Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4
Full-Frame Distagon T✻
Sony Zeiss Distagon T✻ 35mm f/1.4 FE (fits Sony NEX only, metal 72mm filter thread, 22.2 oz./630 g, 1'/0.3m close-focus, about $1,598). bigger. I got mine at B&H. I'd also get it at Adorama or at Amazon.
This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Sony and Zeiss do not seal any of their boxes, so never buy at retail or any source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, dropped, damaged or used lens, a customer return or if the warranty has already been registered to someone else online! The approved sources I use ship from secure, remote automated warehouses where salespeople or other customers never, ever get to touch your lens before you do, and they have the best prices, selection, service and return policies.
December 2015 Sony Zeiss Canon Nikon LEICA Hasselblad Fuji All Reviews
Palm, Moon and Stars, 21 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/1.4 at 1/5 second hand-held, Auto ISO 3,200, Perfectly Clear V2. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution). The dots in the sky belong there: they are stars.
This Zeiss 35/1.4 makes it easy to shoot hand-held under any light — or lack thereof!
Corte Madera, 22 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/8 at 1/320 at Auto ISO 100. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
Of course daylight shots are ultrasharp (the sides aren't in focus because they're closer on the left and farther away on the right).
Snowman at Don Jose's, 22 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/2 at 1/30 at Auto ISO 640. bigger or full-size © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
Not only does it shoot in any light; it looks great doing it. Look at how the backgrounds melt away beautifully.
Fountain, 23 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/2.5 at 1/60 at Auto ISO 100. bigger or full-size © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
This 35/1.4 Zeiss is astounding in how it captures air and light. Look how the fountain looks three-dimensional, standing out from the softer background.
Hand-held moonlight shots? Easy!
Palms at Night, 25 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/1.4 at 1/10 hand-held at ISO 3,200. bigger or full-size © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
Shot under moonlight hand-held, and it's sharp!
Marriott Desert Springs Resort by Starlight, 25 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/1.4 at 1/5 hand-held at ISO 800. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
This Zeiss makes these shots easy; I was pointing and shooting as I went to dinner with the family.
And when you have light — any light — the sharp parts are so sharp and the backgrounds so soft that the results are three-dimensional. Pops comes forward from the soft background because he's so sharp.
The Sony Zeiss Distagon T✻ FE 35 f/1.4 excels because of its ultrafast speed, great sharpness and superb bokeh. Its bokeh is always soft and smooth, easily superior to the bokeh of the $5,150 LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE.
The reason we pay so much for this heavy thing for our lightweight cameras is because it lets us shoot hand-held even under moonlight. In the shots above, my eyes couldn't see this level of color and detail because it was too dark, but with an A7R II, I captured more color and detail than was visible to my naked eye.
This Zeiss significantly expands our operational envelope to extremely low light, all with no need for a tripod.
When we do have light, this Zeiss is extraordinary in how it renders light, air and depth. It does an astonishing job of capturing what's out there and getting it to a sensor in a very pleasant way. Its bokeh is magnificent, and combined with its exquisite sharpness and contrast, lets me make three dimensional images.
While other state-of-the-art lenses like the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L IS II, Nikon 35mm f/1.4G and LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE may have better optics in the lab and are fantastic when used on their own cameras, this Zeiss is far better than any of them when used on Sony's cameras.
While it's easy to adapt anything to Sony's NEX cameras, adapted wide lenses work much more poorly than you'd expect. Adapted wides don't interface well at random angles of incidence at the sides of sensors, making them both much softer and far more susceptible to ghost images than this native Sony Zeiss FE lens.
This Zeiss also handles much better than adapted lenses, with autofocus and auto aperture control and EXIF communication you can't get with an adapted lens.
While the similar Nikon, Canon and LEICA full-frame ultrawides are at least as good as this made-in-Thailand Zeiss lens optically, only this Zeiss lens actually works properly on Sony cameras, with sharpness and no phantom ghost images in the corners.
It has an electronic manual focus ring, that if activated in the camera, can allow manual focus.
It does not work on DSLRs and DSLR-style cameras like the A99.
It's a full-frame lens and I'm reviewing it that way.
it works great on cropped-sensor cameras, but you're paying big bucks for this lens to get great performance over a large sensor, which you're wasting with a cropped-sensor camera.
Sony Zeiss Distagon T✻ 35mm f/1.4 FE.
Sony calls this the Zeiss Distagon T✻ FE 1,4/35 ZA.
Zeiss: Brand name of famous German lens company. (Lens is actually made by Sony under license in Thailand; it's not made by Zeiss.)
Distagon: Zeiss' trade name for wide-angle retrofocus lenses.
FE: Full frame coverage lens for Sony's NEX cameras.
ZA: Solidarity with South Africa.
T✻: Zeiss' trademark for multicoating, standard on all camera lenses of all brands since the 1970s.
Sony Part Number: SEL35F14Z.
Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 T✻ internal diagram. Aspherics.
12 elements in 8 groups.
Three aspheric elements, one of which (the front element) Sony calls "Super Aspheric."
It's multicoated, which Zeiss calls T✻.
1 foot (0.3 meters) from the image plane.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
1:5.6 (0.18 x).
Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 . bigger.
9 rounded blades.
Stops down to f/16.
Full frame 24 × 36mm, as well as smaller formats.
When used on an APS-C camera, it sees angles of view similar to what a 50mm lens sees when used on a full-frame or 35mm camera.
Angles of View
63° diagonal on full-frame 24 × 36mm.
44° diagonal on APS-C.
Hard Infinity Focus Stop?
You have to let the AF system focus at infinity.
Infra-Red Focus Index
Sony ALC SH137 hood. bigger.
ALC SH137 hybrid metal & plastic bayonet hood, included.
Included unpadded drawstring vinyl sack. bigger.
Unpadded drawstring vinyl sack, included.
3.09" (78.5 mm) diameter by 4.41" (112mm) extension from flange, measured.
22.235 oz. (630.4 g), actual measured weight.
Rated 22.2 oz. (630 g).
Made in Thailand.
Sony's Model Number
15 September 2014.
November 2015: $1,598.
Box, Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4. bigger.
Microcorrugated cardboard box.
Lens in bubble wrap, put in case, and that's put in more bubble wrap.
The Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 is the only native choice for a fast wide-angle lens for Sony's NEX full-frame system, and it's excellent.
Autofocus is fast and accurate, no worries here.
It focuses by wire, and since autofocus is so great, I don't know why I'd use manual focus for anything other than to keep the focus locked.
Bokeh is superb. It's one of the main reasons to spend $1,600 on this lens.
Bokeh is the quality, or softness, of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus.
Here are samples shot wide open. Click for the camera-original files to explore on your computer (portable devices rarely can display the full resolution of these files):
While you're here, notice how the spider webs are exceptionally sharp in the center where they are in focus. The sides are out of focus; this isn't shot straight-on.
As shot on the Sony A7R II, the Zeiss FE 35 1.4 has minor to moderate barrel distortion.
It corrects in Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool with a value of +1.5, and most Sony cameras can be set to correct it automatically.
It was never distracting, even with brick-wall shots.
Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4. bigger.
This is a big, fat lens, and it's easy to shoot. It's mostly a manual focus ring, and the aperture ring is easy to move as well.
Youy can disable the clicks on the aperture ring with a slider on the lower left of the barrel.
It feels like a thin metal vanity shell over a plastic lens.
The focus ring turns well, but it only does something if you set your camera just right.
Bad is that my A7R Mk II, and probably most Sonys, ignore the aperture ring in P mode. Instead of working properly and just forcing the system to the selected aperture as better cameras like Fuji and Contax do, the Sonys simply ignore the ring unless you're in a mode where you need to set the aperture.
In other words, better camera brands use the A position and numerical aperture settings in place of a mode control; when you set A the camera should just set the aperture automatically and when you set an actual aperture it should force the camera to that aperture, but as of 2015, Sony's cameras aren't properly programmed. This is a camera firmware defect, not a problem with this lens.
The aperture ring is big, flashy and beautiful, but not as functional as it could be. It's purely an electronic encoder, not a mechanical ring. It looks great, but it also requires a long turn to change it. It has too many clicks; a click for each third of a stop.
Worse, it has no deeper detents at full stops, so the clicks don't really serve any purpose. The point of clicks is to let you set full stops by feel.
There's a lever to disengage the clicks, not that I'd care. How could they screw up something so simple as an aperture ring?
My A7R Mk II won't select wider than f/2 in program mode, which is another defect in camera (not lens) programming. You can shift the program to get there, but that's a different problem. If you want to use f/1.4 well in the dark, you need to set the camera to A mode and set the lens to 1.4. You can't just move the ring to f/1.4 in program mode as you should be able.
Not the lens' fault, but this is why I shoot cameras designed properly, like my Canon, Contax, Hasselblad and LEICAs, when I have something important to shoot on my time. I only shoot Sony as a goof.
Falloff is completely invisible as shot on the Sony cameras which I presume are correcting for it.
It's not a problem even in this extreme case of exaggerating it by shooting a gray field and showing it on a gray background:
Filters work GREAT.
On full-frame I can stack five normal 72mm filters with no vignetting!
Go ahead and use all your standard rotating grad filters and polarizers; there's certainly no need for expensive thin filters here.
There are no ghosts and no flare — unless you leave a filter on the front.
Even with a multicoated filter you'll get a green blob or two like this from light bouncing off the lens and being reflected back from the filter:
Ghosts at f/16. bigger.
Without a filter, the ghosts go away as seen under Sunstars.
There are some minor blue/violet fringes on a 42MP Sony A7R II.
This isn't at all that bad, except that lenses this expensive shouldn't have any at all, and especially not after the camera corrects it. This is clearly inferior to Canon's 35/1.4 II as shot on a 5DS R, for instance.
Crop at 100% from top left corner of above. camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
Macro doesn't get very close. Here's as good as you can get on full-frame. Cropped sensors will appear to be closer.
Crop from above. If this is about 8" (20cm) on your screen, printing the complete image at this same high magnification would result in a 25 x 40" (60 x 100 cm) print! bigger at 100% or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
It's super-sharp at f/2.8, but spherochromatism is so strong at f/1.4 that it's not very useful:
Crop from above. If this is about 8" (20cm) on your screen, printing the complete image at this same high magnification would result in a 25 x 40" (60 x 100 cm) print! show crop at 100% or camera-original file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
Spherochromatism is what's making the magenta fringes on the left and the green on the right. Since the watch isn't perfectly parallel to my sensor, the slight out-of-focus effects on each side highlight the spherochromatism (color fringes on out of focus areas).
It's sharp around the M of MON in the date window, but a few microns out of the plane of focus and it's soft.
Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4. bigger.
The Sony Zeiss FE 35 is a metal shell protecting plastic innards. The metal outside is more a charade than a sign of durability.
Hood Bayonet Mount
Seem like lots of plastic.
Engraved and filled with paint on metal ring inside filter threads, and on the barrel.
Dust seal at mount
About half engraved and filled with paint, and the other half simply painted.
Serial Numbers1.) Engraved on front identity ring.
2.) Sticker from Sony with a different printed number glued to the bottom of the barrel..
Noises When Shaken
Made in Thailand.
It's the least skilled hobbyists who worry about this and waste the most time blaming fuzzy pictures on their lenses, while real shooters know that few photos ever use all the sharpness of which their lenses are capable due to subject motion and the fact that real subjects are rarely perfectly flat.
This Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 is sharp, but as used on the full frame Sony A7R II I'm not all that excited about its edge sharpness. I suspect this isn't the lens' performance as much as how well the aerial image interfaces with the sensor at the sides. Optical angle of incidence is critical, and I suspect this lens' rear nodal point may not quite be where it's optimum for the Sony cameras.
You'll never see this in actual photos, but on the test range (not shown here) its edge sharpness on the Sony camera lags behind what you should get at this price, and lags behind what you get from Canon, Nikon or LEICA with their 35/1.4s on their own cameras. This Zeiss 35/1.4 is the sharpest of any of these lenses when used on Sony cameras.
So what? What matters is the sharpness in the central area, which is superb. With this Zeiss, of course images jump off the page.
f/1.4: Canary Palm from below, 30 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/1.4 at 1/800 at ISO 100. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
f/2: Canary Palm from below, 30 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/2 at 1/320 at ISO 100. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
f/2.8: Canary Palm from below, 30 November 2015. Sony A7R II, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, f/2.8 at 1/160 at ISO 100. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely can display the full resolution).
The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 FE's biggest optical flaw is strong spherochromatism, also called "color bokeh" by hobbyists.
Spherochromatism is what causes colored fringes on slightly out-of-focus highlights, usually seen as green fringes on backgrounds and magenta fringes on foregrounds.
It is an advanced form of chromatic aberration in a different dimension than lateral color. Spherochromatism is most commonly seen in fast lenses of moderate focal length - like 35mm f/1.4 lenses — when shooting contrasty items at full aperture. It goes away as stopped down.
While Canon's newest 35mm f/1.4 uses new materials to reduce this, this Zeiss lens doesn't use such technology and has a boatload of spherochromatism
Here's a crop from a larger image showing this lens' spherochromatism, and how it goes away as stopped down:
The bad news is that this causes color fringes on anything only slightly out of focus at f/1.4, as seen at Macro.
The good news is that this is a trick used by optical designers to improve bokeh, and this lens has superb bokeh. The spherochromatism helps blur green foliage backgrounds even more.
Sunstars are great! We get sunstars at just about every aperture:
Sunstar at f/4. bigger.
Sunstar at f/5.6. bigger.
Sunstar at f/8. bigger.
Sunstar at f/11. bigger.
Sunstar at f/16. bigger.
Sunstars are softer due to the curved blades, and we do get sunstars at many apertures.
There is no optical image stabilization.
With the sensor-based stabilization in the Sony A7R II, I get good results down to about 1/5 or 1/10, which is OK, but not that much better than I get without stabilization.
The Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 FE is sharper, less distorted, smaller, lighter and much less expensive. It's a much better lens for most uses for less than half the price — but it only gathers one-quarter as much light for use in the dark.
While Canon's, LEICA's and Nikon's 35/1.4s are sharper at the sides when used on their own cameras, those lenses don't adapt well to Sony. The sharpest 35/1.4 on Sony is this Zeiss lens which is designed for it.
Get this f/1.4 lens so you can use faster shutter speeds for action in dim light, so you can use lower ISOs for cleaner images in very low light, and for shooting under moonlight and outdoors at night hand-held without a tripod. Also get it to get three-dimensional effects where you make subjects pop out of your images against softer backgrounds. Images that pop like this sell.
Get the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 FE for portability and casual use.
The reason we buy and carry f/1.4 lenses is so we can shoot in the dark. With film we needed f/1.4 so we could shoot action in available light, but with the superb high ISOs of digital, f/1.4 is what lets us shoot action in dim light at reasonable ISOs, and even shoot hand-held under moonlight at high ISOs. As you've seen, I have no problems capturing sharp stars in the sky, hand-held! This f/1.4 lens lets me shoot things I've never been able to shoot before without a tripod. Even without a tripod, Sony's cameras with this lens let me see deeper into the dark than I can with my own eyes.
For normal use, the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 FE is a better lens, less expensive and smaller. If you love shooting at night as you go about your business, shoot astronomy or shoot action in whatever light gets thrown at you, get this f/1.4.
I'd use a Hoya multicoated 72mm UV to protect this lens. It's inexpensive and superb.
The very best filter is the Hoya 72mm HD UV which is made of hardened glass and repels dirt and fingerprints, and is also multicoated.
Don't ever buy an exotic lens like this at a local, retail or chain store since it will have been played with by everyone before you pay full price for it as "new." Sony and Zeiss do not seal their boxes in any way, so never buy at retail or any source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, dropped, damaged, demo or otherwise used product, a customer return or if the warranty has already been registered to someone else online. The approved sources I use ship from secure, remote automated warehouses where salespeople or other customers never, ever get to touch your lens before you do, and they have the best prices, selection, service and return policies.
© Ken Rockwell. All rights reserved. Tous droits réservés. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.
Help Me Help You
I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.
The biggest help is when you use any of these links when you get anything. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places always have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
As this page is copyrighted and formally registered, it is unlawful to make copies, especially in the form of printouts for personal use. If you wish to make a printout for personal use, you are granted one-time permission only if you PayPal me $5.00 per printout or part thereof. Thank you!
Thanks for reading!
to 100% 05 Sep 2017; 800px 30 November 2015