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Lens review

Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM

4 August 2009
Arkadiusz Olech

6. Distortion

Let’s start with the small A100 sensor performance. At the widest angle the Zeiss 16-35 mm has a barrel distortion of – 2.76%. Is this value big or small? To answer this question we should remind ourselves how fared such lenses as Zeiss 16-80 mm, Sony 16-105 mm i Nikkor 16-85 mm VR in this category. Their results were: -3.98%, -4.67% and -4.16% respectively. As you see, the Zeiss 16-35 mm performes really well, undoubtedly because it was designed for a full frame. The result is very similar to that of a Canon 16-35 mm on a small Canon 20D sensor – in its case the measured value reached –2.51%

At longer focal lengths the distortion becomes almost indistinguishable. In the middle of the focal range it is still –0.70% barrel, then it changes to pincushion and at 35 mm it reaches the level of 0.31%.

The problem becomes obviously more serious on full frame. At 16 mm the barrel distortion reaches –4.21%. On the one hand it’s a lot, on the other – not. Lenses designed for small sensors, giving us the 70-80 degrees’ field of view present a similar level of this aberration. In the case of the Zeiss, though, the field of view is as much as 107 degrees so we get a clear benefit here. On the other hand, a lens such as a Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8, cooperating with small APS-C/DX sensors at 11 mm gives us 102-104 degrees field of view, so comparable with the Zeiss working on full frame, and in its case the widest angle distortion reaches –3.24%. Well…nobody’s promised that you can painlessly return to full frame.


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In the middle of focal lengths range on full frame the distortion decreases to the level of –0.71% and it changes sign and increases to the value of 1.10% at 35 mm.

Sony A100, 16 mm
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM - Distortion
Sony A100, 24 mm
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM - Distortion
Sony A100, 35 mm
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM - Distortion

Sony A900, 16 mm
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM - Distortion
Sony A900, 24 mm
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM - Distortion
Sony A900, 35 mm
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 16-35 mm f/2.8 T* SSM - Distortion