Sony E-mount 35mm f1.8 OSS Review


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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.

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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).

Technicalities

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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.

Sharpness

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.

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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.

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Color reproduction

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!).

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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.

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Purple fringing can be evident sometimes, as pictured above.

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Bokeh

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.

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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.

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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.

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More bokeh to come!

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My friend has kindly agreed to be a model. This was taken in a dimly lit restaurant.

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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.

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Panorama

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.

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Conclusions

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.

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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.

Gallery:

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