What can you do with a 12mm wide lens and is it worth the upgrade?
In the latter half of the last decade, camera and lens brands have made marks with their flagship professional-grade ultra-wide angle lenses that go beyond the standard 16 or 17mm focal length. Lenses like Canon’s 11-24mm f/4, Tamron’s 15-30mm f/2.8, and Nikon’s 14-24mm among others are highly specialized lenses for specific uses. While Sony has had the 12-24mm f/4 G for a few years now, it was inevitable that a G Master version with a steady f/2.8 aperture would come. The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 G Master definitely has big shoes to fill and in this review, we’ll see whether or not it’s worth the upgrade.
Build and Design
The first pleasant surprise that came with this lens was its size and weight. With experience shooting with similar lenses like the Tamron 15-30mm, Sigma 12-24mm, and other (ultra) ultra-wide angle lenses, I expected this lens to be heavier and bulkier. On the contrary, it just comes in a length of 5.39 x 3.84 inches and weighs just 847 grams. For comparison, most other lenses that go wider than 16mm with autofocus weight at least 1 kilogram and can be quite a lot to carry around. For a lens that goes as wide as 12mm, a constant aperture of f/2.8, and autofocus, this lens was definitely built the right way.
Internally, it carries 17 glass elements with Nano coating including three Extreme Aspherical (XA), two Super ED, and three ED elements all in 14 groups topped off with a bulbous front element and a fixed lens hood. This is a given for lenses with such a wide-angle of view. It may be quite inconvenient at this point for photographers who plan on using front mounting filters on this lens as it would require bigger filters (150mm x 170mm format) but of course, if the shot calls for the angle of view and the sharpness that his lens offers then the pros outweigh the cons.
The exterior features a 1.2-inch zoom ring on the proximal end and a 1-inch electronic focus ring on the distal end. In between the rings are a standard AF switch, a customizable focus-hold button, metal-plated markings, and the orange Sony G badge. The front cover is the standard pinch-type that mounts on the hood to protect the entire bulbous front glass element. Zooming in and out entails no movement of external parts, leaving no room for moisture or dust to seep in making it generally weather-sealed to allow shooting in harsh conditions. The front element is also fluorine-coated to repel water droplets and moisture, ultimately reducing the chances of having botched images due to environmental factors. The metal lens mount at the bottom also accommodates for rear gel filters as the bulbous front makes it impossible to use traditional screw-in filters. Bigger 150mm square filters up front are the alternative option.
The Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 GM packs a total of four XD linear motors. That’s two assigned to each of the two focus groups. This allows for very accurate and adaptive focusing both in shooting stills and video. Paired with the body’s continuous AF tracking and human or animal eye focus, the performance of the lens makes shooting efficient and comfortable. Though generally slightly slower than the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM and 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, the difference is acceptable considering the increased depth made by the wider angle of view. At the widest angle, the minimum focusing distance is 0.28 meters which can allow for shooting very close objects in the foreground.
There aren’t many doubts on whether this lens would perform well optically. Looking at Sony’s existing line of lenses, especially considering the existence of a 12-24mm f/4 G, this lens was bound to come as part of the G Master line and excellent performance is what is expected of it. To test out the lens’s optical performance, I brought it to shoot a church with some intricately designed interiors and see how well it can capture the most minute details from a distance. A test not just of image quality but as well as precise fine focusing.
The FE 12-24mm f/2.8 G Master exhibits optimal sharpness across the frames with barely any difference in sharpness in the corners. Sharpness peaks at around f/10 to f/16 however it doesn’t lose much sharpness even up to f/22. Overall sharpness is definitely remarkable from corner to corner and in application might even require a bit of sharpness reduction in very busy and detailed scenes.
A vignette is evident at f/2.8 at 12mm. This generally reduces greatly at 16mm all the way to 24mm and disappears entirely beyond f/5.6. Distortion is almost a given for lenses that go this wide but is relatively less on the 12-24mm f/2.8 GM. There's an evident yet minimal negative (barrel type) distortion which is generally very easy to correct, especially with raw image processing software with dedicated profiles for the lens. The lens’s angle of view of 122 degrees allows for quite a lot of possibilities in capturing wide vistas and grand structures.
In the process of testing the lens, I took upon the challenge of producing a panorama that would cover the majority of the length of the hand-painted church ceiling. While it was quite a task to maintain perspective and angle while moving the camera throughout the length of the center aisle, it was generally an easy task to correct for distortion as there wasn’t much image loss in the output and easy to assemble the panorama that captured about 85% of the entire church.
Though the 12-24mm f/2.8 G Master is a highly specialized lens that requires experienced photographers to be properly utilized, it has quite a wide range of applications across many genres. Of course, first would be shooting wide vistas or even tight corners in landscape photography. The wide-angle of view could offer interesting perspectives with creatively placed elements in the foreground. The small minimum focusing distance could also do wonders in focus-stacked images for even sharper output. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 also allows for better results in shooting nighttime landscapes and getting better-detailed images of the clear night sky.
I also found this lens particularly handy in photographing architecture. Though not created with a shift function, the very wide angle of view can capture huge structures from virtually across a street. The fact that the images are very sharp also allows for some room for stretching for perspective correction in post-processing without ruining the image quality. As illustrated above, the lens is also very useful for photographing interiors whether you are shooting grand halls or squeezing into tight corners.
The lens, with its peculiar angle of view, can also do wonders in rendering unique perspectives in shooting environmental portraits and even capturing moments in weddings, concerts, and other events.
What I Liked:
- Outstanding optical performance
- Minimal distortion
- Quick and accurate focusing
- Relatively lightweight and compact
What I didn’t like:
- Inconvenient filter/holder compatibility