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What lenses are good enough for the A900?

Bill Tuthill , Dec 19, 2008; 02:34 a.m.

Dpreview.com just posted a review of the Sony 50/1.4, similar to the Minolta 50/1.4 RS. This got me thinking about what lenses are good enough for the amazingly high-res A900. The Sony 50/1.4 might not be good enough, especially wide open.
Compared to Canon, which offers a 24-70/2.8 or 24-105/4 IS with filter thread matching the 70-200/2.8 IS, what does Sony offer? Do they expect customers to buy the Zeiss 24-70/2.8 with bad bokeh and the redesigned Minolta 70-200/2.8 SSM renamed SAL or something? If the 50/1.4 can't match the resolution of the A900, how could these lenses? I thought the Sigma 70-200/2.8 was better than the old Minolta, but maybe I missed some reviews.
Personal note: I have the 24-50/4, which might be almost good enough for the A900, but even with film, my 70-210/4 is disappointing at the long end, and its color balance is too warm. I also have a 70-210/3.5-4.5, but it is mediocre even with film at the short end. Obviously if I bought an A900 I would neeed a new long zoom lens, at minimum. Oh yeah, I have a 50/1.4 and it is better than either of these lenses.


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Richard Harris , Dec 19, 2008; 11:27 a.m.

If you are looking at buying an A900, you shouldn't just be factoring in the price of the body like you say. If you want to meet the full potential of the A900's sensor then, yes, you do have to purchase expensive glass. However, a number of people have shown that you can get more than reasonable results with more "afforable" glass... Just if you splash out on the modern G/ZA glass, you are going to get better wide open performance & corner/edge performance.

The A900 has roughly the same pixel density as the A700 afterall, so it is no hard task to meet the resolution of the sensor in the center atleast. Just older/cheap glass will often need to be stopped down a lot to even out the performance across the frame.

Personally, I would have no hesitation in using 24-50/4, 50/1.4 & 70-200/4 first generation lenses on the A900 - the 50/1.4RS/SAL is excellent in my opinion, I love the bokeh, colour & size... you only need to stop it down to get razor sharp pics. But then I don't do anything particularly critical. If I wanted to really take advantage of the A900 I would be buying 16-35/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4, 135/1.8, 70-400/4.5-5.6. Then I'd get two or three 500GB hard drives & I'd be good for a long time.

Spend as little or as much as you want, it's your choice afterall, no1 can tell you anything is "required" as only you know that. :)

What sort of photography do you do? What are you shooting? What lighting conditions? How large do you print?

A fairly recent shot with the Minolta 50/1.4RS & A700

Bill Tuthill , Dec 20, 2008; 01:42 a.m.

I did most types of photography with my old SLR kit, but the only type I truly enjoyed was macro, and nobody pays for that. For my website, a P&S is good enough. It's not a photography website. I own accessory flash. The A900 is not the best for low light, but it has more dynamic range than competitors, which is appealing. I printed 20x30" from the Minolta FZE (Riva) 28-75 and it was surprisingly good.
Thanks for the 70-400/4-5.6 reference. That's a lens announcement I missed. Seems slow at the long end, but optical quality could make it worthwhile. Apparently it takes size 77 filters. At the short end, a 16-35/2.8 is of no interest to me, although some people might want it, particularly those with APS sensors planning to upgrade eventually.

Richard Harris , Dec 20, 2008; 06:15 a.m.

Bill, if you haven't tried macro with a Sony DSLR yet, you are in for a treat :-). Always loved macro with my film SLR (dynax 7) before I went digital, but success was not so high. A extremely old (&half broken) tripod meant that I often couldn't get into the positions I wanted. But with the combinations of SSS/wireless flash, I could handhold at 1:1 and get tack sharp photos, which obviously meant a massive amount of freedom.

So, if you want to do macro, the Minolta/Sony 100/2.8 is a must - it will never let you down.

But are you wanting to make money from this camera...? I'm a bit confused. Are you using this for your job or just pleasure?

Good luck with your choices!

John Seaman , Dec 20, 2008; 01:41 p.m.

I've had an A900 for a few weeks now and I'm also not sure about lenses. I've been using it with the Minolta 24 - 85 which seems like a good compromise. The 28 - 135 is probably sharper but the weight and poor close focussing distance are against it. I've also used the 70 - 210 f4 but not in situations where absolute sharpness is involved (gigs). I think the only lens in my possession which will get near to the sensor resolution is the 50mm macro but I've not had occasion to try it yet, being a little nervous about changing lenses unless I have to.
With the A900 I feel that other factors than pure lens sharpness come into play, for example focussing is quite critical and depth of field may be effectively shallower, also camera shake (even with SSS) and mirror slap, you should probably use mirror lock up to get the best out of the sensor.

Andrew B , Dec 21, 2008; 02:46 a.m.

I don't have an A900, yet. But it's in my dreams every night. From what I've read and heard about it, G glass, as Richards says, is the way to go, at least for now. Who knows, they may begin work an a 'Platinum' series of lenses that could do well on future, higher resolution full-frame cameras. DP Review still gives the 50mm 1.4 8 to 8.5 in ratings, despite having had some negative criticism of it, so I guess you don't always need 'G' glass. I wish I could give it a try for myself, so I could tell you more (all donations are welcome).

Richard Harris , Dec 21, 2008; 08:06 a.m.

I think photo.net needs to start making donations towards a christmas present for Andrew :)

Bill Tuthill , Dec 21, 2008; 11:02 p.m.

The knock on the 24-85/3.5-4.5 was (moustache) distortion, but it is one of the sharper Minolta zoom lenses. I borrowed one for a while and liked the 24-50/4 better, although I can understand the reverse if you like to take pictures in the 50-85 range.
It seems to me that the Tamron 28-75/2.8 is the most cost-effective short zoom on the market. Although it does not meet the MTF standards of the Zeiss 24-70/2.8, resolving around 2150 line widths per picture height instead of 2350, the Tamron has better bokeh. Downside is, with oddball 67 filters, I can't think what long zoom lens could accompany it. With 77 step-up ring, what long zooms have the same color reproduction?

Rob Skeoch , Dec 21, 2008; 11:31 p.m.

I've been trying a number of lenses on the A900... most recently the new 70-400mm. I shot a couple quick tests of my daughter with the lens wide open.... was very pleased with the results... her eyes were tack sharp.
I used the 100 macro a bit last week ... again a great lens, that was very sharp. Of course the 135 is stellar.... the 85 is a favorite as well but I rarely use it.
I just picked up the 24-70 this week... haven't even had a chance to crack the box but should play with it over Christmas.
I don't have the 50mm that was mentioned earlier so can't comment on it. I do have the 35mm F1.4 which is fair but not great wide open. The 20mm is better. When I put the 20mm on the A900 for the first time I was surprised how wide it was.... 20mm on a cropped chip just isn't that wide and I had forgot how wide things are once you're back to full frame.
Hope this helps.

Brett Deacon , Dec 22, 2008; 12:46 a.m.

Hi guys. I have owned the a900 for a few months and have tested a handful of my Sony/Minolta lenses on it. In fact, I just got back today from a 4-day trip to Grand Teton National Park and have been pixel peeping my processed RAW files tonight. Due to cloudy and snowy conditions I didn't see the peaks the entire time - grrrr! Anyway, the Zeiss 24-70, which I just bought and used extensively on the trip, is stunning. I should use capital letters and exclamation points to underscore how amazing this lens is. When opened in Photoshop, unsharpened RAW files are so sharp that minimal use of unsharp mask can create apparently oversharpened images. In-camera jpegs (which I rarely shoot) appear oversharpened at default settings, which is not an issue with the 50mm 1.7. Unrezzed files sized at 24x36 inches @240 dpi look like medium format scans. I can't wait to make some large prints from these files! The image quality of a900 files taken with the 24-70 lens will make it surprisingly difficult for me to decide between my 4x5 camera and the a900 for many photographic outings next year.
The real surprise for me has been the Sigma 100-300 f4. It is as sharp as my 100 2.8 macro and is tack sharp wide open, even at 300mm. Not surprisingly, the 100 macro is also an excellent performer.
Based on my experience, the aforementioned lenses are definitely good enough for the a900 if you're a landscape photographer like me and seek absolute maximum detail and corner-to-corner sharpness. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive. The 50 1.7 is solid but not in the same league as these lenses. My Sigma 20-40 2.8 is nowhere close to being good enough for this camera for the above purposes. Of course, you can take perfectly good images with any number of lenses on this camera, and the results with even a mediocre lens will exceed those attainable with any other Sony camera body. I hope these observations are of some help. It looks like there are some good, less expensive alternatives to the Zeiss 24-70 lens but I can tell you that you definitely get what you pay for with it.

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