Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS Review

November 14, 2014 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS is a new wide-angle zoom lens for the Sony full-frame FE-mount cameras (A7/A7R/A7S). It features Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation, has five aspherical elements including a large diameter AA (advanced aspherical) element and three ED (extra-low dispersion) elements, is dust- and moisture-resistant, and has a minimum focusing distance of 28cm with a maximum magnification of 0.19x. It has a near-circular 7 blade diaphragm which creates an attractive blur to the out-of-focus areas of the image, while an internal focusing mechanism means the lens barrel doesn’t move, and a ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating minimises flare. The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens is available for around £1289 / $1350 in the UK and the US, respectively.

Ease of Use

Weighing in at 518grams, the metal-bodied Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS feels very well-constructed. It's overall size and weight makes it feel well-balanced on the Sony A7R body that we tested it with, as shown in the photos below. Note that the length of the lens does increase slightly by 2cm when you set the focal length to 16mm.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens mounted on a Sony A7R

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens mounted on a Sony A7R, set at 16mm

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens mounted on a Sony A7R, set at 35mm

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens mounted on a Sony A7R, set at 16mm

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens mounted on a Sony A7R, set at 35mm

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens alongside the Sony A7R

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS has a sealed dust and moisture resistant design and is therefore a natural partner for the A7/A7R/A7S cameras.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens boasts built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation to help ensure clearer, sharper handheld shots. This is important as the A7/A7R/A7S bodies don't have a built-in image stabilisation system. In practice we found that the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS reliably offered around 3-stops of compensation.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

The wide and ridged zoom ring and the narrower manual focus ring are the only external controls of note. Manual focusing is possible via the textured focus ring when set on the specific camera body. The lens utilizes double linear motors to produce quiet and smooth focusing, making it well-suited to shooting video.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Side of the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Front of the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Rear of the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens has a metal lens mount. It accepts 72mm filters via plastic threads.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens in-hand

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens with the ALC-SH132 lens hood fitted

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens with the ALC-SH132 lens hood fitted

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens is commendably supplied with both a soft case and a fairly good quality plastic petal-shaped lens hood.

Focal Range

At the 16mm focal length the angle of view is 83 degrees.

 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Field of view at 16mm

At the 35mm focal length the angle of view is 44 degrees.

 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Field of view at 35mm

Focusing

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens has quite a wide focus ring. There are no hard stops at either end of the range, making it a little more difficult to set focus at infinity. Polariser users should be pleased that the 72mm filter thread doesn't rotate on focus.

When it comes to auto-focusing, the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS zoom is a quiet and fairly quick performer on the Sony A7R that we tested it with, taking about 0.25 seconds to lock onto the subject.

We didn't experience much "hunting", either in good or bad light, with the lens accurately focusing almost all of the time, and it's also a quiet performer thanks to the linear motor driven internal focusing, making it ideal for movie shooting.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as blue or purple fringes along contrasty edges, were almost completely absent from our test shots. The examples below show the worst-case scenario.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED

Light Fall-off and Distortion

With the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens set to its maximum aperture of f/4, there is very obvious light fall-off in the corners, requiring you to stop down by at least 3 f-stops to prevent it. There's quite a lot of barrel distortion evident at 16mm, and at 35mm there's some obvious pin-cushioning too.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Light fall-off at 16mm

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Light fall-off at 35mm

Macro

The Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS isn't claimed to be a macro lens, offering a minimum focusing distance of 28cm at 16mm, with a maximum magnification of 0.19x. The following example demonstrates how close you can get to your subject at 35mm, in this case a Compact Flash memory card.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Close-up performance

Bokeh

Bokeh is a word used for the out-of-focus areas of a photograph, and is usually described in qualitative terms, such as smooth / creamy / harsh etc. In the Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35 mm F4 ZA OSS lens, Sony employed an iris diaphragm with seven rounded blades, which has resulted in quite appealing bokeh in our view. We do realise, however, that bokeh evaluation is subjective, so we've included several 100% crops for your perusal.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA
   
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA

Sharpness

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

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