Although releasing seven years ago, the Sony 18-105mm F4 is still a relevant lens today. It’s Sony’s take on a versatile all-purpose zoom lens built specifically for APS-C bodies such as the Sony a6000.
Optical image stabilization, a consistent F4 aperture, and a huge zoom range (5.8x zoom) come together to create a very powerful multipurpose lens, especially for video work. Sporting the “G” badge means it’s technically considering one of Sony’s higher end lenses.
So, how does this huge and old zoom lens stack up today? Let’s dive in and find out.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Inconsistent but often strong sharpness
- Autofocus is reliable & fast
- Great G-series build quality
- Stabilized & power zoom
Size & Weight
The first thing I want to bring attention to is the sheer size and weight of this monster of a lens. The Sony 18-105mm F4 weighs a chunky 16.96oz (482g) which is quite heavy for a lens made for such small cameras.
Additionally, it measures a very long 4.3 inches (10.9cm) in length, which increases even more when the hood is attached.
While this lens would feel right at home on a full frame body, it tends to feel incredibly big on an APS-C camera such as the Sony a6000.
With that being said, large dimensions and heavy weight pretty much comes with the territory when you’re talking about such a versatile lens.
After all, it’s able to go from a wide focal length all the way into the telephoto range whilst still keeping a consistent F4 aperture, so the size is to be expected.
Is the lens built to last?
The Sony 18-105mm F4 sports the iconic “G” badge, meaning it’s a part of the company’s “Gold” line of lenses. This signifies its position as being one of Sony’s “best and highest quality” lenses.
As far as build quality goes, I don’t find that claim to be that far off. The lens barrel is made out of primarily metal, and as I stated prior, it’s incredibly heavy which really solidifies the premium feel.
The included petal-shaped lens hood is also beefy. It’s huge, heavy, and does a fantastic job at protecting the big front element from both bumps and flaring. Thankfully, this gigantic lens hood is reversible, allowing for the lens to be stuffed in most camera bags.
So is the lens built to last? I’d say yes. While not quite on the level of a full-frame G-series lens, it’s still incredibly well built and should, in theory, survive the day to day rigors of photography.
While it doesn’t have weather sealing, I imagine it should survive light rain and other minor inclement weather, as all my other non-sealed Sony lenses have. Time will tell.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
Aesthetically, it certainly looks like a higher end lens, with the exception of the somewhat silly zoom lever (more on that later) on the side.
The barrel is finished in a sleek black material that contrasts extremely well with the white engraved text. The ribbed zoom and focus rings are absolutely massive and easy to grasp, while a huge glass element dominates the front of the lens.
While I do really like the look of the lens and the fact that it feels like a tank, I do have to mention that it’s quite uncomfortable to shoot with for extended periods of time. The lens feels horrifically front heavy when mounted on a tiny camera like the Sony a6000.
I don’t think I could go more than an hour carrying this thing around before getting hand cramps. If you’re going to take this thing out for the day, make sure to bring a bag so you can occasionally give your wrists a rest. This thing is massive.
As the Sony 18-105mm F4 is such a versatile lens with a huge focal range, there’s a LOT of information to unpack here when it comes to sharpness.
At the widest end of the zoom range, 18mm, shooting wide open we see rather poor performance. Sharpness in the center of images is fairly strong, but corner’s look pretty bad.
It should be noted that this rather poor sharpness is whilst shooting wide open at F4, however, so perfect performance shouldn’t be expected.
Stopping down improves things somewhat, sharpening up the centers more and allowing the corners to catch up a bit. Still not flawless, but acceptable from such a versatile zoom.
Zooming into around 40mm improves things a bit. At F4, centers are a bit sharper and corners are a bit more even with only minor fall-off.
Stopping down a bit at this focal length boosts sharpness up to pretty respectable levels and makes for some solid edge-to-edge performance. Incomparable to a prime lens, but not bad for a zoom.
When zoomed up to 75mm, performance is similar. At F4, center sharpness is solid and corner fall-off is minor. Stopping down, once again, improves these numbers a bit, allowing for respectable sharpness across the frame.
The telephoto end of the focal range, 105mm, falls off the wagon a bit, however. At F4, centers still retain good performance, but corners are incredibly soft. Stopping down does very little for either the centers or the lackluster corner sharpness.
That being said, at this focal range, you’ll likely not be shooting many subjects that require impressive corners anyway, so it’s not a huge deal.
While the sharpness was not bad, it wasn’t amazing either. For a lens to have this versatile of a zoom range whilst still keeping a consistent aperture, there have to be some sacrifices made, so I wouldn’t be to hard on it.
For the vast majority of photographers, this type of performance is more than adequate for day-to-day shoots.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
I’d like to start off this section by saying that the Sony 18-105mm F4 is largely free of most optical flaws. Flaring is extremely well controlled, especially when using the included lens hood.
Vignetting is moderate but easily fixable in post processing. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled and negligible. What isn’t negligible, however, is the extreme distortion that this lens produces.
Distortion is a major problem at certain focal lengths. When wide open, it’s nearly non-existent, but as you zoom in you’ll meet increasingly extreme levels of pincushion distortion.
Although this is largely fixable in post processing, it hits a point where you can’t fix all of it. At 105mm, there is about 7.2% pincushion distortion and, while mostly removable in post, some of it still remains.
I don’t think this is a massive issue, but it could present problems in certain situations such as architecture photography or any other subject that demands straight lines.
Overall Optical Performance
At the end of the day, you can’t expect perfection out of such a versatile lens. There has to be some sort of compromise, and in this case it was sharpness and distortion.
That being said, my fellow bokeh enthusiasts will be happy to know that near the telephoto end of the range, bokeh actually looks pretty nice.
At the wider end of the range, as you’d expect, bokeh is a bit lackluster, but after about 70mm, it starts to look creamy and smooth.
Overall, I’m not terribly disappointed with the optical performance of the Sony 18-105mm F4 because I knew what to expect.
It’s not perfect, but it’s not necessarily bad either. It’s up to each individual photographer to decide if the flaws are worth the huge focal range.
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Next up, we’ll talk about autofocus. To be honest, there’s not a lot to say. It’s a G-series lens and it just works. It’s fast, reliable and plays well with features such as EyeAF and AF-C (continuous subject tracking).
It works pretty much flawlessly on any part of the zoom range. When wide open, it’s able to lock in on subjects with no hunting, and when zoomed all the way in it’s able to track moving subjects with ease.
Also not much to say here either, but I figured it still deserved its own category. Manual focus feels pretty much like every other modern lens out there as it is focus-by-wire.
Not very responsive nor tactile, but it does the job. Most lenses can’t compare to a vintage or dedicated manual focus lens, however.
The zoom system, as I stated prior in the review, is purely motorized. It feels quite unnatural, as everyone is used to physically spinning a ring and having the lens zoom as a direct response. With the power zoom feature, you can either flick the little lever on the side or spin the zoom ring itself.
Spinning the ring itself provides a zooming speed that is entirely disproportionate with the movement of your hand. It works fine, it just feels incredibly unnatural.
With that being said, operation is incredibly smooth (and silent) for video shooters. Additionally, I do have to say I appreciate how the lens barrel does not extend and retract when zooming. That really helped seal in the premium feel.
Speaking of video, the Sony 18-105mm F4 also has optical image stabilization. It works incredibly well as you’d expect from an OEM Sony lens.
My Final Thoughts
Before we round out this review, I want to present a couple alternatives.
First would be the Sony 18-135mm F3.5–5.6. The zoom range is even more versatile, it’s a bit smaller, and the price is roughly the same. The image quality, however, is incredibly hit or miss depending on the focal length, aperture is variable, and the build quality doesn’t quite match up.
Second, the Tamron 17-70mm F2.8. The zoom range is a bit less versatile, but you gain better image quality and a brighter max aperture. Other than that, however, it’s largely the same. Very large, heavy, and about the same price.
Alright, it’s time to wrap up my opinions on this lens. I’m generally a huge fan of prime lenses, both autofocus and manual, but while traveling it can be annoying to constantly have to open your bag and swap out gear.
However, if I’m being completely honest, I value a compact kit way more than I do versatility, so I’ll stick with my lovely little Sigma 30mm F1.4 and resign myself to never being able to switch focal lengths.
That being said, plenty of photographers could not care less about having a gigantic lens on them at all times. For those people, I say the Sony 18-105mm F4 is perfect.
Optical performance is pretty solid, autofocus is nice, it’s built to last, and the zoom range is insane. For some photographers, it could be one of the best versatile zoom/travel lenses out there.
If this sounds like you, I’ll include purchase links below. Thank you for reading, enjoy the lens!
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