2017-09-05

Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF E-mount Lens Review

Park Cameras team member, technology enthusiast, pro photograher & videographer, and all-round good-guy, James has taken the new Samyang 35mm f/2.8 autofocus lens for Sony E-mount cameras out for a trip around London and Brighton to give it a thorough review, as well as comparing it to Sony's own Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 AF Sonnar lens with some side-by-side comparisons.


If you're wondering whether the Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF lens is worth the investment for your Sony E-mount mirrorless camera, wonder no longer. Take it away, James...


It is all good news for those Sony users out there as Samyang has released their new autofocus 35mm f/2.8 lens for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras at a very affordable price. But how does it hold up, especially to the likes of Sony themselves with their own Sony E-Mount Zeiss 35mm lens Sonnar T* FE f/2.8 ZA at over double the price?

The Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF on the left & Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 AF on the right


Initial Thoughts


I’ve been using Samyang lenses for years now; they first appealed to me because of their price, but I also discovered that their optics aren’t half bad either. They used to have these attractive prices mostly because of the non-existent autofocus mechanism, however last year they made a change and introduced a new series of lenses, designed for the Sony E-Mount system, that had integrated autofocus.

Samyang's first AF lens - the 50mm f/1.4 AF in Sony E-mount

This began with the Samyang AF 50mm F1.4 Sony FE fit and then following was the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 AF Sony E-mount FE Lens. Here we are, a year later, and we have been gifted the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 Sony FE Fit Lens at a price, size, and weight most people were not expecting (especially me).

In the Samyang corner is a lens that measures 33mm in length and weighs in at just 85g - my first thought was how this would hold up against Sony’s E-Mount Zeiss 35mm lens Sonnar T* FE f/2.8 ZA lens,  measuring 37mm in length and 120g in weight, as it is almost a direct competitor.

*Spoiler Alert* To jump to the conclusion of this review - it stacks up very well. So well in fact that I actually bought one for myself a week after testing our review unit.


Build Quality


Firstly, the build quality is as you would expect for a lens of this price. It is good, but nothing outstanding. It felt a little bit ‘too light’ in my opinion which gave it a slightly cheap feel, but it certainly isn’t poorly made - just well made from plastics.

You don’t notice this when it is attached to a camera body, however. The included lens cap is a bit thin and could be better, so I ended up replacing it with a generic lens cap. The lens hood is very small, as you’d expect for a lens this size, and has a filter thread included of 40.5mm.



It is worth noting that you cannot put the hood over any filters attached directly onto the lens, which has a 49mm thread. So, you either use a filter naked to the lens at 49mm and don't have a lens hood, or you use a 40.5mm filter on the lens hood (which is what I opted to do). I did have some concerns doing this as I thought it might contribute to vignetting, but I haven’t seen any issues with this as of yet.

As expected when reviewing a pre-production unit, there were some differences between that unit and the one I bought a week later. Most notably was the focus ring, which I thought felt slightly loose on the unit I reviewed; however, on this has obviously been rectified as the unit I bought had a much more rugged focus ring which gave a more solid experience overall. The focus ring didn't hamper the enjoyment I experienced using this lens, which is a joy on mirrorless cameras - small and lightweight, just as it should be!


Autofocus


On the subject of motors, in particular the autofocus motor within this Samyang lens is good but could be better. Samyang are definitely heading in the right direction but there are a few minor issues with it which rarely crop up.

First thing you will probably notice, if you unravel the lens in a quiet location, is the noise that comes from the autofocus when you half press the shutter. If you are using it outside, which I assume most people would do with such a travel friendly lens, then it is hardly noticeable unless you put your ear to it.

Personally this noise hasn't bothered me, and after all it is still quieter than some of Sony's own mirrorless lenses, but it is there and is louder than the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8, which makes almost no noise from its' autofocus system. Aside from sound, most frustratingly is the accuracy with certain scenarios and materials. It appeared to struggle with reflections and shiny surfaces, so much so that I have found myself manual focusing when I encounter this. Take this image below, for example, shooting at f/4 aperture, 1/200 shutter speed, and ISO 160 with a circular polarizer:


Shooting through the window, even with a polarizer, struggled and wouldn’t lock to anything through the seemingly clear glass. Now admittedly I didn’t experiment with other autofocusing modes available, but in reality I haven’t always got time for that and I expect my wide focusing area to do the job perfectly.

This wasn't the end of the world though as I very quickly switched to manual focus and twisted that very smooth feeling ring. It is worth noting that you cannot manual focus when in an autofocus mode by rotating the focus ring like you can with the Sony Zeiss; you either have to switch to manual focus in the settings, or hold down the AF/MF button on the back of the camera when twisting the ring which is easy enough!


Every other scenario when using autofocus was a blast, but not quite as fast as a rocket blast, but it did the job perfectly for portraits, architectural shots and just general day-to-day activities. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are a sports photographer, or shooting anything fast-paced due to the occasional accuracy and speed issues, but it's a perfect budget travel lens and absolutely ideal for everyday photography. One might say this lens is quite the pickle.


Optical Quality


The part of this lens that has 'Wowed' me the most is the outstanding optical quality. I prefer the look in most situations of the Samyang over the Sony Zeiss 35mm. It is slightly warmer and gives a more natural feel to images, both colour and depth wise.

Sharpness is perfect, especially centre based. There is a slight loss in sharpness in corners but that is only noticeable when pixel peeping, and I haven't experienced any chromatic aberration so far, despite some online rumours suggesting otherwise.


There is some noticeable barrel distortion, especially with architectural shots as the top corners gravitate down and the bottom corners float upwards, but if you're serious about architectural photography, a 35mm lens isn't for you - consider trying a tilt-shift lens for perfect building verticals.

This example image below was shot at f/4, 1/400, ISO 100.


The road and building were straight, trust me. But as you look into each corner the image bends. As of writing, there isn’t an update to Lightroom to correct barrel distortion for this lens, however you can correct it manually to a degree. I did notice when manually correcting it that some of the ‘depth’ I talked about earlier gets taken out and the image appears flatter.

Here is an example below of the same image quickly being corrected with help from the Samyang 50mm f/1.4 AF preset Lightroom has.


However, the above image is an extreme example and other factors could have been at play. Below is another example where the barrel distortion is less obvious. This was shot at f/4, 1/400, ISO 100.



Take note of the pole. When centred, it is perfectly straight, however as it reaches the top right corner, it begins to bend inwards. Same with the building on the right to a degree, as well as the building top left of the image above.

Most of the time, if you aren’t looking for the distortion then you won’t find it. Out of 348 images I’ve taken the past couple of weeks using the lens, only the one London Red Bus image has stood out with barrel distortion that was worth mentioning - it's not noticeable in 99% of my images and for a sub-£300 lens, it performs extremely well.


Comparison to Sony's Zeiss 35mm


To illustrate just how good this lens is, considering how affordable it, below is a studio comparison of the Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF and the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 AF. All images were shot with a Sony a7R Mark II.

Both lenses were positioned in exactly the same place, one after the other, but there did appear to be a slight shift in the focal length between the two. The Samyang seems slightly wider than the Sony.

In terms of quality, I find it extremely hard to say one is better over the other. Admittedly the Sony appears better at the wider aperture side, holding up with overall sharpness better, but the Samyang creeps back at f/3.5, and then at f/4 it is extremely hard to pick the pixels apart - considering this is only Samyang's 3rd AF lens, and how affordable it compared to other 35mm lenses, it really holds its own on the optical quality front.

Click on the images to open them at full-size.






Final Thoughts


The Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF lens is an extremely affordable lens offering excellent value for money - I really can't complain considering the optical quality of the images coming out of it. The Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens may have a better build quality and performs slightly better on the autofocus front, but at less than half the price, the Samyang lens gets my vote.

One thing that was expected in the comparison with this Samyang lens and Sony's Zeiss was the colour shift. Zeiss' optics, as usual, were colder and more purple shifted compared to the Samyang's which appeared warmer, but in my opinion, more natural.

I found shooting at f/4 and f/5.6 the sweet spot with the lens when it comes to both sharpness and vignetting. When you nail focus with Samyang, it gives you it all. The flaws that come with it are minor and barely noticeable to the average person unless you go looking for them. Plus, they are pretty correctable with good ol’ Lightroom.


The Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF lens for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras is an outstanding lens; it's hugely affordable, produces pin-sharp images with excellent colour reproduction, and is lighter than its competitors - if you're looking for an everyday or travel companion for your Sony mirrorless camera - this is it.

All images were shot with the Sony a7S Mark II and the Sony a7R Mark II.

Visit Park Cameras to see the Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 Sony FE Fit Lens here.

Alternatively, the Sony E-mount Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* FE ZA lens is also available at Park Cameras.

If you have any questions about the products mentioned above, or would like further advice, please call our expert team on 01444 23 70 70 or send them an email at sales@parkcameras.com.

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