Monday, February 17, 2014

My ideas for lenses for the new Sony FE mount

Well, I've bought the A7R and am seriously considering my future in the A mount and whether a swap across to the E mount might be my long term end point. The beauty of the way Sony has created the FE mount is that its made it possible for me to consider a swap but by having the LEA4 adapter the full switch across isnt a) mandatory and b) driven to any external timeframe - ie I can choose to swap completely to the FE mount, partially, or not at all and I can make that swap at whatever pace my wallet can afford. How cool is that?

Of course there is another problem with trying to swap completely to 'native' FE mount lenses - that is there simply isnt a full line-up of FE lenses to buy even if I wanted too. A favorite internet past time is to try and predict (or simply guess) what camera companies are going to do next and pontificate about why company x will (or at least should) follow our sage advice. Far be it from me to ignore this proud tradition so I'm going to join in. So here is my guess/prediction whatever of what lenses Sony will produce for the FE mount in the intermediate future (say) 12-24 months.

First, like any good essay we need to lay out our assumptions. These are based heavily upon rumours circulating out of and around sonyalpharumours.com. In general I've found them to be remarkably realistic and (in hindsight) pretty accurate so I'm sticking with Andreas for the time being. So my assumptions are:
  • Sony are planning to announce/release 15 'native' FE mount lenses in the intermediate future - so my list (including the currently released 5 lenses) will add up to 15 lenses (ie 10 more).
  • While the current FE mount camera (the A7 and A7R) are distinctly rangefinder like (therefore skewing lenses towards street/landscape/travel/macro - ie wide) there will be an FE mount SLR styled body aimed more at sports/wildlife etc resulting in some longer lenses two. I believe the announcement of the 70-200, a very SLR and un-RF like lens reinforces this assumption. So, my guesstimated line-up skews towards these RF like 'wide' applications but will include some SLR like longer options. These longer options will, however, be more general purpose lenses than dedicated tele primes for the time being.
  • I believe the FE mount lenses will (generally) aim for premium optical quality at relatively affordable prices (say $800-1500 generally). The trade off will be that max apertures will be a little lower than we expect from 'premium' lenses. Im basing this assumption largely upon what we've alrady seen in the FE mount, the lenses so far tested are amazing performers optically - right up there with the very very best, but also 'relatively' cheap given their optical quality and a fraction 'slow'. This strategy, whilst not confirmed, has been strongly endorsed by sites such as DPReview and personally I reakon its a brilliant plan. I think many people will love the idea that they can afford top shelf optics and all they are losing is (generally) a stop or so of wide open aperture that they would rarely have used anyway.
  • Given what we've seen recently, Sony/Nikon/Canon lenses are all priced pretty closely. The biggest factor in price seems to be lens age, ie older lenses are cheaper (usually 25-30%) than newer ones. Looking at the current FE lenses and their prices, it appears they seem to be priced at around 70% of 'new' Canon L series equivalents or pretty close to the same as 'older' Canon L series equivalents. Therefore, generally, when guessing a price for my predicted lenses I've used that logic.
  • Generally, Sony is going to get Zeiss to look after 'shorter' primes and zooms. Tele primes and longer general purpose zooms will be branded as "G" lenses. Interesting question as to who is actually designing and building these, I reckon its still Minolta. This assumption is based upon what we've tended to see so far in A, E and FE mount glass and kind of lines up with the bulk of Zeiss' expertise in the past. 
  • Lastly, the lenses will broadly follow the kind of 'traditional' focal lengths (you know 20,24,28,35,50,85 etc) BUT just for fun I'm going to play a little at the margins and throw in a few slight variations. Why, because this is something the Germans at Zeiss and Leica seem to love doing - witness the FE mount 55mm(?) 'normal' lens. Given that at least some of these lenses will come from Zeiss I'm going to throw in the odd oddity.
So here we go, first the 'standard/normal/traditional' primes:

21 2.5 CZ. A typical CZ lens. Seen in the contax slr (c/y) mount,contax (g), nikon and canon mounts. No matter the format seems to be something CZ has dialled in.

25 2.8 CZ Like 21mm, 25mm length seems a 'classic' CZ focal length that pops up time and time again. Of course CZ has gone to a more usual 24mm for Sony recently but I'm hoping for a return to the 25 for no real reason that its a little quirky, I suspect the actual photographic difference is zero.

28 2.8 G Going with a G here for no specific reason. 28mm is a bit of a strange focal length, often being used for consumer primes or the wide end of budget zooms - dont know why. Anyway, based on my gut thinking here I can see CZ dodging this length and Sony farming it out to Minolta.

35 2.8 CZ * Already out and about.

55 1.8 CZ * Already out and about.

85 2.0 ? Could be CZ or G - really a coin toss. I lean towards CZ (slightly). Why a 2.0 not 1.4/2.8 - no technical reason - I suspect some of these max apertures are a little arbitary and while photographically odd these 'partial' f numbers are often linked with high performing lenses. Wouldnt be surprised to see Sony try and leveerage off this history.

135 2.5 ? Like the 85 a real guess, used the same logic.

'Specialist' primes

24 4.0 T/S CZ (or P/C if you are Nikon oriented). An unlikely but very welcome addition to the line-up I'd reakon. Welcome for 2 reasons, these are 'serious' lenses for 'serious' photographers, a T/S lens would signal Sony was serious about this technology, it would be a clear statement "we arent messing with fuji and the M4/3 crowd, we are gunning for canon and nikon). Its also welcome because the A7R is a brilliant landscape camera and needs T/S lenses to expolit its boundaries.

100 2.8 Macro. I think a macro is obviously coming, the only real questions are what length (50,60,100 are the options I think), how fast (2.8 is kind of traditional but speed in these lenses is kind of wasted so Sony could go to 3.5-4.0) and made by whom (CZ/Minolta/Tamron - not wishing to over simplify but good/great macro lenses are pretty common - Sony might save here an go to a 'generic' supplier - tamron/sigma - for this lens.

Zooms

28-70 3.5-5.6*  Kit lens. A bit of an outlyer - doesnt fit the assumptions for the rest of the line-up. Not a model for other lenses.

16-35 4.0 CZ. Bit of a no brainer. Fills out the currently announced zoom range. Extends the total lens coverage below where I think Sony will bother with a prime.

24-70 4.0 CZ * Already out.

70-200 4.0 G* Already announced.

70-300 4.5-5.6 G A 'typical' focal length for a longer zoom, already got a "G" heritage in the A mount.

28-300 3.5-5.6 PZ G A wildcard entry from me but I think the logic is sound. First, people love their super zooms no matter what sensor size they use. These make great sense for the travel/walk around crowd. Secondly the FE mount screams video (at least to me), hence the power zoom function.

I could be totally wrong and if I am, so what, I've wasted my lunchhour playing a thought experiment. So how did I do? Would this be a useful line-up? Like to see something different? Think I've nailed it or that I'm smoking crack? Love to hear your thoughts.