Sony Carl Zeiss 16-35mm F2.8 ZA SSM Vario-Sonnar T* A-mount lens review by a850

reviewer#9836 date: Jan-23-2012
sharpness: 5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 4
flare control: 4
overall: 4.6
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:Sony 35/1.4G
price paid:GBP 1200
positive:Build quality
Focus speed and accuracy
Very flexible focal length
Constant 2.8
Awesome sunstars if you stop down
Some ghosts
Vignette at 16mm
comment:I *love* this lens.

Build quality is exceptional. The zoom ring is stiff but smooth. The lens doesn't extend at all when zooming or focusing. The filter thread doesn't rotate, nor does the focus ring. The focus ring is perfectly geared if you want to do video or manual focus on film cameras which don't support SSM. The whole thing is a solid metal tank. Even the lens hood is metal.

I took mine across Peru for a month. It went through extreme cold (-20), direct sunlight, dusty high altitude mountains, the amazon river and rainforest, got caught in a torrential storm etc. Not a single problem ever. Every single picture was sharp, focused and beautiful. The lens and my a850 got seriously wet for 2 hours in a rain storm. Even though it doesn't claim weather sealing, no problems at all.

The lens is sharp and SUPER contrasty. Zeiss have done something amazing with lens coatings, because it is VERY hard to make this lens wash out and lose contrast. The amount of detail it captures in a wide view is absolutely amazing, and the contrast brings out a lot of texture.

I find the colour balance quite cool and blue. Especially compared to the 35/1.4 and 85/1.4. I checked this with an X-rite colorpassport, and sure enough there is about 200K difference in white balance between the lenses. For landscapes, this is great, but not so much for portraits - although of course you can correct them later.

16mm is amazing for interiors, landscapes or anything else you want to capture. There is inevitable distortion though. 24mm is standard "wide" on full frame, and performs amazingly well with almost no distortion. 35 is probably the weakest performance of this lens, with more distortion and worse corner performance at 2.8.

There is some vignette at 16mm, as you would expect. But the details are still there, so it's easy to recover in post-process. The extreme corners have a kinda "tearing" effect where the subjects are distorted. This isn't really a fault of the lens, since 16mm is ultra-wide. As Kurt Munger showed, if you distortion correct the corners, the detail is still there.

You get awesome 18 point sunstars when stopped down to f16 or f22. If you shoot right into the sun, you will get some multi-coloured ghosts across the image. But actually I think they look ok - quite attractive as far as flare goes. It doesn't ruin or wash out the image either.

With steadshot enabled, you can hand-hold this lens for ages. 1/4s at 16mm is no problem at all if you hold the camera still.

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