Sony E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS vs. Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
Many NEX users wonder how much better (or worse) the 16-50 is when compared to classic 18-55 kit lens and should they upgrade.
Again, let’s start with NEX-5 shots (no lens software corrections available in this model), shot in RAW and converted in ACR at all default values. These are closest examples to true optical lens performances:
55mm (50mm on 16-50):
At 18mm, both lenses are equally sharp in center, with 18-55 sharper in corners. Aperture stoped down, I am not sure if I can see any differences. At 35mm, both lenses perform the same, except they both have slightly decentered focus; 16-50 is sharper in left corner and 18-55 in right. It’s something that can be expected at this price point, varies with each and every produced example and I wouldn’t worry about it. Most users will never notice it. At maximum zoom – 50mm for SEL1650 and 55mm for SEL1855, the new 16-50 outperforms it’s older cousin wide open at f/5.6. Look at the big yellow tree, 16-50 clearly shows more details in the leaves. All together, performance is similar enough to regard them as equal.
The problems are 16-50′s geometric distortions and corner light falloff, and that’s the main reason that stirred internet rumors and marked this lens as a failure before it even became available for sale in all markets and reviewed properly. 16-50 has much worse barrel distortion at wide angle, but outperforms old 18-55 at 35mm which has visible pincushion distortion. At maximum zoom, they are almost equal.
The 16-50 needs to be zoomed in to 18mm to loose much of its nasty vignette, and at 20mm it’s completely gone.
And now NEX-6 images (all lens software corrections active for both 16-50 and 18-55), shot in JPEG. Let’s see how good these lenses perform on latest generation camera with software correction:
55mm (50mm on 16-50):
Sharpness results are the same as on NEX-5, but this time there is almost no visible geometric distortion on any lens, as is the case with vignette and chromatic aberrations. Optically, they deliver the same performance.
Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS is not a bad lens. The main reason for which internet pixel-peeper community marked it as failure is wide angle performance. Barrel distortion and light fallof are really bad at 16mm, that’s true. It is best used from 18mm (preferably 20mm) upward. I don’t understand why Sony had to make it a 16mm lens and provoke an avalanche of criticism. It could sell as good as a 18-50mm or 20-50mm lens, and people would not complain about it; most of photographers know it’s hard to make cheap, compact, optically great zoom lens for such a short flange-to-back distance on a large(ish) sensor.
All put together, I think it’s best to split the conclusion for two type of users:
1. If you shoot mostly or always JPEG and intent to use SEL1650 on the latest generation NEX camera bodies ONLY, go for it without hesitation. Software correction will fix all there’s to fix and you won’t even know the lens has optical problems. E 16-50mm is small and sharp and will perform just fine.
2. If you are a regular RAW shooter or intent to use 16-50mm lens on an older NEX camera which doesn’t have the built-in light fall-off and geometric distortion correction (please check you manual or camera menu to locate these options) think twice (thrice) before swapping your old E 18-55mm for the new E 16-50. Wide angle performance is questionable, and I wouldn’t recommend spending your time trying to fix it in post-process… It is good above 20mm, but what’s the point of having a 16mm lens that must be zoomed in to perform well? You are better off with 18-55, 16mm, and especially 35mm and 50mm prime lenses.
I have published an important update to Sony E 16-50 review and you can read it here.
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