Sony continues the process of filling out its cinema lens offering with the Sony Zeiss 50mm Planar T* lens, announced today.  

Of course, you could previously purchase a 50mm FE lens from Sony for $250, so the new lens, at $1498, costs 6 times as much.  While there are a few features that explain the price differential, such as the 11-blade aperture for smooth bokeh, and a switch to de-click the aperture (particularly useful for video shooters), the real differentiator is right there in the name: Planar T*.

Planar refers to the lens design, originally designed by Paul Rudolph for Zeiss in 1897.  The Planar design is in many ways a true classic, and has been used in lots of applications for the last 120 years.  However, a Planar lens design itself isn’t particularly useful with the proper coatings, which is where T* comes into the picture.

The Planar design was originally a six element lens (it's 12 elements in this iteration), which means a lot of opportunities for light loss and flaring with every air to glass (and glass to glass) contact.  The light loss issues initially lead to the Planar design being less popular than other offerings in the Zeiss line-up.  Lens coatings, wherein microscopic layers of chemicals are applied on the glass to decrease light loss, allowed for lens designs with more elements to be used with fewer artifacts and decreased flaring.  With the invention of T* in the 1950’s, Zeiss was able to bring the less popular Planar design into the mainstream.

SONY 50MM F1.4 Sample ImageImage shot with the new Sony Zeiss E-Mount F/1.4 demonstrating the smooth out of focus bokeh created by the lens.Credit: Courtesy of Sony

Zeiss still controls the technology, which means that even though the lenses are manufactured by Sony, they do so with Zeiss’s proprietary methods, giving the end user a lens with superior sharpness, less flaring and thus better contrast, and the ability to go for wider apertures without resorting to physically heavier glass.

The lens continues the process of filling out the Sony Zeiss stable of T1.4 lenses, alongside the previously released 85mm and 35mm glass.  Sony also finalized pricing on its previously announced FE-70-200 master zoom.  Pre-orders for both start tomorrow.

Here are the major specs:

  • E-mount for Full Frame or APS-C cameras.
  • f/1.4mm
  • 11 blade shutter
  • De-clickable aperture ring
  • T* coating
  • 1.8 feet minimum focus distance
  • 72mm filter thread
  • 27.5 ounces

Is it worth 6 times as much as an EF?  That’s for you to decide, and we’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.