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Full review of the Sony Zeiss 35mm F/2.8 FE lens. 

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Box and contents

 
 
The Sony A7R 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 Sonnar FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA is the first prime lens for use with Sony's new full frame 'E' system, (formerly called NEX that used only APS-C sized sensors).  It's a small and light-weight lens and is a good match for the diminutive A7 series cameras.

 

Fit and finish are very good.  The lens appears to be clad in high quality plastic with a metal mount.  There is a ribbed grip around the focus ring.  Sony claims the use of three double sided aspherical elements in the design.  Sporadic, and dubious claims of weather and dust resistance; the lens does not appear to have any features to back that up.  Adding a filter to the front of the lens is probably the ony thing you can do if you're out in the drizzle or really dusty conditions.  Lens is made in Japan.

 

Filter size is 49mm, and is quite popular for 'E' primes.  Be careful when mounting filters as the filter threads are plastic. You can mount 40.5 filters to the hood, but you may not need to; the hood will fit over your thin 49mm mounted filters, but not thick type like polarizers and grads etc.  Speaking of such, rotating filters like these are hard to mount, you can't get your fingers between the lens barrel and ring to tighten them up, see first product shot below.

  
Focusing.  This lens auto-focuses quickly and mostly accurately, and has a very quiet linear focusing motor so it can be used for video.  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, and a hood.
 

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Requisite product shots.

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Small front element.
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With included hood attached
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Back side
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Sony supplied MTF, and aspheric element use in purple.

 
 
General information and specifications.

Lens

Box contents

Front cap, rear cap, slit type hood and user's manual.

Cost

Approximately $799 

Build quality

Very good.

Additional information

This model is made for Sony 'E' mount cameras, and won't work on 'A' mount cameras without an adapter. 

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

7 elements in 5 groups

Angle of view

63° in 135 film format terms, and 44˚when mounted on an APS-C sensor camera.

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Sony E mount.  When mounted to an APS-C camera, the focal length is around 52°

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

About 13.5"  (343mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

About 11" (279mm) from front of lens barrel, no hood.

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No.

Length changes when focusing?

No.

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

49mm filter, 40.5mm cap size when mounted on hood.

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

1:8.1 or 0.12x 

Min. F/stop

F/22  

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

N/A

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

2.41" x 1.43"    61mm x 36mm.  

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

Lens does not extend.                                                 

Weight bare (my scale)

4.2oz, (120g) bare.

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.   Good control, see example below.
 
Light fall-off.  Stronge at wide F/2.8.  See samples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Excellent control.  
 
Bokeh.  Somewhat smooth at wide apertures.  See crops below.
 
Color.   Seems about the same as Sony lenses.
 
Close-up filter.  Works ok, +4 tested.   
 
Coma.  Basically none, you might see a trace at F/2.8 in the extreme corners.
 
Regular filters: cause no noticeable additional light fall-off.
 
Filter size.  49mm.  A popular size for Sony 'E' primes.
 
Distortion.  Very mild barrel type.
 
Distortion example directly below.
 

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Very mild barrel distortion

 

The distortion pattern is flat to barrel, with a very slight down turn at the ends. 

 

 

Bokeh samples.

 

           F/2.8

             F/4

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           F/5.6

             F/8

2014/sfe3528bok56.jpg
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Bokeh looks pretty smooth at wide apertures, but gets an outer ring as you stop down.

 

 

Light fall-off

 

           F/2.8

             F/4

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           F/5.6

             F/8

2014/sfe3528vig56.jpg
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Light fall-off is heavy wide open, but the transition is gradual, and not very noticeable in most pictures. 

 

 

Flare and Ghosting

 

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Flare and ghosting control is good to excellent; I see a magenta blob when the sun is directly in the image close to the center.  Contrast holds up well even with the sun blasting away.  The window in the lower left part of the picture is what I've been using for years for the lens distortion pics, but this is the last time I can use it!
 

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

The sample shot was taken with the Sony A7R 36MP camera, so don't compare it with others that were taken with 12, 16 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 a long 11"" (279mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
The Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 has a reproduction size of 1:8.1, which is very small.  The close focus shot is pretty sharp with good contrast, but due to the small size, it's boring.  I see moire in the tree branch.
 

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As close as you can get, F/5.6. No larger size

 
 
Conclusion
 
Overall, the Sony FE 35/2.8 ZA lens is pretty spectacular in optical terms.  One might takes some points away for the small size, F/2.8 speed, and plastic materials used, however, I welcome this as it cuts the cost, lightens the weight and probably a little in size, that's just what I've been hoping Sony would come out with for their small full frame 'E' system.  The cost is certainly not cheap, but the optical performance supports the 36mp sensor of the A7R quite easily, and should be able to support 50mp, or or even 100mp in the future, at least in the centers and mid-sections!
 
My only gripe for this lens is that the sides could be a little bit sharper, but I understand there were most likely design limitations dealing with size etc.  I bought my review copy so I'm obviously not bothered by it. 
 
On another note, not lens issues, but camera specific: I happened to use the combination of A7R and Sony 35/2.8 FE to photograph people and saw a significant amount of false pattern and color (moiré) in their clothing.  I got out of it for the most part by using the adjustment brush in Lightroom 5, so beware!  Additionally, some people are seeing concentric magenta rings in even toned areas of the image, I have not seen that in any of my images, (except the light fall-off shots above), which are heavy on landscape type shots, your mileage may vary.
 
This is the perfect focal length for a walk-around lens in my opinion.  I carried a camera for years with nothing but a 35mm F/3.5 lens, (cannon Snappy EZ from 1988), so the Sony FE 35/2.8 ZA is very familiar, and now one of my favorites. 
 
 

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

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

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2014/sfe3528mid28.jpg
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F/4

2014/sfe3528ctr40.jpg
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2014/sfe3528corner40.jpg

F/5.6

2014/sfe3528ctr56.jpg
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2014/sfe3528corner56.jpg

F/8

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2014/sfe3528corner80.jpg

F/11

2014/sfe3528ctr11.jpg
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2014/sfe3528corner11.jpg

F/16

2014/sfe3528ctr16.jpg
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2014/sfe3528corner16.jpg

F/22

2014/sfe3528ctr22.jpg
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The centers look tack sharp from F/2.8 to F/8, with F/4-5.6 the absolute best.  The mid-sections are a bit soft when compared to the super sharp centers, but still look very good at F/4-5.6.  The corners look good even wide open, but don't seem to respond a great deal to changes in aperture; although they hold contrast very well.  The sharpest extreme corners are at F/11, but the centers are softening noticeably at that point, so be careful.  Landscapers use F/5.6 for the sharpest image unless depth of field is an issue.   

 

Exposure differences are from light fall-off.  Manual focusing used.  Distance to subject approximately 50' or 15m.

 

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