Review: Sony 35mm F1.8 FE (This Is My Next Lens)

The new Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens is real, and it’s the most perfect Sony lens I could ask for.

All I ever really wanted was a Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens–and I never thought they’d make one. But when I received a call last week about testing a product not yet announced, I was quite shocked. The company has its 35mm f2.8 FE and a 35mm f1.4 FE lenses; both are quite good in their own respects. But what they needed was a middle ground option, and that’s where the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE is coming into play very strongly. It’s small and designed to be on par with the quality that the 55mm f1.8 and the 85mm f1.8 deliver. If you know anything about those lenses, you’ll understand that they’re incredible values. Sony considers their 28mm f2 to be on the same playing field, but I’ve got mixed thoughts on that opinion. What I know for sure though: the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE is a far better choice. With weather sealing, fast autofocus, incredibly sharp image quality, beautiful bokeh, and almost cinematic image quality to it, the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE is going to be my next lens.

Editor’s Note: While we’d usually do this as a first impressions post instead of a full review, we were told that this lens exhibits final image quality. Further, we tested it on our own dime, and not Sony’s. To that end, we’re following the very ethics that we forged this website on. Any other significant updates, though, will be done to this review accordingly.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Small
  • Cost effective and under $1,000
  • Weather sealing
  • Sharp; very sharp
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • The best colors I’ve seen from a Sony lens
  • Can focus very closely
  • Fast aperture
  • With AF-C on the Sony a7r III, it is fast enough for street photography

Cons

  • Though this is minor, I wish Sony gave us a working distance and zone focus scale for street shooting

Gear Used

We tested the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens with the Sony a7r III, Sony a7, and the Profoto B10.

Tech Specs

Specs for the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens are directly from Sony.

• Final MSRP: $749.99 USD
• Weight is 280g, Length 73mm, diameter 65.6mm
• Internal focusing mechanism effectively minimizes focus breathing
• Lens construction: 9 groups, 11 elements, including one aspherical lens to suppress aberration and handle higher resolution
• Minimum focus distance: 0.22m
• 0.24x magnification for a good close up photograph, though not macro (clearly)
• Linear response MF to provide high responsiveness and accuracy in manual focus
• Dust and Moisture resistant
• Aluminum-based exterior with some plastic parts mean high durability without the weight penalty

Ergonomics

If you look at the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens, you’ll see that it’s a small lens. The lens hood itself is not that large and perhaps around 1/4 of the size of the lens. Here you see the top and even the focusing ring where you’ll spend most of the time gripping the lens.

The front of the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens has a 55mm filter thread. This make is tiny, indeed.

The only other control on the lens is this on the side. There is the typical Sony custom function button, which I’ve never used, and the AF/MF switch. I like the addition of this switch as it makes things more manageable for street photography.

Build Quality

As you can tell from this photo and the lead image, we tested the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens in the rain on the Sony a7r III. There was a moment where we thought it wasn’t able to stand up to the rain: the autofocus was having an issue. But we later concluded it was merely because there wasn’t enough contrast in the scene. With that said, though, I have to emphasize that you clean your lens contacts as well as your camera contacts to get the most from this lens’ performance. Sony’s build quality isn’t Canon’s or Fujifilm’s when it comes to weather sealing. However, at the price point of the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens, Sony is making Canon look bad since their more affordable glass isn’t sealed.

Otherwise, photographers should know that the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens is nice and small. It is well balanced with the a7 series of cameras and gripping it is just fine. More than any other lens, except for the 35mm f2.8, this truly feels like an everyday companion piece of glass. It’s small, light, and can be toted around with you every day. When I finally purchase my own, this lens is going to make the Sony a7 and Sony a7r III the cameras I bring with me every day.

Just for those of you who are curious, here is the 35mm f1.8 and the 35mm f2.8 on the Sony a7 and the Sony a7r III. They’re both small.

Ease of Use

The Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens is a straightforward lens to use. Not once did I accidentally switch the focusing from AF to MF–which is very lovely indeed. But otherwise, it was business as usual. All that a photographer needs to do is point, focus, shoot, and enjoy their images. There is nothing really complicated about the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens.

Autofocus

On both the Sony a7r III and the Sony a7 original, the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens’ autofocus is speedy and accurate. Since the new firmware updates have arrived, we’ve found it better to simply just leave the camera to AF-C mode rather than AF-S most of the time. This will help with things like street photography, eye detection, and tracking for portraiture, and even when photographing animals like your adorable corgi. Indeed, it sometimes misses its mark, but it’s sporadic, and I’d say there is a less than 4% miss rate. Then, with all of that, there are varying factors taken into account.

Portrait photographers, event photographers, travel photographers, and street photographers will all be thoroughly pleased with the results from the Sony autofocus system and the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens. Combine this with the quality of the imaging sensors and the fact that the operation can together acquire focusing of moving subjects at f1.8 and you’ll see just how incredible it really is. At this price point, Sony is hitting the ball out of the park. Here are some example images that I shot on the streets with the Sony a7r III.

Image Quality

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens as far as image quality went because their 50mm f1.8 FE is just wrong in my opinion. But their 55mm f1.8 FE is fantastic. And thankfully, the image quality from the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens leans more towards the latter. Photographers both professional and hobbyist will thoroughly enjoy the image quality the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens produces. With a flash it’s incredibly sharp when shooting wide open. Stopped down to f4, it’s also noticeably sharp. What photographers will really like is the creamy bokeh that they get combined with the fact that the colors are cinematic. Indeed, these are some of my favorite colors that I’ve seen from a Sony lens yet. And I’m not sure what they did, but I commend them!

Bokeh

You’re going to get the best bokeh from the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens when shooting at f1.8 and focusing pretty closely to a subject. The bokeh is beautiful and works effectively to showcase what you want someone to pay attention to in a scene. It’s very creamy and not hazy at all. Photographers shooting portraits and those doing travel work or photojournalism won’t complain about the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens’ bokeh.

Chromatic Aberration

While we just talked about the bokeh, what I think makes it even better is the fantastic quality with no purple fringing at all. Best of all, Capture One 12 couldn’t do very much to this lens when it came to distortion. It’s only a slight issue around the edges and corners of the lens. But otherwise, perceptual distortion will still be visible as it would with any 35mm lens.

Color Rendition

And now we’re at the best part of this lens: the color rendition. The Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens exhibits colors that I genuinely want to call cinematic. When you lock your camera to 3200K or 5500K, you’ll get incredibly cinematic colors and feelings. If I really had to describe it, I would tell you to think about watching the show The Americans but combining that with a bit of the look from Mad Men. To that end, think about the way that Mad Men used vibrant colors with anything from Peggy’s later dresses and Roger’s always impeccable suits. Then, combine that with the most consistent color balancing that I’ve ever seen from The Americans. What you’ll get is a cinematic masterpiece. That’s what the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE lens makes me feel when I shoot every single image. There is no need for me to use RNI films in Capture One or even to do much editing when I set the Sony a7r III to the Deep Color profile.

“…I want to tell you to think about watching the show the Americans but combining that with a bit of the look of Mad Men.”

Sharpness

The real beauty of the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE comes out when you use a flash. It’s able to deliver a lot of detail in the photos shot wide open while balancing the sharpness with the lens’ fantastic bokeh rendition. On the Sony a7r III, it’s obviously going to be sharper than results you can get from any other Sony FE camera at the moment of publishing. I’ve talked often about the price point, and I need to let that hit home again here. For a lens at this price point, you’re getting outstanding sharpness.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Small
  • Price point
  • Image Quality
  • Color
  • Sharpness
  • Autofocus performance
  • Sony finally has the best of both worlds in a solid 35mm lens

Dislikes

  • Nothing that can’t be negated or fixed in some way or another

I’m head over heels for the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE. The company found a way to make a great middle ground lens while also holding true to the original ideal of mirrorless: to be small. This lens is small, lightweight, weather sealed, fast to focus, and can deliver excellent image quality. For the photographers who need speed like street photographers, event photographers, and documentary shooters–it’s there. For those who want details and beautiful bokeh like portrait shooters, it’s also there. Combine this with the reliability put into the lens with weather sealing, and you’re getting a winning combination. Then price it at under $1,000, and you’re getting a lens every Sony photographer should have.

The Sony 35mm f1.8 FE is winning our Editor’s Choice award. I’m going to buy one, and this is probably going to be my next favorite lens.