Sony Carl Zeiss 16-35mm F2.8 ZA SSM Vario-Sonnar T* A-mount lens review by lifeispixels

reviewer#10749 date: Dec-3-2012
sharpness: 5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 5
flare control: 5
overall: 5
tested on:
  • film camera:Film camera
  • APS-C: 6MP6 MP; 10MP10 MP; 12MP12 MP; 14MP14 MP; 16MP16 MP; 20MP20 MP; 24MP24 MP
  • full frame: 12MP12 MP; 24MP24 MP; 36MP36 MP; 42MP42 MP; 61MP61 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:Tamron 17-35 f2.8-4
Sony 20mm f2.8
Tokina 17mm f3.5
Tokina 19-35 f3.5-4.5
Tokina 11-16 f2.8 apsc
Tamron 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 apsc
price paid:1600 usd mint 2 hand
positive:- Sharp across the frame
- Excellent colors
- silent & quick focusing
negative:- Very heavy
- Hefty price tag
comment:I think it's easy to review this lens, because there is nothing better in this class than the CZ 16-35 when you're looking for an ultra wide angle lens to use with Sony's full frame cameras. This is the best UWA lens period if you can afford its hefty price. I give the CZ 16-35 all fives because I only compare it to the lens of the same class. It would not be fair to compare sharpness, flare, distortion to lenses from other ranges and they're built differently and good UWAs is harder to design than 24-70 or primes.

This is the sharpest UWA lens I have used. Excellent center sharpness and the corners will match up stopped down. Colors are excellent and has that neutral Zeiss signature to it. The lens barrel is well made but very heavy.

Barrel distortion is mild at widest angle and can be easily correct in PP or camera's built in correction if you shoot jpegs. CA exists but it's mild magenta/green type that is easily removed in lightroom.

I give 5 for flare because we're talking about UWA lenses and flare is usually the main problem for lenses with such wide angle. CZ 16-35 handles flare very well. You can still see some ring flare and ghost bobs here and there when strong light sources are in the frame but it's much better controlled and looks not quite ugly than other alternatives. When presented with strong light coming directly, CZ 16-35 still maintains surprisingly great contrast and colors, while other lenses suffer.

The Tamron/Minolta 17-35 flares a LOT! By a lot I mean the flare streak can be so ugly I discard the images. Contrast is reduced. The Tokina 19-35 suffers a lot from flare, it can be so bad the images are blown white and destroys the contrast.

The Tokina 17mm f3.5 is very well resistant to flare, good sharpness although lacks just a bit behind this CZ. The problem is slightly wavy mustache distortion which can be seen sometimes. And the way it renders colors is thicker like oil paint. The CZ gives more lifelike and neutral tone.

Sony 20mm f2.8 is also an excellent alternative. The color rendition is closer to this CZ16-35 than others. Good sharpness across the frame and good resistant to flare. Slight reduction of fine micro contrast details compared to the CZ and I only observe mild distortion. The only problem is it doesn't go as wide as 16mm but if you can live with this limitation, it's a good choice and much lighter than 16-35.

In conclusion, if you're serious about landscape, photojournalism, and ready to invest for the best possible UWA currently available to alpha FF cameras. The 16-35 CZ is the only choice. And don't compare this to 24-70 CZ as it's totally different type and serves entirely different purposes. As Exif info from images that win Reuters' 2012 photos of the year reveals, most images are shot with 16-35 lens, followed by 70-200, while so little is made with 24-70 which the editors seem to consider boring angles.

See my photos with Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T 16-35 F2.8 ZA SSM at:

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 57
  • sharpness: 4.66
  • color: 4.95
  • build: 4.86
  • distortion: 4.47
  • flare control: 4.42
  • overall: 4.67 - Home of the alpha system photographer
In memory of Cameron Hill - brettania