Sony hasn’t held back in packing its mirrorless cameras with its best autofocus and imaging technology, even at the entry level, but it hasn’t devoted the same attention to its APS-C lenses. It hopes to change that reputation with the E 16-55mm F2.8 G ($1,399.99), one of its first pair of G-series lenses for its APS-C cameras. It’s a compact zoom, with a sturdy, all-weather design, and an f/2.8 aperture. We’ve used it in the field and tested it in the lab and have come away happy. It’s an easy pick for our Editors’ Choice, as it gives Sony APS-C system owners a true pro-grade standard zoom option.
Sony’s G series isn’t its absolute top of the line—that honor goes to the full-frame G Master (GM) family—but it still carries a hallmark of superior build and optical quality. The E 16-55mm f/2.8 G certainly measures up—it’s housed in a sturdy, polycarbonate barrel, includes internal seals to keep dust and moisture out, and offers fluorine protection to better keep the front element free of detritus.
It’s not a tiny lens, but at 3.9 by 2.9 inches (HD) and 1.1 pound, it won’t add too much weight to your camera. Compare it with Fujifilm’s similar XF 16-55mm F2.8, which is 4.2 by 3.2 inches and 1.4 pounds. Both lenses extend when zoomed, but Sony’s take on the design is just a little smaller and lighter.
The E 16-55mm supports 67mm front filters. A reversible lens hood is included, as are front and rear caps. Its focus and zoom rings are finished in rubber, with ridges so they’re easy to find by feel, and comfortable to turn. The zoom ring is marked at the 16, 24, 35, 45, and 55mm positions.
A function button sits between the two control rings. It’s typically used to lock focus, but you can customize its function if you’d like. There’s also an AF/MF switch for quick changes between manual and autofocus.
Sony has included a linear focus motor in the 16-55mm, technology it developed for its ultra-premium FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS ($11,999.99). The result is quick, accurate, and very quiet autofocus.
Optical stabilization is omitted. It’s not a feature that rival Fujifilm includes in its XF 16-55mm either. Sony has a pair of compatible cameras with in-body stabilization, the a6500 and a6600.
Not surprisingly, they’re also the most advanced APS-C cameras in the company’s catalog, and are the most likely to be paired with the 16-55mm. But if you own an a6400 you won’t get the feature. Expect handheld video to have some jitters, and watch your shutter speed to prevent blur from hand shake.
The macro capability is pretty decent. The lens focuses as close as 13 inches (33cm), which gives it 1:5 life-size reproduction at the 55mm setting.
I tested the 16-55mm in the lab with the 24MP a6600 and Imatest software. Its resolution is outsanding, even wide open. At 16mm f/2.8, it notches 3,125 lines on average, and maintains an excellent resolution even at the edges of the frame (2,714 lines). The average trends upward as you narrow the aperture through f/8, peaking around 3,300 lines. We see the expected drop, due to diffraction, starting at f/11 (2,971 lines), and continuing at f/16 (2,572 lines) and the minimum f/22 (1,725 lines) aperture.
Resolution is steady throughout the zoom range. We also tested the lens at 35mm and 55mm. The raw numbers are close enough to the 16mm results at comparable apertures to not bear repeating. Simply put, the 16-55mm captures an incredible amount of detail, even when shot wide open, throughout its entire zoom range.
Optics aren’t absolutely perfect. Sony’s designers opted to allow the lens to show some distortion—a strong barrel effect at 16mm and a pincushion effect at 55mm. But many photographers will never see it. For JPG shots it’s removed automatically, and if you process Raw images with Lightroom, a profile correction is applied automatically. You can’t turn off in-camera distortion correction, but you can disable the Raw profile if desired.
There’s also a bit of a vignette visible at f/2.8. if you turn off in-camera correction or process in Raw software that doesn’t incorporate lens profile correction.
A Premium Zoom for APS-C
Sony has no shortage of top-shelf lenses for its full-frame mirrorless system, but up until now it hasn’t offered premium, weather-sealed lenses designed for the smaller APS-C sensor format. If you wanted a top-end standard zoom for your a6500, you’d have to look to a pricey full-frame option, like the FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM.
But the E 16-55mm F2.8 G, along with the similarly compact and sturdy E 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS introduced at the same time, ameliorate that necessity. Most importantly, both lenses are excellent performers.
It’s my hope that they don’t stand alone as the only premium APS-C lens options for the Sony system. We’ve taken a fresh look at many of its older E lenses recently, and while we’re happy to say that the optics of previous designs like the Zeiss E 24mm F1.8 and E 35mm F1.8 OSS match nicely with newer cameras, they aren’t built as well as the E 16-55mm F2.8. We’d love to see Sony offer updated versions with similar build quality and weather protection.
We’re naming the E 16-55mm an Editors’ Choice. It delivers outstanding optical performance and strong build quality, and is relatively compact to boot. However, if you would prefer more zoom power, or are on a tighter budget, don’t forget about the E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS as an alternative.
Tamron is on quite a roll with its initial batch of full-frame lenses for Sony mirrorless cameras. The 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD ($899) is its second affordable f/2.8 zoom, pairing well as a wide-angle companion to last year’s 28-75mm f/2.8 Di RXD standard zoom. It’s an excellent value, and while its range is shorter and it’s not quite as optically sublime as Sony’s high-end FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM, it wins big on price and earns our Editors’ Choice award in the process.
Compact Wide Zoom
The 17-28mm is a small zoom with a big, ultra-wide view. It measures 3.9 by 2.9 inches (HD), weighs just 14.8 ounces, and supports 67mm front filters. It’s notably easier to carry than the FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM, which is 4.8 by 3.5 inches and 1.5 pounds with an 82mm filter thread.
Tamron’s designers took a basic, minimalist approach to the 17-28mm’s aesthetics. It’s finished in black polycarbonate, with rubberized focus and zoom control rings, and a classy silver accent ring around the mount. Branding is kept to a minimum, with the Tamron logo in white below the focus ring.
The lens sports protection from dust and splashes, as well as fluorine protection for the front lens element. The dust and splash protection matches the similar sealing Sony includes in its cameras, and fluorine helps to keep the front element free of debris and smudges.
There’s no optical stabilization, so the lens relies on your camera’s in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system. In practice, I was able to net handheld exposures as long as 1/3-second at 17mm with extreme care when pairing the lens with an a7R IV. At those lengthy shutter speeds, subject motion will introduce more blur than any shakiness in your hands.
Close focus is available to 7.5 inches, which nets 1:5.2 life-size magnification at the 28mm focal length. You’ll rarely get true macro results from such a wide lens, but you have plenty of flexibility to focus close with this one.
Very Good Wide Open, Outstanding Stopped Down
I tested the 17-28mm along with a couple of cameras, the 42MP a7R III and 60MP a7R IV in the field, and used the a7R IV and Imatest software to evaluate its optical performance in the lab.
At 17mm f/2.8, it resolves 4,262 lines on a center-weighted evaluation, a very good result of the a7R IV’s demanding sensor. The score is helped by outstanding performance in the central third of the frame (5,100 lines), but does give way to a more down-to-earth 3,500-line score, solidly in the good range, through the mid parts and periphery.
There’s a general uptick in resolution, to an excellent 4,800 lines averaged across the frame, with outstanding center resolution that gives way to very good results as you move toward the periphery.
Resolution basically evens out at f/5.6, with the average score hitting an outstanding 5,059 lines, with edge performance that lags only slightly behind. It maintains a high level of performance at f/8 (4,764 lines) and f/11 (4,339 lines), but drops down a bit at f/16 (3,522 lines) and f/22 (2,315 lines), showing the diffraction limits of the a7R IV’s sensor.
At the midpoint of the zoom, 22mm, we see a slight drop in wide-open resolution, to 3,879 lines at f/2.8. Here, central resolution is outstanding (5,358 lines), but the mid parts of the frame are just acceptable (3,044 lines) and edges show noticeable softness (2,108 lines).
We see some improvement at f/4, where the average resolution is close to excellent, 4,400 lines, with outstanding center resolution and very good performance up to the edge. The story is the same at f/5.6 (4,512 lines), f/8 (4,435 lines), and f/11 (4,296 lines), before dropping off as expected at f/16 (3,593 lines) and f/22 (2,346 lines).
Resolution ticks down at 28mm, especially at the edges. The average score at f/2.8 is 3,607 lines, in the good range for this sensor. Again, we see the best resolution at the center (4,552 lines), good results through the mid parts (3,633 lines), and blurred edges (1,709 lines).
The average improves slightly at f/4 (3,597 lines), but the overall picture is the same as at f/2.8. It’s at f/5.6 where we see a significant jump in clarity, to an excellent 4,500 lines. There’s still some softness at the very edges of the frame, but they’re not terrible at 2,850 lines.
You’ll want to use f/8 for landscape shots where you need the most detail across the entirety of the image. The lens manages 4,681 lines on average and, while the edges aren’t quite that good, they are still in the very good range, just shy of 4,000 lines. You’ll also get good results at f/11, though there’s a general softening due to diffraction at f/16 (3,705 lines) and f/22 (2,449 lines).
Overall, we are very happy with the resolution the 17-28mm is able to deliver, especially when you consider its price, size, and wide angle of coverage. You do need to stop down a bit to get the absolute best results out of a 60MP sensor, but it’s good practice to do so for any shot where you really need crisp corners.
Vignette and distortion are well controlled. There’s a very modest dimming at the corners when shooting at 17mm f/2.8, but it’s not apparent at narrower apertures or when zoomed in. There’s no visible barrel distortion at 17mm either, though we do see the pincushion effect at 22mm (2.6 percent) and 28mm (2.8 percent). Lightroom does include a lens profile to remove distortion, if it detracts from an image.
Beyond Budget Performance
Like the 28-75mm that came before it, the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD is a boon for Sony system owners shopping on a budget. It punches above its weight, delivering an f/2.8 aperture, strong optical performance, and a wide angle of view with modest zoom power for a price that’s less than half that of the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM OSS.
And while the 17-28mm costs less, it’s built quite well, with dust and splash protection and a fluorine front coat, all features we expect from high-end optics. There are some sacrifices, of course—it doesn’t reach 35mm when zoomed in after all, so you’ll need to take a step or two forward to net a tighter shot.
Tamron is doing a fine job filling gaps in Sony’s first-party lineup. The 17-28mm and 28-75mm are both on sale now, and form the foundation of a very solid, but budget-friendly, kit. It has a 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD coming next spring, rounding out the group. It also has a trio of f/2.8 prime lenses, in 20, 24, and 35mm focal lengths coming, for just $349 apiece.
If you’re in the market for a wide zoom for your Sony camera, the Tamron 17-28mm should be right at the top of your list, especially if you’re shopping on a budget, and earns our Editors’ Choice recommendation. The FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM OSS remains an excellent high-end option, but the 17-28mm is nearly as good a performer at less than half the price. It’s good enough to keep up with a7R IV, and will have no problem keeping up with a 24MP model like the a7 III.
Sigma’s Global Vision series of lenses, introduced in 2012, often outperforms first-party options, and for less money. The latest entry, the 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary ($549), is one of the company’s first built for full-frame mirrorless cameras. Its size harkens back to the prime kit lenses of days past, and it offers excellent resolution, a decent close-up focus capability, and a sturdy build. Add a price that’s squarely affordable in the full-frame world, and you’ve got a lens that’s easy to recommend and an Editors’ Choice.
Not Quite Pancake
Sigma has released full-frame mirrorless lenses before, but they weren’t native designs. Instead, it just took its SLR lenses and essentially built in an extension tube, so the distance between sensor and optics was the same as on an SLR.
The 45mm F2.8 DG DN is built for mirrorless cameras, so it’s smaller than repurposed SLR designs. It measures 1.8 by 2.5 inches (HD), weighs 7.6 ounces, and supports 55mm front filters. The barrel is metal, as is the included lens hood. Front and rear caps are also included.
Protection from dust and splashes is built in, matching the all-weather design of many modern mirrorless cameras. It doesn’t include anti-smudge fluorine protection on the exposed glass, which is something I’d love to see included with every serious lens, but can understand why Sigma chose to skip it here. The front element is very small to begin with, and the hood will keep raindrops and fingerprints away from the glass.
Sigma is offering the lens for Sony E-mount cameras, as well as in L-mount. The L-mount was originally designed by Leica, but is now also supported by Panasonic and Sigma. The Sony system has been around for years now, and has gained quite a lot of traction in the marketplace, with loads of lens support, first- and third-party alike.
The L-mount isn’t brand new, but last year’s news of Panasonic and Sigma joining forces with Leica to develop cameras and lenses will certainly put it in the hands of more photographers than if Leica was supporting it alone. The 45mm F2.8 DG DN is a welcome addition to a young lens system, and one that is more affordable than any options from Leica or Panasonic.
There’s no word for support for other lens mounts. If you’ve invested in the Canon RF or Nikon Z mirrorless system, you’ll have to wait patiently to see if Sigma decides to support them. At press time, it has not announced plans to do so.
The angle of view is a little wider than what’s considered a typical standard angle on full-frame systems, but actually comes closer to matching the 43mm diagonal measurement of the image sensor than a classic 50mm. It’s an ideal match for photographers who find the 50mm frame to be a little too confining, but aren’t fans of the more common 35mm prime. You can also pair it with an APS-C camera, where its angle of view is roughly 68mm.
Despite its small size, Sigma includes an aperture ring. It’s located about mid-barrel, and can be set from f/2.8 through f/22 in third-stop increments. There is an A setting, which moves control to the camera body. There isn’t an option to turn the ring smoothly, without the detent clicks, which is a downer for videographers, but not an issue for still photography.
There’s a toggle switch on the side to change focus modes. The manual focus ring sits at the front of the lens. It’s a little narrow, and if you use the lens hood it’s just a bit uncomfortable to grip and turn. If you enjoy manual focus, it may be worthwhile to eschew the hood.
Focus is available as close as 9.5 inches (24cm), which is good for 1:4 life-size magnification. It’s not enough to put the lens in the macro category—we want to see at least 1:2 magnification for macro—but it adds a bit of versatility that you don’t get with the Sony Zeiss FE 35mm F2.8 or Rokinon 35mm F2.8 AF, both of which are limited to 1:8.3 magnification.
The lens doesn’t show a lot of breathing. There is minimal change to the angle of view when moving from close focus to infinity. It’s a feature that’s useful for videographers who wish to keep framing constant when racking from one point of focus to another.
Sigma doesn’t include stabilization. It’s not a surprise—lenses of this type don’t typically have the feature. It’s also not a huge deal. Most mirrorless cameras with which the lens is compatible offer in-body stabilization. If you use a camera that doesn’t have it, it might be time to cosnider an upgrade. The shot above was captured handheld with a 0.4-second shutter speed with the Sony a7R III, a model with in-body stabilization.
I tested the 45mm F2.8 with the 42MP Sony a7R III and Imatest software. At f/2.8, the pair resolves 3,715 lines on a center-weighted evaluation, a result that is considered very good for the a7R III sensor. The lens captures images with very even resolution from center to edge, an indication fo a flat field of focus and very strong optics.
There’s no noticeable change in resolution when shooting at f/4, just an imperceptible drop to 3,654 lines on average. We see a big jump at f/5.6, where the lens hits 4,349 lines, an excellent result. It peaks at f/8 (4,425 lines), and is just as good (for all practical purposes) at f/11 (4,286 lines).
Diffraction sets in at f/16, with resolution dropping to 3,858 lines. It’s more of a concern at f/22—the resolution drops all the way to 3,027 lines on the a7R III. Even if you aren’t using a high-resolution body, diffraction will soften shots at f/22.
Sigma did make a couple of compromises to net a lens that’s this sharp and small. The maximum aperture is one—an f/2.8 lens captures half the light of an f/2 and a quarter that of an f/1.4 after all. It also shows some pincushion distortion, about 1.7 percent. You won’t notice it in most shots—we didn’t attempt to correct it in any of our sample images.
The 45mm is too new to garner support from Adobe, but there’s no doubt that Lightroom users will have access to one-click corrections in the near future, and in the meantime it’s an easy slider correction to straighten lines in shot if you find it distracting.
There’s also a little bit of a vignette, visible at the corners of the frame when working at f/2.8. It’s modest, about -1.6EV, and barely worth fretting about. At smaller f-stops, the vignette is gone.
A Promising Debut
Sigma’s Global Vision line isn’t new, and it has dabbled a bit in the mirrorless world, making lenses for APS-C and Micro Four Thirds systems previously. But the 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary is among the company’s first generation of native designs for full-frame mirrorless systems. (It’s joined by the 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art and 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art, both of which we hope to test soon.)
It’s a stunning first entry. We love that it’s light and compact without sacrificing build quality. The inclusion of an aperture control ring is a nice touch, as is the weather protection. Autofocus is quick and quiet, and while we’re not calling it a macro, the lens offers solid close-up capability. And yes, it’s quite sharp, exceptionally so when stopped down.
It’s not all roses, of course. Sigma skips out on fluorine protection, the aperture ring can’t be set to clickless operation, and there’s a teensy bit of pincushion distortion. Still, the positives well outpace any drawbacks. The Sigma 45mm Contemporary is a tiny gem of a lens, and one that should find a place in the bag of any photographer in the market for a compact standard prime. It’s our Editors’ Choice.
Thanks to Lensrentals for providing the a7R III for this review.
Sony camera owners searching for a small, light lens should take a close look at the E 20mm F2.8 ($349.99). It’s an ultra-slim prime and captures a moderate wide-angle view when paired with an APS-C sensor camera like the a6400. It’s a much better performer than the older 16mm F2.8, and one of our favorite lenses for the Sony system in general, earning our Editors’ Choice.
The E 20mm F2.8 measures just 0.8 by 2.5 inches (HD), so it barely juts out from your camera. Sony includes a compact plastic lens hood; it adds about half an inch to the height, and matches the barrel’s diameter.
You’ll need to remove the hood to add a filter—the thread supports the 49mm thread size, which is used by many of Sony’s APS-C lenses. There is no dust or splash protection, which is a feature Sony has reserved for its full-frame lenses to date.
On an APS-C camera, the E 20mm’s angle of view is similar to a 30mm lens on a full-frame system. It’s a moderate wide angle, similar to what the main lens in most smartphones captures.
You can pair the lens with a full-frame camera too, either in a cropped mode that reduces the resolution and angle of view to match APS-C, or in full-frame mode. With the latter, you get a dark frame, made by a baffle covering the rear element, around the edges of the image, as seen above. Resolution drops significantly outside the APS-C image circle, so don’t think of this as a full-time lens for a full-frame camera.
It does offer a little bit of extensibility. Sony sells a 0.8x Ultra-Wide Converter for $159.99, which broadens the 30mm angle of view to 24mm. You can also add the $179.99 Fisheye Converter for a more distorted perspective.
Manual focus is controlled via a ring at the front of the barrel. It’s very narrow, a fact necessitated by the overall slimline build. Its size, coupled with how little the lens extends from the camera, makes manual focus a rather uncomfortable operation, at least when working handheld.
If you do go with manual focus control, the camera magnifies the frame and highlights the in-focus areas to help you nail the shot. Autofocus is available too, and it delivers smooth, quiet operation, a plus for video as well as stills.
Focus is available as close as 7.9 inches, good for 1:8.3 life-size magnification at its closest working distance. It’s a little limiting, but given the size of the lens, it’s understandable—lens elements move further away from the sensor to focus closer, after all.
The lens isn’t stabilized, which isn’t a surprise—adding optical stabilization tends to add a bit of size and weight. You can pair it with the stabilized a6500, or live without the feature. It’s not a big deal for stills—you can easily snap crisp handheld shots with this lens without added stabilization—but we do see smoother handheld video results with a stabilized system than without.
Good Wide Open, Great Stopped Down
I paired the E 20mm with the 24MP a6400 for review. The lens pairs well with the compact body, and while I tested the kit in the height of summer, I can see it being very good to slide into the jacket pocket of a winter coat.
The combination delivers solid image quality. It’s not the sharpest tool in the drawer at f/2.8, where we see 1,980 lines per an Imatest evaluation, but it’s better than the 1,800 lines we want to see at a bare minimum. Resolution climbs to 2,147 lines at f/4, which is solidly in our range for good performance. There is a drop of clarity as you move away from center, so think about using a narrower aperture for landscapes and similar shots.
At f/5.6 it shows a very good 2,238 lines, and it hits excellent territory at f/8 (2,498 lines). Resolution is at its highest, and in our outstanding class for a 24MP camera, at f/11 (2,871 lines). You can stop down as far as f/16, but resolution does take a slight hit (2,555 lines).
There is some barrel distortion, about 2.8 percent. It’s enough where you’ll notice it in architectural images, but it isn’t a big deal for for most shots. There’s a modest vignette at the corners, but it’s not something you’ll notice in most images. If you do, both the vignette and the barrel distortion can be corrected using a lens profile in Adobe Lightroom, or manually using any basic image editor.
If you’re a Sony system owner and haven’t yet added the E 20mm F2.8 to your kit, it’s certainly worth thinking about. The small prime offers a versatile angle of view—one that young photographers who cut their teeth with smartphone cameras will find very comfortable.
That it adds almost no weight to your camera and delivers very usable results wide open, and clinically sharp ones at narrower apertures, is a big plus. It’s where Sony’s first pancake attempt, the E 16mm F2.8, falls short.
We would like to see Sony start to release APS-C lenses with weather sealing—it already offers bodies with dust and splash protection, and pairing a sealed 20mm pancake with one would make for an even better travel kit. It’s one area where Sony is well behind Fujifilm, which offers a number of sealed lenses for its APS-C mirrorless system.
That said, we’re naming the E 20mm F2.8 an Editors’ Choice. Its size and weight are a big reason, but it wouldn’t earn good marks if it didn’t back it with solid image quality, which is certainly does.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 is the go-to lens for photographers covering events, gathering news, and capturing portraits. Name brand options from Canon and Nikon cost more than $2,000, and there is a demand for lesser-priced alternatives. The Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports ($1,499) certainly fits the bill, and while it doesn’t quite match the optics of more expensive options, it’s no slouch either. You won’t find a better 70-200mm f/2.8 near this price, which, along with an exceptional build quality, makes it our Editors’ Choice.
Pro Build at Enthusiast Price
The lens is sized in line with others of its type, coming in at 8.0 by 3.7 inches (HD) with support for 82mm threaded filters. It’s heavy, even for its size, at 4 pounds. Competing lenses, including the latest options from Canon and Nikon and the similarly priced SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD, weigh about 3.3 pounds each.
The extra weight certainly shines through in the build quality. The exterior barrel is metal, finished in matte black, and there are internal seals to keep dust and moisture out. The exposed front and rear elements are protected with a fluorine-like coat—the material repels water and grease, so it’s easy to wipe water droplets and fingerprint smudges away.
There is an integrated tripod collar. It rotates and can be locked in at any position using a thumbscrew; there are detents at 90-degree increments so you can easily lock it in so it’s level with your tripod head. The foot is fixed, with a single tripod connection thread, but is compatible with Arca-Swiss mounts without the need for an additional release plate.
Sigma includes a lens hood, front and rear caps, and a carrying case. The hood locks and unlocks with a push button, and reverses for storage. The case has a soft exterior and is zippered, with padding inside, offering a modicum of protection.
The lens is sold in three mounts—Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sigma SA. All three originated with SLR systems, though modern adapters make the lens very usable with mirrorless. I tested the Nikon version, largely with Z mirrorless cameras via the FTZ adapter.
There’s no drop in autofocus performance when adapting the Nikon-mount version to a Nikon mirrorless camera, and we don’t expect any loss of speed when using the EF lens on a Canon R or M mirrorless model. You should take heed before adapting the EF or SA lens to a Sony (via the }MC-11 adapter) or L-mount (via the MC-21 adapter) mirrorless camera, as there may be a step back in autofocus speed and reliability. Sigma doesn’t offer a native mirrorless version for either mount at press time.
Most of the on-lens controls are grouped in a panel on the left side of the barrel. The Focus switches allows for full-time autofocus (AF), autofocus with manual override (MO), and manual focus (MF). There’s also a limiter, so you can set the autofocus system to cover the full range or distant subjects (beyond 3 meters) only.
Another switch toggles optical stabilization—you can turn it off, set it to Mode 1 for most shooting, or to Mode 2 for shots where you pan the camera to track a subject. The Custom function, with options for Off, C1, and C2, requires the Sigma USB Dock. You can use the dock to fine-tune autofocus performance and speed, and to perform firmware updates.
Both the focus and zoom rings are rubberized, with ridges so they’re easy to locate by touch and to grip. The focus ring sits about mid barrel, and is roughly an inch wide. The position of the ring is not great for manual focus—the tripod foot gets in the way of your fingers. With some care you can position the foot so it doesn’t block your camera’s grip or your access to the focus ring, but it’s worth noting. A little more clearance, or the ability to remove the foot, would have been welcome. On the D850 I found positioning the foot so it’s facing straight up, slightly toward the grip, offered the best access, but your mileage may vary.
Four control buttons are located ahead of the focus ring. They’re placed at 90-degree increments, and their function can be set via the camera body. I set them for AF-ON when using the lens with various Nikon bodies.
The focus ring is ample, occupying the front three inches or so, and has set marks at 70, 100, 135, and 200mm. The zoom is internal—there’s no barrel extension or retraction as the focal length is adjusted—which is a definite plus. You’re still moving quite a bit of glass around, so a good grip is required—you won’t be adjusting this ring with your fingertips.
The lens is able to focus as close as 3.9 feet (1.2-meter). It’s good enough for 1:4.8 life-size magnification when zoomed all the way in and focused as close as possible. It’s as good as its closest competition can manage, though it doesn’t match the 1:3 focus offered by the Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD.
The optical stabilization system is able to capture consistently blur-free handheld images at 1/30-second and the 200mm focal length. At 1/15-second it is able to remove shake from many shots, but occasionally our tests showed a result with visible motion blur. At 1/8-second I wasn’t able to get a crisp handheld shot at 200mm.
Sigma currently offers two teleconverters, the 1.4x TC-1401 ($349) and the 2x TC-2001 ($399), either of which can be used with the lens. When paired with the 1.4x the lens covers a 100-280mm f/4, and the 2x makes it a 140-400mm f/5.6. I tried it with an older edition of the 1.4x converter and was happy with the results—focus remained quick and the extra reach was often appreciated.
I used the 70-200mm with two cameras, the 24MP Z 6 and the 45.7MP Z 7, and ran lab tests using the Z 7 and Imatest software.
At 70mm f/2.8 it manages 3,817 lines on a center-weighted evaluation, a very good result, and while the edges aren’t quite as crisp, they’re still a strong 3,340 lines. Resolution is just shy of excellent at f/4 (3,913 lines) and levels out at f/5.6 (4,064 lines), f/8 (3,999 lines), and f/11 (4,071 lines). There’s a loss of resolution starting at f/16 (3,691 lines) and continuing at the minimum f/22 aperture (3,026 lines). This is caused by diffraction, an effect that scatters light passing through a very small opening.
There’s a general downturn at 135mm. At f/2.8 we see 2,981 lines, which is a good result for a high-resolution sensor. Image quality holds steady right around 3,100 lines at f/4 through f/8, and peaks at f/11 (3,382 lines). There’s a slight dip in clarity at f/16 (3,210 lines) and a more apparent one at f/22 (2,905 lines).
The weakest performance is at 200mm, but even at f/2.8 the lens still puts up 2,887 lines—a good result, just not one that reaches the heights we’ve seen from the best zooms paired with high-resolution sensors. It doesn’t get much sharper when stopped down, hovering just under 2,900 lines through f/16 (2,841 lines), and dropping just a hair at f/22 (2,666 lines).
Canon shooters should think about spending more on the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS III USM when pairing with a high-resolution model or with an APS-C camera. But if you use a 20MP or 30MP full-frame model, the advantages of Canon’s lens are lessened.
There’s a little bit of barrel distortion (1 percent) at 70mm, but it’s not enough to notice in most shots. It gives way to pincushion distortion at 135mm (1.4 percent) and 200mm (1.6 percent). The pincushion effect causes lines that are straight in reality to be drawn with an inward bow. If you find it distracting you can remove it using standard image processing software. With Adobe Lightroom it’s a one-click adjustment.
There’s a slight vignette (-2.8EV) at the corners of the frame at f/2.8. It’s consistent through the zoom range, and is all but gone at f/4. If you use a Nikon camera, the automatic Peripheral Illumination Correction feature compensates for the vignette when shooting JPGs; I wasn’t able to test a Canon-mount version of the lens to see if automatic corrections were available.
It’s a modest enough effect that I wouldn’t fret about it too much. If you do want to remove a vignette from your image entirely, the same Lightroom lens profile that compensates for distortion will also remove it.
The Best Affordable 70-200mm
The 70-200mm Sports replaces the company’s aging APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM—officially a $1,399 lens, but still available at retail for around $1,1100. Low-cost versions of pricey first-party lenses are nothing new, this is just the latest from Sigma.
It’s also not the only other option available. Tamron sells its SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 for $1,300. It’s also an excellent lens, and at some focal lengths is a little sharper than the Sigma. But we had issues with flare when shooting with a backlight, which didn’t prove to be a problem with the Sigma.
You could also forgo the f/2.8 aperture for an f/4 zoom. Tamron makes a fantastic one for just $600, the 70-210mm. But you’ll want an f/2.8 if you’re covering events, or if you’re looking to keep the ISO low when pairing with a teleconverter. For the price, it’s tough to argue with what you get with the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports, so it’s our Editors’ Choice.
Nikon understands that if it wants to get pros excited about its mirrorless system, it needs to have the lenses to match. So it’s no surprise that the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S ($2,299.95), a must-have lens for most working photographers, is an early entry. Nikon’s most recent take on the design is an exceptional performer, one of the sharpest 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms we’ve seen for any system, but it also comes with a premium price—it’s one of the most expensive lenses of this type on the market. That doesn’t stop it from earning Editors’ Choice marks—it’s the standard zoom you’ll want to pair with your Nikon Z camera for sure.
A Very Modern Nikkor
The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 is around the same size and weight as similar lenses for other systems. It measures 4.9 by 3.5 inches (HD), weighs 1.8 pounds, and supports 82mm front filters. If you prefer a smaller, lighter zoom, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S is probably a better fit. It captures half the light at maximum aperture, but is just 3.5 by 3.1 inches and 1.1 pound.
We’re used to seeing striking gold accents on Nikon’s top-end SLR lenses, but the company has gone down a different design road with its mirrorless Z lenses. The Z 24-70mm f/2.8 is finished in matte black and all of the markings are in plain white text. Front and rear caps, a reversible hood, and a soft carrying pouch are included.
The lens is protected from dust and moisture, just like Z 6 and Z 7 camera bodies. Internal seals keep drops of water from getting inside the lens, and a fluorine front coat keeps them off the glass. Fluorine repels grease and moisture, so it’s very easy to clean the front element to keep it free of drops and fingerprint smudges.
There are two control buttons—L-Fn and Display (marked as Disp.), the latter of which works with the OLED information display, which we’ll talk about later. L-Fn is a programmable button, set via the camera menu. It can be set to activate or lock autofocus or exposure, change the metering pattern, or perform sundry other functions.
The lens has three control rings. The narrowest is at the base and acts as an aperture or EV compensation control ring. It turns smoothly, but does offer a little bit of resistance, so it’s easier to make fine adjustments than a Z lens, which doubles the functionality of the manual focus ring and control ring, like the Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S.
Still, I’d like to see Nikon reduce the sensitivity, or offer an activation delay option for the ring, via firmware; as it stands, it’s just a little bit too hard to dial in fine adjustments with the control ring. The Z 24-70mm f/2.8 ring is positioned so you’re not likely to turn it inadvertently, but I still turn the function off when shooting with a Z camera—turning the ring on other lenses by accident is still way too easy to do.
The zoom ring sits in the middle of the barrel. It’s finished in rubber, complete with ridges to make it easier to turn. It has marks at the 24, 28, 35, 50, and 70mm positions, but there’s no lock as you find on other zooms. It doesn’t seem to be necessary, as I didn’t encounter any issues with the gravity pulling the barrel toward the telephoto position when the lens was pointing straight down. This is despite the barrel having a bit of extension when zoomed in.
Finally there’s the manual focus ring. It’s positioned at the front of the lens and turns comfortably in either direction, without hard stops. The A/M switch, used to chang focus modes, is located on the left side of the barrel, on the smaller portion that’s closest to the lens mount.
Manual focus is electronic, without a linear response, so turning the focus ring more quickly will make more dramatic adjustments to focus. You have to remember to turn the ring slowly to make fine focus adjustments. It makes the lens a less-than-ideal choice for cinematographers working in manual focus. On the other hand, its autofocus motor is smooth and silent, a plus for vloggers and other videographers who prefer to use autofocus.
Focus is available to 15 inches (38cm), which gives the lens a decent 1:4.5 maximum life-size magnification. Most 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses offer similar close-up performance. If you want a standard zoom that gets you closer, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S focuses close enough to project subjects at 1:3.3 life-size.
Nikon doesn’t include image stabilization in this lens—it’s included in the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR for Nikon SLRs, which can be used with a Z camera using the FTZ adapter. But Z cameras use stabilized image sensors, so the lens still delivers steady results.
The Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is the first Nikon lens with a digital information display, a feature we’ve seen in the Zeiss Batis family of lenses (for Sony mirrorless cameras) and a few others. It’s an OLED display, just like the one you find on Z 6 and Z 7 top plates.
The display is activated by pressing the Disp. button, just to its left. The button also toggles what is displayed—you can have it show the focal length, aperture, or the set focus distance and depth of field scale. The scale shows in meters by default, but can be set to feet—change the settings by holding the button down and use the manual focus ring to switch between feet and meters.
The depth of field scale is ostensibly the most useful feature of the panel, but it’s not displayed in any sort of meaningful way. It shown as a bar underneath the displayed focus distance—the bar is wider when the depth of field is greater, and narrower when it’s shallower. It’s a fine visual representation of the effect, but lacks the precision to be useful for true hyperfocal camera work. I’d love to see Nikon improve its utility via a firmware update.
I tested the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S in the field with both the 24MP Nikon Z 6 and the 45.7MP Z 7. In the lab, I paired the lens with the Z 7 and analyzed its output using software from Imatest to check its optical performance.
In short, it’s a stunner. At 24mm f/2.8 it manages 4,401 lines on a center-weighted analysis, which is toward the top of our excellent scale on a high-resolution camera body. Image quality is strong almost all the way to the edges, but even the periphery shows 3,954 lines—at the top of the very good range. It’s the type of image quality we expect from a 24mm prime lens, so seeing it in a zoom is no small thing.
Because it’s as good as it is at f/2.8, there’s not much improvement as you stop down. Resolution holds steady at f/4, f/5.6, and f/8. Diffraction starts to set in at f/11, but the lens still puts up a strong 4,094 lines. Results remain good at f/16 (3,601 lines), but output is just okay at f/22 (2,804 lines).
At 35mm f/2.8 the zoom delivers 3,973 lines on the Z 7, with edges that show about 3,309 lines. There’s a slight uptick at f/4 (4,083 lines) and f/5.6 (4,133 lines), and edges climb to around 3,700 lines at both settings. At this focal length the best performance is at f/8, where the lens shows an average 4,200-line score and edges lag only slightly behind (3,930 lines). The expected drop in clarity starts at f/11 (4,143 lines) and continues at f/16 (3,737 lines) and f/22 (3,020 lines).
We see a little bit of resolution loss at the edges at 50mm. At f/2.8 the average score is a strong 3,822 lines, but edges drop to 3,055 lines. I wouldn’t fret at all—the periphery is still good, and depth of field will blur the background in many of the images you make at this focal length. Resolution improves as you stop down—3,761 lines at f/4, 3,858 at f/5.6, 4,186 at f/8, and 4,160 at f/11. For landscape shots, set to f/8 or f/11, as both settings will net excellent resolution from center to edge. As with other settings, resolution drops at smaller f-stops—3,754 lines at f/16 and 3,057 lines at f/22.
At 70mm f/2.8 the resolution drops a little bit, to 3,329 lines. It’s the weakest f/2.8 performance from the zoom, but is still solidly good. Edge resolution is lower (2,788 lines), but again, will be blurred due to the shallow depth of field at 70mm f/2.8 for the most part.
There’s no real change in performance at f/4, but we see a little bit of an upgrade at f/5.6 (3,446 lines), with edge resolution lagging behind the average by about 100 lines. At f/8 it climbs to 3,794 lines, with even performance from center to edge, and it’s best at f/11 (4,002 lines). You can still comfortably shoot at f/16 (3,708 lines), but I’d avoid using f/22 (3,120 lines) due to resolution loss.
The zoom shows surprisingly little distortion—just about one percent barrel distortion at its wide angle and academic amounts at longer focal lengths. Nikon Z cameras perform automatic corrections, even to Raw files, so it likely has some help. But the output is what matters and this is as distortion-free a standard zoom as you’ll find anywhere, for all practical purposes.
If the lens has an optical flaw it’s the vignette. We looked at its output with the default Normal correction, as well as with correction disabled. Even with corrections turned on, there’s noticeable dimming as you approach the corners of the frame. We see -3.3EV at 24mm and it ranges down to -2.6EV at 70mm; with corrections disabled there is a -4.4EV drop at 24mm and a -3.9EV deficit at 70mm.
The vignette effect is lessened, but not eliminated, at f/4, and isn’t really visible in images at smaller f-stops. Whether or not it’s a big deal is up to you—it’s something you can correct for using Raw software as desired with ease.
A Top-Notch Standard Zoom
The Nikon Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is an absolutely killer zoom. It delivers exceptional sharpness, even when paired with a demanding, high-resolution image sensor, with little distortion through its zoom range. If it has an optical drawback it’s the vignette, but modern image processing software makes compensating for it a minor thing.
Build quality is excellent as well. The lens is protected from weather and the fluorine coating makes it easier to keep clean. I didn’t find the information display to be that useful, but your mileage may vary and it certainly doesn’t detract from functionality. Nikon does have some work to do to make its control ring system more useful in general, but the position and damping of the ring on this lens is better than what I experienced with the 35mm f/1.8 and 24-70mm f/4 lenses.
At $2,300, the 24-70mm f/2.8 S isn’t inexpensive. Sigma and Tamron both offer more budget-friendly 24-70mm lenses in F-mount that can be used with a Z camera via the FTZ lens adapter, but they deliver budget-level performance to match.
I think the Z 24-70mm f/4 S is a better option if you want to spend less. You lose the f/2.8 aperture, but it’s smaller and less expensive than either the Sigma 24-70mm Art or Tamron 24-70mm G2 lenses, especially when you add the FTZ adapter to the kit.
But if you can afford it, get the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. It’s just a lovely lens all around, and our Editors’ Choice.