Sony NEX 16mm F/2.8 Review - Photo Jottings

Sony NEX 16mm F/2.8 Review

Here’s a brief look at the Sony NEX 16mm F/2.8 lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Box contents
Front and rear caps and a user’s manual.
$250, or an extra $100 with camera as a kit.
Build quality
Very good, but super light-weight.
Additional information
Introduced in 2010.  Has a focus motor inside similar to SSM, not the cheaper SAM.
Specifications below
Optical configuration
5 elements in 5 groups
Angle of view
83° APS-C
7 blades, almost straight
Full frame and APS-C
APS-C only, and will only mount on E body cameras.  Equivalent to 24mm of coverage due to APS-C crop factor of 1.5x.
Depth of field and focus scales?
Minimum focus, image plane to subject
9.4″  (0.24m)
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject
7.25″  (184mm)
Hard stop at infinity focus?
Length changes when focusing?
Focus ring turns in AF?
Filter size
Filter ring rotates?
Distance encoder?
Max magnification
0.078x, or 1:13
Min. F/stop
Sony teleconverter compatible?
Length changes when zooming?
Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)
2.45″ x 0.89″   62mm x 22.5mm.
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
0.89″  (22.5mm)
Weight bare (my scale)
2.3oz  (65g)
Requisite product shots.
Front element
Backside mount
side shot
Sony MTF chart and X-ray view
Only the Sony NEX 5 was used for this review.
For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
The new NEX camera kits are currently being offered with two lens choices, an 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6, and 16mm F/2.8.  The NEX 16mm F/2.8 is a pancake-type design, which means a compact size with a budget price, and not necessarily an optical masterpiece.  Design considerations more than likely were small size, low cost, and a platform for a fish-eye and super-wide converter.  Don’t forget to figure the crop factor of 1.5x for this APS-C lens, which is 24mm of coverage.

Accessories for this lens.  The wide-angle converter will give an equivalent coverage of 18mm.  There is quite a difference between 18mm and 24mm!  The fish-eye converter turns the lens into a 10mm (16mm equivalent) fish-eye lens.  One last accessory to mention is the all glass, multi-coated (5 elements in 4 groups) optical viewfinder built specifically for the NEX 16mm F/2.8 lens.

The NEX 16mm F/2.8 lens has five elements in five groups, including one surface aspherical element.  It’s build solidly, has a smooth manual focus action and a silent auto-focus motor which is great for keeping focusing noise out of movies.  Due note this lens does not have OSS or built-in optical steady shot.  Being a wide-angle lens, the benefits of image stabilization are not as pronounced as they are on a longer lens because the stabilization system doesn’t sense all that much movement with such a large area of coverage.  Sony marketing probably opted for less cost, and possibly less size when they decided to leave out OSS.  Also noticeable in the backside product shot above is the new NEX 10 pin contact patch, instead of the normal 8 (or 5 before distance integration and SSM) used on the Sony alpha system.  The increase in connections allows the camera and lens to communicate more information.

Fit and finish are very good.  The lens appears to be clad in metal, and has a metal mount, but is extremely light-weight and almost seems like it could be a mock-up, with no glass or internals.  It uses 49mm filters, just like the NEX 18-55mm.  The color is silver, like stainless steel, but seems to turn color slightly with a different angle of light, see product shots above.  Sony claims this lens has a circular aperture, but due to the tiny physical aperture opening, the out-of-focus highlights or background blur is rendered seven-sided, not circular, unless the lens is wide open.  Check out the Bokeh crops to see what I’m talking about.

In the box: Sony says it comes with front and rear caps, and an owner’s manual.  There is no hood for this lens, but the NEX 18-55mm hood will fit without causing additional vignetting.
Focusing.  This lens auto-focuses quickly, accurately, and without a peep.  It’s much smoother and quieter than the SAM or slot-screw drive devices Sony uses on it’s Alpha system.  The front filter ring doesn’t turn when focusing, so your polarizers and grads will work great.  The focusing ring is easy to turn, and is dampened about right.
Lens flare/ghosting.  About average control for a prime lens by today’s standards, but it could be better in my opinion.
Color fringing (CA).  About average, to below average control for a prime lens.  Ok, so it’s a pancake lens, then it’s average.  You’ll see plenty of red and cyan along the sides of the image, at all apertures, and a little center or axial color fringing between F2.8-4.  Check out the crops below.
Bokeh.  Rather harsh overall, but looks slightly better stopped down some.  Look below for sample crops.
Color.   Same as other Sony lenses.
Close up filter.  A 49mm close up filter doesn’t work very well (image plane is messed up) and causes some light fall-off.
Coma.  Very minor to almost no coma at the largest aperture in the extreme corners.  See crops below.
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off when the aperture is fully open at close or infinity focus.
Filter size is 49mm.  This size is not widely used by Sony, but is commonly available.  Current Sony lenses that use this size are the NEX 18-55mm, and the Sony 30mm F/2.8 macro and 28mm F/2.8.
Distortion.  You’ll notice weird, wave-type pincushion distortion when straight lines are near the image edges, and this type is hard to correct in standard image correction software.  The distortion pattern is a slight center rise, then remaining fairly straight as it gets closer to the edges, and finally, just before reaching the edges, there’s a quick turn up.  Close focus through infinity focus seems to show about the same amount of distortion.  Check out the cropped samples below.
Distortion examples directly below.
Weird wave distortion
Bokeh crops next.
           16mm F/2.8
             16mm F/4
           16mm F/5.6
             16mm F/8

Bokeh is somewhat harsh, producing a noticeable ring around highlights, but looks a little better stopped down.  Starting in the F/4 crop, you can clearly begin to see heptagons, indicating the aperture isn’t round.  Usually, a circular aperture is round at least one stop down from maximum, or wide open, but here the aperture is so small, the blades don’t have enough curve built-in.  Crops are from the center of the image, about 10′ (3m) behind the focus point.


Coma crops next.
           16mm F/2.8
             16mm F/4

Coma is barely visible in this 100% corner crop, and then only when using the largest aperture.


Flare and ghosting.
           16mm F/5.6 sun out of image
             16mm F/11
           16mm F/5.6
             16mm F/11

I see some green ghosts when the sun or very bright lights are inside the image.  I also see some flare from the sun, (washed out area) noticeable in the top left shot, on the left side, the sun is well away from the edge of the frame.  Use of a hood probably would’ve eliminated this issue, or holding your hand out to block the sun.


Light fall-off or corner shading is medium at F/2.8, and light at F/4.  Regular filters don’t cause any additional light fall-off, even when using a wide aperture.
           16mm F/2.8
             16mm F/4

Below are crops from the image centers.
Intentionally left blank
Center sharpness is pretty good, even with the aperture wide open.  Look at the mountain and tree limb detail between the top F/2.8 crop and the F/5.6 crop directly below.  It seems F/5.6-8 are optimal apertures for sharpness in the centers.  Diffraction causes softening at F/11.
Below, crops from the mid-sections.
Intentionally left blank

At the mid-section, (about halfway between the center and corner area) sharpness suffers compared to the centers.  The crops above show a soft mid-section unless stopped down to F/5.6.  The image periphery is noticeably soft at normal viewing sizes when the lens is set to F/2.8, even when used in low light, such as night time street shooting.  You may ultimately get better shots by raising the ISO and using a smaller aperture like F/4.

Below are the corners.

Intentionally left blank
The extreme corners look rough at F/2.8, but sharpen up dramatically by closing the aperture down to F/4.  The corners are almost as sharp as the mid-section when stopped down, meaning there isn’t much improvement after you move away from the center of the image.  I notice a slight lack of contrast with this lens, especially off-center, but considering the design, it does a good job.  All crops above were taken at infinity focus, about 400′ (120m) away.
Lateral color fringing.
F/8 color fringing on left side of image, about 1000 pixels in from the edge
Here’s the rather strong color fringing I was talking about at the top of the page.  This image crop was taken from the left side-middle, about 1000 pixels from the edge at F/8.  You’ll see the red and cyan fringing along the trees.  This type of color fringing doesn’t go away by stopping down.

Let’s check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the NEX 5 14.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87″x 1.0″ or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a short 7.25″ (184mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
This lens has a small reproduction size of 0.078x, and is poor at producing images of small items up close.  At close focus, F/5.6-8 were the sharpest, but there was little difference between F/4-11 due to the fact that there isn’t much detail to see this far from the stamp.  As a side note; the “1996” on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
As close as you can get. F/5.6. No larger image


Now for the conclusion.

This lens was designed for the purpose of being pocketable, inexpensive, and a platform for a couple of add-on converters, like a fish-eye and ultra wide.  Sony did a good overall job with this lens, and I would consider the optical results good, but not great.  Let’s ponder the good things; sharp in the centers, even wide open; very compact, and able to fit in the front pockets of relaxed fit jeans, or in a womens purse; and very low noise when focusing, which is great when shooting video.  A few things that could be changed for the better, say in version II, is color fringing control, mid-section sharpness, and ghosting control.

If you have the NEX 18-55mm lens, and size is not a consideration, I’d forget about buying this 16mm, as it provides a mere 2mm of wider coverage, and is only 2/3 of a stop faster.  Optical quality is probably similar, however, I didn’t test them directly.  The Sigma 19mm F/2.8 is much sharper than this lens, although larger in size.
Currently, the NEX 16mm F/2.8 lens sells for about $100 when you buy the camera and lens as a “kit,” or $250 when purchased separately.  If you want maximum portability, and don’t mind the 16mm fixed focal length, this is your lens.  Finicky landscape shooters looking for a sharp prime lens will want to look elsewhere, like the superb CZ 24mm F/1.8, or Sony 50mm F/1.8 OSS, although neither one will provide coverage as wide as the 16mm.  Adding a crop factor of 1.5x, the NEX 16mm has the equivalent coverage of 24mm in 35mm camera terms.
If you’re thinking of purchasing the Sony NEX 16mm F/2.8 lens, please shop at B&H Photo and help support this site!  Thanks.
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