Gettin' Bokeh Wit It (It being the Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM)

This dog had a great name, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. Sony 24mm f/1.4 at f/2.5, cropped to a 35mm-ish equivalent.

I don’t shoot wide often … which is why, lately, I’m trying to shoot wide. I like isolating subjects — and when you do that with a wide lens, you’re getting awfully close, playing with a perspective that’s a bit off from what your eye and brain expect to see. It can be uncomfortable or revealing — it’s a special challenge of its own.

After months of refreshing product pages, I got my hands on the Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM — a (tiny) beast of a lens that’s been getting glowing reviews but remains backordered pretty much everywhere. I sold my (heavier, bulkier) Sigma 24mm F/1.4 ART lens AND its 35MM big brother to finance it. With 42MP to play with on my a7Riii, I can always crop, right?

In West Philadelphia I was neither born nor raised, but I took a walk though it yesterday to give my latest acquisition a spin. Pics below, and initial impressions on the lens below that. Hope you like flowers.

Most of the images above are cropped slightly to a ~26-28mm equivalent. The purple flowers and my new buddy Pavlov (in the last shot) are closer to 35mm equivalent. The yellow flower is uncropped. Everything is wide open at f/1.4 except Pavlov and the motorcycle, each at f/1.8.

Some initial observations on this lens:

  • Hoooooooboy, it’s nice how compact and light this lens is, especially for a high-class optic. It’s just under a pound, which puts it at about 2/3 of the weight of the Sigma 24mm (the Sony is also about an inch shorter, as well as a bit thinner). I could keep this on my camera all day and not think about it.

  • There’s a little bit of vignetting (at least wide open) I didn’t notice until I applied (and then un-applied) Lightroom’s profile to remove it. That’s expected in a wide, bright prime. But it’s a smooth, subtle falloff and works well in pics like these. I’d lose it for landscapes or astro.

  • Same with distortion. I don’t anticipate removing it in most shots.

  • Autofocus is pretty snappy for a lens like this, which usually has a lot of glass to move. It struggled a little finding tiny subjects in complex scenes, but then I struggle to find my keys in a the complex mess on my desk.

  • That bokeh. You don’t buy a wide lens for the bokeh. But I spent a lot of time yesterday up close to these flowers, with pretty complex backgrounds … and they melt away gorgeously. Take a look at those red petals. At the grass. A decent lens couldn’t be blamed for turning those into a busy mess. Not this one. Slick.

  • It’s sharp where I let it be sharp. These up-close shots at f/1.4, riding close to the minimum focusing distance of .79 feet have a depth of field barely above a half-centimeter, so there’s not much to go on. The falloff is rendered beautifully.

  • In this limited walkaround, I’m not seeing any fringing or chromatic aberration — but I haven’t yet pushed it into situations that would really test it.

  • Sony’s animal eye-AF remains a neat novelty. Those little guys move fast and it’s hard to gauge whether any trouble tracking is the quality of the tech (as compared to human AF) or just how quickly they’re darting around, but I’d often trust a spot focus more.

I’m really enjoying this lens a lot. I’d started eyeing it when I read how great it’s supposed to be for astrophotography — word is, coma is near-negligible even wide open, which is almost unheard of in this range. That means sharp stars and clean, dark, low-noise skies. We’ve got trips to Shenandoah and Acadia National Parks soon. I’m looking forward to finding out.