Sony 28mm f/2 prime lens review
First things first: my reviewing style is not technical. While I understand the technical bits and can appreciate them, I prefer to focus on what I like about a product and why, and how it may or may not help me get the shots that I want. If you want a technical review, this is not the place for you. ;-)
One of the first things I did after converting to Sony and getting my “standard lenses” (the 16-35 wide angle and the 24-70 mid-range zoom) was investigate prime lenses. When I shot with the Olympus OMD EM-1, I used to use the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 a LOT. It was tons of fun and very capable. So when I converted to Sony, I knew I needed something similar for this camera. See? I said need, not want. :-)
After much deliberation, research and pondering, as well as several visits to Precision Camera here in Austin, I opted to get the 28mm f/2 prime lens - and it’s awesome! I am very happy with it and have been able to capture some images that I really love (which I have sprinkled throughout this review so you can check them out).
I’ve been shooting with it quite a bit since I got it, having even taken it on a couple of trips without it’s bigger siblings (the 16-35mm and the 24-70mm, both of which I am also rather fond of!). I figure that’s the best way to really get to know how to properly use something - dedicate some serious time to it. And if it’s the only lens you bring on a trip, it’s easy to dedicate ALL your time to it since you have no other choice. Call that forced education, I guess. It works.
Anyways, after a lot of time using it in the real world under various conditions, I have concluded that it’s a perfect fit for me in terms of what I want to use it for. To be clear, it may not be perfect for everyone. It really depends on what you are looking for. Some people prefer a wider aperture (lower f/stop number). Some may want a traditional 35mm focal range. Some may not like the idea of a prime lens because there are some limitations (you have to “zoom” with your feet, for example).
To each his own, as they say, but I find it’s a perfect complement to my other two lenses, and gives me some flexibility when I need/want it. It’s not an “everything” lens in any way - I use it for specific purposes, outlined below - but it feels like it perfectly rounds out my lens collection for Sony. I only own these 3 lenses and currently have no plans for any others. We'll see what the future brings, but I am very happy with these three.
I find that it’s a perfect fit for me for these reasons:
There are times that you just want to go unnoticed when out shooting, especially if you are doing street photography (which admittedly, I don’t do a lot of, but have experimented with some). Or maybe you are wandering somewhere and feel like you don’t want to flash a big lens around, drawing attention to yourself or your seemingly expensive bit of kit.
This lens is perfect for that. It’s pretty small (2.52” x 2.36”, 7oz weight) and therefore doesn’t look like a big, expensive piece of gear. It allows you to move quickly and fire your shots without a bunch of “setup”. I love to shoot and move, so this works wonderfully in that regard.
You can quickly capture a shot and then move on to the next one. I’ve been in places where I am not sure if they would appreciate (or even allow) someone to set up and start shooting, so it’s easy to grab a few quick ones before someone starts to approach you. I tend to shoot first and worry about the consequences later, and this encourages me to continue in that regard! (Oops, not sure that sounds very law-abiding...but it’s true.)
Attached to the Sony A7II body, the whole package is pretty small, and that’s a big win.
2) Easy to travel with
Owing to the small size and weight I just mentioned, I find this to be perfect for travel. As I said above, I took it exclusively on a couple of trips in order to get more familiar with it and really put it through its paces. The great thing is that since it’s so small, it’s very easy to just tuck it into your bag and go. It’s light enough that you barely know you even have it.
I leave it attached to the camera, and they both go in a tiny shoulder bag I carry at times, and I’m done. No big, bulky backpack to lug around some new destination. I can travel hands free with just a small bag that is easy to access when the moment presents itself. Something about that just feels right.
I wrote here long ago that I love to shoot with a wide-angle lens, and it’s still true today. I really do love seeing things like that (though I am becoming equally fascinated with the opposite end of things). Since this lens is 28mm, it’s wide enough to give me the whole scene (most of the time), and yet it’s not so wide that my subject is a tiny speck on the horizon. In other words, the focal range feels about right, especially for shooting in a city (which is where I normally am). I can grab nice, fairly wide shots of architecture and cityscapes, while still getting in close enough for some detail shots.
The fixed focal length is one of the reasons, back in the old days, that I resisted getting a prime lens for so many years. I felt restricted. I felt constrained. The idea that I couldn’t just zoom in and out seemed odd to me, and limiting. I couldn’t figure out why someone would purchase a prime lens.
Ah, but with experience comes understanding, right?
I feel the complete opposite of limited with this lens - I feel liberated. I am free to move and shoot quickly, knowing the combination of this lens and the Sony A7II are going to capture exactly what I tell it to do, and with a great amount of detail. So even though it’s a prime lens, it actually feels a lot more versatile that you would think, all things considered.
4) Low light capability
The beauty of this lens is that whole f/2 thing. Being able to shoot wide open like that is such a blessing when you travel, especially if this is the only lens you have on hand (whether by choice or not). I have been able to capture excellent street shots in San Francisco and New York City when it is rather dark outside, just by opening it up to f/2 and firing away. There's generally enough light in a city to allow that. Being open to f/2, this lens just sucks in the light and voila! You have a photograph. Easy as pie.
Which leads me to the last point...
5) No tripod needed
This ties in very closely with that last point. When I shoot at f/2 in low light, I can do so completely handheld. In other words, I don’t use my tripod when I am shooting with this lens. This is truly a “travel light” solution for me for those times that I am required to travel light, or I’m just feeling lazy and want to leave the tripod at home. Now, understand that I love my tripod, but sometimes I just want to be as light as possible - while still being able to capture photos that are meaningful to me. This lens makes it happen. Obviously not having a tripod would preclude any long exposure work, unless you have arms of steel, so keep that in mind if long exposures are your thing.
So that’s my quick review of the Sony 28mm f/2 prime lens. It’s really a wonderful piece of glass, and it helps me capture great shots when I travel - even when shooting handheld. I’ve included some additional photos taken with this lens below. Hopefully they give you a good idea of what you can do with this wonderful tool attached to your camera.
This lens sells for about $500 online and in retail stores.
Some of you may also wonder about the Sony 35mm f/2.8 lens. I opted to go with the 28mm for a few reasons:
- The 35mm is about $800, so it’s ~$300 more expensive than the 28mm
- I prefer the slightly wider view of the 28mm vs 35mm, though that’s a personal preference due to my love of wide angle shooting
- I prefer the slightly wider aperture of 2.0 on the 28mm, instead of the 2.8 on the 35mm, especially knowing I would be shooting handheld in low light mostly
- There are two additional add-on conversion lenses available for this 28mm lens: a 21mm ultra-wide and a 16mm fisheye - so this gives me some extra flexibility should I choose to purchase those options (at about $300 each - and I did purchase the fisheye, and it's great!)
I have read (and heard) good things about the 35mm f/2.8 so I doubt you can go wrong if you are deciding between one of these lenses. I can only say that I am very happy with my decision to buy the 28mm f/2, both with the price and the performance/specs. It perfectly fits in with what I want to do with the lens.