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Summary

Highly Recommended awardThe Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA is a wide-angle prime lens for Alpha mirrorless cameras. Launched with the original A7 full-frame bodies, it remains a popular choice for anyone wanting the most compact general-purpose lens for the system. Naturally the slower focal ratio of f2.8 not only means less light gathering power than faster models but also less potential for shallow depth-of-field effects. But it's pretty sharp in the APS-C image-circle and not too soft outside, it has very good contrast under contra-light situations and its autofocus is quiet, fast, and reliable. The lens is also well-sealed on the inside but misses the rubber grommet at the lens mount. Probably its weakest point is the meagre Bokeh it produces with its focal ratio of only f2.8 which also makes it not the fastest lens in low light. But if your priority is small and light I can certainly recommend this lens. Mounted on an A7 body, it makes for a very compact and discreet combination.

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Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA review
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Intro

The Sony Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f2.8 ZA is a wide-angle prime lens for Sony’s mirrorless cameras. Announced in 2013, it was the first 35mm lens from Sony designed for its full-frame mirrorless cameras and helped launch the system. The FE 35mm f2.8 ZA is a tiny lens weighing only 120g and clearly demonstrates what is possible in full-frame lens design with the shorter flange distance of mirrorless bodies.

To find out how the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA performs I tested it against the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA and the Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF on the 42MP A7R II body and also compared it to the 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 f2.8 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 Samyang AF 35mm f2.8 FE (“Samyang” for short), the Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF (“Zeiss Batis”), and the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA.

Size (diameter x length): At 61 x 36mm (2.4 x 1.4in.) the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA is a very small lens and the tiny lens hood adds only 12mm. It is dwarfed by its larger sibling, the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA, at 79 x 112mm plus 37mm for the lens hood. The Zeiss Batis is somewhere in between at 81 x 87mm plus 40mm for the lens hood. Only the Samyang is of similarly small proportions: 62 x 33mm (without lens hood). [+]

Weight: 132g (4.7 oz.). The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA is 660g, the Zeiss Batis 394g, and the Samyang 108g (all specs including lens hood). [+]

Optics: The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA has 7 elements in 5 groups  (including three aspherical elements). The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA has 12/8 elements/groups, the Zeiss Batis 9/8, and the Samyang 7/6. [+]

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Closest focus distance is 0.34m (13.4in.) in manual focus resulting in a magnification of only 1:7.5 which is very similar to the Samyang. Working distance is 0.29m when the lens hood is removed. A magnification of 1:10 is achieved at 0.43m distance. The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA achieves a better magnification of 1:5.3 at 0.29m distance, the Zeiss Batis even reaches 1:3.1 at 0.24m. [-]

Filter-thread: 49mm on the lens or 40.5mm on the less hood just like the Samyang. The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA has a filter thread of 72mm, the Zeiss Batis of 67mm. [+]

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 and the Samyang have no distance or dof markings. Only the Zeiss Batis offers an OLED display for focus distance and depth of field. [+]

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

Price: The lens currently sells for 700 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 750 USD. This is clearly cheaper than the Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA at 1500 EUR / 1500 USD or the Zeiss Batis at 1300 EUR/USD. But the Samyang is much cheaper still at only 250 EUR / 270 USD. [0]

The Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA comes without a pouch but the lens hood is included, just like the Samyang and the Zeiss Batis. The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA comes with a pouch. [-]

Aperture ring: No, just like the Samyang and the Zeiss Batis. Only 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. [0]

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

The score of 2[-]/3[0]/7[+] shows that the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA has some good and some weak points: It’s very small and light – but then it offers a focal ratio of only f2.8. Its maximum magnification of 1:7.5 is a bit disappointing compared to the other lenses and although the lens is cheaper than the alternatives with a focal ratio of f2.0 or f1.4 it still costs a pretty penny – especially compared to the Samyang which looks almost like a clone of the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA.

 

Three wide-angle prime lenses

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

 

Alternatives

If you want a very small and light 35mm E-mount lens with autofocus there is only one alternative:

  • Samyang / Rokinon / Walimex has the AF 35mm f2.8 FE from 2017 that’s only available for Sony E-Mount (250 EUR / 270 USD). It looks almost identical to the Sony although it has a slightly different optical formula and no weather sealing.

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

  • From Sony there’s the FE 35mm f1.4 ZA (1500 EUR/USD) offering a two stops larger focal ratio which results in a much larger lens but also offers the potential for better Bokeh and shorter shutter speeds. It earned a recommendation in my Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA review.
  • Sigma has 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. As you’d expect for an f1.4 lens though, it’s fairly large and heavy.
  • The Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF is only available for E-mount and costs around 1300 EUR/USD. The lens is relatively light and offers very good close-focus capabilities up to a magnification of 1:3.1. It delivers a field-of-view that’s 6 degrees narrower than from the Sony (57 vs 63 degrees, see comparison below) and has a one stop better light gathering power. See my Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF review where it earned a Highly Recommended.

 

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 f2.8 ZA covers on a full-frame body compared to the Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF:

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Above: Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA (left), Zeiss Batis 40mm f2.0 CF (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 99.3% in Reikan FoCal) with no outliers over a series of 40 shots. And there is almost 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 0.43m (1:10 magnification), which is fast. The Sony FE 35mm f1.4 ZA lens is equally fast while the Zeiss Batis is even faster at 0.35 sec. The focus ring is 16mm wide. It moves very smoothly and can easily be operated with one finger just like other mirrorless lenses with focus by wire operation.

AF-operation of both Sony ZA lenses and the Zeiss Batis is inaudible from the outside or if you record video with the built-in microphone. As you pull focus, you’ll notice some focus breathing: the image of the Sony FE 35mm f2.8 ZA becomes 6% more magnified when I adjusted the focus from infinity to 0.43m. 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 6%.

 

Next check out my quality results!

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