Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens Review

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Lenses' started by Amin Sabet, Aug 29, 2015.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    The Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens is a recently introduced, Zeiss branded wide angle zoom lens for Sony E-mount featuring f/4 speed throughout the zoom range as well as optical image stabilization.

    Key Specifications:

    Focal Length: 16 - 35mm
    Equivalent on APS-C Format: 24.5 - 52.5 mm
    Aperture Maximum: f/4
    Minimum: f/22
    Minimum Focus Distance: .92' (.28 m)
    Magnification: 0.19x
    Elements/Groups : 12/10
    Diaphragm Blades: 7, Rounded
    Image Stabilization: Yes
    Autofocus: Yes
    Filter Thread Front: 72 mm
    Dimensions (DxL): Approx. 3.07 x 3.88" (78 x 98.5 mm)
    Weight: 18.27 oz (518 g)

    You can click through any of the images below to see full-resolution (42MP) captures from my Sony A7RII.

    Most people who buy this lens will be looking for superb performance at the wide (16mm) end of the zoom range. In my opinion, the lens delivers nicely with great sharpness, color, and contrast.

    There is some barrel distortion and moderate color fringing as well as light falloff, but all of these can be addressed automatically in camera as well as in leading raw converters such as Lightroom and Capture One.


    ƒ/8.0 16.0 mm 1/60 320


    ƒ/6.3 16.0 mm 1/160 100

    Autofocus is quick and silent. I had no problems with hunting at any focal length.


    ƒ/9.0 16.0 mm 1/250 100

    A bit of uncorrected barrel distortion can actually help with a more natural result in fun shots like this one:


    ƒ/4.0 16.0 mm 1/60 4000

    Don't worry. She mostly eats healthy food!

    Did I mention this is a sharp lens? I invite you to click through and pixel peep this fellow taking a selfie:


    ƒ/8.0 16.0 mm 1/320 100

    Center sharpness is excellent already by f/5.6:


    ƒ/5.6 16.0 mm 1/100 100

    Zoomed in to 24mm, we see excellent edge to edge sharpness with the lens stopped down:


    ƒ/9.0 24.0 mm 1/200 100

    Not bad at all at 27mm and f/5.6 if you look within the depth of field, for example the wood dock towards the bottom of the frame:


    ƒ/5.6 27.0 mm 1/250 100

    Slightly past optimal from a diffraction standpoint, f/11 is still very sharp:


    ƒ/11.0 28.0 mm 1/125 100

    In contrast to some of the reports I had read, I found this lens to remain excellent when fully zoomed to 35mm:


    ƒ/6.3 35.0 mm 1/160 100


    ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/200 100


    ƒ/9.0 35.0 mm 1/160 100

    You'll not often see a ton of background blur with an f/4 wide zoom. What bokeh I came across was pleasing:


    ƒ/4.0 28.0 mm 1/160 100


    ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/200 100


    ƒ/4.0 35.0 mm 1/400 100

    All in all, despite being a "prime guy" and having never been much good at seeing with an ultrawide, I enjoyed my time with the Sony 16-35. From construction, to autofocus performance, to image quality, it's a high-end lens and seems well worth the asking price. Highly recommended.

    Download all RAW files from this review:

    Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens pricing / availability:Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens SEL1635Z B&H
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. NickCyprus

    NickCyprus Super Moderator

    Oct 11, 2012
    "Winner" post from me, not only because of the great review and photos, but also because its probably the only FE lens I trully desire :)

    Great work Amin :thumbsup:
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  3. GabrielPhoto

    GabrielPhoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    Thanks for the post. Aside from the price, this is one FE lens I have in my short list. I feel that 16-35mm range gives a TON of flexibility and in the future plans going to Lithuania etc I want to be able to capture all the beauty without constantly changing lenses if I can have a zoom of great quality even at F4. Of course, I am sharpness junkie too so I will end up comparing it to my FD 35mm F2.0 which is extremely sharp and not quite fair vs a maybe I shall rent first. :D
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  4. addieleman

    addieleman Passionate amateur Subscribing Member

    Nov 13, 2012
    Ad Dieleman
    You could be in for a surprise if you give the zoom a fair chance of winning: OSS off, Live View settings ON (doesn't seem relevant for an A7RM2), tripod, careful manual focussing. I have a Canon FD 35/2 S.S.C. and I'm quite certain the zoom will have better corner sharpness even at f/4.
  5. serhan

    serhan TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2011
    Excellent shots and review, nice bokeh/blurr! It comes like 16-55m zoom with the crop factor at the end... I was using Sigma 24-60mm as my everyday FF zoom with Canon and later 12-35mm with m43... 16-35mm pretty much cover the wide and normal zoom range...
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  6. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    I can see that. There's so much cropping potential with this lens. For example, take the following crop from one of the sample images which was taken at 35mm:


    That crop yields an 8.6MP image with the same framing one would have gotten with a 78mm lens from that distance. And it is sharp at 100% view:

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  7. ggibson

    ggibson TalkEmount Regular

    Sep 1, 2011
    I agree, this lens has been excellent for me. The perfect focal range for travel or landscapes, and it allows for an excellent ability to crop for an even narrower field of view. I also found it to perform nicely at the 35mm end despite what a few people had said. The fact that it can take filters is also a huge plus that not all ultrawides can accomodate.

    The only downside for me is the size. For hiking or even walking with it around your neck all day, it can be a bit large and heavy. It comes with the territory on the FE system. The Sony 10-18mm is more manageable in these cases (and on an APS-C body), but you definitely lose a bit of flexibility at the longer end that the 16-35mm boasts.
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  8. dmward

    dmward TalkEmount Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 21, 2015
    Metro Chicago
    I like mine.
    Its a great lens for walking around a city where architecture, and street scenes are the main interest. 35 is good for people and 16 when care is taken, is great for architecture. Unless one is into angle of view distortion, then its can be a dramatic lens as well.
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  9. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    It's a fantastic lens and a great example that Sony/Zeiss can do very high end optics in a zoom package. Generally speaking most if not all super wide zooms have some degree of barrel distortion. Nature of the game.

    I suspect that it is actually slightly wider than 16mm at the wide end. If you apply lens corrections you can see that it crops it somewhat to what I would expect for a 16mm.
  10. slothead

    slothead TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Mar 1, 2015
    Hey Amin, where'd you get that red shutter button 'extension' (and what's the correct name for it)?
  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
  12. slothead

    slothead TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Mar 1, 2015
    Thanks Amin.
  13. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    I've been using them on all my cameras for years now. Love them.
  14. GabrielPhoto

    GabrielPhoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    I would love to see such comparisons but from the reviews with test charts of the 16-35mm @35mm I highly doubt it will touch the FD 35mm F2.0 (a good condition one of course) edge to edge much less at F4 since the reviews I read needed about F8 to recover edge sharpness:
    Of course, as I am almost ready to get one, I would love to be wrong :D
  15. addieleman

    addieleman Passionate amateur Subscribing Member

    Nov 13, 2012
    Ad Dieleman
    OK, here goes. This is my Canon FD 35mm 1:2 S.S.C. Click on the picture for more images of this lens.

    The test scene.

    I took test shots with the A7 and the FE 16-35/4 and Canon FD 35/2 at f/4 and f/8. Both lenses were focussed at the taking aperture, in case of the FE 16-35mm that means Live View settings set to ON. OSS off, tripod, A mode, focussing with 5.9x magnified view and peaking set to mid. Imported in Lightroom CC with my default settings for sharpening and correction profiles were applied to both lenses as that's what I always do. I made a custom profile for the Canon 35mm correcting for geometric distortion and chromatic aberrations. White balance set with the WB picker on the mid of the grey table.

    Center crop at f/4. Click the picture in your browser to cancel the scaling and see it in full resolution.
    Yikes! There is detail in the FE shot but also a lot of halo and loss of contrast. The CFD is excellent here.

    Center crop at f/8
    Much closer now, it's a toss-up IMHO.

    Upper-right corner crop at f/4
    Essentially same story as in the center at f/4, but notice the CFD's sharp decay in sharpness in the extreme corner. But the CFD is much better overall.

    Upper-right corner crop at f/8
    Again it's a toss-up I think. Only in the very extreme corner the CFD gets a little less sharp.

    See the full-res test shots here and there's also another gallery for the Canon 35/2.

    The Canon FD 35/2 is the clear winner at f/4 except in the extreme corners, at f/8 I find both lenses equivalent and both will be able to produce very high-quality imagery. I must say that focussing with the Canon is a breeze while manual focussing with the FE lens remains a painful experience, mainly due to its dual-speed behaviour.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
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  16. NickCyprus

    NickCyprus Super Moderator

    Oct 11, 2012
    Tony & Chelsea had An interesting comparison I watched today
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  17. GabrielPhoto

    GabrielPhoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    Oh please note those two losers again....nothing with a Sony TAG will EVER be good enough or perform good when they try it...its "weird". ;)
  18. izTheViz

    izTheViz TalkEmount Top Veteran

    May 10, 2013
    Yannis Marigo
    Interesting. In my test the 16-35 is better than my 35/2 at all apertures. And I have more than fairly sharp corners even at f4 with the 16-35 at 100% crop. Sharper than what I see from your shots. Agree with the focusing.
  19. TedG954

    TedG954 TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2014
    South Florida and NE Ohio
    Ted Gersdorf
    I'm very pleased with my FE16-35/4. I'm glad I bought it.

    11-18-15 DFB    11.jpg

    11-18-15 DFB    10.jpg
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  20. darrellc

    darrellc TalkEmount Rookie

    Aug 15, 2015
    Not too surprised by the FE 16-35 vs. Canon 35 test at 35mm above. My FE 16-35 is weak at 35mm and f/4, improves a lot stopping down one stop to f/5.6. Mine is excellent at f/4 up to around 28mm, and at 35mm from f/5.6.
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