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Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Review

John Riley reviews the new Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS zoom lens for Sony E mount cameras.


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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Sony E 18 135mm Front Oblique View
There is no doubt that the new Sony E 18-135mm lens has a real place amongst those that could be considered as general purpose/travel companions. Designed for APS-C format cameras, and here reviewed with the Sony Alpha A6500 body, this gives a full format “35mm equivalent” similar to the 28-200mm super zooms that paved the way in the days when we used film. To be precise, 27-202.5mm. But can such a lens produce the performance needed by current sensors? Let's have a close look and find out.


Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Handling and Features

Sony E 18 135mm Oss On Sony A6500

The lens weighs in at a modest 320g, without hood or caps. This is achieved with extensive use of plastics, but we do have a metal mount to improve durability. Construction quality is good and there is no sloppiness in any of the controls. It is unfortunately immediately apparent that there is no weather sealing, which considering its possibilities as an all-purpose travel lens is disappointing.

Starting at the front, a bayonet lens hood is provided that clips securely into place. The fitting surrounds a standard 55mm filter thread. The front element does not rotate, making the use of polarising and graduated filters easier.

The ribbed manual focusing ring is smooth and operates electronically. There are no end stops to this. Likewise, there is no distance scale, although when using manual focus a scale does appear in the electronic viewfinder or on the monitor of the camera. Focusing is down to 0.45m (1.48 feet), a maximum magnification of 0.29x, or around 1:3, a usefully close distance.

Behind the focusing ring is the zoom ring, and whereas focusing does not extend the lens, zooming does. Creditably, moving to full zoom does not result in any wobble in the extended barrel. It remains solid and stable. There are clear markings for various zoom positions at 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 100mm and 135mm.

The only other control on the lens barrel is the AF/MF selector.

Sony E 18 135mm Top View With Hood At 135mm
 

The metal mount has the usual electronic contacts and communication with the camera body yields a full range of features. For example, distance scale, aperture values and, very usefully when using manual focus, moving the focusing ring immediately engages the focus aids on the monitor/EVF. The mount is very secure, with absolutely no play in the fit.

Lens construction is 16 elements in 12 groups, including 1 Aspherical and 2 ED (Extra Low Dispersion). The diaphragm has 7 circular blades to produce a circular aperture and enhance the bokeh. The lens is not compatible with any of the teleconverters.

In use, there are no particular vices to distract us from what is a very well designed piece of kit. All the controls, such as they are, operate smoothly and the placement is spot on. Balance is good with the A6500, AF is fast and precise, we can move in to what are approaching macro distances. A very useful range of focal lengths makes for versatility and, as we shall see, with the appropriate choice of settings some excellent results are possible.

Zeiss Loxia 25mm F2,4 Rear Oblique View

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Performance

At 18mm, central sharpness starts off well and is excellent from f/3.5 all the way through to f/11. It is still very good at f/16, only dropping away to being quite soft at f/22. The edges are very good from f/3.5 to f/8, good at f/11, dropping to soft at f/16 and very soft at f/22.

35mm sees excellent central sharpness from f/4.5 to f/11, still being very good at f/16 but dropping into softness at f/22 and beyond. The edges start off quite soft at f/4.5, become good at f/5.6 and very good from f/8 to f/16, but f/22 and f/29 are soft.

At 70mm, centrally sharpness is excellent from f/5.6 to f/11. It remains very good at f/16, but from f/22 to f/36 quickly becomes very soft. The edges are very good from f/5.6 to f/16, soft at f/22 and very soft at f/32 and f/36.

At 135mm central sharpness is excellent from f/5.6 to f/11. It is very good at f/16, good at f/22, but very soft beyond that at f/32 and f/36. The edges are the weakest performance in the zoom range, being good at f/8 but really quite soft at all other apertures. At this longest setting, the main subject may be best kept to the centre, in which case it will be rendered crisply.

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A6500 using Imatest.


CA (Chromatic Aberration) at 18mm is centrally very well corrected. The edges do show significant fringing. At 35mm this improves slightly, the centre being again very well corrected and but the edges still showing some fringing. 70mm sees a very similar performance. At 135mm things become rather worse. Central CA is still quite well under control, but the edges stray considerably and colour fringing is very visible in subject matter such as branches against bright sky. This can of course be tackled in software.

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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 Alpha A6500 using Imatest.

 

It can be difficult to be sure when looking at distortion in CSC format cameras and lenses whether or not we are seeing the performance of a lens or in fact whether the camera is applying corrections regardless of what we switch off. In any event, the distortion correction here is excellent, measuring -0.44% barrel at 18mm, +0.47% pincushion at 35mm, +0.19% pincushion at 70mm and -0.11% barrel at 135mm. With a general purpose lens this is unlikely to be an issue, and can always be further corrected in software if desired.

There is no sign of flare. Against bright light no loss of contrast seems to occur, which is an excellent result, especially considering the large number of lens elements.

Bokeh, the quality of the out of focus areas, is very smooth regardless of the 7 bladed construction of the diaphragm. The lens will no doubt be excellent for flower studies, with backgrounds being smooth against a nice crisp central image. The same applies equally well to portraits.

The inbuilt OSS (Optical Steady Shot) system operates in conjunction with the Steadyshot built into the Sony A6500 used in the review. This proves to be extremely efficient, suggesting that 5 stops advantage can be expected for critical sharpness, but perhaps another 2 stops at a lower measure of sharpness that would still be usable for web. Of course it will not help where the subject is moving, but it is remarkably good for still subject matter.


Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Sample Photos

 

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Aperture range

 

Value For Money

The Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens is priced at £569. As there are no direct alternatives, perhaps surprisingly, but we can see if the price level is on a par by looking at what other marques provide for their users.

Fujifilm offer the Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 WR LM R OIS at £699. Canon have the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, priced at £429. Pentax do not need shake reduction built into their lens, it being installed in the camera bodies, so the SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ED AL IF DC WR is available at £379.

Considering the Sony lens does not have weather sealing, it may be a tad high at the moment, but perhaps will settle back in time to a more competitive level. For more options have a look at the Top 15 Best Sony E / FE Mount Lenses.

 

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Verdict

As a general purpose lens, a good 18-135mm is hard to beat on APS-C format cameras. The close focus and long reach lend themselves well to close ups such as flower studies. The 18mm wide angle can accommodate most architecture and landscapes. The close focus means small object photography is simple, and quality of results at these close distances are well maintained.

The Sony lens generally performs well, but with caveats. Central sharpness is fine until we reach small apertures of f/16 and beyond, but beyond that detail is soon lost. The edges are quite poor when longer focal lengths are used, although the centre still sparkles crisply. This in itself can be used creatively for portraiture and other close ups.

Although not perfect, the lens is still a very good choice for general photography and capable of delivering good, bright and sharp images.

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Pros

  • Excellent central sharpness at wider apertures
  • Low central CA
  • Lovely bokeh
  • Fast AF
  • Low distortion
  • Bright, colourful images
  • Compact and light

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Cons

  • High edge CA
  • No weather resistance
  • Soft at small apertures
  • Poor edges at 135mm

Features4/5
Handling4.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Value4/5
Overall Verdict

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Specifications

ManufacturerSony
General
Lens Mounts
  • Sony E Mount
Lens
Focal Length18mm - 135mm
Angle of View12° - 76°
Max Aperturef/3.5 - f/5.6
Min Aperturef/22 - f/36
Filter Size55mm
StabilisedYes
35mm equivalent27mm - 202.5mm
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnification0.29x
Focusing
Min Focus45cm
Construction
Blades7
Elements16
Groups12
Box Contents
Box ContentsHood, lens caps (front and rear)
Dimensions
Weight325g
Height88mm

View Full Product Details

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Comments


JSJB 1
28 Feb 2018 6:02PM
Always like the ephotozine lens reviews because of their quantitative sharpness tests.

Unfortunately, it's hard to compare with older reviews that had only Excellent/Good/Fair vs the newer reviews that simply give the LW/PH.
It would help if the original definitions of Excellent/Good/Fair were included, first to be able to interpret the MTF charts to reach conclusions about the lens,
and second, to compare with older reviews.

That's very relevant for this 18-135 because the most common lens it will be compared to is the 18-105G (SELP18105G).

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28 Feb 2018 7:19PM
If you refer to the text, the descriptions "good", "very good" and so on are included there and are intended to be as close to meaning what the previous tests said as is possible. It's the best that can be done to make an old vs new comparison as we don't know what the actual figures were for the old tests. The other thought is that where actual figures are quoted on tests on other sites, it might be possible to get an idea of batch variation as well.

Hope that helps!

John
JSJB 1
28 Feb 2018 8:46PM
Thanks, then is it reasonable to say:
Excellent > 3000 lw/ph
Very good near 2500 lw/ph
Good near 2000 lw/ph


This allows comparison with
http://www.opticallimits.com/sony-alpha-aps-c-lens-tests/991-sony18105f4oss


https://www.ephotozine.com/article/sony-e-18-105mm-f-4-pz-g-oss-lens-review-24056

28 Feb 2018 9:37PM
Don't forget the actual figures will change depending on the resolution of the sensor. Check out other lenses on different bodies to see this. The "excellent" etc descriptions try to even this out. Don't forget also that this is just one sample of a lens and there may well be some variation. Usually, however, consistency is pretty good.

JSJB 1
1 Mar 2018 2:25AM
Dxomark allows comparing lenses on different cameras so one can see how sharpness changes when the same lens is in full frame vs APS-C.

But it's hard to find reviews like the ones at ephotozine that include details on LW/PH, harder still to find the same lens tested on different bodies.

Is it correct to assume that the results of a lens on a NEX7 are a lower bound on what that lens would produce on an a6500?
1 Mar 2018 7:38AM
Both the NEX7 and the a6500 have around 24MP, so the results should be very close, certainly as close as they can get from different cameras. When tests were done on film it was simple in that using something like Kodak Technical Pan film the very finest grain and highest resolution could be obtained from every lens. The downsides were variables in technique and processing and limited information from the test charts used. However, there was fair consistency. Sensors vary enormously, so the actual words used aim to analyse this and sumarise the standard achieved.
I see that exactly like JSJB. It is not possible to make a comparison with older tests if different graphics are used for the evaluation. Just a comparison with the SELP18105 G would have been great. But how can you do that if only information like Excellent / Good / Fair is used?
1 Mar 2018 10:39AM
One way would be to re-run the resolution tests, but it's not really practical to do that on a big scale. The conclusions of the older reviews are perfectly valid though and all that can be done is to compare them against contemporary reviews of the same lens. Whether or not an old lens is better or worse than a newer one is something else of course.
JSJB 1
1 Mar 2018 12:23PM

Quote:Both the NEX7 and the a6500 have around 24MP, so the results should be very close,


But I'd like to believe that the advances Sony touts for its newer sensors, like BSI (not on the a6500 though) and copper substrate do make some difference in quality by reducing sources of noise. Shouldn't these translate into better sharpness?

I agree with StrandBanane: from the Sony APS-C user view, a comparison of this new lens with its most direct competitor, the 18-105G, would be very helpful.
Isn't the raw data for the older reviews still available, before interpreting it as Excellent/Very Good, Good? That would also be a useful database of test results to be able to access.

[I mentioned this only because I've found these ephotozine reviews to be some of the very best lens reviews available thanks to the quantitative sharpness results presented in graph form, instead of the field maps or blurs that can only be compared qualitatively.]
1 Mar 2018 4:40PM
Sadly, the original data is not available. You've identified that a totally clinical approach to sharpness (really resolution) isn't possible because sensors are different and we get sent different cameras at different times, but we do what is possible. Sharpness is of course not the only factor in the reviews and they also relate to the real world use that they will get.
2 Mar 2018 9:53PM
Well, I was hoping Wink that lens from Sony, that’s why I didn’t buy the 18-108mm, it was no help for me, I never do video, so no need for Power Zoom.
More and more are mention the optical quality on the pictures are better on the 18-135mm. That what I was looking for, lighter, smaller, more zoom with 135mm also better stabilisation.

I found this (if you accepted) ”Sony 18-135 f3.5-f5.6 OSS E Mount Lens Review vs Sony 18-105 f4 G”

Sony 18-135 f3.5-f5.6 OSS E Mount Lens Review vs Sony 18-105 f4
JSJB 1
2 Mar 2018 10:10PM

Quote:Clint007 ...

I found this (if you accepted) ”Sony 18-135 f3.5-f5.6 OSS E Mount Lens Review vs Sony 18-105 f4 G”

Sony 18-135 f3.5-f5.6 OSS E Mount Lens Review vs Sony 18-105 f4



I had seen this link on the Sony Alpha reddit page: https://www.reddit.com/r/SonyAlpha/

But visual comparison of sample shots of walls isn't a good way to judge; I would say on many of those shots the 18-105 was sharper but that's just a qualitative judgment. There's really no substitute for ephotozine's LW/PH results at different focal lengths across the range of apertures, in my opinion.

I hope this review will be followed up by a full comparison with the 18-105 along a range of common focal lengths; that would be a really useful reference.
JSJB 1
3 Mar 2018 1:41PM
Interesting qualitative comparison between 18-135 and 18-105:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=813&v=efXNX7o8HAQ
Seems to show the 18-105 is sharper at the edges throughout the focal range but less sharp in the center at focal lengths from 18mm to 50mm. At longer focal lengths the 18-105 seems sharper.
JSJB 1
4 Mar 2018 2:56PM
I was able to find this review of the 18-105 that has numerical values for LW/PH:
http://www.opticallimits.com/sony-alpha-aps-c-lens-tests/991-sony18105f4oss?start=1

Those tests were done with a NEX-7. I still wonder: would the lens be sharper with the better sensor of the a6500?
One would think so but when looking at test results on dxomark.com, it seems this lens is sharper on the a5100 than on the a6000. Can that be possible?
4 Mar 2018 4:57PM
There are other factors too, such as the sample and wear-and-tear variation of lenses. I understand what you are seeking, but the only way is to do side by side examination of two lenses.
JSJB 1
4 Mar 2018 5:32PM
Thanks johnriley1uk!

But say you pick the same lens and test it both on an a5100 and on an a6500: would you expect the sharpness on the a6500 to be better?
4 Mar 2018 6:29PM
I would expect to run the tests and find out, and that's not intended as a cop-out answer, but sometimes newer models of cameras and lenses don't behave as well as the ones they replace, so until it's looked at properly who can say for sure.
TornadoTys 4 27 United Kingdom
21 Jan 2019 1:19PM
Hi,
Has any one used this lens on a NEX5 camera ?

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