Sony 55mm Portraits: Super sharp and perfect for beginners

Sony 55mm portraits

The most common questions I get on social media are about my Sony 55mm portraits. Is the f1.8 aperture wide enough? How sharp is this lens? Is it worth the price and how do I get good portraits with this lens?

Sony 55mm f1.8 Portrait Photography

Consider staying around 3ft to 4ft away from your subject and focus on the eyes. Keep in mind your aperture will dictate the amount of background blur (bokeh) you get, so if you want more blur shoot wide-open at f1.8. The more you stop down (the higher the aperture number), the less blur you will get. Let’s review some more simple tips for shooting portraits with this Sony 55mm f1.8 lens.

Well, it’s time to answer your questions and more. Check out these tips for shooting portraits with the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens

Sony Zeiss 55mm F1.8 FE Lens
Sony Zeiss 55mm F1.8 FE Lens

Sony 55mm f1.8 Lens specs

  • Full-Frame E-mount Lens
  • Focal Length: 55mm
  • Widest Aperture: f/1.8
  • Minimum 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

How to shoot with Sony 55mm

There’s no secret technique to shooting portraits with the full-frame Sony 55mm lens.

It takes practice and a little bit of creativity to get some good shots. See my tips below and keep these in mind when shooting with this lens.

If you’re looking to get that smooth blurred background, check out my detailed article on getting bokeh in portraits. Let’s review some tips. 

  • Don’t get too close to the subject – This will introduce distortion to the face. The best portraits keep the facial features natural and not distorted. If your looking for that type of distortion you might consider a more wide-angled lens. 
  • When shooting wide open, I would stay around 3ft to 4ft back so you can get more of the face and hair in focus. This will also depend on your aperture and focus point as well. 
  • If you’re looking for more of a 3/4 length shot, simply move back to get more of the subject in the composition.
  • This lens has some strong CA (chromatic aberrations) when shooting into the sun or in high contrast areas, so consider shooting in the shade or an evenly lit area. If you can’t find a google place, just remember that CA is easily removed in the post-production photo editing process.
  • This lens is very sharp so keep that in mind when shooting with subjects that have uneven skin tones or blemishes. It may require more editing time to remove these if you so desire.
  • For best portrait results, turn your camera vertical and shoot in portrait orientation. Remember good composition will help you get more pleasing shots.
  • For best quality results and resolution, I would recommend using a Sony full-frame camera with this lens like the Sony a7iii, Sony a7riii, Sony a7ii, Sony a9, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with angles. Get above or below your subject for more dynamic looks.

The Sony 55mm is close to what the human eye sees on a daily basis so this might give you an idea of what to expect.

The special Zeiss coating will also add a small additional layer of contrast that people say will make your portraits “pop”. I’ve never noticed it, but apparently, it’s a thing. 

Shot with Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm f1.8 | Natural Light Only
Shot with Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm f1.8 | Natural Light Only

Benefits of Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 lens

  • Very sharp lensDXO Mark has this lens as one of the sharpest native FE Sony lenses.
  • Lightweight and easy to carry – At 281g or .62 pounds, this lens is very easy to carry for long periods of time. 
  • Simple design and finish – Sleek metal body finish makes this a small tank of a lens.

Sony 55mm f1.8 lens comparison

How does the Sony 55mm f1.8 compare to other 50mm lenses from Sony? Check out the chart below to see some of the main differences.

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The lens is pricey but in terms of weight and size, you can’t go wrong with this lens for your Sony E-mount camera.

How it as shot | Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm F1.8 | Natural Light
How it was shot | Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm F1.8 | Natural Light

What I don’t like about the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens

  • It’s expensive for a 55mm – Starting around $1000 when it first came out, you can now find better deals on this lens but there are other options to now consider if budget is an issue.
  • Chromatic aberrations can get bad outdoors in high contrast areas, or in sunny scenes
  • Does not have an AF/MF switch – Must be done in the camera
  • No Additional buttons for customization – No focus hold button or additional customization on the leans.
  • No lens stabilization – No OSS built into the lens. Not a deal-breaker, but something to consider when using a camera without IBIS (In-body stabilization. Like the Sony a6400, or Sony a6300)

The most common mistake when using the Sony 55mm

I can’t reiterate this enough, but the most common mistake I see from beginner photographers is trying to get too close to your subject while shooting wide open.

Portrait Mistake - Standing too close with Sony 55mm f1.8
Sony 55mm Portrait Mistake – Standing too close to subject at f1.8 – Nose, lips, other eyes out of focus

Give yourself some breathing room when taking close-up shots. When you’re too close, the focus will sometimes hit the eyelashes and not the pupil.

It may also hit the focus on the nose and not the eyes.

I’ve read in forums that beginner photographers blame this on soft focus and lens defects but they just don’t realize the shallow depth of field they are working with when shooting wide open.

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Sony 55mm f1.8 Minimum focusing distance

The minimum focusing distance for the Sony 55mm is 1.64ft or about 50cm.

There is something called the minimum focusing distance for all lenses.

This tells you how close you can get to any subject before the lens starts having trouble focusing or can’t focus at all.

A good way to start is about 2ft-3ft from your subject and then adjust from there. 

How sharp is the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens

This lens is very sharp. It’s great for portrait photography because you can get really small details from the subject.

This can be especially helpful if you are photographing a subject that is wearing small jewelry or other small accessories.

Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v7
Shot on Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 FE Lens | 1/250sec | ISO 50 | f/3.2 | Natural light only
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v9
Shot on Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 FE Lens | 1/250sec | ISO 50 | f/3.2 | Natural light only
Sony a7 Portrait with Kayla Natural Light Park Shoot v10
Shot on Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 FE Lens | 1/400sec | ISO 50 | f/2.2 | Natural light only
Shot on Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 FE Lens | 1/400sec | ISO 50 | f/2.2 | Natural light only
Shot on Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 FE Lens | 1/400sec | ISO 50 | f/2.2 | Natural light only

Build quality of the Sony Zeiss 55m f1.8 Lens

The lens has a great build quality. It is an all-metal construction and still maintains a lightweight and smooth finish.

The focus ring is small and has decent ridges for smooth operation.

I find that it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re on the focus ring when my hands are cold. Even with gloves, it can be a little difficult.

Can you use the Sony 55mm on crop sensor cameras like the Sony a6000, a6100, a6300, a6400, a6500, or a6600?

The short answer is yes. The Sony Zeiss 55mm is a FE lens made for E-mount cameras.

This means it is meant for full-frame e-mount cameras like the Sony a7iii or Sony a7riii.

With that being said, you can use this on your Sony crop sensor E-mount cameras like the Sony a6400 or the Sony a6500, or even the older Sony a6000.

Just keep in mind the size of the camera sensor is smaller and there is a thing called a crop factor that gets applied.

Sony a6400 with Sony 55mm f1.8 lens
Sony a6400 with Sony 55mm f1.8 lens

Without getting too technical, this will make the lens more like an 82mm on the smaller crop-sensor cameras.

It happens automatically, even if you don’t make any changes to settings in the camera body.

You’ll still get great quality, but you will notice the lens is slightly more zoomed-in versus using the same lens on a full-frame camera.

Sony does make a 50mm E-mount lens specifically for crop-sensor cameras. Sigma also makes a 56mm f1.4 that has some great reviews.   

Sony 55mm f1.8 Portrait
Shot with Sony a7 Camera | Sony 55mm F1.8 | Natural Light

Filters for the Sony 55mm f1.8 Lens

The 55mm takes 49mm filters. If you’re just starting out, I would recommend at least getting a UV filter or polarizer to protect the front of the lens from scratches and dust.

You can also look into variable ND filters as you start using more advanced lighting techniques.

Who should use the Sony 55mm f1.8 lens?

  • Beginner portrait photographers
  • Advanced portrait photographers
  • Street photographers
  • Event photographers
  • Wedding Photographers
  • Family photographers and more

This lens has great versatility for someone who wants a standard focal length and needs a lightweight and easy-to-use option.

Would I recommend the Sony 55mm f1.8 for beginners?

Absolutely yes!

Hands down it’s an easy choice. If you have the budget, I would say this is a perfect starter lens for portraits along with the Sony 85mm f1.8.

It’s not too telephoto and you can stand back and still get some great wide shots without needing tons of space for portraits. 

If you have a larger budget and want a larger aperture like 1.4 I would consider the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master lens. It’s pricey but well worth it for the quality and sharpness.

The lightweight body also makes this easy to carry and shoot with for long periods of time. The f1.8 aperture lets you shoot in low-light situations and even better with full-frame cameras.

Indoor portraits with Sony 55mm f1.8
Indoor portraits with Sony 55mm f1.8
Sony a7riii with Sony 55mm f1.8 lens and 85mm f1.4
Sony a7riii with Sony 55mm f1.8 lens and 85mm f1.4

Can you use the Sony 55mm f1.8 for other types of photography?

Short answer, YES!

Long Answer, YES you can!

This lens is versatile and can give you some beautiful pictures no matter what you are using it for.

It’s not a macro lens so don’t think you can get close and still hit focus.

I see this lens being used for street photography and events and many other types of shoots.

Photographers have always loved this focal length and the style it brings to their photos.

Shot with Sony a7 and Sony 55mm Lens
Kayla on the bridge | Shot on Sony a7 | Sony 55mm f1.8 FE Lens | 1/250sec | ISO 50 | f/3.2 | Natural light only

The Sony 55mm f1.8 Zeiss lens is the first portrait lens I ever purchased

My first camera was the original Sony a7 and it came with the 28-70 kit lens.

It was a good starter kit, but I quickly knew I wanted to grow beyond this camera combo.

The Sony 55mm was the first real lens I invested in after buying my camera. The original Sony a7 didn’t have IBIS but I didn’t care at the time.

I shot with one camera and one lens (the Sony 55mm) for almost 2 years before I upgraded my gear even further.

I still own the same Sony 55mm lens to this day and shoot with it often for my model test shoots.

Conclusion and final thoughts

I’m sorry if you were looking for a pixel-peeping review of this lens. That’s not my style.

The Sony 55mm is a sweet portrait lens. It’s lightweight, and very sharp and you can find it on sale at many different retailers today.

The wide-open aperture is perfect for low-light situations and for giving you that smooth bokeh and subject separation that many portrait photographers love.

Like all equipment and lenses, the more you shoot with it, the more you will get to know its limitations.

This prime lens was one of the first Sony lenses to be released for the E-mount system. It’s still making its way into the hands of portrait photographers everywhere and for good reason.

The nifty-fifty focal length is a staple in photography and can bring you some classic portrait images with a little creativity and experience.

If your budget will allow, this lens is a welcomed addition to any Sony portrait shooters camera bag.

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