I have been waiting for this lens for a long time. I had hesitated to move to the Sony A7 system because of the lack of lenses, especially a macro lens. Over the last few months Sony announced a number of new lens and the 90mm Macro was one of them. The other lens I recently took delivery on is the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens. I will say more on this beautiful lens in the near future.
I received a call from Roberts Camera (my local camera dealer) that my Sony 90mm lens had arrived. Roberts is fantastic at getting things in and filling pre-order lists. I rushed downtown and picked the lens up and was anxious to give it a try. The lens comes packed well in a big Sony orange box and includes a nice leather lens case plus lens shade.
The feel of the lens impressed me even though it was rather large and heavy at 1.3 lbs. The lens size without the lens shade is 5.14 inches long and 3.1 inches in diameter. The build of the lens is excellent with a satin black finish and is well put together. There is no plastic feel with this lens except with the lens shade. I am finding it kind of ironic that while the Sony cameras are getting smaller the lenses still seem large. Knowing something about lenses I can understand why as there are motors, circuits and gears tightly tucked away inside a lens barrel. This lens is large and somewhat heavy but it does fell good in the hand and is balanced nicely with the camera.
The lens has a minimum focus distance of 11 inches and an f/stop range of 2.8 – 22. Angle of view is 27degrees for full frame. It’s capable of 1:1 close up work while focused at 11 inches.
Unlike many lenses that expand when you focus them, this lens is designed as an internal focus lens. All focusing with moving of the lens elements and groups takes place inside the lens. Nothing on the outside of the lens twists or expands.
The big round button on the side of the lens, the focus hold button, is something I consider a must-have when doing macro work, especially hand held. For example, if I am photographing the center of a sunflower, I’ll compose the shot and press my shutter release half way down and let the camera do the initial auto focus. I’ll then push the focus hold button, use slight camera movements in and out until I get exactly what I want in focus and then make the exposure. This is especially handy if you are shooting a bee or butterfly on the flower that is moving. You can thus keep the focus and follow the subject keeping the focus distance locked on. Otherwise your AF will do a lot of hunting trying to keep up with your movements as well as the subject. The use of focus peaking is a huge plus using this method. Many of the images in this article were shot employing this method. The lens was a joy to work with and the button was ideally placed for my thumb to activate it.
I should mention that unlike the new 35mm lens which has an f-stop ring, the 90mm Macro lens uses the typical by wire f-stop adjustments (using one of the adjustment knobs on the camera). It would be nice if the Sony prime lenses had some design consistency.
All images in this article were made using the Sony A7 II Camera
The lens has a slide switch known as a Focus Range Limiting. This is a great addition on a lens like this. It allows for three settings of the AF range. For normal use (non-macro) you can set the switch to middle position and this will limit the AF seeking and allow focus range from .5 meters to infinity. I found the focus in this mode to work fine but not as quick as I would have liked to see. One of the other settings is Full Range. This setting allows you to use AF from 11inches all the way to infinity. The results of working in this mode are mixed. I found that the AF would spend some time seeking. This was dependent on the subject, lighting and contrast of the subject. I am not sure why one would use this setting. Frankly if I knew I was going to be shooting something close up I’d switch to the third option and that would be 0.5m – 0.28m, essentially from around 19 inches to II inches. This was a fun setting to work with.
Unlike any other Sony lens that I know of, this lens has a push pull AF – MF ring. I love these types of lenses. It allows for quickly switching of AF and going to Manual focus. I could use AF get the shot focused, switch to MF by pulling back on the focus ring. Then with the focus assist magnification on, I could micro focus for precise focus. I use focus peaking on all the time with Zebras. This combo allows me to confirm focus as well as any highlights that may be blown out. I normally compensate for this with the exposure compensation dial conveniently located for use with my right thumb.
These factors are why I have come to like the mirrorless systems more and more. The information in a viewfinder, while sometimes overwhelming, allows you to see a lot of data. I love seeing the focus mask (peaking area) as well as where highlight may be blown. You can also configure the viewfinder display to show as much or as little as you want.
You do need to remember that minimum focus distance is 11 inches. This is 11 inches from the subject to the film (sensor) plane. The distance from subject to the front of the lens at minimum focus is around 5 inches.
There is also an Optical Steady Shot switch on the camera. When turned on, the lens will use IS to help steady the shot. With the A7II you can turn it off and let the IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) take over. This is nice because no matter what kind of camera you have, you will get good stabilization. When doing macro work hand held, good stabilization is a must.
I took the lens and my A7II out to a Saturday morning at the local Farmers Market. Lots of good color and subjects allowed me to give the lens a good test. I started out shooting with Aperture Priority with the aperture set at f/8. Because i was shooting in shade, sometimes I was getting slower than acceptable shutter speeds. Thus I ended up setting the A7II for a mode I love so much when shooting with log lenses. I set the ISO to Auto for ISO range of 100 – 3200. I set the shutter speed for 500th of a sec and the f/stop at f/8. Shooting this way, I had a high enough shutter speed even with IS to be steady. The f/8 setting was a good start for almost all types of shooting and the beauty is the ISO would shift to allow me to shoot at this speed and f/stop. The results were excellent. As a side note I shot this was when doing long lens shooting and trying to catch the action. The high ISO quality is such that this works great.
One thing I noticed but it didn’t slow me down with this lens was that in AF-C (continuous auto-focus) the lens was not as fast at tracking or locking on to a subject that was moving even if they were walking. I did confirm that the lens was set for .5m – infinity setting (middle position). The one thing you want to avoid with a lens like this is full AF range as it could cause the lens to be slow in focusing as it focuses through the entire range of focus. The new A7 II does a good job at tracking moving subjects, so I trust I’d see the benefits with this lens. I did not specifically test for this though.
When I got home I decided to do some locked down shots. The first I tried was to look at the image quality and depth of field for close up work. I took a sheet of stamps and locked down focus. I then did a range of images from f/2.8 through f/22. I shot the sheet of stamps at an angle so I could see how depth of field would behave.
I did not use any special lighting for this and let the ISO fall where it did at around 3200.
I then shot a series of images at f/4 and stepped focus from front to the back and then performed a focus stack. The resulting image is below. Focus stacking is used extensively in macro photography. I’ll share a basic focus stacking article in the near future.
Further I tried some flat focus images.
I was very impressed by the sharpness of the lens from center to corners.
I also wanted to experiment with some focus stacking which I have loved doing over the years with Macro lenses. I chose a Lego truck and shot it at f/4 and varied the focus from front to back. I made a total of 17 exposures out of curiosity to see how far I could extend focus. The field of focus coverage was approximately 3.5 feet feet.
The combination of the Sony A7 II and the 90mm Macro lens is an ideal set up for doing Macro Focus Stacking. With a live view of the subject with a focus peaking mask you can actually see the focus range and easily manage to re-focus additional images to cover the full depth of the subject you are shooting. I’ll do a tutorial on this technique in an upcoming article. I look forward to doing some serious 1:1 focus stacking over time now that I have an ideal lens and camera set up for macro photography.
The following images were shot at 1:1 focus – minimum focus distance of 11 inches. The images will show the range of depth of field at this focus setting.
The Final Word
Since the A7II became available I like the Sony system more and more. Yes, there are some things that could be improved like the menu and button set up on the camera, but overall the performance has been great and images are excellent. The more you use the Sony Camera, the more you get used to its idiosyncrasies. Sony has become the leader in sensor technology. They supply sensors for many different camera lines as well as the massive cell phone market. I believe we have only begun to see what Sony is capable of with their chips. It should be noted at the time of writing this review that Sony made news by going out and doing a new round of stock offerings to help boost their sensor division. The following quote is from Reuters “Sony is betting on image sensors and video games to help offset weakness in its more traditional electronics products such as TVs.”
When the Sony A7 system was introduced, it was lacking a substantial lens inventory. Sony has done an amazing job, over the last few years, in delivering a wide variety of both excellent zooms and exceptional primes. The 90mm Macro that just started shipping is nothing short of exceptional. Yes, some folks may claim it is too big and some may even claim too expensive at $1098 USD. But for the price you get a solid really well designed lens that is dust and moisture resistant. In a few short years Sony has delivered a number of great lenses. In addition through the use of adapters they can mounts their other lenses as well as a host of other manufacturers lenses. The soon to be released A7R II could be the first step to what could be called a universal camera. Reports are that with an adaptor in place that Canon glass performs amazingly well on this camera. The strategy of Sony here is brilliant. If the tests are accurate it means photographers can adapt the sony camera body and use lenses they already own. Let’s see how this pans out over the coming months.
I found the 90mm Macro easy to work with and the switches and buttons placed so I could easily change them without even looking. Add, the push – pull focus ring and this is a great lens to work with doing macro work. I ran it through its paces and this lens is one I am happy to have in my camera bag. The image quality is positively excellent and the sharpness from center to corners shines. One minor observation is that there is a bit of soft corners focus close at f2.8. This completely went away with sharper corners to center from f/5.6 to F/16. I saw no distortion when using this lens.
I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to recommend this lens. It is a fast (2.8) well built and extremely sharp lens. I am very excited to see how this lens will perform on the upcoming A7rII. I am anxious now to get back to doing Macro photography in serious way. My intentions are to buy a macro lighting rig and get into doing some serious macro captures.
All images in this article were processed using Capture One. As a side note Capture One is already listing compatibility with the A7r II.