Disclaimer: As a member of Sony’s Artisans of Imagery program, I recently had the opportunity to extensively use an internal copy of the newly announced (and not-yet-released) Sony Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 lens. This review chronicles my experiences while using this lens in the field. Additionally, all photos and opinions are based off of a pre-production version of this lens. Any aspect of this lens are subject to change when released by Sony.

Switching to Sony

When Sony first announced their disruptive line of full-frame mirrorless cameras with the A7 and A7r in 2013, I immediately took notice. Being a devoted Canon photographer for the previous 10 years gave me reason enough to take a close look at this system because of the promise Sony made to pack tons of image quality inside a svelte body. However, a camera is only as useful as the lens(es) that you put on it, and while Sony did a great job of getting a complement of native FE-Mount glass out at launch—notably with the insanely sharp Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4, and the Sony 70-200mm f/4 (released a few months after the A7 launch)—there was a glaring gap at the ultra-wide focal length. Fortunately, that all changed when Sony announced the Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS at Photokina in September 2014. Currently, the lens is available for preorder from both B&H and Amazon with an estimated ship date of late November.

In addition to the fantastic array of existing Sony A-Mount glass that can easily be adapted for use with the A7 system,these native FE-Mount lenses made it a no-brainer to sell all of my Canon gear and move exclusively to Sony. Additionally, I was privileged to join Sony’s Artisans of Imagery program earlier this year, which further cemented my happiness with investing in this company’s digital imaging technology. What was an even bigger bonus was that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the only pre-production copies of the yet-to-be released Zeiss FE 16-35mm F4 lens in the world and put it to use last week while visiting two of my favorite US National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands, both in Moab, Utah. Now that I’m back home, I’d like to share my thoughts on this wonderful lens along with some photos that it helped me create. Let me preface this review by saying that my goal is not to present a clinical analysis of MTF charts, lens element analysis, etc. I’m certain that there will be plenty of technical analysis available once this lens is released. This is more of a hands-on, experiential review, which I find to be way more helpful for most people (including myself!). For this review, I paired the Zeiss FE 16-35mm lens with my Sony A7r and A7s.

The importance of an ultra-wide angle lens

The 16-35mm focal range is supremely important to me, as well as to any landscape or architectural photographer. Being able to capture a scene in its entirety simply is a necessity at times. So, as an existing owner of the Sony Zeiss A-Mount 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, I was extremely eager to put its smaller, lighter cousin to use on my Moab trip. While the f/2.8 version is exceptionally sharp and fast, it is also rather bulky and heavy, especially when you factor in the need to use one of Sony’s A-to-E-Mount adapters (which are exceptionally capable in their own right). Every ounce adds up quickly, especially when you’re trekking through the desert, so my goal for the past year has been to optimize the gear I take in order to minimize the strain on my back and shoulders without compromising on image quality.

A Look At Lens Construction

Fortunately, the new Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 lens is exceptionally light, even when compared to its smaller siblings, the FE 24-70mm F4 and FE 55mm f/1.8. Sony lists the lens as weighing approximately 18 oz. and let me reassure you that it is very comfortable to use, especially when hand-holding the camera. The lens is fully compacted at the 35mm focal length and extends outward slightly as you go to the 16mm focal length. The lens telescopes straight out when you twist the zoom ring and does not rotate as some lower quality lenses tend to do. This is especially helpful for photographers who routinely use circular polarizer and soft-grad ND filters. Speaking of which, the lens has a 72mm threading on the front, for those you filter-lovin’ photographers. When I paired my Formatt-Hitech 105mm Circular Polarizer with this lens, there was some visible vignetting at 16mm, as would be expected at such a wide focal length, but totally disappeared between 17-18mm. Beyond that, there was no visible vignetting when using my other Formatt-Hitech 4×4 and 4×6 ND filters.

The overall construction of this lens is very sturdy, as is typically the case when there is a Zeiss badge emblazoned on the lens body. Both the focus and zoom rings rotate smoothly and with assurance. Speaking of focusing, I’m pleased to say that this lens auto-focused extremely quickly and quietly with both my A7r and A7s. It was also very responsive in those situations when I used manual focus, allowing me to adjust focus in accurate, reassuring increments, thanks in no small part to the outstanding rear LCD and electronic viewfinder displays.

How About Image Quality?

Images produced with this lens are very sharp and consistent with minimal softness in the corners. I also didn’t notice any chromatic aberration with photos taken at locations with very high dynamic ranges.

At 16mm, there is the usual type and amount of distortion that you would expect to get at such a wide focal length and while there currently isn’t a corrective lens profile for the Zeiss FE 16-35mm lens in Lightroom, I found favorable results when using the profile for the Sony Zeiss A-Mount 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. I’m also sure that a dedicated profile will be included in a subsequent Lightroom update after the lens is released.

The Sunburst Test

When I first shared photos takes with this lens, one of the more frequent questions that my followers asked was, “What is the quality of the sunburst produced?” I’m glad that this question came up so frequently because I honestly think I would have forgotten to test that out. Fortunately, I was in an ideal place to give this a whirl as the sun first peeked over the horizon while my camera was pointed straight at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. As you can see, the resulting starbursts are quite lovely and well-defined. The FE 16-35mm lens does a great job in elegantly slicing up the sun’s light as it passes through its seven aperture blades

In Conclusion

There is no doubt that a ton of Sony A7 photographers are eagerly awaiting the release of FE 16-35mm f/4 lens. Its small size and weight are matched only by its prowess to output sharp, clean images. It also closes that crucial gap in the holy trinity of lenses by pairing up with its Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 and FE 70-200mm f/4 telephoto siblings. When you put these three lenses and an A7 body together, you have an exceptionally powerful full-frame camera system that takes up nominal room in your camera bag while also saving your back and shoulders from excessive strain. As far as I’m concerned, this is a Must-Have lens for all of the Sony A7 shooters out there. Now, if you’ve got any questions about the lens that I didn’t cover in this review, leave ’em in the Comments section below.

Disclaimer: I was not commissioned by Sony nor any other organization to test this lens or write a review about it. This is solely for the benefit of all the photographers out there who are interested in this lens. As a reminder, you can preorder the Sony Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 lens from B&H or Amazon with an estimated ship date of November 18th, 2014.


BrianMatiash_Headshot2014Brian Matiash is a Portland-based published photographer and author. He is a member of Sony’s Artisans of Imagery as well as the Global Photos Products Evangelist for Google.

To find out more about Brian’s work, click HERE.


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Join the conversation! 40 Comments

  1. Your first two photos in the article show considerable vignetting as well as the last two.

    Reply
    • Correct – and in all cases, I applied them via post processing. I’m not sure if there is another point that you’re trying to make about it, though.

      Reply
      • Why are you cooking review photos? That doesn’t make any sense.

        Reply
        • How does it not make sense? I included a SOOC photo along with a 1:1 crop of it for your review. Beyond that, I want to include my stylized photos. I see nothing wrong with that.

          Reply
      • I appreciate your review, but with all due respect – vignetting just doesn’t work in shots like the very first one in your review. You mention wanting to fit as much as possible into the frame, but then apply vignetting which is normally used to emphasize an object. The “object” is absent, as the entire landscape is the object.
        Most photographers would expect uniform exposure in shots like that, and therefore may assume the lens is at fault.

        Reply
        • On the contrary, photography is an art and therefore boundaries such as “vignetting just doesn’t work” are quite invalid. The vignette in my opinion works very well. It is actually a nice touch considering the mundane uniformity of professional photography as a whole…

          Reply
  2. Hi Brian,

    Do you think a variable ND at 16mm will be doable or are we better off using a slim fixed or 4×4 ND? My question is reference video usage. BTW, nice to have OSS on this lens if your want is for video!

    Thanks,
    Chris

    Reply
    • To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Variable ND filters. I’ve seen too many instances where odd byproducts are produced depending on the focal length used. With that said, at the 16mm range, I did get some hard vignetting at the edges when I had my 105mm CPL attached. Aside from that, it was flawless with my basic drop in 4×4 and 4×6 filters.

      Reply
      • I agree, but for certain situations filter changes aren’t an option. I sprung for the Heliopan, its rather spendy and not perfect.

        Really looking forward to this lens. A few of us have speculated that the A7S is applying lens corrections to the video stream, if so we must be getting a firmware update along with the lens?

        Reply
  3. I’d appreciate your thoughts on corner sharpness at various apertures.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the very nice review, can’t wait to get one to use on my A7s and A7r.

    Reply
  5. Does the rearmost element move as the lens extends, or is it fixed? (i.e. is it going to pump dust into my camera, or just into the lens?)

    Reply
  6. […] Matiash from Photofocus (Click here) reviewed the new 16-35mm f/4.0 FE Zeiss […]

    Reply
  7. Sir, please could you answer me
    1. What’s your thought regarding the results on a7s? Some speculate that due to the low pixel count it will not render well. Is there a substantial difference in terms of output results between a7r and s with this lens attached?

    2.Being a x canon shooter how would you rate this lens compare to canon’s 1635 ?

    Thank you.

    Reply
  8. How do you find this lens compared to the 24-70FE?

    Reply
  9. How does it compare to the A Mount 16-35 f/2.8 ?

    Reply
  10. Would you say at 35 it is as sharp as sel3528z?

    Reply
  11. Thanks Brian for this fine reviw with photos. It’s high on my wishlist now for my A7r! Can’t wait to get one!

    Reply
  12. 2 questions:

    1) for the milky way shot, does the stars exhibit considerable amount of coma?

    2) is there any issues of sensor flaring due to short flange distance as reported by other users when mounting FE 35mm f2.8?

    Reply
  13. After reading the review and looking at the pics and owning the Zeiss 16-35mm F/2.8 myself, I can honestly say that I think the sharpness/contrast vs size/weight trade off for the f/2.8 vs the f/4 falls to the side of the f/2.8.

    Reply
  14. what are those red and green spots in the sunburst pictures?
    They are everywhere near the sunrays…

    Reply
  15. Awesome review! Been thinking of switching to a7s for a while now.

    How’s the manual focusing on the lens? I’m doing more video and would love to have some native sony FE glass when i do switch.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  16. Thanks for the awesome review. Those 2 landscape photos are amazing. I appreciate your hard work and awesome review. I will be pre-ordering this lens. Did you like the lens better on your R or S?

    Reply
  17. Stunning photots, thanks so much for sharing! BTW, I have 2 questions:
    1. How did you illuminate the stone? Did your Sherpas carry lights and generator/batteries all the way up to Delicate Arch?
    2. Is a special permit required to enter Arches NP at night time? Have been there last year, couldn’t imagine what I missed out there at night . . .
    Cheers!

    Reply
  18. I used the Canon 10-22 mm (APS-C = 16-35 mm) on my new A7s. too much vignetting in full frame mode but in APS-C mode did real good at 10 mm need to remove hood to rid vignetting. As far as the 12 meg pixels and going to 8 mp in APS-C mode PP as a final step in Lightroom to get max mp Capture One’s Jpeg’s give a file of 5 meg and Lightroom 14 meg and a great 69 meg TIFF (I do HDRI Sony nor Capture One neither have a HDRI engine). Color/texture are more photo looking with Oloneo PhotoEngine but when using Lightroom more painting looking. When others say the A7s does not have the detail I beg to differ Capture One is even more photo like in a 1 frame PP than Lightroom. This morning did a direct into the sun sunrise from f/9, 16, 22 and this lens handles the star burst way better, the Canon 10- 22 had a circle brighter than the rest in the center also have no idea what that is ( did 3@2ev 5@2ev and 3@3ev each from f/5,9,16,22 all 30 min before sunrise with no clouds so nothing but testing) and I do not see it in these photos. If you see a Canon 10-22 mm on a A7s it is huge (not heavy though) this lens way stealthy like. One thing about using Canon Lenses do not use CPL it freezes focus will not shoot have to turn off pull battery then turn on again and will work for awhile till you let it sleep then have to repeat. I would like to see a 12 mm to 35 mm vs 15 mm though. And $1,399 (e mount) vs $1,999 (A mount full frame needing an adapter + $350) you get auto focus not with Voigtlander 12 or 15. The Canon 24-105 mm does great by the way. My old FD Lenses 200mm to 300 mm with 2X and 4x vivitar very good.and 22 mm also great ( and it does f/1).

    Reply
  19. Thanks for the review – if possible I’d like a little more detail comparing the image quality to what you’ve seen from the A-mount 16-35 and also Canon 16-35 or 17-40 via a metabones adapter on A7R as those are the two other choices for a wide zoom on that body – especially interested in sharpness/contrast at the widest focal length and various apertures.

    Reply
  20. […] reviews so far from Brian Matiash from Photofocus and at Techbang (google tranlsation here). Image samples at Mark Galer’s Flickr page (Click […]

    Reply
  21. […] reviews so far from Brian Matiash from Photofocus and at Techbang (google tranlsation here). Image samples at Mark Galer’s Flickr page (Click […]

    Reply
  22. […] reviews so far from Brian Matiash from Photofocus and at Techbang (google tranlsation here). Image samples at Mark Galer’s Flickr page (Click […]

    Reply
  23. […] Zeiss 16-35mm FE lens reviews posted by Photofocus, Colby Brown and Techbang websites. They have posted many full size sample images and there […]

    Reply
  24. Thank you for this. I have the A7 and A7R and love them. I’ve stopped short of the 70-200mm f4 because I love the compact nature and high qulaity of these amazing cameras which I converted to after all my camera gear (yup) was stolen. I sold a LeicaM9P to help fund the replacements and I shoot them with the native 35mm, 55mm and 24-70mm as well as my remaining Summilux 35m f1.4 (I am a wedding photographer and I use this lens a lot! I also have a history in property photography and the 16mm end will be great for that!). This 16-35mm will be in my bag by tomorrow as I have tracked one down here, where I live, in Chiang Mai Thailand. If you want to check my work take a look at http://www.dlc.photo and http://www.mythaiwedding.com
    Oh, and, for what it’s worth, I far prefer the A7 and R over the Leica M9P. I haven’t tried the ME and I am sure it’s wonderful but…..
    Thank you again for getting this review up there early 🙂
    James de la Cloche

    Reply
  25. Thanks for the review. I’ve mostly used my Nikon and canon lenses together with the A7r for landscape work. They’re absolutely brilliant! however, I don’t have weather sealing in times that its needed. Does this Zeiss 16-35 offer weather sealing since it’s a native FE lens?

    Reply
  26. Yes! Finally something about top phones under 10000.

    Reply
  27. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about mua máy tính cũ.
    Regards

    Reply
  28. Thanks for the review Brian. I am going to take the plunge my friend 😀

    Reply
  29. Thanks for the review!

    Regarding the 16-35mm f4.0. I have read and heard that there are some issues with the manual focus on the video mode. As a videographer, mainly, this is an important feature to have, but still not quite sure what the exact issue is. Can you explain it and how to solve it if it really exists?

    Thank you advance!

    Reply

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About Brian Matiash

My name is Brian Matiash. I am a professional photographer, published author, and educator based in Lincoln, NE. I specialize in fusing landscape & travel photography with experiential storytelling and practical instructing to help others grow creatively. I’ve spent the better part of a decade educating, empowering and inspiring photographers all around the world with my tutorials, videos, and stories. Furthermore, I use my years providing social and content strategy for some of the world’s largest companies to develop and execute on a variety of marketing campaigns successfully and authentically. I am proud to closely partner with some of the world’s best photography and technology companies, all of whom play vital roles in my creative workflow. I am a Zeiss Lens Ambassador, a Wine Country Camera Aficionado, and a member of G-Technology’s G-Team. I also contribute regularly to a variety of photography publications, both online and in print.

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