Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM2 lens

      Photo Review 8.9

      In summary

      Sony’s lightest wide-angle zoom lens combines a fast and constant f/2.8 maximum aperture with high speed focusing and excellent stills and movie performance.

      Full review

      Announced at the end of August 2023, the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM2 lens completes a trio of second-generation GM lenses that are each the lightest in their category. These lenses encompass a focal length range extending from 16mm with the new lens to 200mm with the 70-200mm (SEL70200GM2) lens. Designed for Sony cameras with full-frame sensors, the G Master label indicates they have been designed to compete with prime lenses by offering excellent optical, focusing and handling performance. This lens was reviewed on the new α7C II camera, which is reviewed separately.

      Angled view of the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM2 lens without the lens cap and supplied lens hood. (Source: Sony.)

      The optical design of this lens consists of 15 elements in 12 groups and includes five aspherical elements, among them three extreme aspherical elements (XA), as well as one Super ED (extra-low dispersion) and two ED elements. Together, they combine to suppress chromatic aberrations and colour fringing and minimise spherical aberrations and distortion. Sony’s proprietary Nano AR Coating II suppresses ghosting and flare and the front element has a fluorine coating that repels water, oil and other contaminants and makes the lens easier to clean.

      The optical design of the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM2 lens showing the positions of the exotic elements in the lens design. (Source: Sony.)

      Internal focusing driven by four XD (extreme dynamic) linear motors provides better focusing performance than Sony’s Direct Drive SSM (DDSSM) system, which was used in the previous model. The new system is also more precise and quieter, making it more effective for both video and stills.

      This diagram shows the position of the four XD linear motors that control autofocusing. (Source: Sony.)

      The floating focus mechanism can maintain image quality throughout the focusing range, right down to the minimum focus of 22 cm, which is possible from 16mm through to 35mm.  Support is also available for shooting at up to 30 fps, full AF is maintained even when shooting stopped down, and focus tracking is possible even when changing the zoom position.

      Focus breathing, focus shift and axial shift during zooming have all been minimised and the lens supports the Breathing Compensation function provided in Sony’s cine-line and Alpha cameras. Linear Response MF provides smooth manual focus control and the manual aperture ring de-clicked for silent operation. The zoom ring can be adjusted for smoothness to match the desired torque.

      The lens is supplied with the ALC-F82S front cap, ALC-R1EM rear cap, ALC-SH177 petal-shaped lens hood and a soft case and strap.

      Who’s it For?

      While it’s difficult to totally avoid the inherent distortions at the 16mm and 20mm focal lengths, the internal corrections do a reasonably good job of minimising them in JPEG files and they can be fixed when converting ARW.RAW files into editable formats. But it does mean care is required when framing shots with this lens.

      It’s encompassing angles of view can be useful for some landscape and architectural photographers. They will also suit photojournalists who cover events involving large crowds.

      Wide angle lenses tend to have few applications in close-up work and this lens is no exception. With a maximum shooting magnification of 0.32x at 35mm it could be used to photograph larger plants and inflorescences. It could also be used for some kinds of product and tabletop photography.

      Vloggers and owners of professional-level drones could find this lens handy for its wide coverage, fast autofocusing and near silent operation. But it would need to be mounted on one of Sony’s lighter, full-frame cameras, such as the α7C II we used for our tests. There’s no point using it on Sony’s APS-C cameras, which will crop away much of the frame.

      Build and Ergonomics
      As expected for a GM-class lens, the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM2 is solidly constructed with a smooth matte black cladding on what feels like a mostly metal base. Even though the inner barrel only extends by a few millimetres during zooming from 35mm to 16mm, there is no detectable flexing.

      The front element is approximately 55 mm in diameter and surrounded by a stepped plastic border that is partially ribbed and carries the name of the lens and the filter thread diameter (82 mm). The lens surface is fluorine coated to repel moisture and dust particles. A bayonet mounting for the petal-shaped lens hood surrounds its outer edge.

      The focusing ring is located roughly 14 mm behind the front rim of the lens. It’s 20 mm wide and covered in ribbed, rubber-like cladding. This ring turns through a full circle when the camera’s power is off but operates smoothly in manual focus mode.

      Immediately behind the focusing ring is a fixed, 17 mm wide section of the outer barrel that carries a red ‘G’ label plus the two focus hold buttons and the AF/MF switch. Behind it is the 21 mm wide zoom ring, which has ribbed, rubber-like cladding covering an 18 mm wide band around its leading edge. The trailing edge of the ring is stamped with settings for the 35mm, 28mm, 24mm, 20mm and 16mm focal lengths, which can be aligned with the white marker on the 3 mm wide section of the barrel behind the ring.

      The aperture ring is located directly behind the zoom ring. It’s 10 mm wide and carries markings in full f-stop increments between f/2.8 and f/22, with an ‘A’ position at the f/22 end for setting auto aperture selection. Intermediate marks between the f-stops denote 1/3 EV increments.

      The Click On/Off and iris lock switches are located on the 10 mm wide sloping section of the outer barrel aft of the aperture ring, which leads on to a straight 10 mm wide section of the barrel that ends in the chromed metal lens mount. Inside the mount are ten gold-plated contacts for passing signals between the lens and the camera body.

      The petal-shaped lens hood supplied with the lens has a locking button to prevent it from being accidentally dislodged. It can be reversed on the barrel for transport or storage.

      Our Imatest tests were carried out with the lens on the Sony α7C Mark II camera, which is reviewed separately. They showed the review lens to be a decent performer for its type, with measured resolution in the centre of the frame in JPEG files slightly exceeding expectations for the camera’s sensor and the mid-range and edge measurements falling somewhat below them. This is to be expected, especially at the shorter focal lengths.

      RAW files recorded simultaneously produced somewhat better results, with only the measurements taken near the edge of the frame failing to meet expectations. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests, based on JPEG files taken at each aperture and focal length setting.

      Sony cameras automatically correct most common aberrations so our vignetting and distortion tests were carried out on uncorrected raw files. For chromatic aberration, we looked at the Imatest results for uncorrected raw files and found them to straddle the borderline between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, whereas the JPEG files showed almost complete correction. For most users, chromatic aberration would therefore be a minor issue.

      These two graphs show the results of tests on JPEGs (top) and uncorrected ARW.RAW files (below).

      As expected, ARW.RAW files showed noticeable vignetting at all focal lengths with the f/2.8 maximum aperture. It was most noticeable at 16mm but still evident at 35mm and still detectable at apertures between f/4 and f/4.5.  JPEG files were completely corrected, thanks to in-camera processing.

      Similarly, ARW.RAW files recorded at the 16mm focal length showed noticeable barrel distortion, which reduced gradually as the angle of view was reduced.  Most distortions had disappeared by around 24mm and by 28mm there was a perceptible shift to visible (though not excessive) pincushion distortion, which increased slightly at 35 mm. Vigorous in-camera auto-corrections eliminate these distortions from JPEG files.

      The minimum focus of 22 cm makes shooting close-ups only worthwhile when the subjects are reasonably large and you use focal lengths of 24mm or longer. However, the fast f/2.8 maximum aperture can deliver some nice results, particularly if the subject is against an evenly-lit background.

      In such circumstances, bokeh is quite good for a lens of this type. However, accurate focusing is critical, particularly at f/2.8, as depth of field is very shallow.

      We found the most attractive bokeh in shots taken with the 35mm focal length at f/2.8 where background blurring appeared nice and soft.  However, highlights became increasingly ‘edgy’ blurred highlights as the lens was zoomed out to 16mm and there was some slight outlining and streaking near the edges of the frame. You’d need to stop the aperture down and organise evenly-lit backgrounds to justify shooting close-ups with the shorter focal length settings.

      The review lens produced some nice, sharp, 22-pointed sunstars at all the focal lengths we tested. There were a couple of small flare artefacts at the 16mm setting but none at 24mm or 35mm.

      Flare was seldom an issue with the review lens, although some small, diffuse areas of veiling flare could be seen around the brightest areas in shots facing directly towards the sun. Careful framing of shots would easily eliminate them so they aren’t a real problem.


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      Picture angle: 63 to 107 degrees diagonal
      Minimum aperture:  f/22
      Lens construction: 15 elements in 12 groups (including 5 aspherical and 3 ED elements)
      Lens mount: Sony E-mount
      Diaphragm Blades: 11 (circular aperture)
      Weather resistance: Dust and weather-resistant sealing in 10 locations
      Focus drive: Four XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors
      Stabilisation: No
      Minimum focus: 22 cm
      Maximum magnification: 0.32x
      Filter size: 82 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 87.8 x 111.5 mm
      Weight: 547 grams
      Standard Accessories: ALC-F82S front cap, ALC-R1EM rear cap, ALC-SH177 petal-shaped lens hood, soft case and strap

      Distributor: Sony Australia



      Based on JPEG files taken with the Sony α7C II camera.

      Based on ARW.RAW recorded simultaneously and converted into 16-bit format with Adobe Camera Raw.



      Vignetting at 16mm.

      Vignetting at 24mm.

      Vignetting at 35mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 16mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 20mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 24mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 28mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 35mm.

      16mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/30 second at f/8.

      35mm focal length, ISO 1000, 1/40 second at f/8.

      Close-up at 16mm focal length, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/500 second.

      Close-up at 24mm focal length, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/500 second.

      Close-up at 35mm focal length, f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/400 second.

      16mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/30 second at f/11.

      35mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/40 second at f/11.

      24mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/40 second.

      Sunstar at 16mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/30 second at f/22.

      Sunstar at 24mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/50 second at f/22.

      Sunstar at 35mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/22.

      35mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/11.

      16mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/8.

      16mm focal length, ISO 125, 1/30 second at f/9.

      24mm focal length;
      ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/5.6.

      35mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/40 second at f/5.6.

      16mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/6.3.

      16mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/4.

      16mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/4.5.

      35mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.

      16mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/30 second at f/11.

      16mm focal length, ISO 250, 1/20 second at f/11.

      35mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/20 second at f/11.

      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Sony α7C II camera.



      RRP: AU$3699

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 9.0
      • Image quality: 8.9
      • Autofocusing: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.8