Before the Sony a6000 series came about, there was the Sony NEX lineup paving the way for what would eventually become the best-selling e-mount system we know today.
At the time, Sony was coming out with all sorts of lenses for its new, compact system. One of those lenses was the Sony 30mm F3.5 macro, releasing in early 2012.
Nowadays, Sony APS-C shooters have a wealth of third-party options, so how does this old macro lens stand up to more modern competition? Let’s talk about it.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Decent image quality when stopped down
- The only AF macro lens for APS-C
- Extremely close focusing distance
- A good option for beginners
Size & Weight
So, to start, let’s talk size and weight. The Sony 30mm F3.5 is rather compact, measuring only 2.19 inches (5.5cm). This makes it quite the small lens, especially compared to other Sony APS-C macro lenses (more information of alternative macro lenses at the bottom of the article).
As for weight, the lens is incredibly light, sitting at roughly 4.9oz (138g). This is, if I’m not mistaken, the absolute lightest lens I’ve used.
Is the lens well built?
The lack of weight comes from somewhere, and that’s build quality. I’m hesitant to say that the Sony 30mm F3.5 feels flimsy, but it certainly doesn’t match up to the quality of a lot of newer lenses.
The lens barrel is a sort of metallic-plastic type mix, and the included lens hood (which is quite small but does the job) is also plastic. This type of build is a far cry from the slightly more expensive but much more premium Laowa 65mm F2.8 Macro.
So is the lens built to last? Honestly, I’m not sure. It feels kinda crappy, but plenty of old NEX lenses are still on the market and in great condition, so I’d imagine this one should be no different despite the cheap feel.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
Ergonomically, it balances fairly well on my Sony a6000. The low weight makes it feel a bit unwieldy versus the heavier camera body, but I didn’t have any issues with fatigue or tiredness when out on a long shooting session.
As for aesthetics, its got a typical NEX lineup vibe. The lens comes in silver and is extremely minimalistic, showcasing just a small focus ring on its sleek barrel.
I can’t shake the cheap feeling I get when looking at it, but I know some photographers dig the silver look. Beauty is subjective and, I suppose, it doesn’t matter how ugly a lens is as long as it can get the job done right.
Speaking of which, let’s hop into sharpness next. My lens tests don’t get very scientific, so don’t expect any crazy complicated measurements or anything. I mostly just pixel-peep.
Shooting wide open at F3.5, sharpness is pretty solid in the center of the frame, but falls off HEAVILY near the edges to where its a blurry mess at the extreme corners.
Stopping down a bit, say to F5.6, shows considerable improvement. Centers are razor sharp, and corners end up looking a lot more acceptable. At F8 is where things get great, showing excellent edge-to-edge sharpness that is, I’d say, on par with a lot of other prime lenses.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
As for optical quirks and flaws, the Sony 30mm F3.5 excels. There is virtually no distortion, no chromatic aberration, and the lens rarely suffers from any sort of flaring/ghosting.
The only thing is a slight vignette. However, it’s so minor that its easily fixable in post processing.
Next up, let’s talk about macro! The Sony 30mm F3.5 has an incredibly close focusing distance of 1 inch (2.5cm) from the front element of the lens. This means that you’ll have to get EXTREMELY close to subjects, risking casting shadows or bumping the front glass (use your lens hood).
This can definitely cause problems in certain circumstances. You need to be cautious with how the lens (and your body) is casting shadows. Honestly, investing in a cheap lens ring flash could be a good idea when doing really close-up work.
Still, despite the comically short focus distance, the lens produces some gorgeous macro shots. Bokeh is creamy, and subject isolation is absolutely fantastic.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, optical performance is pretty solid, especially given that the Sony 30mm F3.5 is so old.
Sharpness, when stopped down a bit, is respectable. The lens excels when it comes to distortion, CA, vignette, etc. and macro capabilities are great, despite the short focus distance.
Next up, let’s talk autofocus. The AF in this lens is just alright. Being over ten years old, it can’t even come close to comparing with more modern lenses.
Regardless, it works well in most situations, but can really struggle if there’s too much movement in the shot (take for example, a leaf swaying in the wind).
For that reason, you’re generally better off using manual focus.
The focusing ring is fairly well dampened and, honestly, I don’t have any complaints with it. Combined with focus peaking and Sony’s other excellent assists, the Sony 30mm F3.5 was actually kind of a joy to manually focus.
My Final Thoughts
Finally, I like to round out my reviews with a few alternatives, and there’s a LOT of them in the macro space now. One caveat though: some of these lenses I’m about to suggest are manual focus only.
First up, the fantastic Laowa 65mm F2.8. The Laowa offers incredible sharpness, a nice build, and a comparable price tag. Most importantly, however, it offers 2:1 magnification (vs the Sony’s 1:1) with a minimum focusing distance of 6.7 inches (17cm).
Second, if you’re looking to save some money, consider the 7artisans 60mm F2.8. It offers great sharpness, a solid build, and is usually around half the price of competitors.
Finally, the top of the line Voigtlander 65mm F2.0. That lens produces unbelievably sharp images, an incredible all-metal premium build, and the smoothest and most perfect manual focus you’ll ever use. Unfortunately, it’s EXTREMELY expensive in comparison.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for a do-it-all type lens, consider the fantastic Sigma 30mm F1.4. It’s not a dedicated macro lens, but is excellent for everything else and can still take some decent images up close.
Since I’ve presented a ton of alternatives, what’s my actual opinion on the Sony 30mm F3.5?
I think it’s worth the purchase for some people. If you’re comfortable with manual focus, consider one of my previous recommendations. If you want autofocus though, there’s literally no other lens for macro work than the Sony 30mm F3.5.
If you’d like to try it for yourself, I’ll leave purchase links down below. Thank you for reading.
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