Is This The Holy Grail Of Lenses? Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8

Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8
Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8

If you had to choose one, and only one, focal length to shoot with over the next year, what would it be?

I think many people would answer ‘The Photojournalist’s Lens’ – and for good reason. 35mm is a very versatile focal length. It’s wide enough that it can be used for land/city-scapes, and long enough that it can be used for portraits (particularly ones with an environmental element).

Yet I’ve never really been a 35 FoV shooter. The lens that most speaks to me has always been… ‘The Nifty 50’.

I prefer this slightly longer focal length for portraits and stills. I can fill the frame from what feels like just-the-right distance for me, or stand back and still include some of the environment. I find the depth of field offered by a 50mm f1.4 or f1.8 usually ideal, where-as that of the 35mm often just isn’t shallow enough (all other DoF factors being equal) and the 85mm’s reach can be unwieldy when shooting in confined space.

The 50 works for ‘scapes too, highlighting a certain portion or element of the larger setting. 35mm is a good compromise, but I find myself more-often-than-not going wider (24 or 28) or going longer (50). I just don’t seem to spend much time in the middle-ground.

That’s the best way I can quantify it.  But the simple truth is that the 50mm really “just feels right” to me.  Comfortable. An ‘old friend’, I suppose.

A7 with 55mm f1.8
A7 with 55mm f1.8

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that one particular focal length is de facto better than another. And of course your subject matter (portrait, street, macro, wildlife, landscape, etc.) will largely determine your preferred shooting distance and focal lengths.   I’m just saying that if 3 people where each made to choose, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if each chose differently. It’s a very personal thing.

The moral of this story is that while I’ve been very happy with the Zeiss 35mm f2.8 lens on the Sony A7 (a fantastic lens!) that I am… MORE than happy… that the Zeiss 55mm f1.8 has finally been added to my camera bag.  The 55 is not only the preferred focal length for me, but this particular lens is a real gem, optically speaking.

Requisite quest head gear
Requisite quest head gear

Is the 55mm the ‘Holy Grail’ of lenses (for me)?  While I’m not sure about that just yet, I can say that it’s the first in a long while that again has me thinking about a ‘One Camera, One Lens’ project.

A 'classic' at the very least
A ‘classic’ at the very least

I’m looking forward to using this lens much more (did you hear me Mother Nature?  Your cooperation would be most welcome) and next week I’ll share a few sample images.

11 thoughts on “Is This The Holy Grail Of Lenses? Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8

  1. The 55/1,8 is an amazing lens. On my NEX-7, it gives superb detail, and beautiful bokeh. I can’t wait to see the results when I get my A7R!

    However, I voted for 35mm. It might be due to the fact I live in Tokyo, where ~50mm can feel a little cramped unless taking people shots, but I’ve found the RX1 and its 35mm lens to be nothing short of phenomenal. I believe the A7 and 50mm is something of a sequel to this work ethic.

    1. I’m slowly getting more comfortable with the 35mm. Maybe given a little more time it’ll have that ‘old friend’ feel of the 55.

      Is it the 35mm lens you prefer on the NEX-7 (which would give an aprox. 50mm ‘field of view’ on the APS-C sized sensor?) I know the 50mm f1.8 was one of my favourite lenses for the NEX-7 but the equivalent 75mm field of view on that camera/sensor often had me reaching for the 35mm instead as well. 🙂

  2. On the yearly trip with my photoclub, we visited the Somme valley in France, and I decided to shoot only with the ‘plastic fantastic’ Canon 50mm f1.8 on my asp-c sensor size 550D. While other members were either dragging a heavy bag with lots of lenses OR – weep weep – shooting with the 18-200mm allrounder, I was very focused on taking pictures… no worrying about lenses or zooming. See some of my pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivanlietaert/sets/72157626473516612/
    I didn’t miss a lot, I think, but if there really was only one lens I could take for a whole year, I think I would go for something wider, like a 35mm or even ultra wide.

    1. Beautiful images Ivan!!

      I know what you mean – sometimes the ‘gear’ can get in the way of the photography. There’s definitely something liberating… and… ‘pure?’ (maybe not quite the right word) about limiting the amount of gear on a shoot!

  3. The A7 & the FE 55 / 1.8 make a perfect combo! As far as I’m concerned, Sony could have welded the lens to the body.The focal length serves almost every purpose, no distortions, no chromatic aberrations, fun to use wide open, awesome image quality, perfect for Travel Light Photography. (Thanks for the Flickr group!)

    1. Thanks Andreas – I was thinking that exact same thing the other day. The A7 and 55mm are such a great combo I thought if they fused them together and shrunk them a little (ala RX1) it would be perfection! 🙂

  4. I agree totally Mars Observer. In the four months that I’ve owned the a7, I’ve taken about 99% of my shots with the 55/1.8 and only a handful with the 35/2.8. And if I’m looking for more landscape oriented gear, I fall back on my Nikon V1 with its 18-35 equivalent wide zoom (6.7-13mm). At this point, I’m considering selling my 35/2.8 and using the proceeds to get the Zeiss 24-70 zoom in order to better complement that nifty fifty five…

    1. The A7 and Nikon1 make a good combo! For low light shooting or the ultimate in IQ the A7 (usually with the 55mm f1.8) is my ‘go-to’ camera. And for fast action, or long telephoto reach, I ‘reach’ for the Nikon1. I’ve been been using the N1 and 18-35mm for some landscape too… but find it’s rare that I shoot wider than 24mm so am also thinking of picking up the Zeiss 24-70 for the A7 as well. Just waiting to see how well the new (soon to be announced?) wide-angle performs (Sony is rumoured to announce an 18-35mm for the A7 this fall?)

      1. Interesting. A Sony 18-35 FE lens could be great, although we’ll see if they can keep their compact form factor overall. Certainly that would run circles around the Nikon 1 18-35 equiv. The Zeiss 24-70 FE lens seems like a natural bright light/outdoorsy walkabout lens. Funny how we all love the a7 for its max performance at modest size. But now we can’t help contemplating growing our lens collections, thus adding weight and bulk when out and about. Great first world problem to have!

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