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.
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.
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.
- Great image quality, minor flaws are easily correctable
- Small & lightweight
- Excellent AF performance
- Very expensive for an f/2.8 prime
- Slow, especially for the money, with only f/2.8 maximum aperture
- Manual focus is clunky
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.