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Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* SAL-1680Z

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Buy the Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* SAL-1680Z
Drawing Info

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
16-80mm $898
average price
image of Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* SAL-1680Z

(From Sony lens literature) Enjoy using the professional-grade, compact, easy-to-carry Carl Zeiss SAL-1680Z lens for your next photography session. Its precise optical design will make it one of your favorites.

The Sony 16-80mm is a Carl Zeiss branded lens featuring a Vario-Sonnar design. It uses 14 elements in 10 groups, with 3 aspherical elements and a special ''T* Coating'' to reduce flare. The lens uses 62mm filters, and the filter mount won't turn during focusing or zooming. It ships with a petal lens hood and a carrying case.

Representing the conventional 24-120mm lens in 35mm film terms, the Sony 16-80mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 is a better version of its 18-70mm ''walkaround'' lens. Going slightly wider and longer, and equipped with a better maximum aperture, it's also significantly more expensive at around $650 on store shelves.

It's important to note the Sony 16-80mm is a reduced-frame lens design, optimized for the smaller digital APS-C sensor size. This means that mounted on a full-frame film or sensor camera body, it will vignette to some degree.

The Sony 16-80mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 isn't the sharpest lens we've tested, but out of the current crop of consumer-grade lenses available for the Sony dSLRs, it's one of the better ones. Corner softness becomes an issue when the lens is used in a wide-angle setting with the aperture set to larger than ƒ/8.

The use of aspherical elements mitigates the corner softness at 16mm, but for whatever reason one of the worst performance points for this lens is when it is set to 24mm and ƒ/4, where it is sharp in the middle of the image and quite soft in the corners. Like most lenses in this category it is optimized for use in its most general settings, and achieves optimum performance at 35mm and ƒ/8 where it is very sharp across the frame. Diffraction begins to set in by ƒ/22, and any setting after this should be avoided, especially at any setting other than wide angle. That said, when set to a telephoto (>50mm) focal length, the sharpness (or lack thereof) is uniform across the frame.

Chromatic Aberration
The Sony 16-80mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 is built with a good resistance to chromatic aberration, where it is only a noticeable factor when the lens is set to its wide-angle setting (<24mm). At 16mm, the chromatic aberration in an image represents (at its worst, in the corners of an image) no more than 9/100 of a percent of frame height; this improves as the focal length zooms out, and some CA re-appears at the telephoto end, but no more than 6/100 of a percent.

Shading ("Vignetting")
The lens does have issues with vignetting, especially when set to wide-angle. At its worst, wide open at ƒ/3.5 and 16mm, the corners are 0.75 EV darker than the center, and at at other apertures at 16mm, the corner darkness hovers around one-third EV darker. At other focal lengths the effect is less severe, mostly around one-half of an EV darker when set to the widest aperture. At other focal lengths and apertures, corner darkness is not an issue.

The lens deals well with distortion. As is typical of lenses with a wide-angle setting, there is prominent barrel distortion when set to 16mm, but no more than 1%. The lens is optimized well at focal lengths at 24mm and above, where distortion is negligible, and constant, throughout the remainder of the zoom range.

Autofocus Operation
The focusing operation of Sony 16-80mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 is conducted mechanically, but even with this limitation the autofocus racks through very quickly, at less than one second for the entire range.

While the lens isn't a dedicated macro lens, it holds its own in this regard, focusing quite close (163mm, 6 3/8") to the subject. The minimum field of view at this range is 101.5mm (4"), providing a magnification of 0.24x.

Build Quality and Handling
The lens is very well constructed, with a rugged plastic mechanism, that has no feeling of cheapness to it. The zoom actuation is very smooth, taking only a quarter-turn to go from 16mm to 80mm. The lens does not have an aperture ring - these are certainly going out of style - but it does have a distance scale. That said, the focus ring is quite stiff and has very little travel, perhaps 1/5 of the diameter, which makes it very difficult to manually focus accurately. You can hear the gears whirring as you turn the focus manually. Being gear-coupled, manual focus can only happen when the camera is in MF mode. That said though, at least the A700 has an AF/MF button that will let you quickly switch between manual and AF modes. The A100 lacks this feature.

The lens is fairly resistant to zoom creep, but it will creep if held pointing up or down and jostled sharply, but not if just hanging there. It would probably creep if it were swinging around at the end of a neck strap, but wouldn't be likely to move if you were simply aiming the lens up or down to get a shot.


Sony 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAL-16105 ~$580
While it's not a Carl Zeiss optic, the 16-105mm produces some excellent central-frame results with some noteworthy aperture/focal length selections showing high corner softness. CA is handled a bit better, but vignetting is worse; distortion is the same.

Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAL-1870 ~$170
The 18-70mm isn't as sharp as the 16-80mm, and has much worse tolerance for chromatic aberration. It vignettes a bit less; however, keep in mind it costs much less.

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 DC Macro ~$340
The Sigma comparable offers a lens with a slightly larger maximum aperture, but just slightly less capability in the focal lengths. Its big advantage is its macro functionality, with a close focusing distance of just 2 inches from the end of the lens. Its sharpness profile is similar to the Sony, fairs a little better with chromatic aberration, vignettes a little worse, and distorts about the same.

Konica Minolta 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 D AF DT ~$80
You'll probably find this lens on the ''used'' shelf or on Ebay. We haven't reviewed it, but the two user reviews of this lens are fairly positive, noting that it is quite light but subject to some issues with chromatic aberration. Similarly to the Sony 16-80mm, the KM 18-70mm needs to be stopped down to achieve optimal sharpness.

While Sony may advertise this lens as professional-grade, its optical quality doesn't quite reach the level of what we would expect for a professional lens; sharpness is a mixed bag, performing well when stopped down to ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/8, but showing signs of significant corner softness outside of that range. The lens vignettes significantly at wide angle (16mm), but chromatic aberration and distortion are fairly well controlled. That said, for the range of focal length possibilities, and a half-stop more speed than the regular 18-70mm ''kit'' lens, the lens doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and certainly performs better.

Sample Photos!
Beginning in July 2007, we now provide sample photos of two laboratory test targets to help in our readers' evaluation of the lenses we test. The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and f/8. For the "VFA" target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

To see the sample shots from this lens captured with this lens on our test body, just click on either of the thumbnails below, and scroll as needed in the window that appears.

Still Life shot

VFA target

Sony 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 DT Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* SAL-1680Z User Reviews

8.5/10 average of 6 reviews Build Quality 7.7/10 Image Quality 8.8/10
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  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (2 reviews)
    Great range, T* coatings, sharp, contrasty, good saturation
    Sloppy manual focus ring, plastic case, slow, vignetting wide open

    It took me 3 tries to get a good copy of this lens. Apparently the quality control is not too good. When you do get a good one, it's great. The plastic barrel is a turn off. Thank goodness it has a metal mount. Vignetting when wide open can be a real problem, especially at 16mm. Even using a "slim" filter will make it worse. The edges are soft at the wider settings but are OK by f/8. The 1/8" lag in the focus ring is a pain when using manual focus. If you've ever owned a Zeiss lens, you'll be dissapointed in the construction but, the IQ is there if you stop it down to f/8-f/11

    reviewed September 18th, 2011 (purchased for $750)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (4 reviews)

    It's a great walkaround range, like all other brands have. Even if it's a bit soft, it's handy to have around. AF is a bit slow, that's the price you pay.

    reviewed November 14th, 2010 (purchased for $650)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (2 reviews)
    at16 mm not so problematic, 80 mm still great.color natural .
    no DOF scale,price(but as all quality things in life has a price)

    this is a nice lens ,perphaps not so awesome like 85F1.4(damn its a prime), but still remain in top of today sony zoom lens.
    most used in f 4.5-5.6 .rare in f8.

    reviewed October 16th, 2010 (purchased for $750)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (6 reviews)
    Sharpness, colour, contrast, range and speed
    no SSM, price new

    This is a really great generalist lens and a reason to use the Sony apsc system. The range is really great for a 3.5-4.5 aperture. The colour and contrast produce very pleasing results. The bokeh is quite good and consistent, and it is really sharp all around. On my a700, I just felt I could trust its results in pretty much all shooting situations. There is some corner shadowing at the wide end.

    Shame on Sony for not making it an SSM lens, for this price. I put 7 for construction because of this. They are way behind Canikon in this regard. Buying it used was a good deal. New, it needs a rebuild with same optics and SSM included, for no more money. But even without SSM, it's still a great piece of glass and mine worked well mechanically.

    reviewed September 29th, 2010 (purchased for $550)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by (4 reviews)
    Very high center resolution, very good performance at 80mm and wide open, Very good color reproduction and contras
    Noticeable loss of corner resolution at some large aperture settings, Noticeable chromatic aberration in the corners at 16mm

    My copy has on the Sony DSLR-A300 a center resolution of well above 2000 LPH and corner resolution is typically between 1500 to 1700 LPH, measured in the range of biggest aperture down to f8. One special observation is the very good telephoto performance at 80mm at the wides aperture of f4.5: 2200 center, 1700 corner. The one negative exception is at 50mm and f4.5, where the LPH value falls to 1950 center and 1200 corner. Consequently, center resolution is exceptional, corner resolution is mostly tolerable, with 50mm/f4.5 unsatisfactorily. Here are the focal length/aperture settings that I typically use for my copy:
    16mm: f4.5 - f16
    24mm: f5.0 - f16
    35mm: f5.0 - f16
    50mm: f5.6 - f16
    80mm: f4.5 - f16

    Chromatic aberration is noticeable in the corners at 16mm, becomes less visible at higher focal lengths and disappears towards the center. I did not notice any distortion, vignetting or flare that is worth mentioning. Color and contrast are natural and quite attractive. Build-quality is acceptable for amateur-use. Focusing is fast and accurate, even at low-light conditions. The minimum focal length of 16mm saves an additional wide angle lens.

    One practical note: Use low-profile or slim-line filters with this lens, otherwise you will have vignetting at wide angles.

    Overall the lens is quite usable through its entire focal length, when you keep a few large aperture values in mind that you might want to avoid because of noticeable corner blur. I use the lens for about 90% of my photos and can currently not think of a better lens that has the same combination of versatility and image quality.

    reviewed December 24th, 2008 (purchased for $690)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (2 reviews)
    quality, good for travel, good bokeh
    vigneting at widest aperture

    purchased to be "Kit forever" lens on Sony dslr-a350 because of quality and razor sharpness. Not bad range for travel zoom. On F/5.6-8 extremely sharp wide angle - good for landscape photos. For portrait this lens may be "oversharp" (some girls will not be happy)
    some examples on http://blogx.ru/cityman/img/

    reviewed May 27th, 2008 (purchased for $1,000)