What Makes Sony's Hybrid Lenses Great for Stills and Video

What Makes Sony's Hybrid Lenses Great for Stills and Video

As the line between professional photography and videography continues to blur, one company has chosen to cater to this emerging class of hybrid shooters. 

Sony released its first full-frame, interchangeable-lens cameras, the Alpha a7 and a7R, in 2013. With the release of these twin cameras, the company unknowingly embarked on what would end up being a five-year monopoly of the mirrorless camera market. Although not the very first mirrorless cameras of their kind, the a7 and a7R were immediately disruptive due to their revolutionary autofocus, high-resolution sensors, and lightweight bodies.

Sony unveiled its first lens optimized for photography and videography, in 2014, at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. This announcement came on the heels of the company’s illustrious foray into the mirrorless camera market the previous year. Then, Sony released the Alpha a7S, its first mirrorless camera optimized specifically for video. Mark Weir, Sony’s senior product manager for Alpha, says the a7S was created with an intentional low-megapixel sensor because, while having a lot of resolution is great in photography, it’s not so good for video. Weir said the a7S gained traction because it was an inexpensive option for studios and filmmakers trying to reduce their costs.

Sony had also found a new emerging market: video content creators.

“And that is probably a much more significant development in the world of imaging,” says Weir. “That was an enormous motivation towards the development of cameras that can capture video and also lenses that are well-suited for capturing video.”

So, what features make Sony lenses well equipped for capturing video and photo?

For one, advancements in autofocus.

Reliable autofocus has made it so that videographers can shoot at shallow depth of field without worrying about their subject going out of focus. Autofocus has also made it possible to shoot sharp video, even when the manual focus ring is out of reach, when using a gimbal or drone, for example. Finally, these lenses are free of rotational actuators and their noisy gears, creating silent autofocus.

Sony’s E-mount lenses are also equipped with Linear Focus Response. Linear Focus Response makes a mirrorless camera’s focus ring operate more like a traditional, mechanical focusing ring, meaning the distance you rotate the focusing ring is directly related to the amount of focus shift in a shot. On a lens without Linear Response manual focus, the focus is not directly tied to the position of the focusing ring, meaning that even if the ring returns to its original position, the focus will be different.

Another important element of any E-mount lens is manual focus during autofocus, also known as AF assist. With AF assist you can seamlessly switch between manual focus and autofocus, simply by rotating the focus ring. This is a game changer because it means at any key moment during shooting, you can momentarily shift to manual focus and then let autofocus take over again.

Some E-mount lenses, when paired with a compatible Sony camera, also offer focus breathing compensation. Focus breathing is evident in video when the edges of a frame shift and wobble due to a change in focus. Focus breathing compensation works by stabilizing the frame, allowing seamless transitions between focus points without any jittering.

There are several other aspects of Sony lenses that make them more useful for capturing video than ever before, such as power zoom, image stabilization, and iris control.

While power zoom is not available in all Sony lenses, it is a huge benefit to videographers. If you think back to old camcorders, you will remember there was an electronic zoom to move in and out of a frame. Some modern Sony lenses are likewise equipped with this technology. This is a great asset for videographers because it gives them greater control over focus speed, allowing them to zoom in and out smoothly.  

As one would expect, Sony’s in-body stabilization tends to perform better with Sony’s E-mount lenses because they are optimized to do so. Some E-mount lenses, however, offer an even deeper level of stabilization. Lenses outfitted with additional optical image stabilization ensure that handheld video is steady and still photos taken in low light stay sharp. The ability to take handheld shots gives filmmakers more flexibility and creativity when shooting. It also untethers them from complicated, cumbersome, and expensive gimbals and tripods.

One feature of these lenses is a de-clickable aperture ring. When shooting video, it’s ideal to have a smooth aperture ring, without any jarring clicks. This empowers filmmakers to make fine micro-adjustments and smooth transitions between apertures. The aperture on/off switch included on some E-mount lenses gives photographers and videographers the best of both worlds: Shooters have the option to make the aperture ring clickable while shooting stills and then can easily de-click it when switching to video.

Now that you’re familiar with some of the technology involved in these lenses, let’s consider a few that stuck out to us as good hybrid options. Following is a handful of Sony full-frame and APS-C lenses optimized for video and photo.

Keep in mind when looking at this list that these lenses are all photo-oriented, with some allowances made for video. If your primary interest is shooting video, you might be better off checking out Sony’s line of cinema lenses instead. Those lenses have been truly created for shooting video.

Most of the lenses featured on this list are also G or G-Master lenses, Sony’s top-shelf glass. Although we’ve included some less expensive APS-C options, remember those will only be practical if you have an APS-C camera.

With all this in mind, let’s dive in.

Sony FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G

The first lens on our list is the Sony FE PZ 16-35 f/4 G. This full-frame lens offers a great range, from very wide angle (a fisheye-type quality) to the classic 35mm focal length. It offers power zoom, focus breathing compensation, and an internal zoom mechanism, which means the lens maintains the same length while zooming. This is crucial when using a gimbal or tripod because the lens won’t shift during filming, shifting the balance of the apparatus. The aperture ring can also be de-clicked for smooth aperture adjustments.

Sony FE PZ 16-35 f/4 G
Sony FE PZ 16-35 f/4 G

The Sony FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G is a G-level lens, one step below Sony’s top-ranking G-Master lenses. Along with the lower rank comes a significantly lower price; the G version of this lens runs nearly a thousand dollars less than its G-Master twin, the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens.

Despite its subordinate status, the G version of this lens is remarkably powerful and versatile. It’s nearly half the size and weight of the GM version and is weather sealed, making it a reliable option for traveling. It’s also a solid choice for landscape, street, and architectural photography.

There is one notable downside to this lens.

You do sacrifice some beautiful, shallow-depth-of-field bokeh with the f/4 aperture. So, if you’re hoping to use this lens for portraiture or shallow-depth-of-field blogging, you might be better off ponying up the extra cash for the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM

If you don’t mind the deeper depth of field, however, this could also be an exceptional environmental portrait lens, giving more background context to your subjects.

Still photography aside, the FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G is also an exceptional lens for capturing video. It’s small, lightweight, and sharp, making it well equipped for capturing everything from B-roll to talking-head vlogging shots. The zoom also gives filmmakers a nice array of focal lengths from which to choose.

Finally, this lens uses a pair of xd linear motors to power the autofocus, meaning the autofocus is lightning fast and silent.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II

Next on our list is the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II. This mid-range zoom G-Master lens is extremely well rounded. It’s a great option for documentary-style photographers and videographers who want versatility. It’s capable of performing in tight quarters but also offers an extra boost for close-up shots.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II
Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II

Notably, this lens is about 200 grams lighter than its predecessor, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, and features a de-clickable aperture ring. It also minimizes focus breathing and focus shift during video capture. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer power zoom, although it is weather sealed and comes with four xd linear motors for fast, accurate autofocus when capturing stills or video.

The FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II offers very satisfying bokeh and crystal-clear image quality, endearing it to photographers and videographers alike. In fact, the lens is designed to rival prime lenses, with edge-to-edge sharp image quality at every focal length, all while maintaining a constant f/2.8. This is truly a workhorse lens.

It’s powerful and robust, capable of capturing wide, medium, and tight shots. However, you do pay a hefty price for the privilege. For the money, though, you are assured a top-of-the-line lens, one of the smallest and lightest zoom lenses on the market. And at f/2.8, you’ll never have to compromise when shooting in low-light scenarios. 

Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II

Another versatile lens, optimized for video and stills, is the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II. Although it doesn’t feature power zoom, the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II does create beautiful bokeh, has dependable autofocus, and is extremely lightweight.

Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II
Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II

This G-Master lens weighs 1,045 grams, not quite as light as the 24-70mm, but still 29% lighter than its predecessor. By sticking to a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout its focal range, the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II’s rounded aperture diaphragm, with 11 blades, creates natural-looking bokeh, ideal for portraits or shallow-depth-of-field shots.

This lens is also equipped with Optical Steady Shot stabilization, a helpful tool for videographers and photographers, and features a de-clickable aperture ring for smooth aperture pulls.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II is lightweight yet rugged, and G-Master quality ensures sharp resolution at every corner of the frame. Furthermore, the lens’s extensive focal range and f/2.8 aperture is perfect for shooting everything from portraits to indoor sporting events. This is the type of lens many documentary-style shooters consider a crucial component of their kit. 

The 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II also completes the “holy trinity” of zoom lenses. Alongside the 16-35mm and 24-70mm, the 70-200 completes a full focal range. Even with all our bases covered, however, there are still several lenses on this list that may inspire a new level of ingenuity and creativity in your work. Let’s run through some other lenses that might be beneficial to the hybrid stills/video shooter.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens

An highly functional prime lens worth considering is the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM. At f/1.2 with 11 aperture diaphragm blades, you'd be hard pressed to find a lens that renders more beautiful bokeh. This is a fantastic option for shooting portraits or isolating a character in a video.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM

This was Sony’s first 50mm prime lens to sport the G-Master insignia. It features consistent sharpness across the frame and is lightning fast, with four XD Linear Motors working together to ensure nimble and sharp autofocus. It also features internal focusing, promising that the balance will be stable, even when shooting on a gimbal.

The lens is also equipped with Linear Focus Response to make pulling focus a breeze in manual focus, and the de-clickable aperture ring allows for smooth adjustments in the field.

This fun lens is perfect for jazzing up your work―whether you’re looking for sharp photos, creamy bokeh, or artistic B-roll, the FE 50mm f/1.2 GM has something for everyone. It is equipped to handle a wide range of applications, from lifestyle to street photography. It’s also dust and moisture resistant, making it a highly serviceable lens that you can bring along everywhere. Whether you’re shooting in the cleanest studio or harshest environment, you can rely on the FE 50mm f/1.2 GM to give you crystal-clear footage.

Sony APS-C Lenses

Now that we’ve run through some excellent full-frame options, let’s move on to the APS-C lenses. These lenses are usually less costly and lighter than their full-frame compeers, making them attractive to newbies, travelers, or anyone looking for a lightweight setup. Let’s start with Sony’s most recent releases.

On June 1, 2022, Sony released three compact wide-angle APS-C lenses optimized for videography, each with slightly different ranges and features.

Sony E PZ 10-20mm f/4 PZ G

The only new release with power zoom (or any zoom) is the E PZ 10-20mm f/4 PZ G. This is a powerful, lightweight lens ideal for all sorts of content creation. This lens is wide enough to capture handheld, talking-head shots but also has the capacity to provide sharp, creative B-roll. The 15-30mm equivalent focal-length range is perfect for everything from vlogging to street photography, and the G standard optics ensures sharpness throughout.

Sony E PZ 10-20mm f/4 PZ G
Sony E PZ 10-20mm f/4 PZ G

This lens was initially designed to replace Sony’s 10-18mm legacy lens, keeping the speed and versatility of the old lens but with some optical upgrades.

An internal zoom prevents the lens from physically moving while zooming, giving shooters steadier shots when using a handheld gimbal. The lens also comes with Linear Focus Response for precise manual focusing while shooting video and Smooth Motion Optics to help suppress focus breathing.

This lens is lightweight (only 180 grams) with snappy autofocus that’s good for capturing video and still images. Unfortunately, f/4 doesn’t give you much flexibility when shooting in low light, but the E PZ 10-20mm f/4 PZ G’s f/4 aperture is constant throughout its focal range.

It’s truly a tech marvel that Sony was able to fit such a long focal range, motorized zoom, and minimal focus breathing into this tiny package. APS-C shooters and vloggers will doubtlessly enjoy this 15-30mm equivalent lens for years to come. 

Sony 15mm G F/1.4

Also released in June 2022, Sony’s 15mm G F/1.4 is a fast, professional-grade prime lens. What the E PZ 10-20mm f/4 PZ G lacks in depth of field, the 15mm completely makes up for with a bright f/1.4 aperture.

Sony 15mm G F/1.4
Sony 15mm G F/1.4

The 15mm G F/1.4 offers natural-looking bokeh and quick autofocus, making it a great option for filmmakers and photographers alike. Despite the wide angle of view, the 15mm G F/1.4’s three aspherical elements work together to give the lens edge-to-edge resolution. Two advanced linear motors also create precise, silent autofocus, perfect for capturing video or fast-moving subjects.

Autofocus aside, the 15mm G F/1.4 offers an array of other video optimizations. The lens utilizes Sony’s newest technology to reduce focus breathing, contains Linear Focus Response for manual focusing, and features a handy de-clickable aperture ring.

Despite its large aperture, the 15mm G F/1.4 is surprisingly light, weighing just 219 grams. Its small stature and shallow depth of field make it an ideal lens for landscapes, architecture, and photographing in cramped spaces. Its quick autofocus also makes it an ideal lens for shooting close-action sports, such as basketball or roller derby.

This full-frame, 22mm equivalent prime lens will be attractive for many content creators, whether you’re a stills photographer trying to photograph your kids or a vlogger trying to capture a new audience.

Sony 11mm E F/1.8

Our final 2022 release is the Sony 11mm E F/1.8. Like the other APS-C lenses on this list, the 11mm is also optimized for video, equipped with new Linear Focus Response and focus breathing reduction technology.

Sony 11mm E F/1.8
Sony 11mm E F/1.8

Like the 15mm G F/1.4, the 11mm E F/1.8 has two linear motors working together to ensure fast and precise autofocus tracking. Its super-wide, 16.5mm equivalent focal length makes it a useful lens for selfies, talking-head shots, as well as walking shots. It’s also great for any situation when you need to fit more than one person comfortably in the frame, such as during interviews or group selfie photos. The wide aspect of the lens is also well suited for Sony’s active move image stabilization, which tends to crop slightly.

Also like the 15mm, the 11mm renders soft bokeh and sharp corner-to-corner resolution. The bokeh effect is useful when trying to isolate a subject from a busy background during photo or video shoots. The shallow depth of field also comes in handy when shooting dimly lit scenes.

While the 11mm E F/1.8 is not a G-series lens, the build quality is still quite impressive, and is available at a significantly lower price point than its associates. Its weather-sealed, lightweight body makes it a great grab-and-go lens. It’s reassuring not having to worry about your lens, even when shooting in inclement weather.

Boasting the title of Sony’s widest APS-C prime lens, this 16.5mm equivalent would make a logical addition to any kit.

Sony E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS

If you’re looking for a workhorse zoom lens, maybe it’s time to consider Sony’s E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS lens.

Sony E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS lens
Sony E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS lens

Despite being seven years old, this lens is still a great option for documentary-style photography and videography. It’s an ideal choice for shooting news, weddings, or interviews. 

This APS-C lens has an effective focal length of 27-165mm and a constant f/4 aperture, making it adept at capturing video as well as still photos. It also has crucially silent and smooth autofocus and is a parfocal lens, meaning the focus stays sharp, even if the focal length changes.

The E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS comes with a zoom rocker for fluid power zooming and an optical image stabilizer for reliable, steady shots. Sony’s Smooth Motion Optics also ensure minimal focus breathing during recording.

While weighing considerably more than the other APS-C lenses on this list, the E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS is pleasantly lightweight―for a zoom lens―especially given how old it is. Weighing only 2.4 lb, the E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS is a great all-around zoom lens.

The E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS shows a distinct lack of bokeh with its constant f/4 aperture. If shallow depth of field isn’t important to you, though, this lens is more than capable of filling in the gaps left by many prime lenses and is a great option for anyone trying to avoid constant lens changes. If shallow depth of field is important to you, you might want to consider a different lens.

For more information and detailed specs, click through to the product pages using the hyperlinks above.

Do you have any go-to Sony lenses for shooting photos and video? Post questions or remarks in the Comments section, below.