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Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 and Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5

by Bob Atkins, November 2007


This article compares two wide-to-telephoto zoom lenses for Sony digital cameras. The first is the Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6, often supplied as a kit lens with the Sony Alpha A100. The second is the Sony Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5, which has a similar zoom range but is about four times as expensive. Both of these zooms are designed for the APS-C sized sensor in the Sony A100 (and A700). Because their image circle is smaller than that of full frame lenses, they cannot be used on earlier Konica-Minolta film SLRs.

a100/a100_zooms_18.jpg (33303 bytes)
Left: Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Right: Sony Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80mm f/3.5-4 .5

The 18-70mm and the 16-80mm are fairly similar in size as shown above, although the Zeiss 16-80 is twice as heavy (15.5oz vs. 8.3oz) and seems sturdier. Both have a useful zoom range for general-purpose work and yield images of good quality and contrast. However, the more expensive 16-80 lens does have a slightly larger zoom range, keeping in mind that 16mm provides significantly wider coverage than 18mm. The 16-80 has the same effective coverage as a 24-120mm zoom would on a full frame camera, while the 18-70 has the effective coverage of a 27-105mm on full frame. Lenses with this range are suitable for travel photography and are a staple for wedding photographers, but are not long enough for sports or wildlife.

Both lenses have a maximum magnification of obout 0.25x, which means you can fill the frame with an object as small as 63mm x 95mm (2.5" x 3.75"). The 16-80 has a distance scale marked in feet and meters, while the Sony 18-70 lacks any external indication of focus distance. In practice the lack of a distance scale is unlikely to be of concern to most users of the 18-70. Both lenses are supplied with a lens hood, but as you can see from the photo above, the 16-80 hood is a deeper "petal" design and is more efficient at shading the lens from stray light.

The A100 body recorded the 18- 70 lens identity in the image EXIF data correctly, while the 16-80 was recorded as "unknown lens". If there are any more lenses in the Sony line that can't be identified by the bodies, this could cause confusion this didn't cause any problems for these tests since I was only using two lenses, it could potentially cause confusion for someone using multiple lenses, especially if more than one was not identified in the EXIF data.

Image Quality

While the quality of the images from both lenses was generally quite good, if you look closely, you can see that the image quality of the more expensive 16-80 lens is higher, particularly when you look at areas away from the center of the frame. This can be seen in the 100 percent image crops shown below.

The areas outlined in yellow and red are shown in more detail below for each lens set to around 30mm and images captured wide open (f4 for the 16-80, f5 for the 18-70) and stopped down by about one stop.

In the center of the frame all the images look pretty good. Those taken using the 16-80 were slightly sharper than those taken using the 18-70 kit lens.

The differences are easier to spot closer to the edge of the frame. Here the 16-80 shows its superiority by producing a sharper image than the 18-70, even with the 18-70 lens wide open and stopped down to f8.

Both lenses showed visible barrel distortion at their widest setting. Distortion was reduced at longer focal length settings, becoming slight at 35mm (particularly for the 16-80) and negligible at the maximum focal length. Note that barrel distortion can be corrected with digital post-processing. Chromatic aberration was well controlled in both lenses and would be unlikely to be a problem.

Conclusion

You get what you pay for and what you're willing to carry in terms of weight. The more expensive and heavier lens delivers substantially better image quality. Both lenses are too slow for use indoors in available light, especially given the mediocre performance of Sony digital bodies at high ISO settings.

Alternatives

For a low-light zoom lens, consider the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD for Sony, (compare prices), which requires only one fourth as much light as the 18-70 kit lens. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC for Sony and Minolta, (compare prices), requires only one sixteeth as much light as the kit lens and provides a fixed normal perspective.

Where to Buy

Amazon.com has the Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 DT, (compare prices) (review), and the Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss, (compare prices) (review), in stock and offers free shipping on both lenses.

Specifications

Lens Sony 18-70/3.5-5.6 Zeiss 16-80/3.5-4.5
Focal Length (35mm equiv.) 18 - 70mm (27-105mm) 16-80mm (24-120mm)
Minimum Aperture (wide - tele) f22 - f36 f22 - f29
Filter Size 55mm 62mm
Distance Scale No Yes (ft/m)
Minimum Focus Distance 15" (0.38m) 13.8" (0.35m)
Maximum magnification 1:4 (0.25x) 1:4 (0.25x)
Aperture blades 7 7
Groups/Elements 9/11 10/14
Length 3" (77mm) 3.4" (83mm)
Diameter 2.6" (66mm) 2.8" (72mm)
Weight 8.3oz (235g) 15.5oz (440g)

More

Sample Images with the 18-70 and the 16-80

Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss (review), Sony Alpha A100 (review), 24mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 100.

Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 DT (review), Sony Alpha A100 (review), 70mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 100.

Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss (review), Sony Alpha A100 (review), 80mm, f/4.5, 1/800s, ISO 100.

Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss (review), Sony Alpha A100 (review), 18mm, f/8, 1/100s, ISO 100.


Original text and images ©2007 Bob Atkins

Article created November 2007

Readers' Comments


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David W. Griffin , April 23, 2008; 09:19 A.M.

Isn't the Sony 18-70 just the original Konica Minolta 5D/7D kit lens?

.[. Z , May 31, 2008; 07:43 A.M.

It is, according to photozone.de and others.

Nikola Konsulov , January 30, 2009; 06:13 P.M.

With all due respect to the review; what's with the comment about the Sony ISO performance? And I quote, "especially given the mediocre performance of Sony digital bodies at high ISO settings." Bashing a camera system like that just isn't right especially without backing it up. Is the reviewer that biased against the Sony (Minolta) system? I guess he must be a Canon shooter since they really have their noses high up in the air (or should I say their ASS?). I'll put my photos made with my A700 up against any other camera system. You hear me Bob? If you're going to write a review then write an unbiased review. Don't slip in little comments here and there suggesting some sort of inferiority just because you do not prefer that particular camera system. Minolta (now Sony) pioneered so much for photography. Probably more than any other single camera maker. 'Nuff said.

Kerry Wang , March 07, 2009; 11:22 P.M.

I just want to say: 16-80 worth its price. 18-70 is more than its price

Edward Camuffo , March 24, 2009; 05:20 A.M.

Having a Minolta film camera with two fairly good lenses, I am interested in buying a Sony DSLR Alpha body. When shopping for a good Minolta lens to avoid buying the Sony Kit lens, I read a comment on Amazon that the Minolta AF 18-70mm DT, when used at the wide angle end of the focal length, caused significant vignetting. The sensor of the Sony Alpha is the same size as the Minolta sensor that the lens was originally designed for, so I wonder how accurate the comment was. And, after reading this article, I also wonder if the Sony Kit lens might work just fine and not be as bad as the some of the comments I have read. Is there any additional information that anyone has heard about the vignetting problem with the Minolta AF 18-70mm DT lens used on the Sony Alpha body? Is it worth shopping for a used Minolta 18-70mm AF lens to replace the Sony kit lens when you might just be exchanging identical lenses? Is there an alternative quality lens that would be a better choice than the Sony kit lens? Thanks in advance to anyone who has any ideas on these subjects.

Pierre Gagnaux , March 27, 2009; 06:10 A.M.

@ Nikola, you can see that the test is made with a α100 body who is obsolete now in term of high Iso use, I think it's only a misuse from the author, the α100 was not a good example for high Iso quality. @ Edward, the Tamron 17-50 is a very good lens, but not so sharp than the CZ when full open, I had the Tammy and sold it when I found a α700 kit with the 16-80, you can look for a Cz now because a lot of people have switched to the α900.

Nikola Konsulov , March 30, 2010; 11:49 A.M.

@Pierre Gagnaux: I'm not annoyed about what was said about the A100's ISO performance. What annoys me is that the review is about the Sony/Zeiss Vario-Sonnar DT 16-80 f3.5-4.5 ZA lens and how it performs. This review is not about the A100 and its high ISO performance. You're right, the A100 does not compare to my A700, which is way better. However, regularly dropping comments in the review that has nothing to do with the lens is just bad reviewing. If you are going to review a lens then review the lens and restrain from making negative comments or "pot shots" about the camera system.


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