APS-C and Full-Frame
Sony's mirrorless cameras have gained traction in the marketplace in recent years, getting better and better as photographic tools. The company makes models with both APS-C and full-frame image sensors at various price points. But a mirrorless camera is only as good as its lens selection.
Thankfully, Sony's E-mount system has grown by leaps and bounds—due in part to a strong partnership with Zeiss, combined with a push to release lenses for its full-frame mirrorless system, which can also be used on APS-C models that bear the NEX or Alpha designation.
If you shoot with a full-frame model, like our Editors' Choice a7 II, you'll want to look at Sony lenses that bear the FE designation, or Zeiss lenses in the Loxia or Batis series. If you mount an APS-C lens on a full-frame body you can still use it, but the image resolution will be reduced and the field of view narrowed to match that of an APS-C sensor.
Owners of APS-C models, like the a6000, can use both full-frame lenses and APS-C lenses. With the exception of the a6500, the APS-C camera series doesn't boast in-camera stabilization, so look for a lens with the OSS (Optical Steady Shot) designation for stabilized operation.
Because Sony mirrorless cameras use two sensor sizes and the same lens mount, and because there's a mix of native lenses available from Sigma, Sony, and Zeiss, wrapping your head around the nomenclature can be daunting. But it doesn't have to be.
Lenses from Sony for APS-C cameras bear the E designation. Lenses of standard optical quality are simply branded as Sony, like the Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS. There are some premium lenses that are manufactured by Sony, but bear Zeiss branding, like the Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA. The ZA designation indicates that it's an autofocus lens.
Zeiss manufactures its own lenses for the APS-C Sony system under the Touit imprint. You'll want to make sure that you buy the lens in the right mount, as Touit lenses are also available for Fujifilm mirrorless cameras.
Sigma has dabbled with mirorrless lenses, releasing a few to cover the APS-C Sony system. They bear a DN designation. As with the Touit lenses, take care when purchasing, as Sigma DN lenses are also sold for Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Sony full-frame lenses bear the FE designation. Within the FE family there are standard FE lenses, like the FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 zoom. The G series, which includes the FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS, represents a step up in image quality from the standard FE fare.
Zeiss-branded lenses manufactured by Sony are next in terms of imaging and build quality. The Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS is one example. The best lenses have the GM—G Master—designation. Optics like the Sony FE 85mm F1.4 GM are designed with the ultra-high-resolution image sensors of the future in mind.
Zeiss has two series of lenses for full-frame Sony cameras. The Loxia line is fully manual focus, with an old-school mechanical deisgn and manual aperture control. The Batis line supports autofocus and sports a modern design with smooth, metal barrels.
The lens system is extensive, with choices ranging from wide angles to standard telephoto distances. But, as with some other mirrorless systems, extreme telephoto lenses aren't common. Sony markets the LA-EA4 adapter, which can help fill some gaps in the lineup. It supports Sony (and Minolta) A-mount SLR lenses, and has its own phase detect autofocus system.
Newer cameras, including the a7R III, a9, and a6500 feature on-sensor phase detection. You can use the Sony LA-EA3 ($199.99) adapter for A-mount SLR lenses if you own one of those bodies. Using Canon SLR lenses is also an option—we recommend the Sigma MC-11 adapter if that's your desire.
As with other mirrorless cameras, you can use manual focus SLR and rangefinder lenses via a simple mechanical adapter. With full-frame models, older lenses retain the same field of view they did when used with the film cameras of yesteryear. The full-frame series is especially appealing to anyone with a library of Leica M lenses, as Sony cameras are quite affordable when compared with a digital rangefinder.
If you're in the market for a new mirrorless body, you can take a look at the Best Mirrorless Cameras we've tested. All of the cameras and lenses we've reviewed can be found in our Digital Cameras Product Guide.
Bottom Line: The Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm F2.8 ZA is a compact, sharp wide-angle lens for Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras, but it's on the pricey side.
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Bottom Line: The Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA captures sharp, lovely images, but it's not a budget lens.
Bottom Line: The Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM is a premium wide-angle zoom lens for full-frame mirrorless cameras that promises to deliver extremely crisp images.
Bottom Line: The Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS is a true pro-grade zoom lens for Sony mirrorless cameras, with performance that lives up to its asking price.
Bottom Line: The Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA is a sharp, no-compromise lens, but you'll pay for its quality.
Bottom Line: The Sony 10-18mm f/4 Wide-Angle Zoom Lens is a sharp optics that adds an ultra-wide perspective to your NEX photography system.
Bottom Line: The Sony 35mm f/1.8 Prime Lens is a fast standard-angle lens for the NEX system, but is expensive when compared to comparable SLR lenses.
Bottom Line: The Sony Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS is a compact 4.4x zoom that offers a constant f/4 aperture and optical stabilization.
Bottom Line: The Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM is a premium standard zoom lens for Sony mirrorless cameras that delivers strong image quality, but shows some distortion.
Bottom Line: The FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS fills a telephoto gap in Sony's premium lens lineup, packing crisp optics, fast autofocus, and strong image stabilization into a compact, lightweight telezoo…
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