Back in 2013, Sony released their Zeiss-branded 16-70mm F4. At the time, it was a breakthrough lens, offering a wide focal range and consistent aperture while still retaining a compact size.
However, a decade later, Sony, along with third-party manufacturers, have put out a variety of epic, compact zooms. The market is much more crowded than it was in 2013.
So, how does the old lens stack up to its more modern competitors? Is it still worth the purchase? Let’s dive in.
Looking for a quick summary before jumping in?
- Very small considering the zoom range
- Decent build quality
- Optical image stabilization
- Nice all metal build
- Generally overshadowed by modern competition
Size & Weight
So first up, let’s talk about size and weight, because that’s one aspect where this lens actually does shine.
Although quite old at this point, the Sony/Zeiss 16-70mm F4 maintains the typical compact build that we’ve come to expect with APS-C mirrorless lenses over the years.
It measures about 2.95 inches (7.5cm) and weighs around 10.8oz (308g). Although this is still quite impressive, some newer lenses such as the fantastic Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 offer superior specs while still being fairly compact.
Is the lens well-built?
Being a Zeiss branded lens, you’d probably expect the build quality to be top-notch and, well, it certainly is.
The lens barrel is made out of a pleasant mix of metal and polycarbonate, which is a nice surprise considering many old Sony lenses felt… fairly cheap.
Glass elements appear to be strong, and I can’t find any signs of what you might consider “poor quality” with the build of this lens.
Caps & Hood
That being said, there are a few pieces that aren’t metal: the lens caps and the hood.
Still, metal caps don’t really matter (though the extra touch of quality is always nice). The hood, although plastic, seems durable enough and should easily protect the front element from bumps (and flare!).
Build to last?
So, is the Zeiss 16-70mm built to last? I’d say so (at least with most copies of the lens, more on that later…).
Given that, at the time, it fell squarely into the “high-end” range of APS-C lenses, I have no doubt that it’ll last many, many years if properly taken care of.
However, I would argue it’s still a step behind some of Sony’s newer offerings, such as the incredible (but expensive) 16-55mm F2.8.
As for ergonomics, the lens feels like any other zoom lens. It’s fairly comfortable, and I find the zoom ring to be positioned big enough to be able to comfortably handle.
On a negative note, the lens doesn’t offer any sort of physical switches such as an AF/MF selector. I understand they were likely omitted due to size constraints, but it’s still a bit of a surprise to see them absent on such a pricey piece of glass.
As for aesthetics, beauty is always subjective but I think this is a somewhat ugly lens. The black metal barrel is a little plain, and the small Zeiss logo is the only thing breaking up the monotony.
Of course, who cares about the look of a lens as long as it performs well, right? Speaking of which…
As for image quality, there’s a lot to cover as the Sony 16-70mm F4 has such a large zoom range. Just a warning: my lens tests are never very scientific, and I usually just eyeball things by pixel-peeping.
Starting off at the wide end of the focal range, 16mm (at F4) shows respectably sharp corners, but there’s substantial fall-off near the corners.
Unfortunately, stopping down does little at the focal length. Even at F8, the lens suffers from quite a bit of corner softness.
Tightening up the zoom range a bit, we see similar results at 40mm. When shooting at F4, centers continue to be razor sharp yet corners lag behind.
At this focal length, stopping down helps a bit, but we still see pretty mushy-looking edges. Disappointing, to be honest.
When zoomed all the way into the telephoto side, the overall image tends to be a bit softer overall, but more consistent from edge-to-edge.
Frankly, not the greatest performance. As far as zoom lenses go, this one was fairly decent back in the day, but modern competitors like Sony’s 16-55mm F2.8 and Sigma’s 18-50mm F2.8 absolutely crush this old lens when it comes to pure sharpness.
Decentering & Quality Control
Alright, so sharpness is… meh, but why?
Two reasons: first of all, it’s just a generally soft lens. Second, a lot of copies shipped with major decentering problems. Yep, one of Sony’s flagship lenses (at the time) suffered from awful quality control.
So, what can you do if you buy one of these? Print out a sharpness test and check it immediately. That’s really all you can do.
Alternatively, you can just buy a better, comparable lens such as the Tamron 17-70mm F2.8 or Sigma’s similar offering. Heh, anyway, on with the review.
Other Optical Quirks
Now that we got the decentering issue out of the way, let’s talk about other optical quirks such as distortion, vignette, CA, and flaring.
The 16-70mm handles distortion fairly well, no matter the focal length.
At the wider ends of the spectrum, you’ll experience a bit of typical barrel distortion, but it’s nothing that can’t be easily fixed in post-processing.
Vignette is similar. Shooting wide open, you’ll notice a bit of darkening around the edges of the frame, but it’s nothing egregious.
Stopping down or clicking a single button in Lightroom will fix it.
As for chromatic aberrations, they’re fairly well controlled as well. In certain extreme cases (branches against a sunny sky), they can get pretty intense, but are generally pretty hard to notice.
In any case, easily fixed in post.
Finally, flare resistance is decent. Not incredible, but decent.
Don’t shoot directly into the sun and make sure to always use the lens hood and you shouldn’t have any major problems.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, the optical performance of this lens, although it may have been a heavy hitter back in the day, just falls flat when compared to newer competitors.
Sharpness is iffy and the decentering issue makes it kind of a crapshoot as to whether or not you’ll actually get a good copy of the lens.
If you’re looking for a razor-sharp lens that actually had quality control, consider the amazing Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 (which I’ve been praising throughout this review).
As for autofocus, being a native Sony lens, the 16-70mm F4 works pretty damn well, even with its age.
Typically, you’ll get fast and reliable focus, but it can start to trip up in low light.
Every lens struggles when conditions get dark, but newer lenses tend to struggle a bit less.
For manual focus users, do note that the focusing ring is rather tiny and it’s also focus-by-wire.
While it doesn’t feel as mushy and bad as some lenses, it’s still not comparable to something like a dedicated manual lens.
My Final Thoughts
This lens was top-tier when it debuted back in 2013, but nowadays some of the competitors have caught up.
Before we round out the review, I’d like to offer a couple alternatives.
Sigma 18-50mm F2.8
First, I have to to suggest the incredible Sigma 18-50mm F2.8.
The zoom range isn’t quite as versatile, but sharpness is off the charts, it’s incredibly small, and, to top it off, is quite affordable. I’ve found that Sigma really are the best at crafting low-cost lenses that are absolutely razor-sharp.
Tamron 17-70mm F2.8
Second, if you’re looking for a similar zoom range, consider the Tamron 17-70mm F2.8.
It’s huge and it’s heavy, but image quality is great and the constant F2.8 aperture is quite nice to have.
Sony 16-55mm F2.8
Finally, the Sony 16-55mm F2.8 could, technically, be considered the best zoom for APS-C cameras. It’s razor-sharp and built to the standard of a pro lens, but also incredibly expensive.
If you have money to burn, go with the Sony 16-55mm. If you don’t have an incredible amount of money to burn, go with the Sigma.
I, personally, would suggest going with one of my previously mentioned alternatives. To be frank, it is not worth spending your money on the Sony 16-70mm F4 in 2023.
Don’t spend a bucketload of money on a lens you’ll regret, instead, pick up something that actually performs well.
As I mentioned, the Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 exceeds this thing in literally every single way. Feel free to read my review on it, otherwise purchase links are below. Thanks for reading! 🙂
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