Peripheral Matters: Neewer 35mm f/1.7 Manual Focus Prime Fixed Lens for SONY E-Mount Digital Cameras [REVIEW FINAL]]
I recently obtained a Sony Alpha a6000. It's the digital camera that I said I would never buy after I purchased my Sony Alpha a350, because when I bought that camera I thought it would be the last one I ever needed. But my recent foray into trying to sharpen up my podcasting setup and blogging led to a desire for better tech in both the imaging and video recording space. Unlike my ownership of the a350, where I acquired glass and accessories over the long duration of what would be ten years of use, I've gone in a bit heavier with the a6000, getting a decent array of glass right off the bat. One of the purchases I selected was the Neewer 35mm f/1.7 Manual Focus Prime Fixed Lens.
The Neewer struck me as physically impressive in its design and materials straight out of the box. It is quite hefty, and, despite being very inexpensive (I bought mine for just $89.99, although Amazon has increased the price to $94.99 at the time of this writing), you can tell that the lens is crafted with care and consideration. It is as heavy as some bigger telephoto lens' I have now, and it makes me feel like I can trust it well for shoots on hikes and other less hospitable atmospheres. As mentioned, this is an E-Mount lens that does not permit the use of auto-focus; a style of photography that I am still getting used to, so please take that into account in observing some of the sample photos. The a350's Auto-Focus was in the body, so every lens was an auto-focus lens to that device.
The sample photos were shot using the a6000 with my FOSITAN BG-3FIR Vertical Battery-Grip, to help add some heft and balance out the camera without the use of a tripod. With an f-stop of 1.7, the lens is pretty fast. When used for in-close photos and portraits, the lens provides a pretty great background blur effect. It comes with front and rear caps, and includes a micro-fiber cleaning cloth in the package. I have not had a ton of opportunity to shoot stills with it, but what I have had time to do, including these test shots for the review, have proven to make me happy with the results. While certainly not the best lens on the market, it does an incredibly good job for its relatively low cost, and is an easy choice to add to your mirrorless camera starter kit.
As you can see from the shots herein, when I get the lighting right, the Neewer 35mm shoots some decent interior shots. Shot distances varied from three to five feet away, and included shots taken with and without the pop-up flash, in multiple modes including fill, slow, and rear. All were lit with a box-light. Most of them were taken at an f-stop of 1.7, with the last few taken between f/2.2 - 2.4, and the last shot or two taken at about f/3.5 with the pop-up flash.
So this is my first review of a lens. I've been shooting a long time, but have never really been disciplined about it, so I am not an SME. But I am pretty happy with these shots for a lens that I might use for personal portraits as well as interior device shots for the tech articles on my blog; I am most pleased with the first shots of the HP. I am going to try and get up and shoot some sunrise photos tomorrow (we'll see how that goes) and then I'll be finalizing my review. The combination of the lens, camera, and my own skill, or lack thereof, as a photographer are not as good as an auto-focus lens, but those are expensive for NEX E-Mount camera (good ones are upper $200's to $300's at least), so I want to kit out with a few manual focus lenses. I also have a Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter for my A-mount lenses so that I can use the eight lenses I have for the a350 with the a6000, so learning to shoot manual is a must.
So far, so good.
[UPDATE] - So, I got caught up watching the Defenders last night, did not get to bed on time, and wound up waking up late. About an hour after sunrise. I wasn't able to go do a location shoot, but I was able to play around a lot with the lens taking photos of the recently installed fence and back yard. Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Programmed, slow shutter speed, exposure variation...I went through a lot this morning to get as fix on where the Neewer 35mm f/1.7 Manual Focus Prime Fixed Lens excelled or fell short. Let's get the this review wrapped up.
My overall feel for the Neewer 35mm, is that it falls short of top notch primarily in color representation. And its sharpness can get a little soft at certain focal points. But other than those items, the latter of which only manifests itself in certain use-cases, the lens is pretty amazing for its steal of a price. I feel like the lens is actually a better outdoor lens in some cases, but they may very well have been the use of the tripod in my morning shoot, as well as just being more comfortable and slightly increased familiarity with the camera settings on the Alpha a6000.
This first shot is at ISO 200. I really like the evenness of the color of the grass, the mild blur effect on the playset, and the dew drops you can see on the fence post caps. While this lens does invoke a blur effect outside of the center of focus, it in no way decreases the precision of the shot when you nail the focus and when there is plenty of light.
Here you can see that the focal point and primary light source has moved up and slightly to the right. The background blur effect is now outside of the playset except maybe near the very right and rear edge around the vertical swing support stanchion. There is more foreground blur around the fence post caps and gate. Still a nice shot, just shaped differently, but with the same aperture, shutter, exposure, and ISO settings.
And here is one of those cases where I am not as happy with the results when I compare this photo with the preceding one. Same settings, the focal point is just a tad higher. But the result is that the color bloom on the center tree, the one where the leaf colors are starting to change for the season, and the grass inside the fence and below that tree, brighten to the point where there is a bit of noticeable noise and a loss of sharpness. I'm not a disciplined photographer, and so for me, on any day of the week, I might wind up taking the first photo or the second, and it's where I wish the lens would be a bit more consistent. But it is a sub-$100 prime.
Here I dropped the ISO to 100 because the sun broke through the clouds, and you can see the shadows of the trees behind the fence now playing on the grass inside the yard. There's a bit more light gradient across the playset with the new source. I like this one, partly because as the sun broke free only for mere moments before it went behind the clouds again, I scrambled to try and adjust settings with my novice skill-set, and thankfully got off as photo that was at least good for comparison. Here, again, my feelings on the Neewer 35mm f/1.7 Manual Focus Prime Fixed Lens shift more positive, as I feel like its performance here is a bit more consistent with the earlier outdoor shots.
Here I like the variation in the photo from varying the focal point to go from where the near fence rails are sharp to the next shot, where I moved the focal point slight up and to the right, and you now get near blur on the fence-line (in the photo below). Also, you cannot see it here because I cropped it out, but just at the top of the original photo there is a car in my neighbor's driveway, a distance of about 70 yards. And even though this is a prime lens and I was not focusing on that spot, when I zoom the picture in, you can read the license plate plain as day. The lens retains good resolution and precision at distance and really collects a lot of image data despite its more targeted role of being a near-in or landscape lens.