Saturday, November 23, 2013

Initial impression: SEL35F18

I've had my eye on this lens for a long long time for the simple reason that the 35mm gave an equivalent field of view as a 50mm on a full frame camera. The 50mm is my favourite focal length and find it almost natural to compose and shoot using just that one lens.

There aren't that many reviews on this lens which surprises me honestly. I spent the last few days trolling through the interweb trying to find as many reviews as I could on this lens before biting the bullet and actually purchasing it. From the few reviews I read, I got mixed reviews, some said it was soft some said sharp. To me, personally, I don't pixel peep or look at photos of brick walls. If they look sharp then it's good enough for me. I'd resisted buying this lens for a long time now solely because it's not cheap. $420+. I was lucky enough to find a second hand copy in mint condition for a LOT cheaper than that. I was torn between the Sigma 30mm f2.8 or this lens, but in my opinion, 2.8 is just too slow for my liking.

I've already got a few 35mm lenses for the NEX system, the Fujian f1.7 and the MIR24n f2.0, both lenses are wonderful for different reasons, the Fujian gives a swirly almost dream like look to it and the Mir24n has beautiful smooth bokeh as well as the ability to focus ridiculously close to subjects. So why would you buy another 35mm if you already have 2? Here's my reasoning:

1) Autofocus - Don't get me wrong, I love manual focussing, in fact, my most used lenses on the Nex system are in fact MF lenses, the 35's for example and the Minolta 58mm f1.4 are my most used lenses. However, there are times when you just want the ability to have AF, know that you're going to hit your subject. Although manual focus does make me slow down and almost make me feel nostalgic - like i'm shooting film - it is frustrating at times trying to nail focus and being slightly off every now and then. Having a lens that just works, takes one thing out of the equation when trying to get the perfect shot. On that note, there are times when you pass the camera off to other people to take a photo of you/for you. A lens that auto focusses makes that a lot easier as well.

2) (probably most importantly) Corner Sharpness - The issue with the Fujian and Mir is that they suck in the corners, simple as that. The Fujian - if you're shooting subjects further than a few meters and not in the centre, forget about it. Distant objects are not sharp, corners are blurry and smudgy - basically unusable if not centred. The Fujian does give fantastically sharp images and can create some beautiful portraits/pictures only IF you're after that dreamlike look. 

As you can see, the corners swirl and give off that dream like look, it does add to the effect if you're after it and honestly, I don't mind it, except for the fact it restricts you to shoot in the centre. As you can see, the Fujian IS as sharp as a razor if you nail the focus - not bad for a $30 lens hey?!

The beauty of the Nex system is the ability to adapt lenses of virtually any make to the camera and use them as dummy lenses (full manual). The problem I find, is that, unless you spend a LOT of money on quality glass, I mean in the thousands, generally lenses are going to be a little softer and have smudgier corners when used on the Nex system as opposed to being used on their native bodies. Although adapters are made so that lenses of any brand can be used on the Nex system, there are bound to be minute intolerances in the adapters that will surely reduces contrast and sharpness etc in the lens. Buying a lens made for the Nex system shows off the sensor to its true potential. 

And here it is. Small, compact, sharp. In the centre and corner!

So what are my initial thoughts on the lens? i've only had it for a few hours - literally - and so far i think it's absolutely fantastic! small, compact, light. The lens feels solid, metal construction but not heavy at all. The black in my opinion is damn sexy and makes the camera look schmick! The autofocus is surprisingly fast. Not DSLR speeds fast, but fast enough for the type of shooting I do with then Nex system. I was initially a bit worried about the AF speed on the 5n as there have since been 2 later models of the 5 series that have added the phase and contrast detection on the camera sensor that in theory, gives the camera faster AF and more accurate whilst tracking subjects. I read somewhere that the new improved AF is almost negligible when it comes to use with the 35mm, so that's a win to me for using an older model camera!

Excuse the boring photos but I only had a few hours before it got dark, but I think they clearly demonstrate the abilities of this lens. (Most shots if not all are at 1.8)

@f1.8 - sharp!



At f1.8 the lens does a pretty good job at isolating the subject from the background even if you're not super close to your subject. The depth of field is greater than it would be on a full frame camera, it's probably closer to 2.8 on a full frame.

Again, pretty dang sharp @f1.8

One thing that sets this lens apart from the other 35mm lenses for mirrorless cameras, is that this is the only 35mm with built in VR, IS or OSS as Sony likes to call it - image stabiliser. I've never needed an image stabilised 50mm lens before so to me I didn't think it would be very useful, however, after using it tonight, i've changed my mind. I'm glad it's there! I did some quick and dirty hand held tests to show the effectiveness of the Sony OSS.

ISO1600, 1/250th @f1.8 

ISO1600, 1/10th @f8.0

ISO1600, 1/4th @f14

Now i'm no pixel peeper, but if you were to ask me, these results are pretty damn impressive! To hand hold a shot at 1/4th of a second with minimal motion - what's not to like?!

So I guess that kind of wraps up my quick initial impression on the lens. So far - very impressed and one of the best lenses I have in my Nex line up. I can see this lens never coming off!