Sony 30mm f/3.5 Macro SEL30M35

Sony 30mm f/3.5 Macro SEL30M35

Here is the anticipated (and doubted) 30mm f/3.5 Macro from Sony. It is a wide-standard lens with close focus capability, moderate aperture of f/3.5, and high hopes of image quality since it is a macro. Is it worthwhile?

Build quality of this lens is good. The mount appears to be nickel plated brass instead of aluminum as on the 16mm. It is made largely of light weight metal and high quality plastics. The lenses uses Sony’s Direct Manual Focus (DMF) focus by wire control, and it has pretty good feel for a focus by wire system. It is actually much easier to achieve critical focus than it is with the Tokina 35mm f/2.8 Macro lens’ mechanical manual focus.

This macro focuses to life size magnification ratio of 1:1. It is internal focus (rear focus in this case), so the barrel doesn’t extend while focusing. It has the standard 49mm threads we have seen on several E Mount lenses. It is a 7 element in 6 group design with 3 aspheric lenses. It is very light weight for the class at only 138g (5oz). It also has 7 diaphragm blades that are slightly curved, but the do sometimes show in the specular highlights.

The lens has a removable hood that fits close to the body so it doesn’t make the lens much longer. When working at 1:1 it might be necessary to remove it to get adequate light on the subject.

Minimum focus distance is 0.10m (3.84 in), but bear in mind the sensor to end of the lens distance isn’t much more than that. Remember that I am photographing a normal subject chart at approximately 1:54 magnification, not a 1:1 chart so performance could differ for macro subjects.

NEX 3 Optical Characteristics

NEX 3 MTF 50 (Sharpness)

NEX 3 MTF 20 (Resolution)

NEX 3 Lateral Chromatic Aberration

The lens has noticeable barrel distortion of -0.38 (numeric average between tested apertures). Coefficients can be found in the following chart.

All data gathered using Imatest.

Conclusion

The lens is sharp in the center throughout the range, but extreme corners are barely acceptable through the entire range. The resolution of the lens at the corners is a bit better than the sharpness, but still not great.

The lens has high lateral CA for a macro lens, and is in fact worse than many non macro lenses of similar focal length. Longitudinal CA in the bokeh at least is good. Lateral CA is easily correctable.

Flare resistance is good. The sun in the corner can produce a slight bit of flare as with any lens, and if it is at one of the 1/3 points, it will produce some lens flare, but not a lot and it tends to be fairly low contrast and blend into the background.

Distortion is moderately high for a macro lens, but still relatively low for the 30mm class lenses.

Bokeh: See the test photographs. Fairly uniform in specular highlights, a bit of longitudinal CA can be visible in some circumstances, but it is good overall.

Pros:
– Sharp Center throughout range
– Compact and light weight
– Internal Focus (improves working distance)

Cons:
– Poorly corrected for a Macro (High CA, Distortion, and low corner sharpness)

Uses (sample):
– General Macro
– General Photography

This lens shows that 1:1 magnification does not a “true macro” make. The lens is very good at close focus, but has poor corner sharpness and high lateral CA for a macro lens. I think we are seeing a weakness of the short flange distance and fairly short focal length lenses. I really want to test this lens on a 5N to see if the corners improve. It is also possible that the lens would perform better at close focal instead of the 1:54 magnification at which I am photographing the chart.

This lens is producing similar quality to the SEL16F28 from f/4 and up. If you are happy with that lens, you should be happy with this macro. Given the split reviews of that lens, this lens is the same. I tend to like the pictures from the lens better than my test chart results.

It is a good lens for the asking price (purchased by itself it is $50 US less than the kit lens). Buy this lens if you want a perfect focal length standard (in my opinion 30mm is nicer than 35mm) that is good (but not the best) at everything. Once I get my NEX 7 in November, I will compare this lens against the kit lens, and also see if the NEX 7 helps the corners at all.

If you want to buy this lens Adorama has it available for order. Sony Store might have them in stock.

If you like my review, you might shop for camera gear at Adorama.

The gallery images are © 2011 Eric Tastad, and may only be used for personal evaluation of the lenses. The images were exported straight from camera with my default LR3 settings for the NEX 3, which have some sharpening set since it is a fairly high resolution sensor and LR tends to under sharpen.

Testing a new gallery style using Zenfolio. You can go download the originals from Zenfolio (go view the gallery on their page, hover over an image, and click the menu button that pops up in the upper left, click download original, and you can do just the 1 file or the entire gallery).

11 Comments

  1. Jack says:

    Thanks for the review. For some reason your review does not come up in Google. Found it after some one in DP Reviews forum linked to your review.

    I brought and just received this lens today. I was holding for sharpness from corners to center, but it doesn’t seem like I will get that from this lens. But us NEX owners are lens starved if we want AF lens (finally starting to have a “line-up”). Hopefully, Sony (or other 3rd parties) release lens that have excellent performance (so far all the reviews I have read says the NEX lens are mediocre, including the Zeiss 24, which is better but doesn’t justify the cost) and a lot more portable like the cameras.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks! My page ranking probably isn’t high enough with Google. I need to work on improving that.

    I agree about the lenses. I was hoping a bit more from a macro too (something to give it an edge over the kit lens). It is still nice that it focuses much closer, but if it had been sharp edge to edge it would have been great. Price wise it is pretty reasonable I think, the 60mm f/2.8 Macro for Samsung NX is going to be more than twice as much, but I think I would have rather seen a $500 or $600 60mm macro than this 30mm macro.

    Hopefully the 50mm is at least good at the edges when stopped down. I should be getting that lens in December if it isn’t delayed from the situation in Thailand.

    Eric

  3. rbourraine says:

    I see that this was tested with an NEX 3. This lens will behave very differently on the NEX 5n within this category(Cons:
    – Poorly corrected for a Macro (High CA, Distortion, and low corner sharpness)).

    The 5n has a corner shading, CA, and distortion compensation feature for e-mount lenses. Although its a great review and you seem to like the lens, its performance improves in the later NEX models.

    this link has examples of the distortion compensation feature on the 5n:
    http://sonyalphanex.blogspot.com/2011/09/sony-nex-5n-vs-nex-5-distortion.html

  4. admin says:

    The 5n isn’t going to make the lens better optically. The corner performance might improve a bit from the offset microlenses on the sensor, but that is all. When I say poorly corrected for a macro, I mean this lens is more of what I would consider a close focusing 30mm lens. The term macro means the lens is well corrected for aberrations such as CA and distortion, Sony means that this lens focuses to life size.

    The distortion/CA are being removed in processing from the 5n camera. I can do this already with Lightroom for the lens, and make it very good. My point is a macro lens shouldn’t need these corrections. I am a bit harsh in my review, and I might update it once I try it on the 7 to see how the resolution holds up vs the Tokina 35mm Macro. I really wouldn’t recommend either of those Macro lenses for macro work around 1:1 magnification. I would consider this a great 30mm macro for consumer use. I think most people will like it just fine, and given the price it is a pretty decent deal. I hope we see a pro level 60mm+ macro though too.

    Eric

  5. Isn’t it possible that the 5N could make the lens optically better in terms of just CA, if the distance to the sensor is different and the lens was build with the new camera design in mind?

  6. admin says:

    The 5n could perform better with the same lens, but I would have to test one to verify. The issue with such a short flange distance is the light hitting the center of the sensor is mostly straight on, and the light hitting the corners is at a pretty sharp angle. With digital: when the light hits the sensor at a sharp angle some of it reflects away and is lost or isn’t focused onto the photodetector and is instead focused onto an area between pixels that isn’t light sensitive, or even a neighboring pixel. The 5n could reduce that effect if it has a different kind of micro-lens array. So it isn’t making the lens better, but rather the sensor is not making it worse (not as much so).

    An individual lens in a microlens array is called a lenslet. Basically in an offset array, the lenslets are not placed directly above the photodetector on the sensor, but are offset from it more and more the further from the center you get. This lenslets job is to focus light down onto the photodetector, so these offset lenses can focus light hitting at an angle better than one directly above the photodetector. However, there is a tradeoff here, as if the light is hitting straight on, the offset lens won’t focus the light as well (so you might improve performance for the native lenses and range finder lenses, but hurt performance of the adapted SLR lenses). This would have to be verified and is just speculation on my part, as we don’t know if they even use a different microlens array, they might be doing something else to help out.

    I will say that the samples from the extreme corners I have seen on the 5n are still soft, but what could be better is the mid-field performance. CA could be made worse by the micro-lens array too, but if it is there at all, it is because the lens has some CA. I think the 5n will do corrections of CA as well.

    I like the lens, but it is a bit weird is all. That focal length doesn’t make the best macro as you start having more issues with CA and distortion, and too short of working distance. I guess I would have preferred a 30mm f/2 lens and a 60mm f/2.8 macro. A 30mm f/3.5 macro doesn’t offer a lot over the kit lens, but will be much better in that 1:1 to 1:4 magnification range or so.

  7. flint-hill says:

    Eric, thanks for this review, the only one with MTF 20/50 figures that I’ve found so far. I was a litte surprised at the corner sharpness and resolution measurements, given the lens’s performance in your sample set. In particular, the “Valmont” picture viewed in original size seems to have corner resolution beyond what the figures would predict. (This isn’t intended as a challenge to your results. I was just surprised at how sharp that image is.)

    I’m interested in the lens as a sharper AF walkabout lens rather than as a dedicated macro, so the other macro-specific deficits don’t bother me. I’m unlikely to spend what it takes to get the Zeiss 24mm anytime soon, as I have not yet made that level of commitment to the E-mount world.

    You also said that you like the lens better than you liked it’s numbers. I wonder if we’re dealing with a lens that has relatively high corner acutance, but relatively low corner contrast? Again, that looks like what might be going on in the Valmont shot. I don’t know enough about MTF20 vs MTF50 comparisons to know whether the quantitative differences seen in the two metrics are consistent with that hypothesis. Any thoughts on this?

    Thanks again for the early and AFAIK only detailed review of the lens.

    Ken
    (Flint Hill)

  8. admin says:

    Thanks,

    One thing I can’t test is resolution at macro level, so it is quite likely the close zoomed in picture has better corner performance. I also would like to point out that most of the frame is fairly good performance, but not the extreme corners, so it won’t be issue for most people.

    I have only tested one 18-55mm kit lens, that tested very poorly wide open, so I assume it is a bad lens. I am not even reporting the results from that test until I can confirm it with a second. If I were comparing this macro to that kit lens, this macro would be much sharper at f/3.5, and about the same from f/5.6. I really need to test a second sample of the kit lens for a comparison point. I have the SLR lenses as 1 point of data, but would also like more native E Mount comparisons.

    I think I like the lens better than its numbers would indicate because the bokeh is fairly nice, and I generally don’t shoot subjects requiring corner to corner sharpness. I think my hesitation with the lens is that I compared it to a similar focal length and aperture SLR lens on the NEX 3 at the same time. The performance of that lens was noticeably higher, especially in the corners.

    Eric

  9. flint-hill says:

    Thanks for the reply, Eric. What you’re saying makes sense of course. BTW, I shoot the 16mm lens a lot, keeping it stopped down to f/8 usually. My F-mount Tokina 12-24mm f/4 on the NEX-5n is sharper in the corners at f/4 and f/5.6, but of course it’s not making any compromises WRT to compactness, so it’s a completely different design problem. Thanks again.

  10. Vivek says:

    I agree generally with the comments above that you have done a decent job and has a nice format for the review. However..

    I think you should re-do your tests. Your conclusions based on 1:54 magnifications for a macro lens are wrong.

    You can get proper targets for macros/higher magnifications.

    I think this is the sharpest lens for the NEX-7. I am simply amazed that such an inexpensive lens could be a top performer. I have numerous specialty macro lenses and I do know what to look for.

    FWIW, I have the 16/2.8 and I hardly use it.