Canon vs. Sony, Part 2 with Joe Switzer


Canon vs. Sony, Part 2 with Joe Switzer

We have a winner! What lens brand should be in your camera bag for the second half of 2015? In Part 2, I focus on Sony A-mount, Sony E-mount and Canon L series lenses. Last month, Canon was ahead of Sony, with a score of 3 to 2, judging on depth of field, color, sharpness, manual focusing and lens flare.

This time, we are adding a group of A-mount Sony lenses to the mix, including a 135mm, 50mm, 85mm and 16–35mm. We really wanted to go exclusively with Sony E-mount lenses because of weight and the automatic focus option, but wanted a shallower depth of field, which was the primary reason we purchased over $10,000 in new Sony A-mount glass.

Before we made the final decision, we took into account the overall feel and performance of all the different lenses and how they impact the team and our shoots. The Sony A-mount lenses require an adapter just like the Canon lenses do for the Sony A7s. The E-mount lenses require no adapter.

For the past month, we have been using both Sony and Canon lenses on our shoots, and mixing the footage in our final productions. Guess what? We couldn’t tell a difference between the lenses when we watched the final edited footage. (Obviously, you do see differences when you take your time to carefully compare side by side.) All the filmmaking was done with the Sony A7s on the picture profile 7 setting.

We tried out a total of over $20,000 in new Sony lenses for this article. It was back and fourth internally on which brand we were going to choose for our company. We feel like we made the best decision for our team, and hope that we can help you make the right decision for yours without your having to spend so much time and money.

The footage we captured was from a wedding in San Francisco, a corporate shoot and a few shots in my backyard.

Most of the Canon lenses used were the 50mm EF f/1.2, 14mm EF f/2.8, 200mm EF 2.8, 85mm EF f/1.2, 100mm f/2.8 macro and the 135mm EF f/2.0. Some of the Sony lenses in the competition are the FE PZ 28–145mm f/4 OSS, Vario-Tessar T* FE 16–35mm ZA OSS, Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8, Planar T* 85mm f/1.4, Sonnar T* 135mm f/1.8, Planar T* 50mm f1.4 and the Vario-Sonnar T* 16–35mm f/2.8.

Depth of Field

Maybe your shoots don’t require a shallow depth of field, but this is very important to us. We like to be able to go as shallow as possible. Most of the time, our aperture is set as low as we can go because we like the way it brings out our subjects. The Sony E-mount lenses lost this battle to Canon last month. This time around, to level the playing field, we purchased the Sony A-mount lenses. You’ll notice that all the E-mount lenses don’t have the lowest aperture option. Sony A-mount and Canon L lenses have basically the same aperture.

The A-mounts we compared were Sony’s 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4 and 135 f/1.8 versus Canon’s 50mm f1.2, 85mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2.0.

On a typical shoot, we use the 50mm for more shots than the 85mm and 135mm combined. For that reason, the depth-of-field winner is more weighted toward the performance of the 50mm. What I wanted to find out is if I could actually tell a difference between the 1.4mm and 1.2mm. With the Metabones adapter, the Canon only goes down to 1.3. I could still tell a difference with depth of field, but it was minimal. Look at the brown dead leaves in the photo, and you can see that they are more blurred out on the Canon image. Sony A-mount lenses have a much better aperture than the E-mounts, but if having the lowest aperture is a priority, then Canon is for you, followed by Sony A-mount lenses and, in last place, the Sony E-mount lenses.


Both the Sony E-mount and A-mount lenses appear to have better color than all the Canon EF lenses. The color in camera on the Sony A7s was set to PP7, and nothing was color corrected in the video or in the photo comparisons besides exposure. With Sony lenses, the colors are more defined. You’ll notice that the colors pop more on the concrete outside the building; check out the reflection on the windows and the greens and blue. There’s a more lifelike look with less color correction in post. Sony remains the winner in the color category. This might not be a concern for you since you can slightly adjust color in post-production and get the same results.


It’s very hard for me to tell the difference, but if you put two photos or video shots side by side, the Sony lenses always look a little sharper. You’ll notice that when you look at the tree, you can actually see more leaves with Sony and that they are more defined. The more details and the closer we shot objects, the difference in sharpness was more obvious, but with the wider shots, it was harder to tell the difference. Many filmmakers I know shoot with details and sharpness turned down. The camera gives them the flexibility to edit sharpness the way they want it in post. Still, if you’re a detail person and are concerned about the sharpest lens, then Sony is for you.

Manual Focusing

There are situations where automatic focus is the preferred choice. With Sony’s E-mount lenses, you have the option of quickly changing to autofocus on the fly. My company uses manual focus 99 percent of the time. For years, we’ve never even had the choice of using autofocus because we filmed exclusively with DSLRs. We are more passionate about the feel and performance of the manual focus than with any tracking autofocus function because we know the exact spot and area where we want the focus to be. When you work 12-hour days pulling focus, you’d better be comfortable with the feel of manual focus, and the Canon is better.

The Sony 85mm manual focus was loud and grinding compared to the buttery-smooth feel of the Canon 85mm. Look at the 2.17-pound Sony 135mm f1.8 lens below compared to the Canon 135 lens on the right. The Sony felt like it had a gap and delay in the manual focus. I didn’t like that; the feel of the focus pull might be the single most important quality I value in a lens. You’ll end up holding your lenses more than holding your own children, so the way the manual focus performs is crucial. Canon remains the winner because of the way the lenses feel and perform.

Lens Flare

If you’ve seen the recent Star Trek or Transformer movies, you know what lens flare is. I can’t get enough of it on my shoots. Shooting into sunlight can be a challenge but can pay off with tremendous dividends. Some photographers and filmmakers try to limit lens flare. In many cases, the more you pay for a lens, the less flare you’ll get.

Some editors don’t mind less lens flare because they can add it in post-production artificially. I would rather shoot what I want in camera and be done with it. I always choose the lens with bigger flare. You can see with the 50mm that the Canon lens gives me a bigger flare than the Sony 50mm. In Part 1, we found that the Canon 14mm had larger flare than the Sony E-mount 10–18mm. The majority of my shots for any video come from these two lenses. This means Canon wins the lens flare category.

The Bottom Line

The overall feel and performance of a lens trumps everything. You don’t need to be wasting time and money on lenses that won’t give you the competitive advantage you’re looking for. So what lenses do you need to buy? Do you need to use both Sony and Canon? We tried that on our wedding shoot in San Francisco. Even though we were able to get the shots we needed using both brands, we felt that as a team we missed being able to swap lenses quickly between us and not miss any shots. Our creativity was limited because we were not in sync with our lenses.

Your lenses need to give you an unfair advantage against everyone else so you can have a better final product. Even though the flexibility of using Sony’s newest 28–135mm gave us more options during the wedding ceremony, the lowest aperture was 4.0, and that was limiting. Our style is to shoot as shallow as possible most of the time. Maybe your style is different. Perhaps your camera lens flare, aperture and autofocus mean something different to you than they do to me. It comes down to what you value as a filmmaker.

All that being said, we have a lens winner—for us. By a unanimous decision, our team has chosen Canon. We did keep one Sony lens, though: We fell in love with the 0.9-pound Sony E-mount 10–18 f/4 because of its weight and automatic focus option. For our gliding and motion camera movement, we may exclusively start using that Sony lens.

Looking at the big picture, the lens flare, shallow depth of field and, most importantly, how it feels all mean more to us than color and sharpness. Now we’ll all be in sync for the remainder of 2015.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the August 2015 magazine.

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