The Sony Zeiss 16-35mm Vario-Tessar f/4 is a zoom lens built for Sony’s full frame mirrorless camera lineup. Featuring a wide angle zoom range, a weather resistant solid metal build, and optical image stabilization, the Sony 16-35mm is a dream come true for landscape travel photographers. I recently took this lens with me to Iceland for two weeks as my only lens option, and will detail my experience in this review.
Lens Construction, Handling, And Build Quality:
The first thing I noticed when taking the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm out of the box was how well built and heavy it felt. This is a tank of a lens with dust and moisture sealing that I got to test in rainstorms, windstorms, and around waterfalls. The 16-35mm never failed me, and took on every challenge I threw its way. This utility comes at a pretty hefty weight penalty though, as the 16-35mm comes in at 18.4oz. Still, the weight is carried well and feels nicely balanced on my Sony a7ii.
The Sony Zeiss 16-35mm has a maximum aperture of f/4 that stays constant throughout the zoom range. The zoom ring is smooth and precise, giving solid control of the telescoping front end. This lens is nearly 4 inches long, and has a massive 72mm filter thread.
The Sony Zeiss 16-35mm has a metal bayonet and works with all e mount cameras, full frame and APS-C. If you plan on using this with an APS-C body, your effective focal range will be 24-52.5mm.
Specs and Stats:
Dimensions: 3.07 x 3.88″
Filter Thread: 72mm
Focal Length: 16 – 35mm
Aperture: f/4 to f/22
View Angle: 107° – 63°
Minimum Focus Distance: 11.02″
Elements/Groups: 12 / 10
Diaphragm Blades: 7 Rounded
For the last four years my main shooting setup was a Sony a6000 and the Sony 10-18mm f/4 lens. When I added a full frame body to my kit, I began searching for a lens that would allow me to capture the same landscapes as I did with the 10-18mm. I looked at a few native e mount options, including the Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5, the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8, and the Sony GM 16-35mm f/2.8. I instantly nixed the Voightlander because of it’s manual focus and fixed focal length. I picked up the Zeiss Batis for astrophotography, but wanted a slightly wider and more versatile option for Iceland. The Sony GM 16-35mm f/2.8 was the closest competitor, but at $2200, the $1350 16-35mm f/4 seemed like a bargain. My Sony 10-18mm has a maximum aperture of f/4, and rarely leaves me wanting something faster. This is the other factor that made me feel safe picking the cheaper 16-35mm f/4 over the f/2.8 alternative.
For anyone coming from an APS-C Sony mirrorless camera, get ready for a big jump in size and weight. This is critical for hiking and backpacking, as the extra weight is very noticeable. I still carry my Sony a6000 with 10-18mm lens on hikes and backpacking trips for this reason. My full frame a7ii is better suited for traveling, car camping, and shorter hikes when weight doesn’t matter as much.
Image Quality And Performance:
With a zoom range of 16mm to 35mm, this Sony Zeiss lens has an effective coverage of 107° – 63°. That makes this lens a wide angle on both ends. This combination works well for me, as I love the ultra wide landscapes I can capture wide open at 16mm. At 35mm, I get the focal range that I prefer for street photography. This lens isn’t going to replace my 35mm primes any time soon, but it’s nice that it can cover similar ground and lighten up my camera bag in the process.
For those of you building out a kit, a wide angle lens like this is best paired with a telephoto like the Sony FE 70-300mm. This would miss the 36-69 midrange, but provide a huge coverage area for wide angle landscapes and close up wildlife shots.
In the section below, you will find image samples and my thoughts on the Sony Zeiss 16-35 broken down by category. You can click on the gallery images below to enlarge and see EXIF data.
The Sony 16-35mm has a super smooth and accurate autofocus. Zeiss accomplishes this by using a linear autofocus motor with internal focusing design. This is really nice, as the lens doesn’t move or rotate while focusing. The autofocus is also pretty silent which is great for video.
The vast majority of my photographs are landscapes shot at 16mm with my focus set near infinity. For this reason, I don’t put the autofocus on lenses to work the way some photographers do. I have a fast moving son though, and also got a chance to photograph some of Iceland’s majestic horses. The autofocus on the Sony 16-35mm was quick and accurate, leaving me without any complaints.
Landscapes and Outdoors
Landscapes and outdoor shots make up close to 90% of the images I capture, making this the most important category of this review for me. Coming from the incredible performance of the Sony 10-18mm, I was blown away by the quality of images I was able to ssnap with the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm.
Shooting at 16mm, I had no problem capturing the size and scale of Iceland’s volcanos, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanic beaches.
If you’d like to see more outdoor photos and landscapes, you can view my gallery of Iceland posts.
Low Light and Image Stabilization
As a travel photographer that’s more of a lightweight hiker and backpacker, I don’t always travel with a tripod. For this reason, I need a lens that can perform well in low light situations shooting by hand. The Sony 16-35mm performed more than admirably when called upon for handheld lowlight shots.
A lot of photographers consider a maximum aperture of f/4 to be slow. I agree, but don’t think it matters as much for wide angle lenses, especially when they have image stabilization. The OSS is good for a stop or two of improvement.
The photos above were shot in what I consider low light, the photos below are shot in virtually no light. The first was a handheld shot captured in a cave, the second was shot while hiking up a waterfall in a gorge. As you can see, the images are pretty soft, but better than what I expected.
Vignette, Flares, Distortion, and Aberrations
I’m not a pixel peeper, and I don’t write reviews to please those who are. Having said that, I think it’s worth adding a section for lens flaws in the event that any glaring issues present themselves. I have to say that I’m very pleased with the performance of the Sony 16-35mm in this regard.
The vignetting is very mild and what you would expect for a lens with this focal range and aperture range. The Zeiss T* anti-reflective coatings do a great job of minimizing flares, which I thought would be a bigger issue for a wide angle with a 72mm filter thread. I usually kept the lens hood on while shooting outside, but even when I didn’t, the flares produced were mild and easy to remove in post production.
The pincushion distortion at 16mm is mild and corrected in camera if shooting JPEG. There are lens profiles available for Lightroom when shooting RAW.
The Sony 16-35mm is a super sharp lens. At f/4, the center is tack sharp and the corners look really good, too. As you stop down, the images are sharp from corner to corner. I have provided a few crop samples below to showcase the clarity at the center of each image.
The Sony Zeiss 16-35mm Vario-Tessar f/4 is the ultimate travel lens for photographers looking to shoot landscapes and other compositions that are best suited for a wide angle perspectives. The build quality and performance are top notch, and the image quality is on the same level. The only drawbacks to this lens are it’s hefty weight (18.4oz) and price tag ($1350).
Do you have the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm Vario-Tessar f/4? Do you have a lens that you’d like me to review. Leave me a comment below.
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