At a media event in Oahu, Hawaii, Sony provided a small selection of media, including myself, a first look at the new E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens for Sony’s APS-C a6000/a6300/a6500 cameras. We took the lens out to shoot some local food markets to check out the image quality. With 12 groups and 16 elements, including an aspherical element, the $600 7.5x zoom lens is only 325 grams, teeny compared to the 400-500+ grams for competitor lenses, which the company says will make it perfect for travel use. High corner-to-corner resolution, even at the telephoto end and the MTF data (a chart describing the image sharpness at various focal lengths and moving away from the center of the lens) shows excellent edge sharpness relative to other compact travel lenses.
The lens has built-in optical image stabilization, which works in conjunction with the built-in stabilization in the camera for additional protection against blur caused by photographer motion. (Sony told us they don’t list the total effective f/stop stability.) It also features a completely silent motor, making it suitable for video capture.)
Sony couldn’t commit to whether or not this lens would show up in a kit configuration, but it’s a perfect lens for that use. If you’re about to go out and buy a a6300 or a6500, it might be worth waiting to pick it up with this lens.
Out in the field, the combination of the a6500 and the 18-135mm is compelling, though particularly in situations where a shallow depth of field is not required. The Chinatown in Honolulu is older than the one in San Francisco, and—attracting fewer tourists—is more focused on providing the residents with a stream of fresh ingredients and goods for their family meals. The result is a bustling, colorful, vibrant neighborhood full of open-air markets and indoor food purveyors. It’s a great location for a lens where a shallow depth-of-field and bokeh isn’t required, because the shops are filled with rows of vegetables and cuts of meat stretching off in all directions.
Sony rarely compares their products to those of competitors, but did so when talking to us about the Sony E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS, with MTF charts (a line diagram showing the relative sharpness of a lens from the center of the lens out to the edges) showing the sharpness of this piece of glass. Judging by MTF charts alone, the Sony lens bests similar lenses from Nikon and Canon.
I really love local markets. I love the bustle, I love the colors, and I love the smells (even if they’re off putting to some). I seek out markets whenever I’m traveling because of the amazing subject matter, but I usually take a small prime fixed lens camera like the Sony RX1R II or a prime on an interchangeable lens camera like a Fujifilm XT-20 with, because of the unobtrusiveness of the camera, and the compactness of the lens. The a6500 and the 18-135mm is a much larger combination, and while it drew more attention than I’d usually get at a market, it was so much more versatile that it made up for it.
Wandering around the market I looked for scenes that would demonstrate edge-to-edge sharpness at both wide and telephoto focal lengths. Stalls full of fresh Hawaiian produce like bananas and papaya stretched out as far as I could see, while other stalls had piles of various cuts of meat piled high, providing good tests. The lens is definitely sharp, clear even though the distortion of shots at 18mm. In this shot, the calendar on the right hand side of the shot has clear, thin lines and almost no blur at high-contrast edges. (This isn’t a particularly good image from a composition standpoint, but it’s good for showing the edge sharpness thanks to that calendar on the right hand side.)
In closeup images of fruit (what kind of fruit is this? Let us know in the comments!) the details of the spines are really sharp, especially when examined closely. Colors are vivid and nicely saturated.
Focus on the lens is surprisingly quick, though I did miss a few shots as the lens was trying to acquire a target. This was especially noticeable when shifting from shooting close subjects to far subjects, the lens didn’t focus as fast as the Zeiss Batis 2.8/18 lens I had on the a7R III I also had with me, but you wouldn’t expect it to at this price point on the company’s enthusiast camera.
Later on in the day we hopped aboard a catamaran to shoot at sunset, which is a surprisingly good test of a camera’s stabilization system. Generally stable (as far as boats go) a catamaran is a randomly moving platform that can buck repeatedly when capturing a shot. These skyline photos show that the stabilization system was able to keep up with the rolling seas.
It’s amazing to me the quality of lenses these days. Each new generation of lens, even those at a consumer-level price point, provides excellent optical quality and performance. I’m not about to ditch my small prime lenses when I’m shooting travel photography, but the E 18-135mm F3.3-5.6 OSS makes for a trustworthy lens, and a nice, affordable backup lens as well.