An Early Look at the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens

Among the madness that is CES, Sony slipped in a surprise photo announcement: the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens. Sony has been very clear that this full-frame E-mount lens is aiming to deliver top-tier image quality in a compact package, and it looks like the company absolutely hit the mark. The 35mm GM appears to be one of the best and most versatile prime lenses to join Sony's ever-growing mirrorless system.


The Basics

As stated earlier, the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM is designed for use with full-frame E-mount cameras. This includes options like the a7/a9 series, as well as the Cinema Line cameras, including the FX6 and FX9. It will also work well with APS-C and Super 35mm models where it will offer a 52.5mm equivalent focal length. If you shoot practically any contemporary Sony camera, you should be happy with this lens.

Photographs © Stephanie Gross

The FE 35mm f/1.4 GM is a perfect match for a7-series cameras and creates a compact and versatile system.
The FE 35mm f/1.4 GM is a perfect match for a7-series cameras and creates a compact and versatile system.

With this G Master lens, Sony has once again put the emphasis on resolution and bokeh. Using two eXtreme Aspherical (XA) elements, it retains sharpness out to the edges. Assisting is an extra-low dispersion (ED) element that practically eliminates chromatic aberrations—a common problem with fast-aperture lenses. These specialized elements also contribute to smooth bokeh, and an 11-blade diaphragm ensures circular bokeh shapes. And there is a Nano AR Coating II to minimize ghosting and flares.

The lens can focus down to 10.6" with AF or 9.8" in manual, and it makes use of two eXtreme Dynamic (XD) linear motors for fast, quiet focus, and is internally focusing. There is a large, rubberized focus ring that benefits from linear response manual focus for better control, too.

If you are familiar with the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM, you will find the 35mm GM is quite similar in terms of design. The 35mm is only slightly larger, which makes it incredibly compact for its particular combination of focal length and aperture. It measures 3.0 x 3.8" and weighs less than 1.2 lb. It's impressive. Other matching features include a physical aperture ring, de-click switch, focus hold button, AF/MF switch, fluorine coating, and dust- and moisture-resistant construction.

Hands-On Thoughts

This lens is beautiful and feels great in the hand. Sony has done wonders lately with the 24mm and, now, the 35mm GM as the company shows that you can still make lenses that are extremely compact and don't compromise on image quality. The 35mm GM is another winner.

Images © Stephanie Gross — Instagram @yungstephie

The lens is very similar to the 24mm GM, which is good. Images are sharp and distortion is very well controlled. Resolving power does not seem to be an issue as it appears to maintain detail even with the demanding 61MP sensor in the a7R IV. You can make out individual hairs and threads on clothing, with no issue.

Sony a7R IV, f/5, 1/100 sec, ISO 125
Sony a7R IV; f/5; 1/100 sec; ISO 125

Bokeh is smooth with the fast f/1.4 aperture, and the close minimum focusing distance allows users to create images with extremely shallow depth of field. This makes it useful for a variety of applications, including portraits. Also, the fast aperture is good for low-light situations. It might be a little too shallow in some cases, so be careful not to just have it at f/1.4 all the time. It also does get a little bit sharper if you stop down to f/2 or f/4, though it isn't a dramatic jump. Wide open is still very sharp.

Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/80 sec, ISO 80
Sony a7R IV; f/1.4; 1/80 sec; ISO 80

Vignetting at wider apertures is very minimal and is very easily cleaned up in Photoshop or any other raw developer. And, as I wrote earlier, distortion is not a problem in the slightest. This shouldn't be too surprising since 35mm isn't that far off from normal 50mm and shouldn't display much distortion in the first place.

Sony a7R IV, f/1.4, 1/100 sec, ISO 500
Sony a7R IV; f/1.4; 1/100 sec; ISO 500

Autofocus is fast, as is expected, and it tracks well with Sony's features, including Eye AF. There really haven't been issues with AF and Sony lenses in a good long while. Video shooters will also appreciate this because the focus motors are silent and work very well with the a7S III's speedy system, and I would expect similar performance on the FX6 and FX9. The linear response manual focus is also very good, though I'm not sure it's quite to the level of mechanically linked focus; it's as good as focus-by-wire can get. And the de-clickable aperture ring is always nice.

There isn't anything I can pick out as a flaw with this lens. It's smaller than many competing options, is able to deliver on promised image quality, and, while not cheap, isn't truly that expensive—considering its feature set. Sony knocked it out of the park with this one.

Compared to Sony's Other 35mm Lenses

Now, you might be wondering how this is different from the older Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens since they share core specs and premium branding. It's a good question. Primarily, since the 35mm GM is newer, it is able to make use of Sony's latest optical technologies, such as XA elements and the Nano AR Coating II. It also has an improved focus system that includes a linear response manual focus and smoother performance that is great for video. Plus, it is 0.6" shorter and lighter by about 3.7 oz—a notable savings on both fronts. You might simply call the 35mm GM "better," but I would say they are just different, and they hit different price points to appeal to different users.

Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens | Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens | Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens
Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Lens | Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens | Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 Lens

Beyond the 35mm f/1.4 ZA, Sony has two other full-frame 35mm lenses to choose from—the FE 35mm f/1.8 and Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA. The 35mm GM still sits far above these in terms of optics performance and speed. Even though this new f/1.4 is relatively compact, when compared to the f/1.8 and f/2.8 it looks large. The 35mm f/2.8 is incredibly small and is one of my favorite lenses because of that. However, most folks will likely be drawn to the 35mm f/1.8 because it offers a bit more speed with only a bit more bulk. The f/1.8 still doesn't have everything since it lacks a physical aperture ring and the more advanced AF of the new GM. Still, it is likely the best choice for most photographers.

If you want the best, the choice is clear: Get the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM.

Breakdown:

  • FE 35mm f/1.4 GM: Incredible resolution, compact design, fast f/1.4 aperture, and the latest tech. The top-of-the-line 35mm.
  • FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA: Excellent resolution, the "ZEISS Look," and a fast f/1.4 aperture.
  • FE 35mm f/1.8: Best all-arounder with lightweight design, advanced optics, good f/1.8 aperture, and middle-of-the-pack feature set.
  • FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA: Incredibly compact, near-pancake design, excellent optical quality. Specialty optic if you want the smallest lens without compromising image quality.

What are your thoughts on the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens? Share them in the Comments section, below. This might just be my next purchase and, considering that the 35mm is my favorite focal length, could quickly become my most-used lens.

See more of Stephanie Gross's photographs on Instagram @yungstephie.

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7 Comments

Sony is putting too much lens of the same focal length. IMHO, the ex-Minolta guys simply had a falling out with Zeiss and wanted to displace Zeiss with their G and GM lines. I believe this is particularly so after the Zeiss folks went out and did a competing Batis line when Sony shunned them for premium FE lenses. Good lens no doubt, but keeping BOTH the Zeiss 1.4/35 and the GM 1.4/35 in production simply doesn't make sense.

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What I really want is not yet another standard prime or yet another fast 24-70. What I really want is the ultimate WALK ABOUT lens. It doesn't have to be particularly fast, it doesn't need to have optical IS. It should simply have best in the world optics, a compact size (ala 1.8/55) and a 25-50mm focal range. A Zeiss or GM 3.3/25-50 will be perfect.

It is definitely curious to maintain such similar lenses in the line without some price adjustments IMO. I'm not so sure it is about displacing Zeiss more so than simply updating the entire line to be consistent in features and performance. This G Master is so similar in look to the 24GM that it makes a lot of sense, plus it is a lot smaller which is an advantage over the competition. It's definitely interesting.

Man... As a literally daily 35ZA user for daily life with a toddler and even using it equally with the 16-35GM for weddings paired to the 85GM, the smaller/lighter/new tech is highly appealing to me indeed!  Question is though... is the "Zeiss look" why it is $200 more than the GM?  re-sale on the ZA is about half towards selling for the GM, so is it worth the exchange?  Or is the Zeiss look vs GM look a better question?  Because I absolutely LOVE my 85GM.  It's my favorite lens for pro work for sure.

It's a great question. I believe that Sony is looking into making some adjustments here in regards to price, but no idea if that will happen. As for Zeiss look vs GM look, it's a lot less definitive. Zeiss is known for micro contrast and a distinct focus roll off while Sony GM has a more general sharpness across the board. I think, with only limited experience with both 35s, that that Zeiss has a more noticeable emphasis on subjects positioned toward the center of the frame while the Sony has less of an emphasis and more generalized high quality. Both are high-quality optics with excellent performance, so there isn't a wrong pick here.

Honestly, if you already own the Z35 I wouldn't recommend switching over unless you absolutely want the smaller/lighter build and faster AF/better MF.

Not sure about the 1.4/35 ZA specifically ( I don't own it) but in general the Zeiss lenses are a little more saturated and they also tend to have very good micro contrast. On the other hand, 9 out of 10 of the Zeiss lenses vignette, most of them cat eye the fringe bokeh and keeps the blurred background free of chromatic shifts. If I have to put it into a sentence... a Zeiss lens shot wide open tends to produce unusually rich colors with a bright center, darker edges and a background that is not color skewed making the subject "pop". Honestly, I think all that constitutes the "Zeiss Look" for better or for worse. There are exceptions of course -- the 2.8/135 Batis Apo Sonnar for instance is NOT particularly saturated, it does not vignette at all and many hard core Zeiss fans will say that it doesn't really have the "Zeiss Look". The Zeiss 4/24-70 is just plain bad all around -- a total disgrace that is no better than the Sony 28/70.

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I shoot the 2/25, 1.8/55, 1.8/85 and 2.8/135 Zeiss lenses plus the 4/24-105 G on an A7RII. I came from a Contax-Zeiss system in the film days with a stint on Sony Alpha DSLR line with the Zeiss 2.8/24-70 and 1.8/135 in between.

This will be the lend that never comes off my camera!  

Likely going to become the same for me too!

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