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Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review: Compact, bright full-frame wide angle

With the FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F), Sony finally offers a compact and powerful wide-angle fixed focal length at a halfway reasonable price. It fills the gap between the small, but also rickety and with F2.8 not particularly light-strong 35 mm F1.4 and the expensive, large, heavy Zeiss Distagon 35 mm F1.4. On the brand new, with over 60 megapixels extremely high-resolution Sony Alpha 7R IV, the Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F) can now show in our test what qualities are in it.

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

The housing of the Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F) is made of metal. Nevertheless, at 280 grams it is pleasantly light and with a length of a good seven centimetres it is also easy to transport. The Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F) is sealed against dust and splash water and offers a focus ring, an AF/MF switch and a focus hold button that can also be assigned another function [Photo: Sony]

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

The 280 gram Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F) is quite compact, the filter thread measures 55 millimeters.

The Sony FE 35mm F1.8 (SEL-35F18F), which is sealed against dust and splash water, weighs only 280 grams. With a length of 7.3 and a diameter of 6.6 centimetres, it is even compact enough to fit on an APS-C camera, where the wide-angle lens mutates into a normal lens with a 52.5 millimetre focal length equivalent to a small picture. The optical design consists of eleven lenses arranged in nine groups. An extremely aspherical element is supposed to minimize image errors, Sony promises a high image quality right to the edge of the picture.

The autofocus works with a linear drive and allows a minimum shooting distance of 22 centimetres, which allows a maximum magnification of 1:4.2. These are good values for such a wide angle. Thanks to the nine aperture blades, which form an almost circular opening, the bokeh should also be visible. In addition, the FE 35mm F1.8 has an electronic focus ring, an AF/MF switch and a focus hold button that can also be assigned other functions.

With the FE 35mm F1.8, Sony is expanding its range of full-frame fixed focal lengths for the mirrorless Alpha system cameras with a mid-range wide angle reportage lens. In terms of price, it is ideally located between the FE 35 mm F2.8 Sonnar and the FE 35 mm F1.4 Distagon, i.e. both with Zeiss label. Thanks to the luminous intensity of F1.8 it remains quite compact and light.

Processing and haptics

As you would expect from Sony, the FE 35 mm F1.8 is very modern and straightforward in design. With a length of just over seven and a diameter of just over 6.5 centimetres, it is pleasantly slim and weighs just 280 grams. Thus, the weight remains under 950 grams even with the 666 gram Sony Alpha 7R IV test camera. It is also suitable as a compact standard lens for an APS-C camera of the Alpha 6000 series, with an equivalent focal length of just under 53 millimetres.

The housing of the FE 35 mm F1.8 is almost completely made of metal and even has a splash water and dust protection. However, the component that houses the 55mm filter thread on the inside and the bayonet for the lens shade on the outside is made of plastic. So you should place your metal filter straight and not screw it down with force. The small lens shade is also made of plastic, can be mounted upside down for transport and is frosted on the inside.

If you put the lens from the bayonet to the front, you can feel a loose part “rattling around” inside. This is the focus group, which is freely movable in the lens and is shifted linearly. This provides a fast autofocus and is common with modern lenses. However, there is no image stabilizer.

Operation and focusing

Since this is a fixed focal length, a single adjustment ring is sufficient. It measures 2.8 centimetres in width and has a very good grip with its fine ribbing. It is made of metal and can be turned endlessly against a gentle resistance. You will look in vain for a focus scale, because there is no mechanical coupling to the focus group. Instead, the rotational movement is measured electronically, and the processor of the lens then calculates the travel distances for the focus motor. Switching between manual and autofocus is also done via the lens, which is done with the slide switch on the side.

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

The Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 not only has an electronic focus ring, but also an AF-MF switch and a function button that can be assigned one of 100 functions on the Alpha 7R IV. [Photo: Sony]

The camera offers corresponding focus aids such as a focus magnifier, a focus scale and focus speaking, so that nothing stands in the way of precise manual focusing. Unfortunately, there is no depth-of-field scale, but at least the depth of field is displayed directly in the live image by closing the aperture accordingly. Especially with the help of the focus magnifier, the sharpness-unsharpness transition can be judged well.

Above the AF-MF switch is a function button, which is the default Sony focus-lock button. Other functions such as AF-On, ISO, white balance, flash mode, etc. can also be assigned to this button. With the Alpha 7R IV, the selection comprises exactly 100 functions!

The closest focusing distance of the FE 35 mm F1.8 is only 22 centimeters, which corresponds to 13 centimeters from the front lens. According to the technical data, the largest magnification is 1:4.2, which is really very impressive for such a wide angle. An object measuring 15 by 10 centimeters can be displayed in full format. Practically, we were even able to produce sharp images 14 by 9.3 centimeters, which even corresponds to a scale of 1:3.9.

Image quality

But in the end, even the most beautiful lens is of no use if the image quality is not right. Here, the 60 megapixels of the Sony Alpha 7R IV are of course a big challenge. The optical design of the Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 features eleven lenses in nine groups, with an extremely aspherical element to minimise image errors and ensure sharp edges. The wide angle lens has nine aperture blades, they should form a round opening. This works very well and evenly, but the bokeh is not the most beautiful. The unsharpness disks show clear “onion rings” at punctual light sources, so the edge of the unsharpness disk is clearly brighter than the center, which, depending on the subject, creates a somewhat restless background. The contrasts remain high in backlight, but depending on the position of the sun, slight glare reflections may appear in the image.

According to the laboratory test on the Alpha 7R IV, the edge darkening amounts to a maximum of 0.9 f-stops, but shows a very gentle progression and is therefore practically unnoticeable. When fading down to F4 it can be reduced by almost half to 0.5 f-stops. Distortion is low overall, but shows an unusually undulating pattern, which is not as optimal. At about 50-60 percent radial distance from the center of the image, the distortion is minimally barrel-shaped, then decreases to zero up to 75 percent distance, and becomes pincushion-shaped with a maximum of a good 0.7 percent as the distance increases. In terms of amount, this is still small, but it can become quite visible in critical subjects with lines parallel to the edge of the image.

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

With its more than 60 megapixels of resolution, the Sony Alpha 7R IV for the FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F) is certainly a challenge. Thus, the actually high edge resolution cannot keep up with the one in the image center. [Photo: Sony]

Speaking of chromatic aberrations: Although the color fringes are small on average, they increase towards the edge of the picture, so that chromatic aberrations become visible here. Especially when zooming in, they can catch the eye due to the high sensor resolution, because they reach up to three pixels.

The resolution at 50 percent contrast is already over 80 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm) in the image center at open aperture. When fading, the resolution increases to a maximum of 101.6 lp/mm, which is reached at F4 in the image center. The Canon EOS 5DS R with its 50 megapxiel resolution has to admit defeat to the nominally higher resolution Sony Alpha 7R IV for the time being, but the last word has not been spoken here yet, when the Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 can be classified as a mid-range lens, also due to its price of less than 700 Euros. With an expensive top-of-the-range lens, a good ten percent more resolution should be possible. As an example, the Sony FE 135 mm F1.8 GM (SEL135F18GM) should be mentioned here, which in our test held the record in the Sony E-System with 95 lp/mm up to now; on a Sony Alpha 7R III with a resolution of “only” 42 megapixels.

Beyond F4 the image resolution of the Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 decreases slightly again, at F11 the center resolution is reached like at F1.8. The 35 can’t reach such peak values at the edge of the picture, but it performs well with consistently just under or a little over 60 lp/mm. The highest edge resolution is achieved at F8 with 66 lp/mm. The relative edge drop of the resolution is thus just under 30 to slightly over 40 percent. That’s not very little for a fixed focal length, but the 60 megapixels of the Alpha 7R IV naturally present a completely different challenge than, for example, the 42 megapixels of an Alpha 7R III or the 24 megapixels of an Alpha 7 III. Even the 24-105 mm from Sony that we actually praise must be quite a feather in the cap of the Alpha 7R IV.

More on the subject of resolution can be read in our soon to be released camera test of the Alpha 7R IV. In addition, we will prefer to test future new lens releases with an Alpha 7R IV.

Conclusion

The Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 is a solid, well made, slim mid-range lens and a wonderful addition to Sony’s mirrorless Alpha universe. At just under 700 euros, it is certainly not quite cheap, but it is definitely worth its price. Nowhere is it necessary to make modest cutbacks that would make the price appear unjustified. The autofocus, for example, works very quickly and manual focusing is also easy and precise. The close-up limit is surprisingly low, which results in a good reproduction scale. The image quality may not be perfect, but it’s good, although the Alpha 7R IV with its 60 megapixels poses a major challenge here. Thus, it is not surprising that the high edge resolution has to be a little bouncy compared to the much higher resolution of the image centre. More sensitive natures may be disturbed by the slightly wavy distortion or the not so nice Bokeh. Especially for the latter, Sony definitely has better lenses with F1.4 speed in its extensive range.

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review
Manufacturer Sony
Model FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F)
Price (recommended) 699,00 dollars
Bayonet connection Sony E
Focal length 35.0 mm
Luminous intensity (maximum aperture) F1,8
Smallest aperture F22
KB full format yes
Lens system 11 lenses in 9 group incl.
aspherical lens(es
)
Number of aperture blades 9
Close-up limit 220 mm
Image stabilizer available no
Autofocus available yes
Water/dust protection yes
Filter thread 55mm
Dimensions (diameter x length) 66 x 73 mm
Lens weight 280 g

Sony FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F) Data sheet

Sony 35mm 1.8 Review

Manufacturer Sony
Model FE 35 mm F1.8 (SEL35F18F)
Market launch August 2019
EAN 4548736099760
Recommended retail price 699,00 dollars
Internet Price
from approx. 599,00 onwards
Bayonet
Sony E
Focal length 35mm
KB full format yes
Luminous intensity (maximum aperture) F1,8
Smallest aperture F22
Number of aperture blades 9
Close-up limit 22 cm
Largest magnification 1:4,2
Image stabilizer no
Autofocus Focus motor in lens
Internal focusing yes
Lens system 11 lenses in 9 group incl.
aspherical lens(es)
continuous aperture no
Aperture “declicable” no
Tripod Clamp no
Water/dust protection yes
Filter thread 55mm
Dimensions (Ø x length) 66 x 73 mm
Weight 280 g