Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens (SEL1224GM)
The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM ultrawide lens is a very solidly built high performer.
This lens is best used with one of Sony’s ‘full frame’ α7 or α9 cameras, where its advantages will be maximised.
Announced on 7 July, the new Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM (SEL1224GM) lens provides a faster, more up-to-date alternative to the FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens we reviewed in January 2020. Like that lens, it is designed primarily for the company’s full-frame mirrorless cameras but is also usable on cameras with APS-C sensors. With larger elements, the f/2.8 lens is naturally heavier than the f/4 alternative. However, the weight difference of 282 grams will make this lens better suited to the ‘full frame’ α7 and α9 camera bodies, like the α7R IV that was provided for our tests.
Angled view of the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens (SEL1224GM) shown on the α7R IV camera, which was used for this review. (Source: Sony.)
The optical design is similar to that of the f/4 lens, comprising 17 elements in 14 groups. However, the lens elements are quite different, with three extremely precise XA (extreme aspherical) elements – including the largest XA element ever made for an FE lens – plus an additional aspherical element to suppress astigmatism, coma and field curvature.
This illustration shows the front element of the SEL1224GM lens, the largest ever made for an FE lens. (Source: Sony.)
In addition, three ED glass elements and two Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements combine to minimise chromatic aberration and provide sharpness and clarity throughout the image area. A nine-bladed iris diaphragm closes to produce a circular aperture that creates attractive bokeh. The high surface precision of the XA elements suppresses onion-ring effects to ensure out-of-focus highlights are smoothly rendered.
This diagram shows the positions of the exotic elements in the lens design. (Source: Sony.)
Sony’s second-generation Nano AR Coating II has been applied to large lens elements and highly curved element surfaces to suppress internal reflections that can cause flare and ghosting in challenging lighting situations. Weather-resistant sealing (shown below) is placed at all potential entry points for moisture and dust and the front lens element has a fluorine coating that repels water, oil and other contaminants and makes it easy to keep the surface clean.
This diagram shows the positions of the weather-resistant seals in the lens structure. (Source: Sony.)
The lens also has a built-in, petal-shaped lens hood, which prevents regular filters from being used. A rear filter holder accepts standard sheet-type ND, colour correction and other filters and a cutting template for sheet filters is supplied.
Autofocusing is driven by four high-speed, high-thrust XD (extreme dynamic) linear motors, with two for each of the lens’s focus groups. New control algorithms perfectly synchronise the two focus groups.
The autofocus drive system with four XD linear motors. (Source: Sony.)
This system has been adopted to ensure the lens will be compatible with the speed performance of both current and future camera bodies. Operation is fast, accurate and extremely quiet with minimal vibration, making the new lens ideal for recording movie clips.
In addition to focusing and zooming ring controls, which are positioned for easy operation, the SEL1224GM boasts a customisable focus-hold button and focus-mode switch. Linear Response MF ensures the focus ring is highly responsive during manual focusing.
The supplied lens cap. (Source: Sony.)
As a consequence of the fixed lens hood and bulging front element, the supplied lens cap (shown above) is cup-shaped and fits over the hood. It’s held in place by spring-loaded clips on opposite sides of the cap. The lens also comes with a rear dust cap and a soft carrying pouch.
Who’s it For?
The newest G Master lens in Sony’s f/2.8 GM adds an even wider zoom to the existing 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and 70-200mm f/2.8 GM line-up. As noted above, this lens is best used with one of Sony’s ‘full frame’ α7 or α9 cameras, where its advantages will be maximised.
Ultrawide lenses draw the viewer into the scene. They’re used by photojournalists for capturing dynamic close-ups of events like demonstrations and rallies and by real estate photographers to make properties appear larger than they actually are.
The exaggerated perspective in the 12mm to 16mm range can also be useful for special effects and recording night skies, while the longer focal lengths are great for shooting landscapes, cityscapes and architecture. In shorter lenses, the constant f/2.8 maximum aperture would provide scope for creative shallow focus shots but it’s less useful in ultra-wide lenses.
When used on an APS-C camera or with a Super 35 angle of view, the zoom range becomes equivalent to 18-36mm, a useful range for moviemaking. Near-silent autofocusing is also valuable when shooting video clips.
The main competitors for this lens are the slower Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens and Sigma 12-24mm f/4 HSM ART lens. There are also two manual focus prime lenses from Voigtlander with focal lengths of 10mm and 12mm and f/5.6 maximum apertures and a couple of Laowa lenses: a 12mm f/2.8 prime and a 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom. But that’s about it!
Build and Ergonomics
As you’d expect from a lens with such a high price tag, this lens is very solidly constructed using a combination of high quality, engineering grade plastic on a solid metal base. Dust and moisture resistance are a feature of the overall design and the fixed, petal-shaped lens hood ensures the length of the lens remains constant, even though the inner barrel moves as focal length is adjusted.
Because the front element bulges outwards, you can’t attach filters by the conventional screw-in method. If you want to use filters, sheet filters can be attached via the filter holder around the lens mount. A template is provided for cutting filter sheets to the correct size.
The filter template shown with two cut filters. (Source: Sony.)
The focusing ring is located roughly 15mm behind the base of the lens hood. It’s roughly 18 mm wide and almost entirely clad with fine rubber-like ridging. This ring turns smoothly through 360 degrees when no power is supplied and is driven from the camera in both auto and manual modes. Focusing is generally very fast and precise.
This illustration shows the main components of the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens.
Immediately behind the focusing ring is a fixed band that is approximately 17 mm wide. The focus-hold button and AF/MF slider switch are located on this band.
The zoom ring sits just aft of it. It’s approximately 24 mm wide, with a 19 mm wide band of rubberised ridging around its leading edge. Stamped on the un-ridged trailing edge are markings for the 12mm, 14mm, 16mm, 18mm, 21mm and 24mm focal lengths, which line up against a white index mark on the fixed section of the barrel behind the ring.
The barrel slopes in for about 4 mm and then runs straight for roughly 14 mm before sloping and stepping in towards the chromed lens mount. A white index mark for lining up the lens with the camera is located on this section of the lens. Ten gold-plated contacts inside the lens mount provide connections to the camera.
Our Imatest tests using the α5R IV body, showed the review lens to be a good performer, with surprisingly even resolution figures recorded at all focal lengths and with apertures between f/2.8 and f/8 where diffraction began to take effect. The highest resolution was recorded with the 21mm focal length around the middle of the aperture range, as shown in the graph of our test results below.
Some edge softening was found at the widest aperture settings for all focal lengths at our standard test distances. But it was relatively low for such a fact, wide-angle lens.
Even with in-camera corrections disabled, lateral chromatic aberration was negligible at all lens apertures and focal lengths, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results, below. The red line marks the boundary between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA.
The review lens was very flare-resistant, although not totally flare-free. We found slight flare artefacts in a couple shots, although there was little in the way of veiling flare and shots retained normal contrast and saturation. The 9-bladed iris diaphragm produced 18-pointed sun-stars at point sources of light when small apertures were used.
Our assessments of rectilinear distortion and vignetting were carried out on converted raw files and checked against JPEGs captured with the in-camera corrections switched off. Neither aberration was present to a significant degree.
Barrel distortion could be seen at 12mm, which is to be expected for such a wide angle of view. But it had changed by 16mm to slight pincushion distortion, which persisted for the rest of the zoom range. From a practical viewpoint, distortion could be seen as effectively negligible.
Slight vignetting could be seen at f/2.8 across the full zoom range but, again, it was too slight to seriously affect most photographers. Both issues are easily corrected with in-camera adjustments and with image editors and/or raw file converters.
Close-ups work better with larger subjects due to the wide angles of view and 28 cm focusing limit. As with the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens we found it difficult to evaluate the bokeh of this lens, even at f/2.8. The ultra-wide angle of view makes this lens less than ideal for shooting close-ups.
Autofocusing performance, which is influenced by the algorithms in the camera, was generally excellent. However, as with the f/4 version of this lens, we couldn’t test Sony’s face- and eye-detection functions thoroughly because it’s not really suitable for portraiture.
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Picture angle: 122 to 84 degrees
Minimum aperture: f/22
Lens construction: 17 elements in 14 groups (including three3 XA (extreme aspherical) and one aspherical, elements)
Lens mount: Sony E-mount
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Weather resistance: Yes, dust and moisture sealing
Focus drive: XD Linear Motor
Stabilisation: Relies on body-integrated SteadyShot in cameras
Minimum focus: 28 cm
Maximum magnification: 0.14x
Filter: Rear filter holder for standard sheet-type filters
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 97.6 x 137 mm
Weight: 847 grams
Standard Accessories: Lens front and rear caps, soft carrying case, filter template
Distributor: Sony Australia; 1300 720 071; www.sony.com.au.
Based upon JPEG files captured with the Sony α7R IV camera.
Vignetting at 12mm, f/2.8.
Vignetting at 16mm f/2.8.
Vignetting at 21mm f/2.8.
Vignetting at 24mm f/2.8.
Rectilinear distortion at 12mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 16mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 21mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 24mm.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/9.
24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/9.
Comparison shots taken at 12mm (left) and 24mm (right); ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/8.
Close-up at 12mm, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/3.2.
Close-up at 24mm, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/3.2.
Close-up of a small subject at 12mm, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/2.8.
Close-up of a small subject at 24mm, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/2.8.
Strong side lighting, 12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/11. Note the 18-pointed sun-stars.
Strong side lighting; 24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/11. Note the flare streak.
Contre-jour lighting, 12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/11.
Contre-jour lighting; 24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/11.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/9. Showing wide-angle distortion because the lens was tilted upwards.
The same image, adjusted to make the main building appear vertical. Note the curve towards the top of the structure.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/50 second at f/9.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/8. A typical ‘property’ photograph.
24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/2.8.
24mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/800 second at f/3.2.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/8.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/8.
17mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/9.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/9.
24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/11.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/11.
12mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/11.
RRP: AU$4998; US$3000
- Build: 9.0
- Handling: 9.0
- Image quality: 8.5
- Autofocusing: 9.0
- Versatility: 8.5