- Exceptional build quality with wonderful feel on the zoom and focus rings
- Fast and accurate autofocus
- Impressive image sharpness wide open at the wide and middle ends of the zoom range
- Excellent image sharpness across the frame at all focal lengths when stopped down
- Surprisingly pleasing bokeh when shot at wide apertures
- Outstanding color and contrast throughout the zoom range
- Minimal flare against bright light
- Low vignetting
- Optical stabilizer adds extra handholdability for lower light situations
- Large and heavy lens that is as big as DSLR ultra-wide zooms
- Some distortion present throughout the range (though easily correctable with profiles)
- Moderate lateral chromatic aberration, especially at the long end of the zoom range
- Underwhelming sharpness at 35mm and f/4
- Hood provides minimal coverage
The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS is an extremely high quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens for Sony’s full frame mirrorless camera line. It produces images with excellent color and contrast and impressive image sharpness in almost all scenarios. The lens is truly built like a tank and feels wonderful to operate, but that build quality comes with a larger than hoped for size, with no reduction from a DSLR ultra-wide. There’s really little to dislike about the lens. There’s a little corner softness, but almost all ultra-wide zooms have some, and the 16-35 fares better than most in that department. Overall, it’s a very sharp lens let down only by average performance at 35mm and f/4.
For landscape and architectural use, the lens sings, and the useful range makes for convenient shooting in the field. I was very impressed with this lens, and it bodes well for future FE lenses for Sony’s very popular full frame lineup. It is a rather pricey lens, though. At $1350, the 16-35mm sits at a price point several hundred dollars higher than most f/4 ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses. Other mirrorless ultra-wides are notably cheaper, with the Sony 10-18mm f/4 sitting at the $850 mark and the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 OIS at $999. This lens even costs $150 more than the brand new Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS. However, the optical quality helps justify the high price tag, as it sits near the top of the heap when it comes to ultra-wide zoom lenses. If you like the wide angle look, this should be one of the very first lenses you buy for your A7 series camera. It’s a marvelous optic.
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13 thoughts on “Review: Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 Vario-Tessar ZA OSS”
Well the same Nikon is 680g and this one 518g.
There are certainly heavier lenses, but this is roughly the same size as a DSLR UWA. The Canon 17-40 f/4L is 475g and the 16-35 f/4L IS is 615g, putting the Sony in the middle of those. The point is, this is not a ‘small and light’ combo. It’s an awesome combo, but you should be buying for the capabilities not for some magical size reduction from your SLR. Still an awesome lens. If I pick up an A7II for myself (which I very well may do here soon), it’ll be mainly used as a digital FD body for me…I have a lot of FD glass that works fantastic on that sensor, and the lenses are small and very good (and cheap!). But the 16-35mm would very likely be the first FE lens I would buy for the kit.
My D810 weighs 980g so with the Nikon lens 1660g … the Sony A7II weighs 600g and so 1118g with the lens… that’s a nearly 1.2 pounds less than the Nikon combo …. Seems like a heck of a weight savings to me… I could also carry the Sony 55mm F1.8 (281g) and the Sony HVL-F32M flash (235g) and still be under the weight of the Nikon with just the one lens…
Heck If I chose to carry my A7r I could add the Sony 35 F2,8 (120g) and be even more under the weight of the Nikon and its lens. (1619g vs 1660g)
So it seems to me that weight is a perfectly good reason to go with the Sony FE system.
I bought the 16-35 for the 16mm end, having missed the 15mm Heliar from my (film) Leica days and finding the old analogue Olympus 21mm too wide on my A7. I have the Zeiss 35mm 2,8 but I now only use it because it is small and handy. The picture quality of the zoom at 35mm is on par with the 35mm fixed. One has a one-stop larger aperture and is smaller, lighter and is less expensive; the other has optical stabilisation and zoom. Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. If only one of them, the the zoom. At least for me.
Obviously, I agree with all of your conclusions. (The most recent pics on my flickr page are with the zoom.)
How would this lens do on a A6000? How would it compare to the 16-70?
Your comment would be greatly appreciated…..
It’s a lens that I think is a bit wasted on APS-C. First of all, its rather large, and you don’t really gain anything except probably a bit better corner performance at the wide end. The 16-35mm is great at the wide end and very good at the long end, but the long end sits where the 16-70 is also very good, and so I think the optical improvements are going to be pretty marginal. Factor in the much larger size and the extra cost and reduced range and I’d lean to the 16-70 every time. That said, if you shoot with both FF and APS-C e-mount lenses, the 16-35 could be sort of a ‘double duty’ lens in that case.
Hey Jordan…I just read this review and really appreciate your opinion on this lens. When Sony announced the A7r II recently I decided to sell my Fuji gear and switch to Sony. I felt the A7r II is a camera that Sony is making a statement with and it shows how serious they are about the evolution of the A7 line and how well they are listening to customers. I’m not getting the new A7r yet, but I bought a used older version at a good price and plan to now start buying a couple of lenses. The first is the 55mm f/1.8, which I recently bought used and is on the way, and the second lens that appealed to me was this 16-35mm f/4…a focal range that could cover 80-90% of what I like to shoot. Your positive review has helped push me over the edge (in a good way) and I plan to buy this lens before leaving for a week in northern Nova Scotia next week.
It was hard parting with my Fuji gear, it never did me wrong, and it did so much right…but I missed the FF look that I had with my D800e a couple of years ago and this Sony (I expect) will provide similar benefits from the Fuji while giving me all the beautiful detail found in the FF files. Thanks again.
Hello Jordan. Any plan testing the same lens with the f:2,8 aperture? I am reading here and there that this version is of even higher quality overall than the f:4 one (that I am happily using almost exclusively)