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5.0 out of 5 starsOutstanding, best bright ultra wide angle zoom lens across all marketsReviewed in Germany on 5 September 2017
In order to be able to assess the lens for myself, I compared it to my Tamron 15-30mm 2.8 and the Sigma 35mm 1.4 on the Nikon D810. Since I also had access to the FE 12-24mm F4 and FE ZA16-35mm F4, the empirical values flowed into this review. My brief acquaintances with the Nikon AFS 24mm F1.8 (sharpest fixed focal length with 24mm for F-Mount) on the D810 and the Sigma 24mm ART F1.4 on Metabones IV and a7r2 are also included. For all photo examples in the DSLR forum (google for "t34ra Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM") the correction functions in the camera (a7r2) have been switched off. For the sharpness assessment I only looked at RAW files and exported them as jpeg from LR for comparability. When comparing sharpness, one should always think of the possible and existing variance of lenses of the same type. That is why I understand my comparisons only as an indication and not as an absolute truth.
Short version (the long version below)
1. Haptics / handling - very good with prints (wobble felt lens hood)
2. Flares - good
3. Aperture stars - good, diminishing at f / 8 and more open
4. Bokehballs with selective light sources - very good with prints (onion rings), round even at aperture 11
5. Bokeh - works like this (but very well with the minimum focus distance), otherwise I am missing a bit of sharpness / unsharp area separation
6. Chromatic aberration - very good in both sharpness and unsharpness
7. Corner sharpness versus edge sharpness - good (corners hardly blurrier than the edges)
8. Sharpness in the distance - very good (at 35mm fabulous) with deductions (at 16mm it is not absolutely dominant)
9. Sharpness at close range - very good
10. Vignetting - ok (with F2.8 it vignettes a lot, the Tamron 15-30mm has less vignette)
11. Distortion - ok. The 12-24 records a little less, the Tamron a little more at 16mm.
I compared the lens so thoroughly because it is expensive and it may decide whether to change the system (Nikon -> Sony) for me. In my opinion it is so good that fixed focal lengths in the focal length range of 16-35mm are becoming obsolete. Especially the good results compared to the fixed focal lengths (Sigma 35mm Art and Nikon AFS 24mm 1.8) surprised me.
Certainly, very good, bright prime lenses are possibly minimally better in terms of resolution, distortion, aperture stars, flare resistance and bokeh. For the focal length range 16 - 35mm I would have to buy several fixed focal lengths, which together cost more, weigh more and take up more space in the photo bag. Switching in adverse weather conditions (storm, dust, spray, rain, etc.) naturally poses a risk for the electronics and the sensor. Playing around with different filter diameters and different adapter rings can also be cumbersome. The GM Zoom eliminates the disadvantages mentioned above and also offers enormous image sharpness. In my opinion, the zoom does not make any major compromises when it comes to the above criteria.
As a landscape, (sports) report, holiday lens, it is a very good alternative despite the high price and certainly the best UWW zoom lens in the entire KB landscape. Used on Sony A7SII, A7II, A7RII, A9 housings, it is also stabilized, which further increases versatility. It makes a difference whether I concentrate at 35mm with 1 / 60sec. Exposure time freehand, or whether I am stress-free 1 / 10sec. - 1 / 15sec. Can use exposure time and get very sharp results.
The only negative aftertaste is the bokeh. Despite the full-bodied statements in various tests, I find that below my expectations. I miss the "spatial" impression a bit. And that has not only to do with the theoretical depth of field.
The negative aspect with the lens hood bothers me, but it has no weighting.
I posted extensive image comparisons (sharpness, bokeh, distortion, aperture stars, flares, etc.) in the DSLR forum. Just google for "t34ra Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM".
1. Haptics / handling
The plastic that was used for the outer shell feels good and will probably not show any traces of wear after prolonged use, as is the case with many other FE lenses with their metal shells. With the lens, neither the focal length nor the focus ring wobbles. The rings run well dosed. The manual focus can be used more carefully than with the earlier Sony / ZA lenses. The lens is smaller and lighter than the fast UWW competition. The AF is relatively quick and precise.
I notice two negative aspects about the lens hood: it wobbles minimally (confirmed by several owners) and has a felt coating on the inside. After a few in and out of the photo bag, dust, hairs or other foreign bodies attach. After all, I don't want to pack a lint roll in the photo bag. For me a minus point.
Did some shots on sunny afternoons. The GM performs similarly to the Tamron 15-30mm, it is not flare-free. But what lens is it? In my many backlit shots from different perspectives, I haven't succeeded in such prominent, circular flares, such as the FE 12-24mm F4 or the Irix 15mm F2.4.
3. Aperture stars
The 22 armed aperture stars are very pleasant at aperture 11 and 16. Decreasing from f / 8. Not quite on the level of the Sigma Art, Loxia, the new Nikon 1.8, Voigtlander fixed focal lengths, but compared to UWW zooms from Nikon a significant increase. Minimally better than the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8 and better than the FE 12-24mm F4 and FE ZA16-35mm F4.
4. Bokehballs with selective light sources
I tested how the GM would look like in evening, night-time scenarios (Christmas market, concert, events) or indoors (churches with candlelight, etc.) when photos are taken at close range. What will the light sources look like in the out of focus area?
Compared to the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART at aperture 11, the balls on the GM look about the same. Onion rings are visible and the edges are slightly frayed. Aperture 8 I like the GM better, the edge is more harmonious and round. This is where the 11 slats pay off. Aperture 5.6 as well. At aperture 4 and 2.8, Sigma makes larger balls, but not as round and a bit more restless. Overall, the GM balls make a slightly rounder and more harmonious impression, although they are slightly smaller and have slightly more onion rings. On the one hand, they have fewer color fringes on the edge, and on the other hand, the edges are a little quieter.
Compared to the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8, I find the bokeh balls more homogeneous and calmer. The edges are also more delicate on the GM. I like the GM a lot better here. The Tamron Balls are larger and not conspicuously angular, but the onion rings and the uneven filling make them restless.
Sony advertises the lens with the following property: “Circular aperture with 11 blades for wonderful blurring effects”. This is where it comes into play.
Quite a subjective topic. In the absolute close range of the minimum focus distance (28cm), the bokeh / sharpness gradient or the visual “3D impression” with the GM Zoom is superior to the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART. Compared to the Tamron 15-30mm and 30mm, I find the GM more beautiful with an open aperture, with a closed aperture I find the Tamron slightly more attractive.
The enormous sharpness of the lens, the short minimum focus distance and aperture 2.8 result in a very attractive possibility to photograph the little things in life and to separate them from their surroundings.
In the close range (1.5m 2.5m) I find the bokeh mixed. Compared to the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, I would prefer the Sigma with the same apertures on both lenses. Somehow the blurring looks nicer with the Sigma. The pictures are more vivid.
Compared to the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8, the GM’s open aperture and 30mm appear quieter. The Tamron has a critical blurring area on the sides. When the bezels are closed, I find the Tamron slightly better.
Overall, the GM’s bokeh makes a mediocre impression on me. After the hymns of praise for the bokeh in the “professional” reviews, I would have expected more. The testers either repeat the Sony advertising slogans or they have a different taste for bokeh than I do.
6. CA - chromatic aberration
The GM behaves in an exemplary manner here (the correction in the camera was off). There are hardly any CAs in the focus area as well as in the unsharp area. Very nice. The CA's can be removed from sharp edges in many programs with one click. In the unsharp area, a lot of manual corrections have to be made; it is sometimes time-consuming or even impossible. Anyone who has already photographed with the cheap, modern 1.8mm prime lenses from Nikon, is "happy" about the ugly green edges in the out-of-focus area. The Sony Zoom is really very good here.
7. Corner sharpness versus edge sharpness
In the past, I hadn't paid attention to how the corners are in terms of sharpness compared to the edge. But with flat surfaces (e.g. photos of buildings) or landscapes (coast photos with rocks / pebbles foreground) it makes perfect sense to also take this aspect into account.
I also think GM is good in this discipline. There is hardly any edge and corner sharpness.
8. Sharpness at long distances> 20m and focus at infinity
Compared to the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8, the Tamron can keep up with the maximum UWW position in the middle at f / 8 and 5.6, at f / 4 and 2.8 the Tamron is even better than the GM. However, it was with the same eye level, I see the GM with all other focal lengths sometimes clearly, sometimes less clearly in front. At 30mm, the Sony Zoom is significantly better than the Tamron.
Compared to the FE ZA16-35mm, the GM is slightly better in the middle than the 4 zoom. At the edge, the 4 zoom at aperture 5.6 and 4 is minimally better, above that the GM zoom. At 20mm, the GM is only slightly worse at the edge at aperture 4. 24mm is better in the middle with the GM, only the edge is a bit worse at f / 4 and 5.6. At 30mm the GM is better everywhere, at f / 2.8 the GM is sharper than the 4x zoom at f / 4. At 35mm the GM is so superior to the 4x zoom in all areas that I can only say "blatant".
Compared to the FE 12-24mm F4, the GM is minimally better at 16mm than the small Super UWW Zoom. At the edge the FE 12-24mm F4 cuts a very good figure and beats the GM Zoom. The longer the focal length is set, the better the GM will be. At 24mm, the GM is more clearly in front in the middle, and at the edge it is either the same or only slightly worse than the 12-24mm F4 zoom.
Compared to the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, the Sony Zoom cuts a "sharper" figure in the middle. At the edge, the Sigma is slightly better from F8, including 8F5.6, F4, F2.8) the GM Zoom.
Compared to the Nikon 24mm 1.8, the GM is minimally worse at aperture 2.8. With all other apertures I see the slightest advantage for the GM or the same sharpness. At the edge I can see the GM at all apertures except for 2.8 minimally in front. The Nikon is slightly better at f / 2.8.
Compared to the Sigma 24mm ART F1.4 (on Metabones IV and a7r2), the GM Zoom is a bit sharper in the middle, the advantage is best visible at aperture 11 and 2.8. The zoom is also consistently sharper at the edge. From f / 5.6 the difference is clear, at f / 2.8 the Sigma is catastrophic compared to the GM. I got the message that the flange focal length of the Metabones adapter does not match the native flange focal length (in this case EF Mount) and that it therefore leads to a degradation of the image sharpness. The MC-11 from Sigma should be better, but the AF on the Sony a7r2 is worse. My problem with the adaptations: In addition to the usual sharpness variance with the lenses, there is now also the variance with the most diverse adapters and different behavior after firmware updates. It sucks. That's why I would simply do without it with the now considerable range of native FE lenses.
9. Sharpness at close range 2-3m
Just as important as the impression of sharpness at infinity (or even more important) is the sharpness at close range. With UWW and WW I want the foreground to be present and very sharp, the mountains 1000m behind can still have an acceptable sharpness. That's why I compared the above lenses at close range.
Compared to the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8, the GM at 16mm is clearly superior to the Tamron in the middle. On the edge, the Tamron does almost as well as the GM. At 20mm, the GM is also clearly superior in the middle. At the edge, Tamron can only keep up with f / 2.8, otherwise the GM is sometimes significantly sharper. At 24mm, the GM is significantly sharper in the middle at aperture 11 than the Tamron, the further the aperture opens, the smaller the differences. At f / 2.8 I think the Tamron is slightly better. At the edge and 30mm, the GM is only slightly better than the Tamron. At f / 4 I think the Tamron is a bit better. At 30mm the GM is a bit sharper in the middle than the Tamron, at f4 and f2.8 a bit clearer. At the edge, the GM is consistently sharper than the Tamron. Clearly sharper at f / 2.8.
Compared to the FE ZA16-35mm F4, the GM is a bit sharper throughout at 16mm in the middle. At the edge, the GM is sometimes much sharper. Here, too, aperture 2.8 is sharper than aperture 4 on the 4-series. At 20mm, the GM is slightly sharper in the middle, and on the edge I can see the GM going through a little in front. At 24mm the GM is only sharper in the middle at aperture 11. The further the aperture opens, the smaller the differences in sharpness. The lenses are then roughly equally sharp. On the edge, I only like the GM a little better at f / 11. Aperture 8 is roughly the same. I like aperture 4 and 5.6 slightly better with the 4 than with the GM. At 30mm and aperture 11, the GM is already sharper in the middle. At 8 and 5.6 the advantage disappears. Aperture 4 is roughly equally sharp. At the edge I find the GM sharper only at f / 11. Otherwise I like the 4 series a bit better throughout. At 35mm in the middle, both lenses make the same impression. Except for aperture 4, the GM is a bit sharper. The GM is slightly sharper at the edge, a bit clearer at aperture 5.6 and 4. Aperture 2.8 is better than aperture 4 on the 4 zoom. At this focal length the GM was super good at infinity, at close range it loses dominance here.
Compared to the FE 12-24mm F4, the GM is minimally sharper in the middle. The GM is slightly sharper at the edge. I like it a touch better than the FE 12-24. At infinity it was completely different. The FE12-24 was sometimes significantly better than the GM. At 20mm, the middle of the GM is a bit sharper. On the edge, the GM is sometimes significantly better. Aperture 2.8 is even significantly better than aperture 4 on the FE12-24mm. At 24mm, the GM is significantly better than the FE12-24. Aperture 2.8 is better than aperture 4 on the FE12-24. On the edge, I don't find the GM great, but it's better than the FE12-24. Here, too, the oven panel is better than panel 4 on the FE12-24.
Compared to the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, the GM is either the same in the middle or slightly sharper than the Sigma. At the edge the Sigma is minimally sharper at aperture 11 and 8, otherwise I find the GM minimally at the front.
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