Sony Zeiss Vario Tessar T*E 16-70 mm f4 ZA OSS lens Review

If you are looking for a walk around zoom lens for your Sony E-mount camera you’ll find there are relatively few options. You’ve got the old and new kit lenses , the 18-55 mm f3.5/5.6 and the 16-50 f3.5/5.6 powerzoom pancakelens. Both acceptable lenses, of the two the 18-55 mm is known to be a little sharper (if you’ve got a good copy). The 16-50 mm is of course more compact, and the powerzoom is nice if you shoot a lot of video. Both are O.K. lenses, but if you are a passionate amateur photographer you’ll find they might restrict your possibilities at one point.

Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f4 op de originele zonnekap
Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f4 on the lenshood

If you want more (optically or in range) the next best thing is the Sony G E PZ 18-105 mm f4 OSS, which costs about 600 euro’s (or about the same in dollars). This lens does suffer from a lot of distortion (which is corrected automatically by your camera in JPEG or you can correct it yourself in Lightroom when you shoot in RAW). It’s quite big also, which is a shame for a small mirrorless camera. This lens is ideal for videographers, with its constant aperture of f4 and the powerzoom.

In the walk around zooms you’ll find one more option (if we forget about the Full Frame FE zoom lenses), the Sony Zeiss Vario Tessar T*E 16-70 mm f4 ZA OSS. With a price of about 1000 euros or 1000 dollar this gem is the top of the line of the Sony APS-C E-mount zoom lens. Does this lens compensate its hefty price tag with great performance?

Looks and build

The looks of this lens are similar to its prime-brother: the Sony Zeiss 24 mm f1.8 (read my review of the Sony Zeiss Sonnar E 24 mm f1.8 ZA here). The housing is made of a smooth, black metal. The lens has got a wide zoom ring and a smaller focus ring, made of a ribbed rubber with good grip. There are no other switches on the lens, so to switch autofocus or image stabilisation on or off you’ll have to use the menu of the camera. This lens feels very sturdy and well built. Of course the lens has got a nice blue Zeiss-logo on the left side (seen from behind the camera), the Sony logo is on the right side.

Sony Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f4 ingezoomd op 70mm
Sony Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f4 fully extended
Sony Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f4 uitgezoomd op 16mm
Sony Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f4 at 16mm

On the camera

This lens is very compact, especially when compared to similar DSLR-lenses. Without the sunshade its about 10 cm long and about 9 centimetres in diameter. This is quite small when you’ll realize this lens has a constant aperture of f4. Of course this lens is a lot bigger than the tiny 16-50 kit lens. It still is impressive how Sony has managed to keep the weight of this lens down, as it weighs just 308 grams. Because of this low weight this lens balances nicely on the Sony Alpha 6000. If you do attach the big sunshade the lens does get a lot bulkier, but on the plus side this also makes the lens look more serious / professional. The weight of the A6000 with the Zeiss 16-70 mm is still a lot lower than a comparable DSLR, that’s why I mainly use my A6000 with my DSPTCH wrist-strap instead of a shoulder strap.

De Alpha 6000 met de Carl Zeiss 16-70 mm f4 ZA OSS
De Alpha 6000 with the Carl Zeiss 16-70 mm f4 ZA OSS

Focus

Like all newer Sony E-mount lenses the Zeiss 16-70 mm supports the advanced focus system of the A6000.  This means the A6000 can use both the fast PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus with 179 focus points) and the slower but more accurate CDAF (Contrast Detection Auto Focus with 25 focus points). That’s why the AF with this lens is very fast. Focus is quicker than with the 16-50 mm kit lens, but the Zeiss 24 mm is still a little faster.

For manual focus you can use the smaller focus ring on the lens. The focus ring rotates very smooth, but the ring isn’t connected directly to the focusing mechanism. Just like the Zeiss 24 mm and other native E-mount lenses the focusing works with focus by wire. If you use the manual focus the camera automatically zooms the image on the screen or in the EVF to help you get the right focus point. This makes manual focusing with this lens easy and fast.

Gemaakt met de Zeiss 16-70 mm f4 op de Sony Alpha 6000
Photo taken with the Sony A6000 using the Zeiss 16-70mm f4

Zoom

The lens has got a zoom range of 16-70 mm, when you take in account the 1,5x crop factor this will give you an effective (full frame) zoom range of 24 to 105 mm. This makes this lens an ideal walk around zoom, perfect for everything from landscapes and architecture to an occasional portrait. Especially when the aperture is set to f4 at 70 mm you’ll get real nice background separation, if you are close enough to your subject.

The zoom ring operates smooth. And unlike the focus ring the zoom ring is completely mechanical. This is a drawback for videographers because zooming in or out smoothly in video is harder than with a powerzoom. Photographers will like the mechanical zoom,  it does give you more control over the zooming than you get with a powerzoom.

Colors and contrast

This is the main attraction of this lens! The difference with the 16-50 mm kit lens is very clear. Colors of the photos taken with this lens are deep and impressive. Combined with the truly fantastic (micro-) contrast they make for great photo’s that need less editing to bring out the deep colors.

Kleuren en contrast met de Zeiss 16-70 mm
Colours and contrast Zeiss 16-70 mm f4

Sharpness

Don’t worry, this lens isn’t eyeball scorching sharp like some prime lenses can be. Even tough you don’t have to  worry about your cornea, this lens still is very sharp for a zoom lens. The difference with the kit lens is big. My lens is a little sharper on the left side than it is on the right, but the difference is still within the acceptable range. There are some other reviews where a strong decentring is detected in the tested lenses, where the sharpest point lies far from the centre of the image. It’s probably a good idea to buy this lens in a store where you can return the lens for a new one if you encounter this problem.

Overall sharpness is good from side to side, even at 16 mm f4. My lens is sharpest somewhere around 24 mm stopped down to f5.6-8.

Scherpte van de Zeiss 16-70 mm f4
Sharpness with the Zeiss 16-70 mm f4

Bokeh

The Bokeh (the rendering of the out of focus areas) of this lens is impressive. Its smooth and non-obtrusive, especially for a f4 zoom lens. To make the most of the great bokeh you do need to use a long focal length (close to 70 mm) and a large aperture of f4. When you keep it at these settings you’ll be able to shoot a nice portrait with a decent background separation. In some cases you do get some light union rings in the bokeh.

Bokeh met de Zeiss 16-70 mm f4
Bokeh with the Zeiss 16-70 mm f4
Bokeh met de Zeiss 16-70 mm f4
Bokeh with the Zeiss 16-70 mm f4

Pictures

In the following gallery you’ll find a selection of the photos I made with this lens.

Wrap-up

The Sony Zeiss Vario Tessar T*E 16-70 mm f 4 ZA OSS is an expensive piece of glass. It’s the most expensive lens you can get for the APS-C Sony E-mount cameras. I started the review with the question if this lens can compensate its hefty price tag with its performance. I think it does, this lens is worth every penny! The optics are great, its small and well balanced on the A6000 and the build quality is perfect. You see and feel you’re using a top quality lens. I love taking pictures with it.

Even so, you do need to ask yourself if you need a lens this expensive. If you mainly shoot in JPEG, and can live with its size you’ll probably love the 400 euro / dollar cheaper Sony G 18-105 lens as much as this one. It does have some (optical) drawbacks, like the quite extreme distortion but in JPEG your camera will correct the most of that for you.

If you need (or want) the best possible lens for your APS-C sensor E-mount the Zeiss 16-70 mm is the way to go.

You can buy this lens in the Netherlands at: Bol.com or at CameraNU.nl. Or at Adorama by clicking here.

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