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Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS T* Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS T* lens for Sony E Mount cameras.

|  Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features

Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar E 16 70mm F4 ZA OSS Lens (1)

A compact zoom lens for APS-C E-mount compatible Sony cameras that sports optical image stabilisation, a constant maximum aperture of f/4, and provides a field of view equivalent to a 24-105mm lens on a 35mm camera.

As this lens carries Carl Zeiss branding, it is one of Sony's premium lenses, and is priced accordingly, at around £760. In this review we'll investigate whether it's worth the extra cash over a standard Sony lens.


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Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Handling and Features

Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar E 16 70mm F4 ZA OSS Lens (5)

Build and design is typical of Sony's premium E-Mount lenses, with a robust aluminium outer lens barrel protecting an inner barrel made from high quality black plastics and a metal lens mount. Despite the light weight of only 308g, the lens feels very solidly put together. The low weight and compact size makes sure the lens will match up perfectly with even the most compact NEX series camera bodies, and it handles very well on the Sony NEX-7 used for testing.

Auto focus is very fast and accurate locking onto subjects quickly and accurately. Applying manual focus adjustments is a pleasure, thanks to the smooth action of the focusing ring, which is nicely damped. Minimum focus is 35cm from the sensor plane, which is fairly typical for a lens of this type.

Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar E 16 70mm F4 ZA OSS Lens (3)

As focusing is performed internally, the 55mm filter ring does not rotate, which makes the lens ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters. A deep petal-shaped lens hood is supplied as standard, which attaches to the lens via a bayonet fitting.

For those times when slow shutter speeds are necessary, this lens comes equipped with optical image stabilisation. With care, sharp hand-held images can be taken at shutter speeds as slow as 1/13sec, which is roughly three stops slower than the usual rule of thumb for hand-held photography would allow.

Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar E 16 70mm F4 ZA OSS Lens (6)





Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Performance

Sharpness is already outstanding in the centre of the frame at maximum aperture and 16mm, with very good clarity being recorded towards the edges of the frame. At this focal length, diffraction appears to be the limiting factor for performance, as stopping down doesn't improve sharpness at all, although similar performance is maintained with the lens stopped down to f/5.6 and f/8.

Zooming to 35mm results in reduced performance at maximum aperture. Here sharpness in the centre is still excellent, but clarity towards the edges of the frame has dropped to fairly good levels. Stopping down to f/5.6 results in peak performance across the frame. Here sharpness is outstanding in the centre of the frame, and very good towards the edges of the frame.

Finally, At 70mm, performance evens out across the frame and sharpness is very good across the frame at maximum aperture. Stopping down to between f/5.6 and f/8 results in the best performance, with outstanding sharpness in the centre and excellent clarity towards the edges of the frame.





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How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony NEX-7 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are quite high, towards the edges of the frame, regularly exceeding 1 pixel width and even 1.5 pixel widths at 16mm and 70mm. This level of fringing may become visible along high contrast edges placed near the edges fo the frame, such as tree branches, or the tops of buildings.





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How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony NEX-7 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is well controlled. At 16mm the corners of the frame are 0.98 stops darker than the image centre at f/4 and at 70mm the corners are 0.81 stops darker. Visually uniform illumination  is achieved with the lens stopped down to f/8 or beyond throughout the zoom range.

Distortion is reasonable at either end of the zoom range. At 16mm, 2.54% barrel distortion is present and this is replaced with 1.09% pincushion distortion at 70mm. If you require absolutely straight lines, you'll be glad to know that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, which should make applying correction in image editing software afterwards a doddle.

The supplied lens hood does an excellent job of shielding the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues with flare. Even without the hood this lens is quite resistant to flare and retains good contrast when shooting into the light.

Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Sample Photos




Value For Money

This lens can be picked up for around £760, which is a fair amount of money. There are no direct alternatives covering the same range, with the same aperture at the moment. The closest is probably the Sony 18-105mm f/4 OSS G lens, which sacrifices a little wide angle, but gains at the telephoto end and costs only £450.




Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Verdict

There is no doubt that this is a high quality optic, that delivers very high sharpness in the centre of the frame and sports excellent build quality and a useful optical stabiliser. However, the sharpness towards the edges of the frame isn't of the same standard as the centre and CA levels are higher than you might expect for a lens of this price.

Overall it offers a useful zoom range in a compact package for Sony NEX users and is capable of delivering excellent quality in most cases.





  The Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 16-70mm is a high quality optic capable of delivering excellent quality.



Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 16-70mm f/4 ZA Pros

Excellent build quality
Excellent sharpness in the centre of the frame
Effective optical stabilisation



Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 16-70mm f/4 ZA Cons

Sharpness towards the edges of the frame isn't up to the standard set in the centre
CA levels are quite high






Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Sony E Mount
Focal Length16mm - 70mm
Angle of View23° - 83°
Max Aperturef/4
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size55mm
35mm equivalent24mm - 105mm
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus35cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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josa 9 25 Czech Republic
12 Feb 2014 5:00PM
I agree with your verdict! There are better combinations on the market.Wink
13 Sep 2020 11:13PM
A test on the A6400 or A6600 would be great!
As there are some newer options now, it would be interesting to see this older lens in direct comparison

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