Sony E-mount 35mm f1.8 OSS Review
The Sony E-mount 35mm f1.8 is a capable walkaround prime lens. On the cropped APS-C sensor of the Sony NEX camera bodies, it has a large maximum aperture and also an equivalent focal length of 52.5mm and can be considered a “standard lens”. These features make it suitable for indoor and low light photography e.g. party events as well as for street photography. Among the three Sony E-mount prime lens, it sits right in the middle in terms of price & focal length. Its “bigger” brother 50 f1.8 is more affordable while the Carl Zeiss 24mm f1.8 is much more pricier.
In this review, I shall explore the usefulness of this lens in daily photography. I am an enthusiast photographer (definitely not a professional!) and I shall write the review from my own point of view. I do not do “brick wall” shots or 100% pixel peep reviews (although you can click on the images for a high resolution image).
In brief, it is a compact, light and stabilized lens. Size-wise, it is bigger than the 16-50 pancake zoom but smaller than the original 18-55 kit zoom. Coupled with my NEX-6 it is a comfortable combination. Like other Sony lenses, it is quite light too, with metal coating and premium build quality. It has optical steadyshot (OSS) which helps with low-light photography (anti-shake!) and also for video.
I noticed that the front element of the lens is concave, instead of convex in other lens designs that I am used to. A little detail is that the lens cap is better designed than the previous lens caps on E-mount lenses with a depression over the ridge where you pinch it, so it is easier to hold and the cap is less easy to fall off.
Wide-open at f1.8, it is reasonably sharp but definitely pales in comparison with the E-mount primes 50mm and 24mm at the same aperture. The next four images are shot wide open.
When stopped down, sharpness improves markedly. The following shots are taken at f4 – f5.6 I think. Corner performance is only good when stopped down.
The color from the lens is on par with other Sony E-mount lenses, but definitely not superb (for example, it cannot compare with a legacy lens, the Contax G 28mm which I also own). It has natural skin tones but the blues and greens are a bit flat. You can judge for yourself in the following shots in the Prahran district, Melbourne. There is some chromatic aberration at the corners (quite easily corrected but I am lazy to do it).
I especially like the last of this series, with the biker in the foreground and graffiti wall in the background (this is as close to a “brick wall” test that I can do!).
I think from the above “brick wall” sample you can appreciate that the distortion of this lens is minimal. Of course, I had the in-camera distortion correction turned on.
Purple fringing can be evident sometimes, as pictured above.
The quality of out of focus highlights, or bokeh, is superb. The out-of-focus areas are rendered smooth and blurred as I desired it to be, while the subject remains sharply in focus.
I can’t find attractive models to pose for me, so I resorted to the next best thing… food photography! The samples are for you to judge the bokeh.
As you can see from the picture below, the background is of the busy pattern scattered with lines and shapes, but it is blurred smoothly by the lens. I really appreciate its bokeh.
More bokeh to come!
My friend has kindly agreed to be a model. This was taken in a dimly lit restaurant.
Low Light Performance
Here it really shines. As a standard lens, it is a suitable focal length for street photography, and with a bright aperture and stabilization, I find it quite easy to take pictures at twilight or even at night handheld without tripod. You can see two samples below.
Of course, when you don’t have a wide-angle with you, these modern Sony cameras have a feature you would love … panorama! I can easily shoot a wide angle picture with the 35mm lens, just have to “pan” the camera across a 180 degree arc and multiple images will be stitched into one.
It is not the sharpest, widest, or cheapest lens, but it is currently my favorite walkaround lens. For a good reason, too. It is compact and light and fits nicely on the NEX-6, perfect for my hand to hold. Colors and contrast are great when stopped down for landscape shots. For portraits, I would not hesitate to recommend this lens for its beautiful bokeh. Compared with its brothers in the line of Sony E-mount primes, I find the 50mm f1.8 too narrow a focal length to use indoors and the 24mm f1.8 (which I don’t own) too pricy.
This lens is a compromise, and one that satisfy my needs very well.
I sincerely hope this will guide you through your decision in buying a new lens! I will update this post at my leisure, e.g. post some video and portrait samples.