Sony 35mm F/1.4 G Lens Review - Photo Jottings

Sony 35mm F/1.4 G Lens Review

Here’s a brief look at the Sony 35mm F/1.4 G lens.  Scroll down for the review.

SAL-35F14G  Sony 35mm F/1.4
Box contents
Front and rear caps, hood, soft case and users manual.
$1498 retail
Build quality
Very good
Additional information
Re-badged and slightly upgraded Minolta lens from the late 1990s.  Optical design dates back to the late 80s.
Specifications below
Optical configuration
10 elements in 8 groups
Angle of view
63° (full frame)  42° (APS-C)
9 blades, circular
Full frame and APS-C
Yes, made for full frame.   APS-C equivalent, 52mm
Depth of field and focus scales?
Minimum focus, image plane to subject
12″  (305mm)
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject
7″  (178mm)
Hard stop at infinity focus?
Length changes when focusing?
Focus ring turns in AF?
Filter size
Filter ring rotates?
Distance encoder?
Max magnification
Min. F/stop
Sony teleconverter compatible?
Dimensions W x L (my measurements)
2.72″ x 3.01″   69mm x 76.5mm.  Focus hold button protrusion adds 2.5mm to maximum width, not listed.
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
3.01″  (76.5mm)
Weight bare (my scale)
17.7oz  (502g)  18.6oz (526g) with caps
Requisite product shots.

Box contents with no box
Front on A700
Side shot
MTF chart
X-ray view, Sony screen grab.
All testing done with the Sony A 700 and A900.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of the methods and terms used in this review, go here.

The Sony 35mm F/1.4 G is a compact, heavy, well-built, and expensive lens aimed at Photojournalists and people who shoot primarily in hand-held, available light conditions, such as street scenes at night or indoors.  Build quality is very good.  It has a course spatter paint finish unlike any other Sony or Minolta lens I’ve seen, which leads me to believe at least part of it is built at a different plant from the rest of the Sony lenses.  It has a focus distance window with ft and m in different colors along with DOF hash marks, plus a handy focus hold button, which can be changed to DOF on select camera bodies.  The focus ring is covered in rubber and wide enough for easy manipulating.  The lens is made in Japan.  To give you and idea as to the size of the lens, it’s about the same and weight as the Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5.  One item to mention about interior build is a glass-molded aspherical element, which helps control Coma in the corners.

This lens has a fairly long focus throw, but focuses quickly and very accurately using the A700.  There’s a tiny bit of slop on the focus ring if you wiggle it by hand when engaged, and also in actual MF use, it doesn’t hinder focusing though.  Manually, the ring is easy to manipulate with a finger and thumb.  It takes more than a third of a turn to get from close focus to infinity.  This lens uses a focus clutch to stop the ring from turning in AF mode; you can also turn the focusing ring manually in AF mode, though I don’t think you’re supposed to do this.
The lens has a green/magenta multi-coating which is common for Sony/Minolta from the 1990s on up.  It also resists flare and ghosting, with average results; you’ll see a few small blue/red blobs opposite the sun when the sun is in the frame at an angle, similar to the Sony 50mm F/1.4.  With the sun centered in the image, there’s no problem.  Veiling glare is about average, and only occurs when the sun is very close around the outside of the frame.  The supplied hood ($50 to replace–rip off!) doesn’t seem to make much difference.  I normally use my hand if I think the sun or a reflection will cause problems.
Filter size is 55mm.  This is Sony’s most popular filter size, other Sony lenses sharing this size are: 50mm F/1.4, 50mm F/2.8 macro, 100mm F/2.8 macro, 18-55mm kit lens, 55-200mm and the 75-300mm.
Filter use.  No additional vignetting when using a regular filter on an APS-C camera, thought full frame will show slightly darker corners at F/1.4.
Coma is almost mild at F/1.4, and nearly gone at F/2.0.  Full frame results are different.  See crops below.
Color looks the same as other Sony lenses.
Close up filter.  Works good, +4 tested.
Bokeh is neutral to good.  F/1.4 is a little busy looking, but F/2 is much better. See sample crops below.
Color fringing is strong wide open.  This type goes away as you stop down the aperture, see samples below.  It’s mostly purple/red, but stopped down to F/2, it’s negligible, and not noticeable in regular photographs.  Overall, good results here.  Lateral color fringing (occurring along the sides of the image, and doesn’t go away as you stop down) can be seen when looking at a huge enlargement, but isn’t noticeable in regular shots.


Random samples below.
Sun in shot, F/5.6
Sun centered, F/5.6
october08/5014sunoff.jpg october08/5014sunctr.jpg
Bokeh, F/1.4
Bokeh, F/2
march2009/351414bok.jpg march2009/351420bok.jpg
Bokeh, F/2.8
Bokeh, F/4
march2009/351428bok.jpg march2009/351440bok.jpg
Foreground bokeh, F/1.4
Foreground bokeh, F/4
march2009/fb14.jpg march2009/fb28.jpg


When the sun is in the frame at an angle, some ghosting shows up, mostly blue/magenta blobs, seen in the lower right of the first image.  When the sun is centered, everything is fine.  Overall, flare and ghosting are on par with the Sony 50mm F/1.4 lens.  The included hood is typical in the fact that it doesn’t work very well, I use my hand to shield the sun when possible.


Bokeh is a little harsh at F/1.4, but smooths out nicely at F/2 and beyond.  Background blur (middle rows) is much more pleasing than foreground blur, as you can see in the last row.


Coma samples below.


march2009/3514cma14.jpg march2009/3514cma20.jpg


Coma is moderate at F/1.4, but goes away quickly with the cropped sensor camera.


Example of veiling haze cropped from the center.


march2009/x14.jpg march2009/x16.jpg
march2009/x17.jpg march2009/x20.jpg
It’s tough to look past the veiling haze and color fringing here.  It improves much at F/1.7, and is nearly gone at F/2.  Here’s some advice; don’t shoot at F/1.4 in daylight!
Distortion below.
Barrel distortion.


Distortion is almost flat, and barely noticeable in real shots.  For those of you who look at your images with a grid overlay, there is slight barrel distortion.


Light fall-off.


march2009/3514vig14.jpg march2009/3514vig20.jpg
Light fall-off or corner darkening is mild, even wide open.


I wonder how sharp the corners are?


          F/1.4 from center
march2009/3514cn14.jpg march2009/3514cnctr142.jpg
march2009/3514cn20.jpg march2009/3514cn28.jpg


These crops are from the extreme bottom left corner.  Things look fuzzy here at F/1.4, but it’s dumb to shoot like this is broad daylight.  The corners sharpen up gradually to F/5.6.  I threw in a center crop from F/1.4 for comparison.


How sharp are the centers if the image is enlarged to a staggering size?


When shooting wide open at F/1.4  the frame is very soft, due to veiling haze, which nearly disappears one stop down at F/2.0.  At F/2.8 things look pretty sharp, and are almost indistinguishable from the slightly sharper F/4 shot below it (check out the trees).  Remember, you’re looking at a 100% cropped portion of the full image.  In a low-light situation, you would have a hard time seeing any veiling haze or softness at F/1.4 unless enlarged to staggering sizes like you see above.  The above shots were taken at infinity focus.
Close focus sample.
Below, check out the close focus shot, a 100% cropped portion of the full image, click for a larger image.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2mp camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1″x 3/4″ or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; In this case, 7″ or 178mm, measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
Click for larger image (214kb) F/4
This maximum magnification shot is sharp, and fairly large at 0.20x.  The sharpest close focus aperture was F/4, but F/5.6-8 were nearly as good!

Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.


Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I’m only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don’t show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.


Light fall-off


march2009/3514ffvig14.jpg march2009/3514ffvig20.jpg


Light fall-off is worse than the APS-C crops shown earlier.  At F/1.4 it’s heavy, and noticeable in real shots, but don’t shoot at this aperture in daylight.


Full image from A900 below.




The dark corners are noticeable here, but this is the wrong thing to do with a F/1.4 aperture.  Save the fast part of the lens for low-light shots where this kind of stuff isn’t noticeable.


Corner samples next.


march2009/3514ffcn14.jpg march2009/3514ffcn20.jpg
          F/5.6 from center


The corners are softer than the APS-C crops show, but not by much, F/5.6 looks good judging by the center shot right next to it.  The corner shots and the center shot look different because of the way the corners stretch the image, it’s not because I was at a different location etc.  The exposure differences are from light fall-off.


Barrel distortion on A900


There’s slightly more barrel distortion using the full frame A900 than an APS-C camera, though I wouldn’t worry about this small amount at all.


Coma results with full frame.


march2009/3514ffbok14.jpg march2009/3514ffbok28.jpg


This is coma on the A900.  At F/1.4 it’s a little strong, but better than the Sony 50mm F/1.4, most likely due to the use of an aspheric element in the 35mm F/1.4.  One stop down at F/2 things looked the same, but at F/2.8 there’s not much of a problem.  Don’t try and make direct comparisons to the crops above and the APS-C crops at the top of the page as they were taken at different distances and slightly different angles.


My final thoughts.
The Sony 35mm F/1.4 G lens performed very well, and nearly the same as the Sony 50mm F/1.4, which costs far less.  On a cropped sensor camera, the 35mm ‘sees’ about the same view as the 50mm lens does on a full frame camera.
The 35mm F/1.4 G sports a glass-molded aspherical element, which was expensive back when this lens was designed, the Sony 50mm F/1.4 has none, which may explain the better Coma control of the 35mm F/1.4, I’d say about a stop better.  This is important if you take pictures in low light with sharp pointed lights near the image periphery, such as street scenes at night.  All other qualities are about the same as the 50mm F/1.4, such as light fall-off, distortion, color fringing, corner and center sharpness etc.  On a minor note; the 35mm F/1.4 G has a higher reproduction ratio if you take close-up pictures.

For better wide open performance, and less cost, check out the manual Rokinon 35mm F/1.4 lens, it’s really good!

APS-C users; get the much better performing Sony DT 35/1.8 reviewed here.

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