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Full review of the Sony NEX 30mm F/3.5 macro lens. 

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Box and contents

 
 
The Sony NEX-C3 was used for this review.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
The usual center, mid-section and corner crops are located at the very bottom of the page.
 
  
Introduction.
 

The Sony NEX 30mm F/3.5 is the first macro lens for the NEX system.  It was introduced in 2011, and become widely available in the spring of 2012.  This relatively small lens, (about the same size as most other NEX prime lenses except the 16mm pancake) is build solidly, has a smooth manual focus action and a silent auto-focus motor which is great for keeping focusing noise out of movies.  The focal length of 30mm is considered 'wide', but due to the APS-C sensor of the NEX system, it has the same coverage as 45mm in full frame terms, or 135 film format. 

 

The included goofy hood with cinematic slit is designed to be attached all the time, and has filter threads cut into the hood, so you can easily attach a 49mm filter. The hood is plastic, so don't over tighten the filter or you'll strip the threads.  You can also put the cap on the hood, as seen in the shot above.

 

For some odd reason, Sony has omitted 'optical SteadyShot' in this macro lens, one only can wonder why.

 

The Sony 30mm F/3.5 macro lens has seven elements in six groups.   Sony uses three aspherics and one 'ED' element inside.  Made in China.

 

Fit and finish are very good.  The lens appears to be clad in high quality plastic and metal, (Sony says 'aluminum alloy") and has a metal mount, but it's very light-weight.  Filter size is 49mm, just like most NEX lenses to date. 

  
Focusing.  This lens auto-focuses quickly and accurately, except at very close distances, then it fails to focus at all much of the time.  Based on my experiences with other macro lenses, this is unfortunately normal.  The front filter ring doesn't turn when focusing, so your polarizers and grads will work great.  The focusing ring is easy to turn, and is damped about right.
    
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, tiny plastic solid hood, and owner's manual.  
 

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Requisite product shots.

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Side shot with odd hood
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Back side
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Hood and front element close up
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Sony X-ray view and MTF chart

 
 
General information and specifications.

Lens

Box contents

Front cap, rear cap, hood (ALC-SH113), and user's manual.

Cost

Approximately $278 

Build quality

Very good.

Additional information

Made for Sony NEX cameras, won't work on A-mount cameras.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

7 elements in 6 groups

Angle of view

50˚  Equivalent to about 45mm in full frame (135 format) terms.

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Sony NEX only.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

About 3.84"  (95mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

About .87" (22mm) from front of lens hood; and 1" or (30mm) from the lens barrel to subject.

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No.

Length changes when focusing?

No.

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

49mm.

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

1:1 or 1.0x 

Min. F/stop

F/22  

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

N/A

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

2.17" x 2.45"   55mm x 62mm.  

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

2.56"  (65mm)  measured with the lens hood attached, lens does not actually extend.                                                 

Weight bare (my scale)

4.9oz, (138g) bare, 5.3oz  (150g) with hood attached.

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Average control, although watch out for magenta blobs with the sun close to the frame, see examples below.
 
Light fall-off.  Nothing to worry about.  See samples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Average to above average control.  I see small amounts of magenta, and to a lesser extent blue along the sides of the image (lateral), and no axial type.
 
Bokeh.  Very smooth.  See examples below.
 
Color.   Seems about the same as other Sony lenses.
 
Close-up filter.  Not needed!   
 
Coma.  For pixel peepers, a tiny amount at F/3.5.
 
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off, even with the hood on, and a filter attached.  
 
Filter size.  49mm.  Other Sony lenses that use 49mm filters; NEX 50/1.8, CZ NEX 24/1.8, NEX 16mm F/2.8, NEX 18-55 F/3.5-5.6, 30mm F/2.8 macro, 50mm F/1.8 SAM and 28mm F/2.8.
 
Distortion.  Almost zero!
 
Distortion example directly below.
 

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almost flat

 

Distortion is not a problem with this lens, it's basically flat.

 

 

Bokeh samples.

 

           F/3.5

             F/5.6

2012/sn30macbok35.jpg
2012/sn30macbok56.jpg

 

Bokeh at F/3.5 has a slight outer band and inner ring, but stopping down to F/5.6 produces a smoother blur.  Apertures of F/5.6 and smaller show heptagons from the aperture blades.  These crops show bokeh at a distance of about 30' (9m) when focused at 6' (2.0m). 

 

Light fall-off

 

           F/3.5 close focus

              F/3.5 infinity focus

2012/sn30macvig35close.jpg
2012/sn30macvig35inf.jpg

 

There is not much of a problem with light fall-off or 'corner shading' with this lens. What you see in the close focus shot is a reduction in light gathering power from the focusing design of the macro lens, that's the way almost all macro lenses work.  It's about a half stop, or an effective aperture of F/4.2 at close focus.  At F/5.6, there is no noticeable light fall-off at any focusing distance.  Using the hood with a regular thick filter produces no additional light fall-off.

 

 

Flare and Ghosting

 

Magenta blob, middle right, sun inside frame, F/5.6

Magenta blob, sun outside of frame, F/5.6

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2012/sn30macgst2.jpg

 
Ghosting control is about average; the only thing I see is a magenta blob or streak if the sun is around the edges of the frame.  There are a few small colored blobs that show up in extremely bright conditions.
 

 
 
 
Let's check out the close-focus capabilities of this lens.

The sample shot was taken with the Sony NEX-C3 16.2MP camera, so don't compare it with others that were taken with 12 or 24mp sensor cameras.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  The shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case an extremelly short 1.0"" (30mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
The Sony NEX 30mm F/3.5 is a real macro lens, with a reproduction size of 1:1.  As I point out above, the working distance is really close, so you may not be able to get light on the subject as the lens barrel may block it.  Also, the AF is not accurate at close focus, so you'll have to use manual, and rock back and forth until the subject seems sharp, and start snapping!!  Using a tripod for moving subjects is not helpful.  The shot below was taken at F/8, but F/5.6-11 were all very close.   As a side note; the entire (full size) image has a coverage area of 18mm x 27mm, or (.7" x 1.06").
 

2012/sn30mac427a.jpg
As close as you can get, F/8.

 
 
Conclusion
 
The newest Sony NEX lenses have been very impressive so far; including the spectacular, but expensive CZ 24/1.8, the inexpensive 50mm prime reviewed a couple of weeks ago, and don't forget the nice 55-210mm zoom.  Unfortunately, Sony's hot streak has come to an abrupt end with the new 30mm F/3.5 macro lens.  It's not that it's a bad lens, it just isn't very impressive.
 
If you want a true macro lens, and don't mind using manual focus, along with a working distance of about an inch at the max reproduction rate, then go for it.  If you're looking for a small sharp prime as a walk-around lens in this focal length, I'd look elsewhere, like the kit (18-55mm) lens. 
 
With that said, there are a few good qualities to mention; like the lack of distortion, light fall-off and a good macro shot.   Well, after all, it is a real macro lens, and it does a good job at close focus, but you probably won't be able to achieve a 1:1 size in the field, especially when you have to get so close to the subject.  Sony didn't include OSS (optical SteadyShot) inside for some reason, maybe they had a certain price point in mind.  Without OSS, there will be more camera shake and fuzzy pictures, which may be really noticeable when shooting close to the subject.
 

Landscapers might be disappointed in this lens, because the corners just don't sharpen up, they're mushy at all apertures, however, the centers and mid-sections are quite sharp.  If you don't mind cropping your images a little, this lens may work for you. 

 

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Full image showing crop area.

 

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Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/3.5

2012/sn30mac35ctr.jpg
2012/sn30mac35mid.jpg
2012/sn30mac35corn.jpg

F/5.6

2012/sn30mac56ctr.jpg
2012/sn30mac56mid.jpg
2012/sn30mac56corn.jpg

F/8

2012/sn30mac80ctr.jpg
2012/sn30mac80mid.jpg
2012/sn30mac80corn.jpg

F/11

2012/sn30mac11ctr.jpg
2012/sn30mac11mid.jpg
2012/sn30mac11corn.jpg

 

The centers and mid-sections look good at F/3.5, and sharpen up nicely at F/5.6.  The corners don't seem to respond to closing the aperture, they're mushy all the time.  The sides of the image at F/3.5-5.6 are soft about 1000 pixels from the edge, (at the half way point) but sharpen up nicely at F/8.  Maximum performance seems to be around F/5.6 in the centers, F/5.6 in the mid-sections, F/8 at the sides, and pick any aperture you want for the best, (or worst) corners.  Landscapers use F/8 for the best overall image.  Exposure differences are from light fall-off.

 

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