is growing including the recent addition of Sigma Art lenses, which is a very exciting development.
Aside from focal length, maximum aperture is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when choosing a lens. In short, aperture is the size of the lens opening through which light passes, and it impacts just about everything related to image quality: bokeh, depth of field, and sharpness. Aperture is measured in f-stops, and the lower the f-stop (f/2.8, f/1.8, etc.), the larger the opening and the more light can enter. You can see the full f-stop scale here, and lower numbers make for more desirable (and expensive) lenses.
In terms of numbers, we generally make the professional cutoff at f/2.8. Lenses with this maximum aperture or faster are solid low light performers and can achieve the creamy bokeh that professionals love (most of Sony’s current GM zoom lenses are f/2.8 or faster, for example). Primes are the fastest type of lens, reaching f/1.4 for Sony FE, while some cheap zoom lenses have a maximum aperture of f/4 or slower. For those looking to try out astrophotography or any type of night shooting, lower numbers are a huge plus and it's not recommended to get anything slower than f/2.8. It’s worth noting that because Sony’s latest full-frame cameras have built-in image stabilization, camera shake will be less prevalent than with older models.
“GM” Grand Master Lenses
A handful of years ago, Sony released its first “GM,” or Grand Master, lenses, which are the premium full-frame zooms for Sony mirrorless. As of fall of 2020, there are ten GM lenses to choose from: the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, 24mm f/1.4 GM, 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, 85mm f/1.4 GM, 100mm f/2.8 GM, 135mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM, 400mm f/2.8 GM, and 600mm f/4 GM.
Similar to Canon’s “L” series, Sony “GM” lenses are the best of the best. You can expect pro-grade image quality including excellent sharpness, minimal distortion, and lifelike bokeh. In addition, the build quality of GM lenses is superb, with premium elements and weather sealing (outdoor and travel photographers make up a big part of Sony’s constituency so this makes a lot of sense).
Interestingly, Sony mentioned in its GM press release that these lenses, “will inspire and ‘wow’ photographers and videographers for years to come.” People in the industry report that Sony is working on an 80-megapixel camera next that shoots 6K video, and that GM lenses have been tested on and were built to match that powerful of an image sensor. If all that is true, it means that with GM lenses you are future-proofing your purchase in a way—it takes a very precise piece of glass to match that magnitude of an image sensor.
The Sony/Zeiss Partnership
The Sony/Zeiss marriage is somewhat unique in the world of photography and has been going on for two decades and counting. A large number of FE-mount and E-mount lenses are co-branded (called “Sony/Zeiss”). In addition, Zeiss has created another bunch of its own lenses for Sony FE-mount cameras (“Batis” and “Loxia”). Because of Zeiss’ stellar reputation in optics, these are highly regarded lenses that can go head-to-head with just about anything on the market.
When buying lenses for your Sony full-frame camera, keep a close eye on the title and the blue Zeiss logo on the barrel. Lenses with both “Sony” and “Zeiss” in the title are co-branded, while lenses with “Batis” and “Loxia” are exclusively Zeiss. It’s also worth noting that Sony’s GM series of Grand Master lenses described above are not associated with Zeiss, although they are regarded as being some of the finest zoom lenses for the FE system.
Sigma's Growing FE Lens Presence
Third-party lenses abound for full-frame DSLRs, including from brands like Sigma and Tokina. For Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras, Zeiss dominates the landscape and calling that "third-party" is stretching it a bit (the relationship between Sony and Zeiss is quite close). However, Sigma recently released Sony FE mount versions of many of their "Art" lenses (our favorite is the 85mm f/1.4 Art) and plan to continue rolling more out. This development has caused quite a stir in the market due to their remarkable sharpness, low light capabilities, and competitive pricing.
With the introduction of the FE mounts, Sigma has eliminated the need for adapters that compromised performance—each lens has an autofocus drive control program that enables them to match the capabilities of the Sony bodies (in theory, at least). So far, there have been some complaints about the speed and accuracy of the autofocus in a few of the Art series lenses, but that likely will be mitigated by Sigma in future firmware updates. It's also worth noting that Sigma lenses generally are bulky and heavier than the field, but the cost savings and performance are what catches most people's attention.
At time of publishing, most of the Sigma lenses available for Sony are primes, including the 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 70mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.4, and 135mm f/1.8. Given the Sigma options for Canon and Nikon full-frame cameras, we expect to see various zooms hit the market in the future. Regardless of whether you prefer Sony's more expensive native lenses or Sigma's cheaper third-party models, it's great to have more options.
If you already own Canon, Nikon, or third-party lenses, you can buy a separate adapter for your Sony mirrorless camera. What are the downsides of going this route? Generally, adapters are known for slowing down autofocus, which is a key component of any lens. This makes adapters less attractive for those shooting action or video, but it can be a hindrance for stills, too. Adapters also tend to be noisy, making you cringe a bit when changing aperture and grabbing focus. Finally, adapters are expensive and aren’t exactly known for their reliability. The best adapter for Canon to Sony FE, for example, is $395 and is on its fifth rendition to date plus firmware updates. You definitely can have a positive experience with adapters, but it is a potential headache that you won’t have when using native FE lenses.
Lenses are less at risk from the elements than camera bodies, but still can be negatively impacted by dust, moisture, and all of the things that can happen while shooting in extreme environments. Sony doesn't specifically advertise their lenses as being completely weather sealed, but they do have a certain level of dust and moisture resistance built in. Typically, the more expensive the lens is, the higher quality the build will be, which often translates into it being more weather resistant. Zeiss lenses in particular are known for being able to withstand the elements.
For those who want a little more reassurance, we recommend keeping your camera covered by one of the many protective covers available. It's also important to avoid changing lenses in inclement weather as breaking the seal between your lens and camera will expose your equipment's vulnerable points. If your lens does take on some moisture or gets a nice soaking in the rain, stick it in a plastic bag and fill it with some silica gel packets (yes, the ones that overwhelmingly say "Do Not Eat"). These will help to suck the moisture out of the lens and hopefully return it to working order. In the worst case scenario, you can always contact Sony's Pro Support (if you qualify for and are approved for the program), and they'll do their best to repair it. With all of this, keep in mind the old cliché, "tools not jewels." You can't enjoy photos that you don't take.
FE Lenses on APS-C Cameras
Sony has two lens mount types: FE (full frame) and E (APS-C). The good news is that FE lenses are compatible on APS-C cameras. Full-frame lenses certainly are expensive and heavy compared to their crop-sensor counterparts, but you can buy lenses for your a7R IV and use them on your a6600 when need be. And the image quality probably will be excellent as full-frame lenses are the real deal. Make sure to keep focal length equivalent in mind: FE lenses will be 1.5x longer on an APS-C camera (a 50mm lens will behave like a 75mm lens, etc.).
On the other hand, Sony E-mount (APS-C) lenses are not compatible on Sony full-frame cameras. There are a healthy number of E-mount lenses that continues to grow each year, but none can be mounted on your Sony full-frame camera.
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