This Is a Sturdy Storyteller: Panasonic 35mm F1.8 S Review

Some lenses are meant to add extra creative flare and others are meant to simply capture the scene as is. The Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S falls in the latter category. The 35mm focal length is a favorite for storytelling. Panasonic mixes that focal length with a weather-sealed and lightweight design that allows photographers to immerse themselves in the story. With this lens, the suppressed flare and minimal distortion help tell it like it is, rather than adding extra character.

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Designed to pair with the similar S series 85mm, 50mm, and 24mm, the Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S is weather-sealed for conditions down to -10 degrees. I took this lens on hikes through ice and snow, and it proved to be a durable (but perhaps a bit sterile) storyteller.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S is a lightweight, weather-sealed lens that’s easy to bring along and simple to shoot with. The images have little distortion outside of a slight barrel bend and occasional colored fringing in extreme backlighting. That’s ideal for straightforward storytelling, but less so for building character.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Nicely sharp, with good bokeh
  • Minimal distortion
  • Easy to use
  • Weather-sealed
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Decent autofocus

Cons

  • Little room for creative flaring
  • Some aberration in backlighting

Gear Used

I used the Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S with the:

Innovations

The Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S is a compact, quiet lens. It doesn’t have major, headline-worthy, new technology but shares a design similar to the S series 24mm, 50mm, and 85mm. Sharing even the same filter size, lenses from this family will be easy to swap between. 

Tech Specs

LensRentals lists the following tech specs for the Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S:

  • Angle of View: 63°
  • Aperture Blades: 9, Rounded
  • Aspherical Elements: 3
  • Autofocus: Autofocus
  • Brand: Panasonic
  • Dimensions: ø x L: 2.9 × 3.2″
  • Extra Low-Dispersion Elements: 3
  • Filter Size: 67.0mm
  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • Groups/Elements: 9/11
  • Hood Included: Yes
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Item Type: Lens
  • Lens Type: Wide Angle
  • Max Aperture: 1.8
  • Mfr. Model Number: S-S35
  • Minimum Aperture: 22.0
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.8’
  • Mount: L Mount
  • Weight: 0.7 lb.

Ergonomics

The Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S is a lightweight lens that weighs about 0.7 pounds. That made it easy to sling around my neck for a few hours attached to the S5. It’s no pancake lens, but it’s smaller than a can of soda and doesn’t take up much room in a bag.

This wide-angle lens has a very simple design. There are just two controls: the AF to MF switch and the focus ring. The switch rests closest to the mount, while the ring rests towards the end of the lens barrel. The focus ring is wide, with a nice textured grip.

While the simple design will be welcome for beginners, the lens lacks a depth of field scale and doesn’t have any extras like a control ring or an Fn button. Simple isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and while I prefer lenses with an extra control ring for aperture, I enjoyed shooting with this lens.

The Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S has a 67mm thread at the front for circular filters. At the front, the lens does have some pretty significant plastic, taking up almost as much room as the glass. A petal-shaped hood, with a button lock, ships with the lens.

Build Quality

While this lens is plastic, Panasonic says it is dust and splash-resistant, as well as being rated for shooting 10 degrees below zero. I took this lens hiking in the snow to photograph ice caves and frozen waterfalls. The snow was falling hard enough to build up between the dials on the S5 body. But, I didn’t experience any issues with the lens shooting in the snowfall. I didn’t find any internal fogging or moisture. There was some slight dust on the camera sensor, which could possibly be attributed to swapping lenses.

In short, the lens doesn’t have a luxurious feel of metal. But, it’s not a lens that you’re going to have to treat like a baby or tuck away in light rain or snow either. It’s a nice balance between durability and lightweight design.

Autofocus

With the ability to focus up to 0.8 feet away, the Panasonic S 35mm f1.8 offers pretty reliable performance. It rarely missed while shooting landscapes. On action coming towards the lens, it missed a shot or two but was consistent with what I would expect from a wide-angle lens mounted on the S5.

This lens is also impressively quiet. I couldn’t hear the autofocus motor until I put my ear up to the lens barrel. It would easily be welcome in a library or wedding ceremony.

Ease of Use

The minimal design also makes the Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S easy to use. Just mount and shoot. This lens is plenty simple enough for beginners, though more advanced users will also appreciate the simplicity. Because the design and filter size is the same on the 85mm, 50mm, and 24mm in the same series, the family of primes will also be simple to swap between.

The only two controls are for manually focusing — the AF/MF switch and the focus ring. The Panasonic S5 menu allows you to customize the speed of the control ring, as well as how far the ring turns to move through the range of possible focal distances. In non-linear mode, the ring turns slowly. That, coupled with focus peaking on the S5, made it easy to manually focus with excellent accuracy. The linear mode focuses much faster, but that makes it more difficult to get perfect focus.

Image Quality

Sitting at a focal length that’s not super wide but not telephoto, the Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S is a blank slate. It’s a lens that grabs images which feel true to experiencing the scene in person. Short of some slight edge softness and barrel distortion, it’s not oozing with character. But, it will produce sharp images that are pretty close to the way the scene looks in real life. Plus, the f1.8 and close autofocusing capabilities allow for some smooth backgrounds.

Bokeh

At f1.8 and shooting close to the minimum autofocus distance, the 35mm produces soft backgrounds. Sure, there are brighter prime lenses out there, and you’ll get more bokeh with a longer focal length. But, the backgrounds do get smooth for this type of lens.

Points of light are rendered circular at the center and cat-eye a bit on the edges. Bokeh balls are mostly soft with no soap bubbling. Occasionally, harsh light sources will produce more of an edge to the bokeh ball, but not often.

Sharpness

The Panasonic S 35mm f1.8 is pleasantly sharp. Shooting wide open, the center is sharp, but not overly sharp. The corners at f1.8 are a bit soft, but the sharpness is retained through most of the image. The lens could handle a subject on the edge at f4, with everything except for the last bit of the corners sharp.

Lens Character

The shore is supposed to curve on the left, but should be straight on the right.

I had a hard time getting this lens to flare, even shooting straight at a high sun and directly at a light bulb. I didn’t get any colorful ghosting spots and streaky light was rare. The only flare is concentrated right at the light source, turning the sun into a soft ball of light.

But, I also didn’t get obvious chromatic aberration until shooting directly into the sunlight. Most shots are clean. The tree branches that surrounded the sun tended to pick up some purple coloring in the brightest areas of the image. This aberration was difficult to edit out.

The lens does have some light barrel distortion. Straight lines will bend just a bit at the edges. The distortion is easily managed with the lens profile and is difficult to detect in JPEGs. However, I didn’t detect any obvious vignetting. It’s a simple edit if that light bend is unwanted.

Color Rendering

The colors coming from this lens felt true to life. I was happy this lens captured the slight blue undertones to some icy winter landscapes that can be tricky to handle. The colors didn’t seem to stray from the tones I’ve come to expect from the S5. And because the lens flare is heavily suppressed, colors don’t wash out easily.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • This lens is sharp, without overdoing it, and only a bit soft at the corners.
  • Distortion coming from this lens is pretty minimal.
  • The simple design is easy to use and I love the ability to customize the speed of the focus ring.
  • This lens handled a lot of snow like a champ.
  • It’s lightweight and compact, making it easy for hiking.
  • The autofocus is super quiet.

Dislikes

  • If you like creative lens flare, you won’t find any here.
  • There is some chromatic aberration when shooting directly into the sun.

The Panasonic 35mm f1.8 S is a storyteller’s lens. The lens captures straightforward images that aren’t dripping with character but aren’t full of distortion either. The lens is an ideal choice for photographers who want little interference with the story in the images. It’s compact, simple to use, and reasonably priced. And, it also endured snowfall with no issues.

Photographers looking for a lot of character won’t find much here. Flare is heavily suppressed. There’s a slight barrel distortion if the lens profile isn’t applied to the RAW file and a bit of aberration if shooting heavily backlit. But, outside those characteristics, the most character is going to stem from what’s in the photos and how they are edited.

The lens sells for just under $700. Considering the L-Mount doesn’t have a ton of options, that’s an okay price. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art is also available in the L-Mount: it does a bit better with aberrations but feels similarly sterile. It’s also heavier with magnesium alloy, a brighter aperture, and an $899 price.

I’m giving the Panasonic S 35mm f1.8 four out of five stars. Want one? Rent one from LensRentals or buy it on Amazon or Adorama.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.