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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the following gallery you’ll find a selection of the photos I made with this lens.
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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Hi Rick. I’ve been using the Zeiss 16-70 on my Sony A6000 for almost a year and I thought your review was spot on! I sometimes consider upgrading my camera to a full frame like the A7 or A7R, but there is no full frame zoom lens available that would give me the 24-105 equivalent focal range of the ZA 16-70 in such a compact, lightweight package.
Hi Tom, you’re completely right, Sony has still got some work to do on their FE-lens lineup. I recently upgraded to an A7 with the kit lens, and even though it’s just a 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 it still is a lot bigger than the Zeiss 16-70mm f4. It is about the same weight, but that is because the kit lens is made of plastic.
Great post! I’ve only had my lens for two weeks and I accidentally dropped it. The mount broke off but the black plastic pieces screwed into the mount to the main body of the lens is what snapped. Is there a quick fix for this? Any kits? Help!
Hi Josh, Thanks for your reply and ouch, dropping an expensive and precious lens must hurt! I think your best option is taking it to a Sony Servicepoint and having them check it out. Hopefully it’s only superficial damage, but the internals are quite fragile too. Better be sure the internal elements haven’t shifted before you invest in repairing it. I hope you can have it fixed for a reasonable price!
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Hi Rick, and thanks for the 16-70 review. I have just ordered this lens and am anxious to get my hands on it. I am basically a Nikon guy, but have acquired Sony equipment as backup and a light-weight option and am exceedingly happy with it. The Zeiss products make it all the more effective.
Thanks for your reply. I think you’ll love the 16-70. I hope you have a lot of fun with your new Sony setup. Maybe you can let us know if the Zeiss met your expectations? Rick
Hi rick, great to the point review. I am quite sold. However, I’d like to know which one is better? The A6000 with 16-70 Zeiss lens or A7 with kit lens?
Eagerly waiting for a reply. Thanks in advance!
Thanks for the positive feedback. Choosing between those two isn’t that easy, it depends on what you want to shoot.
There’s no doubt the Zeiss is the better lens, it’s sharper, has got prettier colors and contrast and a better zoomrange (being an effective 24-105mm FF eq.). The A6000 also has got way faster AF, built in pop-up flash and a smaller body, and buying extra native lenses is a lot cheaper (the cheapest full frame lens besides the kit-lens is 450 euros).
The A7 has got a better sensor with even better noise performance and even more dynamic range and the EVF of the A7 is better and bigger. I also love the ‘fullframe-look’ and the way you can play with the depth of field with a full frame sensor. The A7 body is build better, and it has got better controls. Shooting fast action isn’t the A7’s forte, but I rarely shoot sports or fast action. So for me the A7 is the one I’d choose, all day long. But all in all the A6000 with the Zeiss lens is a better all-round camera.
Hope that helps!
Regarding this lens and Sonnar 24mm, which one did you find better for everyday use? The price is about the same, the maker is the same, but one has zoom (+OSS?) whereas the other doesn’t. Like you, I own a6000 with a kit lens and would prefer to have sharper images -at night as well.
Hi Henry, Thanks for your reply. If you are looking for perfectly sharp images, day and night the Zeiss 24 mm is the one to get. It is sharper and brighter than the Zeiss 16-70. You aren’t going to compensate that with the OSS in the 16-70. But without zoom it isn’t as versatile. I’d say if you are looking to add an lens to use in combination with your kitlens and you don’t mind changing lenses on the go the 24 mm is perfect. I loved the sharpness, the bokeh and the compact size. The 16-70 is a lot more versatile, but it is a compromise between zoom, sharpness, brightness and size. I liked the ‘do-all’ convenience, that’s why I sold my 24mm and bought the 16-70mm as my primary lens.
This is what other reviews have said as well and since I already own both the kit lens as well as a 55-120mm lens, I’ll go with the 24mm Sonnar for the best image quality. I expect the switching is going to happen mostly between the zoom lens and Sonnar whereas the kit lens retires to the storage.
A typical scenario, really, since Sony sells both lenses (kit+55-120mm) in one package for 800€. In my case, with a 100€ cashback discount for a total price of 700€. Sonnar’s price is currently 950€ so, all in all, the whole package costs 1650€. Unless they release something really revolutionary, I guess this setup lasts for a good 5-10 years.
Sounds like a smart plan. Please let us know how you like the 24mm Zeiss!
Seems like I did the same as you: there was a second-hand 24mm Zeiss for sale. 599€ and in good condition. So far the testing has been good, as the lens does indeed perform a lot better than the kit lens. I had a walk at night and the cam was able to take good shots even in auto-mode and without a tripod.
Without OSS, though, the video is acceptable only while standing still, since every bump will go straight to the video and makes it unpleasant to watch. Getting a separate action cam is definitely a better idea than trying to make it work with this setup.
I can see why you moved to Tessar, as 24mm really takes pics “as you see” and often I’d rather just take the pic than start swapping a lens. Otherwise a good combo for everyday use.
Hi Rick, thank you for your review. I am going to get this lens however I am not sure how to test whether it is a good copy or not ? i have heard some stories the quality control of this lens has some issue. Any suggestion on this will be much appreciated.
I’d choose a store where you can take the lens home to test it, testing it in a store will be difficult. The most common problem with this lens is decentering, where optimal sharpness isn’t in the center but on the left or right side (making the other side even less sharp looking). In most cases the decentering is limited, so you may never see it. My copy was decentered just a little bit, but I could only really see that by taking a photo of a brick wall. My advice is to buy the lens, use it for a few days for you everday photographyt and check the images. If you don’t see strange effects or optical faults in you photo’s (like a big difference in sharpness between the left and right side of your photo) I’d say the lens is good. I wouldn’t worry too much, you can take great photos with this lens even if it is just a little decentered. If you do see clear problems try to take a photo of a brick wall. Set the camera up on a tripod and make sure it is aligned correctly (perfectly perpendicular to the wall) and see if you can replicate the problem. If so you can return it for another copy.
The problems people report with this lens are so minimal in most cases a normal photographer probably will never see them in his photo’s unless you are an extreme pixelpeeper.
Thanks for giving us the information. I have a plan to buy A6300 cam. Do u think this lens is a good option? What is the difference between this lens and FE 55 mm f/1.8 ZA. Since they are the same price wanted to know your opinion! I really appreciate your time.
The A6300 is definitely the most impressive APS-C camera you can buy at the moment! As for your question, The Zeiss 16-70mm F4 and 55mm F1.8 are completely different in almost every way. The thing they’ve got in common is that they are both very good lenses for the Sony E-mount system. Choosing between them you first need to know wat you need / or what you want to shoot.
The 16-70mm is a versatile lens for everyday shooting, it is perfect for travel, architecture, nature / landscape and the occasional portrait. It is a single lens solution usable in almost every situation. The 55mm is perfect for portraits, but is (especially on an APS-C sensor camera like the A6300, due to the 1.5X crop) probably to long for most travel, architecture and nature / landscape shooting. On the A6300 it would be a complimentary lens you have to combine with another lens, like a wide-angle zoom like the 16-70, the 18-105 or the 16-50 or a wider prime like the Sony 20mm, or the 28mm.
There is also a difference in image quality between the two lenses. The 16-70 is very good for a zoomlens, but is definitely less sharp than the 55mm. And the 55mm prime is a lot brighter with its maximum aperture of f1.8, so it will be more useful in low light situations and it is better in separating subject from background with better bokeh.
Besides that the 55mm is compatible with the full frame A7-series camera’s, where the 16-70 is only compatible with APS-C sized camera’s (or in cropmode on the A7-series, making you lose some resolution). If you plan to upgrade to full frame in the near future it would make more sense to buy the 55mm.
So to sum up: if you need one lens to do it all and don’t want to upgrade to full frame in the near future the 16-70 f4 will suit you best. If you want a complimentary lens that is bright, sharp and overall very impressive the 55mm is the way to go. Neither will disappoint.
Hope that helps! Please let us know what you decide to do.
Thank you for the review, I just replaced my NEX-5N with the Sony a6000… You mentioned that if our mainly shots taken in JPEG we’ll like the Sony G 18-105 much better. So I was wondering why people prefer to take pictures in raw? I noticed that when I took raw pictures with the NEX-5N 18-55mm some of the pictures looks horrible, like oil painting or some blurry parts. What are the pros of RAW and cons?
Do you know if Sony is or Zeiss are going to announce on some new E-mount lenses?
RAW images are by default unprocessed and may look a little flat with less defined sharpness and colors. That is because the RAW format is meant for post processing in software like Lightroom, giving you the option to adjust the image to your liking. RAW files have more information to work with then JPEG, as JPEG is a compressed file format. RAW format is great for the most critical photographers, but will be overkill for casual photographers. If you don’t plan to edit your images you are better off with JPEG image, and if that is the case you probably will be less critical when it comes to image quality and therefor the 18-105 mm Sony lens will probably suit you fine. If you are very critical and want the best of the best the 16-70 Zeiss will be a better fit.
I don’t kmow about any future lenses by Sony, I can imagine they will add some more but probably will focus on the FE lenses that are full frame compatible (as they will also work on the APS-C cameras like your A6000). The Sony / Zeiss APS-C lens lineup seems quite complete for now (but there is always room for improvement of course).
Hi Rick, Thanks for your review and replies to other people. What would you think of the combination of getting the 24mm and a 50mm to go on my A6000? I wonder if I’d use the 24mm most of the time, especially travelling and the 50mm for people and some instances when travelling. The other option is a zoom…
Hi Bridget, sounds like a good plan, but you have to be aware you will be less flexible then when you get the 16-70mm. You’ll also miss (quite) some wide angle, and optical stabilisation.
That said, I love shooting primes and 35mm on full frame (= the same as 24mm on your A6000) is my all time favorite focal length. A 50mm lens on your A6000 will be very good for portraits. Not having a zoom lens force’s you to be more creative, and in my case made me take better photos. If you can live with less flexibility I’d say it’s a very good idea! As a bonus, primes (and especially the Zeiss 24mm) are sharper and brighter, so they also will give you better photos in low light.
Hope that helps, please let us know what you’ve chosen to do!
It is very hard to beat the compactness of using a A6000 with the 16-70 f/4 with a APS-C sensor compared to a DSLR. I do not bother to use a camera bag with this setup and I just dump the camera into a backpack. Unfortunately for Sony E-Mount users, we are have few midrange zoom options and we are limited to the kit lens 16-50, this 16-70 f/4 or the 18-105 f/4 and the 16-70 is the best of the bunch. Sony should develop a f/2.8 zoom for the E-mount asap!
The main complain I have of the A6000 is the number of button presses I need to do to switch from AFA to AFS to AFC and also how to choose the focus points (group/wide/single).
I also wish the Auto ISO function gave me the option to choose the highest shutter speed like 1/125. Sony has made it use the focal length as its default shutter speed (eg. 1/100 when shooting at 70mm) and I am forced to switch to S Mode to get 1/125 as a default shutter speed.
I usually switch to Live View when taking pictures of people who seem self-conscious of their picture being taken. This is something the DSLRs do not do well.
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