Sony FE 35 Match-up: Is More, More?

Published April 2, 2015

Time to trash the adapters?

Sony has just released a new line of full frame FE lenses that will hopefully eliminate the need to use adapters with lenses from other systems.  We just received the  Sony FE 35mm F/1.4 ZA Distagon which has the largest aperture in the lineup and we couldn’t wait to have a look at it. Will this replace the petite FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA Sonnar? Probably not for the photographer who enjoys fitting a camera/lens combo in her purse. For the low light lover, bokeh buff, and adapter averse? Let’s find out.

Before I show you fair comparisons of each lens at F/2.8, here are photos taken with each lens at its widest aperture.

Both images were captured on the same camera and tripod setup, so it looks like the Distagon is actually a touch wider even though they are both technically 35mm. Will this make a difference? Not really.


Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA Sonnar at F/2.8

Sony FE 35mm F/1.4 ZA Distagon at F/1.4

And now for a better look at those out of focus areas I threw the focus ring all the way to the closest focus. With everything blurred it is easy to notice the variations in color between the two images.  The shape in the highlights is slightly different with a noticeable increase in softness in the 35mm F1.4.

Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 ZA Sonnar at F/2.8

Sony FE 35mm F/1.4 ZA Distagon at F/2.8

Time for the contrast challenge. Here is a mix of light and dark subject matter in bright sunlight. Both lenses seem to handle the situation without obvious aberrations, but the solid background makes it easy to see the vignetting in the 35mm F/2.8.

Sonnar at F/2.8 1/5000 ISO 100

Distagon at F/2.8 1/5000 ISO 100

Another thing to consider with these two lenses is the difference in minimum focusing distance. It’s handy to purpose wide angle lenses as macros when possible. The FE 35mm F/2.8 has a minimum focusing distance of 13.8in while the F/1.4 version lets you get as close as 11.76in.  And in my experience, 2 inches can really make a difference.

Sonnar at F/2.8 1/2000 ISO 50

Distagon at F/2.8 1/2000 ISO 50

Okay, onward and upward (literally). Let’s take a look at flare. As I have noted, the 35mm f/1.4 has a more buttery quality in the out of focus areas. When put against the sun it doesn’t seem to hold together as well as the f/2.8 version, exchanging creamy blur for flatter color and more blown out highlights.

Sonnar at F/2.8 1/5000 ISO 100

Distagon at F/2.8 1/5000 ISO 100

And for the final event, landscape photographers, here are two images shot at f/8 focused at infinity. Again, the vignetting and color in the sky is noticeable. What we really want to know, though, which one is sharper. Right?

Sonnar at F/8 1/500 ISO 100

Distagon at F/8 1/500 ISO 100

This is an interesting comparison. The center of each image is very comparable as shown in the 100% crop. You may notice, however, that the edges of the 35mm F/1.4 lose some clarity. This is especially apparent on the left side of this particular image. This is not a flaw of the lens, but due to the curvature in the field of focus.  It’s commonly thought that the wider the aperture, the sharper the lens is stopped down. We have seen in our labs at Lensrentals that this is often not the case.  Many lenses made to open as wide as F/1.4 are built with a field of focus pattern that have one or several curves making them less desirable for shooting landscapes or architecture.

Sonnar at F/8 1/500 ISO 100 (100% Center Crop)

Distagon at F/8 1/500 ISO 100 (100% Center Crop)

One last thing to consider when comparing these lenses is the size. The 35mm F1.4 weighs in at 1.39 lbs while the smaller 35mm F/2.8 is only .26 lbs. The weight alone could be a deciding factor.


I’m really impressed with the image quality of the Sonnar F/2.8. This lens is tiny, sharp, and half the price of the Distagon F/1.4. Am I a sucker, like many others, for the smooth F/1.4 lowlight capable lens? Definitely. And I will probably use it whenever I am renting. For the consumer looking to purchase, however, the FE 35mm F/2.8 looks like a smart choice.


Sarah McAlexander



Author: Sarah McAlexander

I’m Sarah. I have a BFA in Photography from the University of Memphis. I’ve been shooting professionally for over 6 years. When I’m not working here or freelancing, I enjoy yoga and traveling.

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  • Hubert Baierl

    For landscape, and other static objects, is started to fall in love with the Loxia 25 mm. Yes, not all Loxia seem to be compelling, the 85 mm is on my “waiting list” as well, to complement the SEL85F14GM. Loxia build quality, resolution and color rendering are stunning. Yes, they do have vignetting, and they are MF. When going hiking, it is my first choice for these reasons. I would not want to take a polycarbonate Sony GM with me, I am scared that it would be too fragile.

  • Satya

    I have been reading every bit of this as well as comments- I am trying to decide on a 35mm for my Sony A7S πŸ™‚ I was almost leaning towards the Loxia but so many have expressed that the tiny Sony 35F2.8ZA is aamazing. So now, I am still no closer to decide πŸ™ Is the Sony Distagon 35 F1.4 that big to wield around?

  • BurntAsh

    Daniel, either they swapped out the image, or I’m seeing something different. The comparison image the bottom does have the rear cap, front cap and hood mounted on the 2.8. It really is just ridiculously small.

  • Daniel Ortego

    Interesting that you show the f2,8 without the rear lens cap or hood and the f1,4 with the hood and lens mounted giving the illusion the f2,8 is considerably shorter.

  • Jan

    I enjoyed clicking the portrait shots of ‘man in glasses’β€”did you switch the larger images for fun? Or do I just need my morning cuppa?

  • Sarah

    Mel, the first set of images is only to illustrate the different widths of focus. As the article continues I praise the image quality of the little 2.8 and recommend it as a smart purchase.

  • Sarah, I own only the 35mm f2.8 version, but if you check carefully your first image above, the boy’s nose in the f2.8 image is very out of focus and sharp on the f1.4 image. Given the depth of field of the f2.8, I have to think the photographer missed focus on the f2.8.

    I love my little f2.8. I also love my tiny 15mm Voigtlander Series III – at 8 ounces, less than half that of the 16-35mm zoom, way-way smaller -and vastly sharper across the frame, wide open, vs the huge 16-35 zoom.

  • RJA

    Your title “Time to trash the adapters” is interesting.

    My favorite 35mm lens on A7R is the Canon FD 35mm f/2.0.
    (The Canon FD 28mm f/2.0 is also very good)
    It is very sharp and f/2.0
    I Wonder how it compares with the new lens…

  • Sarah

    Frank, The lens does appear to have a bit more contrast. The two portraits were taken back to back on the same camera body and resized in the same way. The difference was apparent in the RAW files as well.

  • Sarah

    Tony, I won’t make an exact comparison here, but I have used the Loxia and love the IQ and size. Great little lens, very sharp, but a big flare magnet.

    Jack, These shots were taken with the same camera and white balance settings. I was very interested in the color difference myself as I tend to associate certain brands with certain looks.

    Paul, I will let the images do the talking on this one. There is a tool for every job, and if the job requires edge to edge sharpness, maybe the Distagon isn’t the tool.

  • Dear Tired Of Fly Wire: If you want a non fly-by-wire native fe-mount 35mm look no further than the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2. It’s silky smooth mechanical focus with excellent image quality and a much smaller size than the 35/1.4

  • The new f1.4 lens looks very interesting, but its a monster compared to the 35mm Sonnar f2.8. It has become trendy to bash this little lens, but every objective test (with a good copy) that I have ever seen sings the praises of this 110g wonder. Thus far, there is no better lens cap for the A7 bodies, because of its size and weight. I have been very pleased with the performance of mine, particularly Iceland where I used it extensively, often handheld, for landscape work.

    For me personally, fast heavy lenses require larger, heavier bodies to balance them. Maybe we are going to see an all-singing all-dancing DSLR-alike A9 series, but with the 400-500g A7/A7II/A7S/A7R bodies the smaller lenses certainly feel more right in terms of balance and handing. In the meantime, I hope Sony builds on their 35mm & 55mm Sonnar line and adds 85mm and 21-24mm primes! When the A9 comes, this 35mm Distagon will make more sense IMHO.

  • So the 2.8 is sharper and almost on par at everything else except the aperture and minimum focus. Does this imply that the sigma 35 might be a better lens from the iq perspective?

  • Jack

    That’s a striking color difference. Is this typical for lenses to have such different colors within brands? Could a different white balance make the lenses look identical [color wise]?

  • Tired Of Fly Wire

    As long as fly-by-wire focus is used for e-mount lenses, I will not be trashing my adapters.

    It’s time to trash fly-by-wire focusing. Or at least turn the accelerometer off. Or better yet, allow user adjustable focus throw.

    Regardless, thanks for the comparison.

  • Tony

    Any thoughts on how the Loxia 35 would compare in sharpness and iq? Saw some other reviews online and seem divided based on personal taste and corner sharpness In raw vs jpg.

  • Philip Partridge

    But, aren’t they all the same at f8, πŸ˜‰
    It’s almost reassuring to see we still suffer middle aperture CoF in 2015 in fast 35s, and we see that at f8 DoF is no panacea (note the differences in the extreme foreground, grass is a killer subject for 40-50 lpmm), and it will only get worse with 50Mp sensors.

    Very good choice of subjects, esp the cell phone tower wires, guaranteed to play havoc with tangential structures. The more complex Distagon delivers better color separation, palette and tonal structure, with a much better wide open result – very pleasant low contrast OOF highlight cores.

    Focus fade assists with better depth perception also, and placing the subject off-centre has little impact, both lenses resolve similar figures at IH 12-16mm. Sony might have used a 9 blade aperture in the FE 35/2.8 for the money they are asking, the tree blur shot showcases the elegance of the Distagon very nicely, it’s a fine bokeh monster all right.

    Both lenses deliver what they promise, and your results corroborate Sony’s MTF closely. I agree with your findings, and thank you very much, Sarah!

    A final (and controversial) comment: our visual system includes the perception of content just beyond our visual acuity, which nevertheless influences our ability to make sense of image data. We are so good at dealing with sub-optimal data that we adjust reflexively, but flat field lens of high resolution have a huge advantage for deep DoF imagery, despite being quite unfashionable due to slow max apertures – fast is best, right? πŸ˜‰

  • Ed

    Great review! Concise and straight to the point. I agree, it looks like from a usability standpoint the 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar is the more attractive choice. The 1.4 is nice but it is way too big and way too expensive.

  • Mark Giglio

    Thanks Sarah, I’m not sure i’ve seen such a photo oriented view on this website, at least not in a while (but don’t stop the tech talk). How does the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f2.0 do compared with the two Sony’s? I never thought it was possible to make three completely different 35mm prime lenses in terms of use and style none of which qualify as cheap, who knows maybe Sony will throw cheap into the mix next to further confuse its customer base.

  • Amos

    Are y’all planning on also testing the new ZM 35mm/F1.4 M-mount lens?

  • Frank Kolwicz

    Regarding the image of the young man: it looks like the 1.4 version is a lot contrastier – is that true or is there some JPEG stuff going on?

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