Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Review

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens

This lens is slated to begin shipping on Feb 15th. In the meantime, I'll share my expectations.

With the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens, the 35mm f/1.4 focal length and max aperture combination get the professional-grade Sony G Master treatment. This lens launched directly into the number one best selling mirrorless lens position at B&H.

There were multiple reasons for the instant popularity. One is that the 35mm angle of view and ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture are tremendously useful. This relatively compact lens's "GM" nameplate promises optimal build and performance, with the MTF charts looking phenomenal. With the sibling FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens, Sony proved they could produce a similar in design, best-in-class-performing lens that raised strong expectations of a repeat performance.

Expect the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens to remain a top seller for a very long time.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Angle View

Focal Length

If you need reassurance that the 35mm focal length is popular, count the number of 35mm prime lenses currently available. That number is perhaps only exceeded by the ubiquitous 50mm models.

Why choose a 35mm lens? That this moderately wide angle of view invites a subject distance that creates a natural perspective and makes the viewer feel present in the image is one reason. That this angle of view welcomes such a wide range of subjects is another. That people are one of this focal length's best subjects emphasizes the previous reason. This focal length has great general-purpose use, making it an ideal choice to leave on the camera for whatever needs arise. As a prime lens, it is often not difficult to sneaker zoom to the right distance to get the ideal 35mm subject framing.

I often press whatever lens I'm reviewing at the time into the around-the-house, walk-around, general-purpose lens role, and 35mm is excellent for this purpose. This focal length is wide enough to capture the big scene but not so wide that people and other subjects are readily distorted by the close perspective invited by ultra-wide angles.

For similar reasons, the 35mm focal length has long been a first-choice for photojournalists. Wedding photographers, who work in some of the darkest venues to be found, also frequently use 35mm lenses. Portrait photographers like the 35mm focal length for full to mid-body portraits and for group portraits.

The 35mm angle of view is extremely inviting for street photography. Landscape photographers have plenty of uses for the 35mm focal length.

Sports photographers able to get close to their subjects (such as basketball shot from over or under the net) or wanting to capture a wider/environmental view of their events appreciate this focal length. The angle of view invited by 35mm can make action figures large in the frame.

Parents love 35mm lenses for capturing their indoor events, and most pets will let you get close enough to capture a nice perspective with such a lens. 35mm is popular with videographers, especially for creating documentaries. Many medium and large products are ideally captured at 35mm.

With the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture available, the night sky is an inviting subject for this lens. Those photographing the night sky frequently target the milky way. Most will find this angle of view more narrow than optimal for that subject, but the heart of the milky way significantly filling the frame is beautiful. Relative to wider focal lengths, 24mm for example, 35mm requires a faster shutter speed to avoid star trails and provides a shallower depth of field.

To visualize where 35mm fits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from a zoom lens review.

Focal Length Range Example

24mm | 35mm | 50mm | 70mm | 85mm | 105mm

The full list of 35mm uses is enormous and limited only by our imaginations.

On an ASP-C/1.5x sensor format body, the 35mm focal length provides an angle of view similar to a 52.5mm lens on a full-frame sensor format body. This angle of view is essentially the same as 50mm and useful for all applications this extremely popular "normal" focal length is used for. Those uses coincide with most uses of the 35mm focal length with slightly tighter framing or slightly longer perspective for the same framing being the difference.

Max Aperture

This lens's f/1.4 max aperture is nearly as wide as it gets at 35mm (the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Lens is available), though most major lens manufacturers offer a 35mm lens with an f/1.4 aperture. This wide aperture is a huge advantage. Use f/1.4 to allow more light to reach the imaging sensor. Use that additional light to enable allowing action (subject and camera) stopping shutter speeds in very low light levels, along with low ISO settings for reduced noise. It seems there is always enough light for handholding 35mm at f/1.4.

Another advantage of a wide aperture lens is the background blur it can create. F/1.4 with a close subject creates a very shallow DOF, drawing the viewer's eye to the in-focus subject. It is hard to diffusely blur the background with a wide-angle lens, but an f/1.4 aperture can do that. Add artistic capabilities to this lens's list of highly-desired features.

If you are shooting under a full sun at f/1.4, you will likely need a 1/8000 sec shutter speed at ISO 100 to keep the exposure dark enough. Positive is that there is little action that a 1/8000 sec shutter speed cannot stop, but if the subject has very bright or reflective colors, even a 1/8000 sec shutter speed might not be fast enough to avoid blown highlights. Some cameras have an extended ISO setting as low as 50 that can optionally be used in this situation (though dynamic range may be impacted). Some also have shutter speeds faster than 1/8000 available. Using a neutral density filter is a good solution to retaining use of f/1.4 under direct sunlight when the shutter limitation is exceeded, and this is an especially good option for cameras with 1/4000 sec. maximum speeds. Stopping down (narrowing) the aperture is always an option for preventing an image from getting too bright, though stopping down negates the need for the wide f/1.4 aperture, and the subject-isolating shallow depth of field is lost.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Aperture Ring

Many Sony prime lenses, including this one, feature an aperture ring that enables a manually-selected aperture. With the ring in the A (Auto) position, the camera controls the aperture setting. All other settings force the aperture to the chosen opening, and a 2-position switch on the bottom right side of the lens toggles the aperture ring between 1/3 stop clicks and smooth, quiet, non-clicked adjustments, ideal for video recording. The ring electronically controls the aperture.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Click Switch

Aside from a slightly more complicated design, perhaps the primary disadvantage of an aperture ring is that inadvertent aperture changes are made available. Making the A click stop firm reduces this concern.

There are notable drawbacks to lenses that feature very wide maximum apertures. Making wide apertures available requires larger, heavier lens elements, translating into larger, heavier, and more expensive lenses. Regardless, this lens is not large or heavy compared to its peers, and the price tag is reasonable.

For most photographers, the benefits of a wide max aperture prime lens far outweigh the drawbacks. Usually, no flash is required.

Image Stabilization

The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens is not optically stabilized. Still, Sony takes care of that omission with Steady Shot or IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) in their mirrorless cameras. In addition to reducing camera shake, the stabilized imaging sensor provides a still viewfinder image, enabling careful composition. Sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.

With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu must be used to enable or disable IBIS, a slight impediment to working quickly, going from tripod to handholding, for an example.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens MTF Chart

Image Quality

As I shared earlier in the review, the general expectation is that the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens will produce incredible image quality. Sony MTF chart shows the bars pushed extremely high, backing up that premise. I can't wait to see how this lens performs in real life.

The design of this lens is illustrated below.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Design

Sony shares:
 
"XA elements suppress onion ring bokeh, an 11-blade aperture mechanism produces an almost circular aperture even when the lens is wide open, and painstaking spherical aberration control at the design and manufacturing stages contribute to gorgeous bokeh at F1.4."

"Two XA (extreme aspherical) elements in a G Master design take advantage of the short mirrorless flange-back distance to deliver stunning contrast and resolution in a compact lens. Further enhancing the lens's superior optical quality are an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element that suppresses chromatic aberration and Sony's Nano AR Coating II that maintains superb image clarity even in any lighting conditions."

Two XA (extreme aspherical) elements effectively maintain excellent resolution throughout the image area. Thanks to an ED glass element and other optical refinements, the new FE 35mm F1.4 GM performs well in difficult lighting by effectively suppressing chromatic aberration and purple fringing for breathtaking results. Two innovative XA elements contribute to impressive close-ups with smooth, creamy background bokeh.

Focusing

Behind the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens's AF capabilities are a pair of XD Linear Motors.

"Two of Sony’s XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors provide the high thrust efficiency needed for precise AF (autofocus) and tracking - resulting in outstanding resolution at any distance. State-of-the-art control algorithms, developed specifically for the XD Linear Motors, improve control response and precision while minimizing vibration and noise for fast, smooth and silent AF performance." [Sony]

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens XD Linear Motors

Expect the Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens to internally focus smoothly, quietly, consistently accurately, and quickly. While this lens is expected to focus fast, expect the a7R III, IV, and similar cameras' defocusing before refocusing behavior in AF-S mode to remain a detriment (this behavior should not be an issue in AF-C continuous focusing mode).

The 35 GM's low light AF performance should be outstanding.

Sony provides an AF hold button on this lens. While in continuous focus mode, press this button to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique. This button also acts as a custom button (C5) and can be programmed to another function using the camera's menu.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported via Sony's DMF (Direct Manual Focus) AF mode.

The nicely sized ribbed-rubber manual focus ring should rotate smoothly and hopefully turns with modestly more pressure than the FE 24 GM lens requires.

"Linear Response MF ensures the focus ring responds to subtle control when focusing manually and is ideal for creative focusing effects when shooting video. The focus ring rotation translates directly to a corresponding change in focus, so control feels immediate and precise." [Sony]

I'm happy to see linear response featured in this lens. Electronic focusing (vs. gear driven) AF can enable a variable rate of focus adjustment based on the focus ring rotation speed. However, this feature must be tuned just right to avoid frustration when rocking the ring back and force to obtain a precise focus setting. As Sony mentioned, the variable rate can be problematic when pulling focus during video capture.

The Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM lens's 9.8" (250mm) minimum focus distance spec, measured from the imaging sensor plane, lets the photographer get quite close to a subject. Despite the wide-angle of view not magnifying the subject strongly, the maximum magnification spec of 0.26x reflects this. This number is easily the best in the 35mm f/1.4 lens class.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens11.0"(280mm)0.21x
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens6.7"(170mm)0.50x
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens9.4"(240mm)0.24x
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens11.8"(300mm)0.20x
Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S Lens9.8"(250mm)0.19x
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens9.8"(250mm)0.16x
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Lens11.8"(300mm)0.19x
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens11.8"(300mm)0.19x
Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens9.4"(240mm)0.17x
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens9.8"(250mm)0.26x
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens11.8"(300mm)0.18x
Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens8.7"(220mm)0.24x
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens13.8"(350mm)0.12x
Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens11.8"(300mm)0.20x
Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens7.9"(200mm)0.40x
Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD Lens5.9"(149mm)0.50x
Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens11.8"(300mm)0.22x
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus Lens11.8"(300mm)0.19x

Note that the specified minimum focus distance for the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens requires manual focusing. With AF, the spec extends slightly to 10.6" (269mm).

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a very significant decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, which allows shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. Sony does not publish extension tube specs, nor do they manufacture these items, but third-party Sony extension tubes are available.

This lens is not compatible with Sony teleconverters.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens with Hood

Build Quality & Features

The G Master lens series represents Sony's best-available lenses. They are the complete pro-ready package, and the FE 35 GM's family resemblance is obvious.

Sony FE lenses have a rather narrow mount and, despite being rather narrow for its class, an obvious diameter increase occurs not far in from the mount end. Once the wider diameter is reached, the lens maintains a mostly straight design with a slight diameter increase occurring at the rubber-covered focus ring, making it easy to tactilely find. The outer lens barrel construction is engineering plastic.

Overall, this lens' build quality is expected to be high, with all rings and switches having a precision feel to them. The AF/MF switch is again recessed, making it hard to inadvertently change, and making a bit more effort required to intentionally change it, especially with gloves on.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Weather Sealing

This is a great outdoor lens, and its dust and moisture-resistant design, including a gasketed mount, can save the day out there.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Mount

The front element is fluorine-coated to resist dust, moisture, and fingerprints and for easier cleaning.

While slightly longer than the FE 24 GM, this lens is small (narrow) and light, especially for its class. The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens will be a pleasure to carry and use for extended periods.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens26.8(760)3.2 x 4.2(80.4 x 105.5)722015
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens10.8(305)2.9 x 2.5(74.4 x 62.8)522018
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens11.8(335)3.1 x 2.5(77.9 x 62.6)672012
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens21.2(600)3.3 x 3.5(83.0 x 89.5)672010
Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S Lens13.1(370)2.9 x 3.4(73.0 x 86.0)622018
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens10.8(305)2.8 x 2.8(72.0 x 71.5)582014
Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art Lens38.5(1090)3.5 x 5.4(87.8 x 136.2)822019
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens23.5(665)3.0 x 3.7(77.0 x 94.0)672012
Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens15.7(445)3.0 x 3.6(75.4 x 92.4)672018
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens18.5(524)3.0 x 3.8(76.0 x 96.0)672021
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens22.2(630)3.1 x 4.4(78.5 x 112.0)722015
Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens9.9(281)2.6 x 2.9(65.6 x 73.0)552019
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens4.2(120)2.4 x 1.4(61.5 x 36.5)492014
Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens28.8(815)3.2 x 4.1(80.9 x 104.8)722019
Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens16.9(479)3.2 x 3.2(80.4 x 81.3)672015
Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD Lens7.4(210)2.9 x 2.5(73.0 x 63.5)672019
Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens41.3(1170)3.3 x 4.9(84.8 x 124.8)722017
Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus Lens24.8(702)3.0 x 3.3(77.0 x 83.0)582015

For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

Based on this lens's shape relative to its 24mm sibling, I expect knuckles to uncomfortably contact the barrel of this lens when tightly gripping the Sony a7R III and IV.

The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens's narrow width allows it to use common, mid-sized, affordable 67mm filters, modestly smaller than the 72mm size common to other lenses in this class. A standard thickness circular polarizer filter may slightly increase peripheral shading, so a slim model such as the Breakthrough Photography X4 is recommended.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Hood

Sony includes a semi-rigid, round-shaped plastic hood in the box. This shape permit standing the lens on the hood, and the rubber-coated end of the hood is helpful in that regard (and looks cool). The hood has a flocked interior for superior reflection avoidance, and a push-button release makes the bayonet mount easy to use. The size of this hood is adequate to protect the front lens element from contrast-robbing, flare-inducing light and from impact including from light rain.

A soft lens case is included in the box.

Price, Value, Wrap Up

While the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM is not an inexpensive lens, it is not especially expensive. Being priced considerably less than the review-time current Canon and Nikon models is another attractive feature of this lens. Combined with the expected performance of this lens, the FE 35 GM should be an excellent value.

As an "FE" lens, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including full-frame and APS-C sensor format models. Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.

I plan to purchase the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM review lens online-retail.

Alternatives to the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens

Until the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens test results are available, the alternatives section will include only expectations in that regard. Of course, physical features are more easily compared without the lens in hand.

At FE 35 GM release time, Sony has another FE 35mm f/1.4 lens in the lineup, the Zeiss-badged Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens. From an expected image quality standpoint, I will be shocked if the GM lens does not crush the ZA lens at f/1.4.

The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens vs. Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens comparison shows the GM lens bit lighter and more compact. The GM lens has 11 diaphragm blades vs. 9 and uses 67mm filters vs. 72mm. Focusing closer helps the GM lens gain a 0.26x to 0.18x maximum magnification advantage. I expect the ZA lens's moderately higher cost will firmly establish the GM lens choice for most.

Those not requiring the f/1.4 aperture opening have the Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens to consider. Most of us will be disappointed if the f/1.4 lens does not handily defeat the f/1.8 lens in the image quality comparison as the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens does.

The f/1.4 vs. f/1.8 difference in aperture opening directly impacts the size and weight difference. The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens vs. Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens comparison makes that dramatic difference obvious. The GM lens has 11 diaphragm blades vs. 9 and has a manual aperture ring. The f/1.8 lens uses 55mm filters vs. 67mm. The f/1.4 lens features dual XD linear AF motors vs. a linear motor. Without the GM treatment, the smaller lens gets a considerably lower price tag — about half as much.

Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens Top View

Summary

It was only a matter of time until Sony included a 35mm f/1.4 lens in the GM family. Offering that focal length and aperture combination in the flagship lineup seemed a no-brainer.

I expect that another no-brainer to many will be the decision to purchase this relatively compact, lightweight, and affordable lens. Its review-time best seller ranking attests to that expectation.

Because this focal length and aperture are so useful, it makes sense to ensure the best quality lens providing such is in the kit. The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens should be that one.

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Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens
Bryan Carnathan
by Bryan Carnathan
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