My Favorite Lenses for the Sony A7
You can‘t complain about a lack of lenses for the A7-system anymore. But with growing choice, it gets more and more difficult to pick the lenses you‘ll be very happy with.
No wonder I get asked the question all the time: Which lens should I get for my A7?
So maybe these non-nerdy and non-techie recommendations can help a bit.
But a little background info first: I take a lot of photos. Most of them as a hobby. Some of them for my work as a journalist. I love taking photos. But postproduction and Lightroom-work bores me. I rather take the picture with the camera than create it afterward on a laptop. I prefer prime lenses to zoom lenses. I rather walk a few steps than compromising on aperture. Plus I enjoy their simplistic approach. If a prime lens turns out to specific for a certain motive or situation I always carry an iPhone with me which covers every focal length between 28 and 50 mm. I still use the first generation A7 from 2013. I strictly follow the rule ‚invest in lenses, not camera bodies‘.
With this out of the way let’s talk about the lenses I bought and am very happy with:
To give you an idea of how these lenses work and the field of view they offer I set up a little experiment on our dining table. I shot the same subject (a soda can for reference size) from approximately 1 meter. Once with the maximum aperture and once with an aperture of 2.8.
Of course, you could get closer to the subject with most of the lenses. That's why I set up a second experiment on our balcony and shot the same can from as close as each lens allows. The Zeiss 50 mm has the longest minimum focus distance (0,9 meter). With the Sony 35 mm you could go in much closer (0,35 meter) and with the 90 mm macro even closer (0,28 meter).
To enlarge the images just click on them.
Sony/Zeiss Sonnar FE 35 mm F2.8
Minimum focus distance: 0.35m
Weight: 120 g
Back in 2013, there wasn’t much choice when it came to lenses for the A7. I bought the camera without the kit lens. Remember I don‘t use zoom-lenses anyway. Instead, I bought the perfect all-round-lens. The 35mm is so small I keep the lens hood on all the time. With a 2.8 aperture, you still get shots with blurred background and enough light to shoot indoors without a flash. No wonder 35mm is such a popular focal length. It‘s perfect for sightseeing, family events, reportage etc. Thanks to the short minimum focus distance you can get pretty close to your subject. So you can even shoot portraits if you don't have other lenses with you. All in all this 35 mm is a very good and forgiving lens if you never shot prime lenses before. Side note: One day on a trip to Greece, the lens hood fell apart. I bought some tape at a small convenience store and fixed it. I sill have the same tape on the lens. It makes my A7 look old and rubbish. Which is rather handy if you don‘t want to attract unnecessary attention.
Zeiss C Sonnar 50 mm F1.5 ZM
Minimum focus distance: 0.9m
Weight: 280 g (incl. adapter)
As much as I like 35mm my heart belongs to 50mm lenses. It‘s my favorite focal length. Instead of doing the obvious thing and buying the 55mm from Sony/Zeiss I bought a bit of a vanity lens. The Zeiss 50mm is a very old design with an arty or retro look. It‘s a manual focus lens. To use it on the A7 you need an adapter as it was designed for the Leica M. The build quality is extraordinary (apart from the crappy lens cap). The lens is small but has a substantial weight for its size. The all metal design and the smooth focus ring feel superb in your hand. It‘s super fun to use. But even with focus peeking taking pictures is difficult and requires practice - especially with the aperture wide open at 1.5. The minimum focus distance of a nearly one meter is also something you have to get used to. It‘s a love or hate lens. I love mine very much.
Sony/Zeiss Sonnar FE 55 mm F1.8
Minimum focus distance: 0.5 m
Weight: 280 g
Using the Zeiss 50mm I often struggled with the minimum focus distance and I frequently missed the convenience and speed of autofocus especially when working or when I was at family events. So I bought the Sony/Zeiss 55mm as well. It immediately became my all-round and everyday lens for the A7. I have dropped it twice and it still works without any problems. I have used it so much the lens cap broke apart last year and I had to buy a new one from Hama. All in all the 55 mm is super reliable and works with all kinds of requirements. With a little practice, the minimum focus distance of 0.5 m even allows me to take wrist shots of watches I‘m reviewing or just enjoying. If you‘re just starting out with an A7 I recommend to get this lens first of the five I have listed here. But remember I‘m a 50mm-guy.
Sony FE 90 mm F2.8 Macro G OSS
Minimum focus distance: 0.28m
Weight: 600 g
The one thing my first three prime lenses for the A7 couldn‘t handle were macro shots. As a tech journalist, I often need pictures of products and tiny details. That‘s why I bought one of the very first 90 mm macro-lenses that became available. To be honest I bought it without expecting anything but nice macro-shots. But then the 90 mm turned out to be far more than a stellar macro-lens: With an aperture of 2.8, optical image stabilization and beautiful bokeh (blurred background) it’s also a fabulous portrait lens. Granted its a rather big lens for such a small camera as the A7 but the image quality alone convinced me sometimes to only bring this lens on assignments and to events. I shot some of my favorite family photos and some very nice landscapes out of airplanes with this lens.
Sony 85 mm F1.4 GM
Minimum focus distance: 0.85m AF / 0.8m MF
Weight: 820 g
The latest lens I bought is once again a bit of a vanity lens. As I mentioned I was more than happy with the macro-lens for portraits. Yet I found the aperture of 2.8 a bit limiting especially in low-light-situations. So I went looking for an 85 mm lens. The budget friendliest choice would have been the Sony 85 mm 1.8. Even the more expensive Zeiss Batis 85mm 1.8 would still have been budget friendly compared to what I ended up buying. I tried the Sony 85 mm 1.4 GM twice at Sony events and loved it. Yes, it‘s big, heavy and not the speediest lens out there. But the image quality blows you away. If I would have bought one of the cheaper lenses I would have - no doubt about it - been perfectly happy. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I would always have missed the GM. So I threw caution to the wind and bought the GM. Not a day goes by without being astounded by this lens and getting complimented on the pictures it takes. Even at 1.4, it is still sharp and the pictures just look amazing. If like me you don‘t want to do much postprocessing you‘re gonna love this lens.
Yes, all these five lenses are very expensive. But for every focal length, there are now cheaper versions. If you‘re on a budget you‘re going to love them as well. Had they been around earlier I likely would have ended up with lots of the cheaper lenses. But there is also an even cheaper alternative. On eBay and other platforms, you‘ll find tons of old lenses from the 80s for very little money. All you need to use them on your A7 is a cheap adapter. I personally started using old Minolta lenses on my Sony NEX long before I upgraded to the A7. That‘s how I saved a lot of money, learned how to focus manually and a lot about photography in general. One of my favorite Minolta lenses is the 50mm MD Rokkor 1.7. It was amazing on the APS-C-sensor of the NEX and it‘s still very good on the A7. Highly recommended!
I don't own many accessories. I have a few batteries and a separate charger. I don‘t own a flash and only have a small an cheap Manfrotto Pixie tripod. For cleaning purposes, I have a Hama Air Blower and a Hama Lens Pen. Too bad I always forget them at home when I really need them. I don‘t have a backup camera anymore. I recently gave my NEX C3 to my godson. The most important accessory to my A7 is my iPhone. I use it to backup and (if unavoidable) edit my photos. Thanks to the iPhone and cloud services like iCloud, Google Photos and OneDrive (Yes I use all three.) my photography workflow is completely PC-free. But the iPhone also serves a very valuable second function: I use it to cover the focal lengths from 28 mm to 50 mm, panoramas and video. Especially in good light and on small screens it gets harder and harder with every year to tell the difference between a photo from the iPhone and one from the A7. My favorite photography apps right now are Halide and Darkroom.
All photos on this page are JPEGs straight out of the camera. No postproduction. By the way, I wanted to use a Coke can for reference. But there is a Christmas special with a new can size going on in Switzerland. The traditional cans were nowhere to be found. So I had to use a Pepsi can instead. ;)