The Sony 16mm f/2.8 is a lens that’s all about compromise. There’s a lot to love about this 3.5oz pancake lens that can turn a Sony mirrorless camera into a pocketable hiking and travel dynamo. At only .8 inches in length, only the Sony 20mm (.8in) comes close as a pancake lens option for a Sony a6000/6300/6500. The best part about the Sony 16mm, is that it only costs $250.
So what’s the compromise? This lens can best be described as ‘soft’ around the edges, especially in the f/2.8-f/4 range. If you look online, I’m not the first reviewer to notice this and surely won’t be the last. Unlike other reviewers, I’m not going to complain too much about the spherical abberation softness. Lets be real here, this is an f/2.8, 3.5oz, .8″ camera lens that captures a 83° field of view for $250. It seems that some reviewers and consumers out there are expecting this lens to perform like a piece of glass at two or three times this price point. In my opinion, this lens is a high value purchase and a great option for those looking for a lightweight hiking and travel lens.
The ideal use of photos captured with the Sony 16mm f/2.8 is web use, social media, and small prints. For anything larger than 8×10, you’re going to want something a little more sharp.
In this review, I’m going to cover the technical product specifications of the Sony 16mm f/2.8, and provide my real life experience with this lens, along with photographs. *The only post processing done on the images used in this review are resizing to 2000×1333 and the addition of my Trail to Peak thumbnail.
Lens Construction And Build Quality:
The Sony 16mm f/2.8 comes in at .8″ in length and weights 3.47oz. The e-mount 16mm lens is designed for use on Sony APS-C sensors, with an equivalent focal length of 24mm on a 35mm format. The 16mm has a maximum aperture of 2.8 and a minimum aperture of 22. The 16mm is 2.44in in diameter and takes a 49mm filter. The Sony 16mm has no image stabilization and uses a micromotor for autofocus. You can also focus this lens manually. The 16mm has 5 glass elements and 7 diaphragm blades.
The first thing you’ll notice when picking up the Sony 16mm is how light it is. The lens is made almost entirely of plastic, with the only noticeable metal used on the mounting ring. I’m always amazed how light my camera setup is when I swap out my Sony 10-18mm or Rokinon 12mm for this 16mm pancake lens.
The greatest benefit to walking around with the Sony 16mm is it’s tiny size. Even though I have to give up a little bit in sharpness, the small package weight more than makes up for it. My lens of choice is usually my Sony 10-18mm, but that lens comes in at 9.57oz and 2.7″ in length.
When I pair the Sony 16mm with my Sony a6000 I have a camera that easily fits in a jacket packet, the side pouch of a backpack, or in the vest pockets on a hydration vest. In photography, the best camera for the job is the one you have on you. With the Sony 16mm, I’m able to bring my camera everywhere.
The Sony 16mm uses a micrometer for autofocus and has a listed minimum focusing distance of 9.4″. I’ve found the 9.4″ number to be a little bit short, and think a measure closer to 14″ inches is a little more accurate. The focus accuracy in the 10″-12″ range is pretty poor, especially in low light situation. When taking pictures closer than 14″ away, I often find myself having to hunt for the correct focus point. I shoot almost exclusively at ∞ (infinity) with 16mm for landscapes, so it’s not a huge issue for me.
Image Quality And Performance:
A Sony mirrorless camera paired with a pancake lens is an optimal replacement for a smartphone camera or GoPro. The main reason I don’t just shoot with my iPhone or a GoPro is the embarrassingly poor lowlight photos those devices take. In optimal lighting situations, even the smallest of sensors take great photos these days. When light situations are less than optimal, higher quality hardware is needed. In this section, I’m going to cover how the Sony 16mm performs in low light, how it renders flares, vignetting, and bokeh, and how it performs for selfies and portraits. The main focus for each section is for applications to hiking and backpacking.
Low Light And Soft Corners
Having a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 means that you can shoot handheld in lowlight situations with low ISO, thus reducing noise. My Sony a6000 handles quite well up until ISO 3200, so being able to shoot below that point is critical. The Sony 16mm is a great lens while hiking at dusk or dawn, and also handles very well on trails with a ton of shade and objects that block light transmission. As I mentioned above in the intro, the 16mm has especially soft corners when shooting from f/2.8-4, but remains quite sharp at the center. For web use, the soft corners are hardly noticeable, and you’ll have to enlarge these photos to see it. If you plan on using this lens for larger scale prints, be prepared to crop. I’ve tried boosting sharpness in post production, but the softness is not really repairable with my skill set.
The Sony 16mm has 7 blades and 5 elements packed into it’s short body. Surprisingly, lens flares have not been a major issue as can be the case on other wide angles. When the lens does flare, it’s not the most pleasant looking artifact, and is hard to manipulate for a pleasant artistic effect.
For those that aren’t familiar with the term, bokeh is the blurry out-of-focus area in a photograph. As you can see below, the bokeh of the Sony 16mm is a little harsh looking. I haven’t really used this lens for portrait work or closeups outside of documenting my watch data to help with geotagging my hiking photos.
For those that aren’t familiar with the term, vignetting is the darkening of corners on an exposure. Simply put, this effect is caused by more light hitting the center of an image than the amount of light that reaches the edges. When shooting close to the minimum aperture f/11-f/22, a small amount of vignetting is visible on shots taken with the 16mm. I actually like the way this looks on most of my shots, and only make corrections in Lightroom if it’s severe.
Closeups, Portraits, And Selfies
One of the major highlights of the Sony 16mm is it’s ability to shoot selfies and portraits. I know this might sound like a trivial section to add to a lens review, but a mirrorless camera paired with a wide angle pancake lens is an optimal replacement for a smartphone camera or GoPro. For selfies, group shots, and on-trail portraits, I’ve found the Sony 16mm to work very well.
The Sony 16mm can be an admirable performer if you buy it with reasonable expectations. This is a small, light, and affordable pancake lens that will capture great photos. The corners on shots taken near the maximum aperture of f/2.8 can be a bit soft, but I don’t really find that bothersome for images used on the web. At $250, I think this lens is a great addition to any hiker, backpacker, or travelers camera bag.
- Soft exposures