Zeiss T* FE 35mm f/2.8

Real World Review

Although this lens was released alongside the original A7/A7R bodies it's still a very popular & compelling option. I've reviewed it alongside the newer A7R-II to see if it's still optically up to the challenge of a more demanding sensor.

The 35mm focal length is very versatile and often touted as a classic for street photography. It's also a focal length I personally find quite difficult to get the most out of for some reason so the whole review process was a very refreshing challenge!

Out of the Box

Just the lens and its rather unusual lens cap!

It costs approximately £500/S$1200

Usage & Handling

The Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 2,8/35 ZA T* - to give the lens its full name - is a small prime lens for Sony's E-mount lenses. Sony's new design has contributed to keeping the lens extremely compact (4cm) & lightweight (just over 100g). One of the trade-offs to achieve this is has been a mediocre maximum aperture, only f/2.8.

That said, the aperture is pretty much the only compromise Zeiss have made. In pretty much every other respect this less is a very solid performer.

Exterior construction is almost completely metal which definitely helps how it feels to use.

In terms of autofocus, it's fast, accurate & smooth (tested when paired with the A7R-II). It uses a stepping motor to drive it so it's suited to video use too.

The combined lens-cap/hood is an unusual design. The cap itself is small but the hood also lets you mount 40.5mm filters to it. Otherwise you can attach 49mm screw in-filters to the lens itself

Manual focusing is a bit of a let-down. The ring on the barrel isn't really a manual ring at all, rather an electronic mechanism. Although considerably better than a fully electronic button approach (like you get on other mirrorless and compact cameras) it's not as accurate or smooth to use as a proper manual design.

All things considered, it's a very functional little package but the real question we want to explore is the image quality.

Sample Images

All images below were shot using the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 using an A7R-II body. Unless noted explicitly, images have been processed in Lightroom & Photoshop to show what is realistically achievable from underlying RAW files.

The lens has few real flaws and I'll discuss the distortion/vignetting after the sample images below.

The GIF below gives an indication of the distortion and vignetting when you shoot wide open. Distortion isn't bad at all, with barrel-distortion only really evident in the corners (albeit quite pronounced). Sharp throughout, better in the centre slightly, but very good in the corners.  Vignetting is very obvious though with quite a strong falloff to roughly -1.5 stops in the corners. I expected some vignetting but not quite this much but I have to admit, I actually quite liked the effect and in more cases than not I didn't correct this in Lightroom.

I haven't included any examples of flare or coma, simply because I couldn't find any!

The lens is sharp, even wide open and out into the corners.

Pros

  • Great image quality, minor flaws are easily correctable
  • Small & lightweight
  • Excellent AF performance

Cons

  • Very expensive for an f/2.8 prime
  • Slow, especially for the money, with only f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • Manual focus is clunky

Conclusion

If you're looking for a small, light prime lens and aren't too fussed about the fairly bland f/2.8 aperture then this lens is great. It's definitely too expensive but at the same time it's definitely a quality option if you're looking for a prime in this focal length.