Over the years, Sony, along with third-party manufacturers, have pumped out a myriad of mid-range lenses for their APS-C lineup.
One of these lenses was the Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS, a mid-range prime that was released for the original NEX line many years ago. So, it’s not exactly new or cutting edge, but it still punches above its weight.
With that being said, it won’t be the best fit for every photographer as there are many other strong alternatives in this focal length.
In this article, we’ll be talking about whether or not this lens is still relevant, and who should buy it. Let’s dive in.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
Size & Weight
To start, we’ll talk about the size & weight of this lens. If you’ve read any other content on my site, you’ll know that I adore compact setups.
The Sony E 35mm F1.8 certainly fits the bill, coming in at only 1.77 inches (4.5cm) in length and weighing a measly 5.4oz (155g).
This is incredibly small. It’s lenses like this that made me fall in love with the Sony mirrorless lineup when I first was considering switching systems.
It’s not quite as small as my manual focus Neewer 35mm F1.7, but it’s still substantially more compact than pretty much any other AF prime that I have in my collection. This is especially impressive when you consider that the lens has both autofocus and OSS.
Is the lens well-built?
Alright, so it’s small and lightweight, but how does the build quality stack up?
To be completely blunt, build quality is rather lackluster. Like many NEX lenses, it’s made out of a mix of aluminum and plastic.
While this cheap material combination allows the lens to achieve an incredibly lightweight footprint, it doesn’t lend itself well to creating a premium feel. This lens certainly feels like an ultra-budget APS-C lens.
That being said, I want to point out again that this lens is 1.77 inches (4.5cm) long and weighs next to nothing. That’s incredibly compact, especially considering Sony managed to stuff both autofocus and optical image stabilization inside.
As a fan of small setups, I believe a drop in build quality is (typically) a worthy trade-off to get such a powerful lens in such a tiny package.
The lens, despite its build quality shortcomings, does include a rather nice lens hood. It’s not huge, but it does the job of protecting the front element from both bumps and flaring.
It’s also reversible, allowing this tiny Sony to stay small even in storage.
If you’re wondering if the Sony 35mm F1.8 has weather sealing, it does not.
Given that build quality is so iffy and the lens is so small, this is no surprise.
Built to last?
So, is the lens built to last? Despite its flaws, I’d still say yes.
It feels cheaply made, sure, but there’s plenty of other NEX-era lenses that have survived the past decade and still work just fine.
As for ergonomics, I love the size. Build quality may be rather poor, but at least it makes for an incredibly compact lens. When mounted on my Sony a6000, it barely feels like anything is even on there, allowing for easy and comfortable one-handed shooting.
Additionally, the ultra-short length allows the lens to be easily stuffed in a jacket pocket when not in use. Overall, quite comfortable on a day out shooting.
As for aesthetics, the Sony E 35mm F1.8, as with most NEX series lenses, sports a very basic and minimalist look. The lens comes in two different color variations: silver and black.
The silver is honestly extremely ugly and makes the lens look flimsier than it actually is, but the black looks pretty nice.
The sleek dark material of the lens barrel contrasts well with the rather minimal white text engravings.
Moving onto sharpness next, I found that while it can’t quite compare to the incredible Sigma 30mm F1.4 in terms of sharpness, the Sony E 35mm F1.8 can certainly hold its own.
For what it’s worth, my lens tests don’t tend to get very scientific, as I usually just pixel peep to the extreme. Keep that in mind.
Anyway, when wide open, the lens has some overall softness. Centers look decent but the corners certainly look rather poor.
That being said, at this aperture, the corners will be a lovely mess of bubbly bokeh anyways (if photographing close subjects), so the corner softness is not entirely worrisome.
When stopped down to just F2, centers sharpen up but there’s still a lot of fuzziness around the corners.
Resolution peaks around F4-F5.6, rendering some pretty solid edge-to-edge sharpness.
Again, not quite on the level of the Sigma 30mm F1.4, but still very, very respectable in its own right. If you’re not an extreme pixel peeper, you won’t notice any flaws when it comes to sharpness.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
Alright, so sharpness is pretty respectable, but how does the lens handle optical flaws such as distortion, vignette, CA, and flaring?
To start, the only major issue this lens suffers from is chromatic aberration.
It can be fairly strong when shooting wide open on bright days, but stopping down largely reduces it. Frankly, it’s nothing a quick click in Lightroom can’t fix.
The lens suffers from a very minor case of vignetting, but nothing that, again, a quick click in post-processing can’t fix.
Distortion is also near-perfect, easily beating out the Sony’s closest competitor, the aforementioned Sigma 30mm F1.4.
Finally, flaring is also well controlled, especially when using the included lens hood. You shouldn’t experience much loss of contrast when shooting into bright light sources.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, I was quite impressed with the optical performance that came out of the Sony E 35mm F1.8.
Sharpness isn’t flawless, but it’s certainly good enough for most uses.
Besides some wild chromatic aberrations, the lens is largely free of any other major optical faults.
Heck, even the bokeh looks pretty good. It’s not on the same level as an F1.4 telephoto lens, but it still offers great subject isolation and nice, bubbly balls of out-of-focus light.
Next up, let’s talk focusing!
The Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS offers pretty decent AF performance.. Autofocus definitely can’t compare to more recent lenses, sure, but I still found it to be decently quick & reliable.
Being an OEM Sony lens, both EyeAF and AF-C (continuous subject tracking) worked extremely well.
The only times where it really tripped up were in either high contrast or low light situations, and that’s kind of to be expected, especially given that it’s a lens that’s over a decade old at this point. Overall pretty solid performance, no major complaints from me.
The autofocus motor, as a bonus, is also very quiet.
This silent and reliable AF combined with the impressive optical image stabilization (more on that in a minute) makes this a fantastic lens for video shooters looking to upgrade from the basic kit lens.
For those photographers who enjoy manual focus, like myself, the Sony E 35mm F1.8 provides a pretty typical MF experience for a modern lens.
it doesn’t offer any physical buttons or switches (such as an AF/MF switch), instead taking up most of the limited space with a nice, ribbed focusing ring. As an avid user of manual focus, I’m usually a big fan of having a physical switch, but I can understand why it was omitted on such a tiny lens.
The focusing system is focus-by-wire, causing a sort of disconnected feeling when spinning the ring.
Don’t get me wrong, manual focus still works totally fine, it just won’t compare to a vintage or dedicated manual lens. The focus peaking and focus magnifier features on my Sony a6000 helped a lot.
Finally, just two more quick notes.
First off, you should know that at some point, this lens got a major firmware update to improve the autofocus.
If you’re buying new, I suspect this isn’t something you’ll need to think about, but it’s something worth considering if you end up buying used.
Finally, the lens (hence the OSS in the name) offers optical image stabilization!
Although OSS isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be (since most bodies have IBIS), it’s still great for those of us who still use unstabilized bodies like the a6k.
With the OSS, you can expect to gain about three stops of light. It works quite well.
My Final Thoughts
Before we round out the article, I want to offer three lens alternatives. None of these are necessarily better or worse than the Sony E 35mm F1.8, just different.
Sigma 30mm F1.4
The first would be my favorite APS-C lens of all time: the Sigma 30mm F1.4 (link to my 4-year long term review). The biggest downside is that it lacks OSS. Additionally, it’s substantially larger at about 2.9 inches (7.3cm).
The upside is that it’s substantially sharper and also a good bit cheaper. I’ve owned that particular Sigma lens since I first bought my Sony a6000 camera, and it still remains my favorite to this day.
If you don’t need the OSS and don’t mind the extra length, check out the Sigma. Trust me.
Rokinon 35mm F1.8
My second suggestion would be the rather new Rokinon 35mm F1.8. Rokinon has a reputation for putting out pretty good lenses that are budget-friendly, and this one is no exception.
Expect similar optical performance to the Sony, but a much, much cheaper pricetag (and no OSS).
Neewer 35mm F1.7
My third suggestion is for those on an ultra-thin budget: the Neewer 35mm F1.7 (link to my review).
Optically, it’s just about as sharp as this Sony lens but suffers from some heavy flaring. It is, however, incredibly tiny (1.23 inches or 3.1cm) and also quite cheap, usually hovering around less than $75.
The biggest caveat, however, is that it is entirely manual focus (and lacks OSS of course).
At the end of the day, the Sony E 35mm F1.8 fulfills a certain niche. Sure, it offers solid image quality and decent autofocus, but what really matters is the incredibly compact size and the optical image stabilization. If you’re a video shooter, for example, this lens is nearly perfect.
Sharper alternatives exist, but you won’t find a smaller lens that is still able to offer autofocus AND stabilization.
So, if you’re interested in picking one up for yourself, I’ll include a purchase link below. Thanks for reading.
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