Review: Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE (Sony E Mount, Full Frame)

The Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE was announced earlier this year hot on the heels of Sigma’s own lens–and for the photographer who loves to shoot wide this lens could be the only lens you’ll care to travel with. The Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE was designed with weather resistance and is being touted as a G lens, not to be mistaken with the company’s G Master offerings. Like many of Sony’s higher end lenses, it’s a pretty pricy offering but we need to expect that from a wide angle lens. Lenses like the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE are most suited for travel photography, landscapes, astrophotography, architecture and to some degree extreme sports. It’s also fun at parties if you’re looking to get a unique perspective. But photographers may have a tough choice between the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE and the 16-35mm f2.8.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Fun to use
  • Good image quality
  • Close focusing
  • Fast focusing
  • Slight weather sealing

Cons

  • Very difficult to use it with lens filters of any sort
  • I’m a bit puzzled as to why this isn’t an f2.8 lens to complete the professional trinity.

Gear Used

We tested the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE with the Sony a7r II, Sony a9 and the Sony a7 along with the Profoto B1X.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Press release

A uniquely designed ultra wide-angle zoom lens, the new FE 12-24mm F4 G lens produces outstanding image quality in a compact, lightweight design, weighing in at approximately 20 oz. Sony’s widest full-frame E-mount lens, it offers a dynamic perspective for landscape, architecture and interior photography, and is well-suited for both stills and video shooting.

The lens features an innovative optical design with four aspherical elements that ensure excellent corner to corner sharpness and resolution. Additionally, the lens has three ED glass elements and one Super ED glass element that minimize chromatic aberration throughout the entire image, and also includes Sony’s original Nano AR coating.

The new FE 12-24mm F4 G lens includes a DDSSM (Direct Drive SSM) for fast, quiet and precise AF performance, plus a customizable focus hold button and focus mode switch. It is also dust and moisture resistant 1.

Ergonomics

Taken from our first impressions post

The Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE is characterized not only by its small size but also its controls.  When you look at the lens, you mostly see the zoom ring and the focusing ring.

When you turn to the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE you’ll spot the AF/MF control in addition to the focus hold button.

Build Quality

The Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE is designed with a bit of weather resistance in mind but not to the full specs that the G Master lenses are. So with that in mind, it probably can’t take as much abuse in inclement weather. When you hold the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE you’ll see how despite how bulky the lens is, it feels nice in your hands. There are big rubber rings around it that make gripping it better and a textured surface on the lens itself to make it easier to hold. But of the most part, those rings dominate the body. When mated to one of Sony’s FE cameras, you’ll be holding a fairly substantial package. But still it isn’t as big or anywhere as heavy as DSLR options.

If you’re looking to mount a filter onto this lens, then you’re out of luck. You’re going to need an external matte box or a special ring to do so. This is due to the built in lens hood on the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE. In fact, the lens cap goes over the lens hood.

Ease of Use

The Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE has two rings on it: one for zoom and one for focusing. The back ring is for zooming and will take up most of your time when using this lens–especially if it’s in autofocus mode. There are no switches on the lens otherwise and it doesn’t have image stabilization built into it. Instead, the lens is going to rely on the image stabilization that Sony’s sensors provide. What’s nice about having such a wide focal length though is that you’re better suited to shooting at very slow shutter speeds of 1/25th and lower while handholding the camera and lens.

Autofocus

The best autofocus performance that I’ve seen with the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE comes when using the Sony a7r II and the Sony a9. With older cameras, that isn’t at all to say that it’s slow at all. But it’s the difference between something blazing fast and something adequate for most general uses. But overall though the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE focuses silently, and quickly. Considering that it’s such a wide angle lens though we’re bound to expect that due to the laws of depth of field.

To that end, most people will be perfectly fine with the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE’s autofocus performance on the Sony a7. But if they’re looking to get the absolute best autofocusing abilities, then spring for the higher end cameras.

Image Quality

Images from the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE are basically the standard that you’ve known and come to expect from Sony: good. Those who like Sony’s contrasty and saturated look will want to reach for the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE as that look is ever present in the photos no matter what camera I’ve used. For that reason, it will be great when combined with Sony’s sensors due to how good they are at getting details out of the highlights and shadows.

Bokeh

I really hate talking about bokeh in the review for a wide angle zoom lens; and don’t get me wrong–it’s there. But you’re not really buying this lens for the bokeh. However, when you consider the contrast that the lenses give you and the sharpness of the light, you’ll see that the bokeh does a good job at making your subject stand out a whole lot. With all this said though, this lens surely isn’t a bokeh lover’s dream.

Chromatic Aberration

In most of my tests I didn’t find any major issues with distortion, fringing or any other problems. In fact, as I told the engineers who made this lens, I want more lens flare. In some ways, the images can be a bit sterile in that there isn’t much character to the photos. Sony has been working on creating something absolutely, clinically perfect. And if you love that look then you’re getting it here.

Personally speaking: I’d rather reach for something from Venus Optics as the lenses actually have a nice character.

Color Rendition

As stated earlier, these elements in the lens will give you contrasty and saturated photos. They’re perfect for some night photography, street, landscapes, parties, etc.

Sharpness

I remember sitting down with Gordon Laing and hearing him tell me how much sharper the Sony 16-35mm f2.8 is than the 12-24mm f4 G lens. And honestly, all I can say is that Sony lenses are overall so sharp that they’re not going to matter unless you’re pixel peeping. But to his point, this lens is sharp but there are sharper optics out there for sure.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Sharp image quality
  • Smallish size
  • Fast autofocus

Dislikes

  • I really, really wish it had more lens flare.

I like the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE lens and so will most other photographers. Those who will most benefit are those who shoot landscapes, parties, architecture, sports, and travel work. But for many others, a lens like this doesn’t really matter to a lot of us. Many photographers tend to not shoot this wide and they’ll be happy with a 24-70mm f2.8 instead. What I surely do wonder about though is why Sony didn’t make this lens an f2.8 option instead. That would have fit much better into the lineup for the professional photographer.

But either way, the Sony 12-24mm f4 G FE receives four out of five stars. It’s a great lens, but Sony has better options.