First Look Review: Hands-On with the New Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 STF G Master & FE 85mm f/1.8 Lenses

It was portrait shooter’s paradise with two new Sony lenses this week. The Sony FE 100mm F2.8 STF GM OSS (model SEL100F28GM) is a veritable bokeh machine, while the FE 85mm F1.8 (model SEL85F18) is a budget-friendly, professional quality portrait lens. Sony invited a small group of editors to a private studio on Wednesday and assured us that we were the first journalists in the world to shoot with this new glass.

The pictures tell the story in this piece, but here are the pertinent facts. The Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 lens is a G Master level lens (Sony’s fourth) and features Smooth Trans Focus using an Apodization Element for bokeh enhancement. Think of an Apodization Element as a sort of neutral density filter that gets progressively darker from the center toward the edges. It works in optical concert with the 11-blade circular aperture diaphragm. The net effect is smoother, more lustrous bokeh. The lens also contains one aspheric element, one ED element, and uses Sony’s direct drive SSM focus system (which is fast and super-silent). Of course, it also has Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization. Due in late March, price will be around $1,499.

The new FE 85mm f/1.8 is also an E-mount, full-frame format like the 100mm and it contains one ELD (Extra Low Dispersion) element and a double linear AF Motor. The aperture diaphragm is 9-blade circular and although it does not contain any special STF features, the combination of extended focal length and very large aperture produces outstanding bokeh in its own right. It’s priced right, too, at $599, and also expected to hit dealers’ shelves in late March.

You can see my photos of the two new Sony lenses further down in this story.

The photo at the top of this story was captured while the model clowned around with a plastic skull. Sony A7R II, Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, 1/125 sec. at f/4.5, ISO 1600. © Jon Sienkiewicz

Beautiful blonde model cracks up during a lull in the shooting. She is tack-sharp while background displays bokeh enhanced by the Apodization Element contained in the Smooth Trans Focus lens. Sony Alpha Sony A7R II with Sony 100mm f/2.8 STF, 1/100 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 1600. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

Note the different background patterns in this shot of Gina with Sony’s new 85mm portrait lens. Sony Alpha Sony A7R II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, 1/100 sec. at f/2, ISO 400. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

The intricate embroidery is rendered so sharp that it almost looks 3D in the original, full-res version of this shot, while the halos around the 5W bulbs exhibit unique bokeh. Sony A7R II with Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, 1/100 sec at f/5.6, ISO 2000. BTW, this is some amazing performance for a camera set at ISO 2000. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

Another shot of Gina and look what has become of the lights in the background. Sony Alpha Sony A7R II with Sony 100mm f/2.8 STF, 1/100 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 1600. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

Beautiful, razor-sharp detail from Sony’s “non-G Master” 85mm. Sony Alpha Sony A7R II with FE 85mm f/1.8, 1/100 sec. at f/2, ISO 320. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

The 85mm focal length has long been heralded as ideal for portraits. This shot shows many of the reasons why. And yes, this is an example of Rembrandt lighting. Sony Sony A7R II, Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, 1/125 sec. at f/4.5, ISO 1600. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

The Sony 100mm f/2.8 STF has a T/stop of f/5.6 and an f/stop of 2.8. Confusing? Just remember that an f/stop is a calculation whereas a T/stop is an actual measurement. This was shot with a Sony NEX 6. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 (T/5.6) STF G Master. © Jon Sienkiewicz
 

Sony also introduced a new electronic flash unit, the radio-controlled HVL-F45RM. I used it for this shot; however, it is not covered in detail in this article. Main claim to fame? It can control up to 15 additional radio-controlled flash units in up to five groups at a distance of 30 meters. It’s also small. Coming in May, it will check in priced below $400. © Jon Sienkiewicz

Conclusion
What’s the verdict? I shot with these two lenses for less than three hours, so it’s not fair to jump to premature conclusions, but if I were the jumping type I’d say that portrait photographers—at least the pros who shoot Sony Alpha—have a lot to be happy about. The 100mm STF is simply awesome and using it was a lot of fun. The new 85mm f/1.8 is going to steal a lot of customers who might have otherwise purchased Sony’s 85mm f/1.4 (which costs three times as much). In either case, it’s good news day for everyone who shoots Sony DSLRs.

—Jon Sienkiewicz