- Compact and relatively well-built lens
- Fast and silent autofocus with good accuracy
- Good image sharpness over most of the frame right from f/4
- Excellent color and contrast provides punchy images and that signature Zeiss look
- Very good bokeh for a standard zoom lens
- Optical image stabilization works fairly well, with 2-3 stops effectiveness
- Excellent zoom range covering very wide to short telephoto
- Corners are soft at wide apertures and don’t ever really get sharp
- Moderate lens distortion
The Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 Vario Tessar T* ZA OSS is a high quality lens with an outstanding range. The useful focal length and constant f/4 aperture provide a lens with a huge variety of uses and provides great convenience for the shooter. While it falls short of outstanding with regards to image sharpness on the edges, the lens produces images that are sharp enough for the vast majority of purposes, and produces pleasing bokeh and outstanding contrast and color.
At $999, the 16-70mm is a relatively expensive standard zoom lens for a mirrorless camera, and I think for the price, I expected just a little more with regards to cross-frame resolution. That said, it is a very enjoyable lens to use and produces very good output on the whole, making it an easy lens to recommend for those looking for a high quality standard zoom for their E-Mount APS-C camera.
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14 thoughts on “Review: Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 Vario-Tessar T* ZA OSS”
Thanks, I think this is a very accurate review and I agree with most of your findings. To be frank, this lens doesn’t have any particular strength except for contrast and color. Normally, I’m the kind of person who isn’t that picky about these aspects as they can be dealt with in post but this lens is on a quite high level. RAWs from this lens do almost look like processed images.
It’s just too bad that things like that aren’t valued by many in the era of heavy post-processing. Maybe this lens would have been a big success in the days of film. In countries where people do little post such as Japan (they shoot jpeg most of the time), this lens seems to get more attention.
Hello Jordan, great review… after using this lens for 6months now I agree with all your findings.
Just a question regrding build quality, as you state there is a minimal play on the zoom ring of your copy. Does this “play” create a “click” sound once you try to zoom into both directions? My copy has a play about 1mm or less in both directions and in any focal length and I was wondering if it’s something normal, or I have to worry about it…
That’s exactly what my review sample did.
Mine has play as well. a bit disappointing. This lens should cost half the price.
I purchased a second hand copy of this lens, in excellent condition. Unfortunately, together with obvious corner sharpness, the outer edges of the “long” side of the frame were also rather soft. To make matters worse, it varied by focal length, showing some softness on one or other side of the frame, which covered about a quarter of the frame. Needless to say, it went back the the dealer – though I notice that in SLRGear’s review they experienced similar issues, with their copy showing some softness on one side throughout it’s focal range, though with softness on the other side of the image too at some focal length and aperture combinations. Although I appreciate zooms are rarely “perfect”, the outer field was very disappointing given the quality of the centre. For the UK asking price for a new copy, I remain somewhat unconvinced given the rather “random” nature of the outer field at different apertures and focal lengths.
From your review, you didn’t seem to find any of this with your sample? There has been some internet discussion since the lens was released about sample variation – if I purchased one and it seemed as good as yours, I would probably be happy, but the unpredictable nature of the lens for the price makes me nervous.
My review sample seemed to have no obvious decentering issues. I have also heard this can be an issue with this lens, but I didn’t experience it with the tested copy.
thanks for your reply. It certainly seems there is some quite substantial sample variation, as other reviews seemed to find issues with edge performance – I looked at ePhotozine, and one of their sample photos showed very obvious softness on one side of the image that was not present on the other side, for example. Conversely, other reviewers such as you don’t find these problems. Personally, I have found with stabilised lenses that from time to time they seem to throw up edge and corner issues in some frames, I assume as a result of the floating elements moving around as part of stabilisation. I may well try another ZA16-70, but probably from a retailer with a good returns policy! Thanks for your review anyway – the decision between a 16-70 and 18-105 is not easy, particularly when factoring in price.
Hey Jordan, I have this lens on my A7r and I was wondering about image quality, I’m not going to be printing my images to a large scale, but apart from the printing aspect, will the fact that the lens is cropping my photos to 15MP cause quality issues even at a smaller scale?
Well, you have the combination, so you’ll be the best judge. You’re getting a 15 megapixel APS-C crop. That’s the same as shooting with any high quality 15 megapixel APS-C camera, and as such image quality will be similar. Will it cause issues? Of course not. Unless printing at larger than 12×18″ you’ll be hard pressed to see any difference at all between the cropped and full images with regards to final quality. I’m actually in the process of writing an article about how our image quality perceptions have changed over the past 15 years, which will address a bit of this point. 16 megapixels was good enough for professional fashion photographers and landscape photographers 10 years ago…it will do fine for most everyone.
Been looking at your site for many years and like your down to earth reviews In your test of the sony 16-70 f4 you mention professional photographers being happy with 16 mega pixels . I photographed my neices wedding when film was still the in thing and as an aside borrowed a kodak 1 mega pixel camera ,yes that is ONE and the images from it were outstanding , so dont worry about what anyone else thinks about anything you shoot as long as YOU are happy . And that shot of your daughter on the top of that cliff is scary . I hope it wasnt windy that day like it was in a harbour on holliday last year and I was nearly blown into the sea , frightening !