Carl-Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS ( Sony SEL1635Z ) - Review / Test Report
Lens Reviews - Sony Alpha (Full Format)

Review by Klaus Schroiff, published February 2015


During the introduction of the NEX system, Sony followed a rather erratic strategy regarding the introduction of new lenses. It seems as if they have learned quite a bit in the process because they are much more focused when it comes to the new FE mount. Following high-end standard- and tele-zoom lenses plus a few fast prime lenses, Sony has just released a new ultra-wide zoom lens - the Carl-Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS. Thus with this lens we'd say that the FE system has reached minimum viability in terms of completeness now. Technically the Zeiss lens can be used both on APS-C and full format E-mount cameras although most buyers will certainly come from the latter group. It's certainly not a cheap lens - given the Zeiss brand name nobody expected this really - but the pricing (around 1500US$) remains at least on a sane level.

The Vario-Tessar is a comparatively big lens by mirrorless standards - especially considering the small size of the Sony cameras. In fact it is almost as large and heavy as its DSLR counterparts. However, the build quality is superb thanks to a tightly assembled metal body and smoothly operating focus and zoom control ring. The lens extends when zooming towards the WIDE end of the range which is a bit unusual although there's nothing wrong about this. Even fully extended (which isn't that much anyway) there's no wobbling whatsoever. The lens is also weather-sealed. A petal-shaped lens hood (plastic) is supplied as part of the standard package.

We tested the lens on a Sony A7R which is not exactly renowned for its AF speed. However, unless you are into sports the performance is adequate. AF operations are also essentially noiseless. Typical for E-mount lenses, manual focusing works "by-wire". The implementation is really good and allows very fine grained focusing. The lens also incorporates an optical image stabilizer providing an equivalent gain of about 2-3 f-stops in real world situations (Sony claims 4 f-stops)- at least on the A7R with its massive shutter vibrations. This will be better on the A7s/A7(II).

Optical construction12 elements in 10 groups inc. 1xAA, 4x aspherical and 3xED elements
Number of aperture blades7 (circular)
min. focus distance0.28m (1:5.3)
Filter size72mm
Hoodsupplied, petal-shaped, bayonet mount
Other featuresWeather Sealing, Optical Image Stabilizer