Best lenses for the 20-MPix Sony Alpha A3000: Primes and Zooms

Introduction

Sony’s A3000 is the first model in the firm’s reimagined line-up of Alpha APS-C mirrorless cameras, formerly known as NEX. It is an entry-level model aimed at replacing the NEX-3N but it adopts a built-in EVF and features a newly developed 20-Mpix CMOS sensor, up in pixel count from the previous 16-Mpix device adopted by the previous NEX-3N and NEX-5T models.

Intended as a cost-cutting exercise perhaps, the sensor is slightly smaller dimensionally than the standard APS-C size but it’s not lacking much in signal performance (see our earlier sensor analysis here). It’s also rather good at rendering fine detail. As a result of a less aggressive AA filter the A3000 can match the resolving power of the 24-Mpix Sony NEX-7, and can even out-perform it slightly with some high-grade lenses.

Our labs have analyzed the optical quality of nearly 20 E-mount and recently introduced full-frame FE-mount models from both Sony and third-party lens makers on the A3000. We will be analyzing more lenses from Sony and others with the A3000 as soon as they’re available and adding the results to our interactive database.

In the meantime, some of the Sony models evaluated with the A3000 include the new full-frame Sony FE Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f1.8 ZA and 35mm f2.8 ZA (primarily intended for the Sony A7 models), but also the two original E-mount Zeiss Touit models – the high-speed standard Planar 1,8/32 and ultra-wide 2,8/12.

Sigma offers a trio of accessibly priced DN A or ‘Art’ series f2.8 models, the 60mm, 30mm and 19mm, and we’ve the results on the former two. We’ve yet to analyze the latest 19mm model but we have tested the earlier, now discontinued EX version and have included it here for reference. 

High ratio zooms like this are very tempting, especially for travel photography where carrying several lenses instead may be taxing, but optical quality is often compromised for size. Fortunately, the Sony E 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 OSS is quite a good performer. Like most consumer-oriented zooms, sharpness degrades towards the longer end of the zoom range. It performs well centrally but sharpness in the outer field – the borders and corners – isn’t particularly inspiring except when stopped down to f8 at 35 to 70mm. 

Sony E18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 800 12 8
Sony E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 LE 850 11 5
Tamron 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di III VC Sony E 739 10 5

 

At $850, the newer, smaller and lighter LE version isn’t as good optically. It has noticeably lower peak sharpness compared with the earlier version, which really restricts its usefulness.

Wide-open it’s really only sharp at 18mm in the center but this improves when stopped down at the wide to mid-focal lengths. Unfortunately, from 70mm onwards sharpness is somewhat disappointing even in the centers, and no amount of stopping down helps. 

The Tamron is very similar to the Sony LE version and might even be made in the same factory. The specification is practically identical and so is the performance. However there are some subtle differences in sharpness – it’s slightly better at the wider end and worse at the longer focal lengths.  Based on image quality alone, our advice would be to choose the larger Sony model but it is quite a large and heavy lens.

If you have a Sony Alpha A3000 and a favorite lens, we would very much like to hear from you. Please leave a comment below, stating what lens it is and why you like it.

Best prime lenses for the Sony Alpha A3000

Best zoom lenses for the Sony Alpha A3000

Best wide-angle primes for the Sony Alpha A3000

Best portrait primes for the Sony Alpha A3000

Best Standard Primes for the Sony Alpha A3000

Best wide / standard zooms for the Sony Alpha A3000

Best Telephoto zooms for the Sony Alpha A3000

The best performing lens on the A3000 is the new full-frame Sony FE mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f1.8 ZA. As we revealed recently on the full-frame 36-Mpix Sony A7r it is an outstanding performer, and as the equivalent of a 85mm short telephoto lens on the A3000, it continues to impress.

Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F1.8 ZA 1000 26 16
Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN A Sony E 239 24 18
Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS 300 24 14
Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA 1000 23 14
Carl Zeiss Planar Touit 1.8/32 Sony E 1000 23 14
Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN Sony E 189 22 14
Sony  FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm F2.8 ZA 800 22 13
Sony E 35mm f/1.8 450 22 12
Sigma 30mm F2.8 DN A Sony E 199 20 11
Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN Sony E 140 18 12
Sony E 20mm F2.8 350 17 11
Carl Zeiss Distagon Touit 2.8/12 Sony E 1250 17 10
Sony E 30mm F3.5 Macro 250 16 9

 

However, at $1,000 the FE mount Zeiss is perhaps at odds with the accessible price of the camera. Indeed at just $239, the E-mount (APS-C format only) Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN A is close in performance overall, and can even boast higher peak sharpness at f2.8-4. With a metal foil skin over plastic, it doesn’t have the build of the Zeiss but it’s tempting in performance, let alone price.

In third place is the E-mount Sony 50mm f1.8 OSS, a stabilized model with a 2x gain in speed over the Sigma that, at $300, appears to be equally or even better value. The other Sigma models perform very well, particular the now discontinued 30mm f2.8 EX version which was re-imagined as the DN A, paradoxically, with slightly lower IQ.

Of the E mount zooms tested and analyzed, the Sony E 10-18mm f4 is the best performing model overall with a high DxOMark ranking and the highest peak sharpness. Naturally, as the equivalent of a 16-28mm it lacks the outright versatility of rival offerings made for DSLRs but the small size is attractive. Flexibility aside, it has a constant f4 maximum aperture, fast and quiet sonic-type AF motor and it’s stabilized.

Sony E 10-18mm f/4 850 14 9
Sony E18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 800 12 8
Sony E 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 350 12 7
Sony E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 LE 850 11 5
Tamron 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di III VC Sony E 739 10 5

 

The restricted range is less of an issue if you intend to pair it with the stabilized 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 OSS  – those two lenses could be all you need. Although sharpness could be better at 200mm (300mm equivalent) it’s a good performer given the wide zoom range.  

Sony’s retractable E 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 lies in third place. At $350, it’s often found bundled with higher end models rather than the A3000, which is a pity but hardly surprising given the camera’s low price point. As the equivalent to a 25-77mm it’s an appealing little lens. 

As an equivalent to a moderate wide-angle 35mm f1.8, it’s not really surprising to see the $1,000 Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm f1.8 ZA head up this particular category. Although it has somewhat higher than expected chromatic aberration it performs very well, and as we’ve noted with other high-grade models the less aggressive AA filter on the A3000 means sharpness is on a par with the 24-Mpix NEX-7. In fact, the 24mm is slightly sharper on the A3000. Optimum performance is achieved at f4 but it has good center sharpness from f2. 

Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA 1000 23 14
Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN Sony E 140 18 12
Sony E 20mm F2.8 350 17 11
Carl Zeiss Distagon Touit 2.8/12 Sony E 1250 17 10

 

At around half the price of the Sony E 20mm f2.8, the Sigma 19mm f2.8 EX DN is the better performer of the two. Although it has higher peak sharpness than the Sony, the Sigma is a better performer from the initial aperture onwards.

It also has significantly lower barrel distortion and much less noticeable vignetting at maximum aperture. Unfortunately Sigma has replaced it with a newer model, and while it’s said to use the same optical formula we’ve yet to verify the performance.

The widest prime in our database is another Zeiss, the Distagon Touit 2,8/12. This $1,250 optic is the equivalent to a 19mm, and is both impressive sharp when stopped and well corrected for distortion and vignetting. The only negative point, other than price perhaps, is higher than expected chromatic aberration but even this can be cleaned up reasonably well, either in-camera or using software.

As the range is still in its infancy there aren’t many models to choose from, however the three models offered are quite diverse in price and ability. The best corrected in this category is the incredible Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f1.8 ZA, but as a high-grade full-frame model it’s an expensive option given the low price of the A3000. It performs quite well wide-open, but if you’ve read our review of this lens on the Sony A7r, it’s not as impressive on the A3000. As a 85mm equivalent portrait lens, that’s arguably an advantage. Stopped down, sharpness improves significantly but even then it can’t quite match the modest Sigma 60mm at f2.8

Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F1.8 ZA 1000 26 16
Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN A Sony E 239 24 18
Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS 300 24 14

 

At $239, the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN A is difficult to ignore. It’s bitingly sharp wide open and it remains so out to the corners. It also has low levels of chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting. If the f2.8 maximum aperture doesn’t appeal, look no further than Sony’s E 50mm f1.8 OSS. Not only is it twice as fast, it’s stabilized and very well corrected for lateral chromatic aberration. It has heavy vignetting wide-open. At $300, it looks excellent value compared with the Zeiss but obviously the image circle doesn’t cover larger full-frame sensors.

Users have a good choice of standard or ‘normal’ primes but the highest performing, best corrected model in this category is the $1,000 Zeiss Touit 1,8/32. The better match, price-wise, is the Sigma 30mm f2.8 EX DN if it can still be found. Unfortunately, Sigma replaced it the DN A model, which, while still good with a DxOMark score of 20 points, is still some way behind the original. Peak sharpness is also lower which is a pity. 

 

Carl Zeiss Planar Touit 1.8/32 Sony E 1000 23 14
Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN Sony E 189 22 14
Sony  FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm F2.8 ZA 800 22 13
Sony E 35mm f/1.8 450 22 12
Sigma 30mm F2.8 DN A Sony E 199 20 11
Sony E 30mm F3.5 Macro 250 16 9

In third place is the new FE-mount Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f2.8 ZA. It’s a nicely made lens and few can match it for compactness but at $800 it’s not inexpensive. If you’ve no intention to move up to full-frame the Sony E 35mm f1.8 may be a safer choice.

It’s not clear-cut though. At f1.8 sharpness is restricted to the central 20% of the image field and it’s still behind the earlier Sigma EX version in the borders at f2.8. By f4 all three lenses are more or less on a par in terms of sharpness. There’s some pincushion distortion and it has more noticeable vignetting wide-open, naturally, but it has low levels of chromatic aberration and its still a small and compact lens – it’s not much bigger than the Zeiss.  

  • Amit Sharma

    need to buy prime lense for sony A3000 dslr camera so please suggest the compatible lenses or third party for sony a3000 for best result images as super fine quality