In the Field: Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens

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Spring has finally arrived, for the most part, and for those looking to spend some time traveling or outdoors, we have been testing an excellent compact lens for you: the Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS. Designed for Sony’s APS-C mirrorless cameras, such as the a6500 I used here, this all-in-one offering provides an equivalent zoom range of 27-202.5mm. If you are wishing for just one lens to cover all the basics, read on to find out how Sony’s latest option performs.

All-in-ones are far from my standard choice, mainly because they sacrifice too much when it comes to image quality and sharpness, to maximize the zoom range. This lens, however, immediately impressed me because it is very sharp throughout the range. It could easily retain details in distant trees, and I could make out the individual branches and read the tiny details in close-up shots.

To get the light weight and compact size, there was a sacrifice made to the maximum aperture, which is a variable f/3.5-5.6. The zoom I use most frequently for my a6500 is the E 16-70mm f/4 OSS, which is almost the exact same size as the 18-135mm when both are fully extended, though it must sacrifice range to get that constant aperture. The E 18-135mm has a variable aperture, which is perfectly fine if you are taking it out in good light. If it starts to get dark, you may struggle to get the shots you want, though Optical SteadyShot performs quite well, when needed, to stretch your shutter speeds. Another aspect of the aperture is that you won’t be able to get the super-smooth bokeh of, say, an f/1.4 prime.

One thing I would be cautious about is autofocus—it seemed to get sluggish when I went indoors. This lens tends to want as much light as possible. During most of my time with the lens, the AF was responsive and quick to lock-on; although it’s not as quick as the G Masters, it was nothing to be worried about. This is just something to be aware of if you intended to use this lens for dim events or night work.

The overall feel of the lens is good; it is assembled well. On the side, you will even find a physical AF/MF switch, something much appreciated after the many early E-mount lenses that lacked any on-lens controls. Zoom and focus rings turned smoothly without any obvious hang-up points, though the focusing system is focus-by-wire, so it can seem a little “loose” compared to physically linked systems.

Digging into the overall IQ, there are always a few things I check when it comes to zoom lenses: distortion, chromatic aberrations, and vignetting. Beginning with distortion, I didn’t notice anything too bad with the 18-135mm, likely because Sony applies in-camera corrections to take care of anything too egregious, and that the more modest starting point of 18mm allows Sony's engineers to control it better. There really isn’t much to worry about regarding distortion with this lens, beyond the usual. Chromatic aberration can be a bigger problem, but I didn’t find any of it here, meaning it is very well controlled. Finally, there is some vignetting, and at the extreme corners it can become noticeable. Again, this is somewhat expected and isn’t going to ruin any of your images, but there is some loss of sharpness toward these edges, as well, so be aware that you may have to stop down a little to get more even detail across the frame.

I was fairly impressed with this offering from Sony, though perhaps a bit pricier than some similar zooms, the superb image quality of the E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS should be enough to justify the added cost. The size was also a perfect match for the a6000 series of cameras and makes it a great travel option, I know I found it easier to stuff into a bag than my a9 with a 24-70mm f/2.8.

Have you been looking for an ideal travel lens to pair with your a6000? Does the 18-135mm look like it just might do the trick? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below!

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