With the introduction of Sony’s A7 and A7r mirrorless cameras, the E-Mount gains new life, but also some new complications. Existing E-Mount lenses are designed to cover an APS-C image circle, and as such, a new line of lenses is required to cover the full-frame image sensors in these new Sony flagships. When the cameras were announced, Sony also announced five ‘FE’ lenses, as the full-frame E-Mount lenses are designated. Three are designed by Carl Zeiss, AG and bear the Zeiss branding. The first available Zeiss FE mount lens is the 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar. While not stretching any boundaries with maximum aperture, it promises to be a very good lens. Let’s see if it meets the lofty expectations.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting.
Around the Lens: Build Quality and Handling
The 35mm f/2.8 is a small lens, and I think Sony really wanted to make a statement that small lenses could be made for their full frame camera. The size does come at the expense of speed, as the f/2.8 maximum aperture is a little slower than I would like to see. One of the advantages of full-frame cameras is the ability to better isolate subject from background, and yet the 35mm f/2.8 doesn’t isolate the subject as much as something like the 23mm f/1.4 from Fuji or the Voigtländer 17.5mm f/0.95 for Micro 4/3. In fact, it isn’t a lot shallower than the 17mm f/1.8 for Micro 4/3. Regardless of the aperture, however, they did build a very nicely constructed, small and lightweight lens.
The lens barrel is constructed of lightweight metals, and that extends to the focus ring. The lens is tightly assembled and while not very dense, feels very solid in the hand. Due to the light weight, it handles beautifully on the camera.
Included is a very small bayonet mount hood that has its own lens cap. The hood is rather effective given its size, and because it is so incredibly small, it takes up essentially no extra space in the bag. I wish more hoods were designed like this.
The FE 35mm f/2.8 features a very quiet and quite quick autofocus motor. When used on the A7, the lens was able to lock on to the subject with minimal delay in most lighting situations. In very dim light it slowed down and could hunt a bit, but overall, I was quite impressed by the autofocus speed. Accuracy was also excellent.
When manually focusing, the wide ribbed focus ring felt very good in the hand and has a very nice resistance to it. While it doesn’t conjure feelings of a good manual focus helicoid, it still feels nice to operate. I’m very glad that Sony/Zeiss have chosen to continue with the fine ribbed metal focus rings vs. the smooth rubber focus rings that Zeiss is using on their Touit and Otus lines. I find that while they offer better grip, the tactile feedback is nonexistent, and I never know how much I’m actually turning them.
9 thoughts on “Review: Carl Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* ZA”
Thanks for the down to earth review of the Sony/Zeiss 35mm Sonnar. I am about to buy one of these for my Sony a7.
If you think that this lens is expensive in the USA you will have to pay £700 GBP if you lived here in the UK.
Fortunately for me a friend is hopefully bringing me one from the states this week for $800 = £487GBP.
Well, thats Cameron’s rip off Britain for you !
Thanks a lot for the review. Very nice images here, but the real reason for my post is I can’t resist pointing out that in your “shadow of myself” shot, your shadow bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons. I assume we can’t see his right arm because he’s busy eating a doughnut!
Great review. I just got the a7rii with the 35 mm. Its a Great lens, because it’s so portable – AND for aVIDEO it’s perfect, since I like to use the 35 mm crop, so it’s equivalent to a 50mm. The continuous focus in video works great as well on this versatile lens! However, I’m looking forward to try out my NIKON nikkor 50 mm 1.4 on this camera! Also a small , light and much cheaper lens with fine results on the Nikon.
Ps. What do you recommend for editing the new raw format on mac? Lightroom / photoshop? Aperture can’t handle those files…
Interesting. I just sent mine back because the vignetting was terrible but when I look at your shots I can’t see it. Almost like mine was faulty. I was shooting jpeg,f8,shadow comp auto, hood off on an A7R and still had bad drop off – not just in the corners but up the whole side. And it was not symmetrical as the right side was slightly worse than the left. I don’t understand why the camera did not compensate?
Peter, I have the Nikkor AIS 50mm 1.4 with a Fotodiox adapter and it is excellent on the A7R. Far better than I expected and far better than the afore mentioned FE 35/f2.8. It is not as sharp as the FE but it is very sharp and consistent across the frame with no vignetting at all. Jpeg straight out of the camera with no correction is all excellent across the frame. It is obviously a bit mushy at 1.4 but still good and by f2.8 everything is great. By f5.6/f8 it’s incredible. I have owned that lens for 25 years! I even toyed with buying a second hand Nikkor AIS 35/f1.4 to replace the FE 35/2.8 but that is probably pushing my luck!
Everything is very open with a very clear description of the issues.
It was definitely informative. Your website is useful.
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for this review! It would be extremely interesting to compare this lens to canon 40mm f2.8 + adapter combination. The size and focal length are close to the zeiss, the price is only one third of the zeiss’.
Great review, very thorough. I have after much searching found the lens I’m looking for. Once again great review and thanks.
Interesting to see this one against the almost identical Samyang 35 2.8!