Full frame 35mm is thought to be the most versatile focal length. When I go on a day trip with my family most of the time I use this. So far my old Canon nFD 35mm F2.8 did the job for me. Although being not a recent design it's a very solid performer on the Sony A7. The only thing I really missed was the autofocus capability. When the first rumours emerged that Samyang was going to release a native, 35mm, AF, pancake, full frame lens for Sony E-mount knew I would go for it.
It's kind of an interesting thing that none of the manufacturers doing lenses for Sony ILCE system (Sony, Zeiss, Samyang, Sigma, Tamron) want to release a full frame 35mm lens which has maximum aperture of F1.8 or F2. Forum users say that Sony and Zeiss don't want to go against the RX1 series. But what about the 3rd party manufacturers? One thing is clear, Sony A7 and A9 series owners would die for a native, compact, relatively fast, autofocus capable, full frame 35mm lens. Until it's happening we have only the fast but heavy F1.4 option or the the F2.8 versions. Some of the users say the Zeiss 35mm F2.8 FE is a stellar performer others' opinion is that it doesn't give enough for its price. I can't justify either of these as I have never tried this lens. The main reason was its price. That's why I was really happy when first hearing about this new addition from Samyang.
The RRP is £279 in the UK. I think it's a very good price. It costs less than half of the Zeiss 35mm F2.8 FE, currently retailing around £629. Although you can get it used around £400-450. Let's find out what we get for our money. In the box you can find the lens, a very nice hard case, both lens caps and a very interesting lens hood.
The lens doesn't have a traditional front cap. First you have to attach the hood and then the front cap grabs into the threaded opening of the hood. This gives you two options to use filters. The lens main filter thread is 49mm but if you fancy you can use the hood's thread which is 40.5mm. It's a clever solution.
The build quality is very good. The bayonet is made of metal and the body is from high quality plastic. Focusing ring moves very smooth. But because of its weight (only 85g) you still have the feeling that it's just a toy lens. On the other hand this small weight and the pancake design makes it a very good one-lens solution for the A7, A9 series. You can carry it for days without feeling that the combo pulls your neck. The metal bayonet shows no wobbling when the lens attached to the body.
The autofocus gives some squeaking noise during operation but it's not too loud. It might be heard when recording video but this lens wasn't really made for that purpose. Autofocus speed is fast in good light but not as fast as for example the Zeiss 55mm 1.8. I found when there is less light the lens quite often hunts. First it goes a bit further then it comes back before locking on the subject. It seems that there is a huge difference in the algorithm between Samyang's and the native lenses. It can be annoying when fast autofocus speed is needed.
I also tried the manual focus. It's the usual fly-by-wire version which hardcore manual lens users really hate. But you wouldn't expect else nowadays in this price range. One thing I noticed was that lots of room left on the scale when reaching the infinity. So don't turn the focus ring blindly toward the infinity end as you are easily going to go over it.
Here are some test shots for giving a clue about the sharpness of this lens.
At long distances (Center and Corner at F2.8 and F8):
Close to minimum focusing distance (Center and Corner at F2.8 and F8):
My tests were made here by placing the subject in different areas in the image and focusing there. At this distance this is what most of the users normally do.
At close focusing and portrait distances it's really nice. Being only F2.8 it can't give you the same background blur as an F1.4 lens but with choosing the right subject-background distance ratio it's still possible to create a nice effect. At longer distances it's much more limited because of the F2.8 but for me it still seems really nice.
In two words, well controlled. Fully open you can find some toward the edges of the frame but it means just a slight adjustment on one of the sliders in post-processing. Stopping down it disappears completely.
During the years Samyang well learnt how to make an effective lens coating. It's really difficult to create any kind of blotches or contrast reduction. Please don't be confused by the sensor reflections of the A7. Basically these were my best tries and in my opinion these look rather nice and can even lift the mood of a photo when properly used.
Having 7 blade aperture the lens give a not very well defined 14-pointed sun star. It comes only with smaller aperture around F11 and above.
FULL SIZE PHOTOS
Here you can have a look at the details in full size. All are original jpeg's taken with Sony A7 camera, creative style was set to "Portrait". Click on the photos to see them full size on Flickr.
The Samyang FE 35mm F2.8 lens is a kind of a mixed bag. It's definitely worth its price if you can live with its limitations. This is mainly the noisy autofocus which is also a bit sluggish in low light situations. I can't complain about the sharpness, the flare resistance and the CA handling. It could have been F2 instead of F2.8. I think most of the Sony users would happily pay more for that. We should definitely forget the pancake size but I think most of us would sacrifice that against some more speed.
very small and lightweight
image quality and colours
very affordable price
a tad softer corners when open
AF a bit noisy and struggles (often hunts) in low light conditions
Max aperture: f/2.8
Optical construction: 7 elements / 6 groups
Minimum focus distance: 0.35m
Filter size: 49mm (and 40.5mm when using the hood)
Aperture blades: 7 (rounded)
Angle of view: 63.1°