Experience with Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm F1.4 ZA in Astrophotography and Infrared

I do not find the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon recommended either for astrophotography or for infrared photography. If you get a good copy of the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon, you will have a good lens for: weddings, portrait, landscapes or travel photography.

Index

1.- Motivations to get it.
2.- Astrophotography: the corners are not as sharp and clear
3.- The famous defect and quality control problems
4.- Other Problems
5.- Infrared photography, not recommended
6.- Conclusion: Pros and Cons

 

Motivations to get it

After having nothing but good experiences with the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art, I missed some more field and also a good protection against dust and moisture. Among the 35mm lenses there was one that caught my attention: the Sony Zeiss Distagon T * FE 35mm F1.4 ZA (SEL35F14Z). In an article published by LensRentals I could read the following opinion:

“I’m always cynical about weather sealing, but this lens is amazing in that regard…. The weather / dust resistance is phenomenal. ”
Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz
https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2015/12/sony-fe-35mm-f1-4-za-lens-teardown/

On the official website of Sony they announced the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon as

Sharp and clear from corner to corner
Three aspherical elements, including one precision Sony AA (advanced aspherical) element, combine in a state-of-the-art optical path to effectively compensate for aberration and achieve outstanding corner-to-corner sharpness. That sharpness is maintained even at maximum aperture so optical performance is consistent at all exposure settings.

https://www.sony.com/electronics/camera-lenses/sel35f14z/specifications#features

So, it covered what I was looking for. What comes next is the result of the experience I have had with this lens.

 

Astrophotography: the corners are not as sharp and clear

The Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon is not sharp and clear from corner to corner. Coming from other lenses with better corner performance, and after all the advertising of the Sony’s website, it was a big disappointment to find all the corners with so many problems. Unfortunately, these problems do not disappear until the diaphragm is raised enough.

Here we can see some examples of the performance of Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon in astrophotography:

 

The famous defect and quality control problems

When I started using the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon in 2018, I thought that many of the problems that were mentioned about quality control had already been solved, but that was not the case.

This lens has become famous because many copies have one side that is more out of focus than the other, or one side more blurred than the other . Here are some examples of other people who have also exposed it on the internet:

 

“…in every scene I shot: at f/1.4, the lens could not make a sharp image on the right 1/3 of the frame,”
https://diglloyd.com/blog/2015/20150417_2118-SonyFE35f1_4Distagon-qualityControl.html

 

It was a disillusion when I observed the results from shots F/1.8 through F/9. All shots were blurred on the left side from top to bottom regardless of camera distance to the wall, varying from 3 to 7 meters or field shots over 20 meters.
https://diglloyd.com/blog/2015/20150818_1312-SonyFE35f1_4Distagon-examples-badSample.html

 

Unfortunately, my copy of the Sony Distagon 35mm f/1.4 also suffers a little from the “decentering” problem you may have heard about.
It is ever so soft going out towards the edges and when photographing a brick wall straight on, you will notice the lines start to tilt up a lot more than regular 35mm distortion.
https://shotkit.com/sony-35mm-f-1-4-review/#Image_Quality

 

Unfortunately this is nothing like Sony’s newer GM primes and furthermore plagued by severe sample variation. If you have a good sample it gets the job done, but I cannot recommend going down the rabbit hole of finding one of those golden copies.
https://phillipreeve.net/blog/review-sigma-35mm-1-2-art-dg-dn/

 

Also mentioned in this video in Youtube about Sony 35 1.4 ZA Long Term Review by Wes Perry:

 

Other links that related to the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon problem:

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/4101220
https://www.imaging-resource.com/lenses/sony/fe-35mm-f1.4-za-zeiss-distagon-t-sel35f14z/blur/sony-a7r/
https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/4249320
https://blog.kasson.com/a7riii/sony-zeiss-35-1-4-distagon-sample-variation/

 

The official technical service response

After noticing the failures, I contacted the technical service within 4 months of having it. The first thing they told me is that being photos of 5 sec at night it was difficult to appreciate something (the deformation was radial and not concentric as it happens in the long exposures, but in this detail they did not fall). Then they explained to me that the lens was spherical so there would be deformations in the corners (bye bye Sharp and clear from corner to corner and Three aspherical elements, including one precision Sony AA (Advanced Aspherical) element).

I was repeatedly told that I should visit the local technical service, which was a bad orientation since when I spoke with them they informed me that they did not have any technical resources to evaluate such failures so they would have to send it to another technical support that had them, and therefore I would be without the lens for a long period of time.

These bad indicators: excuses, bad orientation and no solution; They made me reluctant to continue with the claim process.

Used to professional photography services, where they try to find solutions instead of blaming the client, and where if the repair is going to be a long period they provide you with replacement material (characteristic of this range of lenses), in this situation I was very disappointed.

 

Can it be solved?

The problem with the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon is that it even sent to the technical service, it doesn’t have much solution. The reason is explained in the aforementioned article:

“The one negative is that the Sony 35mm f/1.4 does not have much in the way of adjustable optics; just some shims to adjust tilt in the front group. That doesn’t make the optics bad, and some good, low variation lenses don’t have much in the way of adjustments. But that is why I’ve said several times that optically adjusting a decentered copy of this lens isn’t likely to be successful; there’s not a lot of adjustment to work with.”

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz
https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2015/12/sony-fe-35mm-f1-4-za-lens-teardown/

Some people have managed to change it for another copy, but they have finally stopped using it in situations where this bug ruins the photos. ( Like Wes Perry mentioned https://youtu.be/APNM920Gdsk?t=227 ).

Other problems

In the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon, the button to activate or deactivate the click of the diaphragm ring is easily loosened, even on its own, and sometimes when one manipulates the lens it comes as a surprise that it is deactivated.

It is another of the most commented problems about the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon in the forums. In this animation it looks pretty clear.

Infrared photography, not recommended

If you are fond of photographing what happens after 700 nm you will already know that in this field things are somewhat different. The Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon lacks any mark of focus compensation for infrared photography. The manual does not mention in any place what are its characteristics for infrared photography.

In infrared photography the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon quickly shows a “hot spot”, evident from f2.8-f4, which makes it unusable for infrared photography. Below you can see an evolution of how the image is altered as the diaphragm closes.

 

 

Conclusion: Pros and Cons

I do not find the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon recommended either for astrophotography or for infrared photography. If you get a good copy of the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon, you will have a good lens for: weddings, portrait, landscapes or travel photography.

I like to group the lenses into two types: the crisp and the romantic. The crisp are those that have been developed to be the best in that field, such as the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art, while the romantics are those appreciated by photographers for their character that is given by how they model the light (usually have strong aberrations), such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. The Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon has one foot on each side. Regardless of whether you like his character or not, you cannot say that his qualities make him recommended for astrophotography. There are lenses with better performance for astrophotography for a lower price.

Pros

  • It is a great lens, if you have a good copy without failures.
  • Fast focus, quiet and robust.

 

Contras

  • The quality controls have not worked and numerous problems appear.
  • It is not worth what it costs.

The Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon is sold for a recommended price of 1855€, but after seeing all these failures and problems in my opinion it is overrated. I have seen it on Amazon for sale again for the price of € 1124.80, which in view of the results is much more reasonable than the recommended price.

It’s a shame, with a little more effort from Sony it could be a great product.

Peculiar lens flares Sony Zeiss Distagon T * FE 35 mm F1.4 ZA

 

Northern Lights and light pollution with Sony Zeiss Distagon T * FE 35 mm F1.4 ZA