Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM field review

Introduction

The Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM is a high-end, medium-wide prime lens for Sony’s E-mount cameras. While there have been high-end 35mm F1.4 primes in the lineup for some time – including Sony’s own Zeiss-branded Distagon 35mm F1.4 – this new lens looks to be an impressive performer despite its relatively small size (and it’s less expensive than the Zeiss, to boot).

Most* of the DPReview staff is in agreement that 35mm lenses make for excellent general-purpose primes, lending themselves well to all kinds of photography, and they’re a staple in many a photographers’ bag.

The Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM will be available mid-February at a suggested price of $1400.

*Those of us on staff that don’t like the 35mm focal length are just wrong, but we love them anyway.


Key specifications:

  • Focal length: 35mm (52.5mm on APS-C bodies)
  • Aperture range: F1.4 – F16
  • Stabilization: None built-in
  • Filter thread: 67mm
  • Close focus: 0.27m (10.63)
  • Maximum magnification: 0.23×
  • Diaphragm blades: 11
  • Hood: Included
  • Weight: 524g (1.16lbs)
  • Optical construction: 14 elements in 10 groups
One of the things we love about the 35mm F1.4 GM is just how sharp it is wide-open.
ISO 400 | 1/400 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Sony’s lens ecosystem is awash with 35mm options, but let’s focus on the fast ones. As mentioned earlier, there’s the Sony Zeiss Distagon 35mm F1.4 ZA, as well as the Sony FE 35mm F1.8, the Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art, the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, and the Samyang / Rokinon 35mm AF F1.8 FE. Whew, that’s a lot of 35mm lenses, and we’ve not even mentioned the F2 – F2.8 ones.

But variety is the spice of life, and if you’re living the life of a photographer, it’s great to have so many options spanning size, quality and budget. And since 35mm primes are well-suited to travel images, reportage, weddings, events, portraiture and more, it would make sense to have so many different lenses for different types of photographers to choose from.

And so the FE 35mm F1.4 GM enters a crowded field with ambitions to sit atop the pack with its combination of quality and compactness. Let’s see how it stacks up.

All images edited in Adobe Camera Raw 13 with adjustments limited to white balance, exposure, highlights, shadows, white and black levels. Sharpening and noise reduction at ACR defaults.


Handling

As we’ve come to expect from Sony’s line of G-Master lenses, the 35mm F1.4 feels really solid. It comes with claims of weather-sealing, with a gasket around the mount and seals throughout. On Sony’s recent a7-series, a9-series and a1 camera bodies, it balances fairly well, though it feels a bit front-heavy.

The exterior is mostly high-strength plastic, though the aperture ring is metal and the manual focus ring is nicely rubberized. On one side of the lens, there’s an AF/MF switch and a customizable button that defaults to ‘Focus Hold’, but you can assign any number of functions to it in the menus depending on which camera body you have.

On the other side of the lens, you’ll find a switch to enable ‘clicks’ when you move the aperture ring, or to turn them off so it turns smoothly. This is going to really useful for shooters that move between stills and video. Around the front, we have a relatively modest 67mm filter thread, and the front element comes with a fluorine coating to aid cleaning and repel water drops and fingerprints.

So overall, the Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM feels every bit as well-built as its price implies it should be, but it’s also not so heavy as to weigh you down significantly.

Compared to…

A natural point of comparison is the existing Sony Zeiss Distagon 35mm F1.4 ZA, but let’s also take a close look at Sigma’s made-for-mirrorless 35mm F1.2 DG DN.

Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM Sony Zeiss Distagon 35mm F1.4 ZA Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN (L-mount version)

Price (MSRP)

$1400 $1600 $1500
Optical construction 14 elements, 10 groups 12 elements, 8 groups 17 elements, 12 groups
Aperture range F1.4-16 F1.4-16 F1.4-16
Diaphragm blades 11 9 11
Focus motor type Linear motor Piezoelectric Ring-type ultrasonic
Weather sealed Yes Yes Yes
Filter thread 67mm 72mm 82mm
Minimum focus distance / max magnification 0.27m (10.63) / 0.23x 0.3m (11.81) / 0.18x

0.3m (11.81″)
0.2x

Diameter x Length
(no hood)
76mm x 96mm (2.99″ x 3.78″) 79mm x 112mm (3.09″ x 4.41″) 88mm x 136mm (3.46″ x 5.35″)
Weight 524g (1.16lbs) 630g (1.39lbs) 1090g (2.4lbs)

As you can see, the Sony is the smallest and lightest option here by a significant margin, which will make a big difference in comfort and handling on Sony’s relatively small a7, a9 and a1 camera bodies. The Sony 35mm GM also provides a little better close-focusing ability.

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Autofocus and focus breathing

Autofocus on the FE Sony 35mm F1.4 GM is pretty quick, if not lightning fast. At around 0.8 seconds to rack from close-focus to infinity, it’s plenty speedy for just about anything you might be photographing with a 35mm lens.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, the older Zeiss 35mm F1.4 beats it out at around 0.7 seconds for the same focus rack; the much larger Sigma, with more glass to move around, is even faster at around 0.65 seconds. The difference between the Sigma and the Sony GM is pretty stark if you use them back-to-back, but again, in practical terms, none of these lenses will keep you waiting for them (and focusing from the extreme close-range to infinity is a torture test to be sure).

The FE 35mm F1.4 GM’s autofocus is swift enough that you won’t find yourself missing moments.
ISO 100 | 1/2000 sec | F2 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Jordan Drake

For video shooters, focus breathing is unfortunately pretty poorly controlled; you can really see the angle of view change as you rack through the focus range, so that’s something to be aware of. On the other hand, the response of the manual focus ring is linear, meaning that a turn of five degrees will always result in the same level of adjustment, regardless of what speed you turn it. This helps keep manual-focus pulls repeatable.

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Image quality

The FE 35mm F1.4 GM puts up really impressive optical performance in almost every way; let’s take a closer look.

Sharpness

ISO 1600 | 1/250 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Let’s be honest, most of us buy fast lenses to use them wide-open at least some of the time, right? Well, it’s a good thing that this Sony optic is super usable wide-open, and even at close focus distances like the image above. Click or tap through the above image to see an insane level of detail, with the lens easily resolving hairs that are around a single pixel wide. Compare that to the Sony 35mm F1.4 ZA, which isn’t really sharp anywhere in the frame wide open.

ISO 100 | 1/100 sec | F4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

When you do want to stop the lens down a bit, you’ll just get more sharpness, with an impressive showing across the frame (even with a 61MP camera). We’d expect this lens to perform well with high-resolution multi-shot modes as well, provided your subjects are static enough and your tripod beefy enough.

Vignetting and distortion

Like many lenses built for mirrorless systems, the FE 35mm F1.4 GM has some corrections ‘baked in’ to the Raw file when you use Adobe Camera Raw for processing, as we do. But as we’ve covered in previous reviews, there are lenses where these corrections are more significant than others. However, for the Sony 35mm GM, only lateral chromatic aberration is automatically corrected for in the Raw converter (we’ll look at chromatic aberration later on) while distortion and vignetting are left alone.

ISO 100 | 1/2000 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Despite the lack of baked-in corrections, there’s almost no distortion to speak of; straight lines stay pretty straight even out to the edges of the frame. Vignetting, on the other hand, can be on the strong side as you can see above, but with modern sensors, you’re unlikely to run into problems should you want to lift corner exposure in post.

Bokeh

Bokeh is another strength of this lens; out-of-focus highlights don’t show much in the way of ‘onion ring’ patterns, and there aren’t any hard or color-fringed edges, which could lead to a busier look. These were major drawbacks of the 35mm F1.4 ZA lens. There is some cats-eye effect, but whether that bothers you is… well, up to you. Out-of-focus highlights retain a smooth circular profile, thanks to the 11-blade aperture.

ISO 500 | 1/160 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Jordan Drake

If you stop down just a little bit, that cats-eye effect starts to dissipate, and is completely gone by F2.8. Meanwhile, highlights retain their other positive characteristics, leading to really smooth bokeh even with difficult and potentially busy backgrounds.

ISO 100 | 1/100 sec | F2.8 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Jordan Drake

Flare, ghosting and sunstars

ISO 100 | 1/4000 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Even with the sun directly in the frame, it’s hard to induce any veiling flare or create any unsightly ghosts in your images. No doubt some of the more fancy lens elements in the GM’s optical formula are to thank for this. (And yes, there’s quite a bit of purple fringing in the above image, but we’ll delve into that shortly).

ISO 100 | 1/20 sec | F16 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Jordan Drake

As you stop down, the sunstars from the FE 35mm F1.4 GM look really nice, with 22 well-defined points (double the number of its 11 aperture blades).

Lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration (fringing)

If there’s one achilles heel in this lens, it’s longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA). While lateral CA is corrected for in Raw and largely a non-issue with this lens, LoCA shows up as green or magenta fringing behind and in front of the plane of focus at wider apertures, respectively. And while the FE 35mm F1.4 GM controls it significantly better than the Zeiss Distagon 35mm F1.4 or to a degree better than Sony’s own 35mm F1.8, it’s still visible in challenging situations.

As an example, check out the bridge on the right side of the frame; though this isn’t necessarily an image you’d always take at F1.4, this is the sort of effect you can expect to see. (Also, check out that vignetting again at the top right.)

ISO 100 | 1/2500 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

But it doesn’t appear in every situation where you might expect it, as in the image below. Basically, be careful with especially high-contrast edges in your frame if you’re shooting wide-open. The good news is that by F2, longitudinal CA is subtle enough that it’s unlikely to impact much of your imagery.

A bokeh-related note: That truncated bokeh most visible on the right side of the frame should serve as your friendly reminder to switch off electronic front-curtain shutter (EFCS) at very high shutter speeds. That truncated bokeh leads to more ‘busyness’, and less-shallow-than-expected depth of field.
ISO 100 | 1/8000 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Jordan Drake

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Conclusion

What we like What we don’t
  • Really impressive sharpness, even at widest apertures
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Excellent build quality
  • Reasonably compact size
  • Useful close-focus distance
  • Very nice sunstars
  • Highly resistant to flare and distracting ghosting artifacts
  • Distortion is well-controlled
  • Longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) can be an issue
  • Lots of focus breathing
  • Autofocus not as fast as other options

The Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM is a lens that, so long as you get along with the 35mm field of view, is easy to love. It provides the kind of sharpness wide-open that we just wouldn’t have expected to see in fast primes up until the last few years. Build quality is pretty much without fault, but the size and weight remain reasonable.

This is all the more impressive considering that the Sony 35mm F1.4 GM optically outperforms the older and larger Zeiss Distagon 35mm F1.4 ZA in nearly every way, while coming in at a lower price and smaller size. On the other hand, we were a little surprised to find that the Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN focuses faster. In real-world shooting though, it’s unlikely to be an issue.

ISO 100 | 1/200 sec | F1.4 | Sony a7R IV
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Really, the only aspect of the FE 35mm F1.4 GM that might be a major issue for stills shooters is its LoCA performance. Thankfully, it only shows up on especially high-contrast edges and at the widest apertures (you can rid yourself of it even in challenging scenes by F2 or so). And though it’s something to be aware of, this is still the best performance for 35mm lenses that you’ll find for Sony E-mount in this regard.

Beyond the LoCA, we can’t complain about the bokeh, sunstars, flare resistance nor close-focus distance. So in short, this lens really is the long-overdue choice for professionals and advanced amateurs that are in the market for a fast E-mount 35mm prime for portraits, travel, landscape, journalism, or what-have-you. That makes it easily worthy of a strong recommendation and our highest award.

Check out what the DPReview TV crew makes of the Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM.

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Sample galleries

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DPReview sample gallery

DPReview TV sample gallery

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Scoring

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