Check the price of the Carl ZEISS FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS VARIO-TESSAR on Amazon
Many months ago I had a chance to try this lens for the first time, which was my first wide angle I used since purchasing my Sony 10-18mm f/4 lens during my switch to Mirrorless in January 2015.
Many who follow me may remember that not that long ago I was TOTALLY against this lens! Why you may ask? One was that it simply wasn’t wide enough for me to justify using it and second being that I had used a bad copy of this lens and my thoughts were based on that. It wasn’t until later it was noticed it was a bad copy of the lens and my other times with this lens were perfectly fine and that made it grow on me quite a bit.
What’s really brought me to seeing myself ultimately switching to this lens from my Sony 10-18mm is my use of only Carl ZEISS lenses for my full frame usage. Originally I was using the Sony 10-18mm lens for full frame usage, as it could be utilized between 12-18mm in the full frame mode just fine, but I’ve wanted to go entirely ZEISS for my work this year.
Carl ZEISS 16-35mm Specs & Images
Sony E-Mount (FE - Full Frame lens)
Vario-TESSAR Optical Lens Design
Aperture Range: f/4-f/22
ZEISS T* Anti-Reflective Coating
72mm Diameter Filter Thread
Metal Construction with Dust & Weather Seals
63 - 107 degrees - Angle of View
11.02′ inches (28cm) Minimum Focus Distance
Optical Steady Shot
1.14lb (518g) - Weight
Most of my images with this lens have been landscape and architecture, but you’ll also find that I’ve used this lens for worship and events. I think it’s a very well rounded wide angle, because of it’s range.
Something to note is that this lens is a Full Frame (FE) lens for Sony’s Mirrorless E-Mount cameras, but it can be used on the cropped APS-C cameras, which will give you a 35mm equivalent focal range of 24mm - 52.5mm.
What I think about the 16-35mm
As mentioned earlier I was not convinced at first about using this lens. I don’t know why!
As you can see from the examples I have in this review you’ll see that it really is exceptionally sharp and really is a fantastic lens for the Sony Alpha 7 series! Now grant it I still don’t think it’s a match for the ZEISS 35mm f/2.8 ZA SONNAR and ZEISS 55mm f/1.8 ZA SONNAR lenses I use, but it’s a very solid lens choice and offers quality you’d expect from a lens with the ZEISS name badge on it.
Many will fault this lens for being only an f/4 aperture lens, as opposed to an f/2.8. Honestly, on Mirrorless I’ve found the f/4 to be VERY adequate (unless you’re doing astro-photography and the f/2.8 is actually the better option). Some have chosen to use the Sony adapter with the A-Mount lenses but please note in doing so you’re NOT gaining f/2.8 there either, as the LA-EA 2 and 4 adapters have mirrors, so the light hitting the sensor is cut by about 30%, which in turn is still giving you about an f/4 aperture reading anyways. Only way to avoid this is using an adapter without a mirror in it.
For the work I do f/4 is perfectly fine, even in low light. You’ll see that I have a few hand-held worship images here that were wide open at f/4 and it worked out perfectly for me.
What makes the 16-35mm great?
Image Quality - It may not have the quality I love about the ZEISS SONNAR lenses, but it’s a solid entry for the VARIO-TESSAR lenses for Sony and offers me some of the best image quality I can obtain on Mirrorless.
Range - At first I wasn’t too thrilled with a 16-35mm range, as it overlaps my ZEISS 24-70mm f/4 VARIO-TESSAR, but it’s growing more and more on me. With the overlap you do eliminate having to switch lenses for the 24-35mm of the other lens and can stick with the wide angle lens for much longer, so I guess this is a plus!
Build - You're getting an all metal design lens that’s weather sealed, making this a great lens to have out in the elements.
Color - You’re always certain to obtain great colored images with any ZEISS lens and this is no exception to that. Many say ZEISS lenses have like a 3D looking effect to them and you certainly do feel that way with this lens and the poppy colors it offers.
T* Coating - ZEISS lenses are popular for this coating, which reduces lens flare drastically and enhances overall performance of the lens. Whether it’s a filter or lens with this coating you’ll notice the difference from having it vs a lens or filter that doesn’t.
Optical Steady Shot - This lens comes with OSS in the lens, which if you’re like me with an older generation Sony Alpha 7 camera then this is a welcome thing to have, especially in low light usage when hand-held usage may be your only option.
What makes the 16-35mm not so great?
Weight - This really isn’t a major deal for me, but this lens is in fact heavier than the Sony 10-18mm for the crop body Sony Mirrorless cameras. This lens may be heavier than that one but this does add more to the zoom range and also a weather sealed body.
Hand Held Shooting - This is a tough one to explain, but I’ll do my best. This lens in comparison to the Sony 10-18mm seems to not give the best results 100% of the time when shooting hand-held, primarily at f/4. I feel I was able to knock off more consistent sharp images that were focused perfectly vs this lens which seems to be at 95% or so of the time. I’m thinking it may be my adjustment to the weight differences here of why that’s happening and will continue experimenting and comparing with the 10-18mm to see if this is really something of notice or I’m just krazi, but just thought it was worth noting for those reading.
Why the Carl ZEISS 4/16-35mm over Sony 2.8/16-35mm G Master?
This has been a HUGE question and a big debate online, especially since I purchased this lens. I’m going to put to bed why the ZEISS for me was my choice and not the Sony lens.
ZEISS Pop - I’m known for using entirely ZEISS lenses and for this reason it’s because of the reliability for one, but also the crisp and beautiful colors I obtain from ZEISS lenses. The Sony 16-35 GM is a VERY great lens, but I prefer the quality I receive from that of the ZEISS lenses.
Size - I switched from the Sony A-Mount to E-Mount for the smaller form factor lenses, so the f/2.8 isn’t a priority for me (that’s why I use prime lenses). The size of this lens isn’t too far from the f/4 ZEISS, but it’s a wider lens (82mm vs 72mm thread) and a bit heavier.
Optical Steady Shot - I still use an older generation Sony a7, so this for me is important. On the newer Sony cameras this may not be a big deal, as all the bodies have IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization). Even on the newer cameras having the lens with OSS can improve your low light shooting conditions even further.
Conclusion: Who is/isn’t this for & what other options are there?
This is a very solid wide angle lens and one that’s not overly expensive either. It’s the quality you’d expect from a lens with the ZEISS name badge on it.
If you want a faster lens then check out the Sony FE 2.8/16-35mm G Master lens. This is the most expensive of the available wide angle lenses but gives you a win win for having a wider aperture and great image quality.
If you want wider then check out the Sony FE 4/12-24mm G lens. This fits in between the other two in terms of price and gives you a much wider angle of view compared to the other two.
If you’re wanting the best available Sony E-mount wide angle FE lens then it doesn’t get better than this at the moment for zooms. As a lover of the Sony 10-18mm I truly miss using that lens, but I’m happy with my upgrade and switching to full frame and this lens for my wide angle work. I think it’s going to bring forth even more awesome work that many of you all have enjoyed from my previous work.
The biggest thing will more than likely be budget for some and if you don’t have a lot of it then this and the alternative FE lenses may be pricey for you. I would recommend looking at the Sony 10-18mm(although this is NOT a lens designed for full frame and will present situations where it shows this lens isn’t the best choice, it’s half the price and would get you by). There are lenses from Rokinon/Samyang that are wide angle primes that are cheaper alternatives as well, which offer native mounting FE lenses as well.