Monday, May 20, 2013

Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS (SEL35F18) hands-on with Sony NEX-5

by Hasan Karagülmez

I don't seem to find that much info about this lens on the internet, so I thought I would write-up my experience with it - so here it goes, enjoy!

Sony NEX-5 paired with the E-mount 35mm 1.8 OSS, modelname: SEL35F18

DSLR or Mirrorless?

I'm sure many have questioned themselves the same thing, should you go mirrorless or get a DSLR?
In my case, I got the Canon EOS 7D before the advent of mirrorless camera's, I've got it for years now.

It still remains, in my opinion, a top DSLR - it has got fast and accurate autofocus, as prime feature. And whilst sensor performance on APS-C has got better in the meantime (notably the Sony sensors in Nikon DSLR's), I see no need to upgrade to another model.

Even ISO12800 on the Canon 7D can perform very nicely, I think, as long as you take care.

The thing is... it's kinda big. So, when the NEX-5N just came out and was about 600 Euro, I bought the NEX-5 for 400 Euro (about 515 US Dollar) - including kitlens.

And Presto! APS-C sensor in your pocket!

Which is great... except that the 18-55mm OSS kitlens isn't exactly inspring to shoot with, IMHO, so it was a bit of a waiting game for other lenses...

35mm F1.8 OSS for NEX sounds great!

At least, that's what came to my mind when I read about it :)

The price doesn't exactly make it an impulse buy however. In fact, at around 450 Euro here in the Netherlands (about 580 US Dollars), it's just downright expensive.

There's also this little thing called the Sigma 30mm f2.8 available for NEX, for which the DN-variant (identical optically to the new Art-series) is available for around 100 Euro (about 130 Dollar).
That's so much more cheaper than the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS it's not even remotely funny... even the 50mm 1.8 OSS is a lot cheaper at around 280 Euro (~360 Dollar).

However, having both the Canon EF 50mm 1.8 and Sigma 30mm 1.4, I knew that, for my style of shooting, I really prefer something closer to 30mm, because I find 50mm a bit long on APS-C for walkaround purposes.

Really wanted something like the Sigma 30mm 1.4 in a smaller package, the NEX-5 and 35mm 1.8 OSS delivers!

As if by luck, there was a person last Friday (17-5-2013), selling the 35mm 1.8 OSS second-hand for about 350 Euro (450 Dollar), which makes it a whole lot more reasonable in my book! As icing on the cake, it still has all the papers for guarantee, and it was bought new at the end of 2012. That makes the lens almost 5 months old, which is peanuts!

Sounds good right?  So I went out and bought it!

First Impressions

It's tiny!

The 18-55mm NEX kitlens left, the 35mm 1.8 OSS to the right - it's quite small!

As you can see, it's actually smaller than the NEX kitlens. Even relatively small lenses still seem almost comically out-of-place on a NEX-camera, especially with a small body like the NEX-5 - it looks like a lens with a camera-body attached to it!

The Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS, posting next to the oldie NEX-5

And with the lens mounted, it´s still quite a small combination. This actually fits in the pocket of my jacket!

Rest assured though, it actually handles pretty well in practice - it's not a front-heavy combination.

It's also a heck of a lot smaller and lighter than the Canon 7D with Sigma 30mm 1.4 attached, which is a really big plus for just walking around and having a high-quality camera with you as much as possible:

The NEX-5 with the 35mm 1.8 OSS is significantly smaller and lighter than the Canon 7D and Sigma 30mm 1.4

Naturally, I wanted to go out and take some pictures, but the last three days have been nothing but rain and thick grey clouds unfortunately... but let's not get stopped by that.

Bokeh/out-of-focus area quality

Yesterday, I came across the perfect situation to test what the difference would have been if I were to have bought the Sigma 30mm 2.8 by testing the difference between 1.8 and 2.8:

SEL35F18 @ f1.8

SEL35F18 @ f2.8

This test reassures me more than I ever I made the right choice, the f1.8 version looks a lot better better to me - look at what a buttery smooth background this tiny camera is producing!

I think it's a lot more striking than f2.8.

Here´s what f4.0 and f5.6 look like, if you're interested:

SEL35F18 @ f4.0

SEL35F18 @ f5.6

I intend to use this lens wide-open or near wide-open as much as possible, of course :)

Sharpness, Close-focusing and Autofocus accuracy

The closest this lens can focus is with a subject-distance of 30cm from the sensor. That's not very close, unfortunately, but it seems to be fairly typical for this type of lens. The Sigma 30mm 1.4 has a minimum focus distance of 40cm for example.

It does focus pretty accurately and relatively quickly on the contrast-detect-only NEX-5 though. Of course, with contrast-detect autofocus focusing on sensor-output, you would expect autofocus accuracy to be close to 100% - what you see is what you get after all.

So, let's take this full-shot spider photo shot at 1.8, and see how it performs (and note how lovely the out-of-focus areas look, I really love it!)
Itsy-bitsy-spider, accompanied with lovely bokeh

And this is a big crop of the same photo, and note that this is shot wide-open:
Itsy-bitsy-spider posing for the camera

You can even see its eyes and even the tiny hairs on its legs! Sharpness is definitely in the more-than-good-enough area!

No spiders were harmed in the making of these pictures by the way, though, I do think it was a bit terrified - it didn't move at all! At least he had the decency to look into the camera, though I guess it helps if you've got 4 eyes ;)

Anyway, yes, I would say that, for me at least, this Sony 35mm lens is sharp enough!

Note that the NEX-5 is "only" 14.2 megapixel - the 16 megapixel NEX-5N and NEX-6 will be a bit more bit demanding, resolution-wise, and the 24MP NEX-7 of course even more so.

From what I read though, it'll still hold up very good.


None that I've noticed. From what I understand from reading online is that it does have a very slight distortion, also see the Matthew Durr review. I can't say I've had to apply any correction whatsoever with this lens, all lines seem straight to me, check it out:

Good news: as good as no pincushion or barrel distortion on the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS

Abberations and fringing

Just about any large aperture lens is going to have chromatic abberation and purple fringing, and so does the 35mm 1.8 OSS. It's actually not too bad, and easily correctable in Lightroom from what I've seen so far (ignore the moire in the focus area please):

Some clour shift inevitable happens with large aperture lenses...

... but the colour-shift is easily correctable - the moire might be a bit harder ;)


Here are some other pictures I took the last couple of days (edited in Lightroom), note I only got it four days at the time of writing :)
Click on an image for a larger size, or go and flick through the webalbum!

The large aperture enables you to single out a single tulip, even in a field full of them, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/2500th

A snail defying grafity underneath a leaf, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/320th
A fly on my car, there were loads in the forest, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/1000th

The depth-of-field roll-of is gradual and very smooth, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/4000th

Pretty big crop of a yellow tulip, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/1250th
The flip-up display of the NEX-5 makes it easier to compose your photo's close to the ground, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/4000th

The Pirelli P-ZERO tyres are highly-recommended as far as I'm concerned, very grippy :) - SEL35F18 - f8.0 and 1/60th
One of the first pictures I took with it, you can immediately see on the display what the effect of this lens is - SEL35F18 - f2 and 1/80th

The image stabilizer works quite well (didn't correct the colour-shift) - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/20th
An orchid that just started blossoming again - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/60th

This "Midnight Summer"-lamp, designed by Tord Boontje is really lovely - SEL35F18  f1.8 and 1/400th
Stabilizer works miracles here as well, leafs of room-plant - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/8th

Quite a crop, liked the composition better this way - SEL35F18 f1.8 and 1/60th
Singling out a little leaf, this lens allows you to throw the background right out of focus - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/60th

Spring - SEL35F18 - f4.0 and 1/4000th
Using the flip-up display for composition again - SEL35F18 - f4.0 and 1/1250th


If you've got the funds, go for it!

The Sigma 30mm 2.8 is significantly cheaper, though, and if it works for you - that seems to be a great lens as well.

Note that there's a significant difference in f1.8 and f2.8, however, in background blur and bokeh - you must decide for yourself if you find that important or not.

Also beware though, it's not like you'll buy a lens every week, so think well if you don't want save up for the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS after all.

The Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS is plenty sharp and hardly has any distortion (I'm sure there is some, but it must be so little as to not get in the way).

Even on an old NEX-body like the NEX-5, autofocus is still plenty quick. It's not meant for sport, but then again, the NEX-5 isn't known for sports-photography. I'll be using the Canon 7D for that.
I'm using face-detect autofocus for people photography with the NEX-5 btw, which makes composition and correct autofocus a breeze.

The best thing for me is that the NEX-5 and 35mm 1.8 OSS combination actually fits in the pocket of my jacket. Believe me, you don't even need to try that with the Canon 7D and Sigma 30mm 1.4!

An high-quality APS-C camera, with a very capable lens, right in your pocket - finally I've got the mirrorless combination I´ve been wanting!

And that's that! If you've got any other questions, let me know!

Happy shooting!

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