A Concise Guide to Full-frame Lenses for Sony E-mount Cameras

The Photographer’s Guide to the World » A Concise Guide to FE Lenses
A Concise Guide to Full-frame Lenses for Sony E-mount Cameras 2017-01-28T12:57:27+00:00

Full-frame Sony E-Mount Lenses

An Overview of Lens Options for Your Sony a7 series Cameras

The E-mount is a lens mount used by Sony in their mirrorless cameras. The first E-mount cameras had APS-C size sensors (e.g. NEX-6, NEX-7). In 2013 Sony surprised many people and released their first mirrorless cameras with full-frame sensors, also known as 35 mm. Initially, there were two cameras: a7 and a7R. The a7 was an entry-level full-frame camera, whereas the selling point of the a7R was the very high (at that time) resolution of 36 megapixels and hence the “R” in the model name. A few months later Sony released the third camera in this line: the a7S. The “S” stood for sensitivity and the camera offered a fantastic low-light performance and wonderful video quality.

I had been a Canon user for many years, but these new cameras from Sony seemed very interesting to me. Sony was, and still is the market leader in the development and production of camera sensors. Having some of the industry’s best sensors in relatively compact and lightweight camera bodies was an attractive proposition and I decided to switch from Canon to Sony. Sony launched this new camera system together with several new lenses. The mount was the same as in Sony’s mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors, but obviously APS-C lenses don’t cover the full surface of 35mm sensors. To distinguish the full-frame lens line from the APS-C range, the former have “FE” in their names and the mount is sometimes also called “FE”.

There were not many native lenses for the a7 series cameras in 2013/2014, but one of the advantages of these cameras was the short flange distance. It didn’t take long and several manufacturers started to release adapters enabling photographers to use their full-frame lenses from other systems on their Sony a7 series cameras. This made the transition much easier, and personally, I was very happy that I could use my Canon TS-E 17mm L on my new Sony cameras. Nevertheless, using lens adapters usually is a compromise, you either lose autofocus capability, or the autofocus is slower than normally or it is simply unreliable. Sometimes adapters may cause light leaks in certain situations and you may end up with brighter areas in your pictures. In best case the adapter will only increase the weight of your camera bag.

There are photographers who like to use very exotic lenses via adapters on their cameras. There is nothing wrong with that, however, my goal in photography is to create high quality images which people would like to hang on their walls or simply enjoy looking at. To me adapters are a complication, one more thing that stands between me and the final image. Whenever possible, I try to avoid adapters and use native lenses. Not having to worry about all the disadvantages that adapters may bring with them means I can concentrate better on creating images that I will be satisfied with. Your mileage may vary, but this is the way I see it. Of course, sometimes it is not possible to find a specific native lens, as in the case of the beforementioned Canon TS-E 17mm L. However, in the case of Sony a7 series cameras usually there is already a native lens that you need to create the image you would like to create.

At the time of writing, the second series of a7 cameras is available. Sony’s new camera system turned out to be a great success and with the popularity of these cameras, many more native lenses appeared on the market. Sony and Zeiss have a long tradition of cooperation and these two companies are the leading manufacturers of lenses for the FE cameras. Sony and Zeiss market their lenses under their own brands and also under their joint brand Sony/Zeiss. These co-branded lenses are designed by Zeiss and manufactured and sold by Sony.

Several other lens manufacturers have also come to the conclusion that FE cameras have a promising future and have started to release interesting lenses for this new system. Besides Sony and Zeiss, also Samyang, Voigtländer, Meyer Optik Görlitz and Venus Optics (LAOWA) have entered the market, which is very good news for photographers. Personally, I hope that also Sigma finally starts to release great FE lenses.

If you’re a photographer who invested significant amount of money into gear, switching the camera system is a very serious decision. When you’re a newbie trying to decide which system would be best for you, then all available options might seem overwhelming. If you have just bought your a7 II or a7R II, or any other full-frame E-mount camera and still don’t know exactly which native lenses are available, this list should give you an overview. The lenses are divided into the following categories:

The list below presents the lens options for full-frame E-Mount cameras: a7 (ILCE-7), a7R (ILCE-7R), a7S (ILCE-7S), a7 II (ILCE-7M2), a7R II (ILCE-7RM2) and a7S II (ILCE-7SM2). This list is not complete yet. New lenses will appear here automatically as they are entered into the database. The database currently contains
lenses and
teleconverters for a7 series cameras.
All these lenses can also be used on Sony E-mount cameras with APS-C sensors, for example: NEX-5, NEX-6, NEX-7, a5100, a6000, a6300 or a6500. You must remember, however, that the field of view will change on the smaller sensor. To find out the equivalent field of view, multiply the focal length by the crop factor (which in this case is 1.5). For example: the field of view of a 20 mm lens used on an APS-C camera is equivalent to 30 mm on full-frame cameras: 20 x 1.5 = 30.
To find your new lens using a parametric search you can also use our SMART LENS FINDER. It has many useful filters, for example: maximum aperture, filter thread, price range, manufacturer or the number of aperture blades. When the database is completed, it will allow you to quickly find the lens that you need for your full-frame Sony E-mount camera.

Ultra-wide prime lenses for full-frame camera have focal lengths lower than 24 mm. They can produce spectacular perspectives and the field of view can be extreme. There are two types of ultra-wide angle lenses: rectilinear and fisheye. Rectilinear lenses produce images where straight features appear as straight lines. This is not the case with fisheye lenses, which achieve extremely wide fields of view by special mapping giving the images a characteristic look with curved lines.

Rectilinear ultra-wide primes are a great choice for landscape and architectural photography. If they have a relatively fast maximum aperture, and many have, they are also great for astrophotography.

The characteristic curved lines produced by fisheye lenses can be used a means of artistic expression. Fisheye lenses are sometimes used also for underwater photography. As there are hardly any straight lines below the surface of the water, the typical fisheye distortions may not be obvious to the viewer of the final picture.

Similar to ultra-wide primes, ultra-wide zoom lenses can deliver dramatic perspectives but they also offer the flexibility of variable focal lengths. Prime lenses tend to produce better image quality, but using zooms you can come up with several different compositions of the same scene without having to swap lenses. In terms of optical quality, most lenses are weakest in the image corners, and in the case of ultra-wide lenses this drop in quality can be more visible than with other focal length ranges. If you have a high-end camera and try to save money by buying an inferior ultra wide-lens, be it a prime or a zoom, you might be very disappointed by the performance of this lens in the corners.

A very popular focal length range of ultra-wide zooms for full-frame sensors is 16-35 mm. Even though focal lengths above 24 mm are not considered “ultra-wide”, these lenses are usually classified as ultra-wide zooms. Perhaps it is so because the range between 16 and 24 mm is what makes them really interesting and many photographers already have a standard zoom to cover the wide-angle range between 24 and 40 mm.

Typical focal lengths of wide-angle primes are between  24 and 40 mm, with 24, 28 and 35 mm being the most popular ones. They often deliver better image quality than zooms and often have a faster maximum aperture, at the cost of flexibility. They are useful e.g. for landscapes, architecture, street and astrophotoghraphy.

Standard primes are the easiest lenses to manufacture. The typical focal lengths for full frame sensors are around 50 mm. The field of view is more or less similar to the sight of an average person. As they have only one focal length, they don’t offer the flexibility and versatility of standard zooms. Nevertheless, they do have several advantages. They tend to have fast maximum apertures, in other words they are bright. This allows you to use them hand-held in low light situations, or to blur the background very nicely, which can be useful e.g. in portraits. Often, the price of a standard prime lens is very attractive and the image quality that the lens delivers can be surprisingly good, taking into account the price.

Standard zooms are probably the best selling lens category, because they are extremely versatile and can be used in many kinds of situations and for many genres of photography. For full-frame sensors some of the typical focal length ranges of standard zooms are: 24-70 mm, 28-70 mm, 24-105 mm or 28-135 mm. If you plan to have just one lens for your camera, then a standard zoom is a good idea.

Medium telephoto primes are fantastic lenses for portrait photographers. The typical focal lengths are 85 to 135 mm. They often have relatively fast maximum apertures, for example f/1.8 or sometimes even f/1.4. Because of the longer focal lengths they can produce even a shallower depth of field than standard primes.

I would say that every serious photographer should have at least one telephoto zoom lens. They can be extremely useful for landscapes, cityscapes, action and wildlife photography. If a telephoto zoom can produce nice bokeh and has a reasonably fast maximum aperture, it can also be a great lens for portraits. My favourite telephoto zoom for Sony A7 series cameras is the Sony FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS, it is very sharp and the bokeh can be very pleasing, thanks to its circular aperture with 9 blades.

Superzooms look great on paper, but they are always a compromise. If you’re going to spend your vacation with your family and kids at the beach, let’s say on the beautiful island of Boracay, then superzooms are your friend. Without having to swap lenses and risking getting sand inside your camera and damaging the sensor, you can zoom in and zoom out in a blink of an eye, going from wide angle to telephoto. Depending on the lens and the camera, the image quality may be “good enough” for most purposes.

“Good enough” means not top-notch. If you are going to shoot for a demanding client or your plan is to become a 21st century Ansel Adams and the ultimate image quality is what you strive for, then you might want to invest in other lenses. Which ones? You’re on the right page, just look at all the options above.

Anyway, superzooms are interesting lenses and I own the Sony FE 24-240 mm, which is surprisingly good between 35 and 140 mm. Is it as good as the FE 24-70 or FE 70-200 mm? No, but its focal length range is very useful, and as I said before, the quality is “good enough” for many purposes.

Teleconverters are placed between the camera and the lens. They increase the reach of the lens by their magnification factor. For example, with a 2x  teleconverter, the field of view of a 200 mm lens will be equal to that of a 400 mm lens. Technically, teleconverters are lenses and consist of optical elements and groups, but unlike regular lenses, they cannot produce images on their own.

The main advantages of teleconverters are weight and compactness. Instead of carrying a 200mm lens and a 400mm one, photographers can carry just the shorter lens and a teleconverter. The disadvantage of this approach is light loss, a lens with an attached teleconverter loses its maximum aperture. The amount of light loss depends on the magnification factor. Also, some teleconverters may degrade the image quality.

While teleconverters can also be classified as auxiliary lenses, for the purpose of this site, this category will include only add-on lenses, i.e. those that can be attached to the filter thread of the primary lens. It is not possible to mount them directly on the camera. They can only modify the optical properties of a regular lens. Very common in this group are wide-angle converters.

Product Image Sources:

Lens Icon by Martin Chapman Fromm from the Noun Project. Licence: Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 3.0).
Sony Lenses: SONY Press Centre, Licence: Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 3.0)
Tokina Lenses: Tokina Press Release

This website is not affiliated with, or endorsed by any equipment manufacturer mentioned here.
All trademarks and logos belong to their respective owners.