Why are Sony FE lenses so expensive?

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Lenses' started by pdk42, Nov 13, 2015.

  1. pdk42

    pdk42 TalkEmount Regular

    Nov 26, 2014
    I'm looking to pick up an A7 soon (probably the A7s) and although I intend to use it with legacy lenses, I've been taking a look at native lenses to get a feel for what's available. It's been quite an eye-opener actually! I know from generally accepted wisdom that the range is still comparatively narrow, but I wasn't ready for the crazy prices:

    - The 24-70 f4 is reportedly optically and mechanically disappointing, but it's quite a bit more expensive than lenses like the Canon 24-70 f4 L or 24-105 f4 L which are probably better. You can get either of those Canon lenses for around $900 but the Sony is nearer $1200.

    - The smaller Sony wide/normal primes (28, 35/2.8, 55) are all astonishingly expensive for basic primes of only modest max aperture. Compared to primes from other FF formats they're all multiples of the price. For example, the 55/1.8 is about $1000; compare to, say, the Nikon 50/1.8G at typically less than $250. I won't even mention the Canon plastic fantastic/nifty fifty.

    - The Loxia and Batis primes are just jaw-dropping in price. Many are over a grand (US dollars) - $1200 for the 85/1.8? You can get the Canon 85/1.8 for a quarter of that.

    - The 16-35 f4 is almost the same price as the Canon 16-35 f2.8 and almost double the 17-40 f4.

    I could go on. There's not a single lens in the Sony line up that can be called a bargain. The 28/2 at $450 is the only one that gets close to its competitors.

    Now I realise that these Sony lenses are all new designs etc and some offer outstanding performance (but by no means all of them), but if I were thinking of building a native system around an A7 platform, I'd be into paying several times the price compared to a Nikon D750 or Canon 6D alternative. As much as I like mirrorless, such a big price differential would not convince me to change, let alone choose Sony from a zero start.

    As a platform for legacy lenses I can see the sense.
  2. davect01

    davect01 Super Moderator

    Aug 20, 2011
    Fountain Hills, AZ
    Real Name:
    There are a few, relatively inexpensive Full Frame choices, my 28-70mm was only $200ish. Welcome to the world of higher end camera systems, it is not a cheap hobby.

    The thought I have is that Sony feels that if you are willing to a shell out $2-3000 for a camera body, you should have the cash to spend on lenses.

    Also, they probably assume if you are buying a Full Frame camera, you are going to want the best possible optics.

    One of the very reasons I much prefer the APS-C side of the E-Mounts is the cost. Under $600 for the body and I have spent perhaps another $600 in the three Native lenses I have.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015
  3. TedG954

    TedG954 TalkEmount All-Pro

    Nov 29, 2014
    South Florida and NE Ohio
    Real Name:
    Ted Gersdorf
    When compared to others, I don't believe SONY FE lenses are any more expensive than other quality lenses. I have the FE 55/1.8 which I consider to be a top tier quality lens. It's priced around $900 +/-. For a Nikon lens to meet the quality of the Zeiss, you'd have to be looking at the Nikon 24/1.4 which costs $2100 +/-. My FE 16-35/4 cost just about the same as what I paid for my Nikon 16-35/4.

    I don't think comparing the 55/1.8 FE to the "nifty fifties" is fair other than the focal length. Zeiss is in a league of its own with only Leica to play fairly.

    I have a lot of money invested in Nikon glass, and I own the FE 55, FE 16-35, FE 24-70, and the FE 70-200. I have no buyers-regret with my Sony equipment. I'd keep the SONY/Zeiss FE lens over any of my Nikon lenses. With the examples you provided, and if price is your guiding factor, Canon or Nikon might be better choices.

    PS.... I don't agree with the "24-70 f4 is reportedly optically and mechanically disappointing". It has yet to disappoint me.
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  4. MAubrey

    MAubrey TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Dec 9, 2013
    Bellingham, WA (displaced Canadian)
    Real Name:
    I'd say you have some goofy math, are cherry picking your prices, and negatively exagerating the quality of the lenses. Still, since I only have one native lens, yes, it's an excellent platform for legacy lenses.

    The only other thing that that I agree with you about is the cost of the Zeiss lenses, but that's the reality not just for this system, but all systems that Zeiss makes lenses for, whether ZF/ZE, ZM, Batis, Loxia, or (especially) Otus.

    If you buy responsibly and wait for sales, there is no price differential. I paid $580 for my FE55mm. It's a beautiful lens and its far better than any of the nifty fifties from Canon or Nikon--more on par with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art (also $1000).
  5. chalkdust

    chalkdust TalkEmount Veteran

    Sep 25, 2015
    Real Name:
    Bert Cheney
    I am coming to the Sony A7 system from a Leica system that I inherited from my father. One of the reasons I have switched is the affordability. Everything about the Sony system is comparable or better technically (except the thick sensor stack issue for wide angle lenses) and is less expensive than most options I had previously. I am delighted with the Sony and Zeiss lens lines. I am also delighted to see the frequency of new offerings. Many of these lenses are absolutely first rate and are therefore reasonably expensive. I only have three native lenses so far (plus the fine, dedicated, adapter-dependent Heliar 40mm f2.8). The total for expense was covered by selling lenses I inherited but never enjoyed using. So I still have my useful Leica system and lenses and I have this new system that allows me to photograph in situations that a rangefinder does not handle well.

    I am simply pointing out that compared to other first rate systems, these Sony and Zeiss optics for Sony FE offer enticing options. I intend no offense to anybody and respect each person's opinions and perspectives.
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  6. pbizarro

    pbizarro TalkEmount Veteran

    Nov 24, 2014
    This has been beaten to death... the bottom line is: regardless of the system, all top quality lenses will be expensive. I shot Canon EOS for 20 years, so I know what I am talking about...
    You say the Sony Zeiss 55 f1.8 is expensive compared to Canon and Nikon equivalent 50mm lenses; well, you just have to hold them to see that the Sony Zeiss is much better built, and you just have to shoot with one to see that it is much better optically.
    The Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4 OSS, 24-70 f4 OSS, and 70-200 f4 OSS are actually about similar price to the Canon ones.
    As for the Batis and Loxias, well, they are 100% Zeiss, you should compare them with Zeiss Milvus lenses (the ones for EF and F mounts).
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  7. cvt01

    cvt01 TalkEmount Regular

    Jan 3, 2015
    I only have one native lense, the FE 35 f/1.4. I came from Canon. The new Canon 35L II f/1.4 is a great comparison... $1599 vs $1799... see we can cherry-pick examples telling the opposite...
    The Canon 85 1.8 was released in 1992... Canon is selling it unchanged for 23 years. It performs great but not in the Batis league.
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  8. Sympa

    Sympa TalkEmount Rookie

    Sep 19, 2015
    They are priced as to 'what the market can bear'. One can also ask why not all lenses have the same value as kit lenses.
  9. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014

    The Zeiss 55 - this is the closest to an autofocusing Otus. Phenomenally sharp across the frame with an extremely flat field of focus, biting contrast, a true T stop value of 1.8 and excellent flare resistance. The lens is almost as optically good as it gets - some may say that it is clinically perfect and I personally find it a little clinical sometimes but (by the metrics that we measure quality on a graph and review sites anyway) it's competitors are the more expenseive 'L' and 'G' series from Canon/Nikon and not the cheaper 1.8s from both brands. Even stopping the 50 1.2 down to 1.8 and the Nikon 50 1.4G down to 1.8, you will not get near the same level of wide open performance that you will get with the Zeiss 55. To seriously better the Zeiss 55 you are jumping into Otus level money and even then the difference isn't all that noticeable at large print size. Most Adorable 50s - Zeiss Otus & Sonnar, Leica Noctilux & Summilux, SLR Magic HyperPrime

    The 28 F2 is a fantastic lens - extremely small and light, extremely sharp and cheap. Spiritually it reminds me of the Olympus 45 with respect to bang for the buck.

    The loxia and batis lenses are fantastic optics and cannot be compared with the cheaper 1.8's from Canon or Nikon. Optically they are better compared with Leica's Summicron/Summilux line. When compared against Leica's best with respect to build quality, quality of rendering, capability (they can be set to clickless aperture for video) and all of a sudden they look like bargains.
    See my earlier comments on the Zeiss 55 for the performance that you can expect with the 21, 35, 50 loxia's. We truly are talking Leica 35 Summicron levels of performance here from the 35mm and APO summicron 50mm level performance from the loxia 50mm. I flit back and forth on this next statement regularly but today I prefer the loxia 50 rendering to the Zeiss 55 that I currently have, but as another reviewer put it elsewhere 'we are breathing rarified air up here', pick your poison!

    The Batis line performs like autofocusing mini-Otus'.
    Comparing the prices with Canon's 85 1.2's and 85 1.4's is more appropriate again and the Zeiss glass still performs better than those lenses stopped down to F1.8. Your next stop at 85mm to get better optical quality than the Batis 85 is probably going to be a manual focus Otus according to Matt Granger.

    The 16-35 F4 is a very very good lens with beautiful rendering. It's 150 bucks more expensive than the canon 16-35 F4 but optically isn't near as good in my opinion as the amazing Nikon 14-24 F2.8. Still mounting the canon with an adapter will impact racket the price above the Sony 16-35.

    I think when you look at the context of which lenses from Canon/Nikon compete with the FE glass you'll find that Sony is a little more expensive in some focal lengths and cheaper in others. The same as Canon/Nikon :)
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  10. WestOkid

    WestOkid TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jan 25, 2014
    New Jersey, USA
    Real Name:
    I think this subject is always touchy and it leads to people overly defending or overly denigrating Sony. What I'm about to write may get me thrown out of the forum, but here goes.

    I am no fanboy, but I like Sony cameras a lot. Probably because I was a techie before I was a photography enthusiast. I had never owed a DSLR or any other serious camera so unlike most in these forums I had no roots or allegiances. My camera hunt started after a vacation a couple of years ago and some terrible cell phone shots. That experience made me realize I needed a proper camera. I did research and landed on Sony for the IQ and the tech. I was amazed at the IQ I could get from the tiny NEX cameras. I settled in on the 5t and was delighted.

    After having the 5t and kit for awhile I started to get into photography and wanted more AF lenses. I didn't know if this photography thing would last, so I didn't want to spend a lot. I spoke to my DSLR toting friends and they told me I should start with a fast 50mm or maybe a 35mm. They said I could get a 50 f/1.8 for less than $150. Well guess what, they were talking about DSLRs. They were Canikon guys and they thought I had an A-mount. The only fast 50mm(SEL50F18) available for my 5t cost $300. I looked at 35mm and the cheapest was $400. I was like what the heck is going on? BTW - I really didn't use the word "heck", but we're civilized here.

    Fast forward to Sony FF. What they did putting a FF sensor in these tiny bodies is amazing. GAS lead to an A7, but I quickly realized I didn't factor in the cost of lenses. I first tried MF lenses, then AF adapted lenses, before accepting there are simply no inexpensive FE lenses for those the value an AF experience. And don't say they don't exist for other systems. I see that so much and it's simple not true. Proof? A search at B&H for Canon EOS FF lenses <$450 results in over 21 AF lenses consisting of everything from fast primes to tele-zooms. A search of FE AF lenses <$450 gets you a single 28mm lens. Why?

    There are a number of reasons why. Some subjective, some objective, some substantiated and some conjecture. Sony E-mount is newer, Sony lenses have better IQ, Sony lenses have better build quality, Sony lenses are like Canon L lenses, etc, etc. In the end, those things can be debated until the cows come home. The fact that there is only one FE AF lens under $450 cannot.
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  11. serhan

    serhan TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2011
    Yes, new lenses are expensive and also mostly perform better. For people looking for deals, there are lots of cheap Minolta glass that are available also eg 70-210 f4 beercan can be bought under $100. Any of the Canon / Nikon / Contax g/N af lenses can be adapted on the A7 II/A7R II cameras with adapters and enjoy the IBIS. However as DXO is updating the Canon lenses on new 5DS R, surprisingly older Canon lenses including the older expensive L lenses cannot keep up with high resolutions. As the OP said, I used Canon 85mm and have similarly designed Canon 100mm, but the sharpness of these lenses have the half sharpness of Zeiss 135mm apo lens. Again these are tested in shorter distances eg not landscapes, but it is interesting to see this trend as an ex Canon user. It can be a good reference for people adapting Canon lenses. Here is a few:

    Best Std prime on 5DS R:
    Best 50mm Prime: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A | DxOMark

    Best short primes on 5DS R:
    Best short telephoto for portraits: Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 ZE | DxOMark
    Best 85mm Prime: Carl Zeiss Apo Planar T* Otus 85mm f/1.4 ZE | DxOMark

    Best std zoom on 5DS R:
    Best Standard Zoom: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM | DxOMark

    Best telephoto zoom on 5DS R
    Best “professional” telephoto zoom lens: Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD | DxOMark
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  12. southy

    southy TalkEmount Veteran

    Feb 5, 2014
    There should be two under $450 on that list. The FE 28-70 is only $348 here in Aus. On current exchange rate that works out about $252 US. I don't know how B&H can be trying to sell it for $498. Still doesn't make the situation much better.

    For me I only have two Sony FE lens and and don't currently plan on investing in any more. Not only because of price but the size of the zooms is counterproductive to why I ditched DLSR and went mirrorless.
  13. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    All very true and I don't think there is any debate per say. The facts are the facts.
    Fact - There aren't many lenses below the 450 dollar mark for the FE system. Fact there are lots of cheap 1.8 and F2 primes available for Canonikon.
    Fact - there aren't many new Porsche 911's in the same price range as a new VW Golf. That being said the person interested in the Golf probably isn't interested in choosing between a Porsche 911 and a Golf.
    I agree that *some* lenses are priced beyond their performance level e.g. 24-70 F4 but in my opinion Sony have targeted the more enthusiast / high end/ pro market with their initial lens lineup e.g. dust/splash proof, focus hold switches on zooms, optical performance of primes, constant F4 aperture, aperture ring, clickless video lens etc...
    In this context I feel that the valid argument that can be made here is that Sony has not targeted entry level photographers with their lens lineup for the A7 series. Why? Perhaps it only makes sense to do this now when the original A7 is only now going for close to a 1k price. The barrier for entry today to the A7 series is a lot lower than it was in the past so a market is more likely to exist today for cheap, not optically amazing but good lenses. Perhaps the lens announcement in Jan will target such users...

    However to say that Canon/Nikons prime lenses are blanket cheaper without a qualification on the performance delta that exists has the same relevance as saying a VW golf is cheaper than a Porsche 911 without qualifying that the porsche is built with more exotic materials, faster, etc....

  14. bdbits

    bdbits TalkEmount Veteran

    Sep 10, 2015
    Real Name:
    I just did a quick search on google and Amazon. Here in the US it is $498 most places, and over $400 at all but the very obscure online photo shops.
  15. Mus Aziz

    Mus Aziz TalkEmount Veteran

    Sep 3, 2015
    Real Name:
    I love the rendering of my Loxia 35 and it's a lot cheaper than the Summicron 35, and I prefer the Loxia to the Summicron (having owned the Version IV in the past).
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  16. southy

    southy TalkEmount Veteran

    Feb 5, 2014
    I'd suggest anyone in the US wanting the 28-70 shop with Aus retailers. The two major retailers I use both have it for $348 Australian. If you go with obscure online store it can be had for $295 Australian. That about $212 US. I payed $250 for mine from a guy who separated it from an A7 kit.

    Incidentally my 35 f2.8 cost me $550 new, which is under $400 us. Canon 35mm f2 is around $750. I know there are lenses such as the Canon nifty fifty that are very cheap but if you have ever owned one, which I have, you will know just how poor of a build quality they are. I would never want Sony to go that cheap.

    Why I do agree some better priced options are needed but I think, if you compare apples to apples, the current Sony FE lenses are comparable in price and quality to Canon/nikon offerings.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2015
  17. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    I always get a little nervous when I read those words :roflmao:.
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  18. quezra

    quezra TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Aug 22, 2012
    Some people have the mistaken assumption that price closely follows cost or quality or a combination of both. Actually it doesn't. Remember all those profit notices about how swell Sony is doing? Well they're making money, from you.

    It is true that Sony does have some increased costs. For example, they don't enjoy the economies of scale of Canon and Nikon (sheer numbers), and their R&D costs for their new lens lineup is also spread over a much shorter period of time (some of Canon's lens designs have been going for 20+ years, as someone mentioned - they literally only bear the costs of the materials these days).

    However, they also charge a premium, which is based solely on the principle of 'can I get away with it?' And the answer is yes. We are still in a very early stage of mirrorless development. We may forget that Sony A7 is only 2 years old at this point (I should know, I got mine as a pre-order almost exactly 2 years ago to the date). The market Sony is currently aiming at are early adopters and professionals, who need lenses and need them yesterday. 35/1.4 for $1.5k? Easy. You can make it all back in one 6-hour wedding. 55/1.8 for $1k? Sure, why not, it's a complete workhorse for candid portraiture (best lens I own, still).

    Now budget conscious photogs? Yeah, sure, we'll make something for you eventually. Slowly. The 28-70 and 28/2 are all you get at the moment. But Sony are gunning for the big spenders and professionals at the moment, and aren't seeing any shortage of demand. While the system has been getting larger, it is still a unique proposition for full frame in a compact size (its only competition is also made by Sony, the RX1 series). Between being in an early stage of development with demand outstripping supply and being a unique proposition in the digital imaging market, Sony can get away with pricing higher.

    We need Nikon or Canon to come in here, if we want to see Sony put under real price pressure, but it will take a couple of years for either to actually match what Sony are doing in mirrorless even if they tried. At the moment, it's actually been Sony putting pricing pressure on them with cheap bodies (because no expensive pentaprism or mirror flap mechanism) - remember the days when the D600 and 6D were $2,199? Yeah. So anyway, the lenses are a slightly higher price than Canon and Nikon's. It's because the market they're in allows it. Sony is squeezing Canon and Nikon at the entry point (the body), while relaxing on the lens pricing. But for all that, the equivalent Sony lenses are only about $100 more than the Canikon equivalents. Comparing the FE55/1.8 to Canon 50/1.8 (for example) would be an absolutely false comparison. Matching quality for quality, the pricing is very close, with Sony just being a tiny bit more. And that's explained easily by where they are in this stage of development.
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  19. WoodWorks

    WoodWorks Super Moderator

    Dec 12, 2012
    Ashland, OR, USA
    Real Name:

    It's pretty simple for me. Will I be buying a Nikon or Canon ILC camera in the future? Not unless they match (or exceed) Sony's technological big head start (So... No :rolleyes-20:). Do I want quality lenses for my Sony camera? Sure. So my only choice is to buy the Sony lenses that A) I can afford and B) that they sell.

    Sony seems to be pedaling as fast as it can, right now. So I can't imagine why would they take the time and effort to produce a low-margin, pedestrian lens when they can't meet the demand for the lenses that they are producing? Hell, I'm probably more irritated at Sigma and Tamron et al. than at Sony for the lack of decent, affordable lenses. Those are the folks who need to get slapped upside the head, if you ask me.

    You did ask, right? :hmmm:
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  20. Alex66

    Alex66 TalkEmount Regular

    Dec 23, 2014
    I have always preferred the Zeiss lens rendering over the Leicas, don't get me wrong the Summicrons I had 50mm 1st M and 35mm 2nd M were fantastic lenses but a well made Sonnar just blows me completely away. I would not say either is better technically than each other in my use (similar age lenses) just what I like.
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