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Summary

Highly Recommended awardThe Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA is a wide-angle prime lens for Sony's mirrorless cameras and corrected for full-frame sensors. It’s one of several 35mm options for the e-mount, including Sony’s own dimmer but smaller f2.8 model as well as alternatives from Sigma, Samyang and Zeiss. In my tests the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA left a mixed impression: It’s pretty sharp in the center but loses definition in the APS-C-corner, while its control of coma and longitudinal color aberrations is not the best. It may not be the largest, heaviest wide-angle prime but is still far from compact. It has thorough weather-sealing throughout the body, a large f1.4 focal ratio and a de-clickable aperture-ring but it has no rubber grommet at the lens mount and it's also pretty expensive. In Sony’s own range, the FE 35mm f1.4 ZA may be the best at its focal length, but its rivals are tougher competition: Sigma corners the lens with its 35mm and 40mm Art lenses which are either much cheaper with comparable performance or better quality at a similar price. And Sony's more recent 24mm f1.4 GM sets a high bar regarding size and performance; indeed you have to wonder if an improved G Master version of the 35mm f1.4 is in the pipeline. But nonetheless the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA is a clear step-up over its smaller f2.8 ZA sibling with a two stops greater light gathering power, much superior Bokeh, and the de-clickable aperture-ring. It may miss out on our top award, but still earns a recommendation.

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Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA review
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Intro

The Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm f1.4 ZA is a wide-angle prime lens for Sony’s mirrorless cameras. Announced in March 2015, it’s the second 35mm lens from Sony designed for its full-frame mirrorless cameras, following the original Sonnar T* FE 35mm f2.8 ZA which helped launch the system.

The FE 35mm f1.4 ZA is a significantly different lens to the original FE 35mm f2.8 ZA: most obviously it’s two stops brighter, allowing you to achieve shallower depth-of-field effects or shoot in lower light while maintaining fast shutters or low ISOs, but it’s also considerably larger, heavier and more expensive which makes it better-suited to the larger Alpha bodies.

To find out how the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA performs I tested it against the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA on the 42MP A7R II body and also compared it to the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art and Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art. So if you’re looking for a mild wide-angle prime for your Sony mirrorless camera, you’ve come to the right place!

 

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Facts from the catalog

As usual I’ll have a look at the technical data of the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA first. I’ve rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it’s better than average or even state of the art, a [0] if it’s standard or just average, and [-] if there’s a disadvantage. For comparison I use the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art (“Sigma Art” for short) and the Sony 35mm f2.8 ZA.

Size (diameter x length): At 79 x 112mm (3.1 x 4.4in.) plus 37mm for the lens hood (98mm diameter) the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA is quite long. But the Sigma Art is even larger at 88 x 157mm (3.5 x 6.2in.). Adding 50mm (2.0in.) for the lens hood brings the total length of the Sigma Art to a whopping 21cm (8.2in.) showing its heritage as a DSLR design. The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA is the smallest alternative in this comparison at 61mm diameter and only 48mm length including lens hood. [0]

Weight: 630g (22 oz.) plus 30g  lens hood. The Sigma Art is much heavier at around 1270g (45 oz.)  plus 61g for the lens hood. The smallest lens in this comparison, the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA, is also the lightest at 132g incl. lens hood. [+]

Optics: The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA has 12 elements in 8 groups  (including three aspherical elements). The Sigma Art has 16 elements in 12 groups, and the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA 7 elements in 5 groups. [+]

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Closest focus distance is 0.29m (0.95ft.) in manual focus resulting in a magnification of 1:5.3. Working distance is 16cm (6.3in.) when the lens hood is removed. A magnification of 1:10 is achieved at 0.46m distance. The Sigma Art reaches a similar magnification of 1:5.6 while the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA only achieves 1:7.5. [0]

Filter-thread: 72mm. The Sigma Art needs more expensive 82mm filters. The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA has a filter thread of 49mm on the lens or 40.5mm on the less hood. [+]

Image stabilization: No optical stabilization of the lens. The Sony A7 Mark II bodies onwards provide built-in sensor-shift stabilization. Same with the other lenses in this comparison. [0]

Auto focus: Built-in AF drive. Manual-focus override is by simply turning the focus ring. The focus ring has a non-linear gearing that allows for precise manual focus but makes smooth focus pulling for videographers almost impossible. Both Sony ZA lenses have no distance or dof markings. Focus on the Sigma Art works differently as it has a direct linear mechanical coupling between the focus ring and the focus action. It also offers the distance and dof markings that normally come with lenses designed for DSLRs. [+]

Covers full frame/FX or smaller. Same with the competition. [+]

Price: The lens currently sells for 1500 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 1500 USD while the Sigma Art is 1200 EUR / 1400 USD and the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 is the cheapest at  700 EUR / 750 USD. [0]

The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA comes with a pouch and the lens hood is included and is reversible for transport. The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA comes without pouch. The Sigma Art comes equipped with a nice padded pouch plus strap and a lens hood that is included and reversible for transport plus has a locking mechanism to prevent it from accidentally falling off. [0]

Aperture ring: the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA offers an aperture ring with 1/3 stop clicks which can be turned off for continuous, smooth, and noise-free operation. The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA and the Sigma Art don’t offer an aperture ring. [+]

Sealing: Both Sony ZA lenses have special weather-sealing throughout the construction  but lack a rubber sealing at the lens-mount that the Sigma Art offers. [+]

The score of 0[-]/5[0]/7[+] shows that the features of the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA are reasonably well balanced: It is a bit long for a 35mm prime lens and it is the most expensive in this comparison but it offers a f1.4 focal ratio, its weight is OK, and it only needs 72mm filters. Plus it offers the unique feature of a de-clickable aperture ring.

 

Four wide-angle prime lenses

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Above from left to right: Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA, Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0, Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA, Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art

 

Alternatives

If you want a 35mm E-mount lens with an f1.4 focal ratio and autofocus there are only two alternatives:

  • Samyang/Rokinon/Walimex has the AF 35mm f1.4 FE from 2017 that’s only available for Sony E-Mount (550 EUR / 530 USD).
  • Sigma offers the 35mm f1.4 Art for 750 EUR / 900 USD. It’s an optical design from 2012 for DSLRs which is also available in E-mount since 2018. See my Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art review where it came Highly Recommended when tested on a 36MP Nikon D800. At 755g the lens is not much heavier and at 77 x 120mm only a little longer than the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA.

Other alternatives include lenses with different focal lengths or focal ratios like the following pair:

  • Sigma has their 40mm f1.4 Art now also available for E-mount for 1200 EUR / 1400 USD. The lens is huge and heavy but optically excellent. See my Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art review where it earned a Highly Recommended.
  • From Sony there’s the diminutive 35mm f2.8 ZA (700 EUR / 750 USD). Check back soon for my in-depth Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA review.

 

If you’re unsure of how big the differences between 35mm, 40mm focal length are, here is the angle of view that the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA covers on a full-frame body compared to the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art:

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Above: Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA (left), Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art (right)

Compare this to a 28mm and a 50mm lens:

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Above: Zeiss Otus 28mm f1.4 left, Nikon Z 50mm f1.8S (right)

 

Focus

Focus accuracy and repeatability is critical to consistently produce sharp shots especially with large aperture lenses. Repeatability (the accuracy of focus on the same subject after repeated focus-acquisition) of this lens is very good (measured 98.3% in Reikan FoCal) with no outliers over a series of 40 shots. And there is no focus variation whether the lens focuses from a closer distance or from infinity.

The lens focuses in around 0.5 sec on a Sony A7R II from infinity to 0.46m (1:10 magnification), which is fast. The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA lens is equally fast while the Sigma Art takes longer to focus at 0.7 sec (on a Nikon Z7 with FTZ adapter). The focus ring is 37mm wide. It moves very smoothly and can easily be operated with one finger. The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA also offers very smooth focus by wire operation. Only the Sigma Art has a much stiffer mechanical coupling between the focus ring and the focus action.

AF-operation of both Sony ZA lenses is inaudible from the outside or if you record video with the built-in microphone. Only the Sigma Art produces an audible focus noise. As you pull focus, you’ll notice some focus breathing: the image of the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA becomes 6% more magnified when I adjusted the focus from infinity to 0.46m. This could be distracting when shooting videos but is par for the course: the other lenses in this comparison all increase their magnification between 5% and 7%.

 

Next check out my quality results!

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