Looking at the Springfield Armory full-size, steel-frame 9mm handguns, the SA-35 stands out for me. It’s a historic John Browning design that offers an expansion of the 1911 pistol design, but with a double stack 9mm magazine. Let’s face it, the man was a genius who created a sidearm that shooters still enjoy to this day.
The traditional “P-35” was produced to offer, among other things, more rounds in a pistol. By increasing the capacity by creating a double-stack magazine that held 13 rounds, he created a very appealing option.
Enter the SA-35
Springfield Armory created their own version of the P-35 design and modernized it, while keeping true to the original and historic design. Enter the Springfield Armory SA-35.
In early 2022, Springfield released the SA-35 to the gun community and they were ecstatic. As we get into this review, you will note how Springfield took the original design and made it more suitable for today’s shooters with subtle yet significant enhancements.
[Be sure to read our in-depth review of the SA-35 here.]
What Is It?
The SA-35 is a full-size 9mm pistol with a 4.7” barrel and a forged steel slide, frame and barrel. The slide and frame have a matte blued finish, with a serrated black rear sight and a front dot mounted on the slide.
Springfield increased the capacity from the original design to 15 rounds. The wood checkered grips have nice texturing along with vertical black lines through them that look super cool.
A common complaint with the original design was “hammer bite”. Some shooters would state the spurred hammer would reach past the beavertail and strike the web of the hand. Springfield uses a ring hammer in place of a spurred hammer which will prevent the dreaded hammer bite.
The greatest improvement for me is the lighter single-action trigger. I own an original pistol and the single-action trigger is very heavy. My scale measures it at 9 lbs. The SA-35 has a 5.5-lb. trigger that makes shooting the pistol a more pleasurable experience.
Additional improvements include the removal of the magazine disconnect and a wider thumb safety, making the latter easier to engage and disengage.
Why This Review?
I thought it would be cool to compare two of Browning’s historic pistols. To do that, a 1911 must be in the comparison. I decided to compare the SA-35 with the Springfield 1911 Operator in 9mm. I have a fondness for both of these pistols. While they share a few common features, they are very different in several ways. Let’s take a look at the 1911 Operator in 9mm.
Tell Me About the 1911 Operator
Springfield Armory has a 1911 Operator in .45 ACP that is loaded with modern features while keeping the traditional elements of the original 1911 pistol design.
The 1911 Operator in 9mm looks and feels the exact same, except the chambering and magazine capacity. The 1911 Operator in 9mm has a nine-round magazine as opposed to the .45 ACP model that has an eight-rounder. It has beautiful desert tan VZ G-10 grips that look great with the black Cerakote slide and frame.
[Don’t miss the Springfield Operator 1911 .45 Review by Mike Mills.]
It uses an ambidextrous thumb safety, forward slide serrations and three-dot sights with a tritium front night sight. It has a Picatinny rail for a light along with a trigger that is truly amazing.
The single-action trigger on the 1911 Operator breaks at 4 lbs. with a very short reset. It is consistent with Springfield Armory 1911’s which keeps people coming back when shopping for a 1911. The build quality, premier components and shooting accuracy is all there with the 1911 Operator.
You Said This Was a Comparison…
Let’s get to the premise of this review and compare the SA-35 with the 9mm 1911 Operator. The similarities are that both are Springfield Armory full-size, steel frame, single-action 9mm handguns. They both hold incredible historic significance. Now, let’s get to the differences. And let’s bear in mind that the SA-35 costs $799, while the 1911 Operator is priced at $1,184.
The SA-35 has a double-stack 9mm magazine that carries 15 rounds. The 1911 Operator has a single stack 9mm magazine that carries nine rounds. It is not hard to make a choice in this category. SA-35 for the win.
The SA-35 has wood checkered grips versus the G-10 grips on the 1911 Operator. Many 1911’s have wood grips and they are fine; however, in this comparison, the more aggressive texturing on the VZ G-10 grips won me over. The 1911 Operator took this one.
I am a huge fan of Cerakote. A Cerakoted firearm is less likely to scratch or show wear. Considering that pistols are often in and out of holsters, I feel that Cerakote is the most durable and strongest finish that can be applied. The matte black finish on the SA-35 is suited for its traditional look. However, I feel Cerakote is the best. Victory to the 1911 Operator for the beautiful Cerakote finish.
Beavertail & Grip Safety
The SA-35 has a shorter, less pronounced beavertail and no thumb safety. The 1911 Operator has a longer beavertail along with a 1911 grip safety. I appreciate that Springfield Armory kept with common traditional features when they created both of these pistols. It is because of that, I cannot make a choice. Therefore, I am calling it a draw.
Thumb Safety & Hammer
These are two areas where Springfield improved the original P-35 design. They made the left-side-only thumb safety wider so more of the thumb rests on the lever when used to engage and disengage. They also made a ring hammer to prevent hammer bite.
The 1911 Operator has an ambidextrous thumb safety and a skeletonized hammer. One may expect me to choose the 1911 Operator because the thumb safety is left-hander friendly. However, I am choosing the SA-35 because I believe the wider thumb safety and the ring hammer is a significant improvement over the original P-35 design.
The serrated black rear sight on the SA-35 compared to the two-dot rear sight on the 1911 Operator is a draw. However, the 1911 Operator has a tritium day/night front sight. If you ask me, anyone with a beating heart has to go with the 1911 Operator sight system. But, bear in mind the price difference as well.
I am a 1911 guy through and through. I cannot think of a firearm that I enjoy shooting more than a 1911. The primary reason is the short and light single-action trigger pull. The 1911 triggers aid in accuracy and follow-up shots. Springfield did great work, making the heavy P-35 trigger much lighter. The trigger difference with the SA-35 and P-35 is night and day. However, the 1911 Operator trigger won.
Both pistols have a combined takedown/slide stop lever. Both need to be removed to disassemble the pistols. The SA-35 does not have a removable barrel bushing, which means it takes fewer steps to disassemble the pistol. Therefore, I am going with the SA-35 for the simplicity of disassembly.
As noted the MSRP for the SA-35 is $799. The MSRP for the 1911 Operator is $1,184. The difference between the two is $385. I am not a financial advisor, but I do understand basic math. A shooter could take the $385 and purchase 1,500 rounds of 9mm. All other qualities aside, the SA-35 is less expensive therefore, it wins if you are on a tighter budget. On the other hand, you get a lot great features on the Operator for its price.
Let me just say, I have enjoyed both of these pistols very much. Range time with either of these is a “win” for the shooter. Both handguns have performed reliably and both were very accurate right out of the case. I love what Springfield Armory did with the SA-35. They took a proven platform and made it better. The same could be said with the 1911 Operator considering the modern features.
If you watch the attached video, you may notice that I did very well with both pistols. Having said that, I am going with the 1911 Operator. As I mentioned, I am a 1911 guy and it will be a cold day in hell before I choose another handgun over a 1911 in terms of accuracy.
I truly enjoyed this review and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Both the SA-35 and the 1911 Operator are amazing pistols. You cannot go wrong with either one. For those who enjoy shooting 9mm pistols, either the Springfield SA-35 or the Springfield 1911 Operator in 9mm would be a great choice.
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