Image quality

Sony has been churning out some impressively sharp and fast-to-focus lenses recently, that not only far surpass the company's initial attempts, but compare favorably or even better than peers from competitors. The FE 35mm F1.8 is one of these lenses - it's a very sharp wide-angle prime lens that delivers contrasty, crisp detail across the frame even wide open. Bokeh is impressively smooth, but chromatic aberrations can be problematic in images taken in certain situations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Wide open this is one of the sharpest 35mm primes we've tested
  • Bokeh is smooth, and cats-eye effect is well-controlled
  • Flare is well-controlled
  • Lateral chromatic aberration can be severe in high contrast situations at corners of frame
  • Longitudinal chromatic aberration can lead to significant purple and green fringing in front of, and behind, the focus plane, respectively

The Sony FE 35mm F1.8 is very sharp. Sharp enough wide open that you won't worry about any need to stop down. At F1.8 it is sharper and has more contrast than the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA and the Nikon 35mm F1.8 S, almost approaching the benchmark Canon 35mm F1.4L II lens. It reaches peak central sharpness by F2.8, and peak corner sharpness between F4 and F5.6 (though, admittedly, the difference between F4 and F5.6 is nearly negligible). Outside of the edges and corners, cross-frame sharpness is very high even wide open.

Unfortunately there's a good deal of purple fringing around high contrast edges at the plane of focus, which disappears by F2.5. In real-world shooting this is unlikely to be an issue for two reasons: first, landscapes and cityscapes at infinity aren't typically shot wide open and, second, the most common close-up subjects shot wide open are faces, which don't have enough contrast to reveal this aberration. This is why few if any of the images in our sample gallery exhibit purple fringing at the plane of focus.

Astrophotographers keen to shoot this lens wide open should know there's a fair bit of coma at the edges wide open that will impact image sharpness, but it's completely gone by F2.8.

Bokeh

The Sony 35mm F1.8 renders both backgrounds and foregrounds very pleasingly, with no onion ring artifacts or visible 'lemon peel' texture to out-of-focus highlights. The bokeh performance is superior to that of the Distagon T* 35mm F1.4 ZA, where onion ring artifacts and extreme longitudinal CA combine together for some fairly unpleasing out-of-focus highlights and busy bokeh (full resolution image here).

Bokeh rendition is very pleasing, thanks to a uniform circle of confusion without onion ring artifacts or much, if any, lemon peel texture. Cats eye effect is well controlled.

ISO 100 | 1/400 sec | F1.8

The circle of confusion is itself very uniform throughout most of the image; however, at the corners of the frame it can take on a bit of a hard-edged outline, which is why the bokeh at the upper left corner of the above image - or this one - is a bit more harsh than that near the center (this is one area where the Distagon F1.4 lens performs better). Nine aperture blades render perfectly circular out-of-focus highlights even down to F4. You'll want to make sure you switch from electronic first curtain to fully mechanical shutter at shutter speeds above 1/2000s though, or you run the risk of cutting off out-of-focus highlights and generally sacrificing bokeh quality, as you can see here.

There is some cats eye bokeh at the edges of the frame, but it's subtle enough to not be distracting, and is nowhere near severe enough to create a 'swirly bokeh' effect. The circle of confusion at these image extremes becomes perfectly circular between F2.8 and F4.

Flare

While there is no 'Nano AR' coating here as there is in higher-end Sony lenses, flare is impressively well-controlled. Veiling flare, the kind that causes an overall loss of contrast in your image when the lens is pointed directly at bright light sources, isn't excessive or distracting, and in fact can be used for pleasing effect, as in the image below.

Ghosting artifacts are also minimal; in fact, you may have to hunt for them to find them in the image below. While they're present on close inspection - see the bright line on the toddler's right pinky finger - they're hardly distracting.

Flare is very well controlled, with very few distracting ghosting artifacts.

ISO 100 | 1/400 sec | F2.2

Chromatic aberration

In high contrast situations, such as trees or buildings against the sky, lateral chromatic aberration can be obvious, despite Sony's inclusion of a profile to correct for this aberration in the Raw converter or in in-camera JPEGs. Often the resulting green and purple fringing, visible in the lower corners of the image below, can be more distracting at smaller apertures (which 'focus' the fringing), requiring the use fringing correction tools during Raw conversion.

Lateral CA - visible as purple fringing around leaves in the corners - can be pretty severe, even after embedded profile correction, particularly at smaller apertures. Here is the result of a simple, dropper-based, de-fringing step in ACR, which cleans up all the magenta fringing, albeit potentially at the cost of desaturation in other areas of the image with similar tones.

ISO 100 | 1/100 sec | F11

You'll also note in the image above that at smaller apertures you can achieve quite pleasing 18-ray sunstars. They're not the sharpest, cleanest sunstars we've seen though, tending to have diverging spikes as opposed to converging rays.

Longitudinal chromatic aberration can also be apparent in out-of-focus areas, and high contrast areas of images taken at faster apertures. Note the magenta and green fringing in the white regions of the butterfly's wings below.

Longitudinal chromatic aberration can be noticeable in out-of-focus, high contrast regions.

ISO 400 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8

This can also affect portraits taken in high contrast situations, as you can see in this torture test here, where you'll note magenta fringing in our subject's hair and foreground flowers, and green fringing in her left shoulder and some of the background out-of-focus highlights. It's not always a problem, but chromatic aberrations are the one Achilles heel for this lens, albeit not unexpected for such a small, lightweight, and (relatively) lower-priced design. For example, the magnitude of longitudinal CA is on par with what we saw when we recently reviewed the Nikon 35mm F1.8 S lens, and actually considerably better than that exhibited by the bigger, more expensive Distagon T* 35mm F1.4 ZA, where you see distracting fringing around out-of-focus highlights.

Vignetting

There is heavy vignetting wide open across much of the frame, though at worst the magnitude of vignetting is only around -1.5 EV. Vignetting improves dramatically across the entire frame as you stop down from wide open to F4, and then surprisingly continues to improve in the corners all the way to F11, as you can see in the rollover below.

With modern (particularly Sony) sensors, the vignetting isn't much of a concern to us, as it's easily removed in post at very little image quality cost.