SEL16-70/4 CZ : a real world review

Started Feb 24, 2014 | User reviews thread
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Marla2008 Senior Member • Posts: 2,419
SEL16-70/4 CZ : a real world review

Ok guys, I know there has been a lot of discussion on this lens ever since it came out, mostly due to three factors :

1) E mount cameras were *cruelly* lacking a better option over both slowish kit zooms (not gonna discuss the merits of those here, suffice to say that after two extensive years of NEX use I had cherry picked a black SEL18-55 and stayed with that for walk-around, having a lot of high quality manual and A mount glass otherwise, and the SEL35/1.8 being the only native E lens I truly do like). Fuji coming out with a reasonably priced (600 by itself, 300 in kit) 18-55/2.8-4 really put pressure on Sony to give us something faster... and they came out with the 16-70... F4.

2) the CZ (yes, it does say Carl Zeiss in full print on the lens !) is outrageously priced. That in itself will stop cold 90% potential users. It is good ? Yes it's great. Is it 850 better than the 18-55 ?? That really is for each person to judge. But in my opinion, Sony should offer this lens in the same price range that Fuji does their good zoom. Yes it's slower at the wide end, but it's also much more versatile, so a similar 600 price tag would really let people decide of their priorities. I find around 600 street price would be the sweet spot for this lens.

3) Reviewers and bloggers have poo-poohed this lens. Which of course, hurts when you come with a 1K price tag. An averagely received lens at 400, people will still take a chance. A lens with bad QC issues at 1K, most people will stay away from.

So what about me ? I love quality optics, but I ain't Cresus and I'm a bargain hunter. My best AF lens ever (in any mount, I've had them all) is the Sigma EX 70-200/2.8 HSM DG Macro II, and it can be found gently used for around 500€. It's pretty much my benchmark for assessing lens prices. So shedding 1000€ for a not-so-fast, not so well reviewed F4 zoom was truly out of the question. I still ranted against Sony for not giving us a better walk-around option, I still eyed the Fuji system with a glint of envy, but I love my NEX cameras so much I just couldn't cross the line. Then, the first A6000 AF tests come in looking *finally* pretty promising (saw a low light vid of a 5 yr old running around indoors and the camera doing a great job of focusing *and* tracking, was quite impressed) AND at the same time I came across a bargain that had me salivating. At 615€ shipped I grabbed an open box 16-70 and decided to just take a chance. I'm a wide open only shooter (always after max subject isolation, this is just my shooting style), I neither pixel peep nor look for sharp corners, so I thought unless I got a dud whose's bad IQ would really bite me in the butt, I should be fine.

I received the lens in like new condition, as it should be, and looking slighlty bigger than I had anticipated, but still quite at home on my NEX 7 (it doesn't look that balanced on the 5R, though). Operation is very smooth, everything feels well put together and nicely dampened, no complain here. Focus ? Ah, ah, focus. Excellent ! Since it's obviously gonna be moslty an outdoor lens, AF is nearly instant.I belong to that group of people who never saw any AF speed difference between the 7 and 5R/6 cameras (with or without PDAF) and that was confirmed. Focusing speed is constant whether I mount it on the 7 or 5R, but it's very snappy on both, so don't worry about that. I expect it to be super fast on the coming A6000, as Chris Nicholls of The Camera Store TV has demonstrated in his latest video.

What pleasantly surprises me is how smart it focuses. I'm usually a center AF point only shooter, or I move my FP around, but for convenience and testing sake I set the AF area to multi and let the camera think. Well, it tought very well, always picking up my subject, and Face Detection being quite reliable, and first for any NEX combo I've used (I find Face Detection usually very weak on NEX, compared to rock solid on Panasonic, for instance). The 16-70 will pick a face easily and track it equally well.

I decided to test the lens in difficult conditions, and took it for a very real world, and one occurrence only, report of transferring our newly bought pony from the sellers' place to our own boarding stables. The weather was drab, the light bad, I had a million things to juggle at once, and was dealing with impatient people, kids and animals, none of them to well prepared to give me the best shooting angles, or time to get it right. Sure, it wasn't battle front, but it was trying enough that I was really gonna test the versatility and usability of the extra range, and also the worth of the added aperture speed, for both light gathering and subject isolation properties.

So let me address things in order :

*versatility : fantastic !! The added 2mm at the wide end, and 15mm at the long, make all the difference in the world.

That's a 16mm shot. It really allows you to englobe more of any landscape and get a sense of depth and space

Totally worth if for traveling, landscape shooting, and just general walk-around. The tele end is even more useful to someone like me (I'm a 50mm + shooter at heart). So in usability the added bonus vs. the 18-55 is absolutely obvious.

*Subject isolation. That was a biggy for me. If I didn't need heavy control over background blur, I'd be blissful to be shooting Panasonic m4/3, as I love their cameras and lenses, and the associated speed, and user interface. However, I'm a shallow DOF nut, and APS-C is the sweet spot between that need, and my other needs for reach and tele-work. So while F4 is not "fast", it is one full stop better than 5.6, and of course with the added 15mm in FL at the long end, it does also make a useful difference.

You're not gonna get ice creamy background at that distance, however, it does define planes in the image that are story telling and let you bring your subject forward.

And of course you'll blur away if distances are properly chosen (sorry for the spots on my sensor !)

*color, contrast and sharpness. 10/10, A+, etc. Check this out :

I actually have to dial *down* my contrast and sharpness in camera (I shoot jpegs and post process lightly) with this lens !! The colors and contrast are *very* older Minolta like. I know Zeiss and Minolta have had long time collaboration, and that really shows here. So if you're a sucker for the Minolta look, this lens has it !

*Light gathering ability. This is where this lens has taken me by total surprise ! It is much better than I would have given the F4 credit for ! I usually shoot my kid riding in a very poorly lit old barn. It's a nightmare and many cameras have suffered in that environment, FF like the D600, 6D or A7 included. At the end of the day my N7 with SEL35/1.8 wide open is the most versatile and capable combo I've found, if I don't want to use a DSLR (I don't). But with the 16-70 at F4 I was still able to get some pics I would never have imagined I could at his aperture :

I drop a few more, in various situations, the same day :

CONCLUSION : To me, for the price I was able to grab it for, this lens is a total winner. I cannot judge how it would work at F8 or F11, because I'll probably never shoot it at anything but F4 (heck, that's what I'm paying for !), or how it would do on brick walls (not too good I reckon, distorsion is not entirely taken care of even by the camera) but for anyone wanting to travel and document events with good versatility, performance, reliability, and rock solid IQ, this is the ticket. It's wide, long, and fast enough to be truly much more useful than the 18-55 (or the 16-50 I so strongly dislike). Mount that on your NEX, throw a SEL35/1.8 for the super dark situations, and leave for the other side of the world, you'll never need anything else to nail great pictures. This is totally becoming my travel set-up, one larger E body with this lens, and a smaller one (like 3N or 5R) with the 35/1.8. Done deal.

Sony you've got to drop the price of this lens where it is right : 600$/€. Do that and it'll sell like hot cakes, providing you also fix the QC issues that have apparently been floating around. I'm taking half a star off my rating for the current price, but I'm very, very pleased with my purchase, and can't wait to try it on the A6000.

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"If you don't have an expression, you don't have a shot" - Peter Hurley.

Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS
Zoom lens • Sony E • SEL1670Z
Announced: Aug 27, 2013
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Canon EOS 6D Nikon D600 Sony a6000 Sony Alpha a7 Sony Alpha NEX-7 Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS
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