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Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon: the First Lens that 'Makes' the Platform

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon ZA

Get Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon at B&H Photo.

The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon showed up late in the day. I decided to check it out on the Sony A7R by shooting portraits using natural light.


A camera system needs at least one outstanding lens that makes owning that system worthwhile. Or rather, a lens that is so appealing that the camera body becomes an accessory.

Until now, that Sony A7 series platform has been a study in “good enough”. That system mediocrity ends now with the Sony/Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon. The question is whether lens siblings of similar quality will emerge to complete the nucleus of a complete system that demanding photographers hunger for.

Dang, where is that 50 or 80 megapixel Sony A9 with real 14-bit files?

In Guide to Mirrorless:

Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon: Portraits

Shot on the 36-megapixel Sony A7R, presented with HD and UltraHD images including the entire frame up to 24 megapixels (!). The lens deserves it.

f1.4 @ 1/160 sec, ISO 200; 2015-04-07 18:47:58
Sony A7R + Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA

[low-res image for bot]

Roy P writes:

Very nice coverage of this lens, and terrific portraits. You’re lucky to have a cooperative model. I used up all my goodwill on that front with my kids a long time ago!

There are three other E-mount FE lenses that while perhaps not quite in the “lens shall wag the camera” class as the new Zeiss 35/1.4 Distagon, are nevertheless, easily in the “mirrorless shall wag the DSLR” category, IMHO. These provide enough catalysts to switch to mirrorless for a lot of photographers, I think.

These are the Zeiss 55/1.8 Sonnar, the Zeiss 16-35 Vario Tessar and the Sony 70-200 f/4 G lens. These easily hold their own against the Nikon equivalents on a D810.

Even the Zeiss 24-70 f/4 is not bad. It’s not a great lens, but a pretty good lens. At f/5.6 on an A7R, I think it holds its own pretty well against the aging Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 at f/5.6 on a D810. And it is so much lighter and easier to handle.

I haven’t tested the Sony 90/2.8 macro, but it’s probably not too shabby vs. the Nikon 100/2.8.

While Nikon’s total universe of lenses is far more extensive, the universe of really standout lenses is much smaller, and I suspect the same is true for Canon. When you filter out the mediocre legacy lenses and start comparing the group of “very good” and better lenses, the Sony E-mount starts looking pretty decent!

The long focal length primes and zooms for pro sports and wildlife photography is the one area where Nikon/Canon still reign supreme. But even that is likely changing...

DIGLLOYD: my comments should not be construed to mean that the other lenses are bad; they are quite good and I’d recommend the ones that Roy mentions (excepting the 70-200, which I have not tested and so no opinion there). Particularly the 55/1.8.

Rather my statement on the Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon is just as I wrote: “a lens that is so appealing that the camera body becomes an accessory”. Just because I say I prefer chocolate ice cream does not mean that strawberry and vanilla are no good.

After 8 years working with just about every system and lens and at least 10,000 hours of doing so (the magic “10,000” hour rule—apply it to any area of expertise), I do feel that I have a sense of which lenses make it to another level, the cut above. Examples (not a complete list) include the Zeiss Otus line, the Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 APD, the Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron, the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon, and now, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon.

This one the focus is just off a few millimeters, but it’s the total rendering style that is so appealing.

f2 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 200; 2015-04-07 18:44:35
Sony A7R + Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA

[low-res image for bot]
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