Review: Sony Zeiss SEL24F18Z

Finally, I managed to get myself some free time to go out to take some shots and do the lens review. Today, I would like to do the review for the Sony Zeiss SEL24F18Z prime lens as mentioned earlier. Although the SEL24F18Z had been introduced and released on 2011 December, but it is still one of the best prime lenses in the market. Besides,  I prefer to do specific review for each E-mount lens  before make the comparison among them (e.g. the SEL24F18Z,   SEL35F18, and perhaps the Carl Zeiss Touit 32 mm).

Introduction

Sony Zeiss SEL24F18Z - with B+W UV Filter
Sony Zeiss SEL24F18Z – with B+W UV Filter

Sony had introduced and released their “home-made” Zeiss E-mount prime lens – the Sony Zeiss SEL24F18Z on 2011 December. This lens aims to deliver superior corner-to-corner sharpness with minimum distortion even at the largest aperture F 1.8. The SEL24F18Z performance had been praised and complimented by most of its owners but it comes with an extremely high price tag (SGD 1,699). So does it worth the price for you to purchase it? And so how does it performs?

Pros & Cons

  • + Large aperture of F 1.8
  • + Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* coating for stand-out image dimensionality and presence
  • + Corner-to-corner sharpness at wide open (see more details in the sharpness section below)
  • + Solid metal build and feel
  • + Good performance in low light situation
  • + Quiet and smooth AF
  • – Extremely expensive
  • – Sharpness at wide open (see more details in the sharpness section below)
  • – No OSS (although short focal length prime lenses usually do not come with image stabilizer as it will not be so effective)
  • – Bokeh is not so smooth and creamy

Specification

Aperture (Max.) f/1.8
Aperture (Min.) f/22
Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 36mm
Filter Diameter : 49mm 49mm
Lens Groups-Elements 7 groups, 8 elements (2 aspheric surfaces, 1 ED)
Minimum Focus Distance 6.2″ (16cm)
Aperture Blade 7 blades (Circular aperture)
Aspheric Elements 2 aspheric surfaces
Dimensions (Max. Diameter x Length) 2-3/8 x 2-1/2″ (63 x65.5mm)
Exterior Finish Metal
Internal Motor Yes (Stepping motor)
Lens Weight 7.9 oz (225g)
Maximum Magnification x0.25
Mount Material Metal

Source from http://store.sony.com/p/Sony-Alpha-Digital-SLR-Camera-Zoom-Lens-Compact-NEX-NEX-C-NEX-5-NEX-5N/en/p/SEL24F18Z#specifications

Look and Feel

From the time being I first touched the SEL24F18Z, it really gives me a WOW! Regardless the matte black body finish, the metal built exterior body, or even the weight, none of them make this lens feel cheap (you won’t hear a plastic sound or feel when you used your fingernail to knock at it). This is really a piece of serious prime lens for any serious photographer and photo enthusiast. The SEL24F18Z is is quite heavy and not so compact in size, however, its weight and matte finished metal body make you feel it is rock solid. When attached it to the NEX-6, they are well balance in weight and have a perfect match appearance due to the matte black body for both of the lens and the camera body.

SEL24F18Z - Attached on Sony Alpha NEX-6 without Lens Hood
SEL24F18Z – Attached on Sony Alpha NEX-6 without Lens Hood

The SEL24F18Z comes along with a well-made pleather pouch, a standard lens cap, and a plastic hood. There are many cases that the plastic hood can be pulled into two different pieces easily due to the improper glued portions issue. Fortunately my lens hood is a fine piece and so I hoped that it is because the Sony had realized this issue and taking care of it.

The Pleather Pouch and the Plastic Lens Hood
The Pleather Pouch and the Plastic Lens Hood

Notice the little blue Zeiss logo?

SEL24F18Z - Attached on Sony Alpha NEX-6 without Lens Hood
SEL24F18Z – Zeiss Logo on the Left Hand Side of the Lens

It really makes the lens look and feel premium.

SEL24F18Z - Attached on Sony Alpha NEX-6 with Lens Hood
SEL24F18Z – With Lens Hood Attached

The lens hood is kind of “gigantic” when it is attached to the lens as you can see the different from the photos above. If you attached it in an opposite way as shown below, it will cover almost all the focus ring part such that the DMF and MF cannot be used at all.

SEL24F18Z - Lens Hood Attached in Opposite Direction
SEL24F18Z – Lens Hood Attached in Opposite Direction

Sharpness (Infinity)

I had taken shots from the scene below and cropped the center and bottom-right corner for sharpness comparison.

Sharpness Cropped Comparison Original Image
Sharpness Cropped Comparison Original Image

Center Sharpness

SEL24F18Z - Center Sharpness Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Center Sharpness Performance Comparison

The center sharpness at the lens largest aperture F 1.8 and the following F 2 are a little grainy. Stopped down to F 2.8 the sharpness is boosted significantly and retain sharp until F 8. Sharpness start to drop at F 11 and dropped significantly from F 16 to F 22 which perform worse than the sharpness at F 1.8. Maximum center sharpness hit at F 4.

Corner Sharpness 

SEL24F18Z - Corner Sharpness Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Corner Sharpness Performance Comparison

Corner sharpness was affected by the vignetting at F 1.8 and F 2, stopped down to F 2.8 did get rid of the vignetting issue but does not help much with the sharpness. Sharpness become better from F 4 and hit the maximum sharpness at F 8. Sharpness and details are well-retain from F 8 until F 16 while it slightly dropped at F 22. In corner sharpness, the smaller/smallest aperture like F 16 and F 22 are outperformed the corner sharpness at F 2.8 and larger apertures.

Macro Performance

The SEL24F18Z has the capability to shot 1/4 marco shots. Its closest focus distance of 16 cm is an advantage for marco shooting as well. With the “gigantic” lens hood attached, you will almost touch your subject and still able to make your subject in focus. Let’s see how does the SEL24F18Z close-up shot performance from the shot below.

SEL24F18Z - Macro Performance
SEL24F18Z – Macro Performance
SEL24F18Z - Macro Performance Cropped
SEL24F18Z – Macro Performance 100% Cropped

The shot above was captured at the aperture F 5.6. From the 100% cropped sample, the tiny words and the background pattern at the bottom of the watch are very sharp indeed.

Distortion

Usually wide angle lens will have some barrel distortion but the SEL24F18Z has some minor pincushion distortion instead. Look carefully at the top of the shots and compare the RAW image with the Camera JPEG image then you will know what I’m talking about.

SEL24F18Z - Distortion
SEL24F18Z – Distortion Performance Comparison

Vignetting

Shots at F 1.8 and F 2 will suffer from the vignetting significantly. Stopped down to F 2.8 had improved the vignetting issue a lot and the lens get rid of the vignetting issue from F 4 (there is still having very minor vignetting at F 4 but I believe it won’t bother you at all) and onward.

SEL24F18Z - Vignetting Performance Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Vignetting Performance Comparison

Chromatic Aberration

The SEL24F18Z did a great job in CA control. I take the center cropped and top-left corner cropped from the shot below for the CA comparison.

CA Comparison Original Image Cropped from Center and Top-left Corner
CA Comparison Original Image Cropped from Center and Top-left Corner

Center Chromatic Aberration

SEL24F18Z - Chromatic Aberrivation Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Chromatic Aberration Performance Comparison

Corner Chromatic Aberration

SEL24F18Z - Corner CA 100% Cropped Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Corner CA 100% Cropped Comparison

I had tested with few different sets of CA shots at different scenes and each of them has no problem for the center CA control. However, there is very minor magenta found at the corner but you have to zoom it in and compare very carefully in order to find it out. The magenta CA may become more obvious if you shot at something really high contrast, for example shot at the white painted wall which edge is just right in front of some dark background under a sunny day.

Ghosting and Flare

Ghosting and flare control also not a problem to the SEL24F18Z. No weird streak or bright spot appear in the shots.

SEL24F18Z - Flare  Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Flare Performance Comparison

Bokeh Effect

The bokeh of SEL24F18Z may not be so great as other prime lens. Edges start appear at F 2.8 and fully become polygon shapes in F 4.

SEL24F18Z - Bokeh Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Bokeh Performance Comparison
SEL24F18Z - Bokeh
SEL24F18Z – Bokeh Shooting at F 2.8

From the photo above you can see that the bokeh are not in circular form even it was taken at F 2.8.

Handheld Low Light Performance

The SEL24F18Z does not have the Sony OSS (image stabilizer). So theoretically its minimum required shutter speed is 1/36″ (most camera only available with 1/40″ instead). So how does this lens performs if the shutter speed stopped down to 1/30″ and slower?

SEL24F18Z - Handheld Performance Comparison
SEL24F18Z – Handheld Performance Comparison

I manual focused to the right eye of the Pool (your left hand side), shooting at F 1.8 with ISO 100. With a steady and firm hand, shot at 1/15″ is still able to produce a blur-free sharp images. Slower the shutter speed to 1/13″ will be a challenged to get blur-free image while it is nearly impossible to do so at 1/10″.

From my experience, if you are going to do some night street photography with the SEL24F18Z it is better to ensure that the shutter speed maintain at 1/40″ or faster speed, stopped down the aperture to F 2.8 (from the consideration of sharpness and DOF of the aperture larger than F 2.8), and then boost up the ISO to ISO 400 or ISO 800 in order to get blur-free and sharp shots. If you are taking night landscape or night portrait shots, just used your tripod and forget what I mentioned earlier.

Bottom Line

The Sony Zeiss SEL24F18Z is really a great prime lens regardless of its premium look and feel or its excellent optics performance. It did a great job on the distortion control as well as the CA control. The sharpness is great from F 2.8 onward but not from its largest aperture F 1.8. The minimum focus distance of 16 cm and 0.25 x magnification ratio give a bonus to the close-up shot. Bokeh is good but not so smooth and creamy and it does not remain circular from F 2.8 onward. With its overall pros and cons, this lens will not likely to let you down. However, this lens is really an expensive lens which is sold at a high price tag  of SGD 1,699, where you have to think twice or more before you buy it. If you seldom take close-up shots, or you want more creamy and smooth bokeh, or you prefer more nature view of angle (50 mm), you may consider the much cheaper alternative – SEL35F18 which is sold at SGD 629, or the slightly cheaper alternative – Zeiss Touit 32 mm which is sold at SGD 1,599.

Before the end of today review, I had posted some shots from the SEL24F18Z at below. Enjoy!

_DSC4621

_DSC4630

_DSC4639

_DSC4849

_DSC4853

_DSC5408

_DSC5624

_DSC5921

Ok. That’s all for today review. Welcome to share you thoughts or comment here. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it!

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Contact me by email: jamesphotography2013@gmail.com

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