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

reviewer#13218 date: Apr-3-2015
sharpness: 4.5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 5
flare control: 5
overall: 4.9
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:Minolta AF 24mm
Zeiss ZM 50/2 Planar
Zeiss 80/2.8 Planar (MF)
price paid:~R$3.000
positive:Sharpness from 16-28mm
Incredible build
SSM focusing
Zeiss colors
negative:Sharpness @ 35mm
The dust-magnet rubber used on the zoom and focus ring
comment:I shoot mainly portraits - be it street photography, something along the lines of photojournalism and concerts. To keep it simple, this kind of photography usually involves getting really close to your subject, getting it really sharp, while having to show the surroundings with just the right amount of blur. This lens, imho, is the perfect tool for this kind of job. This is my go-to lens when I know I will be walking into tight places, be it a huge crowd or be it a cramped hall. It is also my favourite lens.

Sharpness-wise, it is a great performer in Full Frame in the 16-28 range. That translates to the usual words that appear when you're talking about Zeiss glass: "microcontrast" "3D look" "great clarity" "great contrast" "smooth transition from in focus areas to out of focus areas". You don't really have to stop it down in this range to get great results. As far as my testing goes, f/4 or f/5.6 is usually more than enough to get the corners on par with the center.
This lens doesn't get a 5 sharpness rating from me just because of it's quality at 35mm zoom end. There is a noticeable loss of quality at the corners and it seems that no amount of stopping it down makes it better. If your subject is in the center of the frame, this is a non-issue, though - 2.8 is just ok here.

The colors are just what you would expect from Zeiss - neutral. I've elected Zeiss color rendering as my standard for photography - it is, like people put it, "clinical". It renders almost like my ZM Planar or the Zeiss 80/2.8 Planar that I have on my Rolleiflex. For me, it doesn't get any better than this.

As far as the build and my 1-year experience with it goes, it is built like a tank. As a photographer that does most of his work in the streets, I enjoy being as hassle free as I possibly can, so that means that I push my gear pretty hard to some boundaries that would make some photographers cry. This lens, while in my possession, has faced a lot of stuff, from tropical downpours, coloured dust in holi festivals and tear gas in some riots without a single hint of it wanting to fail or dust in the middle elements. I do know that it is not advertised as being weather sealed, but, as far as my experience goes, it can handle itself pretty well in the most adverse conditions even without any protection. It also has survived a 2+ meter fall on a concrete floor in the middle of headbang-charged hardcore show when someone gave me a headbutt on my hand. The result was a slightly bent filter ring that I didn't bother to try to fix since I really don't care about filters for my work. The only thing that I don't like about it is the rubber used on the focus and zoom ring, which is a PIA to clean up.

This lens has distortion control on par with its other-brand equivalents. It is noticeable, but I don't really care about it, since it is a non-concern to my work. If you are looking for a distortion free lens for applications where this is a must, you better look elsewhere, though.

Flare control is great for a lens of this class. But, as with any wide-angle lens, if you're not careful with your framing, you will have some flare problems. Still, this is way better than what I'm used with the Minolta AF 24mm.

I can't recommend this lens enough. It may be expensive, but it is built to last, has great optical qualities and also has a great range that may have a great appeal to people who want to bring that "I was there" feel to their pictures like me.

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