Hands-on Review of the Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM Lens

I've been shooting with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM zoom lens on a Sony a7 iii full-frame mirrorless camera. Here's my hands-on review.

I’ve recently been shooting with several of Sony’s high-end lenses paired with their impressive new Alpha-series cameras, the a7r iii and the a7 iii. The lens I’m focusing on here is the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens. I’ve also previously posted quite a few sample images taken with this lens.

The short version about this lens is that it’s an autofocus E-mount lens designed for Sony’s full-frame cameras like the a7r iii the newer a7 iii. I’ve been using it on the a7 iii.

With the lens hood attached (model ALC-SH149).

Without the lens hood attached.

It has an aperture range of ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22 (with apertures constant throughout the zoom range), an 11-blade circular diaphragm, three aspherical and two XA elements, and is ruggedized with dust- and moisture-resistant construction.

Sony has a few different classes of its lenses. This one is part of their G Master series, which put an emphasis on high-quality optics to suit the excellent image quality produced by cameras like Sony’s Alpha range (such as the a7r iii and a7 iii). So they’re designed to offer sharp details and minimal optical flaws even on very high-resolution sensors, along with attractive bokeh for the out-of-focus areas of the frame.

Zoom Range and Perspective. With a zoom range of 16mm to 35mm on a full-frame sensor, it’s on the very wide end. 16mm is considered ultra-wide, while 35mm is a classic photojournalism focal length that’s especially versatile for travel photography. In terms of its angle of view, it translates to 63° to 107°.

Minimum Focus Distance. This isn’t a macro lens, but because of the wide angle it has quite a close minimum focus distance of 11 inches (28 cm).

The minimum focusing distance is just under 1 foot (0.92 feet / 28 cm).

Size and Weight. When you first pick it up, you can tell this is top-shelf glass (although you’ve probably already guessed that by its price). It feels solid and study and beautifully constructed. The downside is that it’s quite heavy and large–at least compared to the a7 iii or a7r iii body. It weighs 1.5 pounds (680 grams), If you’re used to lugging full-frame DSLR lenses, you’ll be used to it, but if you’re attracted by the potential for mirrorless camera rigs to be smaller and lighter, the size and weight of this lens will undercut that somewhat. (That said, it is lighter and smaller than the 24-70mm equivalent.

Controls. When you look at the lens, it looks quite plain. There’s no aperture ring–that’s handled with the camera’s controls. There is a switch to toggle autofocus and manual focus modes.

The focusing smooth and true. Sony’s marketing material point to “industry-leading actuator technology.” When you’re actually using the lens, that evidently translates into quick and accurate focusing. The focus ring is also silky smooth.

The zoom ring is also smooth, and I haven’t run into issues with creep.

Extension. The lens barrel extends slightly–just under an inch–when you zoom out. The lens is at its shortest physical length when you’re zoomed in to 35mm.

Image Stabilization. This lens doesn’t have image stabilization.

Optics. It has 16 elements in 13 groups. And it has 11 rounded diaphragm blades, which helps with smoother and more natural-looking bokeh.

Lens Diameter / Filter Thread. If you’re looking to add circular screw-on filters, it has a lens diameter of 82mm. While it’s a wide-angle lens, it has a flat front lens element, so screw-on filters work just fine (as contrasted with some other ultra-wide-angle lenses that have a curved or bulbous front element that won’t allow standard front-mounted filters).

It takes 82mm filters.

Ruggedized. As with many high-end lenses these days, this one is ruggedized to help prevent dust and moisture from getting in. But this is not an aspect of this lens that I’ve put to the test, so I’ll just have to take Sony’s word for it.

Lens Hood. It comes with a plastic petal-shaped lens hood. In a nice touch, the inside of the hood is lined with black velvety fabric to minimize the risk of reflections.

If you need to get a replacement, the model number is ALC-SH149 (and it’s predictably overpriced for what it is).

Sample Images

I’ve posted separately a much larger collection of sample images taken with this lens, but here’s a small sampling. You can click on each image to open a full-size version. They were shot in RAW and only lightly processed in Lightroom without using any of Lightroom’s lens correction tools.

The focus point was on the far end of the tunnel. Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 16 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/4. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Even at this wide aperture and with the high-contrast lines near the edges, there’s very little chromatic aberration. You can see a little blue fringing along the highlight edges of both windows, but it’s certainly well within normal amounts and is easily fixed in something like Lightroom or another app that has chromatic aberration correction tools. Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 16 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 35 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 27 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 16 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 16 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

This was shot an exceptionally high ISO (160000), so the image quality is degraded. But I’ve included it here as an example of the starburst effect on the lights when using ƒ/22. Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 35 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/22. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 16 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/7.1. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 19 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/11. Shot with Sony a7iii.

You can see a reasonably about of barrel distortion in this shot. It was taken head on from around 20 feet away. The lens profile in Lightroom CC Classic does a nice job of correcting for it (this version is uncorrected). Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 35 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 24 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/5. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 16 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Taken with a Sony FE 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 GM lens zoomed to 19 mm and with an aperture of ƒ/22. Shot with Sony a7iii.

Wrap Up

I can’t fault this lens’s quality. It’s beautifully built and the optics are excellent. And at $2200, you’d expect that.

If I had to pick something to quibble with, though, it would be the lens’s bulk. As a travel photographer, I would love it to be smaller and lighter, but that’s unrealistic given the constraints of physics. There are smaller and lighter lenses, but something’s got to give, and the whole point of these G Master lenses is to prioritize optical quality and construction over convenience. And unfortunately that means putting up with a little extra weight and size.

But overall, I really like this lens as a travel photography lens. It makes for an excellent pairing with Sony’s class-leading mirrorless Alpha cameras. With a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 throughout the zoom range, it’s highly versatile in the kind of patchy lighting conditions you come across. And I have a preference for wide-angle lenses when it comes to my go-to travel kit.

Of course, its price isn’t a trivial matter, and at $2200 it’s more expensive than the a7 iii body. But with its excellent optics and high-quality construction, this is one of those lenses I’d expect to continue to be using it with several future generations of Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras.

Where to Get It

The Sony 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 retails for around $2200, and you can find them at B&H Photo.

The product number is SEL1635GM.

Share