The Sony FE PZ 16-35mm f4G is an ultra wide zoom for their full-frame e-mount mirrorless system. Launched in March 2022, the PZ in the title stands for Power Zoom, employing motors to drive the zoom smoothly and at a variety of speeds, not to mention remotely if desired.
It’s also compact, light, weather-sealed, and sports Sony’s usual wealth of controls including a de-clickable aperture ring, although interestingly there’s no optical stabilisation so it relies on IBIS in Alpha bodies to iron-out any wobbles. Sony loaned me the lens to test and in the following video I’ll show you what it can do, and in particular how the power zoom works in practice. If you prefer to read the written highlights or check out some sample images, keep scrolling!
The PZ 16-35 actually becomes Sony’s fourth lens to sport this popular range. Most obviously there’s the f2.8 G Master from 2017 costing $2200, and the f4 ZA from 2014 costing $1350, but also the T3.1, a dedicated cinema lens with a detachable servo zoom costing $5500.
For this review, I’ll be directly comparing the PZ f4G on the left with the f4 ZA OSS on the right, a collaboration with Zeiss that may be seven and a half years older, but remains on sale, sharing the same range, the same aperture and much the same price too.
With them side-by-side you’ll see both lenses share a similar diameter with the same 72mm filter thread, but the new PZ is 10mm shorter and once you pick them up, you’ll notice a significant weight difference: just 353g for the new PZ versus 518g for the old ZA.
That 165g saving may not sound like much, but I really noticed it when walking around with the lens on a body all day, making it an ideal travel or hiking companion. And if you’re mounting it on a gimbal or a drone, any weight-saving is beneficial.
The secret behind the compact size and weight is actually the power zoom itself. Without the need for a mechanical control, the lens can exploit two separate optical groups synchronised by four linear motors to perform the zooming process. These in turn allow a smaller barrel that doesn’t extend when zooming. It’s an interesting solution to a problem you didn’t realise you had, but certainly allows more compact lens designs with the benefits of a motorised zoom.
Sony also describes the PZ lens as being dust and moisture resistant and unlike the Zeiss model, there’s a rubber grommet at the mount.
Moving onto controls, there’s an aperture ring closest to the mount, clicked at one-third intervals between f4 and f22, but de-clickable for smooth operation with a switch on the other side.
Alongside are an AF / MF switch, a programmable focus-hold button and a spring-loaded lever, one of the many ways you can operate the power zoom, more about which in a moment.
Then there’s the zoom ring itself, followed by the manual focusing ring. The zoom ring is a little more damped than the looser focusing ring, but they feel quite similar in practice, both free-spinning with no hard stops or labeling. Notice how the zooming takes place internally with no extension of the barrel, so no need to rebalance on a gimbal.
Being motor-assisted, the zoom ring is also reversible in operation with some cameras, including the A7r IV here, offering a menu to configure its direction. The focusing ring is also linear in response.
Sony supplies the PZ lens with a petal hood that twists on and off, and is reversible while still providing access to the zoom ring.
For comparison here’s the Zeiss 16-35 already looking heftier with its longer barrel. In contrast to the control-packed PZ lens, the Zeiss has no switches, no buttons and no aperture ring either, just a traditional zoom ring which extends the barrel a little and has hard stops at either end, and a motor-assisted focusing ring at the end. Both rings felt stiffer than those on the PZ lens. The Zeiss lens also comes with a hood, but it was missing on my sample.
Right, now for what makes the PZ lens unusual, the motorised zoom and you’re seeing it in action here for video, zooming smoothly through its optical range from 16 to 35mm using the rocker control on the side of the barrel.
This control has two speeds, depending on how far you push it, taking about 14 seconds for the full range when pushed gently or around two seconds when pushed all the way. In theory, it’s like the motorised zooms on compact or super-zoom cameras, but thanks to the linear motors which drive it, the process is much smoother with a constant speed and no distracting lurches or axial wobbles.
You can alternatively use the zoom ring to adjust the focal length, as seen here when composing photos. The ring allows you to make quick or subtle adjustments and again avoids the lurching of cheaper power zoom lenses, like Sony’s own 16-50 kit zoom for A6000 cameras.
The zoom can also be operated by compatible cameras sporting a rocker control of their own, like the ZV-E10 or FX3, and these models allow you to adjust the speed in eight steps from the menus.
Newer Alpha bodies like the A7 IV alternatively allow you to assign the zoom control to custom buttons, like pushing the rear wheel left or right, or using the touchscreen, and again with up to eight speeds from a menu. If you choose the slower speeds, it’s also possible to seamlessly transition into a digital zoom using Sony’s clear image option to extend the range. Here’s the A7 IV zooming the lens during a video using the wheel control. And if you are filming with the aperture wide-open, you’ll appreciate the constant f4 ratio, not varying as the focal length is adjusted.
It all adds up to the most practical, responsive and smoothest power zoom lens I’ve tested, but still can’t help feeling more detached than a traditional mechanical zoom ring, and the absence of hard stops or labelling on the barrel means there’s no feedback on reaching the extremes of the focal range other than to check the screen or viewfinder, plus even at its fastest speed it’s not as quick to crash back and forth as a manual twist.
So it works well, but what’s the point? The most obvious benefit is for video where you can smoothly zoom in or out of a scene at a choice of speeds. I generally used this with the lens starting zoomed-in, before zooming out slowly to reveal the full scene. It’s a nice effect.
For stills photography when you’re behind the camera, there’s less of a clear benefit. While it is the most responsive power zoom I’ve used, I personally prefer the feel of a traditional mechanical system. But step away from the camera and the power zoom becomes more compelling.
You can operate it by remote control, say from your phone or a dedicated accessory when taking group shots or presenting pieces to camera.
You can adjust it without touching the barrel when it’s mounted on a gimbal, and again the non-extending barrel means no rebalancing.
And taking this to an extreme, the zoom could also be operated remotely while the camera’s mounted on a drone in-flight, where again its light weight is a boon.
But again the hidden benefit of the power zoom for everyone is the simple fact it makes the lens smaller and lighter than a traditional mechanical solution, and the non-extending barrel is easier to seal too. I’d love to hear what you think about the power zoom and how you’d use it.
Ok, now for my tests, starting with focusing for still photos with the PZ 16-35 mounted on the A7r IV at 16mm f4 with a central AF area and single AF mode. Here the focusing is almost instant with no fuss.
Switch to the older Zeiss 16-35, again at 16 f4 and you’ll see it’s visibly a tad slower, but still gets the job done quickly enough, and both lenses were equally quiet.
Now back to the power zoom model, this time at 35 f4 where the focusing is again almost instant – there’s no hanging around here.
And for comparison, the Zeiss 16-35 again at 35 f4 where it remains visibly a little slower with more of a wobble to confirm. It’s nice the new lens is faster, but the older one is still perfectly usable, and I’ll show you some video tests later.
Ok now for my optical tests but before launching into my comparisons, a quick look at lens corrections. Like most modern mirrorless lenses, especially wide-ones, the PZ 16-35 employs profiles to correct the geometry.
Here’s a grid pattern for an out-of-camera JPEG at 16mm where the profile is applied automatically looking nice and square, and now here’s the RAW file where the profile hasn’t yet been applied.
Switching between them shows the work the profile is doing at 16mm where the lens has pronounced barrel distortion, but again it’s corrected automatically by the camera for JPEGs and also for RAW files so long as your converter has the profile for it. If it doesn’t, I found either of Sony’s 24mm profiles get you close.
For comparison, here’s the older Zeiss 16-35 at 16mm with the profile applied to a RAW file, and now for the version without the profile. Switching between them shows this model has much less distortion to correct.
Next for my distant landscape scene, angled so that details run right into the corners. All the results were taken with each lens mounted on an A7r IV body using a central AF area and they’re all JPEGs out of camera. Let’s start with the PZ 16-35 at its widest 16mm focal length and zooming in on the middle shows a detailed, high-contrast image out of the gate at f4 with no benefit here to stopping-down. Placing the PZ on the left with the Zeiss at 16mm f4 on the right shows both lenses looking very similar in this first comparison.
Moving out into the corners of the PZ image shows some softening as well as darkening from vignetting, but with the PZ on the left and the Zeiss on the right, you can see how the newer model is sharper in the extreme corners at f4.
Closing the aperture on both lenses to f5.6 sees the vignetting reduced, and a minor improvement to sharpness, which improves a tad again when closed to f8, but the newer PZ model stays ahead at each aperture setting here. If you were to focus the Zeiss lens in the corner, it can deliver sharper details in that area, but if you want fine detail across the whole frame, the PZ lens edged ahead at 16mm.
Next for them roughly mid-way through their ranges at 24mm, starting again with the PZ 16-35, and again wide-open at f4. Looking closely in the middle again shows loads of fine detail and high contrast.
Placing the PZ on the left and the Zeiss on the right, both at 24mm f4, again shows very similar results, albeit perhaps a tad higher contrast from the PZ on the left. There’s nothing to be gained in the middle from closing the aperture any further.
Head into the corners of the PZ image at 24mm and you’ll see it resolving finer details than at 16mm, and looking very well-corrected right into the corner even wide-open.
Place the PZ on the left and the Zeiss on the right though and you’ll see the older lens on the right becomes visibly softer the closer you get to the extremes. The newer lens on the left is clearly out-performing it here, at least in terms of a flatter field.
Closing the aperture to f5.6 and then to f8 makes minor improvements to the Zeiss image on the right, but the PZ on the left already looked so good at f4 that it has little to gain from stopping down other than to lift some mild vignetting. So a clear lead from the newer PZ midway through their ranges, although if you were to focus in the corner, the Zeiss will improve.
And finally for Brighton Pier at the long-end of their ranges, starting with the PZ at 35 f4. Taking a closer look at the middle continues the story of sharp details and high contrast with no reason to stop down further. But place the PZ on the left and the Zeiss on the right, both at f4 and focused in the middle, and you’ll notice the older Zeiss is a fraction softer when wide-open. It’s not bad at all, it’s just that the newer PZ is better here. Closing the aperture first to f5.6 then to f8 will however boost the sharpness on the Zeiss to a similar level, but the PZ is performing well out of the gate.
Heading into the corner of the PZ image, here back at f4, again shows decent detail with little to complain about. Placing the PZ on the left and the Zeiss on the right again illustrates how the newer lens benefits from a flatter field with more consistent sharpness across the frame. Closing the aperture to f5.6 then to f8 makes big improvements to the Zeiss image on the right, which is looking good by f8. The PZ lens on the left also benefits from closing down, but by less as it’s already looking good at f4. Again, if you focus the Zeiss in the corner, it will be sharper here, but for a flat field, sharp across the frame, the newer PZ out-performs it as the focal length increases.
Next for a portrait distance test, first with the PZ 16-35 at 35mm f4 and focused on me using the A7r IV’s face and eye detection. While you’re never going to get very shallow depth-of-field effects from this distance at 35 f4, there’s still some blurring in the background and if you take a closer look, very sharp details in the focused areas around my eyes.
With the PZ on the left and the older Zeiss on the right, you’ll see the new lens delivering a higher contrast image that looks sharper too, although look closely and the older Zeiss is resolving the finest details just as well. But out of the camera, the PZ definitely looks crisper.
Meanwhile when comparing the rendering of out of focus areas, I’d say neither looks amazing nor takes a clear lead. Both have textures within blobs and fairly busy bokeh, so don’t expect the Zeiss to necessarily enjoy an edge here.
To really evaluate those bokeh blobs, here’s a test close to their minimum focusing distance, starting with the PZ at 35 f4 where you’ll see small blobs that are mostly well-behaved with only subtle outlining and textures within.
With the PZ on the left and the Zeiss on the right, you’ll notice slightly greater magnification from the latter when both are at the same distance and set to 35mm. As such, the bokeh blobs are also larger from the Zeiss and they’re less elongated than the PZ in the corners at the maximum aperture, but taking a closer look reveals greater textures within the blobs and more defined outlining. Now bokeh and rendering is always a personal choice, but I’d say the newer PZ lens on the left is looking better here. Plus despite both lenses quoting the same minimum focusing distance, I managed to get the PZ to focus a little closer at the 35mm focal length where it’s delivering similarly-sized blobs as the Zeiss. This in turn has made those textures a little more obvious though, so neither is going to satisfy as a bokeh monster. Do you have a preference between them?
Right, now for some video tests and you’ve already seen how the PZ lens can deliver dramatic perspectives with the chance for smooth zooms back and forth.
But what’s it like for focusing? Here’s the PZ at 16mm f4, filming video on the A7r IV with a central AF area and continuous AFC where the focus pulls back and forth are smooth and avoid over-shooting.
Zoom the PZ lens to 35mm, still at f4, and it again delivers consistent performance, although a lot of this is also dictated by the body in question and the default settings. Remember you can change the focusing speed and response time.
For comparison here’s the Zeiss at 16 f4, again on the A7r IV using the same default settings and now at 35 f4 with very similar performance, so no issues there.
Next for face tracking, starting with the PZ lens at 35 f4 on a tripod-mounted camera, with the focusing driven by face and eye detection on the A7r IV. As you’d expect, no problems.
If you prefer to capture more of your surroundings, here’s the PZ lens filming at 16mm f4, again from a fixed position with the A7r IV using face and eye detection. Obviously there’s some distortion as you move up close towards the edges, but that’s normal for 16mm and if you stay towards the middle of the frame, it can be very usable for videos.
16mm is also perfect for vlogging at arm’s length, but remember unlike the Zeiss, the PZ lens does not have any optical stabilisation, so here’s how it looks handheld on a body without IBIS, or with IBIS disabled. Obviously wobbly without any stabilisation at all.
Now here it is with IBIS alone, and I’ve switched from the A7r IV to the newer A7 IV for these vlogging clips. Considering this clip doesn’t have any optical or digital IS, the result is looking ok and if you can master the stealth walk, it can look pretty smooth.
And finally here’s the A7 IV with Active Stabilisation enabled, which applies some digital compensation at the cost of a crop. Since the lens was already ultra-wide at 16 to start with though, the crop isn’t too detrimental, and the stabilisation has become so much better I’d say it’s well worth the trade-off.
If you are into vlogging though, do also consider the excellent Sony 20 1.8 G which is almost as wide, but with a much brighter aperture for a blurrier background.
Ok, now before my final verdict, one more comparison for you: focus breathing, starting with the PZ at 16mm, manually focusing from infinity to the closest distance and back again, where there’s a tiny change in magnification, but it’s so small, it’s hardly worth mentioning.
And now for the PZ lens at 35mm, again focusing from infinity to the closest and back again where there’s even less evidence of breathing – in fact arguably none. So while the new PZ lens is compatible with the focus breathing compensation on models like the A7 IV, I’d say you won’t need it – which makes a refreshing change for a Sony lens.
Just for comparison, here’s the Zeiss lens at 16mm, focusing from infinity to the closest and back again where it shows a similarly small amount of magnification, but again nothing to worry about.
And finally with the Zeiss lens at 35mm where it more obviously appears to zoom-in as you focus from distant to close. It’s not the worst breathing I’ve seen, but the fact it’s showing any at all makes it worse than the PZ in this regard at the same focal length.Check prices on the Sony FE PZ 16-35mm f4G at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!