Best Lens Options for Sony APS-C E-Mount Mirrorless Cameras

16-70mm f/4 OSS ZA Lens
16-70mm f/4 OSS ZA Lens

Hi guys and welcome back to SonyAlphaLab! In this article I will discuss the best lens options for the Sony APS-C E-mount cameras like the Sony A6600, A6500, A6400, A6100, A6000, A5100, etc…

I decided to write this article to help those lost in the mountain of possible lens options. I know how hard it can be when you’re first learning about optics, because I was once there many years ago. You may wonder why a lens is so expensive, or why a certain focal length is good for certain types of photography and so fourth. This is completely normal and totally understandable. It’s also normal to be nervous about asking questions in fear of coming across like somebody who does not know what they are talking about.

This is also totally understandable, but have no fear asking questions here!! I am here to help and will never make you feel stupid for asking a question. We all want to learn and often at different times in our lives depending on when we get into this incredible game known as photography.

If you are unaware, my perspective is mostly real world photography with video of the kids and of course recording my reviews, processing my photos for the web, prints, etc… I can’t really afford the top quality optics these days with the family and all, so I tend to be more modest with my lens choices and recommend based on that perspective. I’m fully aware of what the best lenses can do, but often they are not needed depending on the application and budget. Often times you can get many lenses as opposed to one top quality optic, and that can prove to be way better for your given circumstance.

Please keep in mind, there are many many awesome options out there, so don’t think your choice is necessary wrong for your needs if they don’t match up with my recommendations. This is just my perspective and thoughts on the matter to help those lost in lens options…

All My E-Mount Lens Guides are this way >>

Lens Quality? How can you tell?

The price of a lens often represents it’s quality, but not always. This is why checking out real world reviews is so critical when it comes to making expensive lens purchases. I can tell you from many years of personal and professional experience, the cost does usually indicate the quality. That does not mean the extra cost will be worth it to you however, but for the professional it often does save time in post processing to correct for lens flaws such as distortion, fringing, and sharpness for example.

Lens Characteristics you should know and understand:

Distortion control – Meaning straight lines and not the ballooning or pin cushion effect found on lower quality optics. Wide angle lenses tend to suffer more from this. Below is an example of what a fisheye lens does, basically extreme distortion for effect…

Sony Nex-F3 w/ Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 UMC Fisheye lens - Sample Photo
Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 UMC Fisheye lens Using Nex-F3- Sample Photo

Lens Coatings – Helps prevent glare, increases contrast, and provides better color renditions. Better lens coatings cost more money – T* is the current lens coating found on Zeiss lenses for example.

Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens

Lens Elements – The individual lens optics used to make up the lens assembly are called lens elements. Each lens has many lens elements inside and the better quality elements cost more money to manufacture.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Build Quality – The ruggedness of the lens itself. Some are built like tanks, others are built using a lot of plastic for example.

Weather sealing is also part of the build quality characteristics I would say. Note how the Loxia lens below has the heavy duty rubber gasket sealing the back of the lens when mounted to the camera:

Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* Lens review
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* Lens for Sony E Mount
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens
Seals

Sharpness – Sharpness of lenses is usually scored from corner to corner. The center will always be the sharpest and as you get closer to the edges, the sharpness will fall off. All lenses suffer from this, but the super high quality lenses maintain sharpness from corner to corner really well usually.

Sonynex-6 w/ 16-70mm f/4 OSS Zeiss Lens @ 70mm, f/4, 1/200sec, ISO 100

Softness – Refers to a lens being not so sharp, usually in the corners. You will hear “soft in the corners”, or “soft wide-open” for example..

Bokeh – This is referring to the out of focus area, usually in front of or behind your subject. The way the lens renders this out of focus area can be buttery smooth, or it can be busy looking and not so easy on the eyes. This is subjective to a large degree in my opinion and lens speed has a lot to do with the Bokeh

Sony a5000 w/ 16-70mm f/4 oss Zeiss lens @ f/5, 70mm, 1/200sec, ISO 100, Jpeg
Sony a5000 w/ 16-70mm f/4 oss Zeiss lens @ f/5, 70mm, 1/200sec, ISO 100, Jpeg
Sony Nex-5n w/ 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 Lens @210mm, f/11, 1/400sec, ISO 320, Handheld, Jpeg Mode
Sony Nex-5n w/ 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 Lens @210mm, f/11, 1/400sec, ISO 320, Handheld, Jpeg Mode

Speed – Refers to the Max aperture of a given lens. F/1.4 for example is an extremely fast lens, where an f/4 lens tends to be considered slower… The faster the lens the more expensive it is in general.

Nex-6, Minolta MC Rokkor PG 50mm f/1.4 lens @ f/1.4, 1/640sec, ISO 100, Hand-Held
Nex-6, Minolta MC Rokkor PG 50mm f/1.4 lens @ f/1.4, 1/640sec, ISO 100, Hand-Held

Aperture = Size of the lens diaphragm when set to a given aperture. For example the PZ 18-105mm f/4 OSS G Lens has a max aperture of f/4. It also has a constant f/4 aperture, meaning it does not change when you zoom from 18-105mm. Some lenses do change as you zoom in (variable aperture) like the 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS Lens for example, which is f/4.5 at 55mm, but as you zoom to 210mm the aperture will Stop Down automatically to f/6.3. Therefore it slows down on the telephoto end…

Check out my Understanding Aperture tutorial for a more detailed explanation >>

Minolta MX Rokkor-X PG F/1.4 50mm Lens
Minolta MD Rokkor-X PG F/1.4 50mm Lens – Stopped down to F/16
Minolta MX Rokkor-X PG F/1.4 50mm Lens
Minolta MD Rokkor-X PG F/1.4 50mm Lens – Wide Open @ F/1.4

OSS – Optical SteadyShot – Built in Lens Stabilization which is an awesome feature! Great for hand holding with slower shutter speeds/ low light environments. Also helps with shaky hands and helps maintain a sharp shot even with lower shutter speeds…

Sony SEL55210 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 Lens
Sony SEL55210 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS Lens
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

G Badge – Some Sony lenses have the G badge, and this just means a higher standard of build quality and optical quality was used per the manufacture (Sony) These lenses tend to be more expensive!

Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS Lens
Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS Lens

G-Master Badge – This represents the G-Master series of lenses from Sony and is currently the best possible quality lens optic you can purchase for the E-Mount camera system. Looks just like the G badge, except it’s all red and fancy looking…

sel85f14gm
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens

Zeiss Badge – Similar to the G and GM badge from Sony, except the company Zeiss has approved the design and granted the badge permissions

Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens

PZ = Powerzoom Feature – This is an awesome feature that some lenses include which is particular awesome for video in my opinion. The lenses have a toggle which allows you to zoom in and out with the help of a super quite and smooth zoom motor built into the lens. The 16-50mm kit lens has this feature, but it’s a lower quality zoom motor due to the pancake style lens. The PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens has a much higher quality zoom motor as does the FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS Lens.

Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens
Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens

Chromatic Aberrations/ Fringing – This basically refers to the purple/red or green/blue you can see sometimes in the high contrast areas of images. Usually in the corners it’s more noticeable, and particularly on wide angle lenses I find.

Vignette – This refers to the darkness that creeps in on the corners and works it’s way to the center. This is more noticeable on really fast glass usually when shooting at the maximum aperture (wide open). When stopping down a bit, any vignette usually goes away completely.

Minotlta MD 50mm f/2 Lens Review
Minotlta MD 50mm f/2 Lens – Vignette @ f/2

Lens Flare – This is when the light reflects on the elements inside the lens and causes an effect. The more expensive lens coatings help control this. Sometimes it looks really cool though I think ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sony DSC-HX300 - Lens Flare
Sony DSC-HX300 – Lens Flare
Sony RX1R II @ F/16
Sony RX1R II @ F/16

Which Lens to Buy??

Note: This list is for APS-C Cameras, so the full frame E-Mount lenses will all work, but the APS-C lenses will only work in crop factor mode on the full frame e-mount cameras… I’m also sticking with the Auto Focus lenses for this article, but there are many fully manual lenses available from several manufacturers that are great quality!

I also want to note that the Sony kit lenses are very good quality overall for the money. The E 16-50mm for example is a nice range, but does suffer from some distortion and corner softness for sure. The newer E 18-135mm OSS Lens is a fantastic all-in-one lens option in my opinion for the money and offers killer range and sharpness, but does suffer from some significant distortion, and lacks some contrast when compared to the top quality lenses.

My E-Mount Lens Guides are Here >>

Recommended Lenses for the APS-C Camera Systems (A6600, A6500, A6400, A6100, A6000, A5100, etc..)

All-In One Lens Options

#1 choice for best all-in-one option- Priority = Photography and High Quality

#1 choice for best all-in-one option – Priority = Video + Photography
This is my number one choice for video, by far! Also killer for photography, but can be a bit large and heavy for some users…

#2 Choice for best all in one option – Priority = Photography w/ max total range

#2 Choice for best all-in-one option – Priority = Video + Photography and Max Range

Best Zoom Lens Options – Landscape Photography

#1 Choice for all-in one – Landscape Photography – Best Ultra Wide-angle Option

#2 Choice for All-in-one – Landscape Photography – Great Range and Quality

#3 Choice for All-in-one – Landscape Photography – Best Range and Quality

#4 Choice for mid range All-In One – landscapes/ Street – Most affordable

Best Prime Lens Options – Landscape Photography

#1 Prime Lens Option for Landscape and Street Photography – Best Possible Quality Option

#2 Prime Lens Option for Landscape & Street Photography – Most affordable and super sharp

#3 Prime Lens Option for Landscape and Street Photography – Great quality, ultra compact, affordable, Versatile 

#4 Prime Lens Option for Landscape & Street Photography – Best Possible Quality

#5 Prime Lens option – Max Speed and Affordable

#6 Prime Lens Option for Landscape Photography – Affordable and Versatile Option

Best Portrait Lenses

#1 Choice – Portrait Photography = Affordable, Fast, and excellent real world performance

#2 Choice for – Portrait Photography = Affordable and great real world performance

#3 Portrait Photography – Full Body coverage, great quality, and Max Speed

#4 Portrait Photography – Full Body coverage, great quality, Speed, OSS, and Affordable 

#5 Portrait Photography – Max Speed and Affordability
This lens is newer, but appears to be a killer option for those in the market for max speed and affordability. It is desinged for the full frame e-mount cameras, but will work awesome on the APS-C E-Mount cameras for sure!

#6 – Portrait Photography – Best Possible Quality and Speed

#7 Choice for Portrait Photography – Best possible quality and Speed

Best Telephoto Lenses

#1 Telephoto Lens Option – Zoo, Field Sports, and other long reach photography – Most affordable and Very Good Quality
I’m a huge fan of the 55-210mm lens and use it myself for vacation and family fun outings. The quality and performance are excellent considering the cost in my opinion.

#2 Telephoto Lens Option – Max Total Range and Affordability
A very good lens with incredible versatility/ range. Overall quality is a little bit less due to the all-in-one nature of the design and optics, but I would still highly recommend this lens for those needing max range in one lens. Perfect for vacations and travel when switching lenses is not desirable…

#3 Telephoto Lens Option – High Quality Option w/ Max Range
I absolutely loved using this lens and wish I could afford to purchase it in all honesty. It was that good and incredible fun to use!

#4 Telephoto Lens Option – Best Possible Quality and Max Zoom Option w/ 2x Converter

Best Macro Lens Options

#1 Macro Photography Lens OptionBest Quality and can be used for Portraits

#2 Macro Lens Option – Top Quality and can be used for Portraits

#3 Macro Lens Option – Affordable and Good Quality

#4 Macro Lens Option – Very Affordable

#5 macro Lens Option – Insane Magnification

Best Astro Photography lens Options

I am by no means an expert in this area, so please take these suggestions as such… What is usually needed for this is speed and often a wide angle lens. I will suggest Auto Focus lenses first, then a few manual focus lenses courtesy of Steve… Manual focus is usually required for Astro photography anyway, so no real issue here in my opinion.

#1 choice for affordability + Speed + Wide Angle

#2 Choice for Affordability + Speed + Sharpness

#3 Choice for Best Quality + Speed

#4 Choice – Max Speed

Manual Focus Options courtesy of Steve: 
– Super Wide Angle: Rokinon/ Samyang 12mm f/2
– Fast Wide Angle: Rokinon/ Samyang 21mm f/1.4
– Standard Prime: Rokinon/ Samyang 35mm f/1.2

Closing Remarks

I really hope this article helped those in search for another lens and cleared up some of the confusion that goes along with optics in general. I could have picked more lenses for each category, but I wanted to keep this article concise and limit the confusion for those new to the Sony E-Mount camera system. I think these lenses are the best options available today for the given criteria that most people tend to look for.
If you are willing to use manual focus and/or lens adapters, the options are much larger for sure!
I also created another lens  article on lenses you should check out, which is a bit older, but is really good I think…

So which lens is your favorite for any given genre of photography??

Please let me know below and be sure to include the camera you are using as well if you don’t mind…
Also, feel free to ask below if you have questions about any lens, and I will be happy to help as best I can ๐Ÿ™‚
My E-Mount Lens Guides are Here >> 

Thanks for checking out this article and have a great day,
Jay

  1. Honestly, every lens is good and every better lens is super expensive! Having said that, one or two primes will help. I am super happy with my Sigma 19, 30 and 60 for critical work on my a6300. 18-200 has been my travel lens. I hope one day good Sony lenses are affordable. When you make the cameras cheap, lenses should also be. Or else it’s like free printers with super expensive cartridges.

    1. Hello again Rajaram and thanks for the great comments!!
      Sony lenses in general are expensive, no question. However, you have so many options if you want to use lens adapters for example, or cheaper built lenses like the Sigma units . Sony lenses in general are built really well, and are much better than some other brands kit lenses. High quality optics cost money, and the larger the sensor, the larger the glass needs to be. If you are looking at a Zeiss lens or G badged lens, then you must compare to the higher end lenses by other manufactures as well. Canon and Nikon sell so much more, they can save money in production costs, compared to smaller camera manufactures like Sony. These days Sony is doing really well and I wish the prices would come down a bit on some of the lenses for sure. The 16-70mm f/4 OSS ZA lens for example would be nice if it was around $699 or so…
      As far as your printer cartridges analogy? I t doesn’t really apply. The lenses are not disposable, and the re-sale value is very high! Not the case with disposable cartridges… Different lenses offer different possibilities for capturing the world, so they offer something for the money in other words, depending on your needs…. Wide-angle, telephoto, macro, ect.. I see your point though, don’t get me wrong…
      Thanks again,
      Jay

  2. good lens update review.
    Can I suggest an astro option …these are from lonely spec website but this guy shoots sony, I know you dont do a lot of astro…but it is popular….and I shoot it a bit
    full frame
    Super Wide Angle: Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8
    Budget: Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
    Fast Wide Angle: Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2
    Budget: Sony FE 28mm f/2
    Standard Prime: Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA
    Budget: Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8
    Bargain: Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 (stopped to f/2.8)
    APS-c
    Super Wide Angle: Rokinon/Samyang 12mm f/2
    Fast Wide Angle: Rokinon/Samyang 21mm f/1.4
    Standard Prime: Rokinon/Samyang 35mm f/1.2

  3. A very nice lens roundup. I’ve already forwarded it to several fellow A6000 owners.
    I was wondering if you ever considered reviewing some of the really cheap lenses from Meike or Neewer. Thereโ€™s a manual Meike 35mm f/1.7 e-mount Iโ€™ve been considering. Of course I donโ€™t expect Zeiss, Sigma or Sony quality, but at $89 the bang for the buck potential is pretty exciting.

    1. Hi Dan,
      I have such limited time these days that I have not considered reviewing them, sorry. For that money, it’s worth trying out if in the market I would say ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Jay

  4. I’m a cycling, running, multi-sport photographer who loved the AFC facility of an a6300. Which of the zooms are quickest with the phase detection in the Sony range.
    With Sigma MC-11 and Minolta ranges does the AFC work as fast? Don’t get a lot of chances to be chasing a focus with fast moving objects.
    Really looking for a zoom which can do low light crowds in pre-dawn through to bright fast moving sports. Video no important.

    1. Hi Paul and thanks for the excellent question. It sounds like what you really need is a pro grade lens or at the very least a G Badged or Zeiss badged lens. You need to fast af focus motor inside the lens to insure accurate captures of high speed moving subjects, and for low light you will need fast glass! You best possible option would be the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens, and it is far from cheap. That would be the best possible option fallowed by the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens. These two lenses are optimized for high speed focusing and tracking and have a killer zoom range.
      In my opinion the Sigma MC-11 is a great option for regular photography, but not a solution for high speed subjects. The lens adapters just don’t allow for fast accurate object tracking in my experience. You will get a sharp shot every once and while, but nothing like a native mounted lens.
      A more affordable option would be something like the E 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens, but f/4 is not the best for super low light….
      Lastly the E 55-210mm would be an option, but that lens does not have the ability to track super fast subjects at close range due to the slower focus motor as compared to the pro lenses.
      What kind of focal range are you looking for? That is also important and I might suggest other lenses if you don’t need telephoto??
      Jay

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