Sony has finally released its new full-frame macro lens, the Sony SEL90M28G (FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS) which fits my Sony Alpha 7R camera. Since I like macro photography but made do with the Marumi Achromat screw-on filters, I got this dedicated macro lens despite its hefty price tag.
Was it worth it? To be blunt: unless you have lots of money lying around, probably not. There’s little difference in the best pictures I made with either macro filters or macro lens. The major difference is one of convenience: you don’t have to screw on or change filters, and you get better autofocus at close range. You don’t have to remove filters (or swap lenses) for a quick regular photo, either. Without close-range magnification the SEL90M28G acts as a fixed 90 mm lens, i.e. medium telephoto. So the main benefit is more opportunities for good shots due to greater flexibility and speed.
Braving the oppressive heat, I went on a brief tour through the neighborhood to try out the new lens. You can find the best dozen shots out of 200 or so in this Google Photos gallery. Click on each image to see the full-size JPEG. The info icon shows basic EXIF data and my description, if any. Use the magnifying glass icon to zoom in, all the way down to individual pixels. Below you can see a cropped & downscaled sample; the gallery photos are all uncropped.
Sony just recently issued a new firmware update 2.00 for the Alpha 7R (product code ILCE-7R on the download site). The only benefit over the previous version 1.20 is a reduced startup time, but that version which I had missed claimed improved image quality with new lenses – including the SEL90M28G. Unfortunately I had shot my sample gallery with an older firmware version. On my next macro expedition I’ll have to check if there’s any difference.
If you’re using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom you’ll also need the latest version 6, as the final update to version 5 (5.7.1) does not support the new macro lens and apparently never will. You might find a matching user-created profile, though. If you do update to Lightroom 6 and don’t want a Creative Cloud subscription, note that you should immediately uninstall the “application updater” that Adobe bundles with the standalone desktop version of Lightroom. This “updater” is not needed to update Lightroom – that works just fine from within the application. Rather, it attempts to shove CC versions of your installed Adobe applications down your throat!
Observations & Tips
You can depress the shutter button halfway to start autofocus, then press all the way down while the lens is still attempting to focus. It will immediately take a picture once focus is found. (This probably works with all Sony lenses but it’s an especially nice trick for macro photography of moving objects.)
Make sure to move the distance selector on the lens to 0.5–0.28 meters (nearest setting) when shooting in that range! Sony’s autofocus is somewhat notoriously slow, at least on the A7R – the new A7R II is supposed to feature better and faster autofocus, among other things. When the macro lens was set to full range, I found it was frequently unable to focus at all on close objects.
With a macro lens, it’s important to keep in mind that the minimum focusing distance is measured from the image sensor, not from the front of the lens. The SEL90M28G’s MFD is 28 cm, and the manually selectable smaller distance range is 28–50 cm as noted above. However, since the lens itself is 12.5 cm long and the image sensor sits even further back, the actual practical distance at which I could focus (including autofocus) was somewhat over 10 cm from the front glass. Keep in mind that the upper end of the smaller distance range must be reduced accordingly as well.
Speaking of focus, you’ll generally want to enable autofocus on the lens and then use manual refocusing while autofocus is engaged. Again, that’s normal operation with Sony lenses but especially convenient on a macro lens where manual focusing can be laborious.