This is perhaps the most excited I have been waiting for a lens to arrive. The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens was released earlier this year and just now started shipping. My lens arrived and I got right to testing. One of the issues I have had with Sony is that the majority of the lenses available in FE format are f/4.0 aperture lenses. When I shot with Canon, I was used to my prime lenses offering as wide as a f/1.2 aperture. Shallow depth of field was my thing. I loved it. At first, switching to Sony was a sacrifice in that area. Of course, there were many other features of the Sony platform that caused me to switch. I knew wide lenses would come soon.
Enter the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens, a beautiful lens with focus fall-off so smooth and creamy that my mouth waters. A few months ago, I purchased a Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95 Lens because I wanted some of that bokeh I was so used to getting with Canon but had to sacrifice autofocus and the ability to control my aperture with the camera. This turned out to be a lot of fun, so when I read that the Sony 35mm f/1.4 was going to have the option to adjust aperture manually, I was excited.
Full manual is a lot of fun but it is stressful. You really need to know what you are doing as a photographer to shoot with a fully manual lens. Now that I have this lens, I am excited to have the best of both worlds, but before I get too deep into the rest of the lens, lets talk about the “Responsive Aperture Ring.” On a full manual lens, which means no electronic parts at all such as with the Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 mentioned above. This Sony 35mm lens has an Aperture Ring that allows you to manually adjust your aperture from the lens (cool for video) but it’s an electronic ring. This means that the ring is actually telling the iris of the lens to open and close according to where you set it. On most full manual (non-electronic) lenses, the ring directly controls the iris. I noticed that using the Aperture Ring on the Sony 35mm produces a stepping effect very similar to when you adjust the aperture in camera. Anybody who has tried to adjust aperture in camera while filming knows that the result is less than acceptable. This leads me to wonder why this feature needed to exist on the lens. With a non-electronic lens, you can smoothly control the aperture in a similar way you would use a variable ND filter. I love it because you can control the exposure live and make it feel real. The stepping that is present when you make the adjustment in camera is very noticeable as is the effect when you use the “Responsive Aperture Ring.” I will most likely leave the lens in auto so I can continue to control aperture in camera. The Aperture Ring can also be set to clicked or declicked settings which filmmakers often like because it allows them to make changes to the aperture (iris) without looking at the lens itself (so long as you remember where you started). I recognize that you can’t have the best of both worlds. Sony did their best to make manual aperture adjustment as smooth as possible.
With that said, the aperture ring is the only complaint I have about this lens. Sure it’s slightly bigger than the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, but I will take that trade off for the f/1.4 aperture that gives me even more low light performance out of my already outstanding Sony a7II and Sony a7S cameras.
Let’s talk features for a moment. I already mentioned the Aperture Ring and what that does, you can also watch my video review where I describe and show what I referenced above. The Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave AF System makes this lens near completely silent. I was unable to hear this lens focusing unless I pressed my ear right up against the lens. This is important for those of you who want to use the lens for video shooting. This lens was designed for the Sony full-frame E-Mount cameras but will perform amazing on Sony APS-C E-Mount cameras as well. I tested the lens on a Sony a5100 APS-C E-Mount camera and agree that this lens performs amazing on anything it can be attached to.
Spherical aberration has been minimized in this lens due to Sony’s Aspherical and Advanced Aspherical Elements. This means that there will be less of a chance that your images will have any distortion or fringing which can happen when incoming light gets a bit jumbled up and ends up having uneven focal points. Wider lenses often fall pray to this because of the increased amount of light able to pass through the larger iris.
Of course this lens features the ZEISS T* (T-Star) coating famous for virtually eliminating lens flare. It is also water and dust resistant.
The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens accepts 72mm filters and other thread on accessories. It weighs in at 1.39 lb (630 g) and is 3.09 x 4.41″ (78.5 x 112.0 mm) in size. Being that it is a prime lens (fixed focal length), the lens does not change length as you use it. All focal movements happen inside of the lens.
The proof is in the pudding right? You have heard me complain about the aperture ring and brag on the rest of the features, lets see how this lens performs.
Outside on a bright sunny day you can see that sharp images are easy to produce.
When I attempted to produce chromatic aberration, which is caused by high levels of contrast between two items, I was able to do so but only in situations where I had to overexpose the background in order to produce a decent exposure on my subject. To prevent this you supplement with off camera flash or by bouncing light onto your subject to decrease the amount of contrast between foreground and background. Regardless, this lens is on par and possibly would have outperformed my previous 35mm lens I used when I was shooting with Canon DSLR cameras.
With wider focal lenses, you often get distortion on objects such as buildings or horizon lines but this Sony 35mm Full Frame E-Mount lens produces little to none of that. I was only able to produce distortion when I attempted weird angles to begin with.
Now for that shallow depth of field amazingness that this 35mm f/1.4 lens produces. In an effort to get this lens review up sooner than later, I have yet to have time to travel and find some fun places to put this lens to the test. What I have been able to do is have fun using this lens just about anywhere I turn. Lenses with this much range give you a lot of options.
We already know that the Sony a7II and Sony a7S perform well in low light and that is why I didn’t mind most of my lenses only having a maximum aperture of f/4.0 buy with this f/1.4 lens attached to them, they scream in low light. The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens is going to make it just that much easier to capture in next to no light.
All I can wish for now is that Sony will release more lenses like the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens but at different focal lengths. I would love to see 50mm, 85mm and a 135mm lenses with wide apertures as well. I love my Sony cameras but I love them even more with fast glass attached to them.
If you want truly amazing performance out of your already fantastic E-Mount cameras, I highly recommend this lens.