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

May 1, 2015 | Jack Baker | |

Introduction

The Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA is a new professional-grade prime lens for Sony Alpha 35mm full-frame and APS-C E-mount mirrorless cameras. It features an aperture range of f/1.4-f/16 and a nine-bladed circular diaphragm for smoother bokeh blur in out of focus areas. A near-silent internal autofocus motor and exceptionally smooth focus and aperture rings help make the Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 equally useful for movie making as shooting stills. The lens is also able to focus as close as 30cm and it takes 72mm filters. It’ll currently set you back £1559/$1559.

Ease of Use

With a maximum diameter of 78.5mm and a 112mm length, the Distagon T* 35mm F1.4 is a relatively large lens for a mirrorless camera body, especially given it’s a wide-angle fixed focal length optic. Weighing in at 630g is also on the high side, making this lens 200g heavier than Sony’s 24-70mm Vario-Tessar T* F4 optic and over twice as heavy as the Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens mounted on a Sony A7 Mark II

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens mounted on a Sony A7 Mark II

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens mounted on a Sony A7 Mark II

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens mounted on a Sony A7 Mark II

However, the hefty bulk does translate into superb build quality. The lens’ all-metal casing is dust and moisture resistant and it features a metal E-mount bayonet. With no need for a zoom ring, the focussing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate. Behind this is the aperture ring, with 1/3ev stops ranging from f/1.4 to f/16. A switch on the right-hand side of the barrel lets you select whether the aperture ring clicks into place at each aperture stop or rotates smoothly for silent operation during movie recording.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens alongside a Sony A7 Mark II

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens in-hand

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

This is the only switch on the lens, as the focus ring provides automatic manual focus override. There’s no optical image stabilisation either, but the lens’ short focal length and very fast maximum aperture alleviate the need for it. The lens does feature a Direct Drive SSM internal autofocus motor that provides fast and accurate autofocussing which is barely audible.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Front of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Rear of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

The 35mm f/1.4 also promises uncompromising optical performance with its twelve-element lens design that incorporates three aspherical elements and one advanced aspherical element for maximum corner-to-corner sharpness. The elements also receive a Zeiss T* (T-star) coating to minimise reflections, flare and ghosting. A nine-bladed rounded diaphragm, combined with the fast maximum aperture, helps provide smooth bokeh blur

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA lens

Focal Range

The 35mm focal length gives an angle of view of 63 degrees on 35mm full frame sensor and 44 degrees on an APS-C camera.

 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Field of view at 35mm

Focussing

The lens focusses quickly and accurately. Focussing is completely internal, so the 72mm filter thread does not rotate. The wide focus ring does not have hard stops.

The internal Direct Drive SSM autofocus motor can be heard if you place your ear to the lens in a quiet room, but it’s an unobtrusive sound more like the faint whir of a vibration reduction system than an autofocus motor and becomes inaudible from a distance of 30cm.

Focussing in good light took an average of 0.4 seconds when mounted to our Sony Alpha 7 II test body and was only fractionally slower in dim conditions. The lens never resorted to focus hunting during our testing.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is rarely an issue with the 35mm f/1.4. We could only find a couple of instances of fringing in our test shots, which was negligible even when viewed at 100% like in the crops below.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED

Light Fall-off and Distortion

Light fall-off is noticeable wide open at f/1.4, though this is to be expected for such a fast lens and can easily be corrected in Photoshop. Stop down to f/2.0 and the vignetting is already less prominent, but it is still visible when shooting pale scenes that fill the frame.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Light fall-off at 16mm

Macro

A 30cm minimum focus distance makes the lens useful for shooting reasonably close subjects. This image is uncropped and shows how close you can get to a Compact Flash card.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Close-up performance

Bokeh

A major appeal of fast, wide-aperture prime lenses is their ability to produce an eye-catching separation between a sharp subject and a very soft out-of-focus background. The Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA generates exceptionally smooth out of focus areas through its use of a nine-bladed diaphragm, which provides smoother bokeh than seven or five-blade designs. Bokeh is however a fairly subjective part of a lens’ image quality, so check out these 100% crops to see the Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA’s bokeh quality for yourself.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA
   
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.