The Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA was the first f/1.4 prime for the Sony FE system. But can it keep up with the latest GM lenses available today? Find out in this review!
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
- Sample Images
- Specifications / Version History
- Flare resistance
- Chromatic aberration
- Focus shift
- Sample Images
- Further Reading
Specifications / Version History
Introduced in the beginning of 2015 the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA was the first “high end” f/1.4 prime for the Sony Full Frame mirrorless. The lens has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 79 mm
- Field of view: 63° (diagonally)
- Length: 113 mm
- Weight: 630g (without hood and caps)
- Filter Diameter: 72 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (rounded)
- Elements/Groups: 12/8
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.30 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:5.6
- Mount: Sony-E
You may also have a look at the official page.
This lens is known for its very high sample variation. Already in March 2018 one reader sent me one, but I only used it to take the product shots and then had to return it due to being heavily decentered.
This second sample is the best centered one I have seen so far, so I can finally review this lens.
To my knowledge this was the first E-mount lens to feature a physical aperture ring (1/3rd of a stop click stops) which is surely a nice touch. The clicks are not as distinct as on the newer GM lenses but that surely isn’t a problem. The ring can also be declicked for video usage.
The focus ring is unfortunately of the non-linear type, so depending on how fast you turn it the AF motor inside the lens will move the elements only a little or a lot.
I really don’t like this and greatly prefer the linear manual focus of the GM lenses. But if you don’t intend to ever manually focus this lens that surely won’t bother you.
Unfortunately there are no other buttons or switches on the lens. No AF/MF switch, no focus hold button (sometimes referred to as lens button). This is also a real let down compared to the GM lenses.
A bayonet type lens hood with rubberized fron part is also part of the package. For transport it can be mounted reversed.
In this category the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA surely falls short compared to the newer GM lenses.
The ZA casing seems to be mostly made of metal, but these type of casings haven’t really proven to be scratch resistant.
But apparently it is well sealed and rather durable compared to even earlier FE lenses.
I haved only used the lens for slow moving adults and encountered no problems with the autofocus. If you primarily want to take pictures of running animals or small children you may come to a different conclusion.
Eye-AF also works generally well, but you have to be close to your subject for the camera to actually recognize an eye in the frame. So at the distances I was mostly using this lens the cameras usually resorted back to face-detect mode.
Wide open there is strong light falloff of roughly 2.8 EV, stopped down to f/2.0 this improves to 2.0 EV, stopped down to f/2.8 it is 1.6 EV and further improves to 1.3 EV at f/8.0. These values are comparable to the competition in this class. You can either correct this in Lightroom or directly in camera.
The lens also shows a slight green color cast in the corners and towards the borders, similar to the Voigtlander VM 28mm 2.0 Ultron or the 7artisans 28mm 1.4 FE+. This is not visible in every shot, but can be noticeable e.g. when shooting with an overcast sky in the background.
This can be corrected e.g. by cornerfix or using gradients in Lightroom (the latter being my preferred option).
Very fast yet compact lenses usually show a significant amount of optical vignetting. Without going too much into technical details mechanical vignetting leads to the truncation of light circles towards the borders of the frame.
In the center of the frame almost every lens will render a perfect circle, but only lenses with very low optical vignetting will keep this shape in the corners.
So in the following comparison we move from the center (left) to the extreme corner (right) and see how the shape of the light circle changes.
I did not shoot the lenses side by side, but the results are still giving us an idea of what to expect here.
Due to its huge size I expected the 35mm 1.4 ZA to perform a bit better to be honest, but the wide open optical vignetting is very comparable to that of the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7. Stopped down to f/2.0 the Sony pulls a bit ahead in the corners though.
And also the small 7artisans 28mm 1.4 FE+ fares no worse in this category.
You can also see the obvious onion ring structures in the 35mm 1.4 ZA crops, more on that in the bokeh section.
Sample variation / Variance
This lens is known to have rather high sample variation and while it usually is hard to get decent numbers on this, the guys from Lensrentals actually measured a host of copies and put together these graphs.
The wider the areas in the right graph the worse the sample variation. And those bars are really wide for the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA.
This means it is possible you get a great copy. It also means it is more likely you get a not so great copy and really likely you get a copy with very uneven corner performance.
This sample also doesn’t show 4 perfectly even corners at f/1.4, but it is still the best sample I have seen so far.
So I can’t say if this performance is what you can or should expect, keep that in mind when having a look at the following sections.
Wide open you can see lots of longitudinal CA at infinity and also a bit of glow. Luckily most of this goes away on stopping down to f/2.0.
While the center shows almost no detectable focus shift midframe and corners are a whole different story. Here the plane of optimal focus shifts quite a bit on stopping down.
To avoid issues due to this best use f/8.0 for landscape/architecture applications.
I am sure many of you are tempted to tell me how their sample is better. I am more sure that many of you never checked their lens as I did here though (as it is a rather boring task). And I am even more sure for many of you this doesn’t matter as this is not the application people are usually buying this lens for.
For portraiture it isn’t so important how flat the field is, it is more interesting to see what the sharpness is like when focused at different parts of the frame to take field curvature out of the equasion.
This is what I did here, I refocused for every shot to get the best possible result at different locations in the frame (center, inner midframe, outer midframe and corner).
Focus distance was roughly 1,0 m and the circle of the dollar bill is more or less the size of a human eye.
In my 35mm comparison I found out that the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 is a really strong performer in this regard (it also is the only 35mm I currently own) so I decided to use it for a comparison.
Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA <—> Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX
No matter what part of the frame you are looking at, the VM 35mm 1.7 always looks better. Both lenses are very close in the center though.
It shall be noted that the Voigtlander lens is half a stop slower, so this is obviously not an entirely fair comparison.
close (0.30 m, 1:5.6)
100% crops from center, A7rII
Unlike many other lenses the contrast is quite high at the minimum focus distance, but the amount of details rendered is not. Stopping down to f/2.0 mostly solves this, from f/2.8 onwards I would call the close up performance excellent.
But for most applications it is more than sufficient at f/1.4:
When shooting directly into the sun contrast stays on a rather high level. There are a few – mostly small – ghosts visible across the frame.
When you place the sun close to the corner you can catch slightly bigger but also less saturated ghosts. Also, when the sun is outside the frame, – and even when using the hood – you can sometimes catch veiling flare running across the frame .
There are a few 35mm lenses that fare better (like the Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 Ultron), but this is still not a bad performance.
At f/1.4 the coma performance isn’t exactly great and the sharpness is also lacking a bit. Stopping down to f/2.0 improves the performance significantly and by f/2.8 it starts to look really good.
Also note that I focused on the corners for these shots, if you focus on the center the corners will look slightly worse.
I would expect the Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art to perform better in this category.
100% crops from extreme corner, focused on corner, A7rII
The lens has rather strong amd wavy barrel distortion. There are of course lens profiles to correct this available, either in camera or in post.
The bokeh rendering is surely one of the main reasons to get a fast 35mm lens. It would surely be for me. The Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA is reknown to offer a pleasing out of focus rendering, but let us have a closer look how it performs at different distances.
In close focus scenarios the bokeh is pretty nice, smooth and with very noticeable subject separation due to the high contrast rendering:
When focusing on something a bit further away it is still nice, but you can start to see double edged structures and a bit of busyness in the corners:
At longer distances (e.g. full body portraits) where the transition zone overlaps with the background many fast wide angle lenses struggle. This is also somewhat true for the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA.
The Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA still uses less refined aspherical elements that lead to onion ring structures in light circles. Actually, this is pretty much the worst performance I have seen in an f/1.4 prime lens so far.
Whether this bothers you or not depends a lot on what subjects you are usually shooting: if you do lots of shooting in the city during blue hour it probably will, if you usually take pictures in more rural areas and forests it may not at all.
Best have a look at the sample images and see for yourself if you like the rendering or not.
Many of the earlier Sony FE lenses feature not so well aligned aperture blades and this one is no exception. Therefore the sunstars are not really well defined with uneven spacing and length of rays.
If you want to know more about sunstar rendering of different lenses have a look at this article.
100% crops, A7III
Even with all corrections in camera and in Lightroom deactivated there is still a profile for correcting lateral CA applied. So here I was using a freeware raw converter to show you how the lateral CA look without correction.
As these are losslessly corrected this is not a big deal.
50% crops, A7rII
Like most of the early FE lenses longitudinal CA are not corrected exactly well. Even stopped down to f/2.8 you will often manage to have visible green and magenta outlining in your pictures.
In very demanding scenes like the one below you can easily spot several pixel wide outlining. This is very hard to correct in post.
In the center of the frame there is no focus shift visible, but midframe and corners do strange things on stopping down, have a look at the sharpness section.
Sigma 35mm 1.2 Art:
The best 35mm lens at combining high sharpness and contrast with smooth bokeh. Unfortunately it is even bigger and heavier but similarly priced. If you are looking for the best 35mm lens right now this is it.
buy from amazon.com | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de for about $1499/1529€ (affiliate links)
Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art:
The Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art offers an AF/MF switch, a much nicer focus ring with mechanical coupling and you can get it for about half the price.
Sample variation is less of an issue here so the average Sigma should outperform the average Sony resolutionwise, contrast may be slightly higher on the Sony though. Bokeh is slightly nicer on the Sony, but only in certain situations this will be visible.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | amazon.de for ~770$ (affiliate links)
Samyang 35mm 1.4 AF:
This Samyang looks quite a bit comparable to the Sony lens reviewed here: similar size, similarly high CA, similar questions regarding sample variation. You are loosing the aperture ring and according to some reports the manual focus experience is even worse with this lens.
From the (few) comparisons I saw the bokeh of the Sony lens looks slightly nicer.
This is your cheapest option when looking for a native 35mm f/1.4 lens with AF, personally I would pay slightly more to get the aforementioned Sigma lens.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | amazon.de for ~550$ (affiliate links)
Canon EF 35mm 1.4 L II USM:
If money was no object and I really needed the “best” 35mm f/1.4 lens with AF (and I was using one of the gen 3 Sony cameras) I would probably try out this one. It uses Canon’s latest and greatest technology and looks like the best balanced 35mm f/1.4 lens with AF to date.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | amazon.de for ~1649$ (affiliate links)
Sony RX1RII (Sonnar 35mm 2.0):
As we still have no decent AF 35mm f/1.8 or f/2.0 lens I have to list this camera. Rendering is quite similar, but you are obviously loosing one stop and the lens is also noticeably wider.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de for 3299$ (new) or 1999$ (used) (affiliate links)
Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 T* Distagon:
This lens is noticeably smaller, offers similary high contrast but struggles a bit on Sony cameras due to the thicker filter stack.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de for ~1999$ (affiliate links)
Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 Ultron:
This is still my 35mm lens of choice and there is a reason for that: it is one of the best balanced lenses money can buy. It really needs a 5m PCX filter to shine on Sony cameras, but going through that trouble is totally worth it.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de for ~ 809$ (affiliate links)
7artisans 28mm 1.4 FE+:
If you prefer slightly wider this may be worth a look. The f/1.4 sharpness is slightly worse compared to the Sony lens reviewed here as is the contrast, but color correction is definetly better.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de for ~$499 (affiliate links)
Voigtlander 40mm 1.2 Nokton E:
Less wide and slightly faster. The bokeh might be a little less smooth and this lens also suffers from onion ring patterns. Close up performance is worse (you can use a close up filter to make up for that). Personally I don’t like it for the abrupt sharpness drop off close to the corners, but many people greatly enjoy this lens.
buy from B&H | amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de for ~1099$ (affiliate links)
It is quite hard to write a balanced conclusion on this lens. Not only does it fall short of the newer GM lenses, but even compared to significantly cheaper lenses it doesn’t fare to well:
The longitudinal CA are really not well corrected and at the same time not something you can easily fix in post. Same is true for the onion ring bokeh.
Distortion is also pretty high for a lens like this and if that isn’t enough there is the huge sample variation and the “interesting” behaviour on stopping down (combination of field curvature and focus shift off center). If you are looking for a lens with even sharpness for landscape and architecture shooting there are surely better options out there.
But do these things actually matter for the applications you want to use a lens like this for? Maybe not.
From the sample pictures you can see I was confident enough to use this lens for a wedding and it delivered the results I was looking for. The high contrast helps to make your subject stand out.
But this might have also been true for Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art or even the Samyang 35mm 1.4, costing half to third of the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 ZA.
This lens shows how far Sony has come since the introduction of the FE system. It also shows, there really is room and need for a 35mm lens on the GM level. If you like the 24mm 1.4, 85mm 1.4 or 135mm 1.8 – and that is why you want to buy this lens – you may be disappointed.
Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.
- Sony FE lenses: Our comprehensive and independent guide
- Sony FE lenses: Our guide to portrait lenses from 85 to 135mm
- Review: Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM
- Review: 7artisans 28mm 1.4 FE+