The Sony e-mount 16-50mm lens for NEX Cameras - Assessment and Conclusion

I'm putting this in a separate post because I have some positive things to say about the NEX-6 and I don't want that camera lumped in with this lens, which I'm not going to be that positive about.

This is a shocking lens. Shocking in the sense that its faults are pretty awful and shocking in the sense that I am genuinely surprised that an ambitious company like Sony, with designs on becoming the No. 1 camera manufacturer (or so they say) could release something like this without realising that people will notice just what an appalling piece of cheap and shoddy design and poor optical engineering it is.

I have written in the past that I don't believe there are bad lenses any more. Well I was wrong. There are. This is one of them.

So why is it so bad? Well here is what it does at 16mm.

Ridiculously bad distortion and vignetting. Now since I first got it there has been a Sony lens profile for the 16-50mm hastily added to the new updates of Adobe Camera Raw in  Photoshop CS6 as well as the one in Lightroom. So you now get this when processing from raw.

So it is possible to get a useable file, by throwing away lots of pixels and you do of course have to make sure that you shoot with this correction in mind.

I'm not going to go into the whole Sony NEX lens issues again, as I've done that before on several occasions, but we surely have to ask, what on earth are they doing? Do they really want to sabotage the NEX system by releasing lenses like this for the system? The vast majority of their current line up are average at best and in this case downright poor. 

I've never seen a lens performance worse than this in anything I've ever bought. With the lens profile I might be able to actually use it, but only until I find something better. If you don't use current versions of ACR, Photoshop or Lightroom and don't have access to the profile, then be warned, you will have to do a lot of post-processing or be stuck with the jpgs. (which aren't always free of this either) or Sony's basic converter. (If indeed that does correct it)

On the lens front I think its time for Sony to put up or shut up. Great camera and sensor makers they may be, and for my part I'm very impressed by their progress in both of these areas, when it comes to lenses, and the e-mount range in particular, they are turning into also-rans. A real shame and its difficult to understand the rationale for this. Currently m4/3, to my mind, is a superior system in almost every way I can think of, but particularly on the lens front. Will this change? Who knows but it surely needs to be fast if Sony want to rescue their reputation, which lenses like this do nothing but harm. This is something I find frustrating since I've had my NEX-7 for a year, and its my longest serving camera. However I use it in spite of the NEX lens range rather than because of it, and certainly the majority of the shots I've taken with it are with either the Sigma 19mm and 30mm or manual focus Nikon or Voigtlander lenses. I find it a surprise that this lens is the kit lens for the NEX-6, which is a thoroughly decent camera, and to my mind deserves better than the 16-50mm.

Now having written all that, it may come as a surprise that I'm probably going to keep and indeed use this lens. The reasons for this are mostly negative however. The explanation for this is that it is a VERY useful zoom range for what I do, there are (slight) improvements over the 18-55mm and 16mm lenses in terms of edge and corner sharpness, the profile means I'm not having to do lots of post-processing correction work, and finally there isn't really an alternative as yet. As I said mostly negative.

Above are some of the pictures I shot today on my NEX-7, which after correction look fine, (assuming you haven't seen the original). The last one shows the substantial amount of correction that takes place using the Adobe Raw lens profile. As you can see I composed the original image in the knowledge that removing the distortion and vignetting would "lose" part of it. You can also clearly see that to remove the vignetting the image is, in effect, being cropped on all sides. Is this acceptable? I leave that for you to decide. I know what I think.

So far from a ideal solution, but a solution of sorts for those looking for a standard type zoom for a NEX camera, though this turns out to be somewhat less than the focal range promised. 

Now I won't pretend that this software adjusting of lens faults doesn't go on elsewhere. My Nikon 28-300mm uses it, the Panasonic 7-14mm is well-known for it and it extends to prime lenses I've used as well. However once you see what is applied to the Sony 16-50mm all the adjustments for the other lenses appear somewhat minimal. 

So if you are considering this lens, then as can be seen, it can be made to give decent results. But if you aren't using the latest versions of Photoshop and Lightroom then I would suggest that you might struggle to get decent results if you shoot raw. If you are happy with the jpgs. then you will (mostly) be problem free, though some of these still have a lot of distortion and some vignetting. See -

Under the circumstances there is no way that I can give this lens any kind of recommendation, other than to say under the right circumstances and with the right software, decent results are possible. 

I'm sure that most of the problems come from the attempt to reduce the size of a lens like this. That doesn't personally bother me, and in reality I wonder just how many people it does bother. However there is a vociferous section of the photographic internet who clamour constantly for gear to be as small (and pocketable) as possible, and made to be relatively inexpensive. Hopefully this lens and its poor implementation will demonstrate to these people that if that's what you ask for, this is what you might get. 

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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