IMPORTANT: If you are unfamiliar with my lens review style, please reference this post first!
I knew I would come around eventually to buying an autofocus lens for the NEX system. The only problem was that all the autofocus lenses that have been released up to now from Sony have been zooms (large and/or slow apertures), primes with “O.K.” image quality (16mm f/2.8, 30mm f/3.5 macro), lenses I already have focal lengths well covered for (50mm f/1.8 OSS), or crazily overpriced optics (Zeiss 24mm f/1.8).
What I was waiting for was a cheap(er), high performing lens that would give great performance at most settings in a small a package as possible—in other words, one that fit with NEX shooting style. Well, it seems Sony has finally done it, releasing their new 35mm f/1.8 for E-mount. With the field of view of 52.5mm in 35mm format, this is the only first-party “standard” solution for the camera apart from using their alpha-mount lenses via a relatively bulky adapter. At $450, it’s not cheap, either. In fact, in my first impressions of the lens, I had my doubts as to whether or not Sony was deliberately price-gouging when compared to the Nikon/Canon equivalents. But a few of my readers brought up great points. Not only does optical stabilization make lenses more expensive than I thought (looking at Canon’s brand-new 35mm f/2 IS), but I am totally incorrect in comparing an SLR lens to a mirrorless lens. With their inherent design differences—mainly, working with a MUCH shorter flange distance—it simply costs more to design compact lenses that cover a whole APS-C sensor without severely compromising optical quality.
Instead, the 35mm f/1.8 should be compared to fellow mirrorless equivalents. A couple to look at, the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 and the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 XF R. All three lenses have essentially the same field-of-view, and are close in aperture speed (the Sony only 2/3 a stop slower). The Panasonic/Leica lens runs at about $500, while the Fuji is a whopping $600. Seeing as neither have optical stabilization, the $450 asking price of the 35mm f/1.8 could be argued to be the better deal!
But a cheap(er) lens shouldn’t merit praise on its own, does the 35mm f/1.8 stand up to the power of the NEX-7’s huge 24MP sensor? Let’s take a look!
Full Name: Sony E 1.8/35 OSS
Dimensions: 2.5 inches/63mm in diameter, 1.77 inches/45mm long without hood, 2.75 inches/70mm long with hood, with a feather-weight of only 5.5 ounces/155 grams (hood may add another ounce or so)
Close-Focus: Marked at .98 feet/.3 meters, you cannot get any closer
Miscellaneous: 7-bladed quasi-circular aperture stopping down to f/22, 49mm filter thread, large ribbed “fly-by-wire” focus ring, internal focusing with no rotation of filter thread, metal mount, metal barrel, plastic hood, plastic filter thread, excellent pinch-type lens cap, all-black finish blends well with black NEXes (but dust/grime shows up very easily…)
The Sony 35mm f/1.8 is designed to be a do-it-all “standard”, compact, walk-around lens; the way it shoots really exemplifies this. The lens sports a metal finish (and mount), but the hood, filter thread, and probably much of the internals are plastic. This helps the tiny optic feel great in the hand and on the camera. Since the camera itself (NEX-7) is over twice the weight of the 35mm f/1.8, it comfortably rear-balances towards the grip. With the total package hovering around the one-pound mark, one-handed shooting is a cinch. Using the flexible spot (and turning off the troublesome AF “assist” light), autofocus was generally very accurate and pretty speedy on static subjects in most conditions. However, the lens consistently failed to properly focus on high-contrast objects, such as ice on a branch, typically back-focusing heavily. It is in these situations that the 35mm f/1.8 is extremely troublesome to use. Since the focusing mechanism is electronic “fly-by-wire”, going from close-focus to infinity or vice-versa manually can take well over 10 seconds—even when turning the ring fast (meaning, getting macro shots is a real pain). Also, this system has a hard time judging minute focusing movements. When trying to ever-so-slightly change focus (such as acquiring critical focus on test charts), the lens would sometimes refuse to focus (moving the ring too slow), or jump way past where it needed to be (too fast). I NEVER have this problem with any of my Nikkors, where I can—at the same time—go from macro to infinity in the flick of a wrist and make minute adjustments to the focus point with tiny rotations. I do know that this isn’t an issue specific to the 35mm f/1.8, rather, is found in ALL E-mount (and most mirrorless-system) lenses, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating the times it crops up in photography.
Another CDAF-specific focusing problem, the 35mm f/1.8 has a very difficult time focusing on moving objects. The faster the subject moves, the less accurate it will be, regardless if using AF-S or AF-C. I tested out the focusing of a horse cantering around a trainer in a circle. In all the various settings I attempted (AF-S, AF-C, multi-point, center flexible spot, change of aperture), autofocus largely missed focus, almost trailing behind the subject. The only tactic that helped was stopping down a bit, undoubtedly because of the depth-of-field increase.
Rare-focusing issues aside, can the 35mm f/1.8 excel in my four pillars of shootability?
- Small size? Yes! Even for an E-mount lens, the 35mm f/1.8 is tiny.
- Light weight? Yes! Less than half the weight of the camera, it’s hard to even feel the lens mounted on!
- Smooth operation? Depends on the situation. With the excellent Tri-Navi interface on the NEX-7, adjusting aperture along with other parameters on-the-fly is simple. Other NEXes without dedicated dials may find full-manual operation (the mode I shoot in 95% of the time) a little more clumsy. Though the focus ring is wonderfully damped and smooth, when the above-mentioned focusing issue rears its ugly head, it can be very difficult to get a shot. Focusing is also super-silent, inaudible in video recordings. The OSS is really something to rave about for video and low-light photography.
- Generally favorable optical performance? Yes! Not without its (few) faults, the 35mm f/1.8 is a stellar optical performer.
I have read some reports that the 35mm f/1.8 is ever-so-slightly better than Sony’s own 35mm f/1.8 in alpha-mount. Seeing as that APS-C lens has always gotten much praise, with many photographers using the lens on their NEX’s, this E-mount lens is a stellar performer in most aspects. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any NEX photographer looking for a fast “normal” lens, with only minor caveats (discussed below).
Starting with center sharpness, here are some 100% crops arranged top-to-bottom by aperture. As a side note, I did remember to turn OSS off so it didn’t introduce rouge lens element vibrations in the tests:
Wide-open at f/1.8, detail is hidden from spherical aberration, and—at the pixel level—can be taken as “soft”. Only one stop down (oh okay, a stop and a third, technically) at f/2.8, detail is very sharp. At f/4, center detail has already peaked! F/5.6 is essentially the same, while diffraction sets in noticeably by f/11, dulling detail and contrast. Speaking of contrast, though peaking at f/2.8, it is maintained very well throughout the f/1.8-11 aperture range. Now onto some corner crops:
Seeing as this is the first E-mount lens I have tested that I know for certain is designed for an APS-C sensor only (still not sure about the Noktor HyperPrime), I wasn’t looking forward to the corner performance. Many reviews of NEX APS-C lenses on the demanding NEX-7 sensor show that corners smear and are much lower in detail than when those same lenses are used on less-megapixel-dense cameras such as the NEX-C3/F3/5n/5r/6. Much to my surprise, corners do a pretty good job here, all things considered. Spherical aberration and vignetting hides detail at f/1.8. Corners are still a bit soft by f/2.8, but they eventually sharpen up to a good degree by f/5.6 where detail peaks. Diffraction noticeably sets in, as in the centers, at f/11. Unfortunately, looking at the center and corner crops side-by-side, I can easily see that the corners never do get as nice and sharp as the centers do. F/5.6 in the corners looks closer to f/16 in the centers. With these test results, I first thought to not recommend the 35mm f/1.8 as a critical landscape lens on the NEX-7. However, my infinity sharpness test tells a starkly different story. Also, keep in mind that corners in mid- to close-range photography at f/1.8-4 probably won’t be in focus anyway.
On a side note, I see little to no focus shift or field curvature with the 35mm f/1.8. Great!
Sharpness at Infinity
To assess how the 35mm f/1.8 may perform as a landscape lens (since the test charts were focused at a relatively close 2 feet), I shot this uninspiring landscape with a very far-off house/mansion(?):
Personally, I am quite surprised at the difference in sharpness at infinity versus sharpness in the “controlled” environment of shooting a test chart. At infinity, a photographer can easily get across-the-frame sharpness at about f/5. Though one may be able to squeeze a bit more corner sharpness at infinity using a less megapixel-dense camera, the 35mm f/1.8 does a fantastic job in the corners of the resolution-monster NEX-7. However, if you are looking for a clinically-sharp lens from corner to corner, check out the Sigma 30mm f/2.8. I do not own the lens, nor have I shot with it, but the multitude of tests on this little gem around the internet show astounding results for sharpness as a landscape lens—especially on the NEX-7.
Sharpness at Macro
The 35mm f/1.8 has the nice ability to focus to a close .98 feet/.3 meters. This is about the same distance as a lens I called the “poor man’s macro” when I reviewed the Nikon 35mm f/2.5 E. For such a compact lens, I’m glad to see the 35mm f/1.8 capable of general macro work, such as medium-sized flowers. The perspective of using a relatively wide-angle lens (compared to a 50mm/105mm/180mm dedicated macro lens) makes macro subjects seem larger.
To etch out a little bit more sharpness across the frame, stop down to f/8.
One aspect of the 35mm f/1.8’s separation from the similar (in field-of-view) Sigma 30mm f/2.8 is the large f/1.8 aperture providing not only about 2.3 times as much maximum light but also allowing for more depth-of-field separation. However, if the out-of-focus areas are distracting, what’s the point? In general, the 35mm f/1.8 puts on a good show.
For the 35mm f/1.8, far background bokeh (far left) is very smooth, especially so from f/1.8-4. Near-background bokeh (left) is smooth whenever there is any (as stopping down simply brings it into focus). Near-foreground bokeh (right) is pretty smooth wide open, but begins to distract noticeably at f/4. Surprisingly, close-foreground bokeh (far right) remains smooth all the way through f/5.6! One thing to keep in mind, these statements about bokeh usually apply to close to medium focus distances. As the focus distance increases, “far” background bokeh can be noticeably busy depending on what’s behind the subject. Tree branches, for example, can look distracting even at the wider apertures.
With its supposed circular aperture (listed as a feature on the side of the box), what about the handling of out-of-focus highlights?
Unfortunately, the advertised circular aperture is laughably false, with the heptagonal shape showing up already at f/4. However, highlights from f/1.8 to about f/2.5 are nice and circular, which is the area where highlights will likely show up (save for close-focus). Wide-open, highlights blend together softly, without any hard edges. At f/2.8, brighter highlights begin to show some artifacts, and borders around the highlight are slightly evident. The rings and artifacts around and in the highlights increase in visibility as the 35mm f/1.8 is stopped down further. For best highlight smoothness, stay around wide-open, but going up to f/4 still looks just fine.
With its fast f/1.8 aperture, the 35mm f/1.8 has the potential to not handle chromatic aberrations very well. To test this out, I shot this worst-case scenario of branches against a sky overexposed by at least two stops:
Keep in mind the focus point is the branch to the right. Wide-open, there is a significant amount of both purple fringing that takes up the entire branch and green/magenta longitudinal fringing on the background and foreground braches, respectively. Already at f/2.8, however, most noticeable purple fringing is gone, and other longitudinal fringing is largely absent by comparison. Things keep on improving from then on out as the 35mm f/1.8 is stopped down, but at 100% view, the fringing is already at a negligible degree. Avoid shooting bare tree branches at or near wide-open! 🙂 Again, always remember that the above test was with the worst-case scenario. Most subjects, unless all you shoot is shaded areas on a beach or the like, will not have this much contrast to fringe.
I also tested to see if the camera’s built-in chromatic aberration correction tool helped with JPEG files. Unfortunately, I could not tell a difference between any of the above aberrations with the corrections on or off. This could be because the lens doesn’t have its own firmware for the camera yet (though, see my analysis of vignetting).
The 35mm f/1.8 comes with a petal-shaped ALC-SH112 hood. I feel keeping the hood attached to its dedicated lens is a necessity, not an option, as it not only helps reduce veiling flare, but also prevents large objects (hands/corners of tables/etc.) from accidentally touching/bumping into the front element. As such, I only tested flare performance with the hood on, shot in color to show the different colors of the internal reflections:
The control of flare is two-fold with the 35mm f/1.8. Flare reflections from the elements themselves, vary in intensity, visibility, and color depending on where the sun is in the frame (the two blobs seemingly dancing around each other are an effect of the optical stabilization). Simply moving a strong light source just a bit can either get rid of or introduce a lot of the flare. Keep an eye on that liveview when shooting into the sun! But WOW! Look how much contrast this lens retains when shooting into the sun! There’s not a touch of veiling flare to be found, a performance I haven’t seen in any of my old Nikkors. I guess there’s something to these modern lens coatings… 🙂
As an APS-C designed lens with a fast aperture, the 35mm f/1.8 is prone to heavy vignetting.
Using Lightroom 4’s vignetting correction sliders, f/1.8 requires a very large +70 amount and a midpoint value of 15. At f/2.8, +35 amount is needed. By f/4, only +15 should be added. All vignetting is essentially gone at f/5.6.
Though…in addition to the possible shallow depth-of-field provided at f/1.8, a little vignetting can help with subject separation.
Curiously, the vignetting-correction tool in the camera does a good job of correcting darkened corners when shooting JPEG. Why this tool works and the chromatic aberration tool doesn’t could be because vignetting characteristics are easily recognizable while chromatic aberrations are lens-specific (this is only a guess, but even the chromatic aberration removal checkbox in LR4 doesn’t remove it all).
Primes, especially “normals”, are known to have little to no distortion of geometrically straight lines in a photograph. Thankfully, the 35mm f/1.8 fits right in with the norm.
Seeing as there’s virtually no distortion to correct, I didn’t even bother with testing the in-camera distortion correction for JPEGs.
The 35mm f/1.8’s arguably definitive feature is its inclusion of optical stabilization. At first thought, this could bring with it problems such as de-centering into the mix, but at least on my copy, the OSS doesn’t degrade image quality at any measurable level. The only image degradation that will happen with this lens in use is if you happen to forget to turn the OSS off when shooting on a tripod, which can sometimes be hard to remember to do. Since there is no movement for the lens to compensate for, the elements will move around themselves with long exposures, blurring images.
But what about how the OSS helps in shooting? I’ve already found out how it can make handheld video nice and smooth, but testing out how it helps in the 35mm f/1.8’s calling—low-light handheld photography at super-slow shutter speeds—is crucial. After analyzing “real-world” shutter speed advantages (based entirely off of my own handholding skill) and the advantages compared to the classic 1/focal length (in 35mm terms) rule, the 35mm f/1.8’s stabilization is amazingly effective. By shooting 10-shot bursts with a brace at various settings I found my maximum reliable shutter speed without OSS (at least 7 out of 10 sharp shots) was at 1/30. By turning OSS on, that dropped all the way down to 1/4 (that’s a quarter of a second!) for a generally reliable shutter speed. That’s a solid three stops of shutter speed improvement based off of my own handholding skills! Compared to the 1/focal length rule (in which we consider the 35mm f/1.8 a 52.5mm lens), the 35mm f/1.8 provides almost FOUR stops of shutter speed advantage when OSS is on!
So, let’s do some number crunching. This means that the 35mm f/1.8 can essentially allow eight times the amount of light than a non-stabilized of equal specifications (subject movement notwithstanding). So for me, instead of having to shoot the non-OSS lens at ISO 1600 at 1/60, I can easily shoot at ISO 100 at 1/4 with the 35mm f/1.8! Even compared to the E-mount kit lens, where the maximum aperture at 35mm would be around f/4.5, shooting the 35mm f/1.8 wide-open lets in about 5 times as much light. In this scenario (assuming the OSS works about as good in both lenses), a photographer can photograph moving subjects in lower-light better than the kit lens. Whereas the kit lens wide-open at 35mm would shoot at 1/10 for a shot, the 35mm f/1.8 could easily manage 1/50.
Two items of note. First, the optical stabilization makes an almost inaudible whirring noise when the elements are moving (you can simulate this by shaking the camera lightly right up to your ear). The sound is inaudible in movie recordings. Second, every single photograph in this review (test shots not included), was shot handheld, just to give you an idea of the OSS’s power.
Now, let’s hit the old recap.
Pros and Cons
- Good build quality, but some plastic construction to save weight can be a turn-off for those coming from all-metal lenses
- Smooth operation in most shooting situations, see cons
- Great sharpness across most of the aperture range especially in the center, but even in the corners of the difficult NEX-7
- No field curvature or noticeable focus shift
- Most bokeh tends to be smooth and undistracting, see cons
- Out of focus highlights usually look great at the wider (f/1.8-4 apertures)
- Chromatic aberrations easy to deal with around f/2.8 on
- Zero veiling flare
- Zero distortion
- Extremely effective optical stabilization for long-exposure photos and smooth video
- Close-focus is short
- A super-compact and lightweight E-mount lens that provides a “fast 50” field of view that many NEX photographers have been waiting for ever since the camera line’s introduction
- Some plastic construction
- Situation-specific focusing issues bring overall operation to an essential standstill
- “Okay” sharpness wide-open
- Sharpness at close-medium distances isn’t consistent compared to at infinity
- Not a truly circular aperture as the lens is stopped down
- In some situations, bokeh can be distracting, such as with tree branches
- Particularly bright out-of-focus highlights have many artifacts
- Chromatic aberrations aren’t well controlled at and close to wide-open
- “Okay” control of flare reflections depending on where the source of light is in the frame
- Heavy vignetting with a complicated pattern wide-open, takes stopping down to f/5.6 to get rid of
- Not cheap, though at $450 it’s one of the least expensive options for this field of view on a mirrorless camera
The Bottom Line
The 35mm f/1.8 is a fantastic lens, despite its focusing limitations dependent on CDAF. The only “real” knacks against it—heavy vignetting and noticeable fringing wide-open—can easily be worked around depending on the situation, what settings you shoot at, and how much post-processing you are used to doing. This lens truly is an all-purpose E-mount lens for excellent video and low-light photographs with shallow depth of field. Though other cheaper options exist in the general focal range for the system (the tack-sharp Sigma 30mm f/2.8 for E-mount) or other camera manufacturers (Samsung NX 30mm f/2), there’s no denying that the 35mm f/1.8 is the prime lens that a large majority of NEX photographers have been waiting for.
That’s all for this review guys and gals, thanks for dropping by! There is one piece of news I’m excited to share with you all, I have finally managed to work a photography course into my university schedule! As some may know, almost everything I have learned about photography up to now has been self-taught. I can’t wait to now go a little deeper with some “formal” training in this artform. 🙂
Thank You !
A very interesting and good review,the “farm cat” photo is adorable. Good luck and all the best in your photography course. 🙂
Thank you angela, it’s one of my recent favorites. 🙂 I hope to really just have fun in the class, because all we are learning are the basics I already know!
Matthew, thank you for once again doing a nice job of looking at a lens.
If I hadn’t gone over my own personal financial photography cliff…….
Thanks eths, I do my best. 😉
And hey, you could always part with one of those fast AI-s Nikkors you have to finance it…hint hint.
Excellent review. Thank you.
Welcome KC, glad it helped!
this website is better than anyone else’s.
Hehe thanks man. 😀
hey there – try to use a minimum speed of 1/30 to 1/60 fro the panning shoots, and also an f stop of 8.0 maybe …
I’ll remember that, thanks. It’s a type of photography I’ve always loved seeing but never really looked into learning/trying.
imo the sole use cases when the oss should be disabled is for working mounted on a tripod or panning shots. without any training i got pleasing panning results with the non-stabilised sigma 30 f2.8, at larger f-stops and shutter speeds of round about 1/10s, taking into account that the second point depends on the speed of the object you want to capture and the amount of blur you plan to have in your image.
however, the oss is great, as well as your review!
Great example Alex, I love that shot. I hope to give this another try soon! Thanks!
Thanks for the review. I dont see anything my “legacy” manual lenses can not. Except for AF of course. Particularly the bokeh of Sonys lens seems sub-par. May have to do with the smaller entrance pupil than on full frame lenses. Maybe I will have a shoot-out in the near future.
Welcome Johny, I’m sure there are more than a few legacy 35mms that can probably match the E35 in terms of image quality. But don’t forget about the OSS, that’s where a lot of the price is coming from. 🙂 I do find the bokeh just neutral, but for a normal, it’s about what I expected. The longer the lens, I’ve found, the smoother the bokeh is in general. Bokeh on the E35 can be extremely smooth, but it is more situation-dependent than lens dependent.
Thanks for the comprehensive review Matthew. I bought the lenses based on general observations from the first few early adopters but nice to read about your opinions as well!
Now with the 16/2.8, 35/1.8, 50/1.8, all I need is a E-mount 85/1.8 to complete my most used focal lengths! : )
Hey Ed! Glad you liked the review, even before the first impressions came out from some of the “big” websites, I had a hunch this lens would deliver, based on Sony’s lessons with the 24mm zeiss and 50mm f/1.8. The only thing I worried about was its performance on the NEX-7, but it seems they definitely designed it with their flagship camera in mind!
And I’m sure you know about the rumored 85mm f/1.8 to be announced within the next couple months, right? 🙂
Thanks for your review. It helps a lot. I’ll buy one tonight.
Great to hear! Hope you enjoy your lens.
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OUTSTANDING review. Wish all reviews by others were this thorough.
Tons of hits coming in a moment…
Hey there Paul, thanks for the plug! Glad you found the review thorough as well. 🙂
First time here. What a great review. I am a videographer with a Nex-VG20. I have the 16mm, 50mm. Sony E Mount lenses. I am at a crossroads wondering if I need better glass. I see you mentioned the following…”based on Sony’s lessons with the 24mm zeiss and 50mm f/1.8.”. Can you tell me more about this? Or point me in the right direction so I can read about it? I am thinking Ziess lenses might be the way to go. But I have never used one and am only going by the name and quality of the product. I guess what I am trying to say is if the Ziess 50mm E mount is so much better than the Sony 50mm E Mount? Thanks!
There has been discussion on Sony’s progress in the e-mount primes lineup since the primes (the 50mm f/1.8 notably worse than the 24mm Zeiss) tended to have poor corner performance on the NEX-7 (due to its extremely high-res sensor with difficult setting of microlenses) . Reviewers were worried that Sony wasn’t developing lenses for their flagship NEX camera in mind.
However, I cannot cite any of these articles, as information has just been back-and-forth snippets I’ve picked up on. You can rest assured that the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 is a fantastic lens though, which is only slightly outresolved by the telecentric-designed Sigma 30mm f/2.8. Also, the 50mm f/1.8 is by no means a “bad” lens. It’s just a little soft wide open with some fringing, typical of any lens in its class and price range. Once you stop either down for whatever video purpose you’ll be using them for, optical problems will be beyond non-existant (1080p resolution is the limiting factor here! hehe).
First off I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question
which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing.
I have had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like
the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to
figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Thanks!
Setting aside time with a clear goal in mind is the first real step in any sort of writing. If you succeed in this, you’ll have an easier time in getting a piece completed.
Nice review! And great images.
Though the sharpness of lenses is IMO so dependant on post production that you really need to descrbe what sharpness settings you’re using when evaluating the lens; is it a straight out of camera JPEG, or an unsharpened RAW? Most images here look a little bit too unsharp for my liking, but taking for example the “The Look” image of a guy holding a camera, just importing the not-full-resolution JPEG into Photoshop and pressing Sharpen once makes it really sharp, without having a dreadful over-sharpened look (though I’d go for something a little less sharpened if I put more time into it and had the RAW).
Anyway, thanks for the review, I’m getting a Nex 5R soon and will probably pick this up after using the 16-50 lens for a while.
Thank you, Jake. 🙂
I’m surprised I didn’t talk about this in my “lens review style” post. All of my photographs for test shots (sharpness/bokeh/vignetting/distortion), are shot in RAW, and exported from LR4 as full-size JPEGs after cropping. All post-processing is avoided, and settings are at their default values.
In my photographic examples, however, I post-process them as I usually do. These adjustments are primarily made to levels/contrast/white balance/clarity/saturation. Sharpness is added as I see fit, though I rarely touch it unless I embed 100% crops. On the NEX-7 and at ISO 100 in RAW, files can be sharpened to 40 in LR4 without any artifacts added. For personal work (usually not shared in reviews), I can push this to 70 with a bit of work.
Thx for the great review. I am an Nex-6 user having recently moved up from the original 5. I want to purchase a good fast prime lens that I can use indoors for low light shots, and also as an all around general purpose lens. Oh BTW: I recently purchased and returned the Sigma 30 f/2.8 DN / A lens. It was a good lens, sharp corner to corner, bit soft offset of middle on photos taken wide open. However, what I couldn’t live with was the constant hunting of the lens even when it was supposed to be in focus. This happened during daylight and low light shooting. And it was noisy too with the constant hunting. For someone with aging eyes and now who needs to wear reading glasses or any kind of corrective eye-wear this is far from ideal. Here’s the kicker, I have not come across one post that addresses the constant hunting of the lens, when comparing it to the Sony 35, if I knew that I would have not purchased it. So cheaper does not always mean better an as an alternative to the Sony 35, shouldn’t even be a consideration.
On a different note, remind me did you review the Sony 50mm f/1.8 and what did you think of it? Also why is the 50mm considered the standard for primes when the the 30/35 is much more versatile? Which one would you consider a Must have lens in the bag – the 35 or 50 if you could Only buy one?
Hello! Glad you found the review helpful, I’ll answer your concerns in order. My 35mm f/1.8 rarely hunts for focus, even in low light. The times that it does is usually a fault of CDAF (trying to focus on a dark subject with a bright back-/foreground. Focusing on the 35mm is near silent, I think the OSS and aperture blades opening up make more noise.
Agreed about the cost statement. The Sigma 30 is a great value and is optically excellent, but the focus speed and QC can leave much to be desired on a case-by-case basis. For those that do NOT want OSS or the extra speed, the Sigma is still a lens to consider, but possibly not for low-light work.
Unfortunately I have not reviewed the 50mm OSS, and probably never will. I have three 50mm Nikon lenses (f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2), so that focal length and speed is covered well. Real reason I went for the Sony 35mm is because any legacy lenses shorter than 50mm tend to present less of a value/performance metric compared to native glass (lots of it due to the APS-C sensor crop. I have, however, heard great things about the 50mm, especially for short portraits. It has the right amount of softness and character from f/1.8-2.8 that many photographers enjoy, while becoming tack-sharp across the frame stopped down (not on the NEX-7, though).
50mm lenses were the standard prime lenses for film cameras due to their “natural” field of view. On APS-C with its 1.5x crop factor, a 50mm lens (whether designed for full-frame or APS-C) will give a 75mm field of view in full-frame format. For APS-C, primes in-between 30-35mm with the crop factor get very close to the natural field of view, and are the de facto standard lenses to look for.
If I could only buy one, and wasn’t interested in legacy lenses, I would still go for the 35mm. It’s a lot more versatile a lens, as it is not too wide for people shots, but also not too telephoto for when I want to get the scenery in. Though the 35mm f/1.8 doesn’t give the super-shallow depth-of-field I like working with, the f/1.8 aperture gives decent enough subject separation for the times I need it. It’s a fantastic lens overall. 🙂
Thanks for your review, very well done. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I bought my NEX-5R two weeks ago. The 18-55 kit lens is good, for a kit lens. I wanted something a little more sophisticated. I couldn’t help myself after reading this review and I bought the lens at Henry’s in Canada for $429 + HST. A great price for this lens. They beat the lowest competitors advertised price by $10. I tried to trade in my kit lens but they only offered me $90 for it *fart*. I would rather sell it privately for $90 knowing somebody will get a good deal on it. I will probably leave this lens on the camera for the rest of the year to learn how to better compose my shots. I’m taking it up to Algonquin Park in a week so I should have some fun with it. I especially look forward to trying it out around the campfire, and under the starry night sky.
We’ll see how it goes. I’ll come back when I have a story to tell 🙂
Great to hear, Adam! I hope to hear back, and am glad the 35mm is now stuck on your camera. 🙂
I own the Zeiss 24 and the 50 OSS, as well as the new collapsable 16-50 and like you, use a NEX7. I’ve been but have been on-the-fence with regard the the 35/1.8 and 20/2.8. The 35 reviews well, here and elsewhere, but as you say in the review regarding the 50 there are many legacy options. In the end, I’ll probably buy this, just as I did with the 50 (I also have numerous legacy 50 primes) because autofocus is convenient and OSS is a worthwhile feature. The Sony 35 is also advantageous as most legacy SLR 35s are either f2.8, or in the case of the f1.8/f2 models are large and heavy.
Good rationale, and one that I so far have followed. The threshold for effectively using SLR lenses on APS-C (satisfying some sort of price/performance ratio) occurs right at around 50mm. Wider than that, and legacy lenses become more expensive and less useful than their native counterparts, while any lens 50mm and longer typically presents a much better value. I’ve got the new Zeiss 32mm f/1.8 on preorder now. Will do a direct comparison to the 35mm, and will sell whichever one doesn’t stack up in price/performance. The new Touit lenses are supposedly “state-of-the-art” in the CSC realm, so we’ll see if the lens is worthy of the Zeiss name soon in June. 😀
I am anxious to hear what you have to say about the Zeiss 32. What I really wish for is an 85 or 90mm f1.8 and then perhaps a 135mm f2.8, though I doubt we’ll ever see the latter.
I currently use my Leica Elmarit-R 35/2.8 on the NEX7 when I want high quality in a standard focal length, but autofocus and wider aperture would be nice. The Zeiss 24 is so good that I expect the 32 to find a place in my bag. In a way that would bring us NEX users back to the old rangefinder days of the 35, 50 and 90 (75 in case of the 50 OSS) lens trio. My father carried such an outfit (Nikon S2) in the 1950s and most of the Leica M people still do.
Yep Andrew, I put my preorder in with Adorama the day it became available! I’ll also keep track of other retailers and order one that comes in stock if my pre-order doesn’t ship out. Adorama/B&H are usually about the same in getting their lenses in. A shame B&H wouldn’t let me pre-order. Something’s messed up with my account in their system. Still can’t figure it out.
Though I love my 85mm f/1.4 (yes…I know, still no review), a Zeiss or “G” 85mm f/1.8 that performs superbly starting at maximum aperture would be a worthy consideration…if I wasn’t already looking towards that Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar on down the road to do double-duty portraiture and macro. I highly doubt a 135mm f/2.8 will happen, but would still be great to see.
One lens to look out for preorder links is that 50mm f/2.8 Makro that is supposed to come out at the end of summer. Though I will probably not even preorder it (I like working at f/2 and wider at 50mm), that lens will surely be dynamite if it follows the trend of the 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 (based on early reports, of course).
Just put in my pre-order for the Zeiss 32/1.8. Was very difficult to decide on ultimate quality (Zeiss) or good-enough (plus OSS) at half the price (Sony).
Good on you, Andrew! If you’re anything like me with your NEX-7, you love getting all of those 24 million pixels ultra-sharp at ISO 100. The Sony gets close from f/5-f/9, but it’s never a tack-sharp lens corner-to-corner, like my 105mm Micro-Nikkor. I’ve grown used to shooting without OSS on my NEX-7 with all my manual lenses, so the OSS on the 35mm is just a nice bonus for when I might need it (the few times I go handheld at night, or shoot a handheld video), but it’s not necessary for my photographic style.
Where’d you preorder from?
Pre-ordered from B&H both to use an existing store credit and because they’ve always been excellent.
I also usually shoot at ISO 100, though as someone who despises flash, I often crank it up to 800 or even 1600 at night. I am spoiled by the image quality of the CZ24/1.8E wide open, and hope the new 32 matches it (it should being a Planar).
The harder decision is whether or not to go for the 12/2.8. Since the NEX7 is known to have significant magenta fringing and I hate spending any time in post, I’ll wait for reviews to hit. I was ready to buy the 10-18, Sony, but reviews show significant magenta shift on the NEX7. For now, I use the 16-50 for wideangle, though 24mm equivalent isn’t as wide as I’d like.
One thing to keep in mind is that the 24mm f/1.8 is a Sony-made, Zeiss-branded lens. The Touit lenses and their production is controlled solely by Zeiss. Both lenses may actually be better than the 24mm.
I remember reading an early report somewhere that the 12mm f/2.8 doesn’t produce magenta fringing on the NEX-7. I don’t remember where, but I too would wait for a couple reviews before going for it. $1250 is a lot for any lens, let alone one that may have a flaw on the NEX-7 like that.
Just read today (forgot where) that Sony will have a NEX7 firmware update for the Touit lenses in August. Also on digilloyd’s review he praised the 12/2.8 and there is no magenta fringing to be found in the images.
I am completely satisfied with my 24E. It may be Sony-made and perhaps mostly Sony designed, but it is definitely a Zeiss lens. It was enough better than my Minolta 32/2.0 and A850 full-frame pair that the announcement of the Touits combined with the 24E was enough to put my entire full frame outfit up for sale last week.
NEX system now only really lacks long focal lengths and fast zooms. I’m more of a prime kind of guy, and legacy telephotos work very well on NEX7, unlike wides. I use late 1980s-vintage Leica Elmarit-R 90/2.8 and 135/2.8 on my NEX7 with fantastic results. A 75~90mm Touit would likely end up in my bag, but I really can’t complain with the Leicas.
Just pre-ordered the 12/2.8 as well.
Yep, I remember now to both. Digilloyd liked the lens, and SAR reported on the firmware deal a little while back. Good to hear.
I wasn’t knocking the 24mm f/1.8 in the slightest. Heck of a lens from what I see, if I wanted to go wide. 32mm is really pushing it for me. I’m a telephoto guy. 🙂
A rumored 85mm e-mount is supposed to come relatively soon. When, I don’t know. Even if it’s f/2.8 it’d be a great and compact lens (especially if they borrowed the optical formula from the SAL8528. That said, I use legacy telephotos and am quite happy with them.
Dang man, you’re going to have a nice kit when all of this ships. Let me know when you get that 12/2.8 in, I wouldn’t mind featuring a few of your shots as a separate post this summer, since there’s no way I’m getting that lens.
I’ll be happy to send some images when they arrive. I am very excited about the transition from full-frame DSLR to compact mirrorless. As I get older, I find that I am becomming a better photographer, but want to spend a lot less time (and muscle) fiddling with camera equipment. Three or at most four primes and a compact body is about the most I would ever want to carry, and often I will just pick one lens and force myself to shoot within its limitations.
I will likely get the NEX7 replacement (if they keep the excellent control layout) or another NEX7 (depending on close-out price) to minimize lens changes. With the A850 I could never een think of that, and often had to settle for a slower zoom instead of a second body/lens for weight reasons.
I have always found 35mm (on film) to be my favorite focal length, so I was already a very happy camper with just the 24E. I do want to start playing more at the wide end, which is really pushes me to be more creative.
Good to hear. I technically started with an APS-C DSLR, and also hate the weight. My dream camera set-up is/will be(?) a NEX-9 FF with a 50mm f/1.4, 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar, 200mm f/2 AI-s ED, and a 400mm f/2.8 AI-s ED. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be partway there. I typically only go out with one lens at a time as well. Helps with thinking about composition. 🙂
I’m considering the next NEX-7, but only if I can sell my current body. Thanks to the repairs, it has 6 more months of warranty and is still in pristine condition. We’ll see.
Understood about pushing boundaries. For now, the times that I want to go wide, I will use the mosaic method of shooting multiple images and stitching to create a wider field of view. Over the summer I plan to get a 055CX3 tripod and a Nodal Ninja 5 pano head with RD-16 rotator. If you followed my site since last summer, you know how fed up I was with Manfrotto and said I would never get another one of their products. Well…I guess it’s taken a year for me to calm down and give them one more chance.
Wide is not at all about field of view for me. Wide is about perspective, and the distortion thereof.
Completely understood. The only problem for me is that I rarely want to go wide. I have to admit, there are those that nail the use of that perspective down pat, though. Richard NO on dpreview posts some amazing shots taken with his 10-18mm f/4 on his NEX.
“Hi” Matthew….. Great review… I got this new lens because of you…. The pictures came out way better that the 16mm-55mm kit lens…. I have one question, how do you turn on and off the oss optical stabilization on the Sony Nex 5R…. It’s the same as StradyShot…??
Thanks Tony! The optical stabilization can be turned off in Menu–>Setup–>Shooting Settings–>SteadyShot. 🙂
“Hello” Matthew… Thanks for the quick respond… Sorry, to bother you again.. I’m trying to get a better understanding of this new lens… So, I have another question for you…. If I want to take a really sharp pictures of the car (side view and corner view) what is the recommendation setting of the aperture stopping ?? If I were to take a pictures on a sunny day with the ISO 100 setting…?? Or any other recommendation would greatly appreciate…. BTW I’m using the Nex 5R…
Thank you again…!! YOU’RE THE BEST…!!
For best detail cross-frame on the 35mm f/1.8, go for about f/5-5.6. If everything is in focus, then you’re good to go. However, if you need more depth-of-field (parts of the car are out-of-focus that you want in-focus) stop down to f/8 or f/11. Sorry for the late reply, been pretty busy lately. 🙂
Thank you Matthew…. I just order a Hoya 49mm Hrt Circular Polarizer Lens Filter… My new question is… Could I use the same set up as you recommend with the Hoya Hrt Circular Polarizer Lens Filter..??
I’m very appreciated for all the advices & taking your time to reply…
Sure thing, that filter will fit right on the lens. 🙂
thanks Matthew for this very exhaustive review! I have a Nex 5r with the 16-50 and I am satisfied so far, but do you think I can improve the quality of my pictures (street, lanscape etc..) if I buy this lens ? thanks in advance.
Hey there Alexander. Glad you liked the review! At every equivalent aperture, the 35mm will give you technically better pictures in terms of distortion, sharpness, bokeh, etc. than the 16-50 powerzoom kit. The added bonus of being able to open up even wider than the kit lens can for a bit more subject separation is a bonus as well. Whether you truly appreciate the difference depends on how critical you are of your own photographs. Playing devil’s advocate here, if you say you are satisfied so far with your, why consider upgrading (besides gaining more possible shallow depth of field)?
Hi Matthew, thanks for your answer, that helps! I am satisfied by the kit lens, but if I can improve my pictures, I think that’s worth investing a little bit more 😉
i’m deciding between this lens and the cheaper sigma 30mm….this lens has OSS while the sigma doesn’t. is it worth an extra $200? thks.
If you need the extra light-gathering ability and gains in slow-shutter speeds (and smooth handheld video) through OSS, then yes, it is definitely worth the money. I’m actually selling my copy of the lens, if you are interested. 🙂
How much are you asking, as I may be interested? (I’m UK Based)
Apologies Blue407, but I sold the 35mm just a few weeks ago. I hope you can get a copy, it’s a great lens!
Very Well Done Review !!!
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
Hello, great review.
I am buying an a6000 and I was wondering if I should get the kit 16-50 for $150 more or just the body and 35mm1.8 OSS. If I get the kit lens,I can save money and buy the metabones speed booster adapter to use with my canon glasses( 50 1.8, 17-40 4.0).
What do you recommend? I also wonder how the image quality and color contrast of the sony 35mm vs canon 50mm.
Hey there Jimmy, glad the review is helping you out. Another option to consider is buying the kit and just selling the kit lens for a little extra profit. I have no idea how the Canon 50mm is compared to the Sony 35mm, especially if you use the former in a speed booster. Depending on which brand you get, it can be a mixed bag. What I do know is the Sony is a great little lens with good image quality all around with not a whole lot to complain about at its price point. Ideally, you would eventually want to try to have both a speed booster for your Canon glass AND this lens for different applications, but its up to you to figure out which to go for first. Good luck!
Great review, was almost going to give up… but now I have a way forward A6000 body only, and this will be my main lens; guess I’ll have to use my feet for that tiny bit of zoom I’ll be missing.
Glad the review helped you out, Peter. With that great PDAF you should have a good time with this lens on your a6000.
i am looking into getting a nice, fast and hopefully very sharp prime for my a6000. i have considered the sigma 30mm f2.8 and even the zeiss touit 32mm as well as this. this seems to be the best middle ground, but i am sorry of wishing there were some other options available. i guess this is not really a question except do you know of any other e mount prime lenses in this 30-35mm range?
Hello there Andre. I have had many ask between these three lenses, and it really comes down to what you need the lens for. If all you want is a cheap 50mm equivalent with good performance, the Sigma is a good choice. Best overall image quality with better depth-of-field control, the Touit. Good price/performance balance with OSS? The Sony is the way to go. There are a couple other offerings from third-party manufacturers, but they are manual-focus only. Good luck!
First, sr for my bad english. I owned a3000 and i want to buy a new len for shotting my new born son also his mom’s portrait. In Vietnam, i just can buy Sony 50mm F1.8 and this len you reviewed Sony 35mm F1.8, so can you please give me some idea for best choice which one, thank you for reading.
Hi there Aresvie. Before you purchase either lens, take a look at some of your shots with the kit lens you already have to see what focal length you find yourself at. If at the long end of the zoom (40-55mm), then you would be better served by the 50mm f/1.8. In the wider end (25-40mm), then the 35mm f/1.8 may suit you even better.
Both are great lenses that complement each other well.
Incredible reviews. Thorough, precise, well written and practical. Thank you very much! I’m new to the Sony world (a6000) and this review helped me know the 35/1.8 would be the best lens for me.
I’m a full-frame lover, so I have some learning to do.
Wonder if you would weigh in on the use of a UV filter. I bought a 49mm VU brand. And as soon as I put it on I thought, “man that’s too much glass!” The front glass of this lens is only about 23mm across. Seems to me that the 49mm filter is only going to be a big target for extraneous light to hit and refract onto the lens. (I know the UV filter is cheap insurance.) Thoughts?
BTW, if music is your first love and photography #2 – betting you’re one helluva musician! Good luck with your music and Navy pursuits!
I never use UV filters, in fact I only occasionally use a ND filter for long-exposure shots. I am in the camp that believes proper care and use of the supplied lens hood protects the front element from all but the most pointy of dirty fingers. Even high quality UV filters are going to increase reflections and reduce contrast to some degree, so I just avoid them.
Glad the review helped you out, hope your a6000 is treating you well. When I get back into photography, hopefully when I get to my next duty station, I’ll be able to pick one up, or maybe look for a cheap A7 model.
Also, thank you, music is what I pursue first for sure!
Hi there! I really love your reviews? Have you done one on the sony 50mm f1.8? I want to get my first prime lens for my Sony A6000 but I’m having trouble deciding between the 35 or the 50. I’m tempted to go for the 50 because it’s cheaper then the 35. I’ll be doing some outdoor portrait work, but not ONLY that. I’ll also be keeping the kit zoom. Should I go for the 50, and use the kit for general purpose, and maybe even add a manual 35 later? (Any suggestions?) Or, should I go for the 35 even though it’s more expensive. Thanks!
Hey there Colin, sorry for the late reply, I haven’t had my computer. For outdoor portrait work the 50mm 1.8 isn’t a bad idea, as it is still plenty wide to get scenery in, but can get more shallow DoF than the 35mm can. I had that lens for a few days, but ended up reselling it because I had so many 50mm’s already.
Dear Matthew, I read a great many reviews and this one and your comparison review with the Zeiss 32mm was the most useful source of information. However, only after buying the SEL35F18 I figured out it is actually more close to a 38mm at 2m range and a 39 mm at infinity. Which makes it a lot closer to my Sony 50mm which is not secretly a 55mm. I also wondered if the spherochromatisme is less in the Zeiss or at least disappears quicker when stopped down. it’s the more difficult aspect of the lens for every day use. There are to many trees with tiny highlights in my area.
Hey Gloombug, I’m glad you found my comparison useful. Regarding the actual focus lengths vs. advertised, I am not sure what the real focal length of the Zeiss is. I do know the Zeiss handles chromatic aberrations as a whole much better than the Sony (although the Sony is not bad by any means), though it does exhibit some odd aberration you can see wide open that completely goes away when stopped down only a bit.
Great, and very useful review, Matthew. We may have similar tastes, since I have shot Nikon DSLRs for a long time, but now I am thinking of getting the new Sony A6300, which is about to go on sale.
Unfortunately, I am confused by the Sony “systems” — E mounts and Alpha mounts — and even the Sigma that you talked about in this review. Can you give a recommendation to pair with the A6300 that is small, sharp, and adequately versatile? All things considered, I might prefer a 28mm, since the 42mm effective length sounds about right for a walking around camera, but they are a lot more expensive, so I’m a lot more likely to go the 35 mm route.
I used a 50mm (for film), and I use one now (sometimes) on my full frame Nikon digital, so the 35mm Sony lenses (like this one you just reviewed) would probably be okay too, and while not “cheap”, it’s a lot cheaper than any of the 28mm lenses, and it does have image stabilization. Finally, as versatile as the zooms are (including the $150 kit zoom), my sense is that they are a lot bigger and not nearly as sharp.
So, I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts on a first (and perhaps only, at least for a while) lens to get for the A6300.
Thanks so much for any guidance you can provide!
Hey there Forrest!
The a6300 is a camera that has really piqued my interest in getting a new camera. If it had the IBIS that the new A7 cameras have, it’d be a winner. But it doesn’t, lacks tri-navi, and is still APS-c. The last two points are relatively moot, but without IBIS I can’t justify upgrading just yet. I am still holding out that Sony will release a high-end APS-C/FF e-mount that combines high frame rates with the body of the NEX-7 and IBIS for all my manual primes.
There are so many options now for the e-mount that will pair well with the a6300. I still recommend the Sony 35mm for a good all-arounder, though the Zeiss Touit as I mentioned in its review comes out on top overall. The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 lenses have always been small, sharp, and good cheap lenses. But this past year we’ve gotten some awesome lenses from Zeiss and Sony in the 35mm range that although are a lot more expensive, are probably appreciably better. For a 28mm lens, Sony’s own 28mm f/2 has gotten high remarks.
Good luck either way you go!
Great review Matt, just wondering for video. If I like to shoot toy video (quite close but not close up) and can have many object in one screen would you recommend this over macro lens? Thanks.
Hey there Vic! Glad you liked the review. I am not very familiar with macro video, though I am sure you need to have the camera on a tripod and a good, smooth focus option that won’t cause camera shake. The 35mm Sony focuses pretty close, and is sharp/cheap too. Its versatility beyond its own minimum focus distance sets it apart from similar macro lenses at that focal length.
thanks! awesome review