The Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA when it was first announced, it only the second 35mm lens for Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras. The other being the 35mm f/2.8 ZA. The new model brings significant upgrades, the most obvious being a wider aperture. This also means the lens is heavier and carries a higher price tag.
It’s also understandable why Sony picked the 35mm focal length as their first offering. It’s a relatively wide-angle focal length, which should appeal to street photographers or even at a push, landscape photographers. This, along with being a good alternative to the 50mm for general use, making it a nice walkabout lens.
Firstly, the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA isn’t exactly small and compact, but it’s definitely smaller than an equivalent DSLR 35mm. At 79 x 112mm, it doesn’t look out of place on any E-mount body. The lens also comes in at a reasonable weight of 630g.
The optics inside the Sony are arranged with 12 elements in eight groups, which include three aspherical elements and the Zeiss T* anti-reflective coatings. There’s also Sony’s Super Sonic wave Motor autofocus system for quiet and rapid focusing, with a nine-blade rounded diaphragm inside, which should produce quality bokeh effects.
The lens barrel itself feels rock-solid, with fully weather-sealed metal construction. Physically, it’s a simple layout with a de-clicked aperture ring, a large manual focusing ring, and an AF/MF switch for good measure.
Up top is a 72mm filter thread, which is non-rotating and rounds off the simplistic design. The Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 comes with its own lens hood and soft carry pouch.
One point to note is that it doesn’t have built-in image stabilization, but if you are using this lens on anything from the Sony a7 Mark II onwards, in-body stabilization should have you covered to a degree.
The Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 in Use
When it comes to focusing, this lens is extremely quick. From its closest focusing distance of 30cm to infinity with good light conditions, it locks onto the action in a snap. If you want to go the manual focusing route, the wide focus ring overrides autofocus with no audible noise which should be of benefit to the video guys.
One of the main things to look out for on a lens with an f/1.4 aperture is chromatic aberration. The Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA shows obvious signs of CA when it is fully wide open at f/1.4, with the effect starting to dissipate at f/2.8. By f/4 the effect disappears.
High contrast areas show the effect to its fullest, which can be resolved in post-processing, but images will take a clarity hit when removing all evidence of CA.
When it comes to sharpness, at f/1.4 the center is very sharp, but the corners do suffer from some softness. At f/2.8 the corners start to tighten up and by f/8 the full frame is at its sharpest.
This is most evident with close-up subjects, but with subjects at a long-distance, the optimum seems to be reached at f/5.6. The general rendering of images are provided with plenty of contrast and saturation and are very pleasing for this price point of lens.
With the f/1.4 aperture and nine-blade diaphragm, the bokeh on this lens should be of high quality. Although there are some visible onion-rings, the lens produces well-rounded highlights in nighttime scenes that aren’t overly distracting.
The bokeh is rendered with a good transition of colors, which only starts to become slightly harsh when the background is very busy. Overall, not the best performer in this department, but still at a high level.
The lens is well versed at handling lens flaring and ghosting. It was only adversely affected with direct sunlight and when stopping down to above f/11, the Sony 35mm was quite capable of producing quality sun stars. Ironically, with smaller points of light in a night-time setting, f/5.6 produced very nice sun stars, just not as obvious looking as you would normally expect.
How Does It Compare?
If you want to go down the route of a 35mm f/1.4 lens, then you could opt for the older Sony f/2.8 version of this lens, but this really forgoes the usefulness of owning an f/1.4 version.
One possible option is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art. This lens has been around a bit longer than the Sony lens, but was ported to the E-mount in 2018. The Sigma is a larger and heavier lens, with excellent optics and is a touch sharper across-the-board at both the center and the edges. The Sigma also comes in at a cheaper price point.
Another alternative is the Sigma 40mm f/1.4 Art, which is an excellent performer across the board. It’s a big, heavy thing, but worth it for the optical quality if you don’t mind giving your biceps an extra work out.
|Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4||Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art|
|Optics||12 elements/ 8 groups||13 elements/ 11 groups|
The Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA with its Zeiss association initially felt like a foregone conclusion, but it does have its caveats. It suffers from CA when wide open and has some edge softness.
The f/1.4 is a definite step up from the f/2.8 ZA version, with much better low-light ability. For a seamless Sony workflow, it may seem like an obvious choice, but the Sigma Art lenses in comparison, provide great quality for the money.
The inclusion of the manual aperture ring will be useful to some, plus being weather-sealed, the Sony can arguably be used in conditions where the Sigma cannot stray. As with any lens choice, rent an example for the day to see if it fits into your current workflow.