Has Sony Made a Big Mistake With Its New 35mm f/1.8 Lens?

Has Sony Made a Big Mistake With Its New 35mm f/1.8 Lens?

After years of waiting, Sony fans finally received news that the Japanese manufacturer has launched a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens, plugging a huge gap in its lens lineup. You can get your pre-orders in now but many are balking at the price.

At $748, this is not an expensive lens when compared to the G and GM lenses that Sony has produced for its full-frame mirrorless cameras. However, when you consider that Sony’s nifty fifty is a mere $248 (and is frequently discounted — I bagged mine for $180 just before Christmas), and the 85mm f/1.8 is incredibly affordable at $598, plenty of prospective buyers are a little disappointed that the price is so high. This is further compounded by the existence of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 at $774, a lens that is more than twice the weight but offers that slightly fatter aperture.

The 35mm f/1.8 has been a bizarre hole in Sony’s lineup, something that I documented in depth last year. Samyang seemed to have an open goal in front of them, more than capable of filling this void but instead opting to produce a funky little pancake f/2.8 and then a much meatier f/1.4 for $528. You wonder if there was an agreement in place that forced Samyang to shoot either side of the posts.

Samyang and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lenses

Two 35mm options at a similar price point, both 35mm and f/1.4: the Samyang on the left and the Sigma on the right.

Comparing the new f/1.8 to the budget nifty is probably a little unfair: the new 35mm has a “dust and moisture resistant construction,” nine blades, and customizable button. The ZEISS 55mm f/1.8 is probably a more honest comparison and that lens will set you back just shy of a grand. Looking to other manufacturers, the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 is even more expensive at $847 with Nikon having gone the route of launching prosumer glass ahead of their pro glass, and there hasn’t been too much chatter about whether that was overpriced.

With all that said, the vast majority of Sony fans seem a little bit taken aback, expecting something closer to $550. Personally, I’d happily forego the customizable button if that meant shaving off $100 or so. For me, Canon set the bar: its 35mm RF f/1.8 is $499, one of the few affordable lenses in their new mirrorless lineup. I’ve always considered f/1.8 primes as being geared towards shooters who want something small and lightweight, don’t need and can’t justify the price of huge apertures, and can go without the weather sealing. For those stepping from APS-C to full-frame, having a range of affordable primes softens the blow and makes the transition more appealing. The 50mm and 85mm options were there with Sony, and the new 35mm now feels slightly out of place.

When you consider that most camera manufacturers seek to profit from lens sales to offset underpriced camera bodies, it’s arguably no great surprise to see Sony releasing this lens at a relatively high price. Furthermore, there’s the possibility that the cost will come down in due course, with further discounts available at certain times of the year. That said, you might have to be incredibly patient given that the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM lens was released in September last year and is still impossible to get a hold of. Perhaps Sony realized that it priced this lens too low — it now seems strangely affordable — and is now making sure not to make the same mistake with the 35mm f/1.8.

Will you be placing a pre-order? When do you expect to receive it? Or, having held out, will you now be pulling the trigger on the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 or Samyang 35mm f/1.4 instead? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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24 Comments

Gary Pardy's picture

They've priced it high for the same reason it has taken this long to release a 35mm f1.8 - largely because a $400-$500 35mm f1.8 would cannibalize sales of the 28 f2, 35 f2.8, 50 f1.8, and 55 f1.8. They have had the luxury of zero competition in the full-frame mirrorless game for 5 years - now that Canon and Nikon have launched with 35 f1.8, it makes sense to price it comparably with Nikon's offering.

Michael Jin's picture

If it offers anything like the performance of the 55mm f/1.8, it will be a bargain even at that high of a price. I do agree that this is an interesting decision to go that route, but I would urge people to keep in mind that their 50mm f/1.8 is a rather unimpressive lens so I think it would be a mistake to expect something more along those lines considering that they are now in active competition with other full frame mirrorless systems. Their 28mm , while not the same FL, is an excellent lens that can hold down the fort at the lower price range and I think that it's ultimately going to be a good decision for Sony to release f/1.8 lenses that answer the competition such as Nikon's 35mm f/1.8 S. Doing any less would instantly create unfavorable comparisons and I do not believe that Sony wants to be seen as a "budget" company.

Gary Pardy's picture

This is true. There are few budget FE lenses with a Sony stamp. They're clearly evoking feelings of the 85 f1.8 with this 35 design. Even without the G or Zeiss badges, it's a damn good lens to be associated with.

Michael Jin's picture

Their 85mm f/1.8 is absolutely amazing... I really hope Nikon's will be as good when they release theirs because when I owned that lens, I really didn't feel a need for the f/1.4 GM at all.

Jonathan Brady's picture

They could easily double the price and I'd snag one. If I didn't have a hesitation about their 35/1.8 which is that I'm apprehensive about the IQ. I'd feel more comfortable with a GM badge on it and claims that it meets or exceeds what we've seen from the 24/1.4.
I'm not looking for an IQ compromised lens (the 35/1.4 is, IMO, after comparing it to the Canon 35L II, both on an A7RII).
I had high hopes for a very high quality f/1.8. This ain't it.

how different is iq on 35/1.4 vs canon 35L? i have the 35/1.4 and it is amazing. mayb not on par with the 50/1.4 planar but very good.

Jonathan Brady's picture

It's noticeably different. The Canon is far more consistent and sharp across the frame and the out of focus areas are much better. Central sharpness is largely similar but that's where the similarities end.

I agree Sony 35mm f1.4 and 24-70 f2.8 gm two very expensive lenses with mediocre IQ

Jacques Cornell's picture

How do you know "This ain't it"? There are no full test reviews out yet. If IQ is in the same ballpark as the 85/1.8, I'll replace my very nice, dirt-cheap, but too large & heavy Rokinon 35/1.4 with one very soon.

Hans Rosemond's picture

At a similar price, the Sigma 35mm 1.4 is tough to beat. It's a beast of a lens.

Yeah, I ordered the Sigma the day before this was announced. No regrets. I ordered the EF mount to adapt to my a7r3 because I have a feeling a Canon R-mount body may well be in my future.

Canon definitely set the bar with the RF 35 and probably priced it a little low to help the RF system get started. Sony's pricing is no mistake. The price is likely too high by $200, but they can test the market, and then lower the price in a few months.

First and most important, it's hard to draw conclusions so early, but canon's 35 doesn't include the lens hood, and it costs 50$/€. So the difference is lowered to 200€/$ even before starting to compare.

Also, the Sony has weathersealing, while the canon doesn't.

I'm on the same boat thinking that is between 100-200 dollars too much expensive. But they had to protect the 35 2.8.

At the end, if it doesn't sell well, they are always able to lower the price.

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

The price tag is a mistake in my opinion. That's the reason why I will stick with my Samyang 35mm pancake.

I’ve heard some chatter that the price of this lens in the US may be a result of the tariffs since its made in China. The lens at Canadian retailers like The Camera Store is $799, around $612 when converted to USD, which is about 25% less than the MSRP here (IIRC the tariffs are 25% and lenses are one of the items they cover).

It appears the Canadian and US prices for Sony gear that is made in Japan tends to be a lot closer.

Piotr Maksymowicz's picture

I hope the IQ gonna be awesome. Right now I'm using my 24/1.4 GM most of the time for wide angle but I miss a nice 35 for my Sony. Price always could be lower :) but it's not too high tho so no panic people and as somebody said before if it's too much go and pick a Samyang with crappy IQ :)

The pricing isn't great, but it makes sense. It fills a gap, for sure. I think I'd still prefer the Samyang 1.4 over this though, even though this has the focus button.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Although I'm a bit surprised to see the price higher than that of the 85/1.8, I'm certainly very glad that Sony seems to have roughly matched it with that lens and not the entry-level 50/1.8. I have and like the 85/1.8, and I"m happy to have a companion 35 for it. My Rokinon 35/1.4 is (for me) unnecessarily large and heavy, and the 35/2.8 offers little benefit over comparable lenses for smaller formats.
A matching 24/1.8 would make me VERY happy, indeed.

I'm convinced that the high (relatively) price for this lens isn't because of some technical or quality reason, but because Sony sees that as the next step. Much like the increasing price of cell phones over the last few years, they are probably trying to raise the bar, paving the way for other brands to do the same, like Apple did with their $1000+ iPhone. The lens will still probably be good quality, but pushing for a new standard in pricing would seem to be the point. Eventually people get used to the higher prices and don't question them anymore. Just my thought, for what little it's worth.

Adam Palmer's picture

Guess we got to wait and see if it's worth it. I was expecting 500

Only way Sony gets away with this type of pricing is because people will pay it. If you want to send a message about Sony pricing do not buy the lens. It is the same with Apple products. People complain and still pay top dollar for Apple products.

I honestly expected it to be more expensive, and I expected a G Lens, or even a GM or Zeiss.
Hopefully it comes closed to the very good 55 1.8 (Sony / Zeiss).
What I've seen so far, it seems to be very sharp already at 1.8, at least in the center (hopefully across the whole frame). I preordered it, and I hope they created something great after long time of waiting for a superior 35mm lens (the 35 1.4 I tried as a rent, It did unfortunately not convince me at all).

Ok so a few of things to bear in mind.

1) This new 35mm 1.8 is supposed to have really good image quality corner to corner at all apertures. Something achieved by the 55mm 1.8 and the Sony 85mm 1.8 but not the 50mm 1.8 or 28mm 2.0. So you would expect it - by virtue of just that - to be in a similar price bracket to the former rather than latter pair. It also looks like it has better weather sealing than the 85mm or even the Zeiss 55. So ultimately the branding (G, GM, Zeiss or nothing) is just that, branding. Move on.

2) A high performing 85mm might include more physical weight in glass and housing material but in every other respect it is far easier and cheaper to make than a high performing 35mm (sharp edge to edge, low distortion and vignetting, etc.) so it is totally reasonable for all else being equal for the 35mm to cost more than the 85mm. Short telephotos are simply simpler optically than medium wides.

3) And this is a hypothesis, but it seems to stand to reason that the Canon RF 35mm 1.8 is smaller and cheaper because - as all lens designers admit - it is easier to design lenses (especially wides) for a larger diameter shallow mount. In order for the Sony to achieve similar performance to the Canon and Nikon mirrorless equivalents (and the prospects for this look good) the lens has to do more to bend and funnel light down the narrower mount which probably requires more and more complicated glass.

4) However you look at it, if this turns out to be a Zeiss Batis peer (if only in image quality and not build) in the way the 85mm 1.8 was and the price stays at £600/$700 mark and it performs as well as the Z and RF mount equivalents then for goodness sake stop complaining! That's a price performance ratio unheard of a few years ago and it will achieve the dream many of us have of a compact A7riii set up that produces results only previously seen in Medium Format.

Import tariff. It's around $600 USD in Canada.