Sony E 35mm f/1.8 OSS Lens Review
Tiny, sharp, and affordable—what's not to like?
When evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.
The Sony E-mount 35mm f/1.8 OSS is, like many wide-aperture primes, free of major optical issues. Our testing revealed a lens that produces very sharp center results, respectable corner results stopped down, and very good bokeh while suffering from only minor chromatic aberration and geometric distortion.
A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.
In our lab, the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS produced sharp center performance through almost the entire aperture range, including wide open at f/1.8 where it achieves about 1,600 lines. That figure improves to 1,800 lines at f/2 and over 1,950 lines by f/2.8. Peak center sharpness is between f/4 and f/8, where center sharpness is well above 2,000 lines.
By f/11, the lens is hitting the diffraction limit, which causes resolution to dip to 1,700 lines. By f/16 resolution is severely limited, barely topping 1,300 lines.
Off-center, the performance isn't quite as impressive, but it follows a similar pattern. The midway region (50% from center) hits around 1,200 lines at f/1.8 and climbs to a peak of 1,875 lines at f/8 before running full-tilt into the diffraction limit.
Predictably, corner resolution starts much worse (around 975 lines at f/1.8) and doesn't crest 1,200 lines until f/2.8. By f/4, the corners begin to sharpen up, hitting 1,450 lines. They get much better from f/5.6 to f/8, hovering around 1,700 lines—a respectable result for a lens like this.
We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp images, causing normally straight lines to curve.
There are two primary types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses. A third, less common variety (mustache distortion) produces wavy lines.
The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS produces almost no distortion, regardless of aperture or focus distance. In all of our test shots the worst result we saw was 0.26% pincushion distortion, which is negligible.
Chromatic aberration refers to the various types of “fringing” that can appear around high contrast subjects in photos—like leaves set against a bright sky. The fringing is usually either green, blue, or magenta and while it’s relatively easy to remove the offensive color with software, it can also degrade image sharpness.
Luckily, the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS produces virtually no chromatic aberration in its photos. Though at f/1.8 you can spot some fringing in areas where your subject crosses the focus plane, it's mostly just high contrast objects near the edges of the frame that pose noticeable problems. These issues can be easily cleaned up in the photo editor of your choice.
Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot.
While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most simply aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce bokeh with circular highlights that are free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).
You wouldn't expect a wide-normal prime to have great bokeh, but the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS does surprisingly well for itself. There's some slightly disconcerting interior texture to out-of-focus highlights, but these areas hold their circular shape quite well.
In the samples above you can see how well this come through in real-world photos. The bokeh is not quite on par with the best portrait lenses around, but most users should be pleasantly surprised by the bokeh they can get out of this tiny little lens.
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