Favorite Portrait Lenses: Sony 55mm f1.8 and Sony 85mm f1.4 GMaster Lens

Sony 55mm f1.8 Sony 85mm f1.4 Favorite Portrait Lens

Have you been interested in the Sony 55mm f1.8 or the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master lens? I know these lenses can be intimidating because of the high price, but let’s discuss why they should be in every portrait photographers camera bag.

Sony 55mm f1.8 or Sony 85mm f1.4

I started portrait photography with the Sony a7 mirrorless camera paired with the 28-70mm kit lens. From my research, I learned pretty quick I needed to invest in a higher quality lens for my photography.

Shot on Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss Lens
Shot on Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss Lens

I wanted to get deeper into portrait photography so I needed to get gear specific to this genre. I knew I was going to need a good portrait lens, and so the hunt began.

I did my research and came across the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 and the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master lens. Both had their advantages and disadvantages and both came with a big price tag.

If you’re interested in a full fashion shoot with the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens, check out my shoot with Hanna here. 

I’ve owned both lenses for a few years now and I can tell you these are my favorite Sony portrait lenses.

Let’s check out each lens and learn why I believe these two lenses should be in every photographers camera bag.

Favorite Portrait Lens 35mm 55mm 85mm
Favorite Portrait Lens 35mm 55mm 85mm

The Best Portrait Lenses – Sony 55mm f1.8 and Sony 85mm f1.4

I rented a few lenses from online rental companies for my TFP shoots when I was just starting to build my portfolio.

The Sony 55mm and 85mm were among those rentals.

This is how I built the majority of my portrait portfolio. I rented both zoom and prime lenses, and I narrowed down my favorite portrait lenses pretty quick.

The best lens from the first round of rentals was the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8. See my detailed breakdown here for more info and see why it’s great for beginners.

This would eventually be the first portrait lens that I purchased and added to my collection. I sold my kit lens to help me pay for my new Sony 55mm.

At the time, the only other lens that I wanted was a traditional 85mm lens but there were no options for Sony at that time that I could afford.

Later the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 was introduced and then the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master.

If your looking for an alternative 85mm that won’t break the bank, check out my shoot breakdown here with the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8.

So I started with the good ol’ nifty fifty (five). I’ve owned both lenses since 2016 and I currently have both in my lens collection.

Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Lens Review

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

The Sony 55mm f1.8 lens is sharp, light weight and focuses very quickly on the Sony e-mount system.

It didn’t come off my camera for the first year of my portrait photography.

80% of my portrait shoots were completed with this lens when I was just starting out.

Again, It is tack sharp, lightweight and pairs really well with my Sony a7.

Also, with the lens being so small, I could stay rather inconspicuous in some indoor shoot locations with models.

My camera gear never drew much attention while I was in crowded public spaces shooting with my subjects. (You know that look you get when you are carrying a big camera and everyone is staring and wondering what you’re doing.)

Sony 55mm f1.8 Portrait Samples

Check out some of my favorite images with the Sony 55mm f1.8 portrait lens. Theses are a mixture of natural light portraits and off camera flash photography all with the 55mm.

Shot on Sony 55mm Lens with Off Camera Flash Profoto B2
Shot with Sony a7riii | Sony 55mm f1.8 Lens |  Profoto B2 Off Camera Flash
Sony 55mm f1.8 Portrait Favorite Lens
Shot with Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss Lens | natural light photo
Shot on Sony 55mm f1.8 lens with natural light
Shot with Sony 55mm f1.8 lens | natural light in studio
Sony 55mm f1.8 Portrait Natural Light with Kayla
Shot with Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 lens | natural light only

Benefits of the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens

I read online that all photographers need a great nifty-fifty lens, and this was a winner for me. The focal length is a perfect starter length. Not too wide and not too close.

Here are a few quick benefits of the 55mm lens:

  • Focusing is fast and quiet
  • Image quality is sharp
  • The lens is light-weight and features a smooth focus ring
  • Overall form factor is small and easy to carry
  • Comes with a plastic petal hood
  • Weather sealed for outdoor use
  • Native Sony lens for the e-mount system
  • Can be used on full-frame or crop sensor cameras

This lens goes great with the full frame e-mount cameras like the Sony a7iii, a7riii, a7rii and more. It also fits well with the APSC line up like the Sony a6600, a6400, a6300.

Keep in mind the crop factor of smaller APSC cameras. This will make the lens the 35mm equivalent of an 82mm.

Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss Portrait Lens

Cons of the Sony 55mm f1.8

The high price of the Sony 55mm f1.8 can make this lens hard to get for beginner photographers with a limited budget.

The price for a brand new Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 is still hovering around $1000, but you can now find used versions for around $700 or less if you check the used market.

I use websites like mpb.com to find used copies of lenses like prime lenses and zooms.

There are a few other cons of this lens but nothing that is a deal breaker for me.

These drawbacks include:

  • I wish it was a f/1.4 instead of a f/1.8, but this is a small detail for me. The bokeh still looks great and it keeps the form factor small
  • No customizable buttons on the side of the lens like the G Master line of lenses
  • Chromatic Aberrations – Very prominent when shooting wide open, especially against the sun or high contrast scenes
  • No AF/MF switch – Must be done in camera
  • Price – Brand new this small lens still runs near $1000
  • Focus ring feels slippery and not very tactile when shooting and your wearing gloves
Sony 55mm Lens Portrait - Natural Light
Shot with the Sony a7riii | Sony 55mm Lens | natural light only

Sony 55mm f1.8 Bokeh (background blur)

The bokeh from the Sony 55mm f1.8 is smooth and creamy. The background separation and also the foreground bokeh is great for adding depth and an extra bit of details to your portrait photography.

If you’re a beginner looking to learn how to shoot more portraits with background bokeh, check out my step-by-step breakdown here. 

With this lens being able to open wide to f1.8, you can get plenty of background blur for your portraits if you like that style.

Even stopping down to f2.8 or f4.0 will give you nice background blur with this lens.

It won’t be as much as an f1.4 but you will find it hard to tell the difference between the two apertures.

My Favorite Portrait Lens final thoughts
Shot on Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss Lens

Sony 55mm f1.8 Lens quick specs

  • Full-Frame E-mount Lens
  • Focal Length: 55mm
  • Widest Aperture: f/1.8
  • Minumum Aperture: f/22
  • Aperture Range: f1.8 – f22
  • Minimum focus Distance: 1.64′
  • 9 rounded Diaphragm Blades
  • Autofocus Lens
  • Angle of View: 43 degrees
  • Maximum Magnification: .14x
  • Filter Size: 49mm
  • Dimensions: 2.54″ x 2.78″
  • Weight: 9.91oz / 281g

*Specs via bhphoto.com

Is the Sony 55mm f1.8 good for beginner portrait photography

Yes, the 55mm is a great starter lens for portrait photography. The combination of light weight, small size and high quality images makes this a great option for beginners.

One of the best parts of this lens is the versatility. If you’re not sure what style you want to shoot, this lens is a smart choice. It gives you a bit more background coverage over an 85mm focal length.

It’s not as wide as the 35mm focal length, but it’s a good compromise between the 85mm and the 35mm.

Summary of the Sony 55mm f1.8 Lens

Even with the price tag, and limited features, this lens truly is a great investment.

I recommend it for photographers that are looking for a middle of the road versatile prime, especially for portrait photography. Not too wide, and not too close.

You can get some great lifestyle shots, and also some close-up shots with this lens.

Keep in mind it is very sharp so if you are working with models, you will need to get good at editing skin details if you are shooting close up.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master Lens

Sony a7riii Sony 85mm GMaster Lens
Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens | Sony a7riii Mirrorless Camera

It wouldn’t be until my 2nd year of shooting portraits that I would pick up my own Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master lens.

The lens is a hefty investment, but it’s a solid piece of gear for portrait photography. The 85mm focal length is considered on of the most flattering focal lengths for portrait work.

As one of the most expensive lenses that I currently own, I had a hard time deciding between this lens and the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8.

Ultimately the Sony 85mm G Master won the race and I added it to my camera bag.

Benefits of the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens

The Sony 85mm has some great benefits that can be important to many portrait photographers. Including the high quality of this lens, there are a few other benefits that make this a good portrait lens.

  • Quick to focus when plenty of light is available
  • Sharp quality images
  • Side button for extra customization
  • Individual aperture ring
  • Nice large tactile focus ring
  • Beautiful creamy bokeh when shooting wide open
  • Circular bokeh balls

With the addition of the custom side button on the lens, I have the button set to Eye-Auto Focus and this makes it a perfect lens for portraits and catching focus on the eyes.

This customization is one of the reasons this lens is one of my favorites.

The bokeh is beautiful and very smooth, especially wide open at f/1.4. The colors are vibrant and contrast is well handled.

If you want to learn more about how to shoot better portraits, check out this article now. 

Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master portrait examples

Sony 85mm F1.4 GMaster Portrait Sample
Shot with Sony a7 | Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens | natural light only
Sony 85mm f1.4 Portrait - Profoto B2 Off Camera Flash
Shot with Sony a7riii | Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens | Profoto B2 strobe camera left

Cons of the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens

With every lens, there will be some draw backs. The Sony 85mm f1.4 is no different. Here are a few things I didn’t like about this lens:

  • Price – The 85mm runs for about $1,798 brand new online (as of this blog post).
  • Chromatic Aberrations – Prominent when shooting in high contrast lighting scenes
  • Heavy build – 1.8lbs or 820g
  • Slow to focus in low light conditions and focus breathing in low light
  • Focus noise – I would not use for video work

You can find good used versions for around $1,500 but this is still out of reach for many photographers.

You can also rent the G Master before you buy it. If you haven’t rented gear before, check out my detailed article here. 

I’ve been told the new Sony 85mm F1.8 Lens is a great alternative to the G-Master version, but I have yet to try it out.

I’ll have to rent it soon and see what type of results I get and compare it to this Sony 85mm f1.4.

As for the weight, you’ll start to feel the weight it in your arms when shooting for more than a few hours, especially if you have a camera grip added to your camera for extra batteries.

Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Portrait on the lake
Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Portrait | All natural light | @f1.4

Summary of the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master

Many pro photographers have reviewed this lens and compared it to the Zeiss Batis 85mm, and the newer Sony 85mm F1.8 Lens.

To be honest, if you can afford this lens, you can’t go wrong.

The G Master series is expensive for a reason and the quality just can’t be touched.

I am shooting more and more with the lens so I hope to have more examples for you guys very soon.

Sony 55mm f1.8 vs Sony 85mm f1.4 Comparison

So how does the Sony 55mm f1.8 and the Sony 85mm f1.4 compare? Let’s check out the chart below and see some of the main differences.

Sony Zeiss
55mm f1.8

Sony G Master
85mm f1.4

Price:
$998.00

Price:
$1798.00

Weight:
9.91oz / 281g

Weight:
1.8 lbs / 820g

Max Aperture:
f/1.8

Max Aperture:
f/1.4

Min Aperture:
f/22

Min Aperture:
f/16

Size:
2.54" x 2.78"64.52 x 70.61mm

Size:
3.52" x 4.23"89.5 x 107.5mm

Min FocusDistance:
1.64' / 50cm

Min Focus Distance:
2.62' / 80cm

Filter Size:
49mm (front)

Filter Size:
77mm (front)

Image Stabilization:
None

Image Stabilization:
None

*Specs via bhphoto.com

Both lenses are pricey but the Sony 55mm f1.8 is smaller and has is lighter weight for half the price.

If you’re looking for a detailed comparison between the 35mm vs 50mm v85mm, then I have an article you need to check out today.

Big investments have made a big difference

You may not have the budget to get these lenses, but keep in mind there are now more great options on the market for Sony FE mount.

I love prime lenses, and the look it gives my portraits when I shoot wide open.

I chose not to get the most expensive camera, and went the route of investing in really good glass.

This was the consensus from recommendations that I read online from many professional photographers.

No matter what lens you have, just keep shooting and finding new ways to get inspired.

Shot on Sony 85mm f1.4 GMaster Lens
Shot with Sony a7 | Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens | natural light only
Bokeh Sony 85mm f1.4 portrait lens
Shot with Sony a7ii | Sony 85mm f1.4 GM Lens | @f1.4 | ISO 200 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only

Which portrait lens is right for you – Sony 55mm f1.8 or Sony 85mm f1.4

The Sony mirrorless system has grown quite a bit since this article was written.

There is now a larger selection of gear to choose from, so make sure you try out some other lenses so you can find the right fit.

I always recommend renting first or visiting your local camera store to check out the lens selections.

Portrait Lens Prices

The Sony 55mm f1.8 retails for $998.00. This is a pretty expensive nifty-fifty (five) lens but the quality is truly unmatched.

The Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master retails for $1798.00 but you can find more deals on used equipment so don’t pay full-price.

Each lens is a large investment but I highly recommend having at least one of them in your camera bag for portraits.

Conclusion

Both of these lenses make great additions to your camera kit. I have built my portfolio of over 100+ model test shoots with both of these lenses by my side.

You can’t go wrong with either, but you need to test and see which lens gets you the style you want.

*Affiliate Disclaimer - I am a proud partner of the various affiliate programs including the Amazon.com Affiliate Program. When you click on my links and make a purchase I make a commision which goes to helping me support this blog. Thanks!

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