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  • Review: The Insta360 One R is a modular action camera with a 1"-type sensor

    Insta360 ONE R
    from $300 | Insta360

    The Insta360 One R is a modular action and 360 camera that snaps together like Lego bricks. It allows users to choose between three cameras or mods, depending on the most important features. A '1-Inch Edition' ($550) uses a large 1"-type sensor, features a Leica-branded lens, and captures 5.3K video and 19MP images, a '360 Edition' ($430) captures 5.7K spherical video, and a '4K Edition' ($300) includes a 12MP sensor that shoots 4K video. The first option is somewhat unique, given that most action cameras have smaller sensors.

    To use any of the cameras, one connects them to a second cube-shaped unit Insta360 calls the core module, which includes an LCD touchscreen, buttons and ports. The camera + core combo then snaps onto a battery base for operation.

    The Insta360 One R has a modular design that snaps together. Left to right: The core module with touchscreen, the 1-Inch camera module, the battery base, and the 360 camera module.

    For users who want multiple camera units, Insta360 sells various combination packages up to, and including, the Trio Edition, which includes all three cameras for $780. Additionally, there are all manner of use case-specific accessories such as a motorcycle kit, an expedition kit, a snow kit and more.

    Key specifications (shared)
    • Reversible touchscreen
    • Raw and JPEG photos
    • HDR, Night Shot, and Time-lapse
    • H.264/H.265 video codecs (100 Mbps)
    • FlowState image stabilization
    • Waterproof to 5m (16.4ft)
    • Wi-Fi
    • USB-C charging
    1-Inch Edition
    • 1"-type sensor
    • 14mm equiv. F3.2 lens
    • Video: 5.3K/30p, 4K/60p, 2.7K/60p, HD/120p
    • Photo: 19MP resolution
    360 Edition
    • Dual-7.2mm equiv. F2.0 lenses
    • Video: 5.7K/30p, 4K/50p, 3K/100p
    • Photo: 18MP resolution (2:1 aspect ratio)
    4K Edition
    • 16.4mm equiv. F2.8 lens
    • Video: 4K/30p (4000x3000), 4K/60p, 2.7K/100p, HD/200p
    • Photo: 12MP resolution

    For this review I mostly focused on the 1-Inch Edition with some additional comments about the 360 Edition.

    Overview

    The Insta360 One R’s modular system clicks together easily and is made up of a battery, a lens mod and the core module. There's a micro SD card slot and a USB-C port for charging on the side of the core module. Physical controls sit on top of the touchscreen and include a power button and a record button—all other settings are changed through the touchscreen or the app.

    The Insta360 One R assembled with the 1-Inch module, core module and battery base (L), along with the 360 module (R).

    Before you start shooting, you'll need to connect the camera to the Insta360 app, which is done through the camera’s Wi-Fi. The process is fast and easy, and the app doesn’t have any trouble remembering the camera between uses. Inside the app, you can view footage from the SD card, save files to your phone for easy sharing, access tutorials, change camera settings and edit footage.

    One neat feature: the core module can be attached in either direction, allowing you to place the screen at the back of the camera or facing forward (useful for selfie mode).

    The touchscreen on the Insta360 One R can be attached facing either the front or the back of the camera.

    If you’ve set the Insta360 One R up on a tripod and are looking to capture video footage or a time-lapse, working through the app, rather than the tiny touchscreen, will be ideal for most users.

    Although the modular system feels sturdy when it’s all clicked together, the CPU that powers the camera seemed to have issues from the start; every time I turned the camera on, it struggled to recognize that the micro SD card was in the camera.

    What it's like to use

    Although the modular system clicks together easily and feels substantial, it quickly became clear that not all components are sturdy. Within a few days of using it, the door covering the Micro SD slot and USB-C port snapped off. Without the cover, the camera had an easier time recognizing that a Micro SD card was inside the camera, but the missing cover also meant the camera wasn't waterproof either.

    The One R is generally well-built, but it didn't take long for the cover for the Micro SD slot and USB-C port to break off, compromising the waterproof seal.

    The menu system is difficult to navigate quickly. The touchscreen isn't particularly responsive, the user interface isn’t intuitive, and changing settings requires a fair amount of work. However, once you've worked through the menus and configured the camera to your liking it's simple to use—just hit the big record button on the top to shoot stills or to start recording video. During my time with the camera, Insta360 released two firmware updates, so with any luck, the user experience will continue to improve.

    The 1"-type sensor is somewhat unique, given that most action cameras have smaller sensors.

    For video shooting, you'll likely want to use the Insta360 all-purpose tripod or the selfie-stick. The camera includes Insta360's FlowState image stabilization, and you can shoot without it and still get stable footage, but I found it more comfortable to have a grip to hold onto while shooting.

    Using the all-purpose tripod or the selfie-stick also helps give you a wider view of a scene—especially important if you are shooting with the dual-lens 360 mod and looking to avoid unattractive under the chin angles. For shooting stills, I found that I preferred to just carry the camera in-hand; it’s quite small, which makes it ideal for street photography.

    The 1-Inch module is small enough to keep in your pocket for street photography, but its wide 14.4mm equivalent lens has enough distortion to create a bit of a fisheye effect.

    Although the camera has the ability to shoot Raw photos, there's a noticeable lag time between hitting the record button and the photo being saved to the card. The JPEG images on the 1-Inch mod produced file sizes that averaged around 6 MB without any noticeable lag.

    I also had a chance to test the 360 mod. Although the One R is aimed at enthusiasts, I think the 360 mod could be used as an interesting creative tool by professionals for capturing BTS footage or unique perspectives at large events like trade shows, festivals, or parades—whenever those high-density events come back. The 360 mod can also be used as a webcam, although its behavior can be a bit unpredictable; it's intriguing tech considering the increased demand for quality live streaming content.

    The camera is quite small, which makes it ideal for street photography.

    If you’re shooting 360 video and not live streaming, you can use the app to do things like reframe your footage, add music, create a multi-view and make color and exposure adjustments. Within the app, you can also export footage to platforms like YouTube and Facebook.

    I took the the One R's dual-lens 360 camera on a drive through Brooklyn to see how it performed on New York's potholed streets.

    The camera hides itself in 360 footage, but there will usually be some distortion of the user’s hands when the footage is stitched together, not an uncommon problem with these sorts of devices. The app makes the process of shooting and editing in 360 a lot easier, but it’s also your only option—you won’t be able to do anything with the 360 files without running them through the Insta360 app first.

    The battery is rated at 1190mAh, and if you are shooting a lot of video, that will get used up quickly.

    Image and Video Quality

    Although the UI on the Insta360 One R leaves something to be desired, I was impressed by the quality of the footage that this camera could capture.

    I used the One R's 1-Inch mod to capture this band in difficult lighting.

    On the video side of things, I enjoyed setting it up as a BTS camera. The preamps were good enough to capture decent audio during a band’s livestream performance, and the 1"-type sensor on the 1-Inch Edition made for visuals that held up even in a difficult lighting situation. During my time using the 1-inch module, I didn't notice any issues with rolling shutter.

    I also used the 1-Inch Edition to capture BTS footage during a portrait shoot. The wide 14.4mm (equiv.) lens made it easy to capture the entire studio set up in a single frame while keeping the camera close by. Although you can pull footage directly off of the cards, it seems best to use the app to process it. Luckily, there's an option in the app to restore footage back to its original capture state, so the process remains non-destructive.

    I captured this behind the scenes time-lapse of a photoshoot using the 1-Inch Edition. The wide lens made it easy to capture the entire studio space.

    360 video has to be processed inside the app and can be exported at 3K, 4K or 5.7K, or for a much faster export at 960P. Keep in mind that 360 footage may appear strange if you view it outside of the Insta 360 app, but once you upload it to a platform that can handle 360 video (like YouTube), you'll be able to view the scene in 360. Although the camera can shoot and process 5.7K video, once you upload the footage to a platform like YouTube, it will be viewable as 4K.

    On the stills side, the Insta360 One R does a very nice job—the wide 14.4mm lens on the 1-Inch mod won’t be for everyone as it's practically a fish-eye view, but I appreciated the unique perspective. I loved the vibrant colors that I got while shooting with the Insta360 One R. Its small size makes it useful for discrete street photography as well.

    Who's it for?

    If you can get past the clumsiness of the Insta360 One R’s user interface and menu system, it’s a versatile tool for content creators. The build quality is generally good, but we wish the microSD card slot's door had been sturdier. Swapping out camera modules was easy to do.

    We’re hopeful that future firmware upgrades will make the menu and touchscreen on the camera easier to use. Ultimately, the video footage and stills that we were able to create with the Insta360 One R were quite good. The 360 module has some interesting creative capabilities, and we liked the wide-angle on the 1-Inch module. The mic quality was good enough to clearly capture audio during a live performance too. At $550 for the 1-Inch module, it’s certainly not the cheapest action cam on the market, but it does have one of the nicer lenses, and if you invest in the other mods, it's a very versatile tool.

    What we like:
    • Modular system is flexible and versatile
    • 1"-type sensor on an action camera is unique
    • Well-designed app
    • Good in difficult lighting situations (for an action camera)
    What we'd like to see improved:
    • Micro SD/USB-C cover breaks easily
    • Menu system is difficult to navigate quickly
    • Limited battery life
  • Film Fridays: Don't buy a Soviet camera before reading this

    Photo: Paulo Moreira

    Considering getting your hands on a Soviet film camera? Good for you! There's quite a few quality options out there and many can be had for a reasonable price.

    But before you go and pull the trigger on a Zorki-3C rangefinder like the one above, we suggest reading the guide below from our pals at KosmoFoto. It covers everything from where to buy, what to look for, the most-popular models, repair advice, Leica 'look-alikes', and much much more.

    Even if you're not necessarily interested in buying a Soviet camera, the sheer amount of camera history and fascinating facts make it worthy of your eyeballs.

    KosmoFoto: Read this before you buy a Soviet camera

    About Film Fridays: We recently launched an analog forum and in a continuing effort to promote the fun of the medium, we'll be sharing film-related content on Fridays, including articles from our friends at KosmoFoto and 35mmc.

  • Fujifilm discontinues its Pro 400H color negative film in 35mm, 120 formats

    Fujifilm has announced it is discontinuing production of its Pro 400H color negative film in both 35mm and 120 formats.

    In a notice posted on the Pro 400H product page, Fujifilm says the ‘unique’ film is being discontinued due to issues with ‘procur[ing] the raw materials needed to produce Pro 400H film.’ It reads, in part:

    ‘FUJIFILM PRO 400H film is a unique product that is coated with a fourth layer – requiring specialized raw materials and chemicals. As it has become increasingly difficult to procure the raw materials needed to produce PRO 400H, we regret to inform you that after careful consideration, Fujifilm has made the difficult business decision to discontinue PRO 400H.’

    The full notice, screencaptured from Fujifilm’s website. Click to enlarge.

    Fujifilm says it expects to be able to allocate stock of Pro 400H in the 120 format to last through the end of 2021, but the 35mm format has ceased production and sales as of January 14, 2021. As of publishing this, Adorama, Amazon and B&H all have various amounts of Pro 400H available in 35mm and 120 formats, but it’s safe to assume it will run out quickly.

  • Venus Optics confirms details of four new, ultra-fast ‘Argus’ F0.95 lenses for MFT, APS-C and full-frame cameras

    The following information is no longer ‘Strictly Confidential,’ as we’ve been permitted to share it by a Venus Optics spokesperson.

    Venus Optics has announced the details of its new line of F0.95 Laowa Argus lenses, revealing the specifications of four ultra-fast manual lenses for an array of lens mounts. While there are four individual lenses, there are effectively three sub-series of Argus lenses for various imaging formats: MFT, APS-C and full-frame.

    Some background

    The release of these lenses has been a bit of a confusing one. While full specifications and even images of all four lenses has published across various rumor sites over the past few weeks, Venus Optics never published anything to confirm the lenses’ existence. We contact a Venus Optics spokesperson to clarify what was going on and they informed us this confusion was caused due to leaked presentation materials.

    According to the representative, Venus Optics held an online event in China where it was showing off its upcoming products, including these new Argus-branded F0.95 lenses. It intended to do the same in other regions, but leakers shared the confidential presentation materials and, as a result, Venus Optics has decided to go with the flow and release the details without much fanfare. The images and information in this article is from the ‘strictly confidential’ presentation materials from Venus Optics, but we’ve been granted permission to share it.

    With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what Venus Optics is offering with its new Argus lenses.

    Laowa Argus 25mm F0.95 (MFT) The Laowa Argus 25mm F0.95 lens for Micro Four Thirds camera system (50mm full-frame equivalent).

    First up is the 25mm F0.95 lens for MFT camera systems. This lens offers the field of view equivalent of a 50mm lens on a full-frame sensor and is constructed of 14 elements in 8 groups, including one aspherical element, two extra-low dispersion elements and three high-refractive index elements.

    The MFT lens features an aperture range of F0.95 through F16, uses a nine-blade aperture diaphragm, has a minimum focusing distance of 25cm (9.8") and uses a 62mm front filter thread. It measures 71mm (2.8") in diameter, 86mm (3.4") long and weighs 570g (1.26lbs). It will retail for around $530 when it goes on sale in Q4 2021.

    Laowa Argus 33mm F0.95 (APS-C) The Laowa Argus 33mm F0.95 lens for mirrorless APS-C camera systems.

    Next up is the APS-C format 33mm F0.95 lens, which will be available in Canon EF-M, Fujifilm X, Sony E and Nikon Z mount. The lens is constructed of 14 elements in nine groups, including one aspherical element, two extra-low dispersion elements and three high-refractive index elements.

    The APS-C lens features an aperture range of F0.95 through F16, uses a nine-blade aperture diaphragm, has a minimum focusing distance of 35mm (1.4"), and has a 62mm front filter thread. Despite have it nearly identical specifications as the 25mm MFT Argus lens, it relies on a different optical design, so it’s not just a scaled up copy.

    The lens measures 71.5mm (2.8) in diameter, 83mm (3.27") long and weighs 590g (1.3lbs). It’s expected to retail for around $530 when it ships in Q2 2021.

    Laowa Argus 35mm and 45mm F0.95 (full-frame) The Laowa Argus 35mm F0.95 lens for full-frame mirrorless camera systems.

    To wrap it up, Venus Optics has a pair of lenses for full-frame mirrorless camera systems, a 35mm F0.95 lens and a 45mm F0.95 lens.

    The Laowa Argus 35mm F0.95 lens is the ‘core’ unit in this lineup, ‘since it’s the first ever in the market with [these specifications],’ according to a Venus Optics spokesperson. It’s constructed of 14 elements in 9 groups, including one aspherical element, one extra-low dispersion element, and 4 high refractive elements.

    It features an aperture range of F0.95 through F16, uses a 15-blade aperture diaphragm, has a minimum focusing distance of 50cm (19.7") and uses a 72mm front filter thread. The lens measures 76.8mm (3") in diameter, 103mm (4") long and weighs 755g (1.66lbs). The Laowa Argus 35mm F0.95 will be available for Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony E mount cameras. It’s set to retail for around $910 when it ships in Q2 2021.

    The Laowa Argus 45mm F0.95 lens for full-frame mirrorless camera systems.

    Last up from Venus Optics is the Laowa Argus 45mm F0.95 lens. The lens is constructed of 13 elements in nine groups, including one aspherical element, one extra-low dispersion element and one high refractive element.

    Identical to its 35mm counterpart, the 45mm model features an aperture range of F0.95 through F16, uses a 15-blade aperture diaphragm, has a minimum focusing distance of 50cm (19.7") and uses a 72mm front filter thread. The lens measures 76.8mm (3") in diameter, 110mm (4.3") long and weighs 850g (1.87lbs). The Laowa Argus 45mm F0.95 lens will be available for Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony E mount cameras and is expected to ship in Q2 2021. No pricing information is available at this time.

  • Samsung announces Galaxy S21 series, including 8K capable, 108MP Galaxy S21 Ultra

    Samsung has announced its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The S21 and S21 Plus are essentially identical phones, save for their screen size and other minor differences. The S21 Ultra is designed to be not only the best phone in Samsung's diverse lineup of Android smartphones, but Samsung believes it's the best phone available.

    Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus

    The S21 and S21 Plus cost $800 and $1,000 respectively. This is $200 less than their predecessor's launch prices last year. As The Verge points out, the 6.2" S21 and 6.7" S21 Plus have given something up in order to reach this lower price point. While both phones continue to deliver 120Hz refresh rates, something Apple's latest iPhone 12 models don't offer, the displays no longer have the subtle curved edges of the Galaxy S20. Further, resolution has decreased from 3,200 x 1,440 to 2,400 x 1,080. In terms of internal components, RAM has decreased from 12GB to 8GB.

    Build quality has changed as well. Whereas the S20 had an aluminum back panel, the smaller S21 uses plastic on the back and doesn't include an ultra-wideband radio. The larger S21 Plus does have this connectivity feature, allowing for relatively superior compatibility with Samsung's new Galaxy SmartTag, the Korean company's new Tile competitor.

    Another cost-saving measure is that Samsung will no longer be including a charging brick or headphones in the box. Like Apple, the company says it's for environmental reasons. It's only been three months since Samsung poked fun at Apple for no longer including a charger with the new iPhone models.

    In addition to making cuts to reduce the price of the S21 and S21 Plus, Samsung has made improvements as well. While the quality of the materials has changed, the design looks very nice. On the inside of the new models is the latest Snapdragon chipset, which promises improved performance. The fingerprint sensor has Qualcomm's new 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2, resulting in improved speed. Both models feature 5G integration, supporting mmWave and sub-6GHz networks, so the new phones will be faster in that respect too, assuming you are in an area with support for 5G.

    The two-tone design of the Galaxy S21/S21 Plus works around the camera protrusion. The camera system is basically the same on these models as it was last year. The S21 and S21 Plus each include a 12MP wide-angle camera, 12MP ultrawide camera and a 64MP telephoto lens. The front-facing camera is 10MP, although the S21 Plus has ditched the depth sensor.

    While the hardware is unchanged, there have been some adjustments to software. There's a 30x 'Space Zoom' mode, a 'Director's View' mode for recording video allowing easier swapping between lenses, and additions to the 'Single Take' mode. Further, the default image processing no longer excessively smooths faces, although if that's your style, it remains an option.

    The Samsung Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus models will be available starting January 29 and are available for preorder now. The S21 and S21 Plus include 128GB of internal storage. If you'd like 256GB of storage, it adds $50 to the price of each model. The S21 is available in Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink colorways, with the latter two having a rose gold two-tone design. The S21 Plus is available in violet, black, silver, gold and red, with the latter two colors being made to order and shipping in 3-4 weeks, as of writing.

    Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

    The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the star of the show. Where the S21/S21 Plus are a mix of cost-cutting measures and improvements, the S21 Ultra is all about pushing hardware forward. The Ultra has a price to match, starting at $1,200.

    For your money, you get a large 6.8" OLED display with 120Hz refresh rates at full 3,200 x 1,440 resolution, something the S20 Ultra couldn't do. The S21 Ultra includes 12GB of RAM, a 5,000mAh battery and offers storage capacity up to 512GB. The Ultra also includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. In terms of user experience, beyond promised speed improvements, the S21 Ultra is compatible with the Samsung S Pen, although it is an optional extra and many customers will likely want a compatible case with a holder for the pen as well.

    The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers similar top-level camera specs as the S20 Ultra, including 100x zoom, a 108MP camera and 8K video recording, but there's more to it than that and some important differences to consider. For example, the S21 Ultra includes more rear cameras than the S20 Ultra. The S21 Ultra has a 12MP ultrawide camera, 10MP camera with 3x zoom and a 10MP camera with 10x zoom. Previously, the 10x zoom was digital zoom, rather than optical.

    Further, the primary image sensor is larger in the new model, although Samsung hasn't stated by precisely how much. CNet writes that Samsung promises 'more than three times the dynamic range of the S20 Ultra.' Like the S21/S21 Plus, the S21 Ultra includes the same new software features for photo and video as well.

    As mentioned, all these features come at a high price. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at $1,200 with 128GB of storage. 256GB and 512GB models are also available at $1,250 and $1,380, respectively. The S21 Ultra is available in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy and Phantom Brown, with the lattermost three color options being available as 'made to order' options, which currently adds 4-5 weeks to expected shipping time. The S21 Ultra in black and silver will ship by January 27. For those interested in the Phantom Black color, Samsung published a video specifically about designing this color.

  • Report: Apple may soon warn users if their camera was repaired using non-genuine components

    According to a report from MacRumors, future versions of iOS could inform users when their devices are repaired using non-genuine camera components.

    Back in November 2020, not long after Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup was announced, repair website iFixit discovered reliable third-party repairs of camera components inside the new iPhone 12 devices will be all but impossible, due to needing a propriety piece of software. According to iFixit, as well as YouTuber Taylor Dixon, replacing the camera hardware of iPhone 12 devices resulted in unreliable and inconsistent performance due to Apple’s proprietary ‘System Configuration’ program needing to be run on the device by an authorized technician.

    Below is the video from Taylor Dixon, showing the camera issues they had after swapping out camera modules:

    It appears now that Apple is working on a warning system that will notify users when non-genuine components have been used. After updating to the second developer beta of iOS 14.4, MacRumors contributor Steve Moser came across code suggesting Apple will show a warning when the system detects the camera modules inside the device have been repaired or replaced with third-party aftermarket components instead of genuine Apple hardware. The text ‘Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple camera’ will appear in the Settings app, under General > About, if it notices an aftermarket camera module, according to Moser.

    A document, shared by iFixit, that shows what components require Apple's proprietary System Configuration program to be run on various devices for repairs. Click to enlarge.

    While this is certainly aimed at preventing DIY repairs, it will also inform users who may have had their device repaired by unauthorized technicians at third-party repair centers. Apple’s System Configuration app was already required for battery replacements dating back to the iPhone XR/XS line, but as of the iPhone 12 lineup, both displays and camera components will also require the System Configuration tool to be run, as noted by iFixit.

    There are a number of legal battles over the ‘Right to Repair,’ but as companies continue to shrink, stack and more tightly integrate components inside their devices, the days of modularity and DIY fixes appear to be numbered.

  • Top-notch high-res mode: Panasonic Lumix S5 review update

    We've been pressing on with our review of Panasonic's Lumix S5, and have put it in front of our studio scene to see what it can do. Spoiler alert, its JPEG engine and high-res mode are both really impressive.

  • Sony 35mm F1.4 GM sample gallery (DPReview TV)

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    Our team at DPReview TV recently published its review of the new Sony 35mm F1.4 GM lens. How good is it? Take a look at the photos they took while reviewing the camera and judge the image quality for yourself!

    View the Sony 35mm F1.4 GM sample gallery

  • Costco is shuttering all remaining in-store photo departments in Canada, US by February 14

    American wholesale retailer Costco informed customers in an email sent earlier today that it will be closing all remaining photo centers inside of its U.S. and Canadian warehouses by February 14, 2021.

    In 2015, Costco started cutting back on its in-store photography departments when it announced it would no longer offer film development services. Then, in March 2019, Costco took it a step further and announced it would be closing a number of in-store photo departments due to insufficient demand. Costco never specified which warehouses lost its photo departments, but reports confirmed stores in at least three states — Massachusetts, Hawaii and California — had been shuttered.

    Costco’s announcement. Click to enlarge.

    In Costco’s email announcement, which went out to customers earlier today, the retailer cites the lack of demand due to smartphones and social media. The email reads, in part:

    ‘Since the introduction of camera phones and social media, the need for printing photos has steeply declined, even though the number of pictured taken continues to grow. After careful consideration, we have determined the continued decline of prints no longer requires on-site photo printing.’

    The photo department closures will also affect the retailer’s home movie video transfer, passport photo, photo restoration and ink cartridge refill services. Costco requests any orders placed ahead of the February 14 cutoff date be picked up in-store no later than March 28, 2021.

    Even though in-store photo services will no longer be around, Costco will continue to offer online photo printing services via its website, CostcoPhotoCenter.com. We have contacted Costco for comment and will update accordingly when we receive a response.

  • Hands-on with new Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM

    Hands-on with new Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM

    It's been a long time coming, but Sony has finally announced a G Master series 35mm lens for its full-frame mirrorless system. The new FE 35mm F1.4 GM is Sony's 39th full-frame E-mount lens, and does not replace the older Zeiss-branded optic. It should and – spoiler alert – does outperform it in most respects, according to our testing.

    Click-through for a closer look at Sony's newest full-frame prime lens.

    Size and weight

    The Sony 35mm F1.4 G Master handles and looks quite a bit like its 24mm F1.4 GM cousin, which is to say the design is both compact and lightweight. Weighing in at 524g (1.1lbs), the new lens is lighter than its Zeiss-branded predecessor (630g) and smaller, too. The older lens measured 112 x 78.5mm (4.4 x 3.1") compared to 96 x 76mm (3.8 x 3.0") for the new 'GM'. This isn't a huge difference, but it is noticeably shorter when mounted onto an a9 or a7-series body.

    The front filter thread is smaller, too: 67mm compared to 72mm.

    Build quality and sealing

    Despite its surprisingly lightweight design, this lens feels incredibly well-built. In line with other GM-series lenses, the FE 35mm F1.4 GM is rated as 'dust and moisture resistant', which basically means you can take it out into the elements from time to time, though we'd recommend you avoid subjecting it to lengthy exposure to dust, mud or rain (and don't expect it to work underwater...). A rubber gasket around the mount also helps to protect moisture and gunk from entering the body and getting onto your camera's sensor. A fluorine coating on the front element should make water or dirt easy to clean off.

    Minimum focus

    The FE 35mm F1.4 GM boasts a minimum focus distance of 27cm (10.6"), which works out to a maximum magnification of 0.23X. This is about average for a lens of this type, but Sony claims that image quality in its close-up range should be extremely good. Meanwhile, twin XD ('extreme dynamic' – Sony really likes adding the word 'extreme' to things) linear AF motors are designed to deliver accurate and silent focus across the focus range. Thanks to the combination of these motors and a single focusing group, focus is nearly instantaneous, making the lens suitable for fast and erratic subjects.

    Manual focus

    For manual focus fans, the response of the manual focus ring is linear, i.e., 5 degrees of movement of the focus ring will always change focus by the same amount, regardless of how fast or slowly you rack the control. The manual focus ring also turns with a nice smooth motion. This is all great news for video, where you need to be able to accurately and repeatedly position focus manually between fixed positions.

    A customizable focus hold button on the lens barrel can temporarily disable autofocus – quite useful when paired with 'touch tracking' AF in video – but it need not be restricted to this function. It can be assigned to any custom function available to the other custom buttons on Alpha series bodies. The faux mechanical aperture ring can be set to move in fixed 'clicky' detents, or 'de-clicked' for smoother, stepless adjustment: again, a useful feature for video work. The only downside we could find for video shooters was some noticeable focus breathing when rack focusing.

    Optical construction

    Sony is proud of the design of this lens, describing it in our briefing as offering 'overwhelming image quality in a compact and mobile package'. The image quality part of that comes courtesy of a complex optical design, comprising 14 elements in 10 groups, including two 'XA' (extreme aspherical) elements, with one such element positioned at the front of the lens. One ED (extra-low dispersion) element, positioned in the middle of the optical layout, helps focus light rays of varying wavelengths (or colors) at the same focal plane. All of this fancy glass should pay off in excellent sharpness across the frame, and very good control of longitudinal chromatic aberration (often seen as purple or green fringing in front of and behind the focal plane, respectively).

    Eleven rounded aperture blades provide a near-circular aperture even as you stop the aperture down, which should ensure attractive bokeh and out-of-focus highlights. Meanwhile, Sony's 'Nano AR Coating II' is designed to control flare and ghosting.

    Image Quality

    We've had some time to shoot two copies of the Sony 35mm F1.4 GM and have come away impressed by what we've seen. The lens is sharp wide open, resolving hairs with high contrast that are just one pixel wide at F1.4. Longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) is well-controlled but modestly present. While it won't bother you at an image level, you may notice it upon close inspection at high magnification when shooting wide open. It's largely a non-issue once you stop down to F2. In this regard it's far better than many lenses of its type, significantly outperforming the Sony 35mm F1.4 ZA, the Sony 35mm F1.8, and the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, but falling behind the industry leading Canon 35mm F1.4L II.

    Bokeh, which along with LoCA, was one of the Achilles' Heels of the 35mm ZA lens, is smooth and pleasing, with circular out-of-focus highlights showing no patterning or onion rings, well-controlled cat's eye effect, and no mechanical truncation of bokeh at image edges or corners that can otherwise lead to 'busy' bokeh in these image areas.

    Flare and ghosting are well controlled; we found it hard to induce contrast-killing flare or unsightly ghosts in the image when pointing the lens directly into the sun. Twenty-two point sunstars are well-defined as you stop down. Overall, optical quality is particularly impressive when you consider the size and weight of the lens.

    Price and availability

    The Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM will be available in mid-February at an MSRP of $1400.