Wow, this is exactly the type of lens I’ve been waiting for!
…That is what I’ve been telling myself, again and again, throughout the past year as I review each new Samyang (Rokinon) ultra-compact, affordable prime lens for Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras. The most recent lens I have been excited about is the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE, and it is turning out to be a delight to use.
It is also a perfect complement to the Samyang/Rokinon siblings in the compact, lightweight, affordable category. When paired with the Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE, and maybe the Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8 FE or Samyang AF 24mm f/2.8 FE, the AF 35mm f/1.8 FE seems to get even more perfectly made for my camera bag.
In this review, we are going to focus on the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE, of course. It joins a rather crowded category of 35mm primes for the Sony E-mount, and (spoiler alert) considering the price and performance, it’s definitely one of the top choices that you should consider!
It’s a modest lens, that’s for sure; compared to its larger sibling, the older Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE, it is downright tiny. Don’t let that fool you, though; it delivers incredible images, and is perfect for a lot of different types of photography, especially if you value portability.
Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 35mm, 63.6°
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E-mount (FE full-frame)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/1.8 to f/22, 9-blade, rounded aperture
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: Integrated linear STM motor
- MANUAL FOCUS: Electronically controlled
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 10 elements in 8 groups, 2 extra-low dispersion, 2 aspherical elements, Ultra-Multi-Coating
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal mount, metal & plastic barrel
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 12″ (290 mm), 0.17x magnification
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 58mm, plastic hood
- SIZE: 2.6 x 2.5″ (65 x 63.5 mm)
- WEIGHT: 7.4 oz (210 g)
- PRICE: $399 (B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Review | Who Should Buy It?
This is the “nifty fifty” of 35mm primes, basically. If you want a casual walk-around lens that doesn’t hurt your wrist or wallet, if you’d rather not attract attention with a giant, heavy lens, then look no further! In the price range, there is no better choice. In fact, to find something similar, you have to jump from $399 for the Samyang, all the way to the $748 Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 to find our next-closest recommendation.
(Of course, something similar” is referring to compact, portable lenses; if you’re OK with carrying a much larger lens, you might find the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE goes on sale for just $499; that’s $300 off!)
With that said, let’s talk about which types of photography you might find this particular lens useful for.
Wedding photographers often need as much low-light capability as possible, so, maybe an AF 35mm f/1.4 FE is a better choice. But, it also depends on what your favorite lens focal length is, too! If you almost always use a ~50mm or ~85mm prime, and just want a small, affordable 35mm to have in your bag, this 35mm f/1.8 is frankly the only lens you should consider, because the price and portability are just unmatched.
Having said that, what if 35mm is actually your favorite focal length, and you use it all the time? You might be inclined to think that you should skip this lens and go straight to something much bigger and more expensive, however, think of it this way: If 35mm is your bread and butter, why not have a backup? This is something we often suggest to full-time professionals because if you ever accidentally damage your pride-and-joy workhorse lens, it can really be a lifesaver if you’ve got a small, cheap backup option in your bag, just in case.
Thus, this lens is effectively a “must-consider” for any wedding photographers who are considering a 35mm prime, no matter what!
For portraits, you might not need to go faster than f/1.8, and this lens could be perfectly suited to what you do, as long as f/1.8 is adequate for your creative and technical style. If you do a lot of work in extremely low light, or if you just plain love shallow depth in your portraits, then you might consider an f/1.4 prime instead, and, like with wedding photography, let this f/1.8 prime be a “break the ice” prime lens to get you started. (Even if it turns into your backup lens later if you decide you really love 35mm and want something even better.)
Another thing that both portrait and wedding photographers face is, of course, durability. If you break the lens sooner than later, is the price really a “good value”? With these latest Rokinon AF FE lenses, they may not be not built as sturdily as the expensive flagship lenses, such as you could expect with a Sony GM lens, however, they do have metal in all the right places, and they do seem to be much more ready for years of hard work compared to their earliest, older manual focus lenses that were prone to breaking.
All in all, the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE would make a great portrait lens, as long as you’re okay with the f/1.8 aperture (Spoiler: it’s very sharp wide-open!) …and as long as you take decent care of it.
Candid & Street Photographers
This is one of the best things to use a lens like the 35mm f/1.8 for. Maybe you’re walking around all day, every day, for a week on vacation with your family, and don’t want to lug around a heavy 24-70mm f/2.8 or 35mm f/1.4. Maybe you’re just hanging out around the house, and want a camera+ lens combo you can simply have at the ready for misc snapshots of your life. Maybe, even, you’re doing very serious work of a candid nature, like documentary journalism of a major event or something, and you want a portable option that you can move quickly with, be incognito, and still get professional results from.
Either way, all of these things are exactly what I like to have a small, lightweight, unassuming lens around for. In other words, unless you really do need a slightly faster aperture, don’t hesitate, just get a 35mm f/1.8 like this one…
Landscape, Outdoor, & Travel Photographers
The other category of photographers who also will really appreciate a portable lens that has great image quality is landscape photographers, or basically, anyone who does outdoor, nature, and other types of photography that demand maximum image quality when stopped-down.
Then, anyone who carries their gear on their backs for hours every day will appreciate a lens that is also as portable as possible, too.
Here’s the spoiler: Despite its tiny size and low price tag, the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE is, in fact, incredibly sharp, and especially when stopped-down, resolution and other aspects of image quality are superb.
[Related Reading: Samyang AF 85mm F/1.4 RF Review – What Makes The 85mm Focal Length Special?]
Nightscape & Astrophotographers
One of the most demanding things you can do with any lens is to try to photograph the night sky. A 35mm prime is often very useful for medium-close but still wide-angle nightscape or astro-landscape photos, and since nightscape photography may often involve just as much hiking and even mountain-climbing as traditional landscape photography, once again weight is a concern. Generally speaking, though, image quality at wide-open apertures obviously becomes extremely important to a nightscape photographer, and thus these photographers are usually much more willing to lug around a heavy lens if that is required to get sharp detail in the corners of their images.
Simply put, the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE isn’t perfect in the extreme corners when photographing a night sky at f/1.8-2.8, however, considering it’s size and price, we have to say that it is truly shockingly good! For traveling light, hiking up a mountain in the dark, and photographing the Milky Way or some other celestial scene, I wouldn’t hesitate to reach for this lens and leave the giant, heavy 35mm’s at home.
Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Review | Pros & Cons
Let’s list the Pros & Cons all at once, and then break them down. It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot to like about this lens, and not much to complain about. If you’ve read the above sections and found the type of photography you do, you might already know whether or not you’re seriously considering this lens. Still, let’s see how it stacks up…
- Image Quality
- Autofocus Performance
- Incredible Portability
- Overall Reliability
- Features & Customizations
Good things do come in small packages. Good things don’t always come in affordable packages, though, so for the price of $399, and with such a small form factor, you’d be justified to wonder if the lens is “any good”. Simply put, it really is. Image quality is superb, in terms of overall sharpness at every aperture, and both at far and close-up distances. Plus, other aspects of image quality are quite impressive, too!
For portrait photographers, the bokeh is beautiful; even when we tested it on the most challenging type of subject of all–a bunch of sticks! Also, the flare & vignetting are pleasing, too…
For nightscape photographers, the coma, astigmatism, and color fringing are minimal, even towards the corners of the image. In fact, there is a massive improvement in the extreme corners (sagittal astigmatism) between f/2 and f/2.2, and it puts the lens on par with some of the most exotic competition around! That’s an incredible feat for such a compact optical formula, let alone at such a good price.
In addition to the significant improvement in coma/astigmatism between f/2 and f/2.2, there’s also incredible overall sharpness by f/2.5, making the lens officially a great choice for nightscapes, indeed!
Last but not least, sunstars with this lens can appear absolutely incredible, as long as you frame the shot just perfectly and have the right type of spectral highlight…
Of course, moving on to the next “Pro”, (and going back to portrait photography) …remember that sharpness and image quality don’t mean much if the picture isn’t in focus! With this in mind, the autofocus of the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE is up to the task of tracking subjects in candid, close-up environments. The AF motors are nice and smooth, quick, and relatively silent.
To test the autofocus reliability of this lens, I went straight for the most grueling environments possible- near-total darkness, where ISOs are around 12800 and 25600, and hand-holding is just barely possible. Indeed, the Samyang didn’t falter any more than a tiny bit worse versus a native Sony brand lens…
Now, about that third “Pro”, the portability. Usually, there are just two types of photographers when it comes to a lens’ size and weight: those who care quite a lot about portability, and those who don’t care at all. Simply put, until now, the most popular trend in lenses, even in mirrorless realms, has been bigger, bigger, and heavier… We see lenses like the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 Art popping up for the Sony E mount, and we realize, “that weighs more than a 24-70mm f/2.8! Wasn’t the whole point of a prime to be fast AND portable?”
Indeed, the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 is a delightful departure from this trend of ever-increasing weights and sizes. So, for those of you who have been waiting, eager, and maybe even frustrated by now by the lack of good compact, portable prime lenses for full-frame mirrorless, …here’s your lens! Again, pair this lens with something like the Samyang AF 75mm f/1.8 FE, and you have a kit even smaller than quite a few crop-sensor APSC kits!
Functions & Accessories
Moving on, overall, the lens itself operates very smoothly. In addition to having great autofocus and image quality in a compact package, the lens just works, reliably.
This wasn’t always the case with third-party lenses on name-brand DSLRs, for whatever reason, there were always issues with front-focus or back-focus, or there were sometimes even worse issues that destroyed image quality due to faulty vignetting correction profiles, or other things.
There is also one useful customization, for those photographers who wish they had a high-end flagship lens with additional functions, but are on a budget: That is, the switch on the side of the lens doesn’t just control autofocus versus manual focus, it actually changes the function of the focus ring itself. In one configuration, the default, the focus ring does what you think it would-manual focus. (Depending on the configuration on the camera body itself, of course.)
But, flip the switch, and all of a sudden the focus ring will allow you to control your aperture! Pretty neat function, however, as we’ll get to in the Cons section, you can only change the function with the additional USB dock accessory. (Say, for example, you wanted to make “Mode 2” perform ISO control instead of aperture, or do EV compensation…)
Other than that small disclaimer, the overall value for the Samyang is unmatched. We’ll get into the competitors in a minute, but basically, if your budget is around this price range, there’s really no question- the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE is your best bet.
- Moderate Ruggedness
- Accessory required for Fn customization
Now, when I say “moderate ruggedness”, that means that this lens is probably going to be considered the perfect balance of lightweight affordability VS durability to many, however, to some it might not seem durable enough. Simply put, if you do a lot of work in truly terrible environments, getting splashed by waves on the beach, or working in the rain, snow, or other inclement weather all the time, then you’ll probably get a better lifespan out of a lens that costs much more. Will you get more than twice the lifespan out of a 35mm prime that costs about twice as much, though? Maybe, but you’re likely much better off just taking good care of whichever lens you do buy.
Other than that, the only other thing that stood out to us was the fact that if you want to re-program the Fn switch on the side of the lens, you’ll have to get the accessory USB dock. (~$60)
Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Review | Compared To The Competition
What other lenses are out there for you to consider? Let’s just get right to the most obvious two categories of competition: You’re either constrained by budget and/or size & weight, …or you don’t care about size/weight, have a decent budget, and just want the best option you can afford. So, which category do you fall into?
First and foremost, if you’re shopping for an affordable and lightweight 35mm f/1.8 lens, with autofocus, this Samyang/Rokinon is pretty much it. The next-closest, portable and similarly-priced lens (that has autofocus) is Samyang’s own AF 35mm f/2.8 FE, for about $300. It’s only f/2.8, though, so it’ll be a whole different type of lens in most people’s eyes. (Tamron also has a 35mm f/2.8 for about the same price, but its autofocus motor is a bit less impressive, so we recommend the Samyang if you’re looking for an f/2.8 prime.)
Alternately, what if you’re not even sure that 35mm is right for you, and you’re just looking for a “normal” focal length prime that is very compact and affordable? Just add 10mm, and consider the Samyang/Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8 FE, which goes for around $330-400
Of course, there are quite a few manual focus 35mm lenses you could consider, but as far as we’ve seen, all of the ones in this price range aren’t going to be significantly better.
Other than that, for under $400, there is literally nothing (again, with autofocus) we can recommend. Also, beware, a lot of the manual focus and/or autofocus lenses that are down in that price range are not full-frame lenses, they’re APS-C E-mount lenses!)
If you’re willing to jump up in price quite a lot, Sony’s own FE 35mm f/1.8 is indeed a very good lens. It’s one of the sharpest 35mm lenses around, and it is also quite portable. However, it’s a $700-750 lens, which is nearly double the price of the Samyang. Is it twice as good, you might ask? No, it’s only a little bit better. Thus, the Samyang is a significantly better value, as long as you don’t heavily abuse it and break it in less than half the time you’d break a Sony.
In our experience, if you heavily abuse your gear, you will suffer the consequences soon either way, so we’d rather go for the best value, and just take decent care of our gear!
Of course, there’s the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE, which usually costs around $800. HOWEVER, you might be lucky enough to find it for $499 or so, if it’s on sale, (which it is right now around Christmas 2020!) …but otherwise, indeed, get ready to pay around $800. Is it worth that much? Yes, absolutely, if you want f/1.4 and are willing to carry a much larger lens.
All in all, no matter what price range you’re able to shop in, no matter what your requirements are for image quality, or portability, …in every case, the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE turns out looking very attractive. It’s that simple.
Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE Review | Conclusion
You could be a beginner who just bought their first full-frame mirrorless camera, maybe a Sony A7iii or the brand-new, lightweight, and compact Sony A7C, and the Samyang would be a perfect match. But, you could also be a hard-working professional who loves using 35mm for everything, and own a high-end 35mm f/1.4 (or f/1.2!) prime that you use most of the time, …and yet still want to have the Samyang 35mm f/1.8 around for more casual situations!
Either way, you should probably consider this lens if you’ve EVER been in a situation where you wanted a compact prime lens in this “slightly wider than normal” focal range, whether casual candids or serious professional work!
Check Pricing & Availability
You can find the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.8 FE at all the usual retailers for around $399 as of right now, and you can also pick up the Samyang USB lens docking station for about $59
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