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Full review of the Sony DT 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM lens

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Box and contents

 
 
The Sony A580 was used for this review.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
The usual center, mid-section and corner crops are located below the conclusion.
 
Don't forget to check out the bonus section at the bottom of the page where I compare this lens to the Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5.
 

 
Introduction.
 
With the introduction of the DT 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM, Sony now offers a relatively high quality, constant aperture, wide to medium zoom lens for APS-C cameras, with an equivalent full frame coverage of 24-75mm.  There are after-market lenses that cover this same range, including the Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8, and Sigma 18-50mm F/2.8, both reviewed here.  Don't forget Sony's excellent Carl Zeiss 16-80mm, which gives you a longer zoom range, but is about a stop slower.
 
The Sony DT 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM has a very good build quality, with a metal mount and high quality plastic for the body.  It feels solid and smooth in the hand.  Appearance wise, it has a slightly speckled satin black finish, very similar to Sony camera bodies, a handy zoom lock, a focus distance window, (no DOF scale), ribbed rubber manual focusing ring at the front, and zoom ring at the back, with focal length marks at 16mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm.  Also included is an AF/MF switch on the left side to turn off the SSM.  Inside, you will find one 'ED', and one asperical element according to Sony's user's manual.   The lens says "made in China."
 
Zooming is smooth, and damped appropriately in my opinion.  It does have a zoom lock, (locks only at 16mm) but you probably won't need it.  Zooming all the way out increases the length by 1.0" (26mm), which really isn't very much for a zoom lens.
 
EXIF focal length data records correctly at all marks. 
 
The aperture shape on my copy is very unsymmetrical at F/16-22; it has a long flat spot that covers about a third of (what should be) the heptagon shaped opening.  In actual shooting, it doesn't really matter.
 
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, plastic petal type hood, and owner's manual.  
 
Focusing.  This lens uses Sony's nice SSM system to provide focusing, instead of the cheap SAM, or the slot-screw type system that was used for most Minolta, and later re-branded Sony lenses.  The decision to use the very quiet SSM (the first for a 'DT' lens) was probably made so the lens would appeal to video users that don't want focusing motor noise in their video's.  All focusing is done internally, so your polarizer and graduated neutral density filters will stay in the position you originally set them in.  The focusing ring turns about 90°, which allows precise manual focusing, although the ring itself doesn't move during AF operation.  Focusing seems pretty accurate on my A580, however, your results may vary depending on the calibration of your particular lens and camera. 
 
 

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Requisite product shots.

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Side shot showing zoom lock
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Full zoom extension
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Metal mount and AF/MF switch. Where's the focus hold button Sony?
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Front element
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Sony X-ray view and MTF chart

 
 
General information and specifications.

Lens

Box contents

Front cap, rear cap, hood, and users manual.

Cost

Approximately $799 

Build quality

Very good.

Additional information

Better built, and is faster than the Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5.
 

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

16 elements in 13 groups

Angle of view

83˚-32° APS-C 

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Made for APS-C cameras only, but will work on full frame using APS-C size capture.  Equivalent to 24-75mm on full frame.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Focus distance scale in clear plastic window.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

About 9.5"  (240mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

About 4.6"  (117mm) 

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No.

Length changes when focusing?

No.

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

72mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes

Max magnification

1:5 or 0.20x

Min. F/stop

F/22  

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3.19" x 3.47"   81mm x 88mm

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

4.5"  (114mm).                                           

Weight bare (my scale)

20.3oz  (577g) bare

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Average control.  Small green/orange blobs show up at all focal lengths when super bright lights are in the image, see examples below.
 
Light fall-off.  Minor amounts at both ends, but noticeable at wide apertures.  See samples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Lateral color fringing control is about average for a modern wide to medium zoom.  I see magenta and cyan along the edges of the image at all focal lengths.  See sample crops below the conclusion.  
 
Bokeh.  Seems smoother stopped down a little, see examples below.
 
Color.   Same as other Sony lenses.
 
Close up filter.  N/A    
 
Coma.  None.
 
Regular filters cause very slight additional light fall-off around 50mm, but this isn't something you'll ever notice in real life.
 
Focus breathing.  Video shooters will notice the focal length will increase as you focus to infinity at all zoom settings.  This means if you focus on a subject that's close to the camera, then change focus on something farther away, that subject will increase in size because the focal length is slightly longer when focused at infinity.  Don't worry about this for regular shooting.
 
Filter size.  72mm.  Sharing this size in the Sony line-up are the Carl Zeiss 24mm F/2, 20mm F/2.8, 135mm F/2.8 STF, and Carl Zeiss 85mm F/1.4.
 
Distortion.  Strong barrel distortion, to minor pincushion depending on focal length, see samples below.
 
 

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Strong, wavy barrel distortion at 16mm
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Slightly wavy, but almost flat at 24mm.
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Minor pincushion distortion at 35mm.
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Minor pincushion distortion at 50mm.

 

The barrel distortion produced by this lens at the wide end is strong, and impossible to fix with common image editing software.  It's a little worse than the CZ 16-80mm.  As you zoom out, the distortion signature flattens out, although never really 'flat'.

 

 

Bokeh samples.

 

          16mm   F/2.8

            16mm   F/4

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           50mm  F/2.8

             50mm  F/4

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Bokeh looks pretty smooth at longer lengths when stopped down around F/4-5.6.  When magnified to huge sizes as I've done here, I see concentric rings, although I wouldn't consider it bad or harsh; and when smaller than F/5.6, the aperture shape shows up.  In real life, bokeh generally looks very smooth.  At the wide end, blur is hard to produce unless using wide apertures.  Bokeh is out of focus highlight blur, and not simply how far out of focus the background is.

 
 
Light fall-off samples.
 

           16mm  F/2.8

              16mm F/5.6

endof2011/s1650vig16f28.jpg
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           24mm  F/2.8

              24mm  F/4

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endof2011/s1650vig24f40.jpg

           50mm  F/2.8

              50mm  F/4

endof2011/s1650vig50f28.jpg
endof2011/s1650vig50f40.jpg

 

Light fall-off is not a problem on this lens, although you can see dark corners at wide apertures if you take pictures of a clear sky or gray card as I've done here.  Using a regular filter will cause slightly more light fall-off at the long end of the zoom at F/2.8, although you won't know it unless you compare 'with', and 'without' images.  I do that for testing, but you don't need to do that at home.

 

 

Flare and  ghosting.

 

Green and orange dots at 16mm, F/5.6.

Flare at 50mm, F/5.6.

endof2011/s1650gst16mm.jpg
endof2011/s1650gst50mm.jpg

 
Ghosting control is about average for a modern zoom lens.  When the sun is in, or at the edge of the image, green/orange colored blobs and arcs might be visible, such as what you see above.  Use your hand to block bright light sources when they're out of the image, even if the hood is on, especially at the wide end.
 

 
 
 
Let's check out the close focus capabilities of this lens.

The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 580 16.2MP camera, so don't compare it with some others that were taken with the 12.2mp A700.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a very short 4.6" (117mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
Reproduction size is about average for a newer zoom lens (0.20x or 1:5), click for cropped image, 485k.  The stamp shot is quite sharp all the way from F/4-F/8.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.  
 

endof2011/s1650mac2.jpg
As close as you can get, F/5.6.

  
 
 
Conclusion. 
 

The Sony DT 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM zoom is a welcome addition to the Sony lens line-up.  It's good to see Sony adding SSM focusing to a 'DT' lens, hopefully, this is just the first of many to come.

 

Outwardly, the lens not only looks good, it feels good in the hand, and has a very good build quality, I think somewhat better than the Carl Zeiss 16-80mm lens.  Zooming is smooth, and focusing is quiet and accurate, at least on my copy.

 

Probably the best quality of this lens is the nice contrast and resolution at F/2.8-4.  In fact, there isn't a reason to stop it down further if sharpness is your main concern, depth of field of course is another matter.  Low-light hand-held shooters will love this lens.  Other nice optical qualities include low light fall-off, no coma, and manageable distortion at longer focal lengths.

 

As always, there are a couple of issues; one is the strong barrel distortion at the wide end, it's wavy and impossible to fix, so try and keep straight lines away from the edges of the frame.  Sony may have a firmware lens distortion correction profile in their new cameras (A65/77) as of this review, but I'm not sure how well it works.  Color fringing along the sides is somewhat strong through most of the focal range, however, this is correctable with many image editing programs, and also in-camera with the latest Sony cameras, but only when saving images as jpegs.

 

One feature missing that would've been nice is a focus hold button like the CZ 24-70mm has, but oh well, this lens is more than a grand less!

 

Bottom line; I would highly recommend this lens for photographers that need, or want a constant fast aperture.  If you're a fair weather photographer that will shoot mostly in good light, I'd recommend the slightly smaller and lighter weight CZ 16-80mm as the image quality is very similar, and it has a longer zoom.

 

If you've enjoyed this review, and are thinking of purchasing this lens or any other stuff, please use my B&H photo affiliate links, I get a small portion of each sale, but it doesn't cost you a penny more.  It helps pay the rather high cost of running the website, thanks!

 

 

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Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

16mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

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endof2011/s1650midf28w.jpg
endof2011/s1650cornrf28w.jpg

F/4

endof2011/s1650ctrf40w.jpg
endof2011/s1650midf40w.jpg
endof2011/s1650cornrf40w.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650ctrf56w.jpg
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endof2011/s1650cornrf56w.jpg

F/8

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endof2011/s1650midf80w.jpg
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F/11

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I see very sharp centers, with a little better contrast at F/4 in all areas.  Most noticeable is the color fringing in the corner crops ( and to a lesser extent the mid-sections), but that's removable if you shoot in RAW and have image editing software with color fringing correction.

 

 

24mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

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endof2011/s1650midf28m.jpg
endof2011/s1650cornf28m.jpg

F/4

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endof2011/s1650midf40m.jpg
endof2011/s1650cornf40m.jpg

F/5.6

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F/8

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F/11

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The 24mm performance is quite good, especially at F/4, where the corners gain some contrast. 

 

 

50mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

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endof2011/s1650midf28t.jpg
endof2011/s1650cornf28t.jpg

F/4

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endof2011/s1650cornf40t.jpg

F/5.6

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endof2011/s1650cornf56t.jpg

F/8

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F/11

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Performance at 50mm looks about the same as 24mm, which is good!  Again, you get a nice bump up in contrast at F/4 across the frame.  Overall, very impressive for a non-'G' or Carl Zeiss Sony zoom lens!  

 

Please check out the Sony DT 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM at B&H Photo and help support the site!

 

 

Bonus section!

 

Comparison between the Sony 16-50mm and Sony CZ 16-80mm.

 

16mm centers.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/4

endof2011/s1650ctrf40w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf40w.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650ctrf56w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf56w.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650ctrf80w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf80w.jpg

 

16mm mid-sections.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/4

endof2011/s1650midf40w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf40w.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650midf56w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf56w.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650midf80w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf80w.jpg

 

16mm corners.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/4

endof2011/s1650cornrf40w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf40w.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650cornrf56w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf56w.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650cornrf80w.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf80w.jpg

 

There isn't much difference between the two in all sets. If you stare at 'em long enough, you might determine the CZ has a tiny edge in the center area.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

24mm centers.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/4

endof2011/s1650ctrf40m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf40m.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650ctrf56m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf56m.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650ctrf80m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf80m.jpg

 

24mm mid-sections.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/4

endof2011/s1650midf40m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf40m.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650midf56m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf56m.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650midf80m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf80m.jpg

 

24mm corners.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/4

endof2011/s1650cornf40m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf40m.jpg

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650cornf56m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf56m.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650cornf80m.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf80m.jpg

 

The centers are very similar, I can't really see any meaningful differences.  As far as the mid-sections are concerned, the CZ is not quite as sharp at F/4, however, on stop down to F/5.6 seems to put the CZ at, or ahead of the 16-50mm.  The corners of the CZ look marginally better at all apertures, even though the F/4 crop shows some haze, it has at least as much detail as the 16-50mm crop.  Look closely at the roof tile rows on the house in the corner crops, the CZ is resolving those, the 16-50mm---not really.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

50mm centers.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/5.6

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endof2011/cz1680ctrf56t.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650ctrf80t.jpg
endof2011/cz1680ctrf80t.jpg

 

50mm mid-sections.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650midf56t.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf56t.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650midf80t.jpg
endof2011/cz1680midf80t.jpg

 

50mm corners.

 

 

          Sony 16-50mm F/2.8

          Sony CZ 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5

F/5.6

endof2011/s1650cornf56t.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf56t.jpg

F/8

endof2011/s1650cornf80t.jpg
endof2011/cz1680cornf80t.jpg

 

I don't see any meaningful differences here, other than the CZ 16-80mm is slightly longer, or covers less area than the 16-50mm.  So that's it for this comp, hope it helps a bit if you're making a purchasing decision.