Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens is a welcomed addition to E-mount lens lineup. It’s a lens most NEX users wanted from beginning – a small collapsible zoom. It is exactly half as big as Sony E 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens, has the same aperture range, optical stabilization, but a bit wider angle (24mm vs. 27mm in 35mm equivalent).
SEL16-50 is a good example of tradeoffs; at this price point, being collapsible and covering APS-C sensor, some part of its performance must be below average. And really, as soon as it hit shelves a week or two ago, internet community started complaint threads on 16-50′s performance. You surely know how it looks like; endless trolling, (usually) without samples to back-up stated points and a lot of confusion amongst potential buyers. That’s why I rushed to get it reviewed and clear a situation at least a little bit. So let’s begin with SEL1650 review.
FYI: There is also an important update to this review: read it here.
Sony SEL1650 has the same build quality as all other Sony E-mount lenses. In other words, metal body cover and lens mount with clean and simple design. Zoom is operated in two ways: by classic W-T (wide-tele) sliding button or by circular electronic ring around the lens. Electronic ring has very smart implementation: it operates zoom (speed sensitive), and after the focus is locked, electronic ring becomes focus ring (DMF must be activated). It’s very natural to use it that way; I got accustomed to it in minutes. If manual focus is active, the ring is used only for focusing; zoom must be operated with W-T button. Sadly, there is no lens hood in package (lens arrived as a part of the NEX-6Y package with E 16-50mm and E 55-210mm).
At startup, lens is extended in second or two. When turned off, sometimes it took 4-5 second to collapse itself on NEX-6, and sometimes it did it in just a second or two. I didn’t find an obvious reason to this occasional delay. Whe used on NEX-5 body, the lens extends and contract within second or two.
Officially, focal length is 16-50mm or 24-75mm in 35mm equivalent. In real life, I have a feeling this lens is a bit wider, at least 14mm at wide end. You will notice that in samples when compared to 16mm f/2.8 lens.
Being what it is (small cheap kit lens on large sensor), Sony opted to correct some of its optical flaws via in-camera software. Usually, I am a fan of such approach; why pay premium for flawless lens when some small imperfection can be corrected in post-process? But this time, Sony has gone too far in my humble opinion. Wide angle performance is a lemon in some aspects (more on that further down the review) and it’s possible to correct it only on latest generation NEX cameras. Users with older models (myself included) must either to learn to live with its flaws, or simply not buy it.
Sony E 16mm f/2.8 vs. Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
Let’s start with test images from Sony NEX-5. Examples below show how these lenses perform on an older NEX body without software lens correction feature, and what you get from RAW files in NEX-6 when in-camera lens correction are turned off:
At f/3.5 16mm appears to be sharper, but difference is really hard to spot. At f/8 16-50mm has a slight advantage, but also hardly noticeable. Both lenses show chromatic aberrations to the same degree (more or less). Huge difference is seen in geometric distortions, when 16-50 produces a very strong barrel distortion, amongst the worst I’ve seen. Vignetting is also bad wide open; at f/5.6 SEL1650 improves a lot but needs to be stopped down to f/16 to completely get rid of its dark corners.
Now let’s take a look at test images from Sony NEX-6, shot in JPEG with all lens correction options turned on for both lenses. These are the best results possible without correcting them on PC with third party software.
Results surprised me! 16-50 appears to have a better corner sharpness across the whole aperture range. Not much, but visible. Just keep in mind; it’s because in-camera correction cropped 16-50′s corners by stretching the image, so the “new” corners are part of the frame that did not optically originate in lens’s corner. Anyway, that’s not our problem as long as the result is good. All other imperfections appear to be removed quite well on both lenses. One more thing; 16-50 has slightly wider frame coverage, like it’s a 14 or 15 lens in reality. Keep in mind, 16mm pancake lens can be opened to f/2.8 what provides 2/3 of a stop more light than what’s available on the E 16-50mm.
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