Sony FE 16-35mm F/4 ZA OSS review - Photo Jottings

Sony FE 16-35mm F/4 ZA OSS review

The Sony FE 16-35mm F/4 ZA OSS is the first constant aperture super wide zoom lens for use with Sony’s new full frame ‘E’ system, (formerly called NEX that used only APS-C sized sensors).  It’s a little smaller and noticeably lighter than the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm F/2.8 I reviewed a few years ago.  Sony included OSS (optical stabilization) on this lens, which really helps out in low light conditions. Unfortunately there is no switch on the outside of the lens, but you can turn OSS on or off in the menu system.

Fit and finish are very good. The lens appears to be clad in metal and high quality plastic with a metal mount. There is a ribbed grip around the focus and zoom rings. Sony claims the use of five aspherical elements (including an advanced aspheric) in the design, plus three ‘ED’ elements, see x-ray view below. Lens is made in Thailand.  Sony claims this lens is ‘dust and moisture resistant’ although I don’t see any differences from a normal lens with no sealing.

Filter size is 72mm.  As of this review, the FE 70-200/4, FE 24-240, and FE 35/1.4 use this size.  I’d stay away from super expensive Sony filters and cheap ‘general brand’ filters. I’ve had great luck with Tiffen and Hoya; they’re priced appropriately, and are the only brands I use now.

Focusing. This lens auto-focuses quickly and mostly accurately, and has a very quiet linear focusing motor so it can be used for video. The front filter ring doesn’t turn when focusing, so your polarizers and grads will work great. The focusing ring is very easy to turn, and is not damped properly in my opinion, just holding the lens and lightly touching the focus ring can blow the shot.

Zoom. Zooming is smooth, and requires less than a quarter turn from 16mm to 35mm.  The lens extends about 5/8″ or 114mm at the 16mm setting.

In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, a black vinyl bag and a plastic petal type hood.

check out the product shots below.

  • Box and contents
  • Left, 16-35mm F/4 ZA, right, 10-18mm F/4
  • front, 72mm filters
  • stepped baffle at rear
  • X-ray view
  • MTF chart

Specifications

Official lens name and code Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F/4 ZA  OSS SEL1635Z
Box contents Front cap, rear cap, black vinyl bag, plastic petal type hood and user’s manual.
Cost $1349 as of 3/15.
Build Quality very good.
Additional information This model is made for Sony ‘E’ mount cameras, and won’t work on ‘A’ mount cameras as of this review.
Optical configuration 12 elements in 10 groups.
Angle of view at 16mm; 107° diagonally, 98° horizontally, and 74° vertically. At 35mm; 63° diagonally, 54° horizontally and 38° vertically.
Aperture 7 blades, curved
Coverage for Sony E mount 24x36mm sensor. When mounted to an APS-C camera, the coverage is equivalent to 24-52mm in 135 film format.
Depth of field and focus scales nothing.
Minimum focus, image plane to subject About 11″ (280mm).
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject About 6″ (152mm) from front of lens barrel, no hood.
Infinity focus hard stop No.
Length changes when focusing No.
Focus ring turns in AF No.
Filter size 72mm.
Filter ring rotates No.
Maximum reproduction ratio 1:5.3 or 0.19x.
Minimum F/stop F/22
Sony Teleconverter compatible No.
Length changes when zooming Yes
Dimensions WxL 3.1″ x 3.9″ 78mm x 99mm, 114mm extended to 16mm.
Maximum extended length 4.5″ 114mm.
Weight 18.3oz, (520g) bare.

Optical qualities summary.

 

Lens flare/ghosting overall, good control.
Light fall-off good control at all apertures and focal lengths. See samples below.
Color fringing Very good control at all focal lengths.
Bokeh Somewhat harsh at all focal lengths and apertures.
Color seems about the same as other Sony lenses.
Close-up filter not tested
Coma basically none.
Regular filters Cause no noticeable additional light fall-off, see vignetting below.
Filter size 72mm.
Distortion Mild to moderate, but corrects well.

 

Miscellaneous samples.

This first image is the US stamp from the old site, measuring 0.87″ x 1.0″ or 22m x 25mm. The Sony FE 16-35mm has a reproduction ratio of 1:5, which is typical for a zoom lens in this class. The close focus shot is quite soft at F/4-5.6, but sharpens up nicely at F/8-11.

The other three images show the distortion at each indicated focal length. It has mild to moderate distortion patterns at most settings but corrects easily in post processing or with in-camera distortion control. Don’t worry about this if you shoot with jpegs with all the corrections on; or for landscape shots with no straight lines near the image edges.

 

  • F/8 close focus
  • 16mm
  • 24mm
  • 35mm

Light fall-off.

Light fall-off is well controlled; I tested 16mm, 24mm, and 35mm at F/4, F/5.6. I did check F/8 but there was no change at any focal length. I see slightly dark corners at 16mm, F/4, but it’s not something to worry about.

  • 16mm, F/4
  • 16mm, F/5.6
  • 24mm, F/4
  • 24mm, F/5.6
  • 35mm, F/4
  • 35mm, F/5.6

16mm resolution samples.

Feel free to download these for your personal inspection. Crop them or toggle between the images to see how sharpness changes between aperture settings.

In this Tucson, AZ micro canyon scene, everything is in focus, so there are no depth of field issues. I see some very sharp centers at F/4, with the sides just a little soft. The sharpest aperture for the centers and corners is F/5.6, there are no gains by stopping down the aperture to F/8 or smaller except for depth of field issues.

F/4 F/5.6 F/8 F/11

Click buttons for full size images.

24mm resolution samples.

These full images are the same as what I put in a comparison here.  At this focal length the lens is maxed out resolution wise at F/5.6.

F/4 F/5.6 F/8

Click buttons for full size images.

35mm resolution samples.

These full images are the same as what I put in a comparison here.  F/4 is somewhat (and disappointingly) soft, but does sharpen up very nicely at F/5.6, and that’s about all the improvements you’ll get, there is no need to stop down further for resolution.

F/4 F/5.6 F/8

Click buttons for full size images.

 

The super wide Sony 16-35mm F/4 lens turned in an excellent review.  Good points include low light fall-off at all focal lengths, flare, ghosting and color fringing are all well controlled, and distortion is almost completely correctable in post, good news for interior photographers!

Minor negatives include somewhat harsh bokeh, but it will be hard to get any blur at F/4, especially at the wide end.  You’ll need to get pretty close to your subject to get any blur on the background. Also, I expected a little sharper center at 35mm, F/4, but I guess you can’t have it all.

On a minor note; I found this lens to be way out of balance when mounted to just the camera body.  Adding the vertical battery grip (A7, A7R, A7S, or A7II) greatly improves the handling.  I purchased one for my A7R as soon as it became available.

The lens is sharp over the whole frame at the widest end, even at F/4.  At mid-zoom lengths you’ll need an extra stop to get the best sides. The long end near 35mm is a little soft at F/4, but sharpens up dramatically at F/5.6, and looks just as good as the Sony FE 35/2.8 prime at the same aperture!

The Sony FE 16-35mm F/4 OSS is a welcome addition to the full frame ‘E’ system.  People wanting to make huge prints will be very satisfied with this lens.  If you’re the type that doesn’t use or care for the ‘super wide’ look, I’d look closely at the Sony FE Zeiss 35/2.8, it’s much smaller and less expensive, while working better at wider apertures.  There’s also the Sony FE  Zeiss 35/1.4 for low light nuts!

The price of US$1349 will probably keep this super wide zoom out of reach for the average shooter, but there is a nice lens with similar coverage for budget minded folks, the Sony 10-18 F/4, reviewed at the old site.  It’s for APS-C sensors, but works fine in crop mode on full frame cameras. I own both, and use the 10-18mm more because it’s smaller and lighter, and has excellent image quality.

Check out the Sony FE 16-35mm F/4 ZA OSS lens and help support the site! Thanks!

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