SEL1635GM Wide Angle Zoom Lens Review

by Bryan Van Der Beek

Trained as a photojournalist, I'm familiar with the trinity of zoom lenses for my work. For those unfamiliar with the term, the trinity lenses are the wide angle zoom (16-35mm), medium zoom  (24-70mm) and long zoom (70-200mm).

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ILCE-7RM2 | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 1/800 sec | f/2,8 | ISO 400

Back when I first started out, the wide zoom was only a 20-35mm but that was soon followed by the 17-35mm, and then the 16-35mm. When I first made the switch to Sony's Alpha cameras, they had built up their selection of trinity lenses which were only f4 zooms. As a documentary photographer, I was used to using lenses that had apertures of f2.8 and faster. While the high sensitivity of sensors made up for the difference in terms of shutter speed, Sony soon realised that a quick way to appeal to the professional market was to not only to have good camera systems, but fast lenses to boot.

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ILCE-7RM2 | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 1/80 sec | f/2,8 | ISO 400

They started off with the SEL2470GM and the SEL70200GM lenses in 2016, and I was excited when they launched the SEL1635GM this year. I couldn't wait to complete my 2.8 trinity! 

I was excited when I finally got my hands on a test set of the FE 16-35mm F2.8 G Master lens - I got to put it through its paces. While I did manage to use it quite a fair bit in my work, I am unable to share these pictures from the editorial and commercial assignments that I've worked on with these lens as the images are still embargoed. So you'll have to settle for some shots that I did on an early morning bike ride with friends (for now). 

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ILCE-7RM2| FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 1/320 sec | f/2,8 | ISO 400

Let me start by saying that I’ve never been a pixel peeper. There are many sites out there that can give you the complete techincal breakdown and specs of the lens, but I will only talk about real world usage and handling based on my experiences.

The first thing I noticed when I got the lens was how much smaller it was compared to the Canon equivalent (Nikon stopped their 17-35mm f2.8 in favour of the 14-24mm 2.8 so I’m not going to compare against that). The GM is shorter and lighter than the Canon and when paired to a α7 or α9 body, it balances really well too (though I felt it was optimised with a body using a vertical grip)

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ILCE-7RM2 | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 1/60 sec | f/2,8 | ISO 400

Like the other GM series lenses, the lens is well constructed. The zooming and focus rings  are both placed in an ergonomically comfortable position and the rings are rubberized (unlike the 16-34mm f4 version which feature all metal rings.) which make them easier to use. Time will tell if they loosen with repeated use like some of the other camera brands, but right now, they feel great in hand.

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ILCE-7RM2 | FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM | 1/80 sec | f/3,5 | ISO 400

The AF was quick and spot-on, and when paired with the α9 , it seemed instantaneous. It wasn’t much slower with the α7R II camera body that I paired it with, and I experienced almost no focus hunting with it. For those that are wondering, it produces a sharp image almost every time from a cold start.

Also, unlike some of the newer lenses which give you “techinically perfect” images which feels almost sterile, the GM produced pleasing images with hardly any color shift which is exactly what I am looking for. Flaring is minimal (but not completely absent in some cases when shooting into a light source) which is all I really need.

While I was really happy with the SEL1635Z lens, I have no doubts that this will take it’s place in my camera bag as my go-to lens and I can’t wait for my personal set to arrive!

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FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM

SEL1635GM