It’s no surprise that the well-loved 16-35mm G Master is getting a revamp, as this one completes the trinity of second generation G Master zoom lenses. But what does it have to offer, and is it worth the upgrade?
The ultra-wide angle zoom of Sony’s G Master line is a staple among photographers and videographers of many different genres. As a landscape photographer myself, this is a lens that I never leave home without and was one of the first lenses that I got when I shifted into the Sony Alpha system years back. In the past two years, we’ve seen Sony release new versions of the two other components of the zoom lens trinity, which are the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II and the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II, both of which were significantly lighter and more compact than their predecessors, along with the addition of more physical features and optical improvements.
The New Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II
The Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II has quite a number of significant physical changes compared to the first version. This new version now weighs 133 grams less (from 680 g down to 547 g) and is also more compact. Something noticeable is also that aside from the slight trim in length, the overall bulk of the lens rests near the camera body, which may have positive effects in stability when mounted on a tripod or gimbal.
The new 16-35mm now has two customizable (focus hold) buttons, one on the 12 o’clock position and another on the 9 o’clock position (when mounted on an upright positioned body). Along the same line is the same autofocus switch and the G Master emblem. In addition to mechanical focus and zoom rings, this now also has a physical aperture ring with stops from f/2.8 to f/22 and an extra click for “A,” which can either be automatic or electronically controlled through another dial on the camera body. Along with this is also a switch to take out the clicks of the aperture ring for when it is beneficial such as in adjusting apertures while recording video, and also an Iris lock switch. All the above features are basically the standard set of new physical features on the new generation of G Master lenses as well as those that have been released in the past three years, such as the 35mm f/1.4 GM, the 50mm f/1.4, f/1.2 GM, etc.
The lens hood on the new 16-35mm f/2.8 also got a bit of a trim by a few millimeters. Both lenses have 82mm filter threads on the front surface and no rear filter slot. Just like the older version, this new lens also physically extends when zooming out, which may be an entry point for dust and moisture in less than favorable environmental conditions.
Focusing and Optics
Since the first version of the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM was released 6 years ago, one huge development in camera technology is faster and more adaptive autofocus speeds. With AI focusing now a feature that is available on some of Sony’s newer cameras, the newer lenses also have to be able to match the AF capabilities of the camera body. In addition to updated focusing motors to perform the said tasks, this new ultra-wide angle zoom is now also capable of focusing closer with a minimum focusing distance of 0.22 m from the image sensor (previously at 0.28 m). In application, this can now perform better in shooting focus bracketing sequences on the newer camera bodies, offering more range in creating focus-stacked composite images along with the expected AF accuracy, even in situations where light is scarce. In the context of using this lens for video, this new lens also comes with the focus breathing compensation feature that helps create a more consistent and natural looking focus transition.
Perhaps one of the most significant and less physically obvious improvements of this new G Master lens would be the overall optical performance. While this is mainly something that we can not quantify in this review, with over four years of experience using the first version, it was undeniable that this new one has gotten better in handling more detail and shows much less chromatic aberration. It is expected that a zoom lens like this would have a bit of distortion, and it is, of course, most evident at 16mm, gradually gets more subtle as you zoom in, and negligible at 35mm.
As one of the staple lenses for many different genres of photography and videography, this lens offers a lot of improvements in the optical aspects, especially when paired with high resolution cameras, such as the Sony a7R IV, a7R V, and the newly announced Sony a7CR. Along with this, the new physical features such as the additional buttons, physical aperture ring, and the iris lock function improve the overall user experience for any kind of user. For outdoor and nature photographers, landscape photographers, travel photographers, and anyone who has to carry an entire set of lenses to distant locations, this more compact and lighter version can have its benefits, especially when paired with other relatively lighter pieces of gear.
Overall, putting together all the physical and functional changes and improvements, this new version of the 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens lives up to the expectations and delivers what a user would need to keep up with the developing camera system. The optical performance would probably be the most compelling reason why someone new to the Sony Alpha system would prefer this lens over others, while the ergonomic improvements would probably be very attractive to existing Sony users, especially those who have updated their standard zoom and telephoto lens choices. As this lens completes the second generation of the G Master zoom lens trinity, the changes in size and weight of the three lenses in total have been decreased by up to 759 grams which may have a lot of implications especially for traveling, hiking, or long hours of shooting.
What I Liked
- Great optical performance
- Faster and more adaptive focusing
- Lighter and more compact
What Can Be Improved
- Externally extending zoom