Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II Review

June 1, 2016 | Jack Baker | |

Introduction

The Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II is Sony’s latest mid-range zoom lens aimed at the enthusiast and professional market. It’s an updated version of the Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM, and both lenses share identical casing and almost identical specifications.

This revised 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II retains the original’s constant f/2.8 maximum aperture and 34cm minimum focussing distance. It also incorporates aspherical glass elements to enhance clarity and contrast, along with Extra-low Dispersion elements for minimised chromatic aberration. The new lens also uses nine aperture blades to create a more rounded aperture for smoother background bokeh blur.

Sony’s upgrades for the Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II are few and subtle. The most obvious addition is weather sealing against dust and moisture ingress, but Sony is also claiming improved image quality with less ghosting and flare, along with 4x faster subject tracking speed from the internal Super Sonic wave AF motor.

These improvements will cost you around £200 more than the original Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM, as the new lens sports a price tag of £1889.

Ease of Use

As professional-grade lenses go, the 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II is exceptionally easy to use, with just two physical controls aside from the zoom and focussing rings. The first is the AF/MF switch, which takes the form of a fairly large rotating dial. You needn’t worry that this is susceptible to accidental movement though, as it’s pretty stiff to operate. Within the dial is a conventional button that locks focus, and that’s it. There are no image stabilisation controls, as Sony’s SteadyShot stabilisation system is built into the camera body.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS The Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens mounted on a Sony A99

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens mounted on a Sony A99

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens mounted on a Sony A99

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens mounted on a Sony A99

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens mounted on a Sony A99

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS The Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens alongside the Sony A99

Zooming and manually focussing the 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II is also a cinch as both rings are wide and operate smoothly. The focussing ring does not have hard stops, but there is a focus scale window that displays the 34cm minimum focus distance through to infinity, as well as a the same measurements in feet.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSFront of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSRear of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens at 70mm

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens

Although the 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II isn’t crammed with features, it’s still not a light lens, weighing in at 974g; 19g heavier than its predecessor. This does however reflect the solid build quality and metal casing, while the lens’ 111mm length and 83mm maximum diameter aren’t particularly large for a full-frame, mid-range zoom lens. But if you do decide to use Sony’s optional LA-EA1 A-mount to E-mount adaptor to attach the lens to an Alpha mirrorless body, the size difference between camera and lens will be noticeable.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSSide of the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens in-hand

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSThe Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II lens in-hand

Focal Range

The 24-70mm focal range gives an angle of view of 84-34 degrees on 35mm full frame sensor and 61-23 degrees on an APS-C camera.

 Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSField of view at 24mm

 Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSField of view at 70mm

Focusing

The lens’ internal Super Sonic wave motor isn’t silent, but it is quiet and unobtrusive. Although there is a dedicated manual focussing setting, instant manual focus override is available when in AF mode: just rotate the focussing ring.

While the front of the lens doesn’t rotate during focussing, it does extend approximately 32mm when set at 70mm. But this shouldn’t pose a major problem when attaching filters to the lens’ 77mm thread.

We found the SSM AF motor to be smooth, fast and accurate. We didn’t encounter any instances of focus hunting and tracking AF was certainly fast, though we didn’t have a first-generation 24-700mm F2.8 ZA SSM available for a direct speed comparison.

Chromatic Aberrations

Sony’s premium optical elements and coatings help ensure that chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is rarely an issue. Shoot a high contrast scene and there may be some slight fringing on the edges of frame, but you’ll need to be viewing at 100% image size to notice it, and even then it’s not particularly distracting.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

Light Fall-off

Fall-off is moderately high at 24mm while wide open at f/2.8, but the vignetting has already subsided at f/4 and gone almost entirely at f/8. Apart from a hint of fall-off in the extreme corners of frame at the other marked focal lengths while set to f/2.8, the 24-700mm F2.8 ZA SSM II doesn’t exhibit any significant fall-off.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Light fall-off at 24mm

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Light fall-off at 70mm

Distortion

If you’re fond of shooting brick walls, you’ll see that the 24-700mm F2.8 ZA SSM II does produce minor barrel distortion at 24mm and the same degree of pincushion distortion at 70mm. In most real-world scenarios this shouldn’t be noticeable. However, if you do need to correct things in software, finding a dedicated lens profile would be a good idea, as the lens’ slightly uneven distortion won’t straighten absolutely perfectly with regular distortion correction.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Distortion at 24mm

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSDistortion at 70mm

Macro

Although this lens isn’t really intended for close-up work, a 34cm minimum focus distance does mean you can get fairly close to your subject. It’s also worth noting that this figure refers to the distance between your subject and the camera sensor, whereas you can actually place the front of the lens as close as 16cm away, even when zoomed in to 70mm, resulting in surprisingly detailed close-up shots.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSSClose-up performance

Bokeh

It isn’t just low light shooting that benefits from the 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II’s large maximum aperture, as this lens also generates very smooth out of focus areas through its use of a nine-bladed diaphragm. This provides smoother bokeh than seven or five-blade designs, however bokeh is a fairly subjective part of a lens’ image quality, so check out these 100% crops to see the 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II’s bokeh quality for yourself.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS
   
Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following pages.