May 08

Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 vs. Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4

Ok, so this is one of those comparisons that really isn’t particularly fair.  You’ve got a $1,600 Zeiss prime up against a $900 Fuji prime, and the test bed cameras aren’t the same resolution.  There are lots of problems with testing like this, but I’m going to do it anyway.  Why?  It’s fun!  Today I’m comparing the Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 (reviewed here), mounted on the Sony A7 II and the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 (reviewed here), mounted on the Fuji X-T1.  Both of these lenses have approximately the same field of view, and they both have the same fast f/1.4 maximum aperture.  They are also both highly regarded lenses for their respective systems, so let’s see how they stack up.  And please, please take these tests with a grain of salt.  This is a fun comparison, and both of these lenses are really quite excellent.

Sony A7 II with Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 - Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4

Sony A7 II with Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 – Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4

The Contenders

Fujinon XF 24mm f/1.4

Diameter: 72mm
Length: 63mm
Weight: 301g
Price: $899

Sony Zeiss Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA

Diameter: 78.5mm
Length: 112mm
Weight: 630g
Price: $1,598

From the picture and specifications above, you can see that the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 is roughly double the, well, everything, of the Fuji 23mm f/1.4.  It’s nearly twice as long, over twice as heavy and almost twice as expensive.  It’s a monster sized lens, especially considering it’s a mirrorless optic.  The Fuji is considerably more compact and easy to carry.  It’s worth pointing out that the two lenses share the same maximum aperture, but due to the focal length differences, the Sony should provide around 1 stop shallower depth of field at the same aperture, allowing for greater subject separation.  Some would say I should be comparing the Fuji to the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0 instead.  It’s a valid point, but again…this is for fun: the two flagship lenses at this angle of view for each system.

The Test

This is a simple test, taken at a focus distance of approximately 2 meters.  This is a general focus distance that is good for environmental portraiture and other similar shots.  The lenses were tripod mounted and the blocks in the crops you’ll see were set at the center and the very left edge of the frame.  The full frame examined can be seen below (this is the Sony 35mm shot at f/2.0):

The Test Scene - Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.0

The Test Scene – Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.0

I took images focused on the center set of blocks, at full stop apertures, starting at f/1.4, and crops are presented below.  Now, let’s talk about the difference in test bed resolution.  The A7 II has a 24 megapixel full frame sensor, while the Fuji X-T1 has a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor.  I could compare full resolution between the two, and you’d see a pretty big difference.  Let me clue you in: The Sony combo shows more detail.  In some cases, a LOT more detail.  There’s just more detail that can be captured.  On one hand, this is certainly a big advantage to the Sony system, and we shouldn’t discount it.  On the other hand, it’s not really helpful to compare lenses when the sensors behind those lenses are of differing resolutions.

So, for the 100% crop comparisons below, I have resized the Sony images to the same pixel dimensions as the Fuji files.  This should still give a slight advantage to the Sony, but makes comparing the two a bit easier.  Don’t worry…I’ll post a few full size crops at the end.

So, let’s look at the center.  Click on the image, which will bring you to a full size image in a new window.  You may need to zoom in after the image loads to see the images at full size.

100% Crops - Center (Sony resized to 16MP) - Click to view full size

100% Crops – Center (Sony resized to 16MP) – Click to view full size

A few things can be seen here.  First, at f/1.4, the Sony is clearly sharper, even when reduced to 16 megapixels.  There is incredible contrast and clarity to the image straight from f/1.4.  If you compare the f/2.0 Sony shot to the f/1.4 Fuji shot, which would provide comparable depth of field, the difference is perhaps even greater. Looking at the top edges of the blocks, you can see that the Fuji controls CA slightly better, as a light-colored fringe can be seen along the top edge of the block at f/1.4. Stopping down improves the Fuji quickly, such that by f/2.0, the two are quite close, and by f/4, it’s hard to really pick between them.  The Zeiss still may hold a slight edge here, but it’s very close indeed.  I only show to f/4 on the center crops because neither lens improves upon stopping down further.

Now let’s look at the far edge crops.

Edge Crops - Click to View Full Size

100% Edge Crops (Sony resized to 16MP) – Click to View Full Size

Here things are a fair bit more lopsided.  The FE 35mm puts in an absolutely stunning performance here, with still extremely sharp images even right at the frame edge from f/1.4.  The Fuji does OK here, but simply can’t keep up.  Stopping down helps equalize things, and by f/2.8 both lenses are producing very strong resolution.  By f/5.6, the Zeiss still has a very slim edge, but it’s very close at these smaller apertures.

It’s clear that both lenses are very good, but the Zeiss is simply in a league of its own.  I’ve never seen a 35mm lens (or equivalent angle of view) with such a wide aperture perform this strongly.  it’s quite remarkable.  To get an idea of the full advantage this lens on the higher resolution sensor gives you, take a look at the f/1.4 edge crops at full size:

100% Edge Crops, f/1.4 - Click to Enlarge

100% Edge Crops, f/1.4 – Click to Enlarge


With a fast moderate wide-angle, the quality of out of focus blur is also of great importance.  While the full frame lens will allow for about one stop shallower depth of field due to the longer focal length, both lenses are very capable of providing for excellent subject isolation.  Below are crops showing how the background is rendered in this scene:

100% Crops - Bokeh (Sony resized to 16MP) - Click to view full size

100% Crops – Bokeh (Sony resized to 16MP) – Click to view full size

You can clearly see the depth of field differences here, but if you want to compare for similar depth of field, then simply look at crops down diagonally (f/1.4 on Fuji, f/2 on Sony and so on).  Both lenses are fine here, but the FE is once again a cut above.  It’s really quite remarkable that the lens designers were able to make this lens as sharp as it is while still providing for excellent background blur.

Another Note:

I also took one other scene, though crops don’t make much sense here, and it led me to discover something.  Focus breathing is a phenomenon that many lenses experience, and often it is due to a lens shortening actual focal length the closer one focuses.  Close up, I was able to see that the FE 35mm exhibits rather pronounced focus breathing, except it lengthens the focal length.  I’d estimate that the FE 35mm is actually closer to a 42mm lens at close focus.

The shots below I originally took tripod mounted again, but the FE shot was considerably tighter in framing and also produced blur that was more pronounced than the usual 1 stop difference.  I retook the Fuji shot at the lens’ minimum focus distance (which is the same as the Sony’s), but it still didn’t match.  This can actually be seen in the magnification factors.  The Fuji at MFD is 0.1x (0.15x framing in full frame terms), while the Sony is 0.18x at MFD.  In any case, here’s what you can expect when going for maximum subject isolation with these lenses:

Purple and Green - Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

Purple and Green – Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4


Purple and Green - Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4

Purple and Green – Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4

Final Thoughts

I said up front that this wasn’t really a fair test, and it really isn’t.  The Zeiss was tested with a higher resolution body, and the lens itself is nearly double the cost.  However, despite the resolution difference, it’s easy to see that the FE 35mm f/1.4 is exceptional.  It takes an extremely good Fuji 23mm f/1.4 and makes it look mediocre in comparison.  Zeiss has done something rather incredible with the lens.

Of course, this performance comes at a cost.  Two costs, really. The first, of course, is actual cost.  The Zeiss will run you an extra $700 more than the Fuji.  The second cost is in size, with the lens being nearly twice as long and more than twice as heavy.  If you’re willing to carry the weight, it’s a lens that may very well be worth the cash.  However, size can really make a difference, both in your comfort shooting and even the way your subjects react to the camera.  Pick what’s right for you.  The FE 35mm f/1.4 is an incredible optic, though I personally would rather have something like the Fuji 23 to carry on a daily basis.  The Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0 is also worth a strong look for those in the Sony camp who want a fairly fast lens but don’t want the bulk.  But I have to give credit where credit is due: Bravo Sony and Zeiss.

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Harry Fisch

    Hi Jordan,

    Sony marketing Spain has lend me a Sony Alpha 7s for a whole week with a 35mm. My main concern , and this is what I tested, was the Sony vs the Fuji XT-1 behaviour on low ligh situations. I won a world National Geographic contest (and was later disqualified) with a Fuji and it was candle light and aome street light.

    Later on I was finalist, again with a Fuji and again on a low light situations at the World Sony Awards…

    Coming back to your test, I have to admit that the Low Light results that I got withe the Sony 7s outperformed by two stops what I could get with my excellent Fuji. I could get the same quality withe the Sony at 12.800 ISO that I got with the Fuji at 3.200 ISO. ANd this is something.

    Also – and please keep the secret- the dinamic range (in this very special situation) was better at the Sony…

    I compared with a 200% enlargements and it was, I have to confess a totally subjective comparison.
    I conduct Photo tours at very remote places and I can not consider heavy equipment as I did in the past.

    I specifically chose the 7s due to it’s said (and later proven) excellent performance on low light. The Sony was(is) great but I have to say that if I am not going to change cameras nor optics. I do not need th best sharpness (My pictures are not about sharpmess) and, as you say in part of your article, there are other issues to take onto consideration.

    Will I buy a Sony ALpha. Yes, probably when I get a bigger choice of light and affordable lenses.

    BTW, congratulations for your excellent article,

  2. Alvin

    Great comparison Jordan.

    Sharpness aside, I noticed something interesting from the 1st set of comparison images.

    The bottom right of the four blocks – the one with the ice-cream cone on it – the blue-green color separation seems much more blurred on the X-T1 shot than on the A7II shot. I’m looking at the six tiny green dots on the bottom scoop.

    Is that a property of the x-trans sensor or is it simply the processing/resizing?

  3. Chris

    Hi Jordan,
    interesting test! You didn’t mention vignetting at the sides, from your crops looks a bit like that is stronger with the Sony? On the other hand, in terms of initial contrast and color wide-open the Fuji looks a bit poor.

    Generally, when I personally become to obsessed with pixel-peeping, it helps to simply downscale your pictures and you suddenly are astonished how sharp they are at 75% (12 Mpx, from 24 Mpx of A6000).

    With todays digital pics and high-res monitors it is easy to become too deep into peeping, when actually composition,depth of view and color are much more important.

    Best regards,

  4. MdB

    something interesting to consider:

    The 35mm f1.4 paired to an A7R essentially gives both a 36MP 35mm equiv and matching the Fuji’s 16MP @ 52mm equiv at f1.4. A fuji with both the 23mm f1.4 and 35mm f1.4 would not be significantly cheaper nor smaller / lighter, plus requires changing lenses, in addition to ‘only’ having 16MP @ 35mm equiv vs 36MP. In this regard, while the Fuji lens may be cheaper and smaller, the Zeiss lens is more versatile.

    1. Vlad

      Agreed. It is also worth mentioning that while the article states three times how this is unfair for the Fuji, it never mentions that the opposite is also true, depending on how you look at it.

    2. Turbofrog

      Whether that’s a legitimate comparison or not all depends on whether the pixel-level resolution on the 36MP sensor matches 16MP Fuji. It may, or it may not. Historically, cropping full-frame sensors usually reduces quality compared to using the same lens on a smaller sensor with higher pixel density to achieve that field of view (at least in the context of telephotos). Perhaps an interesting comparison to try.

  5. Josh

    Difference is obvious, but more obvious difference I see is much more noise level on low ISO on Fuji camera

  6. Robert

    Hi Jordan –
    really enjoying your blog for a few years now – thanks for your time!

    a comparison with the 400$ lens like the Samyang/Rokinon 35mm 1.4. would be interesting.
    The Zeiss seems outstanding – but what am I getting more for 1000,- bucks?

    1. Y.W

      Actually comparing to Sigma 35 art would be more interesting. DxO has released measured specs on both lens. But seeing the difference in photos counts more than difference in numbers. I hope I can see it soon somewhere.

      1. Matt Payne

        I agree; however, Sigma does not manufacture lenses for the FE mount, unfortunately, so you’d have to also employ an adapter. 🙁

        1. Y.W

          From what I read about, on FE mount cameras’ CMOS sensors, light strike the pixels near the edges with an angle. This is different from Nikon design. I doubt adapting Nikon lens will results in worse edge performance.

  7. Adi

    Extremely good comparison, with exactly the info we need.
    I put this website in my favorites tabs.

  8. Turbofrog

    Out of curiosity, Jordan, what RAW converter do you use for your Fuji files? It seems the X-Trans colour filter array is particulary sensitive to the de-mosaicing process, and Adobe Camera RAW/Lightroom leads to softer files than the competing RAW converters. It’s actually why I’ve never seriously considered Fuji, since I find that the workflow and simplicity of using Lightroom is more valuable to me than any incremental improvement in image quality I might be able to squeak out of a Fuji using an alternative converter like PhotoNinja compared to Micro Four Thirds in Lightroom…

    1. Jordan Steele

      I predominantly use Lightroom. I use C1 Pro 8 for some conversions if it’s the type of image that lends itself to that. I also use Photo Ninja for images where the watercolor effect can pop up in Lightroom, as it handles those images very well. Overall, Photo Ninja gets more detail out of the images than any of the other converters (I’m on Windows, so no Iridient for me), but the interface is clunky and I find it harder to get local edits and good skin tones out of it than I do in the other programs.

  9. Chris Weber

    Love your site, your reviews helped me realize that I wanted a Fuji system, which I’ve switched to from Canon. What I’ve noticed is that Lightroom’s .raf file support is hideous. I shoot RAW + JPG and the JPG’s that the X-T1 produces are far and away better than what I can achieve in Lightroom on the RAW file. The in-camera processing for sharpness, contrast, and other factors seems to be ideal. I’ve compared LR’s processing with Fuji’s Silypix and the two don’t compare. Silkypix has much better processing to my eyes and apparently many other people’s.

    When I look at your photos in this review, it looks like you’re taking the straight Fuji RAW file in Lightroom. Are you saying these images in this review were from PhotoNinja? I’d rather see a JPG comparison because in the end you’re relying on some form of processing, and it’s not fair if one tool has better RAW file support for one brand over the other’s, right? In that case, it’s very hard to make a comparison.

    1. Y.W

      You should try Capture one.

  10. karsten

    Its a dramatic difference between Fuji and Sony, its seems i was fooled by several enthusastic internet comments when buying one (had no direct field comparison posssible).

    I was dissapointed by my Fuji X-E1 and the coresponding lenses.

    And now i know why … this super unclear / not sharp Cloudy pictures are simply a big crap.
    I took out my old Nikon (D7000+crap lense) prints and compared in details, i see the same quality difference like you pointed out against that super sony prime.

    Especialy the F4 Pictures and those 100% edge crops.

    Could you Test more sony primes against the 23mm Fuji to see if it would be worth selling the X-junk and get a decent sony? or maybe even Samsung?

    kind regards

    1. Y.W

      Are you using Adobe to do raw processing?

    2. W.C.

      “Its a dramatic difference between Fuji and Sony, its seems i was fooled by several enthusastic internet comments when buying one (had no direct field comparison posssible).”

      There’s a dramatic difference in sensor size, what did you expect? Assuming both types of sensors are from the same year, a full frame sensor will always win. You are pixel peeping and comparing apples and oranges. You were not fooled by anyone, but yourself Karsten.

      “super unclear / not sharp Cloudy pictures are simply a big crap”

      You are pixel peeping and comparing apples and oranges. Use your RAW converter properly (get the latest version too) and you’ll see that the Fuji delivers pretty amazing image quality. Look only at the images of the Fuji. Look at your prints. Stop the endless comparing on your quest for the ultimate image quality fro the ultimate camera. Use what you have and enjoy it. Ask yourself this; are my photographs interesting, good, fascinating? What story do I want to tell via my photos? Am I a good photographer or am I just a (very lucky and rich) guy good at reviewing, comparing and testing cameras and lenses?

      You are lost in pixel peeping space my friend. I know, because I’ve been down this road too. Never satisfied, stuck in front of your computer screen scrutinising your photos. With each new camera or lens there are new disappointments (image quality, size and weight, lens choice, responsiveness, AF speed, build quality etc). Forever changing cameras and lenses and sharing your disappointment and anger with the online photo community like you did on this website. And when you finally do settle on a camera system for a short while, oops, there’s the new model!

      There is hope. You have great power. You can end this madness, this struggle, this internal war. Choose a system and go out and make photographs. Enjoy!

      1. P.K.

        Wauw. Like looking in a mirror. You could have addressed this to me and it would be right on the money. Great comment my friend 🙂

  11. Mike Aubrey

    Hey Jordan,

    Just a comment on the focus breathing…LensRentals’ blog noted that at farther distances, the FE 35mm f/1.4 is actually wider than the FD 35mm f/2.8. So it’s possible that close focus might split the difference a little.

  12. Rainer Jehle

    Stimme Toilette voll zu 🙂

  13. JonS

    Redo the test with the Fuji X-T2 🙂 Pleeeese???

  14. Rolland Stopher

    It’s really very good and working very well, i couldn’t believe that i got 16GB pen drive in very less prize, it’s truly awesome. Guys if you thinking to buy this one then just buy it don’t think to much. I m sure this tiny one will satisfied your all expectations….

  15. Dr. Fuzeli

    I’ll start out by saying I have happily used both these systems and both are flawed in their own ways but also two of the nicest systems to use on the market for the principaled photographer. Maybe it’s just me, and I apologize if some one has already mentioned this, and I can’t tell because I wasn’t present at the time of the shot but it looks to me like the colour palette is more correct on the Fuji. Also, maybe it’s just me but has anyone else notice the significant chromatic aberation on the wood from the Sony shots above f2? I agree the pictures are sharper at this magnification but the Fuji’s rendition despite being softer seems more detailed as far as colour is concerned. Could be the photographers use of the equipment but I think I’d prefer the Fuji recreation if the res was more similar. Personally I can adjust colours in post, as a street photographer I want the most accurate representation of the moment captured and I think the Fuji seems to have it here.

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