You can finally complete your f/2.8 lens trifecta with Sony’s release of the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, which not only matches its partners in speed, but in optical performance, as well. Sony happened to supply us with a sample to test, so I put it on my a7R II and took it out for a day of berry picking at a farm in New Jersey. If you want a quick preview of what I thought, I would say that Sony is truly impressive, with every new lens it releases, and the 16-35mm GM is certainly no exception.
Whenever I test lenses, I put them on the 42MP a7R II, specifically because if there are any flaws, the high-res sensor will make them easy to find. As a zoom, I was expecting to see some form of compromise when it came to IQ but, after analyzing some images, it really looks as though Sony has created a lens that is tack-sharp throughout the range. If I had to pick, I would declare 16mm the winner over 35mm by a very slight margin, which is good because, as an ultra-wide zoom, you want it to perform best where you don’t have any overlap with other zooms or primes in your collection.
There is some noticeable vignetting wide open—not exactly surprising for this type of lens—and there is some noticeable falloff of sharpness in the corners, but it handles both very well and, by f/4-5.6, it is mostly cleaned up. Center sharpness and quality is superb, even wide open, is impressive, and chromatic aberrations are practically non-existent. One thing to keep an eye on is distortion in the corners when working at the wider end of the zoom range. You will notice some barrel distortion as you zoom out more and more; however, it appears to be easy to correct, and isn’t exactly unexpected for an ultra-wide 16mm focal length.
In summary, the latest G Master lens is one of Sony’s best zooms, with practically no visible aberrations and with outstanding sharpness. That isn’t the only thing a lens needs though; it needs to feel good in the hand and be a pleasure to operate. Overall, the lens’s external design is very good. It matches up with existing GM optics, with its rubberized zoom and focus rings, as well as the physical focus hold and AF/MF switch on the side of the barrel. One thing that struck me was just how short the throw of the zoom ring is, which isn’t necessarily a problem, and probably only came up because of my experience with cinema-quality zooms.
However, this is yet another Sony lens I must ding because of the focus-by-wire system. The focusing ring feels loose and, while it does have the latest implementation of focus-by-wire, which allows for some degree of repeatability, it just doesn’t come close in feel to a mechanical system. Fortunately, the autofocus is fast and reliable so, if you rely heavily on AF, I wouldn’t worry. Back to the good news: the lens is weather-sealed, and it certainly feels like it will hold up over repeated outings through the woods or on wet days. The front of the lens does extend, however, so you might want to be a little cautious when taking it out for a day in the rain because that presents another avenue for moisture to enter. One effective addition is the fluorine coating on the front element, which should help you clean the lens of water and oil.
So, why should you pick this up over the smaller and lighter f/4 model? Well, I think it beats that lens handily in terms of pure image quality throughout the range. Also, the f/2.8 aperture is very handy for low light and, as I’m sure you can tell from these photos, it can produce images with quite shallow depth of field when you need it, even at the wider focal lengths. Additionally, if you are constantly finding yourself outdoors or trapped in less-than-ideal weather, the more robust build and weather sealing of the GM will certainly make you feel more secure while you work. Sony has another winner on its hands with the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens.