Hands-on with new Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM
It’s been a long time coming, but Sony has finally announced a G Master series 35mm lens for its full-frame mirrorless system. The new FE 35mm F1.4 GM is Sony’s 39th full-frame E-mount lens, and does not replace the older Zeiss-branded optic. It should and – spoiler alert – does outperform it in most respects, according to our testing.
Click-through for a closer look at Sony’s newest full-frame prime lens.
Size and weight
The Sony 35mm F1.4 G Master handles and looks quite a bit like its 24mm F1.4 GM cousin, which is to say the design is both compact and lightweight. Weighing in at 524g (1.1lbs), the new lens is lighter than its Zeiss-branded predecessor (630g) and smaller, too. The older lens measured 112 x 78.5mm (4.4 x 3.1″) compared to 96 x 76mm (3.8 x 3.0″) for the new ‘GM’. This isn’t a huge difference, but it is noticeably shorter when mounted onto an a9 or a7-series body.
The front filter thread is smaller, too: 67mm compared to 72mm.
Build quality and sealing
Despite its surprisingly lightweight design, this lens feels incredibly well-built. In line with other GM-series lenses, the FE 35mm F1.4 GM is rated as ‘dust and moisture resistant’, which basically means you can take it out into the elements from time to time, though we’d recommend you avoid subjecting it to lengthy exposure to dust, mud or rain (and don’t expect it to work underwater…). A rubber gasket around the mount also helps to protect moisture and gunk from entering the body and getting onto your camera’s sensor. A fluorine coating on the front element should make water or dirt easy to clean off.
The FE 35mm F1.4 GM boasts a minimum focus distance of 27cm (10.6″), which works out to a maximum magnification of 0.23X. This is about average for a lens of this type, but Sony claims that image quality in its close-up range should be extremely good. Meanwhile, twin XD (‘extreme dynamic’ – Sony really likes adding the word ‘extreme’ to things) linear AF motors are designed to deliver accurate and silent focus across the focus range. Thanks to the combination of these motors and a single focusing group, focus is nearly instantaneous, making the lens suitable for fast and erratic subjects.
For manual focus fans, the response of the manual focus ring is linear, i.e., 5 degrees of movement of the focus ring will always change focus by the same amount, regardless of how fast or slowly you rack the control. The manual focus ring also turns with a nice smooth motion. This is all great news for video, where you need to be able to accurately and repeatedly position focus manually between fixed positions.
A customizable focus hold button on the lens barrel can temporarily disable autofocus – quite useful when paired with ‘touch tracking’ AF in video – but it need not be restricted to this function. It can be assigned to any custom function available to the other custom buttons on Alpha series bodies. The faux mechanical aperture ring can be set to move in fixed ‘clicky’ detents, or ‘de-clicked’ for smoother, stepless adjustment: again, a useful feature for video work. The only downside we could find for video shooters was some noticeable focus breathing when rack focusing.
Sony is proud of the design of this lens, describing it in our briefing as offering ‘overwhelming image quality in a compact and mobile package’. The image quality part of that comes courtesy of a complex optical design, comprising 14 elements in 10 groups, including two ‘XA’ (extreme aspherical) elements, with one such element positioned at the front of the lens. One ED (extra-low dispersion) element, positioned in the middle of the optical layout, helps focus light rays of varying wavelengths (or colors) at the same focal plane. All of this fancy glass should pay off in excellent sharpness across the frame, and very good control of longitudinal chromatic aberration (often seen as purple or green fringing in front of and behind the focal plane, respectively).
Eleven rounded aperture blades provide a near-circular aperture even as you stop the aperture down, which should ensure attractive bokeh and out-of-focus highlights. Meanwhile, Sony’s ‘Nano AR Coating II’ is designed to control flare and ghosting.
We’ve had some time to shoot two copies of the Sony 35mm F1.4 GM and have come away impressed by what we’ve seen. The lens is sharp wide open, resolving hairs with high contrast that are just one pixel wide at F1.4. Longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) is well-controlled but modestly present. While it won’t bother you at an image level, you may notice it upon close inspection at high magnification when shooting wide open. It’s largely a non-issue once you stop down to F2. In this regard it’s far better than many lenses of its type, significantly outperforming the Sony 35mm F1.4 ZA, the Sony 35mm F1.8, and the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, but falling behind the industry leading Canon 35mm F1.4L II.
Bokeh, which along with LoCA, was one of the Achilles’ Heels of the 35mm ZA lens, is smooth and pleasing, with circular out-of-focus highlights showing no patterning or onion rings, well-controlled cat’s eye effect, and no mechanical truncation of bokeh at image edges or corners that can otherwise lead to ‘busy’ bokeh in these image areas.
Flare and ghosting are well controlled; we found it hard to induce contrast-killing flare or unsightly ghosts in the image when pointing the lens directly into the sun. Twenty-two point sunstars are well-defined as you stop down. Overall, optical quality is particularly impressive when you consider the size and weight of the lens.
Price and availability
The Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM will be available in mid-February at an MSRP of $1400.
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