Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS (SEL2470Z) lens

      Photo Review 8.5
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      In summary

      Suitable for shooting portraits, landscapes and general photography, this lens is a natural ‘walk-around’ partner for the α7 cameras, partly because of its size but also because it has been designed for high-performance cameras. It’s also a better performer on cameras with 36 x 24mm sensors than with APS-C models (we tested it on both).

      This lens is worth considering if you plan to buy an α7 body since bundling it with a camera should be cheaper than buying the lens on its own. Weatherproof sealing will be advantageous to photographers who do a lot of outdoor shooting and the relatively fast f/4 maximum aperture provides potential for depth-of-field control and shooting in low light levels.

      But it’s not super-fast ““ and the zoom range isn’t all that long, although the 70mm setting is fine for portraiture. Serious photographers will need to complement this lens with a telephoto zoom like Sony’s 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens if they want to cover sports and wildlife shooting.

       

      Full review

      Sony’s first full-frame E-mount Carl Zeiss zoom lens, the Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS lens is quite different from the SELP1650 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6. While both lenses cover a ‘standard’ zoom range, the Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4, being relatively large and heavy, is a better partner for the α7R camera we used for this review. However, it can also be used on E-mount cameras with smaller sensors where it covers the 35mm equivalent of 36-105mm.
       

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      Side view of the Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS lens. (Source: Sony.)

      The Zeiss branding implies a fairly high price tag, although it’s comparable with equivalent lenses from the leading DSLR manufacturers. For the price you get decent build quality and a relatively fast f/4 maximum aperture across the zoom range. This lens is also weather-sealed, which adds to its value.

      The optical design is moderately complex, with 12 elements in 10 groups, among them five aspherical elements and one ED (extra-low dispersion) element. A proprietary T* coating is applied to lens elements to minimise reflections that cause flare and ghosting.

      The lens is supplied with front and end caps and a petal-shaped lens hood (ALC-SH130). A soft carrying pouch is also included.

      Who’s it for?
       Suitable for shooting portraits, landscapes and general photography, this lens is a natural ‘walk-around’ partner for the α7 cameras, partly because of its size but also because it has been designed for high-performance cameras. It’s also a better performer on cameras with 36 x 24mm sensors than with APS-C models (we tested it on both).

      This lens is worth considering if you plan to buy an α7 body since bundling it with a camera should be cheaper than buying the lens on its own. Weatherproof sealing will be advantageous to photographers who do a lot of outdoor shooting and the relatively fast f/4 maximum aperture provides potential for depth-of-field control and shooting in low light levels.

      But it’s not super-fast ““ and the zoom range isn’t all that long, although the 70mm setting is fine for portraiture. Serious photographers will need to complement this lens with a telephoto zoom like Sony’s 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens if they want to cover sports and wildlife shooting.

      Build and Ergonomics
       Overall build quality is very good, with a high percentage of metal alloy in the barrels and a very solid metal mounting plate. It looks and feels superior to the relatively light aluminium kit lenses for Sony’s APS-C E-mount cameras.

      The focusing and zoom rings are close together, with the leading edge of the focusing ring approximately 13 mm behind the front of the lens. This ring is 14 mm wide and covered with a finely-ridged grip band.

      Focusing is electronically controlled and driven by a linear stepping motor. It’s well implemented and supports fine adjustments but isn’t quite as fast as a mechanical focus control and doesn’t provide much tactile feedback.

      An almost identical ribbing also covers most of the zoom ring, which is roughly 27 mm wide. The trailing edge of this ring is un-ridged and carries indicator marks for the 24mm, 35mm, 50m and 70mm focal lengths. These line up against a white mark on the non-moving section of the lens barrel.

      Both rings on the review lens turned smoothly and, although there’s no lock, there was no zoom creep when the lens was carried facing downwards. Zooming from 24mm to 70mm extends the inner barrel by approximately 30 mm.

      Behind the zoom ring the lens barrel remains straight for 18 mm before stepping inwards for the final 20 mm that leads to the lens mount. The characteristic cinnabar-coloured ring surrounds the barrel just in front of the mounting point.

      Stabilisation is built into this lens, enabling it to be used on cameras without Steadyshot Inside technology. It provides between two and three f-stops of shutter speed compensation.

      With a minimum focusing distance of only 40cm, this lens isn’t ideal for close-up shooting. In practice, zooming in to 70mm extended the minimum focus distance a little, although the smaller angle of view and higher magnification made it easier to frame small subjects. The f/4 maximum aperture at 70mm provided some scope for isolating subjects from the background, although nowhere near as much as an f/2.8 lens would provide.

      Performance
       Subjective assessment of JPEGs straight out of the camera showed them to be colour rich and detailed, particularly with shots taken in bright, sunny conditions. With flatter lighting, the more subdued colour saturation indicated by our Imatest tests became evident, although overall sharpness was maintained in the centre of image frames.

      Imatest showed this lens to be capable of meeting expectations for the 20-megapixel sensor on the a5000 body with both JPEG and ARW.RAW files but JPEGs taken with the much higher-resolution α7R  camera couldn’t quite achieve the expected resolution. This is a big ask for any camera and lens combo and hasn’t adversely affected our ratings for the lens.

      One factor that has affected our ratings was edge softening, which was very noticeable with the α7R at apertures wider than f/5.6 for all focal length settings. (The a5000 cropped away the periphery of the image frame, resulting in much less edge softening.) The graph below shows the Imatest results for the aperture ranges for each focal length setting.

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      From the graph you can see that resolution is generally high in the centre of the frame from f/4 through to f/8, after which it declines slowly but steadily due to the influence of diffraction. But the edges of the frame remain soft at all focal lengths.
       Like other Sony lenses, this lens has been designed for use with cameras that provide automatic corrections for rectilinear distortions, vignetting and chromatic aberration. Consequently, we used raw files to assess performance in these areas and found the following:

      Distortion  not corrected in the camera is significant and ranges from serious barrel distortion at 24mm to slight pincushion distortion at 35mm with a progressive increase in pincushion distortion at 50mm and 70mm. With auto-corrected JPEGs, very little distortion can be seen.

      Vignetting not corrected in the camera produces noticeable corner darkening at 24mm. This is reduced progressively for longer focal lengths and fall-off is relatively slight at 70mm. With auto-corrected JPEGs, vignetting is effectively negligible.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was generally very low in both auto-corrected JPEGs and uncorrected ARW.RAW files. We don’t see this as a problem for this lens. The results of our Imatest tests are shown in the graph below.

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       Flare resistance was generally excellent, thanks to the well-designed lens hood and superior anti-reflection coatings. This is a strong point of this lens.

      Bokeh was also variable and smoother with the a5000 body than the α7R. Out-of-focus backgrounds with that camera tended to show traces of outlining and tonal transitions weren’t as smooth as most photographers would wish for.

      Autofocusing speed is largely dictated by the camera and the selected focusing mode. We’ve covered these aspects of performance in our review of the α7R camera.

      Conclusion
       While photographers who work with raw image files will probably find this lens unsatisfactory, everyday shooters who take only JPEGs will probably find it meets their needs for a reasonably fast ‘walkaround’ lens. The problems are particularly significant for landscape and architectural photographers who require shots to be sharp corner-to-corner.

      Since we cater more for the raw shooters than snapshooters, we’re unable to rate the performance of this lens as highly as some reviewers would have. There aren’t many lenses in Sony’s E-mount range and owners of α7 cameras have few other choices in this focal length range, aside from the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL2870), which doesn’t cover such a wide angle of view. The larger, heavier and faster Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* (SAL-2470Z) lens could be used with an adapter, although it’s more expensive and lacks stabilisation.

       

      SPECS

       Picture angle: 84 to 34 degrees on 35mm format cameras (61-23 degrees with APS-C sensors)
       Minimum aperture: f/22
       Lens construction: 12 elements in 10 groups (including 5 aspherical elements and one ED element)
       Lens mounts: Sony E-mount
       Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
       Focus drive: Linear stepping motor
       Stabilisation: Optical SteadyShot
       Minimum focus: 40 cm
       Maximum magnification: 0.2x
       Filter size:   67 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): 73 x 94.5 mm
       Weight:  426 grams
       Standard Accessories: Front and end caps, petal-shaped lens hood, soft carrying pouch

       

      TESTS

      Based on JPEG files taken with the Sony α7R.

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      Based on JPEG files taken with the Sony α5000.

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      SAMPLES

       

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       Vignetting at 24mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Vignetting at 35mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Vignetting at 50mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Vignetting at 70mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at 24mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at 35mm ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at 50mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at 70mm; ARW.RAW file.
       

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      24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
       

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      35mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
       

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      50mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
       

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      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
       
       

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      Close-up at 24mm α7R; ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/4.
       

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      Close-up at 70mm α7R; ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/6.3.
       
       

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      Close-up at 70mm α5000; ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/4.
       
       

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      Bokeh at 70mm α7R; ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/4.
       
       

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      Flare at 24mm α7R; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/11.

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      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/11.

       

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       Crop from the above image showing minimal coloured fringing.
       
       

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      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/13.
       

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      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
       
       

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      37mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/8.
       
      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Sony α7R camera.

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$1499; US$1200

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • Versatility: 8.5

       

      Buy