Last Updated on 01/14/2021 by Chris Gampat
Don’t let the size fool you; the lightweight Sony 35mm f1.4 GM captures high-end images.
Wide apertures create spectacular bokeh but cumbersome lenses. The newly launched Sony FE 35mm f1.4 GM defies the norm, weighing in at only a touch over a pound. A lens that just fits into the palm of my hand, the glass mixes an exceptionally bright aperture and near-perfect sharpness at a low distortion focal length. The result? Excellent images that capture a scene yet deliver the soft backgrounds typically reserved for longer lenses.
While nearly twice the weight of Sony’s f1.8 of the same focal length, Sony’s rendition of the f1.4 35mm is roughly 20 percent lighter than Sigma’s for the same mount. The full-frame E-mount lens also weighs less than similar lenses from Nikon, Zeiss, Canon, and Tamron. The tug on the neck strap from this lens felt little more substantial than a cheap, lightweight DSLR and kit lens. Yet, the images it captures feel anything but lightweight. I spent a weekend shooting landscapes and portraits with the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 GM and here’s what I found.
Table of Contents
Pros and Cons
- Lighter than competing lenses
- Fits in the palm of my hand
- Spectacular images
- De-click aperture ring
- Some photographers won’t like the bokeh.
I spent four days shooting landscapes and portraits with the lens mounted to a Sony A7R IV. I also used a Sony Tough 32 GB Class 3 SD card. The sample photos were shot without filters, both with and without the included lens hood.
Sony 35mm f1.4 GM Tech Specs
Taken directly from Sony, the Sony 35mm f1.4 GM lists these specs:
- 67mm filter thread
- 76mm by 96mm
- 524 grams
- 2 XA elements
- 1 ED element
- 11 aperture blades
- f16 minimum aperture
- Nano AR II and a fluorine coating
- Dust and moisture-proof
- 14 elements in 10 groups
- XD linear motor (electro-magnetic and frictionless, one focus group)
- 0.27-meter minimum focus distance
- .23 maximum magnification
Despite the wider aperture, the Sony 35mm f1.4 GM fits in the palm of my hand. While it’s no pancake lens, the size is impressive for the f1.4 aperture. It will take up roughly a 3.7-inch slot in a camera bag. What’s even more impressive, however, is the weight. It scales 18.4 ounces. The lens was comfortable to carry, didn’t pull on my neck, and didn’t risk added camera shake. By comparison, Nikon’s 35mm f1.4 weighs 21.2 ounces, Zeiss’ 22.2, Sigma’s (Sony E-mount) 23.4, Canon’s 26.8, and Tamron’s (Nikon mount) 28.4. While the lens will feel heavy for photographers stepping up from an f1.8, it’s impressively light for an f1.4.
The control closest to the mount is an aperture ring. The aperture ring is nicely labeled. Each setting adjusts with a firm, tactile click, which helps you feel the settings change rather than just see them in the viewfinder. Resting near the right hand is an aperture de-click switch that will turn the tactile feel off. With the switch off — a setting often favored by videographers — the aperture ring turns smoothly with no clicks or hesitations.
Sandwiched between the aperture and focus rings, the lens houses a single button. Near the G logo, the button is set by default to lock the AF and be adjusted in the custom settings as an AF On control. Under that button, a switch swaps between auto and manual focus. The focus ring sits at the very end of the lens and has a smooth-as-butter feel.
The lens front has a 67mm filter thread. A short lens hood is included. The hood has a small locking button so that the hood can’t rotate and accidentally fall off.
As part of Sony’s high-end G Master series, the lens is sealed against dust and moisture. I sprinkled the lens with a handful of snow and, even once melted, the lens was unfazed. I can’t say the same for the uncovered hot shoe slot. Always use a hot shoe cover when shooting with a Sony in inclement weather. The review sample body did not ship with one.
While the lens is lighter than the competition, that lightweight design doesn’t feel cheap. The lens exterior is constructed with the tougher plastic that’s common in a weather-sealed lens. For comparison, the pebbled exterior of the lens feels much like the outside of the A7R IV.
Both lens rings had a great feel to them. I like that you can feel each aperture setting change. There’s a good amount of space between the two rings, but if you accidentally reach for the wrong ring, the click will immediately alert you to your error. For changing the aperture while recording video, the de-click is excellent to have. Left on, the click does shake the lens a bit.
An f1.4 lens is made for dark scenes and bokeh. Thankfully, the autofocus can keep up in dark conditions. With this lens, the Sony A7R IV focused on a dark corner of a closet relatively quickly.
I had a surprisingly low miss rate when using this lens for portraits, including pet portraits. As a 35mm, I didn’t spend much time working with action. The moving subjects that I did capture had a slightly higher miss rate, which is expected, but the lens still offered solid performance.
The lens also has a decent minimum 10.6-inch focusing distance. While the .23 times magnification isn’t a macro, close-ups aren’t out of the question. In fact, close-ups are relatively easy to do with this glass.
The autofocus is also relatively quiet. The lens is quieter than the shutter on the A7R IV and won’t make people turn and look at you if you set the camera to silent mode.
Ease of Use
New lenses typically take some getting used to, but the Sony 35mm f1.4 GM design helps photographers quickly break it in. The two rings have a different feel and are far enough apart that a photographer new to the lens shouldn’t need to pull the camera away from their face to make adjustments. The aperture ring is labeled, with an A for auto, and anyone who knows manual modes will immediately understand how to use it.
The lens lacks a depth of field scale. One pops up in the electronic viewfinder when working with manual focus. While photographers doing detail-oriented work like macro and astrophotography may prefer the scale, the absence is not a huge disappointment.
The lens was also sharp right out of the box, without calibration.
Beginners are probably not looking for a $1,399 lens, but the 35mm is simple to use. The only thing that may temporarily trip up new users is the button on the side. If you haven’t used similar Sony lenses, the function isn’t readily apparent. (It’s the AF lock button. So there, now you know.)
As part of Sony’s pro-oriented G Master series, images from the 35mm f1.4 GM did not disappoint. Both color and sharpness are excellent. Sony also did an excellent job of controlling the distortions that usually plague wide-angle lenses. Barrel distortion is barely detectable, and light fall off on the edges is soft and minor.
The wide f1.4 aperture creates smooth, dreamy backgrounds that are difficult to come by from a wider angle lens. That allows photographers to create those soft backgrounds with limited space to shoot.
With the wide-angle and wide aperture, bokeh balls are oblong towards the edges when the light source is close to the camera. This isn’t necessarily a goof on Sony’s part, but a result of the extreme angle that the light has to bend to enter such a wide aperture. This almost mimics a bit of the swirly bokeh of older lenses, even though the background itself doesn’t appear to twist. The cat’s eye bokeh is most obvious close to the camera, still present from a few feet away, and barely there at longer distances. In short, you’ll notice it in the foreground, but less so in the background.
The bokeh from this 35mm is one of those things that you’ll probably either love or hate. It’s a distortion that Sony wasn’t able to work around that can add a bit of character to the shot or be avoided by keeping points of light farther from the lens.
In addition to the cat’s eye bokeh in the foreground, hard light sources have a slight ring around it that’s not distracting, but noticeable at full resolution. It adds character to the lens, but some may call that character imperfection (potato, pahtahto).
The bokeh from softer light sources (such as specular highlights at golden hour) is much more pleasant with soft edges. Is it the best bokeh that I’ve seen? No, but it’s pretty solid for a 35mm and has a bit of character: something Sony lenses sometimes lack.
I was pleasantly surprised at how many photos shot wide open were dead on. The lens is incredibly sharp at the center and doesn’t need to be stepped down. Sharpness only diminishes slightly towards the edges. While we don’t condone pixel peeping, the sharpness also lends to some excellent detail and texture when paired with the A7R IV.
Chromatic aberration was hard to find. I could, if I looked hard enough, though. Under the worst conditions — backlit by the bright sun, with lens flare — I could just detect a hint of an edge when viewed at 100 percent.
The lens was also difficult to create a flare with. I could get a little bit of patchy and sometimes streaky purple shooting without the hood but didn’t get any hard circular flare. That said, the sunniest weather during my four days of shooting still had a few wispy clouds, and I could not test the flare in full sun.
I love the colors coming from this lens, particularly when shooting with soft light. Colors were accurate and soft — the kind of color that’s striking, but not hit-you-over-the-head striking. In hard light, colors were a little deeper and more saturated.
Additional Image Samples
- This lens is light and small enough to carry around all day.
- Images coming from this lens are excellent.
- The de-click aperture ring is a joy to use.
- It’s well-built and weather-sealed.
- It’s pricey.
- Bokeh is not always round. This is a con if you want the most sterile, accurate lens, but a pro if you want a bit more character.
The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 GM is a joy to use, and the photos a joy to look at. I found little to complain about. The lightweight design is excellent; the de-click aperture ring a pleasure to spin. The weather-sealing handled some light snow. I love both the colors and sharpness of this lens, while distortions and flare are kept to a minimum.
Of course, you get what you pay for, and this high-end lens doesn’t come cheap. It lists for $1,399. That’s more than Sigma’s heavier $899 take, but less than the $1,696 (Nikon) and $1,799 (Canon) that similar DSLR glass is going for.
And while I’m complaining, the bokeh isn’t always perfectly round. Towards the edges, it’s oblong. Some photographers may love this character, others may not.
Overall, the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 GM is a joy to shoot with and easily manages to capture some excellent images. I can see Sony shooters loving this lens for portraits in tight spaces, the dim lighting of indoor photography, and the classic genres for this focal length, like street photography and landscapes.
I’m giving the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 GM five out of five stars and a recommended award. It will run you around $1,399 on Amazon.