The FE 35mm F2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* is one of the first three lenses available for Sony's full-frame E-mount system, having been announced alongside the Alpha 7 and 7R camera bodies. It offers a classic moderate wideangle view that's well-suited to a wide range of subjects, including such things as reportage or street photography. It uses a 7-element, 5-group optical design, which includes three aspherical elements to minimise aberrations.

The 35mm is a pretty compact lens (it's 37mm / 1.5" long, and weighs just 120g / 4.2 oz) which makes for a very portable combination when used with the A7 or A7R. The flipside of this, though, is its relatively slow maximum aperture; F2.8 is distinctly pedestrian for a modern prime. Despite this, it still commands premium pricing, doubtless as a result of that blue Zeiss badge. It costs about $800 / £680 / €800 at the time of writing, meaning it's significantly more pricey than other full frame 35mm lenses like the Canon EF 35mm F2 IS USM (which is a stop faster, and includes image stabilisation) or the recently-launched Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G.

The FE 35mm F2.8 can also be used on Sony's APS-C E-mount bodies, on which it will behave as a 'normal' prime with a 53mm equivalent angle of view. But we think that the faster, cheaper and image-stabilised E 35mm F1.8 OSS is a much better choice if you're not planning on buying into a full frame system. However the little 35mm F2.8 does look like a very natural companion to the A7 twins.

Headline features

  • 35mm focal length
  • F2.8 maximum aperture
  • FE lens for full frame Sony E-mount cameras (also works on APS-C E-mount models)

Lens test data

The 35mm F2.8 returns excellent test results on the Alpha 7R. It's very sharp, exhibits relatively low chromatic aberration and distortion, and has acceptable levels of vignetting. In fact it's very close indeed to the benchmark Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM, which is one of the sharpest lenses we've tested.

Sharpness Sharpness is excellent. The 35mm is extremely sharp in the centre of the frame wide open at F2.8, and while it's not quite so good towards the edges, it's still pretty impressive. The best results overall across the frame come from F5.6-F11, much as we'd expect on full frame. Indeed at F5.6 the central sharpness is literally off the charts here (helped by being tested on the AA-filterless 36MP A7R). Naturally diffraction causes some softening at f22, but it's not excessive, meaning this setting should be entirely usable when depth of field is a priority.
Chromatic Aberration Chromatic aberration is pretty low. There's a little blue/yellow fringing towards the corners of the frame, but this type tends to be relatively unobjectionable visually. It'll be automatically corrected by the camera's JPEG processing too.
Vignetting Vignetting is the nearest thing the 35mm has to a weak point. It reaches 1.8 stops in the corners wide open, although to be fair this is pretty typical for a compact F2.8 prime. However the vignetting never quite goes away on stopping down; even at F8 there's still 1.3 stops falloff. The good news is that the falloff profile is quite gradual, which makes vignetting less noticeable, and the camera can correct for it automatically too.
Distortion The 35mm shows an unusual distortion profile, with somewhat pronounced barrel distortion that appears only towards the corners of the frame (a 1:1 crop from the centre would look near-perfectly corrected). This distortion will be visible in geometrical compositions such as architectural shots, and require profiled corrections in post-processing.

The 35mm F2.8 generally compares favourably to other recently-designed full frame 35mm primes. It pretty much matches the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM for sharpness, but loses out on distortion and vignetting (the latter a consequence of its small optical unit). It's much the same story when we look at the Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 IS USM; the Sony's measured central sharpness is higher, but this substantially reflects the fact that it's tested on a much higher resolution sensor. However if we look at edge sharpness, the two lenses are a pretty close match, and again the Canon has rather lower vignetting and more-tractable distortion characteristics.

Summary

From the lab test results, the Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA is a pretty impressive little lens. It doesn't quite attain the same heights as the FE 55mm F1.8, but it's still impressively sharp. It's also very small and portable, but this does come with some trade-offs, particularly in terms of vignetting. Overall it's a good match for both the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R both physically and optically, but we do feel it's somewhat over-priced given its relatively slow maximum aperture.

Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* specifications

Principal specifications
Lens typePrime lens
Max Format size35mm FF
Focal length35 mm
Image stabilisationNo
Lens mountSony FE
Aperture
Maximum apertureF2.8
Minimum apertureF22
Aperture ringNo
Number of diaphragm blades7
Optics
Elements7
Groups5
Special elements / coatings3 aspheric elements
Focus
Minimum focus0.35 m (13.78)
Maximum magnification0.12×
AutofocusYes
Motor typeStepper motor
Full time manualUnknown
Focus methodInternal
Distance scaleNo
DoF scaleNo
Physical
Weight120 g (0.26 lb)
Diameter62 mm (2.44)
Length37 mm (1.46)
MaterialsMetal barrel, metal mount
SealingYes
ColourBlack
Filter thread49.0 mm
Filter notesLens hood accepts 40.5mm filters
Hood suppliedYes
Hood product codeALC-SH129


This lens review uses DxOMark data thanks to a partnership between dpreview.com and DxO Labs (read more about DxOMark and our partnership with DxO Labs). DxOMark is the trusted industry standard for independent image quality measurements and ratings. DxOMark has established this reputation with its rigorous hardware testing, industry-grade laboratory tools, and database of thousands of camera, lens and mobile test results. Full test results for this lens can be found at www.dxomark.com.