Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM (SEL35F14GM) lens
The FE 35mm f/1.4GM is a strong performer and well worth considering by owners of Sony’s FE mount cameras who want a fast prime lens with a moderately wide angle of view.
Relatively small and light for its speed, this lens is able to capitalise on the superior high ISO performance of Sony’s latest ‘full frame’ cameras, making it a good choice for photographers who enjoy low-light shooting with excellent depth of field control.
Announced in January 2021, the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ‘G Master’ lens is smaller and lighter than the Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 lens we reviewed back in September 2017. Weighing only 524 grams and just 96 mm long, it is a great partner for the recently-released Alpha 1 camera on which we have reviewed it. With comprehensive weatherproof sealing plus a minimum focus of 27 cm and maximum magnification of 0.23x in autofocus mode its fast maximum aperture and 11-blade iris diaphragm delivers smooth and creamy background bokeh when shooting stills and video.
Angled view of the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM (SEL35F14GM) lens without the supplied lens hood. (Source: Sony.)
The FE 35mm f1.4 GM features a dust and moisture resistant design plus a fluorine front element coating that repels water, oil and other contaminants. Although designed for Sony’s ‘full-frame’ cameras, it can be mounted on an APS-C or Super 35 camera, where it will provide a standard lens with coverage equivalent to a 52.5mm on a 35mm camera.
The optical design of the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens showing the positions of the exotic glass elements. (Source: Sony.)
The optical design on this lens, shown above, consists of 14 elements in 10 groups. Two XA (extreme aspherical) elements take advantage of the short flange-back distance to deliver high contrast and resolution in a compact lens design, while an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element suppresses chromatic aberration.
Sony’s Nano AR Coating II suppresses ghosting and flare to maintain image clarity in all lighting conditions. A fluorine front element coating plus a dust and moisture resistant design ensure high reliability in challenging environments.
This diagram shows the positions of the two XD linear motors on each side of the focusing element group. (Source: Sony.)
The focus group is driven by two ‘XD’ linear motors that provide the high thrust efficiency needed for precise focusing and tracking coupled with fast responsiveness. Special control algorithms, developed for the XD Linear Motors, ensure good control response and precision while minimising vibration and noise.
The FE 35mm f/1.4 GM provides professional-level physical controls that are positioned to be easily accessed. These include an aperture ring with switchable click stops, a programmable focus hold button and a focus mode switch. The de-clickable aperture and fast linear AF plus the linear response manual focus make this lens well suited to videography.
This illustration shows the main physical controls on the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens. (Source: Sony.)
It’s worth noting this lens is not stabilised but users can take advantage of the Steady Shot IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilisation) in their Alpha cameras, which enables a steady viewfinder image for shooting stills and movies. With no IS switch on the lens, stabilisation is controlled from the camera’s menu.
Who’s it For?
The combination of a sophisticated optical design and intelligent focusing technology in a small, lightweight unit makes the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens ideal for both stills shooters and videographers. Its price tag puts it into the professional category, although it’s not beyond the reach of well-heeled photo enthusiasts.
The FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens is equally well suited to shooting stills and video. (Source: Sony.)
The versatile 35mm focal length provides a moderate wide-angle view that creates a natural perspective with minimal distortion at close perspectives. It suits genres as diverse as street shooting, landscape and documentary subjects, while the fast maximum aperture provides plenty of scope for shooting in low light and controlling depth of field.
Suitable for mid-body and group portraits, its fast maximum aperture and negligible focus breathing will also be useful for wedding and event photographers who take available light shots with their cameras hand-held. Sports photographers who can get close to their subjects when shooting basketball or netball might also appreciate this focal length.
As part of Sony’s G Master series, this lens is designed to deliver high resolution and sharpness through comprehensive correction of common aberrations. Extensive weather-resistant sealing and robust, easy to operate physical design can benefit both photography and cine users.
As an FE lens, the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including APS-C sensor format models, where the crop factor covers an angle of view similar to a 52.5mm lens on a full-frame camera body. However, we feel owners of Sony’s cropped sensor cameras are unlikely to purchase this lens for them.
Build and Ergonomics
Constructed mainly from magnesium alloy, the FE 35mm f/1.4 GM lens is just 96 mm long, with a maximum diameter of 76 mm and a weight of 524 grams. Build quality is excellent and the lens is supplied with a short, cylindrical lens hood that has a locking button and can be reversed over the lens barrel for transport and storage.
This illustration shows the positions of the weather-resistant seals in the lens. (Source: Sony.)
The bulging front element protrudes a couple of millimetres out from a 64 mm diameter metal annulus with a 44mm diameter aperture above the lens. This section of the lens is surrounded by a 4 mm high ring that is threaded to accept 67 mm filters and has a bayonet mounting on its outer edge for attaching the supplied lens hood.
A 7 mm wide ‘lens hood index’ spacer separates the bayonet mounting from the focusing ring, which is 24 mm wide and almost entirely covered with a ridged rubberised grip band. Since focusing is driven from the camera, this ring turns through 360 degrees when power is off.
A fixed 18 mm wide section of the lens barrel separates the focusing ring from the aperture ring. It also carries the focus hold button and AF/MF slider switch, which are located around the left hand side as well as the aperture click switch on the right hand side.
The AF/MF switch lies flush with the outer barrel, which can help to prevent inadvertent readjustments but will require more effort to adjust when wearing gloves. A name plate is engraved on the top of this section of the barrel.
The aperture ring is 13 mm wide and carries slightly thicker rubber ridging than the focusing ring, which covers the front half of the ring. The rearwards half of the ring is unridged and stamped with aperture settings at one-stop intervals from f/1.4 to f/16. Intermediate steps of 1/3EV are also marked and a red A beyond the f/16 mark denotes the auto aperture position.
The lens barrel slopes inwards for roughly 11 mm before ending in a 16 mm straight section that terminates at the lens mount. A rubber ring around the barrel keeps out moisture and dust.
The supplied cylindrical lens hood appears to be made from industrial-grade polycarbonate. It is 35 mm long with internal flock lining to prevent reflections plus a locking button on the outer side of the bayonet mount. It can be reversed over the lens barrel for transport and storage.
Our Imatest testing was carried out with the lens on the Sony Alpha 1 camera body, which is reviewed separately (INSERT LINK). Subjective assessments of JPEG images showed them to be rich in detail as you would expect from a 50-megapixel camera.
The highest resolution in the central part of the frame was between f/2.2 and f/5.0 but there was some loss of sharpness towards the edges of the frame, although it was not always obvious in actual photographs. Diffraction reduced sharpness from about f/5.6 on but not as much as we usually find in our lens tests. The graph below shows our Imatest results.
In line with normal practices, all the in-camera corrections were disabled for testing chromatic aberration, vignetting and rectilinear distortions. Lateral chromatic aberration was close to negligible at all aperture settings, as shown in the graph below, where the red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ values. No coloured fringing was seen in test shots.
Slight vignetting was evident at the widest apertures, although it wasn’t particularly obvious in test shots. Stopping down to f/2.5 eliminated all traces of darkening. Pincushion distortion was present but barely visible and effectively corrected in JPEG files.
Together, the review lens and the Alpha 1 camera delivered good backlight performance in most situations. The lens wasn’t totally immune to flare but Sony’s Nano AR Coating II provided good suppression, even when a bright light source was inside the image frame. The camera’s dynamic range optimisation (DRO) system managed to keep contrast and saturation at usable levels with normal backlit subjects.
The wide maximum aperture made it easy to shoot close-ups with a very shallow depth of focus and control over the sharpness range in subjects was easy and effective with this lens. Examples are shown in the Samples section below.
Bokeh (out-of-focus softening) was generally very smooth at wide aperture settings and, although circular highlights tended to become oval-shaped towards the corners of the frame. We found occasional diffuse outlining around bright highlights in some shots but bokeh fringing, a common characteristic with fast lenses, was not detected.
Autofocusing was fast and accurate on the Alpha 1 camera, even in low light levels and at high frame rates, thanks to the proprietary Direct Drive SSM focusing system in the lens. It took less than a quarter of a second to readjust focus between the minimum focus and infinity and the ability to de-click the aperture ring, coupled with the quiet operation of the linear AF motor, makes this lens well suited to video recording.
Unfortunately, focus breathing (a change in the area of the subject covered when changing focus) was found with this lens. This may impact photographers who want to shoot video with the lens as it will restrict focus pulling. It could also affect those using the lens for focus stacking.
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Picture angle: 63 degrees (44 degrees on cropped-sensor cameras)
Minimum aperture: f/16
Lens construction: 14 elements in 10 groups (including 2 XA aspherical and one ED elements)
Lens mounts: Sony E-mount
Diaphragm Blades: 11 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: Two XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors
Minimum focus: 27 cm (AF), 25 cm (MF)
Maximum magnification: 0.32x
Filter size: 67 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 76 x 96 mm
Weight: 524 grams
Standard Accessories: ALC-SH164 lens hood, front and rear caps, soft case
Distributor: Sony Australia; 1300 720 071
Based on JPEG files recorded with the Sony Alpha 1 camera.
Vignetting at f/1.4.
Close-up at f/1.4, 1/800 second at ISO 100.
Close-up at f/1.4, 1/500 second at ISO 100.
Backlit close-up, f/1.4, 1/10,000 second at ISO 100.
Sunstars at f/16, 1/400 second at ISO 100.
Flare; 1/50 second at f/11, ISO 100.
1/80 second at f/10, ISO 100.
1/50 second at f/8, ISO 100.
1/125 second at f/4, ISO 200.
1/15 second at f/10, ISO 100.
1/10 second at f/14, ISO 200.
1/30 second at f/9, ISO 100.
1/160 second at f/13, ISO 100.
1/10 second at f/13, ISO 100.
1/80 second at f/16, ISO 100.
1/40 second at f/8, ISO 125.
1/640 second at f/8, ISO 100.
Additional image samples and test results can be found with our review of the Sony Alpha 1 camera.
RRP: AU$2449; US$1,399.99
- Build: 9.0
- Handling: 9.0
- Image quality: 9.0
- Autofocusing: 9.0
- Versatility: 8.8