Sony 16-50mm F2.8 DT SSM Lens Preview

September 14, 2011

Sony 16-50mm kit lens

The Sony A77 has already been announced. One of the most interesting part of the announcement is that photographers can purchase the A77 with the DT 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM standard zoom lens (SAL-1650) as part of Kit combo. Considering the price of the A77 body only, you can a f/2.8 standard zoom lens for $600, which is $100 lens compared to the pre-order price on Sony store.

Many enthusiast photographers know that in order to get the most out of their photos, in many cases, a fast lens has to be used. That very true if you want to achieve a shallow depth-of-field or shoot photos in available light.  The 16-50 mm f2.8 was designed especially for a use with APS-C A-mount Alpha cameras.

This is a DT lens design, which means that it’s more compact than the equivalent lenses that can also be used on full frame cameras two. In this article I want to talk about this new lens. Many of you are probably interested to know more about it and know whether you should go with the A77 + 16-50mm Kit or purchase the A77 body and buy another lens. Let’s begin..

 

Sony DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM lens

Sony DT 16-50mm F2.8 SSM lens (SAL1650)

 

What are Fast (Bright) Lenses?

First things first, some of you probably want to know why should you pay more for a fast lens. “Fast lens” (or “Bright lens”) is a name given to camera lenses that have wide (large) maximum aperture, mostly those who start with f/2.8. The larger the aperture opening, the “faster” the lens. The name ‘fast’ was give to those lenses because they allow more light passing through the lens, and that means that they result in a faster shutter speed for a given f-number.  That means that you can shoot in relatively low-light and still be able to capture sharp images with optimal exposure. This can help you avoid using a tripod or even a flash when needed.

Fast aperture lenses are also more expensive, due to the use of larger lenses (glass). However, not all fast lenses are expensive. For example, the Canon EF 50mm F1.8 and Nikon 50mm f1.8D are cheap and provide high image quality. However, their build quality still leaves something to be desired.

The Canon 50mm f1.8 is referred to as “Fantastic plastic” for the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Nevertheless, it’s all comes to the image quality and sreative possibilities that those lenses bring with them to the hands of the experienced photographer. So if you don’t want to be limited, you should consider buying a fast lens.

 

About the Sony 16-50mm f/2.8

The Alpha 16-50 mm (24-75mm equivalent) SSM (SAL-1650) premium lens was announced with the Sony A77 SLT camera as part of a Kit offering from Sony, and part of Sony’s A-mount lenses for its Alpha cameras. This is a very high-quality zoom lens with constant f/2.8 aperture. The lens was built to compliment the A77 and it’s dust and moisture resistant as the A77 body and the A77′s grip. It’s built with a combination of metal and plastic construction and it’s very solid.

The lens is constructed using an aspherical glass and three ED (eXtra Low Dispersion) lens elements, which reduce chromatic aberration. The SSM means Super Sonic wave Motor, and it’s Sony’s patent for quiet and very fast AF mechanism. The SSM is important not just because it offers fast AF, but because it allow shooting videos without the camera catching the AF noise.  So even without Sony naming it as an ‘HD lens’, this lens is also optimized for video shooting as well.

Sony 16-50 mm F2.8 lens mounted on A77

Sony 16-50 mm F2.8 lens mounted on A77

In some of the latest fast lenses from various vendors, we can find a lens-shift image stabilization mechanism. The lack of internal image stabilization mechanism doesn’t really effect this lens. The reason for that is that the Sony A77 (As well as other Alpha cameras) have a sensor-shift image stabilization mechanism built right-in the camera itself (called SteadyShot INSIDE). That helps cancelling out camera-shake and helps eliminating blurring in the image when shooting in slower shutter speeds. The SteadyShot Inside works with every lens that you attach to the camera. So it actually eliminated the need for lens-shift image stabilization.

The second fact is that an image stabilization mechanism as less significance on normal-zoom lenses, and become more crucial with telephoto-zoom lenses. Having said that, we can’t deny the fact that it’s very useful when you want to shoot at slow shutter speeds and in low-light. The SteadShot INSIDE can give you an advantage of approximately 3 to 4 stops advantage, which is tremendously important when shooting in slow shutter speeds. However, we have that in the camera, so compared to DSLR cameras without an internal image stabilization, we shouldn’t be worried about that. At least if we intend to buy an Alpha camera.

Camera Compatability

The Sony DT 16-50 mm f/2.8 SSM is compatible with the following cameras:

  • Sony A77, A65,
  • Sony NEX-C3, NEX-5, NEX-3, NEX-5N, NEX-7 and Sony’s NEX Handycam camcorders (*with a NEX camera mount adapter, model number LA-EA1)
So in order to use this lens on NEX cameras, you’ll need to purchase the optional LA-EA1 that was designed to give you to option to use any A-mount lens on any NEX camera. That of course includes not only the 16-50 but other A-mount lenses as well. Some people already invested money on A-mount lenses, but have decided to move to a mirrorless cameras, or they just have friends or family members with a NEX camera and that’s a good option to save money and share your lenses with them (and vise versa).

Image Quality

Of course the lens will be inspected thoroughly as it becomes widely available. Lab-test reviews and sample images taken with the Sony 16-50mm f2.8 will certainly help to make a smart buying decision.
Luckily for those who can’t wait, I’ve found a few Sony 16-50 f2.8 test shots over the web. Right now all I can say is WOW! – what an amazing image quality that lens can produce. You can find many Sony 16-50mm F2.8 sample images on dpnow.com, which can give you a good impression about how good the 16-50 optics really is.
I’m not just talking about a good image quality, but really, this lens is a wonderful piece of glass. The sharpness is excellent, micro-contrast is top-notch and the Bokeh (background-blur / shallow depth-of-field effect) is creamy and smooth.
 The reason this is a must-have lens for the A77 is because the A77 features a 24.3MP high-resolution sensor. To compliment that resolution, you’ll need superb optics. At least if you want to get the most out of this camera/sensor. Even wide open (f2.8, see the photo of the flower), it’s pretty damn sharp for a non-prime lens. More sample images can be found on an A77 hands-on review written by a user on dpreview forums, here.

Alternative Lenses

Some of you will probably want to investigate the alternative lenses. You have the option to buy the A77/A65 with the body alone, without Kit lens, although the price is very tempting I must admit. Here are some of the A-mount lenses that you might consider buying instead of the 16-50 mm f/2.8 lens, but in the normal-zoom to telephoto-zoom category.
  • SAL16105 (DT 16-105mm F3.5-5.6 / 24-105mm equiv.)
  • SAL18200 (DT 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 / 27-300mm equiv.)
  • SAL1680Z (DT 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 ZA Carl-Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* / 24-120mm equiv.)
  • SAL2875 (28-75 mm F2.8 / 42-112mm equiv.)
  • SAL2470Z (24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM Carl-Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* / 36-105mm equiv.)
  • SAL1635Z (16-35mm F2.8 ZA SSM Carl-Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* / 24-52mm equiv.)
Leaving the price a side, you have an option to purchase one of the lenses above, which are good candidates to replace the 16-50mm. However, I didn’t say that they are better alternatives, because you are the one who will decide that, based on your photography habits and special needs, as well as your budget. In my opinion, the addition of the Sony DT 16-50 mm F2.8 SSM lens is a welcome one. It has a very useful range, especially the 16mm wide-angle that is equivalent to 24mm on the A77/A65/A55 or any other APS-C A-mount camera that will be released in the future. You can see that the 24-70mm F2.8 and 16-35mm F2.8 both are Sony lenses that carry the Carl Zeiss brand logo, and they are pretty expensive as well.
The Sony SAL-2470Z costs around $1900 and the SAL1635Z costs $1900 as well. Remember, when you buy the Sony A77 Kit you get to have the 16-50 mm F2.8 for $600. That’s a very good price for a very versatile range and excellent optics.  The other thing is that both the 24-70 mm f2.8 (size: 83 x 111 mm /weight: 955 g) and the 16-35mm f2.8 (side: 83 x 114 mm / weight: 900 g) are heavier and bulkier than the 16-50 mm (size: 81 x 81 mm /weight: 577 g). That because they are not DT lenses. They were designed to fit both 35mm and APS-C sensors. The 28-75mm, although fast, won’t give you the wide angle because on an APS-C it is equivalent to 42-112mm, not my favorite focal length range, but maybe it will fits your type of shooting habits.

Summary

As we can see and read about the Sony 16-50mm F2.8 SSM lens, it looks very promising. I personally think that it’s a lens that many Alpha photographers have been waiting for. It perfectly compliment the Sony A65/A77 cameras due to they high-resolution APS-C Exmor sensors. The lens appears very sharp, contrasty, has very quiet and accurate AF (also needed to credit the A77 as well) and it’s a fast lens.
I can’t see someone passing this Kit lens for the requested price. It’s certainly the lens to get, especially if this is your first lens.
An all-around excellent performer that can serve as a wide-angle lens, portrait lens and general-purpose lens. The Bokeh is beautiful due to the rounded diaphragm blades. If you are buying the Sony A77 or A65 cameras and are debating whether to buy the 16-50mm KIT, right now things are looking very positive, I mean really positive! If I had the chance to purchase the A77 right now, I would order the 16-50 mm Kit without a blink of an eye.

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  • miles danek

    Good review. If I already own the KM 28-75 2.8 lens along with a Tokina 11-16mm 2.8, would you recommend getting the 16-50mm Sony lens also?
    I plan on getting the A77 body, but wonder about selling the KM lens so I have 11-50mm covered. I also own a Minolta 20mm 2.8 and Minolta 50mm 2.8 macro to compound my dilemma. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks. MPD

  • Tommy Hollister

    Selling the KM and getting the Sony 16mm 50mm 2.8 along with the 11mm 16mm 2.8 Tokina is a brilliant combo very smart. I’m jealous I need to order the Tokina but I wish I could afford the modified cine version Tokina by DUCLOS but they want $3,495. for that one.