The Sony FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G is a new contender in the crowded space of 16-35mm lenses for Sony E-mount cameras. Sony already offers two other 16-35mm lenses: the big kahuna Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM, and the original Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS. So, what’s the purpose of the FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G? If you shoot video and stills, you know that most still photography lenses are not ideal for video. With this newcomer, Sony’s lens design team came up with an option that hits the sweet spot for both types of visual content creation without compromising performance.
The real story here is the incorporation of a motorized power zoom. Usually found on point-and-shoot cameras, it’s common on zoom lenses for full-time video cameras as well. Although I had not used a motorized zoom before, I quickly learned to like it. The variable speed action is smooth, whether at full speed or its slowest, even during a shot. In addition, whether you use the power zoom feature or the zoom ring, the focal length is displayed in the upper right corner of the EVF and monitor. Sony makes seven other E-mount lenses with the power zoom feature, but only one of those, the $2,499 FE PZ 28-135mm F4 G OSS, is for full-frame cameras.
Optically the FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G is a good match even for the 50-megapixel Sony Alpha 1 and 61-megapixel a7R IV. As ultra-wide to wide-angle zooms go, the optical path is relatively simple. There are 13 elements in 12 groups, and the seven curved iris blades keep the aperture circular to produce pleasing bokeh. The lens has no built-in image stabilization mechanism (Sony calls this OSS, Optical SteadyShot). Instead, Sony wants photographers to use the excellent in-body image stabilization it builds into most of its camera bodies.
Beyond image quality, at least three other features commend this lens for video work:
F4 G is slightly broader than the Zeiss-designed Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS but is nearly 10% shorter and six ounces lighter. Additionally, by shifting the position of some elements relative to others, the balance point remains consistent as you change the focal length or focus distance. The result is smoother camera movements when using either a gimbal or a fluid head and more straightforward gimbal setup and balancing.
Despite making it smaller, lighter, and less optically complex, Sony’s lens design team has developed a zoom lens with image quality and color consistent with other Sony G and GM series lenses. Editors and clients appreciate this as it makes the editing process easier when cross-cutting a scene filmed with different lenses.
Controls on the lens include a zoom ring with unmarked focal length settings toward the front. Immediately behind this is the manual focus ring. Near the rear of the lens is the aperture control ring with third-stop increments from f/4 to f/22, plus the A setting for aperture priority. Apertures can be set in one-third-degree increments when using the click option. Buttons as well as slider and switch-type controls include a focus hold button, AF/M focusing mode switch, and the power zoom feature slider on the lens’s left side. On the right side is a two-position switch for click or declicking mode for the aperture ring and the iris (aperture) lock switch. When the aperture click is on, the lens has definite hard clicks every third of a stop, but with it off, the lens aperture varies steplessly. Ramping the iris smoothly open or closed is another desirable feature for video work.
The FE PZ 16-35mm G uses a focus-by-wire system. A pair of XD (extreme dynamic) linear motors push and pull groups of elements swiftly and silently—another plus for videography and an aspect of the lens that photographers can appreciate.
The FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G sells for $1,199.99. That’s $200 more than the Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS and $1,000 less than the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM.
The new features make it well suited for full-time videographers or hybrid still/video photographers. If you’re a dedicated still photographer who frequently works in low-light situations, it makes more sense to go with the FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM. The extra stop of transmitted light makes it easier to compose and frame the object of your attention and improves autofocus performance. Both choices are good, even when it makes the initial selection process harder.
Ellis Vener is a contributing editor.