Last week, alongside a new 10–20mm F4 PZ G zoom lens, Sony announced a pair of ultra-wide primes for its APS-C mirrorless camera systems: an 11mm F1.8 and a 15mm F1.4 G. These compact lenses offer approximately 17mm and 23mm full-frame equivalent focal lengths, respectively, and manage to pack respectable image quality into extremely compact form factors.
For this hands-on, we’ll be taking a look at both lenses, starting first with the 15mm F1.4 G before moving onto the 11mm F1.8. Let’s dig in.
Users and use cases
The size and weight of these lenses, combined with their ultra-wide focal lengths, strongly suggests they’re designed for vlogging and gimbal/drone work. The 11mm, in particular, is an intriguing one, because for vlogging, how far it’s held away from you makes a significant difference in how much of the frame your head and torso may fill.
For me, a 1.88m (6’2″) guy, holding the 11mm at arms length was a bit too wide for my liking. However, for my wife, who’s only 1.57m (5’2″), holding it at arms length proved to be perfect framing for vlogging, due to her shorter arms. It’s also worth factoring-in the degree to which a wide angle-of-view allows a camera with digital stabilization to crop-in, but still give a usefully wide view, especially in the light of how many of Sony’s APS-C models (including the ZV-E10), don’t have a mechanical stabilization system.
For me, the 15mm was the more vlogging-friendly model, but that ultimately comes down to personal preference and what your particular shooting style is like (the image above was shot with the 15mm F1.4 G lens attached to a ZV-E10). The 15mm, given its 22.5mm equiv AoV, could also be useful for landscape and wide-angle stills shooting, too.
Optical design (15mm F1.4 G)
The 15mm F1.4 G lens features Sony’s ‘G’ label, which is its way of saying this lens is capable of supporting high-resolution sensors. The lens is constructed of 13 elements in 12 groups, including three aspherical elements, one Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements and one Super ED element. Together, these elements promise to minimize chromatic aberration, which was barely visible wide-open and negligible when stopped down to even F2 in our sample unit.
As is the case with all three of these ultra-wide lenses Sony released, the geometric distortion of this lens is handled digitally, a decision allows Sony to keep the lens compact and lightweight. Both JPEG stills and video apply the corrections automatically, but whether or not your Raw images will be corrected automatically upon import will depend on whether or not your Raw converter has an appropriate lens correction profile.
Optical performance (15mm F1.4 G)
In our testing with the 15mm F1.4 G, our sample units performed well in a variety of different lighting environments. When shot wide open, the lens is a bit soft around the edges, but that’s to be expected. Once you stop down to F2 or more, the lens is incredibly sharp across the entire frame.
Bokeh is about what you’d expect for an F1.4 lens on an APS-C sensor. While not the most aesthetically pleasing, mostly due to the slightly bright edges given to the out-of-focus subject matter, it’s consistent across the frame without too much of a cats-eye shape towards the corners of the frame. Getting closer to the subject helps to further create separation in the frame, but with a minimum focusing distance of 17cm (6.7”), there’s only so close you can get.
For better or worse, Sony has done a great job to minimize flaring with this lens. I had to get the lens pointing at just the right angle towards a very bright light source to catch a flare. But, when I did, the result was a sharp, but subtle, rather than just washing-out my subject.
Buttons, focus and aperture ring (15mm F1.4 G)
The 15mm F1.4 G has both a focus and aperture ring. The aperture ring, which sticks ever so slightly above the focus ring, has slightly larger ridges in its knurling, and has the ability to be clicked or de-clicked with the flip of a toggle on the lens. Personally, I think the aperture ring is a bit too close to the focus ring, but I believe Sony did this so the aperture ring isn’t too close to the camera body, as even on a compact APS-C, the lens doesn’t stick out too far and those with larger hands might have trouble with clearance.
The sole button on the lens is a customizable one on the barrel, underneath the ‘G’ insignia and above the AF/MF toggle. This can be programmed to the usual array of features and modes Sony has enabled over the years and is a nice touch for quickly changing something on-the-fly, particularly when hand-holding the camera and lens when vlogging or taking a selfie.
Optical design (11mm F1.8)
The 11mm F1.8 lens is constructed of 12 elements in 11 groups, including three aspherical elements and three Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements. These elements are meant to minimize distortion and help to provide edge-to-edge sharpness, while also reducing color fringing and chromatic aberrations.
As mentioned before, geometric distortion is corrected in software, helping keep the size of the lens down by reducing the need to keep correcting the additional complications that can occur as you add more corrective elements to a design.
Optical performance (11mm F1.8)
Sony’s 11mm F1.8 lens doesn’t feature same ‘G’ denotation as its 15mm counterpart, but it still offers respectable performance for those who want a compact APS-C ultra-wide lens.
As is expected of such a small, ultra-wide lens, the 11mm is a bit soft in the corners wide open. Even stopped down to F2 or F2.8, the corners can be a bit soft, but at F4 or above, even the corners are sharp (albeit a bit distorted, which is also to be expected). We unfortunately didn’t get a clear sky to shoot with during our time with the lens, but it should, in theory, make for a quality astrophotography lens for starscapes and the like.
Being an ultra-wide lens, bokeh isn’t exactly a priority. And probably for the better. Even when you can find a scene that allows the chance to snap up some shallow depth of field, the bokeh balls are quite harsh around the edges, making for a busy background.
Build quality and ergonomics (11mm F1.8)
When holding the 11mm F1.8 side-by-side with the 15mm F1.4 G, it’s clear Sony put a bit more emphasis on the overall design and build quality into the higher-grade lens. The 11mm F1.8 only has a focus ring, eschewing the physical aperture ring.
Thankfully, Sony kept the AF/MF switch and customizable button, with both being placed in effectively the same spots on both lenses.
Pricing and availability
The Sony E 11mm F1.8 is expected to be available in early July 2022 for $549.99 / $699.99 CAD. The Sony E 15mm F1.4 G is expected to be available in early July 2022 for $749.99 / $949.99 CAD.
In all, it seems Sony has hit the mark with both of these lenses when taking them in context with their price points and intended users. If we set aside the different angle-of-views of the two lenses (the 11mm is 20% wider than the 15mm), the 15mm F1.4 is easily the superior lens, both in image quality and feature set with its physical, de-clickable aperture ring. But that increased performance and feature set comes at a $200 premium and a slightly larger design.
Video captured on both lenses showed minimal focus breathing and focus was smooth when quickly racking focus. Autofocus also performed quick and quietly with both lenses, both when shooting stills and video, which can likely be attributed to Sony’s dual linear motors used in both lenses.
The 11mm F1.8 stands alone with no other AF equivalents from third-party manufacturers, but the 15mm F1.4 is competing against Sigma’s 16mm F1.4 DC DN lens, which has very similar image quality at less than half the cost ($374 compared to $750). However, the slightly less-wide Sigma is substantially heavier, has slower AF and lacks a physical aperture ring, all of which are likely going to be fairly beneficial for the user base this is meant for (vloggers, astrophotographers, etc).