As I mentioned in the introduction, the FE 24-70mm has had very mixed reviews since it was released over two years ago, and a lot of people view the lens as sub-par optically. It’s quite likely that there is an excessive level of sample variation, and as such, reviewers generally can only report on how the lens they used was able to perform. In my case, I felt that the negative reputation of the 24-70mm was overblown, though there are definitely points of criticism to be had. Let’s try to get to the bottom of the optical properties of this lens.
Overall, I found the FE 24-70mm to produce images with rather good image sharpness over most of the frame. The central 2/3 of the frame is impressively sharp right from f/4, though the edges and corners go soft at f/4, especially at 24mm. However, stopping down brings the edge sharpness up, and the corners are decently sharp through most of the zoom range, but both the edges and corners suffer some at the 24mm end. 24mm does seem to be the weak point of this lens, with some residual edge and corner softness even at f/11 and f/16. However, I still thought it was good enough at 24mm to be useful. Overall, while it isn’t a perfect lens by any means, I found the 24-70mm delivered good resolution in most situations, and I felt it was better than the poor performance many others have reported with the lens. For a full size image of the shot below, Click here and click the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view at 100%.
Being an f/4 lens that maxes out at 70mm, the Zeiss 24-70mm isn’t going to produce huge amounts of blur in most situations, but it will produce some subject separation when used for portraits or close up items. The 24-70mm unfortunately doesn’t produce the most pleasing bokeh. Of course, close up, the degree of blur will eliminate most of the major problems with the blur, but at more normal distances, the background blur rendered by the lens is quite busy, with harsh edges and onion ring centers to specular highlights. It’s not a major concern in a lens like this, but it’s still a bit of a let down. The image below was taken at 70mm and f/4. Click here for a 100% crop of the out of focus areas to see how the blur looks up close.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
One thing the 24-70mm has in spades is the excellent color and contrast for which Zeiss has become known. Contrast is rich and vibrant with plenty of pop, even at wide apertures. Likewise, colors are saturated and help to bring the scene to life. The excellent color and contrast really help give the images from the 24-70 a very nice kick, and ultimately, the rendering of the scene is very nice. Overall, I really liked the look of the images from this lens, despite the fact that it has some notable optical flaws.
One of the flaws is lateral chromatic aberration control, which shows up at the corners, especially at the wide end. This can be cleaned up quite well in postprocessing with minimal impact, however. Longitudinal CA didn’t pose a problem in my test shooting.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
Like a lot of mirrorless lenses, the 24-70mm relies fairly heavily on software correction to correct distortion, which is a bit disappointing in a lens at this price point. JPEG files and RAW files that use the profiles included in RAW converters like Adobe Lightroom will correct the distortion to negligible amounts (at minor detriment to image sharpness at the edges). Natively, the lens exhibits pronounced barrel distortion at 24mm that evens out rather quickly around 28-30mm before producing worsening pincushion distortion for the rest of the zoom range. The pincushion distortion at 70mm is rather significant, and really requires correction if there are straight lines anywhere near the edges of the frame.
Likewise, uncorrected images show fairly notable vignetting at wide apertures that eases a bit upon stopping down. Regarding flare control, the 24-70mm did perform fairly well against bright light. Some small bright flare ghosts can be induced in some circumstances, but image contrast remains strong.
Looking at image quality overall, the Zeiss 24-70mm is a good lens. It is, however, not a great lens. It’s got excellent contrast and color, and produces images that are sharp over most of the zoom range and image circle. On the other hand, it has some native aberrations in the form of high distortion, some vignetting and CA as well as mediocre bokeh.
9 thoughts on “Review: Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
thank you for the comprehensive and honest review. After a few years later, it is still relevant.
I am considering renting an a7R III for one of my trips where my main focus is portraits and street photography (aiming mainly on the 28 to 50mm range). I first wanted to rent the 24-70 2.8 GM, but it is not offered, so I was offered this 24-70 4 Zeiss instead. Do you believe that this lens will be just fine, or might it have a hard time in terms of sharpness and AF when combined with such a demanding sensor as the one in an a7R III?
Thank you in advance for a potential reply.