Review: Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f4 (E Mount)

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Sony announced its 16-70mm f4 lens for E Mount a while back. The lens is co-branded with Zeiss and is one of the company’s first zoom lenses for the E mount to have the moniker attached. And with a name like that, one can only expect the absolute best. With 12 lens groups and 16 elements inside, the optic has what seems like a metal construction on the outside. Overall, it also somehow or another ends up staying quite compact–which complements the E mount bodies very well. Designed for APS-C sensors, it also makes us wonder why the company only went with an f4 aperture and why not go any faster.

But is that enough to break the deal for you?

Pros and Cons

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Pros

– Super sharp wide open

– Fairly compact size

– Nice feel in the hand

– You’ll never want to stop it down due to the balance between sharpness and bokeh

– Fairly good distortion control at the wider focal lengths

– Fast and flawless focusing

Cons

– Only f4

– Wish that the lens incorporated some sort of weather sealing

Gear Used

We used the Sony 16-70mm f4 with the Sony NEX 6.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Adorama listing of the lens.

Lens Type Mid-range Zoom
Aperture (max / min) f4.0 – .22
Focal Length (35mm equivalent) APS-C: 16-70mm (35mm equivalent: 24-105)
Filter Diameter 55mm
Minimum Focus Distance 1 ft. 6 in. (.45m) (W), 3 ft. 1-1/2 in. (0.95m) (T)
Distance Encoder Yes
Distance Scale Yes
Mount Material Metal
Magnification 0.23
Lens Groups-Elements 12/16
Minimum Focus Distance 13-3/4 inches (.35m)
Aspheric Elements 4
Dimensions 2.6 x 2.1″ (67 x 75mm)
Weight 10.8 oz (308g)

Ergonomics

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Sony has a very minimalistic approach to their lenses while embracing a very ultra-modern mentality about their design. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they want to appeal to a very large range of customers. Speaking of the design, the exterior is seemingly all metal with a zoom ring and focusing ring plus focal length markers.

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The lens is an external zooming one– so at its widest it will be quite compact while at its most telephoto it will jut out quite a bit. Of course, the lens hood is also removeable.

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As far as dedicated controls go otherwise for the lens–there really aren’t any. If you want to manually focus at all for video, you’ll need to switch to the manual focus mode in the camera.

Build Quality

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The lens feels amazingly solid in the hand and exactly what one would think Zeiss would make for the system. Absolutely nothing about it feels cheap and it only seems to ooze with quality. With that said though, we would appreciate the addition of weather sealing.

The only other thing that we would like is the addition of a distance scale so that we can see how far out the lens is focusing at a glance.

Ease of Use

Slap this lens onto your camera and shoot to your heart’s content–that is really all you’ll need to do. There are no buttons, switches or anything of the like on the lens at all. However, there are two rings: one for zoom and the other for focusing control. Because of its small size, you may even think that it’s a prime lens of some sort. In that case, you’ll need to remember that you can zoom in on your subject if you please.

Autofocusing

On the Sony NEX 6, we’re proud to say that the 16-70mm f4 is the only lens that we’ve used that focused quickly and flawlessly. To be clear on that sentence, the lens focussed quickly in low and normal lighting settings in addition to consistently nailing the subject sharply in focus. It didn’t ever miss. Granted, this was coupled with using selective focusing areas, but this is also the only Sony that we’ve ever used that never misfocused.

Bravo, Sony. Bravo.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (11 of 12)ISO 16001-160 sec at f - 4.0

When the company sets out to make a Zeiss branded lens, you can often assure yourself that the quality of the images will be stellar. And that’s what you’re getting with this option. The 16-70mm f4 takes full advantage of the pixel for pixel sharpness that an APS-C sensor can offer to you and there is really very little that you’ll be able to complain about. This is a lens that we see lots of higher end enthusiasts going for, and they won’t be disappointed. The versatile focal length option of an equivalent of 24mm to 105 at f4 is truly appealing as a walkaround lens. Additionally, coupled with its small size and silent but fast focusing, you’ll really not have a lot of qualms.

Color Rendering

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (8 of 12)ISO 8001-15 sec at f - 4.0

When it comes to color rendition, we’ve always been smitten for what Sony’s sensor can produce. Indeed, when this lens is attached to the NEX 6 we still believe that this statement holds true. Colors from this lens are punchy out of the camera, vibrant, fairly well saturated and overall just beautiful. Both consumers and pros can find something beautiful in the images yielded from this lens. Sometimes the colors aren’t the most real to life and the white balance can be a bit off, but Sony’s sensors and post-production can easily fix this.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (6 of 12)ISO 16001-50 sec at f - 4.0

Let’s get this out of the way: it’s tough to get any sort of bokeh with this lens except at the more narrow focal lengths. Otherwise, you’ll need to get very close to your subject–and that distance seems to be around a foot or so. Either way, we don’t really think of this lens as one that you’d purchase for the bokeh. Sony has significantly more options such as their 50mm f1.8, 35mm f1.8, and lots more larger aperture lenses.

When you get the bokeh though, you’ll be please with its haziness. If anything, coupled with the excellent color rendition you’ll be really stoked about what it can offer. But we’ve seen much better bokeh from both Sony and Zeiss.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 lens review images (4 of 7)ISO 4001-1000 sec at f - 4.0

From what we experienced, we didn’t find any color fringing from this lens right out of the camera. Fringing only occurred when we cranked the contrast up in post-production. JPEG shooters rejoice–providing you aren’t in some sort of mega-uber high contrast situation; absolutely nothing can escape fringing with that.

Sharpness

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (2 of 12)ISO 64001-15 sec at f - 4.0

Stunning–absolutely stunning. We almost never wanted to stop this lens down. First of all, f4 on an APS-C sensor yields us a depth of field equivalent of f6.3 on a full frame sensor. Plus, f4 can be quite slow and force you to crank up the ISO settings. So if you’re using this lens, we don’t believe that there should be a good reason why you should stop it down unless you’re shooting a landscape and even then we’d stay stop it down just a bit because of possible diffraction issues.

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (12 of 12)ISO 16001-25 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (10 of 12)ISO 16001-500 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (9 of 12)ISO 16001-25 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (7 of 12)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (4 of 12)ISO 64001-15 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (3 of 12)ISO 64001-15 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (1 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 lens review images (3 of 7)ISO 4001-1600 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 lens review images (2 of 7)ISO 4001-250 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 lens review images (1 of 7)ISO 4001-2000 sec at f - 4.0

 

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 16-70mm f4 review images (5 of 12)ISO 64001-15 sec at f - 4.0

Conclusions

We really like the 16-70mm f4. There really isn’t much wrong with the lens at all. To be honest, it isn’t problematic, but instead it is stellar. Our personal preferences though lean more towards a faster aperture option and we really think that Sony can create something of the sort. Kudo to the company on creating a fast focusing and small lens though to work well with an E mount body. However, we really just wish that it could let some more light in.

If you’re interested, we recommend that you check out Adorama.

Recommended Cameras and Accessories

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A6000 first impressions images (1 of 8)ISO 2001-100 sec at f - 5.0

Sony A6000: As the company’s current flagship APS-C mirrorless camera, this is really the only option that we’d recommend with a lens this high end. Anything less is a total waste of time unless it’s the NEX 6.

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