Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar T FE F4 ZA OSS Review

Some days I feel like a mercenary with camera companies. I keep switching teams! Earlier this month I switch over from the Nikon system to Sony’s mirrorless system with its brand-spanking- new A7r II (full post coming soon!) Immediately after receiving the new system I loaded up on a few lens to test during a road trip up California. To my surprise the Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar T FE F4 ZA OSS became my go to lens for the expedition. Let’s break down why this lens is so awesome for the road.

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Quick Specs:

Lens configuration (group / element) 10 / 12
35mm-equivalent focal length (APS-C)* (mm) 24 – 52.5
Angle of view (APS-C)* 83° – 44°
Angle of view (35mm full frame) 107° – 63°
No. of aperture blade 7 (circular aperture)
Min. aperture (F) 22
Max. magnification ratio (x) 0.19
Min. focus (m) 0.28
Distance Encoder for ADI flash metering
Filter dia. (mm) 72
Hood shape / mount petal / bayonet
Dimensions: Dia. x L (mm) 78 x 98.5
Dimensions: Dia. x L (in.) 3-1/8 x 4
Weight: (approx.) (g) 518
Weight: (approx.) (oz.) 18.3
Provided accessories hood (ALC-SH134), case

Build Quality + Design

This wide-angle zoom lens feels extremely solid and is almost equally balanced with the weight of the A7r II’s body. At 518g the Sony 16-35mm is relatively lighter and more compact compared to similar zoom lens from Canon and Nikon. The outer barrel and filter thread is of metal construction, while its hood and inner barrel are of plastic construction. The textured focus and zoom ring have a grippy feel to them, which makes pulling focus and composing your shot a breeze.

Additionally according to Sony this lens is both dust and moisture resistant. I took the 16-35mm out near water falls where the air was filled with moisture and down into dry, dusty lava tubes.

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A7R2 + 16-35mm/4 OSS @ Burney Falls, CA

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A7R2 + 16-35mm/4 @ Lava Bed National Monument

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Autofocus

I got 99 problems, but autofocus ain’t one! Couple the 16-35mm with the A7r II’s 399 focal-plane phase-detection AF points and you’ll unlock AF instant gratification.

 

Image Quality

If you’re into shooting landscapes or anything that would benefit from that extra wide angled shot, hands down this lens is perfect. The colors and sharpness are exceptional –even the in the corners of the frame.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the textured characteristic of the bokeh. Usually I associate shallow depth of field with longer and faster lens. Never with a wide-angle. However, if you really wanted to get up close and personal with your photo subject the 16-35mm could give you some decent blurry background goodness.

Photo by: Melly Lee (mellylee.com)
35mm 1/320 f/4 @ iso 250

I found this to be my primary lens while backpacking through several national parks. Granted the slower f/4 aperture might force you to boost the iso while shooting or drop the shutter speed, but the lens’ built in image stabilization, Optical Stead Shot (OSS), helps out in lower light conditions. If all else fails and you’re photographing the great out doors just use a tripod.

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20mm 1/500 f/7.1 @ iso 100

 

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25mm 1/320 f4 @ iso 100

 

Photo by: Melly Lee (mellylee.com)
16mm 30.0s f/4 @ iso 6400

 

The one thing that I’m not fond of with this lens is the amount of distortion you get around the corners –especially at 16mm. Unless a bendy, bloated aesthetic is part of your artistic direction I would not recommend framing your subject matter near the frames corners. For example in the photo below my travel buddy’s white car grows a large posterior

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16mm 30.0s f/4 @ iso 6400

A bonus perk of the lens’ construction is that its bokeh yields a starburst like characteristic.

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Final Thoughts

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What I liked:

  • Build Quality
  • Travel friendly size
  • Speedy autofocus

What I like to see on the next generation:

  • f/2.8
  • Witness marks on the lens barrel for pulling focus
  • Less distortion in corners

 


SUPPORT THE BLOG

The Sony 16-35/4 ZA OSS featured in this post was provided by B&H.

If you find content like this review helpful, please consider purchasing gear from B&H or any of my other my affiliate links. Anything you purchase after clicking through these links helps keep the lights on for the blog –and you get to treat yourself to a new toy!

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4 Comments

  • A huge design flaw is that the lens hood is visible in shots of 16-17mm! Which means you can’t use the lens hood if you need a super-wide shot (I shoot lots of real estate outdoors which requires a lens hood and super wide shots). Boo.

    Also, your comment in the video about how well it was packed is actually incorrect. I have decades of experience in packing systems design & damage reduction – that was exactly the wrong way to pack. Placing the lens flush against the outer wall of the box transfers any handling shock directly to the lens box inside. All exterior walls should have had at least 1″ cushion protecting the boxes inside. Boo-2

    • Hmm I’ve haven’t had much issue with seeing the lens hood @ 16mm. Although I will agree that there is significant vignetting. It can be removed in post, but that adding another step in the photo process =\. Fingers crossed for improvement and possibly a f/2.8 in the future 🙂

      Good to know about the packaging, my condolences to any inconveniences you’ve experienced in the past.

  • Thanks for the review. Regarding your comment about distortion at wide focal lengths near the edges of the frame, are you talking about standard (normal) distortion that occurs using any ultra-wide focal length near the edges of the frame (i.e., exaggeration of dimensions, making things appear “bloated”), or is there some other type of distortion you are discussing? How does the distortion you experienced differ from typical wide-angle distortion that you have encountered with other lenses having a comparable focal length? Is the distortion easily correctible with a lens profile, either in-camera for jpeg shooting, or a RAW converter profile such as Lightroom? Thanks.

    • Hi Mark,

      Personally I”m not a fan of distortion when it become highly distracting by drawing attention to itself (a fish-eye lens being an extreme example.) With the Sony 16-35 I noticed a bit of bloating that is removable in post to an extent. I attempted to remove most of the distortion in the photoss embedded in this blog post. However, as you can see in the photo of the white car against the starry sky there’s still something a bit off about it.

      As of now my favorite wide angle lens is the Tokina 16-28/2.8. I used it quite often for jobs in which the shot called for capturing a large space. That lens had some distortion as do most wide angle lens, but I found it pleasantly workable and non-“bloatly.” Below are a few links featuring shots from the Tokina.

      http://blog.mellylee.com/2013/10/unboxing-tokina-16-28mm-f2-8
      http://blog.mellylee.com/2014/11/lego-batman-3-beyond-gotham

      Hope this helps!

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