Review: Sony 35mm f2.8 (Full Frame E Mount)

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The first prime lens for Sony to release for the new full frame E Mount cameras is the 35mm f2.8. And it’s so far received some very mixed criticisms. If you’re a bokeh fiend, you may say that this lens has too slow of an aperture. But then on the other hand, some folks might want something a bit more compact. Ergonomics aside though, this lens is also about some serious performance.

With seven aperture blades, weather sealing and one of the most mind boggling lens hoods in the industry, this is a lens that you’ll most likely fall in love with due to its pure performance in the right situations.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

– Super sharp

– Pretty damn nice bokeh

– Very compact

– Weather sealed

Cons

– Only f2.8; I really wanted an f1.8 or f2.

– Weird lens hood that comes apart into two pieces

Gear Used

For this review, we used the Sony 35mm f2.8 with the Sony A7r, PocketWizard Plus III transceivers, Lumopro LP-180, and a Profoto RFi softbox.

Tech Specs

Tech specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the product.

Performance
Focal Length 35 mm
Comparable APS-C Focal Length: 52.5 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Sony E (Full-Frame)
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 63.4°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.15′ (35 cm)
Magnification 0.12x
Groups/Elements 5/7
Diaphragm Blades 7
Features
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 49 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.42 x 1.44″ (61.5 x 36.5 mm)
Weight 4.23 oz (120 g)

Ergonomics

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Sony’s 35mm f2.8 lens is super compact and is probably the closest thing that the company might create to a pancake lens. IT surely ins’t pancake at all, but much about it is very Sony in characteristics.

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What you should know to start off is that the lens hood comes apart into two pieces–don’t ask us why. This is the weirdest designed lens hood that we’ve seen and we’re not sure why it was created like this. In real life use, you’ll see one part falling off and you’ll become super pissed–essentially just doing away with the hood altogether.

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When they actually mount onto the camera, they look almost seamless in its design. Once again though, we recommend just forgetting about them. Never have lens hoods caused us so much frustration.

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The sides of the lens are very devoid of controls–as is very typical of Sony. Want to go into manual focus? You’ll need to press the back button to activate it.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos natalie's shoot (1 of 2)ISO 12501-60 sec at f - 4.0

The Sony 35mm f2.8 has some surprisingly great build quality to it. The manual focusing ring feels great and the overall size will be very comfortable in the hands of many. But where we were really surprised was where Sony said to us in our original press meeting that the lens and body seal is so tight that the contact doesn’t need rubber gaskets to complete the weather sealing.

Indeed, we decided to test this being the completely reckless journalists that we are ;).

One extremely stormy (rain and sleet) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Executive Editor Julius Motal and I went out onto a pier to shoot a model for the review. In the half hour that we spent shooting (we tend to be very quick and know how to get what we want in the camera with little fuss) the camera and lens never ceased to function or even showed any signs of slowing down.

Now, we doubt many of you would take your hard earned prized cameras out into the rain to shoot, but the fact that it started sleeting and the combination still performed admirably is really saying something.

We’re not going to tell you to go out during an epic blizzard and try this–no, indeed you should be inside enjoying some hot chocolate instead. But if you so choose to go out and shoot with the camera, you’ll be fine.

One problem that I found a tad alarming though is the fact that the battery door opened more than we’d like it to while shooting–and many times we didn’t even notice it. We’d probably put some Gaffers Tape on this to prevent it from opening. Besides, you can charge the camera very easily the same way that you would a phone. Indeed, Android phone users will get some major convenience out of being able to share a charger between two devices. It just makes so much sense.

For more on this session, we recommend checking out our LumoPro LP-180 review.

Ease of Use

Point, shoot, and say wow. That’s really all that there is to using this lens. It is designed for autofocusing, but we really wish that there was a depth of field scale designed into it. Instead, you’ll need to use Sony’s focus peaking or magnification to ensure that you’ve got accurate focusing.

Autofocusing

When we used this lens on the A7r, we tended to say, “Focus damn you!” more often than we’d ever like to. With the A7, the focusing is spot on with no issues. To be clear, we used the various focusing modes: wide, center, small moveable point, medium moveable point, and large moveable point. And consistently the focusing peeved us. But when it hits, it’s like heaven.

To be clear the lens and camera combination hits more frequently in good lighting situations. Low lighting and strong backlighting will throw it off.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (8 of 14)ISO 1001-60 sec at f - 4.5

Our general feeling about the image quality of this lens is that it is best paired with the A7r for pure pixel to pixel goodness. This lens is sharp, not too contrasty, has magnificent bokeh, and is very devoid of any flaws. In fact, it’s tough to find any 35mm mirrorless lens on the market that can beat this lens right now.

Sharpness

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Little Miss Rollerhoops portraits (17 of 24)ISO 2501-6 sec at f - 8.0

When we do sharpness tests, we often try to add flash to our photos to give readers the full effect of the sharpness due to specular highlights being added in. This photo was shot at f8, and we’ve got no complaints when a flash diffused through a 3×4 softbox was added.

Wide open, the lens is also still pretty darned sharp and you get the best balance of bokeh and sharpness at around f4. For the best sharpness though, we found the best performance to be at f8.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (2 of 14)ISO 1001-400 sec at f - 5.0

To really search for any color fringing problems, we went over some of the highest contrast areas in our photos. We honestly didn’t find any right out of the camera–but cracking up the contrast in Lightroom totally created purple fringing.

So all the folks that hang out in forums can calm down–there is no fringing.

Color Rendition

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos edited (4 of 5)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.8

Since reviewing Sony’s NEX 7, we’ve been smitten with the company’s color rendition–and the combination of sensor performance and lens performance just makes this gorgeous. Indeed, almost everything that we shot with the 35mm f2.8 looks like Portra. The camera also tends to white balance more towards the warmer side of the spectrum with the tint also leaning more towards the purple side of things–but the results are absolutely beautiful and will make you saw “Wow” every time.

When it comes to working with skin tones, we’re also quite pleased with the lens’s performance.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos edited (3 of 5)ISO 1001-1250 sec at f - 2.8

Glorious. Yes, it’s glorious.

Yes, we stated earlier on in the review that this lens is only an f2.8–and we still stick to that statement. But for what it’s worth, the 35mm f2.8’s bokeh is beautiful. If you’re a bokeh fiend though, you absolutely won’t be satisfied if you attach the 55mm f1.8 onto your camera. The bokeh from that lens is better by leaps and bounds for the obvious reasons of being a longer focal length and having a faster aperture.

Extra Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (14 of 14)ISO 1001-60 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (12 of 14)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (10 of 14)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (9 of 14)ISO 1001-50 sec at f - 7.1

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (7 of 14)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 11

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (4 of 14)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 3.2

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A7r review photos brooklyn bridge reddit walk (3 of 14)ISO 1001-250 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Little Miss Rollerhoops portraits (8 of 24)ISO 1001-40 sec at f - 2.8

Conclusions

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Though we have some qualms about this lens, we really can’t say that it is in any way a bad optic. In fact, it’s an incredible lens. On the A7 it will focus like a speed demon. On the A7r it will resolve more detail than your mom will want to see in her face. Then when you’re all done with that, you can take it out into inclement weather with no problems. Then there is your excellent color rendition and class leading sharpness.

With this in mind, the Sony 35mm f2.8 receives an Editor’s Choice award for best semi-wide full frame mirrorless lens. Be sure to snag yours over at B&H Photo Video.

Recommended Items

Sony A7r– Use this camera with this lens if you want pure sharpness and image quality.

Sony A7– Use this camera with this lens if you want accurate autofocusing that won’t make you want to breathe fire.

LumoPro LP-180– This flash is affordable and well built. In the hands of a skilled strobist, the absolute best image quality can be yielded from this lens.

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