Sony Zeiss FE 35mm F2.8

A short review of the Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 2,8/35 ZA (SEL-35F28Z ) prime lens for Sony full frame mirrorless cameras.

 

Specs

  • Focal length: 35mm
  • Aperture: F2.8 – F22
  • Lens design: Sonnar, 7 elements in 5 groups
  • Coating: T* anti-reflective coating
  • Aperture: 7 rounded blades
  • Min. focus distance: 35cm
  • Filter diameter: 49mm
  • Dimensions (w/o mount and caps): ~6.2 x 3.7cm
  • Weight: ~120g
  • MSRP: 950€

A lens hood is just about the only accessory that comes with the lens. At this price point I expected a bit more than that, at least a pouch would have been nice.

 

Build quality

The Sony 35mm F2.8 is extremely compact and light for a full frame lens. It feels solid and the barrel and mount are made of metal. The casing is weather resistant, but for some reason there is no rubber gasket at the lens mount. The focus ring turns smoothly and has a nice texture.

Mechanical quality rating: 9/10

 

Features & versatility

Even though this is a prime lens with a fixed 35mm focal length, it is very versatile: great for landscapes, street photography, group shots and even the occasional portrait. It’s just a pity that the max. available aperture is ‘only’ F2.8. An extra stop would have added quite a bit more flexibility in terms of DoF control.

35mm F2.8 on the Sony A7III

As already mentioned, the lens is very light and you won’t even feel it when mounted on the camera. The lens hood is also very compact, so it is barely noticable when attached to the lens. An excellent walkaround lens!

Given the size of the lens, it is not surprising that there are no buttons or switches on the barrel.
There is also no optical stabilization built into the lens, which is not an issue if the camera body has IBIS.

The autofocus is very fast and entirely noiseless.
Manual focus is quite easy to use, even though there is no direct coupling.
Unfortunately, the minimum focus distance is 35cm.

Features and versatility rating: 7/10

 

Optical quality

Let’s start with the sharpness.

overview: where the crops below have been taken

 

to see the full resolution (100% crops): right click -> open in new tab

 

In the frame center, the lens is already plenty sharp at F2.8. Towards the edges however, the resolution degrades quite a bit. For good sharpness at the edges, the lens needs to be stopped down to F5.6. The corners only reach acceptable levels at F8.
As can be seen in these crops, there is some lateral chromatic aberration at F2.8 and F4 in the corners, but it is well within a reasonable margin.

A bit more concerning is the axial or longitudinal chromatic aberration (bokeh fringing), particularly visible when focusing on close objects at F2.8 and F4:

F2.8, close focus
crop from image above: good sharpness at min. focus distance, but significant LoCA

 

Distortion on the other hand is quite low, so no complaints here. Vignetting is noticable, but not severe and in some cases even adds to the image.

As expected from a Zeiss Sonnar prime lens, the Bokeh is smooth and pleasant.

F2.8
F2.8

However, the bokeh balls do sometimes exhibit slight onion rings (probably due to the aspherical elements).

100% crop at F2.8: slight onion rings in bokeh balls

 

Optical quality rating: 8/10

 

Comparison

Sony 35mm F2.8 vs Sony 28mm F2. The 28mm is faster and has a wider field of view. Whereas the center resolution on the 28mm is better, the edges look slightly better on the 35mm. Distortion is much more pronounced on the 28, but it shows less LoCA and is better suited for close-ups. Build quality is similar although the 28 does not have weather sealing and feels a bit cheaper (somehow hollow). Overall, I like the 35mm quite a bit better: more versatile focal length and significantly more compact.

Sony 35mm F2.8 vs. the Samyang 35mm F2.8. According to other reviewers, the two are almost on par in terms of image quality, but the Zeiss has significantly better build quality and is weather resistant. Also, the autofocus motor of the Samyang is supposed to be noisy and a bit slow. Specs aside, the price of the Samyang is less than half of the Zeiss, and that is what will convice many people to go with the Samyang, it has just a better value. On the other hand, if you can afford the Zeiss and don’t mind paying a bit more than what would be adequate, then get the Zeiss, it is definitely the better lens.

 

Summary

Positive:

  • very light and compact design
  • good build quality, weather resistant metal construction
  • silent and very fast autofocus
  • excellent sharpness in the frame center
  • very good sharpness accross the frame (except corners) at F5.6 and F8
  • low lateral chromatic aberration
  • smooth bokeh
  • excellent coating (yields contrasty images and reduces lens flares)

Neutral:

  • relatively slow max. aperture for a prime lens (F2 would be nice)
  • minor barrel distortion (usually not noticable)
  • some vignetting

Negative:

  • only mediocre resolution towards the edges at F2.8 and F4
  • long minimum focus distance, not suitable for close-ups
  • relatively high amount of bokeh fringing (LoCA)
  • premium price tag (street price ~740€)

Sony has hit the right spot: The 35mm F2.8 is an excellent compromise between size/weight and image quality. It’s not a perfect lens but it sure is fun to use and delivers more than decent results.
Is it overpriced for an F2.8 prime lens? Sure. But in the meantime you can find it used for less than half of its original MSRP.

Rating:  8/10    highly recommended!

Value:  4/10    (reviewed at 400€)

Sony 35mm F2.8 on Amazon.de.

Sony 35mm F2.8 on the A7III

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