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Feb 04

Review: Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

The Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 was one of the lenses announced at the beginning of the full-frame E-mount system, and it’s had a rather mixed reputation. I’ve seen reports ranging from excellent to terrible regarding the optical quality of this lens, and I’ve been curious to test it for myself.  Over the past week or so, I’ve finally had a chance to put the 24-70mm f/4 through its paces.

The Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS on the A7 II

The Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS on the A7 II

Construction and Handling

The Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 features the same design language as the other Zeiss branded Sony E-mount lenses, with a smooth metal exterior finished with a matte black paint with a silky feel that hints at the premium nature of the Zeiss lenses. The lens features some weather sealing, but lacks a gasket at the lens mount, so I’d be careful when shooting in rain, as the chance for intrusion of water into the camera is definitely there. However, you should be able to withstand some stray water drops on the lens. The broad zoom ring moves smoothly and without any sticking points.  It’s moderately damped, but moves more freely than the heavily damped gearing of the FE 16-35mm.  My review copy was well worn, however, so it’s possible the zoom mechanism has loosened over time.  In any case, while I prefer a bit more damping on the zoom ring, it’s still smooth and precise, and works quite well in everyday use.  The focus ring has the same fine ribbing as the zoom ring and likewise moves smoothly and with a subtle damping.  Overall, the lens works well and feels nice in use.

The Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 with its included lens hood

The Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 with its included lens hood

The Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 comes with a good sized petal-style lens hood with a hybrid metal and plastic construction.  The hood provides adequate shading of the front element and reverses for storage when not in use.

The 24-70mm is a bit larger than some other mirrorless zooms due to the full-frame coverage required, but it stays relatively lightweight and while it’s only slightly smaller in dimension than the 16-35mm, it feels like a bigger difference than perhaps it genuinely is.  The lens handles quite well on the Mark II bodies in the A7 lineup, and I’d imagine it would feel just fine on the original body style as well.  It’s not a compact lens, but the overall package remains reasonable in size and still a nice reduction from a full-frame DSLR kit with a similar lens. For comparison, Canon’s 24-70mm f/4 comes in at around a half-inch larger in diameter and 170g heavier than the relatively lightweight 430g of the Zeiss 24-70mm.

The 24-70mm, like almost all standard zoom lenses, changes length during zooming, and is longest at the 70mm focal length setting.  The inner lens tube is solid and there were no creaks or wobbles, even at full extension.

The Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 at 24mm (left) and 70mm (right)

The Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 at 24mm (left) and 70mm (right)

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

The FE 24-70mm f/4 has a moderately quick and very quiet autofocus motor. It’s not the fastest lens in the autofocus department, but it does the job in the majority of situations.  Like a lot of Sony lenses with slower apertures, I experienced some hunting and inability to lock when focusing in dim light, and I found myself taking extra care with manual focusing, especially when shooting night shots outdoors.  For indoor portraiture, I found it best to switch over to the A7 II’s excellent Eye AF capability, which seemed to do a better job indoors than just a single focus box.

Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS on the A7 II

Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS on the A7 II

The lens comes with an optical image stabilizer (the OSS, or Optical SteadyShot in the lens name), and I found it to work fairly well.  I was able to handhold shots down to around 1/5s at 24mm and around 1/15s at 70mm with fairly consistent results.  This is in the neighborhood of 2.5 to 3 stops of extra handholdability when using the image stabilization.  The OSS will work in concert with the in-body IS featured in the Mark II bodies, where the lens will correct for two axes of shake while the IBIS will correct the other three.  This can result in correction of shake that the lens can’t correct, though depending on the way your hand-shake manifests itself, the dual stabilization may offer little to no benefit over the lens stabilization alone. It’s a welcome addition to the lens, especially for those with the original A7 series of cameras.

Continue: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

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  1. Marc Baillargeon

    Jordan,
    Thanks for this balanced and informative review. Greatly appreciated, as with all your other contributions.
    I am curious to know if you’ve ever used the “kit” lens FE 28-70 and if so, how do you compare them. Some people say that the 28-70 is not terribly far in quality from the 24-70, although it is not a constant f/4 aperture.
    Thanks again!!
    Marc

    1. Jordan Steele

      I have. Sharpness wise they are fairly comparable. I didn’t review the 28-70 because my copy had a bizarre AF issue where it would randomly miss focus in bright daylight fairly consistently, but when manually focused, it was quite good. The copy I had did have a lot of field curvature, though, but I can’t say whether that was the reason I had focus issues (some element misalignment or something) or whether that’s how it’s supposed to be. I simply returned it and didn’t try another copy. I might eventually pick another one up to try out though. It produced very nice images when I nailed focus. Not quite as much pop as the Zeiss, but overall quite nice. The 28-70 also feels better in the hand than it looks. It looks super cheap, but I was pleased to find the zoom action was smooth and nicely damped.

  2. Alan Marcus

    Jordan,
    Great review, I have a big dilemma. I own the A6000 and the A7r2 as well as the Sony FE 16-35 and FE 70-200.
    I really need a mid range zoom 24-70 or 24- 105 as a travel lens. I can not decide between the Sony FE 24-70 or the Sony E 16-70 (24-105 cropped). Given your review of both lenses. Which has the best over all quality as travel zoom for landscapes, people, and urban settings? I really love my 16-35 for travel but I feel I also some times need a little more reach.

    1. Jordan Steele

      That’s a very tough choice. Both lenses aren’t exactly flawless, but both are good enough to produce good images. The 16-70mm might be a bit better optically, but it’s been a while since I used the lens. I do think that the extra range of the 16-70 makes for a better travel lens. However, for travel, a lot depends on how you plan to go about it. Will you be bringing both cameras? If so, then the 16-70mm may make a lot more sense, as you can have the 16-35 on the A7R II and the 16-70 on the a6000 and have a great range covered without having to change lenses. Do you want to bring the heavier kit or go super light? If you’re going to bring the A7R II, 16-35 and 70-200, but only plan on using the a6000 as a backup, then the 24-70 would make more sense.

      For one lens on one camera, I think I’d lean towards the a6000 with 16-70 because of the versatility and small size, but everyone is different.

  3. Alan Marcus

    Jordan
    Thanks for the advice. Next month, I am traveling for three weeks to Cuba and Costa Rica. I just purchased the 16-70mm that will be used on the A6000 and the Sony 16-35mm will used on the A7R2. I will be leaving the 70-200mm at home since I want to go as light as possible. I will have 16mm through 105mm continuously available without switching lenses. In cases where a longer reach is necessary, I can use “digital zoom” or crop on the computer. I know that using “digital zoom” is considered by many as “unprofessional” but when traveling light for three weeks this tool can often have amazingly good results.

  4. Michael Rivers

    Thank you for the review. Now that there are so many other choices for FF E mount cameras, this lens seems to be a weak choice. I have found, however, that I really like to use this lens for video on both the A7s and the A7MII. The front diameter allows use of a relatively inexpensive ND filter, and the lens has a constant aperture. The in-camera distortion correction works fine for video, and Sony has done a great job of adding excellent codec support. This is a much more powerful tool than an equivalent Canon or Nikon kit.

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