Review: Sony FE 1.8/35 – versatile but a bit expensive

The Sony FE 1.8/35 has been one of Sony’s most anticipated lenses. So can they live up to the expectations? Read on if you want to know.

Sony FE 1.8/35 Review

Most images in this review can be found in full resolution in my Sony FE 1.8/35 flickr set.

Specifications

Diameter 66 mm
Length 73 mm
Filter Thread 55 mm
Weight (no hood, no caps) 280 g
Max. Magnification 0.24
Close Focusing Distance from the sensor 22 cm
Number of aperture blades 9
Elements/ Groups 11/9
Mount E-mount

The Sony FE 1.8/35 has a recommended price of $749. Check current prices at amazon.com, B&H or ebay.com. In Germany the recommended price is 699 €. Check at amazon.de. If you purchase the lens through one of these affiliate-links I get a small compensation with no additional cost to you. Thanks for the support :).

Disclosure

This copy was loaned to me free of charge from Sony Germany for two weeks. 

Features

The Sony FE 1.8/35 offers a focus-hold button which can be programmed to useful functions such as eye AF. It also features a AF-MF switch. Another feature is highest magnification of any current 35mm E-mount lens of 1:4.

Build quality

The Sony FE 1.8/35 feels nice thanks to a metal hull and a wide focus ring with a pleasant resistance. In the past Sony’s metal hulls have scratched rather easily and it will be interesting to see how well the Sony holds up long term.

Sony claims that it is a weather resistant design. I have no way to verify that without risking serious trouble with Sony so if you find a teardown please tell me.

Handling

AF

I used the Sony FE 1.8/35 only on my a7II wich is a much slower focusing camera than the a7III and Sony’s other new models. I was generally happy with the nearly noiseless AF. Reading other photographer’s reports it seems that the 1.8/35 also performs really well on faster cameras. Some called it the fastest focusing 35mm prime in E-mount right now

Focus Ring

The well damened focus ring travels around 150 degrees from 22cm to infinity and focus is linear. While this is one of the best implementations it is still a focus by wire lens with the usual small but annoying lag.

Hood

Theo Sony FE 1.8/35s hood is made from plastics, locks safely into place and protects the front of the lens well without taking ip too much volume so I always left it attached to the lens.

Size and Weight

Samyang 1.4/35 | Sony FE 1.8/35 | Voigtlander 1.2/40

At just 280g the Sony FE 1.8/35 is very light weight especially for its speed. It weights less than half as much as the available 1.4/35 E-mount AF-lenses while being just half a stop slower. It is significantly larger and heavier than the tiny 2.8/35 lenses from Sony and Samyang though. On the a7II it felt very well balanced.

Optical performance

These results are based on the use with a Sony Alpha 7II.

Flare Resistance

As always evaluating flare is a complex matter since you can get any lens to look bad if you push it hard enough and a slight change of scenario will affect results a lot.

I would rather the Sony FE 1.8/35 as average. I read quite a few other reviews praising its performance in this regard but those were mostly lab based and I had quite a few images where significant ghosting and veiling flare affected images. In other scenarios it hold up well.

before: unprocessed image | after: processed image with lifted shadows

Sunstars

9 rounded aperture blades result in average at best sunstars even stopped down a lot.

Bokeh

  • Out of-focus-highlights are rendered neutral with little outlining at shorter distances and some outlining off-center at longer distances.
  • Bokeh circles are rather rendered clean with no obvious onion rings. They also stay more or less round as you stop down.
  • Cat’s eyes are visible but they aren’t very pronounced.
  • The transition zone is a bit nervous.

In most scenarios you can expect rather smooth bokeh from the Sony FE 1.8/35 but in more difficult scenarios with high contrast background at longer distances bokeh can become somewhat harsh. A characteristic it shares with most other 35mm lenses.

Chromatic Aberrations

    

Axial CA isn’t well corrected until f/4 and in high contrast scenarios you will se quite bit of color fringing. This is usual for a fast 35mm lens and can be manually corrected to a degree.

Since I use LR correction of lateral CA is corrected by profile and I can’t turn the correction off. It isn’t corrected that well though and some CA is still visible.

Vignetting

Aperture Vignetting
f/1.8 2.6 EV
f/2 2.5 EV
f/2.8 2.4 EV
f/4 2.3 EV
f/5.6 2.1 EV

Vignetting is pretty strong at 2.6 stops wide open which is reduced to 2.1 stops at f/5.6. This high amount of vignetting is one reason why the Sony FE 1.8/35 can be so compact. Because vignetting stays above 2 stops even at f/8 and is abrupt I had quite a few landscape images where I felt I should correct it.

Distortion

Only a small amount of pincushion distortion.

Astro-Performance

You have to stop the SEL35F18F down to f/2.8 for a decent astro performance and even then you have to accept the high amount of vignetting.

Sharpness

close focusing distance

First I have to compliment Sony for giving the 1.8/35 1:4 magnification. This is the highest magnification among 35mm E-mount lenses. At f/1.8 there is quite a lot of spherical aberration present but by stopping down to f/2.8 this goes away and you can expect crisp results.

infinity

 

f/1.8: Good in the center. Good outside of it.

f/2: A slight improvement over f/1.8 everywhere.

f/2.8, f/4: Excellent in the center, good to very good outside of it.

f/5.6: A light improvement midframe and in the corners.

f/8: A tad softer in the center.

f/11: Some what softer due to diffraction.

All in all a good performance. You can use f/1.8 with little hesitation for most applications and by f/2.8 you can expect very good results even in the corners. Only the most demanding users will want to look for slightly better performance in the ART 1.2/35.

Alternatives

See the FE-List to compare it to more lenses

Sigma Art 1.4/35: At the time I finish this review the more than twice as heavy Sigma is actually $50 cheaper than the Sony 1.8/35. Of course you get more blur out of the Sigma and you can expect less vignetting at shared apertures but have to live with onion ring bokeh. Apart from these factors optical performance seems to be similar in most aspects. By some reports the Sony is quicker to focus. Unless you really need that half stop or are on a very tight budget the Sony seems to be the more appealing lens to me.

Samyang 1.4/35: New the Samyang is currently $200 cheaper, used the difference is even bigger. You get more blur, a little smoother bokeh and a much bigger and heavier lens. Reports about AF are all over the place for the Samyang, in general it doesn’t seem as dependable. Manual focus is annoying. There is also seems to be a high degree of copy to copy variation.

Sony ZA 1.4/35: A $1600 lens which is decentered more often than not.

Sony ZA 2.8/35: Size is the only advantage of the 1.5 stops slower lens I see.

Sigma Art 1.2/35: The current king of 35mm lenses. At least in E-mount. It is quite a bit sharper and it is currently the only E-mount 35mm lens which offers smooth bokeh across the frame at any distance. It is also twice as expensive and four times as heavy.

Batis 2/40: The most comparable E-mount lens in terms of speed and size. The 100g heavier and significantly more voluminous Zeiss focuses a bit closer, is a bit sharper and of course much more expensive. It also has some AF-issue.

Voigtlander 1.2/40: If you prefer manual focus have a closer look at this very versatile lens. It is quite a bit longer than the 1.8/35 but for me it fulfills a similar role and it is my most used lens. It is shorter and a little heavier with better flare resistance but apart from that the 1.8/35 is technically the better lens in most regards.

Voigtlander 1.4/35: A close relative of a 40-years-old Leica with corresponding performance. If you like character lenses.

Sonnar 2/35 (RX1): Besides the Art 1.2/35 the only 35mm I know which offers smooth bokeh across the frame. General performance seems to be a notch above the 1.8/35. The only issue is that it comes permanently attached to either the older RX1 or to the still rather expensive RX1RII.

Zeiss Loxia 2/35Wide open the Sony is a much better lens than the manual focus Loxia but for stopped down for landscapes I would expect the Loxia to outperform it in contrast and actuance and the much nicer sunstar.

Conclusion

pros

  • Size & Weight
  • Sharpness (mostly)
  • Bokeh (mostly)
  • Handling
  • Quick AF
  • Low Distortion
average

  • Astro-performance
  • Flare Resistance
  • Manual focus
  • CA-correction
  • Bokeh (at longer distances)
cons

  • Vignetting
  • Price

The Sony FE 1.8/35 is a very well balanced lens. It is very sharp, for most applications. It has pleasant bokeh at short to medium distances and becomes a bit harsher at longer distances but so does almost any competing 35mm. In general it corrects all aberrations good enough so that you need to push it for them to become distracting. At the same time it handles well thanks to quick AF, ok MF and useful buttons without any quirks. And the 1.8/35 manages all that while being rather small and significantly lighter than most competing E-mount lenses. Therefore I would say that the Sony 1.8/35 will easily keep up with most photographer’s expectations. Only the price seems to be maybe $100 too high at the moment and I hope that we will see it come down a bit with time.

Recommendation

Because it is such a well balanced lens I would recommend the Sony FE 1.8/35 to most photographers looking for a 35mm lens. It is a small lens you can rely on to capture your kids, a smaller detail in nature or a landscape and you don’t need to think twice about taking it with you. Of course there are some use cases where I would recommend other 35mm lenses:

  • If you want to be certain to never compromise on sharpness and/or bokeh you should have a look at the twice as expensive and four times as heavy Sigma 1.2/35 ART.
  • If you feel you need a faster lens but don’t want to break back or bank check out the Sigma 1.4/35 ART.
  • If you are on a tighter budget have a look at the Samyang 1.4/35 which has a few quirks but it offers a very good price/performance ratio.
  • Personally I prefer manual focus lenses like the Voigtlander 1.7/35 or 1.2/40.

The Sony FE 1.8/35 has a recommended price of $749. Check current prices at amazon.com, B&H or ebay.com. In Germany the recommended price is 699 €. Check current at amazon.de. If you purchase the lens through one of these affiliate-links I get a small compensation with no additional cost to you. Thanks for the support :).

More Image Samples

Most images in this review can be found in full resolution in my Sony FE 1.8/35 flickr set.

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

43 thoughts on “Review: Sony FE 1.8/35 – versatile but a bit expensive”

        1. Handling mostly. The 1.7/35 is sharper and has a little nicer rendering. But with added front filter it gets close in size to the 1.2/40 and the 40 has a nicer focusing ring and having exif makes my life easier. The added blur potential is also nice. If the 1.7/35 came in E-mount I would probably switch back.

  1. I wish Sony could squeeze this lens into 49 mm filter diameter. In _very_ long line of compact 49 mm lenses this one looks like outcast.

  2. Excellent review Phillip, as always. A bit surprised you made no mention of the RX1 among the many alternatives. Though I realize it’s not interchangeable, I think some shooters were hoping for something Sonnar like from Sony.

    Also, did you not run into any Nissen bokeh? I have seen some from other images posted online, but perhaps it’s infrequent?

    1. Alternative sections for 35mm lenses take an annoying amount of time to write ;). Since I never used an RX1 I wouldn‘t feel qualified to say more than that it probably renders smoother at longer distances.

      Is the term Nissen bokeh defined somewhere? When it is hard to isolate effects I try to be a bit broader in language. I included all the bad bokeh samples I stumbled over when using the lens.

      1. Sorry, I misspelled!

        http://www.bokehtests.com/styled/

        “Mirror lenses, and lenses that are over-corrected for spherical aberration show nisen bokeh, also have harsh edges, and do not lead to a pleasingly creamy background.”

        It most often appears as harsh double edged, like your seeing two of the same bokeh structure overlayed, but slightly askew so it’s double. You can see it on FM here regarding the RX1 and FE 35/1.8, about two-thirds down the page vdo1 posted two comparison photos of the motorbike. Look at the letters on the USPS truck to the left, or the windows in the upper left.

        https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1602079/23

        The dpreview review on the FE 35/1.8 mentions it as well. My beloved Pentax 31 will infrequently show Nisen bokeh in the utmost corners in difficult scenes, and the 35 Lux Asph pre-fle I owned (and sold) did much worse, showing Nisen bokeh in the mid-frame with not challenging backgrounds. Drove me nuts at that price.

        Get your hands on an RX1–you’ll hate shooting it, you’ll love the images 😉

        1. Or even more clearly defined at a different point in the linked article:

          “Many people hold particular ire for “Nisen Bokeh.” This is basically the appearance of double lines around out of focus straight lines in the background, like telephone wires, branches, etc.”

        2. Would you rate the last and 3rd. last samples in the bokeh section as Nisen bokeh? I still don’t really see that “Nisen bokeh” is different from “harsh” i.e. oof highlights with defined edge with limited blur.

          I lusted after an RX1 for some time. i am sure that I would enjoy the rendering for nature images but that thing is still not cheap.

          1. I can look when I get home. On an iPhone now.

            I feel ya, but the RX1r2 is my most used lens/camera by a decent margin, so it’s merits a larger amount of my budget. You could find a used RX1 for the price of a new FE 35/1.8 I think. You might buy, use for a month or two, and sell without loss. This is how I try a majority of my lenses. I can’t afford to keep that much stuff.

            I am really curious to try the Leica Q2, but I just can’t stomach the price.

        3. The Sonnar 2/35 of the RX1 offers better bokeh in many situations, as the samples provided by Chad Wadsworth clearly show.
          What sets the new FE35 1.8 apart, i wonder?

          1. That it has a mount ;). I agree that the Sonnar 2/35 is a better lens and I just added it to the alternatives but I don’t expect to ever see a lens of comparable size and performance in E-mount because the mount would make it impossible to realize that design in E-mount.

          2. its a pitty really, that the Sony 2.8/35ZA unless being a sonnar design is not as good as the RX1 Sonnar. Afterall it is expensive and seems almost obsolete after the release of the new FE 1.8/35.

            Happily, the 35mm draught in the e-mount system has ended. and there’s more 35mm primes to come, probably soon one from Tamron. Hopefully Sigma will transfer the characteristics of the 2.8/45 onto a 2/35. That could be a real winner.

        4. The aberrations this article refers to are different from the aberrations that are causing what most people would notice as “harsh” or perhaps “nissen” bokeh in the Sony 35 1.8 shots. This article is mainly concerned with on axis (present in the centre of the frame) aberrations, and more specifically spherical aberration. I’m not sure but I don’t think that the Sony is particularly remarkable in that regard in a bad or good way. What the Sony suffers the most from is field dependent aberrations (ones that increase moving away from the centre of the frame). It’s quite noticeable in the “astro” test in this review and depending on the aberrations mix it can very significantly affect bokeh off centre, particularly in the transition zone.
          Wide angle lenses have been plagued by field dependent aberrations for decades but in the last few years we’ve seen major advances in that regard. In the Sigma 35 1.2 / 35 1.4 / 40 1.4 article, the one big difference between the Sigma 35 1.2 and 35 1.4 in the bokeh comparison shots is their respective handling of field dependent aberrations. Other than the focal length difference it’s the only thing you can rely on to A/B the lenses without zooming in the picture, so these aberrations are very, very important to assess and should be given high priority when evaluating a lens’ bokeh. Recently we’ve seen the price of such well-corrected wide angle lenses decrease (Nikon 35 Z, Tamron 35 1.4). The Sony isn’t part of this new breed of wide angle lenses, that’s all.

  3. Besten Dank Phillip für den wie immer sehr interessanten Bericht – das Ergebnis ist also wie erwartet, aber die Vignetrierung gefällt mir überhaupt nicht…Mich würden die Gründe für den Wechsel Vogitländer 1,7/35 das 1,2/40er interessieren. Deine Berichte loben so das 35er 🙂
    Danke und Gruß aus Hannover
    Klaus

  4. The very negative comment about the SEL35F14z is more than a little unfair

    „Sony ZA 1.4/35: A $1600 lens which is decentered more often than not“

    Not all copies of this lens are decentered and this comment ignores the smooth Bokeh transition areas this lens provides

      1. OK. I still think it would be fairer to add a few words describing the positive and negative aspects of the lens instead of just mentioning that many copies are decentered

  5. Thanks for the review, interesting insights. It’s annoying that Sigma made the 35/1.2 so stupidly large by making it a high performance f1.2 lens, I would have bought it but the size was just too much for my use. The 35 mm segment is always a bit wanting in terms of a lens that’s really high performance when stopped down. Now I’m going to try the Sony 35/1.8, at least the size and qualities for people photography are good.

  6. Thank you ver much for your nice review!!!!

    In your opinion, how this lens compares with loxia 35 in terms of contrast and sharphness?

    Regards

  7. Nice review! Love reading your website with an honest opinion from a user standpoint and still get into all the technical details of the lens. I opted to choose the Samyang 45mm f1.8 than this new Sony 35mm f1.8, I think the Samyang has a bit more to offer (i.e. price vs. performance) even they are not in the same focal length but pairing the 45mm with my Sony 24mm f1.4 is a killer combo for my photography needs. Keep up the work!

  8. How it comapred to the Sony 28mm f2?

    Both have a similar focal length, which of the two you’ll find better (as an all-round always including lens, city, portrait, cycling, hiking)

    Thank you for your opinion

  9. i’m sure i would dislike bokeh for environmental portraits on this lens, which is a shame really, because that seems like one of the most regular usecases.
    And then it’s not cheap at all… even a realistic sale/cashback price of <600EUR seems too pricey.

  10. Bonjour,
    Thank you for the review, great!
    I do have the FE 35MM f2.8. Do not really need f1.8…, is it worth the change? Better AF, better lens?

    And what about the lens on the A7R3/4 or the A9…?
    Sometimes the camera makes a big difference for AF.

  11. Nice review. It looks pretty good overall…still:

    For the price I’ll keep my EF 35/2 IS USM. It can’t AF so well in gloom or off to the sides with the MCII and my A7rii..but I love it for its close focus abilities and bokeh and just general rendition. Used it is considerably cheaper than a new FE 35 1,8 and between the EF 35 and the FE 28/2 and FE 85 1,8 I prefer the ergonomy of the EF 35/2 even with the MC11.

  12. Great Review,
    Currently in China the street price is 4150 RMB, about 582 USD. I think at this price the 35/1.8 is a no brainer. Hope one day the US price will drop to around 600 USD.

  13. Thank you, great review! What do you think, how does it compare to the zeiss batis? Is there a real world difference between 1:3,3 and 1:4?

    I want to build a kit, something like 24/35/50/85.. i wanted to go with the batis line and the zony 55mm 1.8 but i think it does not fit in, in terms of saturation and the overall image look. I also wanted to use it in combination with my zeiss contax primes for film.
    Do you think that the 35 1.8, 55 1.8 and 85 1.8 would also be an option in combination with the contax primes?

    1. I think the difference in magnifications won’t make much of a difference.

      From the perspective of gapping 24/35/55/85 sound much more reasonable than 24/40/55/85 to me.

      Which Contax primes exactly and for which application?

      1. Thank you for replying! It’s crazy how fast you are replying and that you put so much passion and effort in the blog.

        I primarily shoot weddings, couples, some events and maybe in the future some commercial stuff for smaller companies. Most of the time I shoot photos and videos and especially for video I want to achieve a consistent look. Maybe I’m too obsessed with the consistent look but I already have the 25mm Batis and the 55mm Zony and they feel different to me. But I can only name the difference in saturation and I’m not sure if thats true.

        My Contax Primes are the 35mm 2.8 (hopefully someday the 35mm 1.4), 50mm 1.4 and the 85mm 1.4.

        My plan was to add the Batis 40mm & 85mm but now I’m considering the Sony 35mm 1.8 & 85mm 1.8. But my concerns are the different look and the weather sealing.

        1. In my experience there are minor differences in color and contrast between different manufacturers but usually those are very easily matched in post and I don’t understand why many people make such a fuss about it. Sure if you work through a huge volume of images on a regular basis or for filming it might matter but most of us don’t.

          I can only recommend to check David’s review of the Batis 1.8/85 compared to the Sony. There is very little reliable information on weather sealing but I would trust a Batis more than a Sony. So if you shop smart the Batis lenses might be the betetr choice.

          1. Ok then maybe none of my clients will see the differences. Then I have to figure out if I can live with it.

            It’s true that it’s easy fixed in post and in most applications, specially when its a hobby it doesn’t matter more often then it does. But if shooting brings home the bacon you have to tweak also the small things because they sum up.

            Thanks for your help, I will have to put my hands on the lenses and figure out what’s the best option. But I will probably go with the Batis line.

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