With a moderate aperture and high price tag, the expectations for image quality are high, and the FE 35mm f/2.8 delivers. At f/2.8, images are very sharp over the vast majority of the frame, with softness only appearing in the very corners. Stopped down, the corners improve quite a bit, bringing sharpness to an acceptable level across the image frame. The corners never get razor sharp, but they are certainly good enough for most any purpose.
For me, sharpness is just one metric on a lens to evaluate, but my biggest concern in this regard is: “Can I use it at whatever aperture I choose and get high quality images?” and with the FE 35mm f/2.8, that is certainly the case.
The FE 35mm f/2.8 has a somewhat split personality with regards to bokeh. At wide apertures and closer focus distances, the background blur is smooth and buttery, lending an excellent look to the images and providing plenty of pop for your subject. At further focus distances, the bokeh can get a little nervous, however. It’s never truly distracting, but it loses that smooth character a bit the further out you focus.
There can be some visible onion-ring type texture to specular highlights if you examine them very closely, but they are mild and don’t distract from the image. Otherwise, specular highlights tend to be generally evenly illuminated, though occasional light green rings can appear from longitudinal chromatic aberration, but even when this is visible it is mild. Overall, a decent performance here.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The FE 35mm f/2.8 has a typically ‘Zeiss-like’ contrast curve. It produces relatively punchy results at all apertures, producing strong contrast without being too overbearing. It’s a very well-balanced rendering, which lends impact to static subjects, but is not too harsh for portrait use. The color the lens produces is nice and rich, though not as saturated as some other Zeiss lenses I’ve used. Overall, the rendering the lens produces is excellent.
There is virtually no lateral chromatic aberration and only very minimal longitudinal chromatic aberration, though if circumstances are just right, it is possible to see a little of that green fringe in the background and light magenta fringe in the foreground.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
The FE 35mm f/2.8 controls distortion quite well, with only very slight barrel distortion appearing, and only then if you are pixel peeping to an extreme degree and lining up the images with a grid. In field use, you’ll never see it, and that makes it great for shooting architecture.
Likewise, vignetting is held to a minimum as well. Indeed, the lens oozes optical quality throughout with the exception of flare control, which I found a bit lacking. Even with the hood mounted, light sources on the edge of the frame, either just in or just out of the frame, cause some quite visible flare artifacts, with many little cone-shaped flares surrounding the light source. The image to the right shows these, though even here they’ve been somewhat subdued by the processing of the image (I darkened the background, making the colored flares that continued outside the white flare disappear into the black). Straight out of camera, the flare is much more visible.
Overall, the image quality out of the FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar is excellent. The lens draws beautifully, with outstanding contrast and color, good distortion control, high image sharpness and fairly good bokeh.
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!