Review Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens Review

Amin Sabet

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The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens is a relatively new addition to the Sony E-Mount lineup. The "FE" designation means that this lens works well with both full frame and APS-C Sony E-Mount cameras.

Currently there are three other 35mm lenses made for Sony full frame E-mount cameras, the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens (autofocus), Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* Lens (manual focus), and Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC Lens (manual focus). The Sony Distagon reviewed here is the fastest autofocus lens native to E-mount full frame.

Key specifications:
Focal Length: 35mm
Equivalent on APS-C Format: 52.5 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.4
Minimum: f/16
Camera Mount Type: Sony E (Full-Frame)
Minimum Focus Distance: .98' (.3 m)
Magnification: 0.18x
Elements/Groups: 12/8
Diaphragm Blades: 9, Rounded
Image Stabilization: No
Autofocus: Yes
Filter Thread Front:72 mm
Dimensions (DxL): Approx. 3.09 x 4.41" (78.5 x 112.0 mm)
Weight: 1.39 lb (630 g)

Current pricing/availability: Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens SEL35F14Z B&H Photo Video

See the brief video below for my impressions of lens build quality, features, and performance:



You can click through any of the images in this review to see full-resolution captures from my A7II.


I'll start off by saying that if you have young kids and are thinking about buying this lens, just buy it. I've spent the last 12 years trying to get good pics of my kids, and this lens is probably the best suited to that task of any I've owned in that time. Yes there is the size issue, but if you can get past that, you'll be glad you did.

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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/640 100


You can pixel peep the above image and see some longitudinal CA (purple and green bokeh fringing), but it's far from excessive. Overall, the rendering is very much to my liking, it's sharp wide open, and the focus is very snappy and accurate in tandem with the camera's face detection.

A few more pics of my daughter where you can get a sense of wide open sharpness and bokeh character:

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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/250 100


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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/200 100


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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/500 100


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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/320 100


For me, this lens would pay for itself in family memories without ever leaving home. That said, it was just right for a stroll around Boston today.

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ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/400 100


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ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/125 100


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ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/400 100


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ƒ/5.6 35.0 mm 1/320 100


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ƒ/8.0 35.0 mm 1/100 100


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ƒ/5.6 35.0 mm 1/80 100


I'm not much of a street photographer and usually prefer manual zone focus when I give it a try, but the shot below was a test to see how the lens would handle being lifted quickly at the last second and autofocused at f/1.4 on a nearby, moving target. Not bad!

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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/6400 100


Click through the next two shots and view them full size to see the kind of subject pop this lens gives you at f/2.8.

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ƒ/2.8 35.0 mm 1/1250 100


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ƒ/2.8 35.0 mm 1/1000 100


The .98' (.3 m) minimum focus distance means I pretty much never need to worry about being too close to lock focus. Did I mention that face detection works great?

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ƒ/2.0 35.0 mm 1/500 100


This next shot shows two more lens flaws, light falloff and "onion skin" bokeh:

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ƒ/1.4 35.0 mm 1/1600 100


The light falloff is easily correctable, and I'm not too worried about onions, but of course it all comes down to taste.

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ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/60 320 (shot through glass)


I'll wrap up the images by coming back to where this lens earns its keep in my case.

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ƒ/2.0 35.0 mm 1/640 100


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ƒ/2.8 35.0 mm 1/160 100


I concluded my Sony 90mm macro review by saying that I wasn't sure if I'd keep that one or return it to B&H. Not the case with this one. I was worried it would be too big for my liking, but it took all of 30 seconds for me to know it was a keeper.

It's not all good news of course. This is a big lens, no getting around that. Heavy too. There's a little barrel distortion, hardly worth mentioning, but it's there. There's the aforementioned longitudinal CA, though this too is better than average for a fast 35. A manual focus clutch like the 90 macro has would be a great addition here for street photography. Lastly, there's some tricky field curvature which you can see in some of the samples above, meaning that you'll want to get to know this lens well and choose your focus point carefully if you want every pixel in your landscape scenes to be as sharply detailed as it can be.

For my purposes though - mainly family and stroll photography* - this lens just puts a smile on my face. It focuses briskly, accurately, is plenty sharp at all apertures, and has a special look that is hard to describe (combines sharp across the frame, pleasing bokeh, high microcontrast, low color fringing, low distortion, etc) but easily recognizable in the 13 x 19" prints from my Canon PRO-100.

35mm is my main go-to focal length. I've owned a lot of great 35s, with honorable mention going to the Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE, Zeiss ZM 35mm f/2 Biogon, Zeiss ZF 35mm f/2 Distagon, Sigma 35mm ART, and all of the Voigtlander Noktons for Leica M and Micro 4/3. Speaking strictly from my needs and preferences, this Sony lens beats them all.

Download all RAW files from this review: 35mm-RAW.zip

Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens pricing / availability: Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens SEL35F14Z B&H Photo Video


*Credit to my friend Wouter Brandsma for coining the term "stroll photography".
 
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Amin Sabet

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Thanks, @serhan !

It's tough because my best shots with a lens often don't show much about the lens, and the shots which best show what the lens can do aren't often my best shots with the lens :rolleyes-20:. In a review, I try to go with the useful (technically sound) sample images rather than my best (artistic value) photos.
 

addieleman

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This is sheer propaganda, not only for the lens but also for documenting your own family life! Nice review, I like the way that I can simply click-through to full-res images, much better than the loupe thing. This lens is nicely sharp, obviously not as brutally as the FE Macro 90/2.8.

I'd say keep those reviews coming though they do nothing to cure GAS. :eek-30:
 
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metalmania

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Since you said this lens beats all other 35mm lenses, I would have to get one for myself!
 

Amin Sabet

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If you like the reviews, please use the "Share This Page" (Facebook G+, Twitter) buttons at the bottom of the page to help them rank higher in searches :friends:.
 
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tomO2013

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I might add that the minimal levels of distortion and field curvature detected are not uncommon compared to other big fast 35's. About the only other big fast 35 that can approach similar minimal levels of distortion is probably the Sigma 35 Art.
The light onion effect is a trait that many fast 35's with aspheric elements share unfortunately with certain backgrounds. I think the distagon controls this exceptionally well, with probably the nicest out of focus yet. It's my favourite glass on the Sony system right now.
Great review Amin and also really nice images.
 

christilou

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The funny thing is, it's been sitting here next to me most of the day but I haven't wanted to pick it up once....... not even for a last few frames!
 

Deebs

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Wonderful lens!
I've just got mine. One thing I've found in testing is that, great though it is wide open, at just 1/3 stop down - f1.6 - it's noticeable sharper and contrastier. Since I can't tell the difference between the bokeh at f 1.4 and f 1.6., this makes f1.6 the sweet spot for thin DOF use.
 

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