Long-Term Review: Sony FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS T*


In-Depth Review of the Sony FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS T* which covers technical analysis as well as real world usage. Many full resolution images included.

Sample Images

Spring Morning

28mm | f/8


18mm | f/11



Diameter 78 mm
Length 98.5 mm
Filter Thread 72 mm
Weight 518 g
Max. Magnification 0.19
Close Focusing Distance from the sensor 28 cm
Number of aperture blades 7 (circular)
Elements/ Groups 12/10
Price: : $1348 at amazon.com or B&H photo (affiliate links)


The copy for this review was loaned from Sony free of charge for three weeks. I have since bought another copy from my own money and still use it a lot.

Built Quality


This Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS T* is built well and feels quite solid.

The outer barrel is made from metal, as is is the filter thread.
The inner barrel is made from plastics and shows no play.

The zoom-ring allows for very precise zooming with a very even resistance and zero play.
The focusing-ring has a smooth feel to it and it has zero play as well.
Both rings are made from textured metal which easily gathers dirt, but it is easy to clean as well.

The lens hood is rather heavy and has a nice feel to it, it needs a healthy amount of force to remove it.

Unlike L-lenses from Canon the lens has no gasket around the lens mount, so weather resistance will be limited.



I use a Sony Alpha 7, results will differ with other E-mount cameras.

In a normal environment the SEL1635f4 focuses very quick and precise.

In a darker environment, like a normally lit room at night (f/4, 1/50 Sek., ISO 3200) the AF is slower but still usable for people photography.

If it gets even darker it takes more than one second until the lens is focused but it still locks focus.

So I wouldn’t wan to use this setup for event photography but for my landscape, nature and people photography the AF works well.

Manual Focus

As mentioned before, the focusing ring feels nice nice, what I don’t like too much is the focus by wire implementation.

One problem here is that it matters how fast you turn the focusing ring,  if I turn it by 20 degrees very fast the focus changes from 28cm to infinity. If I turn it slowly it takes more than 360 degrees (one full turn) to change focus from the close focusing distance to infinity.
In theory this sounds like a great idea because focusing should be either super precise or very quick, depending on what you need. But so far I have failed to get to a point were my I am able to use this subconciously, and I have used manual focus with this lens and the FE 2/28 a lot.

The other problem is that there is a small lag between the moment when you turn the focusing ring and when the lens reacts.

I am used to manual lenses where the focusing ring is coupled directly to the focusing helicoid and I am faster and as precise with them. So manual focus works okay but it isn’t very enjoyable (says a hardcore manual lens user).

Size,Weight and Handling

Compared to CaNikon’s 4/16-35 lenses the lens is quite a bit smaller and lighter. None the less at over 500 grams and with a length of nearly 10 centimeters it is still a substantial lens. It also has a very wide diameter of 78mm, I had to change the partitioning of my smaller camera bag to fit it in.

I find the lens to be not very well balanced on my Sony Alpha 7, it is a bit front heavy and I feel a constant need to support it with my other hand. I usually have an L-bracket  attached to my a7 and with that the lens is quite well balanced.

The FE 4/16-35 is shortest when zoomed to 35mm and it extends by about 15mm when zoomed to 16mm. It does not extend when focused, nor does the front of the lens rotate.

16mm left, 35mm right


The Image Stabilizer

The leans features an image stabilizer. I tested the efficiency at 28mm and found  that it made a difference of about 3 stops.

I found the stabilizer very useful for my photography, it gave me more creative freedom in situations were I couldn’t bring a tripod or I could leave the tripod at home.  Take this picture for example:

17mm | f/8 | 0.4s

Even though I had no tripod with me the stabilizer allowed me to expose long enough for the water to blur quite nicely plus it would have been hard to set up a tripod in this place. I should mention, that this is the best from 5 images and it is not as sharp as it would have been had I used a tripod.

Here is another example with the same shutter speed of 0.4s but at 32mm.  I think it wouldn’t have been significantly sharper if I had used a tripod.

Sony 4/16-35 | OSS demonstration | 32mm | 0.4s
32mm | 0.4s | handheld

Optical performance



From f/4 the SEL1635f4z shows an excellent performance in the center and midframe area while the corners are a bit hazy.
Stopped down to f/8 the corners are good to very good but some astigmatism remains.

Field curvature is quite pronounced: When the lens is focused at infinity, details in the corners will be sharpest at a distance of 3 or 4 meters.


Very similar to 16mm: Great in the center corners are good and benefit from stopping down to f/8.


Again: Very similar to 16mm: Great in the center corners are good and benefit from stopping down to f/8.


I think the corner sharpness at f/4 is a little lower than at other focal lengths but by f/8 they are very good. The center and midframe region is excellent from f/4.

All in all this is a very good performance with excellent sharpness in the center from f/4 at any focal lengths and very good across the frame sharpness at f/8.


At 16mm quite noticeable at f/4, better by f/5.6 and more or less gone by f/8.  The more you zoom in, the less pronounced it will be.


The SEL1635z shows a noticeable amount of barrel distortion at 16mm, which is nearly gone by 20mm. It then changes to moderate (sample at 28mm) pincushion distortion which is most extreme at 35mm.

This needs to be corrected for architecture photography but for most subjects it is a no-issue.

Flare resistance and sun-stars

The flare resistance differs a lot with focal lenght and position of of the light source in the frame.
Sometimes it produces no flares with a bright light source in the image but I also lost a few images because of flare.

Contrast isn’t really affected when a bright light source is in the image, the well reknown T* coatings do their job well.

The Sony FE 16-35mm f4 can have very nice and well defined 14- pointed sun stars, a characteristic I enjoyed a lot about the lens.

very prominent sun star and a very abvious but small flare
no flares and a very nice sun star in this image (the reflection above the sun is caused by the sensor, not the lens)


The amount of background blur you can get out of theFE 4/16-35 is  of course limited by it’s moderate speed and short focal length. The bokeh is on the nervous side and I found it to be some times detrimental.

35mm | f/4

Compared to other lenses

The FE 3.5-5.6/28-70 and FE 4/24-70 ZA will perform similar in the center but the FE 4/16-35 has better corners.

The FE 2/28 has less field curvature so flat scenes will have  sharper corners but more three dimensional scenes will  have a little sharper corners with the SEL1635f4. It see a very small advantage for the 2/28 but both are very good at f/8 and I would base my decision more on size, price, versatility and the image stabilizer.
If money is less of and issue and your focus is on landscapes or architecture I would probably prefer the 16-35 because it is more versatile and the image stabilizer is quite handy.  Personally I will stick to the 2/28 because it is much smaller, faster and more affordable which is more important to me than the wide focal range.

The Canon 4/16-35 L IS (affiliate link) is bigger and heavier but also a little sharper in the corners. You have to use an adapter and you lose AF but it is also more affordable.

The Sony E 4/10-18 OSS barely covers the FF sensor at around 16mm but the corner performance at this setting is far from great so I wouldn’t recommend to use it on the a7 series.
On the a6000 it is not as excellent in the center at f/4 but by f/5.6 they are pretty close. The corners are close but a little worse at both ends. But it is also a lot smaller, lighter and more affordable. The 4/16-35 wins for ultimate performance, the 4/10-18 is the more rational lens.

I also compared it to my Canon FD 2.8/20: The SEL1635z is a lot more contrasty at wider apertures and still leads at f/8 and f/11.  Stpped down to f/8 and especially f/11 sharpness is very similar, the FD even has a little advantage in the corners. Flare resistance is no contest: The Canon is pretty bad and the Sony quite good.

Sample Images in Full Resolution

16mm | f/8 | against strong light source

These images are processed from raw in LR

21mm | f/10
24mm | f/8
35mm | f/11
Sony 4/16-35 | 35mm | f/5.6
35mm | f/5.6

More samples in this flickr set: Sony FE 4/16-35 ZA T* full resolution samples




  • excellent center from f/4
  • very good corners stopped down
  • effective image stabilizer
  • very good built quality
  • nice sun stars
  • versatile zoom range


  • not very well balanced on the a7, probably better on the a7II
  • not as well weather sealed as similar lenses from other manufacturers
  • expensive

 Unlike with the FE 4/24-70 Sony did most things right with this lens.

Performance is very good and I find little fault with the lens: For the entire zoom range you get excellent central sharpness from f/4 and very good across the frame sharpness  stopped down. The stabilizer works very well and it produces very nice sun stars. Optical problems like vignetting, distortion or flare are  well enough controlled that they are seldom a problem.

I think it can be a very useful addition to many photo bags. Especially landscape photographers will enjoy the very good image quality and the wide zoom range. They  probably won’t be too thrilled about the size and weight but that’s the price you have to pay for the versatility.

I think the price is a bit high but that’s hardly a surprise for any ower of a Alpha 7 series camera.

Support my work

Doing reviews like this requires a lot of time and effort. You can support my work by using one of these affiliate links at no additional cost to you.

The FE 4/16-35 at Amazon.comAmazon.de or at B&H photo (affiliate links).

Paypal donations are also very much appreciated:

Thanks 🙂

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Manual lenses on the Sony a7 – A beginners guide

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

49 thoughts on “Long-Term Review: Sony FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS T*”

  1. Philip,

    Thanks for your good test, as always. It seems to be a great lens but I don’t think about buying it right now because of the price.
    Whot would interest me also is a comparison to the 16-35 A-mount lens + the LA-EA4 for Sony, which has a better aperture that could help in low light situation or for star / Milky Way pictures.
    I think the extraction of objects is not that interesting for such a wide angle lense.

  2. Ein Vergleich zum Canon 16-35/4L IS am Metabones Adapter wäre interessant. Das Canon ist ja doch einiges günstiger, aber vielleicht nicht schlechter?

    1. Ich habe mal einen kurzen Vergleich gesehen, dabei kam das Canon etwas besser weg, wie ich ja auch zum Ende des Artikels schreibe. Leider kann ich ihn nicht wieder finden.


  3. Danke für deinen Bericht! Da bringst du mich ja nochmal ins Grübeln.
    Ich hatte schon einige Zeit rum überlegt mir das Objektiv zu holen, hatte dann jedoch davon abgesehen, nachdem ich das Objektiv bei einem Bekannten kurz testen konnte und weite Randbereiche bei Blende 8 wirklich unscharf waren. Vielleicht lag es ja an seinem Objektiv und ich sollte es mir nochmal genauer anschauen.


  4. Hello Phillip,
    I own the 16-35mm lens and I enjoy it very much as it is a fantastic lens! I’m a wide-angle shooter and I’m interested by the new Batis 25mm f2 for the speed. Do you think it will bring me that much compare to the 16-35 at 25? Thanks for your thoughts and congrats for your site and reviews!


  5. For whomever was asking this question… The Batis 25mm will blow the 16-35 out of the water in every possible way… Except for versatility of course. Sony-Zeiss is not exactly the same as pure Zeiss. The Batis has been compared to $4000 lenses and it still holds its own. What it depends on is your needs… If versatility is more important than pure utter sharpness.
    And it would be nice if somebody would proof-read Phillips articles before hand.

    1. That’s a very vague description, were exactly do you see an advantage for the Batis besides the already mentioned moderate advantage in the outer 10% of the image?

      Is that an application as proof reader 😀 ?

  6. Let’s begin with the fact that wide-open its edge to edge sharpness. And it’s even sharper dead in the middle. No way I can prove that to you. But it is.
    For some people that’s not a big deal. I’ve not gotten to spend a lot of time with the lens… but from what I’ve seen, I would call it magic.
    And in my opinion… What good is a fast lens if it’s not sharp edge to edge. What good is painstaking composition if it’s not sharp on the edges?. The lens is like magic. I’ve seen the end results and I’ve never seen a lens any sharper than this.
    Zeiss told me that if 2000 copies of the lens came in today, not one copy would sit on the shelf. There must be something going on… Unless it’s simply mass insanity.

    1. Sure the Batis 25 has exceptionally sharp corners from f/2. But I know very few applications where I need sharp corners at f/2, night sky photography is probably the only one which comes to my mind.
      Corners sharpness matters to me at f/8 or f/11 and here I see some advantage for the Batis but they aren’t far apart and I only see a difference in the outer 10% of the image. Here are two full resolution images at f/8:

      1. Hi Phillip,

        thanks a lot for the very informative review!

        By a chance, do you know if those images were taken from the same distance?
        I’m asking because it looks like Batis is wider that 25 mm (judging from the aforementioned images it’s wider than the zoom at 24mm)

        1. Regarding the Batis f/2 25mm: many reviews state that this lens was really a 23mm lens, being wider than normal 24mm lenses. So probably those images were taken from the same distance.

  7. You’re shooting a movie… A thriller… The closet is on the edge of the frame… the killer sticks his gun out from the closet door on the edge of the frame. You’re shooting at low light levels so you want to be wide open. So the gun comes into the corner of the frame out of focus? ? Hmm. Just another of the many examples why edge sharpness is important.
    On the 16-35… Didn’t get to test this… But when you’re at 35mm I was told the lens goes soft?? Is that true?

    1. I think thats not a very good example because at those resolutions the 16-35 will be excellent across the frame at any setting.

      About 35mm: Photozone reported excellent performance in the center but a very noticeable loss of corner resolution. I think at longer distances this is less pronounced and gone by f/8. Even at f/4 it will be noticeable only when the image is enlarged a lot.

      1. Have tested the 16-35 at 35 against my FD 35/2 which was for me sharp enough.
        At all comparable apertures and 100% crop the 16-35 looks sharper all across the frame. A tiny bit but still, it is noticeable.
        Don’t know how it compares to the FE 35.

    2. A lot of people complain about the 16-35 at 35mm.
      I agree it’s not sharp outside the centre wide open at 35, but by f8 it’s a perfectly fine landscape lens: it seems to be as good as my c/y 35-70 at 35mm and f8, which is impressive!
      All the other focal lengths are good to excellent over most of field from wide open. All in all this makes it an extraordinarily good UW zoom.

  8. Thank you for a great review.
    I recently bought a “like new” Sony A7 and I am happy about it! (There is no flash PC socket).
    I was readiong about Leica WATE with a view to purchase but this review has put a stop to my intention to go for a Leica WATE.
    I would like to know if anybody can advise me wether to go for one or the other. Apart from a big price difference there is also a performance difference between Leica 16-18-21 and Zeiss 16-34 F4. How can Leica justify the price of WATE and Mate.
    I know some Zeiss lenses are also very expensive but they reflect their price in build and performance.

      1. Thank you Phillip, I read the link you provided. The WATE is excellent when stopped down to F8 as stated in the review update towards bottom of the page.
        Whereas Zeiss is excellent to begin with. I know that the advantage with Leica lens is that it can be made to work with most (modern) camera bodies. This Zeiss lens may be limited to Sony only.

  9. Thanks, Phillip, for all your excellent work on this site!

    I recently purchased a Sony Alpha 7R II, and a Sony Zeiss Sonnar T FE 55 mm F/1.8 lens.
    After extensive research, with a plan to acquire 2-3 lenses between focal length of 14 and 35 mm, and after reading your superb review of Sony Zeiss FE 16-35 mm F/4 lens, I have finally concluded, that I will go for this FE 16-35 mm lens from Sony Zeiss.

    Further, after waiting for the Zeiss Batis25 mm F/2, for many many months, here in the U.S.A., B&H Photo, I was getting a bit tired of ever-changing availability date!
    Moreover, I thought that if the prince of manual lenses – Phillip Reeve – has enough conviction to carry this lens in his camera bag, this lens can’t be too bad!

    Ich danke Ihnen für Ihre ausgezeichnete Artikel zu den Themen der Fotografie.

    Herzliche Grüße aus Texas!!

    1. Howdy Arun,

      I live in the Dallas area and have been a huge follower of Phillip’s posts. I shoot with a A7RII as well and have a fairly large collection of Minolta and Tokina manual lenses along with the Sony 16-35/f4 and FE 28mm/f2.


  10. I own the Vario-Tessar 4/16-35 OSS and I must say that I disagree with your conclusion. The lens has been a disappointment in most respects. At it’s price point, it manages to be out performed by the (cheaper) Canon 4/16-35L. It even manages to be out performed by 35 year old primes — I did comparison shot of the same scenery with the 16-35 @ ~21mm and @ ~ 28 mm with my adapted early 90s vintage Carl Zeiss 2.8/28 Distagon and 2.8/21 Distagon (Contax MM mount). Vs the 28 Center is about the same, the 28 is sharper all the way through 60~70% of the frame edges are again about the same. The 21 was better in every respect from center to edge. The 4/16-35 also distorts as much or worse, so no saving grace there.

    I feel that the two Vario-Tessars were disappointments after the superlative 1.8/55 set the standard for the FE mount — the 1.8/55 is basically a baby Otus, LOL! The 4/16-35 is simply a lesser disappointment than the appallingly bad 4/24-70. With zooms I can excuse a small max. aperture, I can excuse slow focusing, I can excuse weight, I can excuse bulk and I can even excuse price. But a 2x or 3x zoom should — in the Zeiss tradition — be the equal of primes in image quality. These two Vario-Tessars clearly are not. It’s a pity because they looked good on the outside and the handling is excellent.

    I really hope that Zeiss will do a small 2x zoom on the Batis line. I’ll clamor for a Vario-Sonnar T* 4/25-50 that is about the size of the 1.8/55. It’s a wide zoom, so it’s primary mission to be as sharp as the 1.8/55 when stopped down to F8. Keep it simple, no need for OSS, no need for a big aperture, need for a wide zoom range, no need for a fat aperture.

    1. The Canon is a bit better in the corners, I agree about that. But it is also quite a bit bigger and the difference isn’t huge. Does it have the better price/performance ratio? Sure. Does that make the FE 4/16-35 a bad lens? No. It is one of the best UWW zooms in the market.

      You don’t mention at which aperture you compared them but the 2.8/28 needs f/8 for good across the frame results and even then the extreme corners remain soft. I a bit surprised that you see a significant difference in the center and midframe region, I compared them and the difference is quite small. I have never used the C/Y 2.8/21 but it is really big and really expensive.

      Zeiss’ only UWW zoom I know of is the Contax N 2.8/17-35 and that is certainly not as good as their own primes, so yes there are a few excellent zooms like the 3.4/35-70 but there is no Zeiss tradition where all their zooms are as good as their primes.

      After the review I bought a 4/16-35 and I am still quite happy with it. Usually I prefer to use small manual primes but whenever I need the flexibility or wide angle I am still quite happy with the images. I can understand your wish for a small zoom, I would have liked a small 4/18-28 even more but I am much happier with the 16-35 than I was with the 24-70.


  11. Hi,
    Love your reviews.
    Did you get a chance to tray out the Sony 10-18mm on the a7 .

    If possible tray to review it of an FE mount
    It’s a small and light lens that compliments the a7 series

  12. Hi Phillip,
    Thanks for your profound review of FE 16-35 lens. I have to admit that it finally convinced me to buy this lens for my A7 II.
    I have been using it for the past few weeks. While stopped down it is very sharp. No contrast problems when shooting with sun in the frame.
    However there is one thing with this lens which is strange – whiz/hiss sound when rotating zoom ring. Increasing pitch when zooming towards 16 mm end and decreasing pitch when zooming in opposite direction. Is it normal for this lens? I have not noticed such behavior with my FE 70-200 f/4 zoom.

  13. Phillip,

    As so many have already stated, this was such a helpful review. I do own this lens, but have only had if for one actual shoot session. I really enjoy it, and I am looking forward to many photos coming from this and my a7.

    I’m wondering if the Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 III has any advantages over the 15-35mm? I like the build quality, size, and manual focusing, but specifically I’m looking at a lens for astrophotography, and after briefly owning the Rokinon 14mm I wasn’t convinced it would be a good long term lens because of the build quality, and I struggle with focusing as the focus peaking seemed inconsistent. I also like that the new version of the Voitglander has EXIF data.

    Thanks for the insightful writing.


    1. I think the Voigtländer is a great choice if you value manual focus and small size but it doesn’t offer much over the FE 4/16-35 optically. Despite it’s shortcomings I would go for the faster Samyang 2.8/14 for astro

  14. Phillip,

    Thank you for the feedback! I keep reading/seeing/hearing and now better understand the issue with faster and slower lenses. The new Tokina looks interesting, but I can seem to find if it provide data like the Loxia and Voigtlander do. Again, I’m not against manual adjustments, it feels pretty natural, it would just be helpful for me to see the data in the viewfinder.

    The new Samyang/Rokinon 14mm auto-focus model looks like an interest option, too.
    Thank you again,

  15. Hi Philip,
    it is not clear to me if the sony 16-35mm is usable on the sony alpha 7 without an adapter. It’s all about the Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar T FE F4 ZA OSS. it is not clear to me if the sony 16-35mm is usable on the sony alpha 7 without an adapter.
    There is also a 16-35mm A-mount.

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