Power zoomin’! A review of the Sony PZ 16-35 f/4

I’m always on a quest to find and use the best gear to suit my company’s and client’s needs. My company shoots a ton of real estate photography and I’m always training and hiring new photographers. Seeking out and selecting the best gear for my budget and for training purposes is always paramount to me.

I try to test every wide-angle lens that hits the marketplace. Sony recently lent me the new PZ 16-35 f/4 lens to review. Overall, I’m impressed!

Pro

  • Lightweight for a wide-angle lens
  • Power zoom/focus functionality with be a hit with cinematographers/videographers
  • Image quality outstanding in the frame center to good at the extreme corners
  • AF speed is essentially instantaneous

Cons

  • Seems like Sony is targeting videographers first with this lens — though it’s a competent performer for photography
  • f/4 may not be fast enough for many genres of photography
  • This is a new lens and Adobe has not made a profile correction as of this review and the lens optical shortcomings are pronounced
  • Distortion is very noticeable — it’s correctable, but it’s strong

Sony PZ 16-35 f/4 — Technical specifications

  • Focal Length: 16 to 35mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/4
  • Minimum Aperture: f/22
  • Format Coverage: Full-Frame
  • Angle of View: 107° to 63°
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 9.4″ / 24 cm
  • Optical Design: 13 Elements in 12 Groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 7, Rounded
  • Focus Type: Autofocus
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Filter Size: 72 mm (Front)
  • Dimensions (ø x L): 3.2 x 3.5″ / 80.5 x 88.1 mm
  • Weight: 12.5 oz / 353 g

Sony PZ 16-35 f/4 — Ergonomics and build quality

As an avid wide-angle shooter, I’ve come to expect big heavy lenses for my real estate photography and videography. Immediately, I was struck by how relatively light the 16-35 f/4 is in my hand. My go-to lens for real estate photography for nearly two years has been the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 S. A magnificent lens in it’s own right, but after working with the 16-35 over the course of this review, when I picked up the 14-24mm again, the difference in weight is instantly apparent!

Coming in at just north of 12 ounces — compared to the 1.4 lbs. of the Nikon — the 16-35mm is by any objective measure a lightweight. The focus and zoom rings — which are both fly by wire — move very freely with hardly any resistance at all. There’s also no hard stops on either ring. Sony has included a de-clickable aperture ring.

Where the 16-35mm stands out is in video. The addition of the power zoom mechanism brings back memories of early camcorders. However, where the 16-35mm excels is in it’s ability to both zoom and keep focus simultaneously and smoothly. In my opinion, this feature alone will make this a hit with videographers and cinematographers.

Sony has also sealed the lens against dust and moisture. At this price point, weather sealing is a nice bonus feature!

Sony PZ 16-35 f/4 — In the field

Lightweight and easy to carry around all day. The PZ 16-35 f/4 makes shooting on a tight schedule easy.

As mentioned, in my business, I’m literally photographing 3-5 properties per day. Lugging gear around is part of my daily routine. The lower weight of the 16-35mm does make a difference over the course of a long day. Relatively small and unobtrusive, the 16-35mm works well mounted to a tripod or slung over your shoulder.

The high ISO capability of today’s Sony bodies — notably the a7 IV I was primarily using it with — the f/4 max aperture proved not to be a major handicap. I could up the shutter speeds in spite of the relatively “slow” max aperture with higher ISO without much penalty in the image quality department. The fast and accurate AF allowed me to capture action shots quickly and efficacy. All in, the 16-35mm was easy and pleasurable to use.

Sony PZ 16-35 f/4 — Autofocus performance

If there’s one area where Sony has consistently and effectively pushed the envelope it’s with AF performance. However, where the PZ 16-35 f/4 excels is both with autofocus and zoom simultaneously. Video shooters will love this ability to simultaneously smoothly zoom while keeping focus locked onto their subject. Moreover, the speed in which the zooming happens can be controlled remotely.

Additionally, on select Sony camera bodies, there is a menu function that allows us to customize the speed and responsiveness of the PZ functionality. The result is achieving brilliantly cinematic shots much more effectively, easily and efficiently!

Apart from the zoom, autofocus alone is instantaneous, silent and deadly accurate! Both in photos and video. Continuous AF is also extraordinarily accurate and sticky! My experiences with the a7 IV and this lens in AF were simply stellar!

Sony PZ 16-35 f/4 — Image quality and characteristics

Distortion control, sharpness, vignetting and chromatic aberration

Build is very good, AF and PZ performance are exemplary, but how are the optics?

Suffice to say, ultra wide-angle lenses have some inherent compromises that are difficult to engineer out. Notably, distortion and edge performance. Specifically in the extreme corners of images. Further, I’ve become so acccustomed to Adobe’s lens profile correction functionality in virtually all the lenses I use, that I forgot how much of an impact they can have on an image. Particularly with ultra wide-angle lenses!

Because the 16-35mm is so new, Adobe — as of this writing — hasn’t made a lens profile correction for this lens. As a gear reviewer, seeing a lens’ optical performance without a lens profile correction was eye opening.

What a difference a lens profile correction makes! This is an uncorrected straight out of camera image. I’m so acccustomed to lens profile corrections that working with a lens that doesn’t have one was eye opening!

The 16-35mm, though optically strong in the center of the frame, does suffer a bit in the corners. Weak edge performance is a common occurrence with wide-angle lenses.

However, the one area where the 16-35mm really struggles is with distortion. It’s correctable, and I’m sure will be far less noticeable with the lens profile correction. But in the RAW images, the bends on vertical lines along the edges are akin to a fisheye. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but distortion is a noticeable downside of this lens.

Vignetting wide-open, wasn’t much of an issue. Additionally, chromatic aberrations and flare are both very, very well controlled.

I’ve used the lens on some high end homes, and my clients have been very pleased with the results. For me, that’s all that really matters. If gear can help me make my client happy, and more importantly, my client’s client happy, then a lens is a winner! The PZ 16-35mm f/4 succeeds in this fashion.

Bokeh

We don’t buy ultra wide-angle lenses to be dazzled by their bokeh abilities. Getting any sort of separation from the background usually entails placing a subject at near the minimum focusing distance while having the lens set to wide-open.

At 16mm, there’s barely any separation at all. But the bokeh balls in the background are circular and pleasing to the eye.

However, zoomed in to 35mm at f/4, we can in fact get some nice separation and some beautiful background blur.

Focus breathing

One area that must be commended is focus breathing. Or rather, the lack of. it. An additional nicety of the 16-35mm for video shooters is the virtually non-existent focus breathing. It’s a big advantage, and a welcome touch.

Sony PZ 16-35 f/4 — Video centric, but great for photographers, too

On the surface, it would be easy for me to conclude that Sony has it’s sights set on videographers and cinematographers with this lens. The power zoom functionality clearly targets cinematographers who want to create innovative shots while maintaining a sharp focus.

However, I think it would be a mistake for photographers to overlook this lens given it’s video centric characteristics. The optical performance the lens can provide with stills cannot be overstated — specifically the lack of chromatic aberrations and flare control are exemplary.

Overall, at this price point, I think the PZ 16-35mm f/4 offers up a lot of nice, innovative features for both videographers and photographers, even if the bulk of the new features clearly target video shooters. It’s difficult not to highly recommend the PZ 16-35 f/4 from Sony.

Sony FE PZ 16-35mm f/4 G Lens

A compact design with superb optics and a power zoom function makes the Sony PZ 16-35mm f/4 G an ideal choice for all types of creators, whether that means you shoot video, stills, or both. This ultra-wide lens is among the lightest in its class and the constant f/4 aperture strikes an ideal balance that is bright enough for available-light shooting while remaining portable for all-day shoots.

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