Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM: A Twist in the Tale

Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM

Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM

The Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM is a good option for Sony APS-C camera users on a tight budget. K Madhavan Pillai puts this lens on the test bench.

Sony has been slowly but surely chiseling their way into a market by developing lineups to address various price segments. The DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM is an entry level APS-C format prime lens (signified by the DT, which rather ambiguously stands for ‘Digital Technology’). It was released with the objective of luring an advanced hobbyist while keeping the price as low as possible.

It delivers an equivalent focal length of 52.5mm, in full-frame parlance, which is a slightly narrower field of view than our normal vision and quite apt for people, street, architecture and some kinds of landscape photography. The maximum aperture of f/1.8 (similar to f/2.5 with a full frame) is quite useful in low light. It also allows a good level of constriction in the depth of field, and consequently, good bokeh.

Beyond this, the other features are unremarkable. There is no mistaking the low-budget nature of this lens. It is entirely built of plastics, including the mount. Made of six elements in five groups, the optical design is simplistic and there are no specialised elements to speak of. The focusing occurs by linear barrel extension. The lens motors are not entirely silent. The focus ring moves during AF but the front filter does not. There is no full-time MF override and forcefully rotating the MF ring without first uncoupling it from the motor by switching from AF to MF can damage the lens. The minimum focus distance of 0.23m is reasonably good, at which distance the lens provides a maximum magnification ratio of 1:4.

This is a light lens that works rather well on the Alpha 77 II, despite its plastic feel. The focus ring is quite narrow. I always have a personal preference for an aperture ring to be present, and this lens does not have it. Neither does this lens make setting hyperfocal distances particularly easy, which is a shame. Somehow, all the leading manufacturers seem to be missing all these points nowadays, especially in this category of lenses where these features would be especially welcome.

So far, everything about the lens seemed average and decidedly lacklustre. However, it did throw up some good surprises when it came to performance. It is exceptionally sharp at f/1.8, especially at the center of the frame. There was visible lateral fringing at the edges, but it was wellcontrolled for a lens of its type. The bokeh has the expected sharp edges. By f/2.8 and f/4, there is a dramatic improvement to the point where this lens starts competing with far more expensive primes. Bokeh too is significantly improved with softer edges. There is a slight, easily correctable barrel distortion. Other optical aberrations were kept to a minimum.

The lens exhibits excellent overall sharpness even at f/2.8. However, there is some amount of fringing that is visible. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/2.8 (ISO 100). Photograph/Suresh Narayanan

The lens exhibits excellent overall sharpness even at f/2.8. However, there is some amount of fringing that is visible. Exposure: 1/50sec at f/2.8 (ISO 100). Photograph/Suresh Narayanan

Despite the older AF motor, focusing speed is quick, but there is a slight hunting at f/1.8 especially at closer focussing distances because of the critical depth of field. On the whole, I was very happy with what the lens was able to deliver at its price point.

The lens is priced at Rs 15,490, which is about the equivalent price from other manufacturers for lenses of its kind. On the whole, my gripe with the general design of lenses of its type extends to all manufacturers, and it is unfortunate that Sony DT 35mm fell prey to most of the same issues. I say unfortunate… because this is otherwise an exceptional lens, both in optical performance and in value.

Serious Sony SLT users who don’t otherwise have a viable upgrade path at this focal length will be happy to know that the Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM is all they really need.

Features: Maximum aperture of f/1.8, minimum focusing distance of 0.23m  15/20
 Performance: Excellent sharpness, barrel distortion  33/35
 Build Quality: Plastic feel  20/25
 Ergonomics: No full time manual focus  13/15
 Warranty & Support: Wide area service network, two year warranty  3/5

MRP: Rs.15,490

Who should buy it? Users having the A-mount camera with APS-C sensor, who want to shoot street and people in available light conditions.

Why? With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, it will allow users to shoot in low light. Additionally, it exhibits good overall sharpness.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, Sony, 35mm lens, better photography reviews, Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM, Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM review, Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM price India, March 2015