Are Sony lenses really all that bad?
July 23, 2008 4:16 PM   Subscribe

Buying my girlfriend a Sony Alpha A350-DSLR; what kind of lenses should I buy? I've read bad reviews for Sony lenses.

I'm buying my girlfriend a Sony Alpha A350-DSLR as a gift for a very special occasion. Until now, she's had a Nikon D100 and we were caught between getting a D200 or 300 or going for the Sony Alpha A350, mostly because she loves her Nikkor AF 28-105mm D IF 1:0.5 Macro lens, which is the only lens she has.

She wants a waist-level viewfinder which the A350 has, so I think I'm going to get her that (though any final thoughts on that would be appreciated) however now I'm torn over what kind of lenses would best replace her Nikkor AF 28-105mm macro lens.

I've read that Sony lenses are not that great, and the one that I handled in the camera store felt cheap and plastic-y. Anyone have any lens-related advice? Are the older Minolta lenses the only others that would fit on the A350? Thanks in advance!
posted by stewiethegreat to Technology (10 answers total)
Buying an SLR, the features of the body are somewhat significant but mostly you're buying into the lens system. Because in 5 years, your body won't be worth crap but the lenses will still work great, and will work super on the 20 megapixel bodies you'll be able to get for $700.

Since it's a gift, it's a little complicated; if she thinks she wants a Sony, then getting her something else may disappoint. But in the long run it's probably not the best camera to get her.
posted by aubilenon at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2008

She's open to other possibilities and doesn't know she's getting it. She is planning to buy herself a replacement camera in a year or two and I'm suprising her with the gift- any reason in particular the A350 isn't the best camera to choose?
posted by stewiethegreat at 4:33 PM on July 23, 2008

How about something like this for the Nikon D300? If she has a lens she loves, it would be pretty sad to have to give that up. There are also lots of other great Nikon lens options, either new or used. I don't know anything about that product, but it seems like it would give you the same functionality as a waist level viewfinder without limiting you to a weird lens system. Also, if she got a D300 she would already have a lens she likes, so you wouldn't have to go dig up a new lens immediately.
posted by pekala at 4:45 PM on July 23, 2008

I don't know much about Sony camera bodies, but I know that they take Minolta AF mount lenses, which can be quite nice. The lens system was never as extensive or popular as Nikon or Canon, but was most definitely of high quality, particularly the primes. Several years ago before I went medium format, I owned a Maxxum 9 and a Minolta 35mm f1.4/G lens which always produced sharp, contrasty images (please excuse the poor circa-2002 scan quality). It looks like post-Minolta acquisition, Sony still manufactures this lens.

One thing I always liked about Minolta camera bodies was how solid they felt and how easy they were to use. While Canon and Nikon bodies always felt totally alien and non-ergonomic in my hands, Minoltas always seemed to have all the key controls tied to physical knobs and switches, rather than menus and push-buttons. That being said, Sony is not Minolta and I'm not sure to what degree this particular design sensibility has endured with the Alpha series bodies.

I'm sure Sony makes some cheap lenses that don't perform well (as do all camera manufacturers), but rest assured that there are high quality lenses available for the system as well. Of course, you'll find stellar lenses in any of the major DSLR manufacturer's lineups... a more important factor may be the image quality you can get out of the body and the ever nebulous ergonomic handfeel issues that only your girlfriend will be able to help you with.

Also be aware that once you own more than one lens, you've all of a sudden become invested in the future of the whole system. Sony may not be the best brand to bet on in this aspect, as they don't have a particularly good track record when it comes to legacy support for consumer products.
posted by strangecargo at 5:44 PM on July 23, 2008

I haven't looked closely at the Sony series either, but I did recently buy a Nikon D300 and couldn't be happier. Plus, it's likely to drop a little in price with the recent D700 introduction. Heck, if you really love her, get the D700. I don't think it's possible to beat the lens systems from Canon and Nikkor and that's what it's all about in the SLR game.

In fact, another alternative to getting a new body is to get her some new, very nice glass. Maybe a set of fast primes like the 50/1.4, 85/1.4 and 180/2.8 or a beauty like the 70-200/2.8. You can add bodies to the collection later on.
posted by michswiss at 6:38 PM on July 23, 2008

I shoot an older Sony SLR and absolutely love it. I have a kit lens and it is wicked sharp and good for the basics.
One thing Sony has is an affiliation with Zeiss. Zeiss is wildly regarded as the best lens maker in the world.
You might try looking through this roundup of lenses. They also have good reviews and previews of the camera bodies you've mentioned, and the pro and cons of each.
Good luck. Hope this was helpful
posted by photomusic86 at 6:52 PM on July 23, 2008

I'm piling on with the commenters upthread — an SLR system is more about the lenses than the camera, and Nikon and Canon have the best SLR lenses, hands down. However, I wouldn't worry so much about her one Nikon lens as an initial investment. The 28-105mm is basically just an okay lens.

At the risk of tangenting, I'm going to offer relationship advice. :) A prosumer DSLR is such a huge and personal purchase... I would advise that the possible cost of lingering disappointment outweighs the possible benefit of initial delight. Talk to her about it! Or maybe get a super-posh certificate artistially hand-lettered and gold-embossed on nice vellum saying something like REDEEMABLE FOR ONE FREAKING AWESOME CAMERA. You could turn the decision to surprise her into a craft object on its own.
posted by mindsound at 7:14 PM on July 23, 2008

Also, after thinking some more, I totally agree with michswiss about glass. Regardless of what camera system she gets, you're very safe surprising her with a fast prime lens since it'll be pleasantly different from her so-so zoom. My personal favorite is Nikon's 35mm f/2 D for candids, which may be up her alley if she's after a waist-level viewfinder. Primes' contrast, sharpness, and depth of field can't be beat.
posted by mindsound at 7:28 PM on July 23, 2008

A fast prime is a beautiful thing. If your girlfriend only owns one, I recommend a normal to medium-wide lens. For the APS-C sensor size used on most DSLRs, this translates to 28-35mm, though I've always liked my primes to be a little wider than normal (35mm on 135, 65mm on 6x7). I guess that would be ~24mm for APS-C.
posted by strangecargo at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2008

You need to get over to dyxum and check out the lens database, which would answer all your questions about relative quality. The 18-70 kit lens that comes with the A350 is indeed crap, but Sony lenses in general are excellent. They're the only brand for which you can buy a new, autofocus Zeiss lens, and the back-catalogue of Minolta lenses is great, particularly given that they're now stabilised.
posted by polyglot at 7:54 PM on April 22, 2009

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