Sony has introduced the second iteration of its popular FE 16-35mm G-master lens. While improvements have been made, the most striking change lies in its reduced size and weight. Sony kindly provided me with this lens for an honest and unbiased review.
The Sony FE 2.8/16-35 GM II lens covers a focal range spanning from 16mm to 35mm, positioning it as an ideal zoom lens for both landscape and real estate photography. The inclusion of a fast f/2.8 aperture over the zoom range also makes it suitable for astrophotography.
With the release of this lens, Sony has completed the second iteration of the so-called trinity of lenses, which consists of a 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and a 70-200mm zoom lens, each with a f/2.8 aperture.
The Design and Build
What immediately stands out is, how compact this lens is. At first, you wouldn’t expect a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout its zoom range. The design itself is functional, featuring a physical aperture ring, a switch to turn off the clicking sounds of that aperture ring, and a focus switch. Additionally, the lens is equipped with two programmable focus buttons, one for holding the lens in a landscape position, and the other for a portrait position.
The front lens has a nice 82mm diameter, and it accommodates filters of this size. It’s advised to use slim filters to prevent any vignetting, of course. The lens comes with a shallow lens hood.
The lens has a length of 111mm, extending by approximately one centimeter when zoomed to 16mm. It is about 20% lighter than its predecessor.
It's worth noting that the lens lacks image stabilization, which is partially responsible for its reduced size and weight. However, it's important to emphasize that this absence is not necessarily a drawback, as most Sony camera bodies are equipped with an In-Body Image Stabilization system (IBIS).
For photographers who prefer to control aperture settings through the camera, an iris-lock feature disables the ring, allowing aperture adjustments via camera dials. Videographers will appreciate the addition of a switch to disable the aperture ring clicks, ensuring smooth audio recording while changing the aperture.
The Image Quality
Initial impressions of the FE 2.8/16-35 GM II lens indicate a good and well-controlled image quality performance. While I don’t have the equipment for a detailed resolution analysis, there is confidence that it meets the demands of high-resolution cameras like the Sony a7R V. Otherwise this lens wouldn’t have a reason to exist.
Despite of this, I took a closer look at it’s performance concerning vignetting and distortions. As expected for ultra-wide-angle lenses, the FE 2.8/16-35 GM II also exhibits noticeable vignetting at f/2.8 and a 16mm focal length, which diminishes when stopped down to f/11.
At 35mm focal length and a f/2.8 aperture, vignetting is less pronounced. The peripheral shading is gone when the lens is stopped down to an aperture of f/8.
Lens distortion is present, which is also common for lenses in this focal range. At 16mm, barrel distortion is noticeable when photographing horizontal and vertical lines. This distortion changes to pincushion distortion at 35mm. However, these distortions, as well as the vignetting, will be effectively corrected using in-camera lens correction.
The lens's eleven-blade circular aperture produces a pleasing 22-point star shape when stopped down to f/8 and beyond. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled. Is almost unnoticeable in normal use. Keep in mind that in-camera lens correction will also remove any chromatic aberration that is present.
The lens does show some flaring when a light source is within the frame, or just outside the frame. The amount of flares, and their appearance, will depend on the light source's location and brightness. In some occasions it’s almost unnoticeable, in other situations quite prominent, showing a long line of flares that will be difficult to remove in post.
The combination of a 16mm focal length and f/2.8 aperture makes this lens appealing for night sky photography. While some coma distortion is present, it’s well under control. The distortions are small, and only visible when enlarged to 100%. It’s important to note that correcting the pronounced vignetting at f/2.8 can lead to increased noise levels at the periphery, especially when high ISO settings are used.
Achieving a shallow depth of field with a 16mm focal length can be challenging. However, at the minimum focal distance of 22 cm, a pleasing bokeh is visible. This characteristic extends to the 35 mm focal length.
Sony claims that the autofocus of this second edition of the 16-35mm G-master lens is nearly twice as fast as its predecessor. While it’s nearly impossible to notice in real-world use, it's evident that the lens focuses swiftly and accurately.
Tested on a Sony a7 IV camera, which is limited to 10 frames per second, it exhibited flawless performance, keeping pace with the autofocus tracking system. The autofocus motors inside the lens appear to have a maximum tracking speed, allowing it to keep up with the 30 frames per second, a speed that is reserved exclusively for the Sony a1.
After using this lens for a couple of weeks, a single conclusion emerges: the FE 2.8/16-35 GM II lens is a superb performer. Its reduced size and weight make it a perfect travel companion as well. The one thing that is not reduced, is it’s price. Nevertheless, for those requiring an f/2.8 aperture and uncompromising image quality, the investment is well justified.
Sony's decision to include an aperture ring with a click-silencing option is commendable. While the two additional focus buttons may not be essential for this lens type, their presence is a welcome addition.
The absence of image stabilization is nothing to be concerned about. First of all, image stabilization is often not essential for this zoom range. Second, most modern camera bodies incorporate an In-Body Image Stabilization system. Thanks to its absence, Sony was able to reduce the weight and size.
Regarding performance relative to its predecessor, differences in image quality are probably subtle and likely discernible only when both lenses are used side by side.
- Compact and lightweight design
- Physical aperture ring
- Aperture ring click-silencing switch
- On-lens autofocus buttons
- Standard 82mm filter thread
- Outstanding image quality
- Lens extends while zooming
- Strong vignetting at 16mm and f/2.8
Thanks to Sony Netherlands for providing the lens with a camera.