Ever since the release of the Sony mirrorless camera lineup, the company had been slowly expanding their lens lineup. The f/4 versions came first, but it was soon apparent that photographers wanted a more ‘pro’ version of each lens. Thus, the introduction of f/2.8 variants in the GM form, which include the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM.
Producing a more ‘pro’ lens generally means better optics, but also a heavier lens. In this regard, let’s see if Sony has produced the goods and how much better this lens is in the quality department than the previous offering.
Firstly, this lens can be fitted on APS-C crop sensor bodies, which gives an equivalent focal length of 24-52.5mm. It may be quite big and bulky for small camera bodies, but the option is there.
The Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM is a top-end, wide-angle zoom which needs a good deal of glass for all the optical correction. Inside the lens are 16 elements arranged in 13 groups, which include the addition of two extreme aspherical elements, three aspherical elements and two ED elements to round off proceedings. The front element has a fluorine coating, along with Nano AR on the elements to cut down on lens flare, ghosting, and also to protect the front element from general atmospheric nasties.
The aperture range goes from f/2.8 to f/22, with a generous 11-blade rounded diaphragm. Bokeh may not be the calling card of a wide-angle zoom, but with 11 blades, the lens should, in theory, be capable of some nice rounded highlights. The exterior of the lens keeps to the latest fashion of simplicity, keeping most of the adjustments in camera.
The exterior of the lens has a function button that can be configured for different uses and the standard AF/manual switch. Closest to the camera body is the ridged and rubberized zoom ring with focal length markers and only takes a quarter of a turn to go through the whole range. Closest to the front of the lens is the manual focus ring which works by fly-by-wire and has a closest shooting distance of 0.28m.
Lastly, the front of the lens has a large and impressive looking 82mm filter size with the whole lens weighing in at 680g. The lens comes with an ALC-SH149 lens hood, which fits seamlessly into the design.
The Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM in Use
The Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM is heavier than the f/4 offering but is still around a standard weight for this quality of lens. It may feel initially front heavy on the likes of an a7 or a9 body, but you soon grow accustomed to how the whole package balances. Both the zoom and manual focus rings turn extremely smoothly and any aperture changes are quickly done in-camera.
The lens uses a two Direct Drive SSM (DDSSM) autofocus system, which proved to be very quick and quiet. Extremely rapid to snap into focus and only started to skip a beat in the lowest of light conditions.
Although the lens doesn’t have any image stabilization, the in-camera system can be used and the benefit of f/2.8 got some considerably low shutter speeds when light levels dropped. In other words, no complaints here.
One area where this version of lens should excel is in increased edge sharpness. The f/4 version was good but did have slightly soft corners. Happily, with this lens having the aperture wide open at the widest focal length, edges are noticeably sharper than the f/4 version, along with very good center sharpness.
At 35mm, sharpness levels are not as good with a touch of fall off across the frame, with center sharpness being the best at this focal length. In the middle of the focal lengths at 24mm, sharpness is more consistent across the frame, still with very good results. Stopping down to f/8 gives the best results across the board.
As for lens anomalies, there is less linear distortion than expected from a wide-angle zoom, with only slight pin cushioning at 16mm and 35mm. The best focal length being at 24mm.
The lens handles chromatic aberration very well, being most noticeable at 16mm and with the aperture wide open. By 24mm, the effect is less pronounced but is still slightly present at f/2.8. Luckily, easily correctable in software.
Vignetting also raises its head when the lens is at its widest focal length. At 16mm this comes in at three stops of light falloff at f/2.8 and even at f/8 is still visible. After 24mm the effect is far less pronounced, but still apparent. Stopping down at this range gives the best results.
Lens flare is well controlled for a wide-angle zoom, but it’s still a good idea to keep the sun out of frame. The special coatings Sony employs do a good job of keeping stray light in check and is one of the standout features of this lens. The Sony can also produce bokeh and nicely rounded highlights when needed due to the 11-blade aperture. The bokeh is of good quality, but not the main aspect of this lens.
Overall, image rendering is very sharp and produces some wonderful images. The main letdown is the overabundance of the vignetting, but post-processing can go a long way to reduce the effect.
How Does It Compare?
Although a zoom lens is front of mind when reading a review like this one, a prime could also be the order of the day. The Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM is one possible choice, which provides an alternative, middle-of-the-road focal length, and benefits from a wider f/1.4 aperture. This lens also has the 11 rounded blade diaphragm for smooth background blur and comes in cheaper than the zoom.
Obviously the zoom is more versatile, but there’s nothing like a prime for punching out a subject from the background, especially when it has an f/1.4 aperture. Both have their applications, but the final decision comes to the age-old prime versus zoom debate of a slight increase in quality with one focal length, over versatility.
|Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM||Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM|
|Optics||16 elements / 13 groups||13 elements / 10 groups|
|Blades||11 rounded||11 rounded|
If you’re weighing up the options between the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM and the f/4 version, then in the middle of the focal lengths, wide-open, sharpness is compatible. The f/2.8 lets in far more light and at f/4, the f/2.8 version gives better results across-the-board. Both lenses produce their best results when stopped down, but the f/2.8 version has the best quality at the widest focal length.
But, price is also a factor and the f/4 version is considerably cheaper. However, the extra stop of light provided by the f/2.8 version can’t be ignored and with that touch extra of quality, the f/2.8 can shine in the right circumstances.