Ambitious lens designs such as extreme ultra-wide zooms generally have some sort of compromises with regards to image quality, and the Sony FE 12-24mm is no exception to that rule. However, Sony did a fairly good job overall with this lens.
The FE 12-24mm f/4 puts in a surprisingly good performance with regards to image sharpness. It’s only a 2x zoom range, but when that range includes extreme wide-angle focal lengths, sharpness can often suffer, but the 12-24mm avoids these issues for the most part. At the wide end of the zoom range at wide apertures, center quality is already quite excellent, though the edges of the frame definitely are fairly soft. The longer end fares a bit better at f/4, but still shows some edge softness. Stopped down, the lens is extremely sharp over 90% of the frame at all focal lengths. wider than around 20mm, the edges show a touch softer resolution, but are still good, while the extreme corners show some residual softness even stopped down. However, even with those softer corners, the image quality there is still quite usable. In all, it’s an impressive performance given the width of the lens.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The 12-24mm f/4 is a modern lens with a modern lens rendering. The lens produces images with nice even contrast and good color response throughout the focal range. On the whole, I found the lens to render somewhat similarly to the FE 16-35mm, with perhaps just a touch more contrast to the images.
Chromatic Aberration is well controlled, which is rather surprising for such a wide-angle lens. Lateral chromatic aberration is extremely low, and can only be seen on extremely close inspection when it is visible at all. Longitudinal CA is also a complete non-factor. I was quite surprised at how well the lens performed in this area.
Being an ultra-wide angle zoom with a modest f/4 aperture, the 12-24mm isn’t exactly a creamy blur-making machine. That said, it still can blur the background when focused close up, even at 12mm. The bokeh is nothing special on this lens, which is somewhat to be expected. There’s a bit of nervousness, and specular highlights are a bit muddy and have a slight bright ring outline. However, it isn’t especially offensive either.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
When lenses get this extreme with regards to focal length, something has to give, and of course there are some compromises when it comes to certain characteristics like distortion and vignetting. The wide end of the zoom range certainly has quite visible barrel distortion. The barrel distortion switches to pincushion distortion as you zoom towards the longer focal lengths, and this is actually a little more offensive than the barrel distortion. Thankfully, there is a built-in profile for JPEG shots as well as a RAW profile in Lightroom that can automatically correct for any distortion in the situations where it becomes visible, though I found at the wide end it doesn’t fully correct it, leaving some residual correction to do manually.
Vignetting is also fairly substantial, with quite visible vignetting at all focal lengths, and it doesn’t improve much upon stopping down. I like some vignetting in my photos, but this lens produces it beyond what I find aesthetically pleasing. The built-in profiles also correct for this, and do so fairly accurately.
The 12-24mm is also only average with regards to flare. Veiling flare is present, but not overpowering, and while most ghosting is fairly small in size, there are a lot of ghosts that can appear in the frame when the sun is in the right position, as can be seen in the shot above.
The Sony 12-24mm f/4 G is a lens that provides very good sharpness, excellent color and contrast and a wonderful ultra-wide focal range, and while an ambitious lens such as this also requires some compromises with lens aberrations, the overall image quality is on a very high level for such a lens.