Sony 35mm f1.4 Portraits: Portrait Shoot Breakdown with Holland

Sony 35mm f1.4 Portraits

Have you wondered what it was like shooting portraits with the Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss lens?

I was wondering myself, so I got a copy of the lens and put it to the test. Here’s my quick overview of the results from my real-world shoot with Holland.

Sony 35mm f1.4 Portraits

I got sharp images and high-quality details when shooting portraits with the Sony 35mm f1.4 lens. The wide 35mm focal length allowed for capturing more of the environment while staying close to my subject in comparison to a 50mm or 85mm. The f1.4 aperture gathered plenty of natural light as I shot indoors and outdoors with no external flash.

I enjoyed the overall performance of this lens and look forward to shooting more with this focal length in the future.

Close up wide angle lens Sony 35mm f1.4 portrait lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 400 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only in studio

That pretty much sums up my review of the lens, but if you’re interested let’s dive deeper into the details of this shoot with Holland and breakdown why I chose the 35mm lens for portraits.

Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss FE lens details

It’s always a great feeling when you get your hands on a new lens, especially when that lens is the Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Distagon FE Lens (long name for sure).

The Zeiss badge brings a certain amount of recognition as they’re a huge name in the optics industry, so I had high expectations when using this lens.

Sony 35mm f1.4 Lens for Portraits
Sony 35mm f1.4 Lens for Portraits

The Sony 35mm f1.4 is a lens I’ve been wanting to use for some of my lifestyle shoots. This would allow me to stay close to my subjects but still get plenty of background details.

This is the reason it’s called the “story-teller lens”.

The lens was larger than I expected when mounted to my Sony a7ii mirrorless camera.

I was shooting with no camera grip, so it made the camera feel a front heavy with the lens mounted. It’s not a bad combination, but it does feel unbalanced at times.

You really notice this when trying to shoot one-handed.

The Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss weighs in at 630 grams or about 1.38 pounds. Not a light lens but it’s built like a tank.

Model Test shoot with the Sony 35mm f1.4 lens

This won’t be an in-depth technical review of the lens, so I won’t get you caught up in the specs. My goal is to show what this lens looks like for shooting portraits.

This model test shoot was with Dallas area model Holland at a small studio in downtown Plano, TX.

I met her and her mother on Instagram and we were able to collaborate on a test shoot with a few other models and photographers on location.

I knew the studio was small, so I wanted a wider focal length over the traditional 50mm or 85mm.

I knew my space was going to be limited so I planned for this ahead of time. I kept my Sony 55mm f1.8 in my camera bag just in case I wanted a different focal length.

Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Portrait Samples

Sony a7ii portraits
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 400 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only in studio
Sony a7ii portrait with Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 400 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only in studio

Close up beauty portrait Sony 35mm f1.4 lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 200 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only in studio
35mm Portrait Lens Sony f1.4 wide open
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 400 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only in studio
Sony 35mm f1.4 Portrait Zeiss Lens - Holland
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 250 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio
Sony 35mm f1.4 FE Zeiss Portrait - Holland
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 125 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio
35mm f1.4 FE Sony Zeiss Portrait Lens - Holland
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 250 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio
Sony 35mm f1.4 FE Zeiss Portrait - Holland v2
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 250 | 1/400 sec | Natural light only in studio
Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 portrait lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 250 | 1/1,600 sec | Natural light only in studio
Sony a7ii Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 portriat lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 250 | 1/1,600 sec | Natural light only in studio
Outdoor Sony 35mm f1.4 portrait lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 125 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio
Model test shoot with Sony 35mm f1.4 lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 125 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio

Why choose the Sony 35mm f1.4 for portrait photography?

  • Space was a huge factor when choosing this lens. The studio was long but very narrow and I knew I would be working with other photographers and people in the same room. The Sony 35mm f1.4 was perfect for getting the shots I was wanting.
  • It’s a Zeiss lens, and you can’t beat that. Zeiss lenses are known for their capabilities in quality and detailed performance. I wanted a sharp lens for this shoot and that’s what I got in the Sony 35mm Zeiss.
  • I wanted a non-traditional look in my portraits. I don’t mind a little distortion in my portraits. It adds character and helps keep me creative with my compositions. That’s one of the reasons I used a 35mm lens for this shoot.

What I disliked about using the Sony 35mm f1.4 for portrait photography

  • It felt unbalanced and a bit heavy after the first hour of shooting. I really started to take notice after shooting more than an hour. I normally shoot one-handed, but I had to get a different grip on this lens combination.
  • The Sony 35mm f1.4 feels large for a 35mm focal length. I would need to compare to other camera brands, but this lens feels unnecessarily large for a 35mm. Especially when compared to the Sony 35mm Zeiss f2.8 lens. There is a big difference in size and weight.
sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss FE Lens with Sony a7
Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss FE Lens with Sony a7

Sony a7ii mirrorless camera with Sony 35mm f1.4 lens

My camera for this shoot was the Sony a7ii mirrorless camera. I had the camera for about a year and was pretty good at using it for portraits.

I used single shot mode and single point auto-focus to keep my portraits looking tac sharp. I always put the point over my subject’s eyes so get the best results.

This camera is a few years old now, but I still believe you can get some great results from the performance of this camera.

If you have the money, I will even recommend upgrading to the award-winning Sony a7iii.

Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 natural light portrait sample

Natural light Sony 35mm f1.4 portrait lens
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 125 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio

The f1.4 aperture came in clutch when shooting in the studio. The windows were frosted over, and it was a cloudy day outside.

This overcast created a beautiful soft light outdoors, but it also limited the amount of strong light hitting the windows and coming into the studio.

I kept the aperture at f1.4 to maximize light hitting the sensor while being able to keep the ISO settings low.

With that, I knew I was going to keep an eye on my distance to the subject. Shooting with such a shallow focus area, I knew I could run into problems.

My goal was to keep both eyes facing me as much as possible but I also kept my distance from Holland so I could get more in focus.

How did the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 perform

Holland was moving moderately fast and changes poses after each camera click.

I was using single shot mode for most of the shoot indoors and then moved to continuous focus when we moved outdoors.

The Sony 35mm f1.4 lens kept up with focusing during the entire shoot.

I did have some shots that were out of focus, but I think these were because I was shooting at a lower shutter speed before moving it up.

Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 autofocus performance was fast

General autofocus of the Sony 35mm f1.4 was quick for this shoot. Even when shooting in the lower light areas of the studio and hallway, I was able to get shots fast with no major auto-focus issues.

I’d be interested to see how well this lens works on the Sony a7iii or a7riii. I have no doubt it would be just as fast with the newer sensors.

Is the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 too wide for portraits

No, a 35mm is not too wide for portraits. With this focal length you will need to try to keep your subject in the center of the frame as much as possible.

The edge distortion will exaggerate their features so keeping them in the center will make for better quality shots.

Wide angle portrait Sony 35mm portrait lens f1.4
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 400 | 1/320 sec | Natural light only in studio

Some photographers look use this distortion to their advantage and make subjects look longer and taller.

Every photographer has a different idea of traditional portrait focal lengths. Some prefer longer telephoto focal ranges like the 85mm or 135mm, or even the 70-200mm.

Shooting with a wider focal length provides its own advantages and drawbacks but this has never stopped me shooting portraits with a 35mm.

Alternatives to the Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens

35mm portrait lens prime lens
Sony a7 with Sony 35mm f2.8 FE Lens

The Sony 35mm f2.8 lens is a lighter and more budget friendly option if your considering other lenses.

You can also review other options from Tamron and Sigma as they have expanded their line-up of prime lenses for the Sony e-mount system.

What did I learn from this portrait shoot with the Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss lens

  • Don’t shoot one handed with a large and heavy lens. This creates an unnecessary weight on the front end and can increase the chances of damage to the mount on the back of the lens. I understand now what others were saying online and I have seen some of the damaged lens photos from doing this.
  • Shooting wide open at f1.4 is not always necessary. You can get some great portraits and bokeh with f2.8 and even apertures at f4.0. I must keep in mind the shallow depth of field and making sure the model has both eyes facing the camera.
  • Don’t be afraid to raise the ISO. I was trying my hardest to keep the ISO low since I thought the higher ISO would introduce more grain. I did compensate with the wider aperture and slower shutter speed, but I didn’t always like the results. It would have just been easier to raise the ISO a few stops when shooting the outdoor shots.
Lifestyle portrait with Sony 35mm portrait lens Zeiss FE
Shot with the Sony a7ii | Sony 35mm f1.4 Zeiss Lens | @1.4 | ISO 320 | 1/200 sec | Natural light only in studio

How did the Sony a7ii perform with the Sony 35mm f1.4 lens

The combination of the Sony a7ii mirrorless camera with the Sony 35mm f1.4 lens was a solid one.

The ISIB featured in the Sony a7ii helped stabilize my shots when I needed to slow down the shutter and collect more light.

I shot with the Sony a7 for over a year before upgrading to the Sony a7ii and I will tell you there is a large difference.

Both are great cameras, but I would prefer the IBIS feature in my camera since I shoot and move quick.

Final thoughts on the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 lens

The Sony 35mm f1.4 is a big lens, and a strong lens for photographers. It’s built like a tank and provides excellent quality shots especially for environmental portraits.

You can stay close to your subject or move back and really capture the setting they are in with your composition.

There are other options to consider so only you can decide if this lens is right for your work. Make sure to check it out and give it a chance against the other competitors on the market.

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