The Good. Much like the other lenses in Sony’s G Master collection, the 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE is a stunner when it comes to speed and performance. At the heart of its performance is its extremely high resolution; outstandingly fast and unbelievably precise autofocus, giving users images with excellent corner-to-corner sharpness; and of course, smooth bokeh at its widest aperture for captivating portraits and close-ups. This being a G Master lens, Sony doesn’t stop there. It also boasts great weather-sealing to withstand harsh conditions, which is a definitely a necessity for landscape photography, Nano AR Coating to suppress flare and ghosting, the focus hold button, manual focus ring and AF/MF switch combo for better creative workflow, and external fluorine coating to keep those pesky fingerprints at bay.
The Bad. Much like the other G Master lenses, there’s not a lot to complain about, but there are a couple of not-quite-positive things to point out. While it boasts aspherical elements to minimize distortion, there is still some very noticeable barrel distortion at 16mm. This is especially obvious when you’re shooting portraits up close—there’s a large, obvious bulge in the center and some stretching in the corners. Additionally, we wish it had an aperture ring like the Sony 85mm F1.4 G Master for those of us who are film or manual shooters. And this being a high-end glass, it also comes with a high price tag. The $2,199.99 cost might be a little hard to swallow if you’re not doing this professionally.
The Bottom Line. With its exceptional sharpness and ultra-fast, accurate autofocus, the 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE is a nice addition to your Sony arsenal. Nice bokeh makes it great for portraits, its weather sealing makes it perfect for outdoor photography, and its fast focusing mode, especially at AF-C, makes it a decent lens for action shots.
Pick This Up If… you’re a pro photographer who is looking to invest in a great wide-angle zoom lens or if you’re a hobbyist with deep pockets.
(F22, 1/160, ISO 800, 16mm)
Rounding out Sony’s G Master dream optic team nicely is its 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE, which basically fills that wide-angle gap in the family. This glass, much like its kin, is made with all the makings of an excellent lens, boasting speed, sharpness, great handling, weather resistance, and minimization of typical lens issues.
Is it a necessary addition to every photographer’s camera bag? At $2,199.99, not quite. For hobbyists and casual shooters, there are good alternatives that won’t set you back as much. The ultra-wide Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G, for example, is $500 less and a better option especially if you already have a dedicated portraits lens like the Sony 85mm F1.4 G Master.
However, if you’re a pro photographer looking for a high-quality, versatile wide-angle zoom, it’s certainly a good investment. This lens is great not only for landscapes, street, and urban scenes, and portraits, but thanks to its fast and accurate autofocus, it’s also great for some action shots.
Let’s dive right into its details.
(F11, 1/800, ISO 400, 29mm)
Thanks to Sony, we shot the 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE with our Sony a7R III loaner, which let us maximize the lens and realize its full potential. Check out our full review of the camera by clicking HERE.
- Model: SEL1635GM
- Fits: full-frame E-mount mirrorless and APS-C cameras
- Focal Length: 16–35mm (full-frame), 24–52.5 (APS-C)
- Maximum Aperture: F2.8
- Minimum Aperture: F22
- Angle of View (diagonal): 107°–63° (full-frame), 83°–44° (APS-C)
- Lens Construction: 16 elements in 13 groups
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.92 ft (0.28 m)
- Maximum Magnification Ratio: 0.62x
- Filter Size: Φ82mm
- Maximum Diameter: Φ 88.5mm (3.5 in)
- Length: 121.6mm (4-7/8 inches)
- Weight: 24 oz (680 g)
- Diaphragm Blade Number: 11 (circular)
- Image Stabilization Performance: Steadyshot (body-integrated)
- Standard Accessories: Petal shape, bayonet type hood; front and rear lens caps; case
The Sony 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE feels very solid, made of durable plastic with a nice finish that feels nice in your hands. The zoom and focus rings are made of ridged rubber, which lends to their nice tactile feel, and with enough resistance for more controlled zooming and focusing.
At 24 oz and 3.5 x 4.875 inches, it might not be the lightest or the smallest, but it does fit nicely and feel well balanced with the Sony a7r III body. Mounting this lens to a camera body is a breeze, and it locks into place with a satisfying, if muted, snap.
(F4.5, 1/8000, ISO 800, 35mm)
It’s got an 82mm front filter thread and fluorine coating on the lens to keep dust and fingerprints at bay. There are also rubber gaskets inside the lens and at the mount for resistance against harsh weather (dust and moisture). Though we didn’t get the opportunity to test this weather resistance in wet conditions, we were able to test its effectiveness to keep dust away on the sandy dunes of Death Valley.
While not exactly the most compact, this lens on the a7R III is just the right pair. The combo is the right size and weight so that it didn’t like a burden lugging it around on hikes in the great outdoors. It also feels well balanced, and shooting portraits and landscapes with it is easy and comfortable.
(F2.8, 1/4000, ISO 100, 19mm)
For convenience and a more seamless, creative workflow, it boasts a focus ring, a zoom ring, an AF/MF switch, and an AF hold button that are all easily accessible with one hand without forcing you to take your other hand off the grip or readjust your position. These allow you to make adjustments without making you reframe your shots.
Not to be nitpicky but we do wish that it also had the aperture ring that the 85mm F1.4 GM has. It’s a small detail that not all photographers would miss, but it’s certainly a nice extra that helps with a more seamless operation for those photographers who shoot film or on manual.
Other than that, however, we got no complaints.
SPEED & FOCUS
(F2.8, 1/200, ISO 100, 24mm)
The 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE’s autofocus is one of its greatest strengths. The two Direct Drive Super Sonicwave Motors and a floating focus control system give it that very reliable high precision, high speed focusing power that’s beautifully quiet too.
(F2.8, 1/8000, ISO 400, 35mm)
Coupled with the a7R III’s fast autofocusing system, you’ll be hard-pressed to mess up the focus and render out of focus images when shooting with this glass. It works well extremely well with portraits, and great with some slower action shots. Its focusing system is so reliable that the focus performed smoothly and didn’t act erratically when we were shooting in moderately windy conditions.
(F2.8, 1/320, ISO 100, 24mm)
For a zoom lens, the bokeh on this glass is nicely rounded and smooth at the highest aperture of F2.8 that offers a nice contrast to its pinpoint sharpness. It’s all thanks to its 11-blade diaphragm. It’s not prime-level amazing, but it’s good enough to yield nice portraits especially if you can only bring with you one, versatile lens.
(F2.8, 1/3200, ISO 100, 28mm)
Thanks to its high corner-to-corner resolution, the Sony16-35mm F2.8 GM FE delivers crisp, super-sharp images across all focal ranges and apertures, which basically means it will serve landscape and architecture photographers very well.
Adding to the mix is Sony’s Nano AR coating to minimize distracting lighting reflections such as flare and ghosting, as well as nice color rendering, resulting in crisp, clean images with subdued, neutral tones before post-processing.
(F11, 1/640, ISO 100, 24mm)
(F22, 1/200, ISO 400, 35mm)
However, despite coming with aspherical elements and extra-low dispersion glass elements to control both distortion and chromatic aberration, you will see signs of both barrel distortion and/or chromatic aberration on some of your photos.
(F2.8, 1/2000, ISO 100, 16mm)
Don’t get us wrong: these are typical issues for wide-angle zooms and Sony G Master does an excellent job keeping these issues at bay. For the most part during our tests, we didn’t notice that many photos with color fringing, and if we did, they were hardly noticeable. Plus, any distortion we found, on the other hand, was minimal. But we did find them in some photos, and they’re worth mentioning so that you can keep a close eye when shooting with it and adjust accordingly.
(F22, 1/60, ISO 100, 16mm)
- Superb sharpness
- Fast and accurate autofocus
- Weather resistance
- Nice bokeh
- Great handling
- Little to zero flare and ghosting
- Accurate color rendition
- Some distortion at 16mm
- Some chromatic aberration
(F22, 1/160, ISO 400, 35mm)
Sony’s wide-angle zoom is, without a doubt, a solid addition to its G Master family. The 16-35mm F2.8 GM FE is a versatile glass that renders excellent, sharp images, and boasts many talents. And two of the biggest issues we have with it are well kept to a minimum. Overall and from a technical point of view, this lens produces excellent image quality with well-controlled distortion and very minimal color fringing. And it’s got a highly reliable weather sealing so you can take it out in the rain or out in the desert wilderness without worry.
(F22, 1/200, ISO 400, 27mm)
However, it must be said that while we’re impressed, we’re not exactly madly in love. And it really boils down to the images it yields, which for some reason don’t quite stand out as well as you would hope from a lens that costs so much. They don’t have that instantaneous appeal that, for example, we immediately noticed while testing the 85mm GM prime.
If you’ve got the budget for it and you’re looking to fill that wide-angle void in your arsenal, then it is a good investment out of which you’ll get plenty of uses. If not… well, let’s just say we’re in no hurry to shell out that much cash.
Extreme sharpness, lightning fast autofocus, nice bokeh and reliable weather sealing make the Sony 16-35mm F2.8 G Master FE an excellent wide-angle zoom lens that pro photographers might find a useful addition to their camera bag.