My first Zeiss lens: Sony/Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80 f/3.5-4.5 zoom

I’ve finally acquired my first Zeiss lens: the remarkable Sony/Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80 f/3.5-4.5 zoom. Yeah, the name is a mouthful, but the lens is very tasty. Here it is mounted on my Alpha A550:

Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80 f/3.5-4.5 zoom lens

I purchased this instead of the Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 and the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8. I’ve owned the Sigma 17-70 for Pentax K-mount and it’s a very nice lens. And I tried the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, which has a terrific reputation and of course has the advantage of a fixed f/2.8 throughout its zoom range. But the Zeiss 16-80’s total package won me over: sharpness, color, slightly longer zoom range.

One almost unique advantage of this lens is the built-in focusing-distance scale. This is useful if you want to make precise calculations of depth of field.

The lens is sharp. Here’s Ruthie at 80mm:


Here’s a close crop of her nose. Notice the little hairs just above her nose:

Close crop of Ruthie's nose

Click on that picture to see it full-size. NOTE: No special sharpening was done in post-processing. What you see is what the lens gave me to start with. This image was post-processed using the defaults for the lens in DxO Optics Pro v6, which has a lens module for this lens.

And the zoom range is excellent. 16mm is such a nice focal length on an APS-C camera. Here’s the Bath House and Cultural Center at White Rock Lake in Dallas:

Bath House and Cultural Center, White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas

Or for a normal view (35mm), here’s my favorite unpaid model, Kit:

Kit at 35mm

The lens produces results that truly rival my primes at any of these focal lengths. It’s one “weakness” is that it’s not as fast as the primes: max f/3.5 at 16mm, and max f/4.5 at 80mm. But I will use it only when the light is good, or when I’m shooting with flash or off-camera lighting. Is this the best zoom lens I’ve owned? The Pentax DA* 50-135 f/2.8 was awfully good, although the focal range wasn’t as generally useful. So I’d say yes, in general terms, this is the best zoom lens I’ve ever owned.

Final note about build quality. A number of the reviews that I read on the Internet criticized this lens’s build quality, even while praising its image quality. I personally don’t see anything wrong with the build quality. No it’s not built like the Pentax DA* 50-135 that I just mentioned, which was weather-sealed and built like a tank. But nothing I use now has that old-fashioned build quality. The lens seems quite solid enough to last for years. I’m not expecting to hand any of my gear down to my grandchildren.


3 comments on “My first Zeiss lens: Sony/Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16-80 f/3.5-4.5 zoom

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