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Full review of the Sony NEX PZ 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS

 

 

1stof2013/s1650pzbox2.jpg
Box and contents

 
 
The Sony NEX-C3 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 at the very bottom of the page.
 
 
Introduction.
 

The Sony NEX PZ 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS (Made in Thailand, Fabriqué en Taïlande) is a very compact retractable wide to medium zoom lens specifically designed for Sony's APS-C mirrorless camera system, and works best with the newest camera bodies marketed from 2013.  I say that because it has some serious distortion and corner clipping at the wide end when used without automatic corrections turned on, more on that below.  This lens is only slightly larger than your typical 'pancake' type lens when retracted, so yes, it's pretty darn small.  Sony installed OSS or Optical SteadyShot inside, plus a ring that can be changed to perform either zooming or focusing, depending on what you want, and a dedicated zoom switch on the side, see product shots below.  Also included are four aspheric elements and one 'ED' element in the design. 

 

Fit and finish are quite good.  The lens is clad in high quality plastic, including the filter threads, but has a metal mount for added durability.  The dual use Focus and zoom ring has a very tight ribbed design, and is not rubberized, so it won't turn chalky over time like the full frame and 'DT' lenses.

 

The zoom action is fully electronic, so there is no real 'feel' to it other than is runs in and out somewhat slowly (but smoothly) when pushing the zoom switch, however, when zooming quickly using the ring, it's very fast but rough feeling, at least on the NEX-C3 that it was tested on.  There is a single plastic extension barrel that protrudes about 22mm at both ends of the zoom, but shortens up by about 4mm in the middle of the zoom length, 27-28mm.  There are no focal length marks on the outside, so you have to take a picture and use the histogram display to see the focal length data.  I'm not sure if the newest NEX cameras show the focal length in other display modes or not.  
 
In the box: the lens in bubble wrap, front and rear caps, and an owner's manual.  
 
Focusing.  This lens auto-focuses almost silently.  Focusing seems quite accurate at all focal lengths, and reasonably quick in good light, however, your mileage may vary depending on camera model.  
 
Sony did not include a lens hood or place to mount one for obvious reasons; it's retractable, and who wants a hood that would probably be bigger than the lens?  Also, the filter threads are 40.5mm, which are commonly available and not very expensive; however, I'd buy a step up ring and use a larger filter size to avoid light fall-off at 16mm, which can be bad for RAW shooters, see samples below.
 
 

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Requisite product shots.

1stof2013/1650pzex.jpg
Front, fully extended
1stof2013/1650pzretr.jpg
Front, fully retracted
1stof2013/1650pzbk.jpg
Back
1stof2013/1650pzcp.jpg
Size comarison with Sony 16mm F/2.8 pancake lens on left.
1stof2013/1650pzmtf.jpg
Sony MTF graph and X-ray view

 
 
 
General information and specifications.
 

Lens

Sony NEX PZ 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS   Model number SELP1650

Box contents

Front and rear caps, and a user's manual. 

Cost

$349 retail as of 4/2013.

Build quality

Good.

Additional information

First retractable zoom for the NEX system.

Specifications

 

Optical configuration

9 elements in 8 groups

Angle of view

83°-32° 

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Formats

NEX E-mount only.  With a crop factor of 1.5x the coverage equals 24-75mm in 135 film format.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing.

Min. focus distance, image plane to subject @ max reproduction ratio

About 9.8"  (250mm)

Min. focus distance, end of lens barrel to subject @ max. reproduction ratio

About 8.0"  (203mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

No

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

40.5mm, commonly available.

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

0.215x, (1:4.6)

Min. F/stop

F/22-36

Factory teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

2.54" x 1.2"   65mm x 30mm.  Fully retracted.

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

2.0"  (52mm) when powered up.                       

Weight bare (my scale)

4.1oz  (116g) 

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Some small green colored blobs appear when super bright light sources are close to, or inside the frame, samples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Very good control at the long end, average control at the short end.  You'll see some magenta and cyan at high contrast edges along the sides of the image near 16mm.     
 
Bokeh.  Is 'busy' at all focal lengths.
 
Color.   Neutral. 
 
Close up filter.  N/A.   
 
Coma.  None that matters.
 
Regular filters:  N/A.
 
Filter size:.  40.5mm.  Odd-ball size for Sony, and as of this review Sony doesn't offer any filters, but they're commonly available at photo outlets like B&H.
 
Distortion.  Massive barrel distortion at the short end, minor pincushion at the long end when shooting in RAW.  Check out the cropped samples below.
 

1stof2013/1650pz16mmdis.jpg
16mm, uncorrected RAW, massive barrel distortion
1stof2013/1650pz28mmdis.jpg
28mm, uncorrected from RAW file, moderate barrel distortion
1stof2013/1650pz50mmdis.jpg
50mm, uncorrected RAW, minor pincushion distortion.

 
Distortion is very strong from 16-18mm, but flattens out nicely around 20mm, and turns to minor pincushion at longer focal lengths.  Jpeg shooters with newer NEX cameras that correct for distortion in-camera will not need to worry about this.  RAW shooters may want to zoom out a little bit to get rid of the distortion and clipped corners from vignetting, see that section below.
 
 
Light fall-off.
 

           16mm F/3.5

             16mm F/5.6

1stof2013/1650pzvigw35.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzvigw56.jpg

           18mm F/3.5

             18mm F/5.6

1stof2013/1650pzw1835.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzw1856.jpg

           50mm F/5.6

             50mm F/8

1stof2013/1650pzviglong56.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzviglong80.jpg

 

Light fall-off is mild and not a problem at any focal length when using shading correction, or more importantly distortion correction on newer NEX cameras.  However, if you shoot RAW or have an older NEX camera, you'll see clipped corners at 16mm, along with big-time distortion as seen above.  Zoom out just a little bit (like 18mm) to avoid this.

 
 
Flare and ghosting.
 

           16mm F/6.3 green arrow at center left

             50mm F/6.3 green blob at center

1stof2013/1650pzgst1.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzgst2.jpg

 

The Sony NEX 16-50mm PZ OSS lens controls ghosting well, although there is a small green arrow or blob to be seen when super bright lights are in the scene.  Contrast holds up well even with the sun blazing in the lens (not shown), especially at the ultra wide end.

 
 
Bokeh samples.
 

           16mm F/3.5

             16mm F/5.6

1stof2013/1650pzboks35.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzboks56.jpg

           50mm F/5.6

             50mm F/8

1stof2013/1650pzbokl56.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzbokl80.jpg

 

Bokeh looks somewhat harsh at all focal lengths and longer focusing distances; typical for a kit type lens.  I see a ring around the disk, along with an additional dot in the middle at wide focal lengths.  At very short focusing distances, it can look pretty smooth.   Bokeh is the character of out of focus highlights, and not simply how far out of focus the background is.

 

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

Check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony NEX-C3 16mp camera, so don't compare it to others that were taken with 12 or 24mp cameras.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a short 8.0" (203mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
This lens has a reproduction size of 0.215x, or 1:4.6, and it produced a good close focus shot, but there is a lack of contrast at the long end of the zoom where you get the maximum reproduction size.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
 

1stof2013/1650pzmac504.jpg
As close as you can get. F/10, click for larger image.

 

 

 

Aperture/focal length guide.

 

Maximum aperture

          F/3.5

       F/4

       F/4.5

       F/5

       F/5.6

Range

16mm-18mm

18mm - 23mm

23mm - 29mm

29mm - 35mm

35mm - 50mm

 
Focal length numbers carry through between apertures, which is normal.  You may get slightly different numbers if you want to spend all day firing off shots and moving the zoom ring in tiny increments.

 

 

Conclusion.

 

The Sony NEX PZ 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS turned in a mixed performance; and whether you like it or not will depend on how you plan on using it.

 

First, let's look at the good points; sharp frame with good contrast at the wide end, best at F/5.6.  Very compact!  Smooth and quiet AF and zooming using the zoom switch.  Areas that need attention are; contrast is lacking at the long end, but that's typical for this type of lens; rough zooming and noise when quickly turning the zoom ring, and massive distortion at 16mm when saving as RAW or turning the distortion correction off.

 

Folks that are purchasing the NEX-3N or newer lower end NEX camera body along with this lens will probably be very happy with it as long as you shoot jpegs with all the lens corrections turned on.  For manual control freaks like myself, this lens is annoying because of the lack of control over the auto zoom operation (retracts when reviewing a shot etc), and the distortion issues discussed above.  Also, the level of image quality is not really there at longer focal lengths if you're used to better lenses and high megapixel cameras like the NEX-7 and newer.

 

Bottom line: great for people that just want to have fun using a small camera that they can put in their purse or jacket pocket.

 

 

 

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

 

16mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/3.5

1stof2013/1650pzwctr1635.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwmid1635.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwcorn1635.jpg

F/5.6

1stof2013/1650pzwctr1656.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwmid1656.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwcorn1656.jpg

F/8

1stof2013/1650pzwctr1680.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwmid1680.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwcorn1680.jpg

F/11

1stof2013/1650pzwctr1611.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwmid1611.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzwcorn1611.jpg

 

50mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/5.6

1stof2013/1650pzLctr56.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzLmid56.jpg

1stof2013/1650pzLcorn56.jpg

F/8

1stof2013/1650pzLctr80.jpg

1stof2013/1650pzLmid80.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzLcorn80.jpg

F/11

1stof2013/1650pzLctr11.jpg

1stof2013/1650pzLmid11.jpg
1stof2013/1650pzLcorn11.jpg

 

At 16mm, the entire image is soft at F/3.5, but sharpens up dramatically at F/5.6. Stopping down more does not help the sides or extreme corners.  At the long end (50mm), a lack of contrast is noticeable over the whole frame, especially at F/5.6, however, by closing the aperture just one stop there is a noticeable improvement in contrast, but not resolution.  

 

All focusing distances were at or near infinity using manual focus and focus bracketing.  Exposure differences are due to light fall-off.

 

That's it for the review, if you'd like to help out the site, please visit B&H Photo if you're thinking of purchasing the Sony NEX PZ 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS, thanks!

 

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