Bored with the Sony NEX kit lens or want to try something new? License to Quill gives the lowdown on the best Sony NEX lenses around to help you get the most from your camera.
No doubt many gadget-lovers and photographers have been tempted by the Sony NEX range. Whether it’s the entry-level NEX 3, the megapixel-happy NEX 7 or the most recent NEX 6, or even the forthcoming Alpha A6000, each camera offers fantastic image quality and interchangeable lenses in a portable package.
The question is what lens should you buy next and what does each one offer you? Will a good lens really make that much difference compared with the one you got in the box? I decided it was time my trusty NEX 5 and I found out.
Your first NEX lens was probably a kit lens unless you bought a Sony NEX body. This is no bad thing, as in the case of the NEX 6’s kit lens the image quality is actually pretty good. But your NEX is just begging for a fast prime lens. Improved detail, clarity, getting into better composition habits (zoom with your feet, for instance) and better low-light photography are some of the many benefits.
At the top of the food chain is the versatile 35mm length, which is catered for nicely by Sony and Sigma. Sony’s 35mm f/1.8 is tough to beat as it offers excellent clarity and low-light prowess for around £370 from Amazon UK. When you factor in the 4/3rds lens of the NEX range the focal length is 50mm.
Those on a budget can go with the Sony 50mm f/1.8. This lens is less versatile because of the longer focal length, but can still easily do landscapes if push comes to shove. It is, however, better for portraits and considerably cheaper at £219 from Jessops. Either way, the out-of-focus bokeh effect is impressive for both lenses.
My personal choice for budget reasons (saving for a Leica) was the Sigma 35mm f/2.8 DN. It costs a mere £150 from Amazon UK and offers arguably sharper images than the Sony lenses. It is, however, a slower lens and the bokeh effect is less silky, although it still looks great to me.
For portrait work Sigma does a 60mm f/2.8 DN, which is also cheap, of fairly good build quality, has built-in optical stabilisation and offers impressive clarity. It can be had for £125 on eBay. Just bear in mind it will work out at 75mm through a NEX camera.
The absolute best quality prime lens (ignoring non-E mount lenses) for a NEX camera is the Carl Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8. Zeiss lenses cost a bomb but are usually far superior in terms of optics and build quality. Which you would hope, when the cheapest deal I could find was £569 from Wex Photographic.
Telephoto / Zoom lens
Zoom lenses give you the ability to capture an image of a subject from distance, but do look and feel a bit odd on the NEX cameras because of the small body. You end up holding the camera by the lens, not the other way around. Not really an issue, but worth pointing out.
Sony offers a 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 for £210 from Jessops. For this you get good image quality and 3.8x optical zoom, which is impressive given the relatively small lens size. Like the previous Sony lenses, it has optical image stabilisation. When fully zoomed in this can really help get the shot you want.
There is always the option of the Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3, but prepare to shell out a lot of cash for the extra versatility this lens affords. For the £559 price from Jessops, you could buy the 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 and at least one prime lens. The only difference is you would need to swap the lens over every now and then.
Sometimes the best lens is the one that lets the NEX fit into your coat pocket. The idea of lugging around a kit bag every trip can, after all, prove tedious. Luckily there are a few pocket-friendly lenses to choose from if you find the aforementioned Sigma 30mm is a bit chunky.
Sony does a pancake lens known as the 20mm f/2.8, which is the smallest NEX lens around and offers good picture quality (better than its larger 16mm predecessor). The true benefit is that it can take fish eye and wide-angle adaptors for added creative freedom. It costs £289 from Jessops.
If you can put up with a slight increase in lens size and a hit in image quality, the Sony 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens is cheaper at £195 from Jessops.
Non-E mount lenses
It would be rude not to entertain some non-E mount lenses, given the versatility of the NEX cameras. Just remember you will need an adaptor for the lens to fit, which will add to the cost.
The 50mm Jupiter 3 and Jupiter 8 are old Russian-built lenses that – if you find a good one – can provide seriously impressive image quality for not a lot of money. Sadly getting a ‘keeper’ is luck of the draw as the build qualiy was pretty hit and miss (blame vodka being cheaper than water).
Buying one in the UK or from a camera forum member may help increase your chances of getting one that works. Alternatively you could see if there’s anyway to get the lens fixed or have a go at a spot of cleaning yourself.
Out of the two, the Jupiter 8 f/2.0 is the cheaper lens, but not that much inferior when it comes to image quality. The Jupiter 3 does have the added benefit of being f/1.5, giving it better low-light capabilities, but reports say the quality is more hit and miss.
Arguably the Jupiter lenses are a risky move. Find a good example, however, and you will be impressed. Plus it gives the NEX a very cool look if you care about such things.
Leica glass quality begs for a Leica camera, but there may be times you want to leave your expensive camera at home and take your NEX with you. Leica lenses are incredibly expensive and for good reason – they’re quality is rarely surpassed. There are, however, some impressive lenses out there if you are willing to shop around.
The Summicron 35mm is highly sought after, which is why many people opt for the cheaper but not that much less impressive 40mm variant. There’s also the option of other strange focal lengths that, with the right composition, will impress. An example is the Leica Summicron 90mm f/2.0.
Buying a Leica lens solely for the purpose of a NEX camera is probably overkill, but of course it depends on the cost of the lens. A 50-year-old lens, for instance, will probably be cheaper than the Zeiss Touit and will come in handy if you did ever upgrade to a Leica or a full-sensor camera like the Sony A7II or A7S, while giving your photos a less artificial look.
To list the sheer number of brilliant lenses out there for your Sony NEX would be pointless as the potential is staggering – and that is a big part of why NEX cameras are so appealing. Hopefully this guide will help you step away from your kit lens into uncharted photographic waters. Happy snapping!
Black and white photos taken with the Nikon D3300 and the VR II lens.