Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* SEL35F28Z
Lab Test Results
February 13, 2014
by William Brawley
The Sony FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 ZA Zeiss Sonnar T* full-frame E-mount lens was announced alongside the Sony A7 and A7R mirrorless cameras serving as a compact, high-quality and relatively fast prime lens. Joined by its impressive sibling lens, the Sony FE 55mm ƒ/1.8 Zeiss, the new 35mm ƒ/2.8 features equally impressive specs such as three double-sided aspherical elements, Zeiss's T* coatings for ghosting and flare control, a seven-bladed rounded aperture all surrounded by a solid-feeling, dust- and moisture-resistant metal barrel.
Like the Sony FE 55mm lens we reviewed earlier, the FE 35mm Zeiss lens is another extraordinarily sharp lens, on both the full-frame A7R as well as on the NEX-7 sub-frame test camera. Wide-open and throughout the aperture range until around f/16, the centers display impressive sharpness. There's some slight corner softness, however, at all apertures when used on a full-frame camera, but overall it's fairly minor. Using this lens on a sub-frame body significantly reduces softer corners, which is to be expected.
Diffraction limiting softness is also very minor, with it primarily becoming evident at f/22 on a full-frame camera. On a sub-frame camera, however, diffraction limiting softness is considerably less noticeable at the narrower apertures.
Again, similar to the FE 55mm lens, the FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 lens performs exceptionally well at controlling chromatic aberration. On both full- and sub-frame cameras, the average amount of CA is very low, that it's bordering on non-existent, even in the corners wide-open. Also, as you stop down throughout the aperture range, the amount of CA stays constant.
(Update: 4/15/14 - We've updated the full-frame vignetting graph from the Sony A7R. We initially tested this lens with vignetting correction enabled, which affects Sony RAW image files as well. Thus, we've re-run the tests with this correction disabled, and updated our description below accordingly.)
On full-frame cameras, the Sony 35mm ƒ/2.8, shows much more severe vignetting than the 55mm ƒ/1.8 lens. Compared to another full-frame Sony 35mm lens, such as the Sony 35mm ƒ/1.4 G, for example, the FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 shows significantly more vignetting onwards on both full- and sub-frame cameras. However, with other factors like sharpness, CA and distortion, the FE 35mm is far superior.
As expected, there's a more vignetting, with both sensor sizes, when shooting wide open, though it's more noticeable on full-frame cameras -- full-frame is off the scale at over 1.25EVs of light falloff, while sub-frame is well under that, at less than 0.75EVs. Stopping down with a sub-frame camera shows a nice, smooth reduction in vignetting on our graph, and it hovers just above a quarter of a stop of light loss from ƒ/5.6 and onwards. On a full-frame camera, however, vignetting never drops below 0.5EV of light loss, even showing almost a full stop of corner shading at ƒ/8.
Distortion? What distortion? The Sony FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 does very well at controlling distortion, on both full-frame and sub-frame cameras, such that, like we saw with CA, it's practically undetectable. On both types of cameras, there's just a bit of barrel distortion on average, with a bit more out in the corners on full-frame, while sub-frame images show a hint of pincushion distortion at the extremes.
The electrical linear autofocus motor is very quiet (practically silent) and feels nice and quick, taking under a second to sweep through it full range. There's no issue with hunting as it easily locks onto subjects. Manual focusing is electronic, as this lens is a focus-by-wire design. The large singular focus ring on the lens will therefore rotate indefinitely with no stops at minimum and infinity focus distances. Also a consequence of the focus-by-wire design, there are no focus distance markings or window on this lens.
The Sony FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 Zeiss has a close focusing distance of 1.15ft (35cm) with a maximum magnification of 0.12x (1:8.6 ratio), and as such, doesn't provide very good macro performance.
Build Quality and Handling
Following a similar design and build as the 55mm ƒ/1.8 lens, the new FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 feels very well built and solid with an all metal barrel and lens mount. Inside the barrel sits a lens configuration of 7 elements in 5 groups with 3 aspheric elements (similar to the 55 ƒ/1.8) with a 7-bladed circular aperture (for great background blur). The lens also includes Carl Zeiss's T* coating for reduced glare and enhanced contrast.
Keeping with the design styling of the Sony A7R and A7 cameras, the lens features a similar matte black finish and matches nicely with these cameras both aesthetically as well as being similarly dust and moisture resistant. Note: Like we saw on the 55mm lens, there is no rubber gasket around the lens mount like there are on some Canon L-series and Nikon lenses, for instance -- so, again, the lens doesn't appear to be fully weather sealed.
When it comes to buttons, rings or other exterior features, prime lenses are typically sparse and the Sony 35mm lens is no exception, with single 1-inch wide focus ring and not much else. The lightly-ribbed focus ring is very easily to rotate, with a buttery-smooth feel. Since the lens is a focus-by-wire system, there's no focus distance window built-in to the lens, nor is there a manual AF/MF toggle switch either -- that's controlled via the camera as well.
The new Sony 35mm lens is very compact; with the diameter of the barrel being only slightly larger than the lens mount itself. The lens, like its 55mm sibling, accepts 49mm filters, which are much smaller than the usual 67-82mm filters seen on larger APS-C and full-frame DSLR lenses. Compared to other full-frame DSLR 35mm lenses, like the Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4L or 35mm ƒ/2 IS, for example, the Sony is quite the compact, ultra-portable prime lens -- although, with a significantly slower ƒ/2.8 aperture, which is a bit of a downside (though a necessary compromise to get a lens this compact).
Just like with the Sony 55mm lens, this is a new lens category with a brand new type of camera. As such, there aren't any direct alternatives to this lens yet. However, Sony does make the FE 28-70mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 OSS and FE 24-70mm ƒ/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* zoom lenses that will give you the capability of a 35mm focal length, at the expense of some stops on the aperture with both options, though both have optical image stabilization (which is a plus).
However, Sony does offer a few 35mm full-frame primes for their A-mount cameras: the Sony 35mm ƒ/1.4 G and Sony 35mm ƒ/1.8 DT SAM. Using Sony's own LA-EA3 A-mount to E-mount adapter (no AF) or Sony's LA-EA4 adapter (adds Sony's Translucent Mirror technology and autofocus), you could use these lenses with the A7/A7R camera. However, on the 35mm ƒ/1.4G lens, at least, despite having a much wider maximum aperture, the images are not very sharp until you stop down to ƒ/2.8 and the CA is much higher than with this new FE 35mm lens. And it's also quite pricey, at just under $1,500. We've yet to test the Sony 35mm ƒ/1.8 DT SAM lens ourselves, but readers have given it generally favorable reviews, although many consider the plastic construction as a downside. However, it's very affordable at a little over $200.
The smaller flange distance of the Sony A7R and A7 makes using adapters with a wide variety of third party lenses quite simple, as the A7R/A7 use a standard Sony E-mount. There are other adapters out there allowing users to mount Canon EF lenses and Nikon F-mount glass to E-mount cameras, and the resulting combinations would be too much to list here. It's still worth knowing that the Sony A7R and A7 provide a very flexible full-frame camera platform for fans of lenses from a variety of manufacturers.
The new Sony FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 ZA Zeiss Sonnar T* lens is another fantastic fast prime lens for the Sony A7R and A7 full-frame mirrorless E-mount cameras and gives shooters an excellent, general purpose wide-angle focal length perspective that's great for travel and street photography as well as portraits. With the full-frame camera, low-light shooting is also great with this lens, though it's not as bright as the other ƒ/1.4-ƒ/2 full-frame 35mm lenses from other manufacturers.
On the physical side of things, this lens is very well built with an all-metal construction that's still lightweight but solid-feeling. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant to match the ruggedness of the Sony A7R and A7 cameras, but there isn't a rubbery gasket around the lens mount, so the lens doesn't appear to be fully weather-sealed. However, it's a very compact and lightweight lens that feels great mounted to the A7/R cameras, making it an excellent go-anywhere combo. It's also small and light enough to be a great, well-balanced lens for a camera like the NEX-7.
Optically, this lens is a stellar performer, as many Zeiss lenses are, with very sharp images on both the new full-frame cameras as well as sub-frame Sony cameras. Other factors like chromatic aberration and distortion are practically nonexistent with this lens, but there is some vignetting and a minor amount of corner softness, particularly on full-frame cameras at wider apertures -- a pretty small price to pay for outstanding performance otherwise.
Check out some sample gallery photos taken by Rob, our lens technician, with the lens mounted on the Sony A7R, plus download the full-resolution files, over at our Flickr page.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* SEL35F28Z
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* SEL35F28Z User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by nagi603 (1 reviews)small, light, sharpa bit slow, plastic hood
(Bought used from eBay Japan)reviewed March 16th, 2015 (purchased for $590)
Before buying the A7S, I used the NEX-7 with the LA-EA2+SAL-35F18 combo, but this - despite costing about the same for me - wipes the floor with it, and it is full frame to boot!
I have only two gripes with it: I wish it was f1.8, and I wish the hood was not a two-piece plastic.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by lightknight (31 reviews)Small, light and sharp, focuses quite closedoes not feel bomb proof. A bit slow
I bought this as my kit lens for the A7R.reviewed September 5th, 2014 (purchased for $860)
IQ seems very consistent through the aperture range. If find it as sharp as I need at F2.8 and the contrast is excellent though it has a distinct 2 way look to the Bokeh, sometimes looking smooth and sometimes harsh. Now I am waiting for a 24mm F2: something tells me I have a long wait, so it looks like the Metabones is going to house a few Nikkors.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by dennishh (2 reviews)Small,Lightweight and SharpNone
This could be the best quality and most convenient lens I have ever used for a full frame camera. It is beyond sharp on the A7r and performs better than any other 35mm lens I own. I would highly recommend this lens!reviewed February 16th, 2014 (purchased for $790)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Prime Minister (46 reviews)Compact, lightweight, good image quality, compact lens hood'Sun dots' and concentric colored rings
This Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 looks and feels very nice. It's very light, relatively compact and it feels sturdy. The design is simple and clean. The outer parts of the lens are made of metal.reviewed January 20th, 2014
Even the lens hood is largely made of metal. I like the fact that the lens hood can be fitted over a filter. It's a dome type lens hood, so it's very small and it doesn't add much to the length of the lens.
It seems ideal as an all-round compact walk around lens. There are some manual alternatives from Zeiss, Voigtländer and Leica, but this Zeiss has autofocus and was made specifically for the new Sony FE mount. I think it's a perfect match for the A7(R).
It's not a fast lens, but at f/2.8 it produces photos that are plenty sharp and contrasty. I use this lens on the A7R full frame camera. There is some vignetting going on but I did not find any notable CA. The extreme corners are a little soft, eve stopped down to f/5.6. As far as I can tell this lens focusses fast, silent and accurate. Closing the aperture a little improves the image quality. The bokeh is fairly good for a f/2.8 35mm.
Although I think overall this lens is a stellar performer, there are some strange things I want to mention. Some weird 'dots' can be visible when the sun is in the frame. Also, sometimes the lens seems to invoke colored concentric rings. I'm not sure if it's the lens or the lens-sensor combination that causes these defects.
Anyway, if you have an A7(R) and if you like prime lenses, this Zeiss should probably be high on your wish list.