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

The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 FE comes in at a significantly more affordable price point than what Sony’s offering is–and the only major difference is its lack of weather sealing vs it’s Sony counterpart. In fact, that’s the only difference most people may consider besides marginally slower autofocus performance. The lenses even look alike in some ways in that they’re pretty much the same size but with different casings. But Rokinon has brought out autofocus abilities with the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 FE–making this the company’s first autofocusing lens for the Sony full frame E mount system. Indeed, it fills a niche of the photography market that is not really saturated: a place for good, affordable lenses of the Sony FE camera space.

So if you’re one of those folks that doesn’t need weather sealing, then the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 FE could just be a lens that you’ll want.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sharp image quality
  • Good bokeh
  • Focuses pretty much as closely as the Sony version. It isn’t as accurate in low lighting or as fast though.
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Weather sealing would have been nice but I understand why it isn’t there.
  • Focus motors can be a bit loud at times with later cameras.

Gear Used

We tested the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 FE with the Sony a7 camera and the Sony a7r II.

Rokinon 35mm f2.8 FE Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Rokinon listing page.

Model: IO35AF-E
MSRP: $399
UPC: 0-84438-76565-6
Focal Length: F2.8
Maximum Aperture: F2.8
Coverage: Full Frame (FX)
Optical Construction: 7 Glass Elements in 6 Groups
Aperture Range: F2.8-22
Diaphragm Blades: 7
Coating: Ultra Multi-Coating (UMC)
Minimum Focusing Distance: 13.8ft (0.35m)
Filter Size: 1.93″ (49mm)
Lens Hood: n/a
Maximum Diameter: 2.43″ (61.8mm)
Weight: 3.02oz (85.64g)
Length: 1.3″ (33mm)

Ergonomics

If you look at the Rokinon 35mm f2.8, you’ll see a very similar lens to the Sony offering which is cobranded with Zeiss. When you look at the front here, you’ll see a bit of Rokinon branding here, but not a whole lot.

Turn to the top of the lens and what you’ll spot is the focusing ring and Rokinon’s pretty trademark glossy red ring. But that’s really about it as far as controls go.

Turn the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 on its side and you’ll see just how small it is. It’s nice and lightweight.

Build Quality

For the folks who felt like older Rokinon lenses felt a bit cheap, the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 may probably change your mind. It’s a step up, but more akin to something like a Canon lens vs Zeiss. The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 also doesn’t have weather sealing so keep that in mind for sure.

Ease of Use

When you use the Rokinon 35mm f2.8, you’ll note it is mostly an autofocusing lens. So there is no depth of field scale on this lens. Instead, just use Sony’s autofocus peaking abilities and the ability to choose the focusing area.

Focusing

In low lighting, the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 and the Sony a7 aren’t the absolute best combo–Sony’s own lenses and Zeiss’s are better at focusing when it comes to accuracy. The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 is also slower than both options. I tried this lens with Eye AF from Sony and it still couldn’t totally nail his eyes. Granted, Waldo has a hat on and it’s tougher. But this is surely a real situation that happens pretty often.

However, in good lighting outdoors the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 focuses pretty fast. If you’re a street photographer or simply just photographing candids, then that will work better. With the Sony a7, the focusing is silent, but with the Sony a7r II, it wasn’t as much. It is still pretty quiet, but you’ll hear something from the motors for sure. The focus is also marginally faster on the Sony a7r II.

Image Quality

Despite some of my qualms with the autofocus I have to admit that the colors, sharpness and bokeh of the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 are all rather fantastic. The Sony Zeiss version gives off one look where as the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 has a different one. The images are fairly saturated and look nice. Some folks may like the Zeiss version better but if you’re a good editor it will be difficult to tell the two apart.

Bokeh

The best bokeh from the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 comes when you focus closely and at f2.8. In this case the bokeh is nice and creamy but isn’t anything seriously worth writing home about. If you really want nice bokeh, you should spring for an f1.4 lens.

Chromatic Aberration

In my tests, I couldn’t find any chromatic aberration issues with the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 and nothing is really a problem when it comes to distortion. It’s a fine lens and for the most part I really want to retire this section of our reviews as modern optics have things that can easily be corrected via post-production.

Color Rendition

The way I shoot typically involves locking the camera to 5500K daylight or 3200K tungsten. The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 has very typical Rokinon colors. They’re saturated but not uber contrasty the way that Sigma will try to deliver to make an image appear sharper than it really is. But instead, Rokinon’s lenses have good color overall. The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 is no exception here. If you’re one of the folks who prefer to use auto white balance and aren’t as much of a freak about color as I am, then you can more or less skip passed this section.

Sharpness

In some ways, I want to say the Rokinon 35mm f2.8 is a bit sharper than the Sony Zeiss version. But I could be wrong. You see, every time I shoot with the Sony Zeiss version I always surprise myself. It’s pretty much as sharp as Sigma’s but not as sharp as the 35mm f1.4 Sony offers. It isn’t as sharp as the new Zeiss Milvus lens. But a lot of that work is done involving flash. When a flash isn’t used the Rokinon appears sharper which generally means that when a flash is going to be used, the Rokinon is still going to be sharper when doing a comparative test.

So in this case, Rokinon wins over Sony.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Sharp and saturated look without being overbearing
  • Fast enough AF
  • Small size
  • Affordable price point

Dislikes

  • I wish it had a bit of weather sealing

The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 is a pretty awesome lens. For $399, you’re getting an arguably sharper lens than the Sony Zeiss version. But you’re not getting the faster autofocus or the weather sealing. Additionally, you may like the Sony Zeiss colors more. For that price point though, there isn’t a whole lot to complain about with the Rokinon offering. If Rokinon’s lens could focus closer, then it would really push it over the top. But it doesn’t. However, you’re getting an arguably sharper image and colors that don’t look like Sony’s if you’re one of those who doesn’t really digg Sony’s colors.

And more importantly, you’re getting a small prime lens that is affordable.

The Rokinon 35mm f2.8 receives four out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon for the latest prices.