At this moment, there are three Sony 35mm prime lenses on my desk (along with a Tamron 35mm lens in Sony E-mount) and this lens, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens, is the ultra-wide aperture version. Along with the widest aperture typically comes the largest size, heaviest weight, and highest price tag and while not big or heavy, this lens has those attributes. This lens has a high build quality feel and great looks. You will also think the look of the f/1.4 background blur also looks great.
The number of 35mm prime lenses currently available in the marketplace reflects the popularity of this focal length. At review time, Canon and Nikon each have four different full frame 35mm lens models and Sony and Tamron each have three.
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 simply 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 usually works very well for this. It 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 inviting for street photography. Landscape photographers have plenty of use 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. The full list of 35mm uses is huge and limited only by our imaginations.
To visualize where 35mm fits among other common focal lengths, I'll borrow a focal length range example from another review.
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.
Common prime lens advantages over zoom lenses include smaller size, lighter weight, lower price, better image quality, and/or a wider max aperture. A prime lens may lack the versatility of a focal length range, but no zoom lens can match this lens' f/1.4 max aperture and only a small number of prime lenses at any focal length exceed the f/1.4 opening.
The basic concept is, the wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits a faster shutter speed to be used for freezing action including handholding the camera in lower light levels and/or the use of lower, less noisy ISO settings. This wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, in the shade, and when shooting indoors, including indoors using only ambient light. There always seems to be enough light for f/1.4.
One of my favorite features of wide aperture lenses is the strong background blur they can create. Increasing the aperture opening reduces the depth of field, thus creating a stronger background blur at equivalent focal lengths. The shallow f/1.4 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you for the scenario at hand, but shallow depth of field can make a subject pop, isolated from a strongly blurred, non-distracting background, drawing the viewer's attention to the subject. The background blur created at 35mm cannot match what is created by a longer focal length lens (85mm for example) at the same aperture, but the f/1.4 background blur is still differentiating among 35mm-capable lenses.
Here is an aperture comparison:
When viewed at full size, the differences appear stronger. Compare the widest 35mm aperture currently available in your kit with f/1.4.
Here is an example of the maximum background blur this lens can produce:
Those stepping into this lens from a kit zoom lens will find the difference to be huge.
There are notable drawbacks to lenses that feature very wide maximum apertures. These lenses require the use of larger, heavier glass elements that translate into larger and heavier lenses. Unfortunately, those larger elements are not only evidenced by the increased weight, but also by the increased price of the lens. While this lens is not large or heavy, the price tag is moderately high.
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 and/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 of 50 that can be optionally used in this situation (sometimes with lower dynamic range). Using a neutral density filter is another good option to retain the ability to use f/1.4 under direct sunlight and this is the best option when using cameras with shutters that max out at 1/4000 sec. 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 features an aperture ring on this lens, permitting a manually-chosen aperture to be selected. With the ring in the A (Auto) position, the camera controls the aperture setting. All other settings force the aperture to the selected 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 aperture is electronically controlled by the ring. This aperture ring's clicked on/off switch is not clicked and simply slides from side to side.
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 eliminates much of that concern. However, the twisting motion of mounting and dismounting a lens can lead to the ring being turned and while shooting in the dark one night, I spent several frustrating minutes trying to figure out why the camera would not change the aperture. Add a note of this possibility to your mental troubleshooting checklist.
This lens is not optically stabilized, but Sony generally takes care of that omission with Steady Shot or IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization). On a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder, IBIS results in an unstabilized view, meaning that stabilization was not helpful for composition or for providing a still subject to the camera's AF system. With EVFs being prevalent in Sony's lineup, the viewfinder image is being read from the imaging sensor and that is stabilized. Therefore, the viewfinder image is very nicely stabilized and sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.
It is an ultra-wide aperture prime lens and you buy such a lens because you want to use the ultra-wide apertures it makes available. That means wide-open image quality is especially important.
How well does this lens perform at f/1.4? It performs just OK, turning in modestly soft results in the center of the frame and even softer results in the periphery. The center of the frame takes on a noticeable sharpness improvement at f/1.6, only 1/3 stop narrower. At f/2, center of the frame details are rendered very sharp and at f/2.8, the center details are razor sharp. At f/4, the mid-frame areas become razor-sharp and the periphery areas also look excellent.
Taking the testing outdoors, we next look at a series of center-of-the-frame 100% resolution crop examples. These images were captured using a Sony a7R III. The images were processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method with the sharpening amount set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that even modestly-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the true characteristics of a lens.
Add some sharpening and contrast to make the f/1.4 results look better. Stopping down to f/2 does that and f/2.8 adds a touch more for excellent results.
In some lens designs, the plane of sharp focus can move forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected. This is called focus shift (residual spherical aberration, or RSA), it is seldom (never?) desired, and this lens does not exhibit such.
Next we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. These images were manually focused as close to the corner of the frame as the a7R III allows.
Does corner sharpness matter? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Landscape photography is one photographic discipline that has frequent scenarios requiring sharp corners. However, those scenarios usually require apertures narrower than f/4. When shooting at the widest apertures, depth of field is often shallow and the plane of sharp focus less-frequently includes a corner, making corner sharpness less important. I always prefer my lenses to be very sharp in the corners in case that feature is needed, but each of us must consider our own applications to answer this paragraph's initial question and if no better option exists, any limitations present must be accepted.
When used on a camera that utilizes a lens' entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings. An ultra-wide aperture wide-angle lens is a recipe for strong wide-open peripheral shading and this lens achieves that expectation with about 4 stops of corner shading. Stop down to f/2.8 and half of the shading clears. Vignetting continues to clear until just over 1 stop remains at f/5.6 through f/16, this lens' narrowest-available aperture.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the over 1 stop of shading at f/1.4 might be visible in images with a solid color (such as a blue sky) showing in the corners.
One-stop of shading is the amount often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely-varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine if your subject (subject's face) will be darkened or if it will be emphasized by the darker periphery.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide though it is always better to not have the problem in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of a Sony a7R III frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the additional colors are showing the presence of lateral CA. With only one focal length to be designed for, prime lenses often show low amounts of lateral CA but this one is showing a moderate amount of color separation in the corners.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
In the examples below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights created by the neutrally-colored subjects. Any color difference is being introduced by the lens.
Those are some of the most colorful results I've seen, showing that this lens obviously has these defects. The color variances reduce as the aperture narrows with f/5.6 and f/8 results looking nice.
Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting artifacts. The shape, intensity, and position of the flare in an image is variable and depends on the position and nature of the light source (or sources) as well as on the selected aperture, shape of the aperture blades and quality of the lens elements and their coatings. A relatively low lens element count (12 elements in 8 groups) along with Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating helps control flare and our standard flare testing that uses the sun in the corner of the frame shows a very low amount of flare effects from this lens, even at f/16.
There are two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point, instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma), or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Remember that lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The image below is a 100% crop taken from the extreme top-left corner of an a7R III frame.
The brighter stars are showing some thin stretching but more obvious to me are the smaller stars being roundly blurred. This image is properly focused in the center of the frame (those stars are sharp) and all four corners appear similar.
With one focal length to be designed for, prime lenses often have low amounts of geometric distortion and this is one of those. The FE 35 f/1.4 has a very slight amount of barrel distortion, but you are unlikely to see any effects in images. While linear distortion can be corrected by software, often easily through lens profiles, that correction is destructive at the pixel level. A non-distorted lens gains an image quality advantage in this regard.
The amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show (and was shown earlier in the review). Assessing the quality is a much harder challenge due in part to the infinite number of variables present in any scene. Here are some stopped-down (for interaction with the 9-blade aperture blade) examples.
Jumping to my attention are the significantly out-of-round defocused highlights, appearing to show uneven aperture blade closure. Most of the real-world results I'm seeing are decent.
With the exception of a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the corner of the frame does not produce round defocused highlights with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the corner of the frame, the shape is not round and that is the shape seen here.
As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming round.
With a 9-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 18 points. Wide aperture lenses tend to have an advantage in this regard but this lens does not produce my favorite stars. Here is an f/16 example:
The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens utilizes two Aspherical lens elements along with an advanced aspherical lens element (AA) as illustrated below.
Reviewing the image quality highlights: This is a rather colorful lens from an aberration perspective with spherical, axial, and lateral CA being obvious, especially the former aberrations at wide apertures. Wide-open vignetting is rather strong though not unexpected. Defocused highlight bokeh is not round and sunstars rendering is not great. Flare is well controlled and distortion is very minimal. I really love this lens' wide aperture and the blur it creates, but stopping down a stop or so brings about the image quality, especially sharpness, that I want.
The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens' "DDSSM (Direct Drive SSM [Super Sonic wave AF Motor]) precisely and quietly positions the heavy full-frame focus group for optimum focus even within the lens’ shallowest depth of field." [Sony]
Sony marketing did not hype this lens' focus speed in that line. The AF speed is OK with the lens smoothly gliding into longer focus distance changes in AF-S mode. Cameras including the Sony a7R IV defocus the image slightly before final focusing in AF-S mode even if the subject was initially in focus, adding to the focus lock time. Autofocus speed is noticeably faster in AF-C mode.
This lens is able to focus in very low light levels though AF lock slows (this is normal).
AF accuracy is very important and this lens has performed very well in this regard. This lens focuses internally and AF is nearly silent.
Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as focus is pulled from one extent to the other, referred to as focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing negatively impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone very-critically framing while adjusting focus.
This lens shows a moderate change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made.
FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported via Sony's DMF (Direct Manual Focus) AF mode. This lens does not have an AF/MF switch, meaning that a camera setting change is required to switch modes (I miss the switch).
The fine-sharp-ribbed focus ring is large in size and being raised slightly from the lens barrel behind it, is easy to find. This ring is very smooth, has a nice amount of resistance, and when turned slowly, the 180° of MF rotation adjusts focusing at an ideal rate, allowing precise manual focusing even at close distances. This is a variable response MF ring — turn it quickly and about 90° of rotation will complete the full extent focus adjustment. While I often prefer a linear response MF ring, I did not find the multi-speed adjustment rate to be troublesome with this lens.
Sony does not provide focus distance information on the lens (such as in a window) but makes it available in the viewfinder and rear LCD.
With an 11.8" (300mm) minimum focus distance, this lens has a mediocre 0.18x maximum magnification spec. While not an amazing feature of this lens, that spec is normal for this lens class.
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.21x|
|Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens||6.7"||(170mm)||0.50x|
|Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.24x|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.20x|
|Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.19x|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.16x|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.19x|
|Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.18x|
|Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens||8.7"||(220mm)||0.24x|
|Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens||13.8"||(350mm)||0.12x|
|Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.20x|
|Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.40x|
|Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD Lens||5.9"||(149mm)||0.50x|
|Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.22x|
|Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.19x|
A subject measuring approximately 7.4 x 4.9" (188 x 125mm) will fill a full frame viewfinder at the minimum focus distance.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and greater magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a very significant improvement. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, which permits 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.
Like many other Sony FE lens models, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens features an attractive semi-gloss black barrel exterior with etched focal length and other markings including the Zeiss name, showing a partnership behind this model (also represented by the ZA in the name). This lens feels very well built and the metal rear portion of the exterior lens barrel aids in providing a cold, solid quality feel.
After a significant diameter increase just forward of the lens mount, this lens has a rather-stable diameter, making it comfortable to use aside from the width impacting my grip finger joints when used on a7R III, a7R IV, and similar cameras.
This lens has no switches in addition to the aperture ring's clicked on/off switch on the right side of the lens. Not provided on the lens mount is a gasket seal, though a "Dust- and moisture-sealed design" is claimed.
Though significantly larger and heavier than the other Sony and Sony-mount 35mm prime lenses I'm currently reviewing, this lens has only a modest size and weight. The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens is among the smallest and lightest in its f/1.4 class and is noticeably smaller than the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens to pick a zoom example. While you will know that this lens is in your hand, it is very usable for even long shooting sessions.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||26.8||(760)||3.2 x 4.2||(80.4 x 105.5)||72||2015|
|Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens||10.8||(305)||2.9 x 2.5||(74.4 x 62.8)||52||2018|
|Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens||11.8||(335)||3.1 x 2.5||(77.9 x 62.6)||67||2012|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||21.2||(600)||3.3 x 3.5||(83.0 x 89.5)||67||2010|
|Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S Lens||13.1||(370)||2.9 x 3.4||(73.0 x 86.0)||62||2018|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||10.8||(305)||2.8 x 2.8||(72.0 x 71.5)||58||2014|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||23.5||(665)||3.0 x 3.7||(77.0 x 94.0)||67||2012|
|Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens||22.2||(630)||3.1 x 4.4||(78.5 x 112.0)||72||2015|
|Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens||9.9||(281)||2.6 x 2.9||(65.6 x 73.0)||55||2019|
|Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens||4.2||(120)||2.4 x 1.4||(61.5 x 36.5)||49||2014|
|Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens||28.8||(815)||3.2 x 4.1||(80.9 x 104.8)||72||2019|
|Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens||16.9||(479)||3.2 x 3.2||(80.4 x 81.3)||67||2015|
|Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD Lens||7.4||(210)||2.9 x 2.5||(73.0 x 63.5)||67||2019|
|Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens||41.3||(1170)||3.3 x 4.9||(84.8 x 124.8)||72||2017|
|Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus Lens||24.8||(702)||3.0 x 3.3||(77.0 x 83.0)||58||2015|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.
Here is a visual comparison of what is currently on my desk, this lens beside Sony's other two review-time-current FE 35mm prime lenses and a Tamron option:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens to other lenses.
This lens uses common, medium-sized, mid-priced 72mm threaded filters. You may notice a slight increase in peripheral shading when using a standard thickness circular polarizer filter. A slim model such as the Breakthrough Photography X4 is a better choice.
The Sony ALC-SH137 Lens Hood is included in the box. This slightly flared rigid plastic hood has a rubberized front and interior for attractive looks, reflection avoidance, and slip resistance. Though this hood does not have a release button, it smoothly rotates until clicking into position. I find petal-shaped hoods easier to align for installation than round variants (align a small petal to the top) but makes this camera a bit less stable when standing on this hood (it still does this). This hood offers good protection, from both impact and from bright light. Always use it.
Sony includes a felt-lined vinyl drawstring pouch with a padded bottom.
Lens caps are a very-frequently-used accessory and Sony's provided 72mm cap works fine.
This lens is made in Thailand.
The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens has a premium price, a price similar to the equivalent lenses from Canon and Nikon. Complicating the value determination is this lens' wide-open image quality. Having an f/1.4 max aperture is awesome and if the f/1.4 results were razor-sharp, I would say that this lens was easily worth the price. The f/1.4 results are not awesome and lenses such as the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens (available in Sony mount) or an adapted Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens begin looking like strong alternatives from a value perspective. Serious photographers that find this lens to have what they are looking for will be willing to pay the price.
As an "FE" lens, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full frame and APS-C sensor format models. Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens was online-retail sourced.
With so many 35mm prime lenses available, starting the alternatives comparison section is a bit daunting. I'll start with comparisons between Sony's models current at review time. I'll globally mention that the FE 35mm f/1.4 has a manual aperture ring that none of the other comparison lenses have so this advantage does not need to be repeatedly mentioned.
I'll start with the Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens, introduced 4 years later than the f/1.4 model.
The closest image quality comparison we have is f/1.6 vs. f/1.8. The f/1.8 lens is appearing sharper, the difference narrows at f/2, and at f/2.8 the f/1.8 lens has a modest advantage. Here is the wide-open aperture MTF comparison.
Vignetting is a weakness of the f/1.8 lens and the f/1.4 lens has a strong advantage at all comparable apertures. The f/1.4 lens has modestly less geometric distortion. The two lenses show a similar amount of spherical, axial, and lateral CA. I like the f/1.8 lens' sunstar quality better.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens vs. Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens comparison shows the f/1.8 lens to be much smaller and lighter. The f/1.8 lens stops down to f/22 while the f/1.4 lens stops at f/16. The f/1.8 lens uses smaller filters but the 55mm size is not as common as the f/1.4's 72mm size. The f/1.4 lens has a Direct Drive SSM AF system vs. a linear motor. The f/1.8 lens focuses considerably faster in AF-S mode (the two are more similar in AF-C mode) and the f/1.8 lens has a shorter minimum focus distance that yields a higher maximum magnification (0.24x vs. 0.18x).
Most will consider the biggest difference between these two lenses to be the f/1.4 aperture that is 2/3 stop wider than f/1.8. Whether that difference is worth 2x the price will be a question that each photographer must answer but the f/1.8 makes a very strong alternative from my perspective.
The other Sony 35mm prime lens is the tiny Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens. In this image quality comparison (at f/2.8), the f/1.4 lens is sharper in the center but the f/2.8 lens is looking stronger in the corners. Differences resolve as the apertures narrow. Here is the wide-open MTF comparison.
The f/1.4 lens has less peripheral shading until about f/8. Benefiting from being stopped down 2 stops, the f/1.4 lens shows less spherical and axial CA at f/2.8 and the f/2.8 lens shows less lateral CA. I like the f/2.8's sunstar quality slightly better.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens vs. Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens comparison shows the f/2.8 lens dramatically smaller and lighter than the f/1.4 lens. Also dramatically smaller are the f/2.8's filter threads, 49mm vs. 72mm. The f/1.4 lens has a more complicated optical design featuring 12 elements in 8 groups vs. 7/5. The f/2.8 lens stops down to f/22 while the f/1.4 lens stops at f/16. The f/2.8 lens focuses slightly faster in AF-S mode (the two are similar in AF-C mode) and the f/1.4 lens has a shorter minimum focus distance that yields a higher maximum magnification (0.18x vs. 0.12x). The f/1.4 lens has a Direct Drive SSM AF system vs. a linear motor. With max apertures differing by 2 stops, a dramatatic size and weight difference, and a 2x price differential, these lenses may be more complementary than competitive.
An extremely popular wide-aperture 35mm lens worthy of consideration is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. In the image quality comparison, the two lenses are looking quite similar at f/1.4 with the Sigma lens perhaps being advantaged in the periphery. The MTF comparison gives the Sigma lens a stronger advantage at an infinity focus distance. The Sigma lens has modestly less vignetting including when stopped down significantly. The Sony lens shows better flare control.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens vs. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens comparison shows these two lenses being very similar. However, the we tested the Canon mount version of the Sigma lens and the Sony mount version of the Sigma lens is longer, weighing 0.16 lbs (90g) additional and measuring 1" (26mm) longer. Also note this length difference when comparing the product images in our tool. The Sony lens has 72mm filter threads while the Sigma has 67mm threads. The price difference between these two lenses is going to be the deciding factor for many — the Sigma is a great value.
Those shopping for the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens have or are considering the purchase of a Sony camera and that means adapters such as the Sigma Mount Converter MC-11 are available to make one of my favorite prime lenses, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens, compatible.
In the image quality comparison, the Canon lens shows a strong advantage. That advantage continues at considerably narrower apertures. The wide-open aperture MTF comparison shows the Canon lens the significantly better-performing lens at the infinity focus distance. The Canon lens shows moderately less peripheral shading including when stopped down to narrow apertures. The Sony lens shows fewer flare effects.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens vs. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens comparison shows these two lenses being similar in many regards. The Canon lens stops down to f/22 while the f/1.4 lens stops at f/16. The Canon lens has a modestly higher maximum magnification (0.21x vs. 0.18x). The adapter adds some dimension, increasing the length and cost by a small amount. The Canon lens is priced modestly higher than the Sony lens, but the Canon's wide-open aperture performance is worth every bit of that extra cost.
Another adaptable lens worthy of comparison is the Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens. This image quality comparison is not kind to the Sony lens with the Tamron lens especially outperforming it in the periphery of the image circle. The wide-open aperture MTF comparison shows the Tamron lens the significantly better-performing lens at the infinity focus distance. The Tamron has less peripheral shading including when stopped down significantly.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens vs. Tamron 35mm f/1.4 Di USD Lens comparison shows these lenses being very similar overall. The Tamron is slightly heavier without the required adapter. Not comparing so closely is the price with the Tamron leaving much more in your wallet.
Being rather colorful from an aberration perspective, this lens displays obvious spherical, axial, and lateral CA and especially the former aberrations at the widest apertures. Wide-open vignetting is expectedly strong, defocused highlight bokeh is not round, and sunstars rendering is not great. Flare is well controlled and geometric distortion is very minimal. I really love this lens' wide aperture but stop down a bit for the image quality to look great.
This lens' AF system is accurate, quiet, and smooth, though not especially fast. Those desiring the manual aperture ring will find this lens providing that feature. The price is moderately high.
The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens is a great looking, very high-quality lens with an exceptionally popular focal length and an awesomely wide f/1.4 aperture, a combination that makes this lens quite popular. If the f/1.4 image quality was exceptional, this would be a killer lens.
Bringing you this site is my full-time job (typically 60-80 hours per week). Thus, I depend solely on the commissions received from you using the links on this site to make any purchase. I am grateful for your support! - Bryan
Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my purchases. Get your Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens now from:B&H Photo