Sony E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS LE SEL18200LE
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Lab Test Results
July 16, 2012
by Andrew Alexander
Released alongside the Sony NEX-F3 mirrorless digital camera, the E 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 OSS LE is an all-in-one superzoom lens that offers an effective range of 27-300mm. Sony has indicated the LE version is not a replacement for the existing 18-200mm E-mount lens; rather, it is a smaller, more portable optic meant for travel.
The lens was designed specifically for the NEX series of cameras, and won't work on other Sony alpha bodies. The lens uses a variable aperture, in that as you increase the focal length, both the maximum and minimum aperture sizes decrease. The following table reflects the change in aperture with focal length:
The lens takes 62mm filters, and ships with the ALC-SH124 petal-shaped hood. The lens is available now for around $850.
The Sony E 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 EL offers very good results for sharpness up to the 100mm point; 200mm isn't as great, but is still acceptable.
Used at its widest angle (18mm), the lens produces moderately sharp images, even when used at its widest aperture (ƒ/3.5). In fact, its best performance is found when used wide open (ƒ/3.5-ƒ/4) - stopping down doesn't offer any improvement for sharpness. Diffraction limiting sets in at ƒ/8-ƒ/11, but there's no noticeable sharpness drop-off until ƒ/16.
In the zoom mid-range (35-70mm) the lens also produces sharp images, even wide open, although in this case you get a tad more sharpness when you stop down to ƒ/8-11. In the telephoto range (100-200mm) we notice softer corners when used at its widest aperture (a comparatively slow ƒ/6.3); performance at 200mm ƒ/6.3 is particularly soft in the corners. You'll need to stop down to a very slow ƒ/11 to get moderate sharpness.
As is also usual in lenses in the category, fully stopped-down performance is nothing to write home about. It's not bad at 18mm, but at 35mm and higher, it gets quite soft indeed, and anything above ƒ/32 is best avoided.
The lens does show some signs of chromatic aberration - in particular, magenta-blue fringing in areas of high contrast. It's prominent at the wide and tele ends of the spectrum, and minimized when shooting between 50-70mm.
The smaller size of the APS-C sensor really helps the E 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 EL avoid any significant corner shading. The only time it's really noteworthy is wide open at the widest setting (ƒ/3.5 at 18mm), where we note extreme corners which are just over 1/3EV darker than the center. Otherwise, the results aren't really a problem.
The complex array of lens elements that allows such a vast range of focal lengths in one lens leads to some dramatic results for distortion. When used in the wide angle configuration, the lens provides uniform barrel (''bloat'') distortion up to around 18mm, with dramatic distortion in the corners (1.25%, quite significant). After around 35mm, distortion across the frame remains consistently barrel-distorted, but at a moderately low level (around 0.25%, on average) and the extreme corner distortion turns into the pincushion (''squeeze'') style. The worst pincushion distortion is noted between 100-200mm, where the corners show -0.4% pincushion distortion. Post-processing would be required to correct for these effects.
The Sony E 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 EL is fairly quick to autofocus - the lens takes just under a second to slew through the entire range of focus. Small changes in focus are conducted extremely quickly. The ring will turn all the way around with no stops. When using manual focus as you turn the ring the central section of the LCD displays an enlarged (7X or 14X) view of the image. It makes the camera very easy to use for manual focusing with this lens.
Macro performance is average, with a 0.27x magnification rating and a minimum close-focusing distance of 50 cm (just over 19 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
Perhaps in answer to the previous version of the E-mount 18-200mm lens, the EL version of this superzoom is much smaller in comparison, shaving over 60g off of the weight (460 grams vs 524 grams) and most notably reducing the ''girth'' of the lens - instead of being almost 100mm in diameter, the EL lens is only 68mm in diameter, making it much more at home on a NEX camera body.
The construction of the lens uses Sony's standard satin black finish, combined with a metal lens mount and a plastic filter ring. Seven rounded diaphragm elements make up the aperture, producing nice out-of-focus backgrounds. There only control surface on the lens other than the focus and zoom rings is a zoom lock switch, as all lens functions are controlled via the camera. As well, there is no distance scale, depth-of-field scale or infrared index marker.
The focusing ring is plastic with large ribs, about 1/2'' wide. The ring will rotate forever in either direction with no hard or soft stops, and doing so brings the camera into manual focusing mode, with the 7X or 14X enlargement as previously described. The placement of the ring may require some adjustment for conventional camera users - it's mounted behind the zoom ring, instead of at the end of the lens.
The zoom ring is almost one inch wide, rubber with large raised ribs. The ring is smooth to turn, though perhaps a little stiffer than we'd like, and offers 90 degrees of turning action to run through the available range of focal lengths. There is some significant lens extension as the lens is zoomed in towards 200mm: the lens adds 3'' to its overall length, almost doubling in size. Zoom creep is not a factor with this lens, but Sony has thought to include a zoom locking switch that keeps the lens fixed to the 18mm position.
The lens offers image stabilization, which produced about 3.5 stops of hand-holding steadiness at 18mm, and 2.5 stops of steadiness at 200mm.
The lens ships with the ALC-SH124 lens hood. It's worth noting that the lens is long enough that using an on-board flash in a NEX camera will produce a shadow when the lens is set to wide-angle; using a lens hood will exacerbate this problem. To counter this one must use an external flash.
Sony E 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 OSS ~$900
While the much larger 18-200mm doesn't produce as neat a package as the new EL version, it is slightly sharper, and a little better in the CA department. Distortion is a bit more prominent; corner shading is about the same. Both lenses feature OSS and are about the same price.
Tamron 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di III VC ~$750
We haven't yet tested Tamron's nearly-identical version of the lens, but it is slightly less expensive.
The Sony E 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 EL performs as well as you would expect for a super-zoom lens, perhaps a bit better, but the big advantage with this lens is its comparatively small size when you consider the huge girth of its predecessor. Optically it's about the same, perhaps a slight bit worse in some respects, but Sony is not discontinuing the original 18-200mm. If you wanted a super-zoom lens and thought the original 18-200mm was too big for your NEX camera, this is the lens for you.
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 ƒ/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.
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