I wrote a piece on Sony's lens selection and strategy back in late 2013. With the announcements of Sony's new G Master FE lens line, It feels time to revisit this topic. A little over 2 years later, while some of my criticisms have been answered, some still linger and new ones have appeared.
In that article, I suggested Sony develop some fast zooms to win over the pro DSLR crowd, but I kind of assumed they would have attended to the rest of the line in the meantime. Between then and now, they have released 7 FE lenses. I've added a basic description of each.
You might look at that list and think, "What are you complaining about?"
I look at that list and see a lot of compromise and a lack of direction.
When I think of a camera system, I picture a robust and standard mount that accepts a whole range of lens offerings offering consistent quality and design philosophy. This is one reason photographers have put trust and money into Canon's L series, Nikon's FX series and Leica's M mount lenses. There's a consistency to how they work, look, and feel. Prices also have some consistency and predictability.
Sony's FE line seems disjointed, and inconsistent. Not only are there big holes in the lineup, but the variance in design and price between lenses is really weird. For example, the 28mm f/2 is a very solid lens and has a good reputation for image quality and build. It's priced at $450, which seems like a pretty good deal and is appropriately priced for a no-frills lens.
If you move to the next traditional focal length of 35mm, there are two lenses which both have some good qualities and are well loved by many Sony shooters, but just don't make sense in a system. The 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens is slower than the 28, and close to double the price. These two lenses are awfully similar in image quality, but don't seem like they belong in a system together. Different finish, different branding.
Add in the 35mm f/1.4 and things get really confusing. Is there an upper line of fast Zeiss lenses with dedicated aperture rings and absolute focus on image quality? No? You mean this is the only one? See what I mean? This lens has almost nothing in common with either of the two I've already mentioned which would indicate that it belongs to its own "set" of lenses.
How about a 50mm, the standard Normal focal length prime lens? I see a good mid-high end model in the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. Is there an entry level 50 matching the design and price point of the 28mm f/2? Nope. Is there an f/1.4 model that matches the high end 35? No, that one doesn't exist either.
Let's say you want an ultra wide or a super wide angle prime lens for astrophotography or low light interior shots. The entry level 28 is the widest prime in the Sony lineup and if you want to shoot wider, your only option is a 16-35mm f/4 zoom.
Are you starting to see some inconsistencies?
Even from a marketing perspective, this random strategy makes little sense. From my (admittedly) anecdotal view, there's a healthy market for sub $1,000 fairly compact lenses. I know of very few A7 owners that don't own the 55 or the 35 f/2.8. Though there's clearly a place and demand for the development of higher end lenses, I'd wager that Sony is leaving money on the table by not having a larger stable of standard primes.
It seems there's a psychological barrier holding a lot of people back from the idea of spending more on a lens than the cost of the body. Though experienced photographers know that glass is a great place to invest, there is a very broad (arguably larger) market of newer enthusiast photographers who would rather buy 2-3 good lenses for $1,500 than one great lens.
So, though I know it's unlikely to draw Sony's attention and seriously change their plans or philosophy, I'd like to offer a roadmap which actually makes sense and addresses many different types of photographers.
Conveniently there are great pieces in the current lens lineup to guide us. Here's to development of a system which is optimal for shooters and gives Sony some great price points to drive wider adoption and good-will with photographers.