Sony E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS SEL1855
Lab Test Results
January 15, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
The Sony NEX system was announced in May 2010, with three lenses: the 18-200mm zoom lens and 16mm prime lens, and the subject of this review, the 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.
The 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 was designed for the new Sony ''E'' mount, with the image circle filling only the APS-C sensor size (it would vignette if used with a full-frame camera, and it's not clear if that would even be possible). The lens gives an effective field of view of 27-84mm when mounted on a NEX3 or NEX5.
The 18-55mm isn't a ''constant'' lens, 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 49mm filters, and ships with the AL C SH112 petal-shaped hood. The lens is available as part of a NEX camera kit.
The Sony 18-55mm E-mount lens produces images of average sharpness. Used wide open at wide angle (18mm @ ƒ/3.5), there's a small sweet spot of sharpness in the center, which is quickly surrounded by moderate softness out to the edges. Stopping down offers light improvement, but the best results at this focal length are only obtained at ƒ/5.6 where it's still only somewhat sharp.
Zooming in a bit offers a bit better performance for sharpness - it seems the lens is optimized for the mid-range. Between 24-35mm the lens produces images which are sharper in the corners than what we noted at 18mm. Again, stopping down to ƒ/5.6 offers an improvement, but it doesn't get that much better than what we noted at 18mm - moderately sharp images. Fully zoomed in to 55mm, there's a bit of a spike of corner softness when shot wide-open at ƒ/5.6, which can be tamed by stopping down to ƒ/11.
The lens holds its own when stopped down to an aperture smaller than ƒ/11, with diffraction limiting being apparent but not overly impairing the image sharpness. However when the lens is stopped down to its smallest aperture (ƒ/22-32) at any focal length, the resulting images become quite soft indeed.
Results for chromatic aberration testing were an interesting mixed bag: typical of what you'd see at the wide end for a zoom lens. At 18mm there's some slight CA when used wide open, and getting slightly worse as the lens is stopped down. At 28mm, performance is actually better as the lens is stopped down; at 35mm, maximum CA is off the chart, suggesting a deficiency of the lens at that focal length setting. It's mitigated somewhat by stopping down, and you'll only really notice the CA in the corner areas, in areas of high contrast. At 55mm the lens provides actually quite good tolerance to CA.
It's an interesting picture for light falloff with the 18-55mm E-mount; the only focal length that will produce any corner shading of note is 18mm. At this setting, you find around 1/3 of a stop of shading when the lens is used at ƒ/3.5, or at ƒ/11 or smaller.
The 18-55mm E-mount lens produces some complicated results for distortion; some fairly strong barrel distortion less than 24mm, moving to fairly strong pincushion distortion at 28mm and longer.
The Sony 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 E is fairly quick to autofocus - the lens takes a bit more than 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 above average, with a 0.3x magnification rating and a minimum close-focusing distance of 25 cm (just under 10 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
The Sony 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 E-mount lens is small on its own, but when mounted to the NEX-3 or NEX-5 bodies it actually looks fairly large by comparison. While the lens itself isn't that large or heavy (194g / 6.9 oz), the small size of the NEX bodies puts the weight of the overall combination to the right side of the system - it also pulls it forward, as well. The construction of the lens is very nice - metal focus and zoom rings with metal shell, combined with a metal lens mount and a plastic filter ring. There are no control surfaces on the lens (no switches or buttons) other than the focus rings, as all lens functions are controlled via the camera, as well, there is no distance scale or depth-of-field scale.
The focusing ring is metal, 3/4'' wide, with 1/2'' of that reserved for raised ribs. 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 zoom ring is also metal, about one inch wide with thin raised ribs. The ring is smooth to turn, taking only two fingers to rotate, and offers 90 degrees of turning action to run through the available range of focal lengths. There is some lens extension as the lens is zoomed in towards 55mm, about 3/4''. Zoom creep is not a factor with this lens.
The lens offers image stabilization, for which the results of our testing should be available soon. As well, autofocus is very quiet, making it quiet useful in movie mode.
The lens hood is a petal-shaped, bayonet-mounted design that is 1 1/4 inches long, adding about 1 1/8 inches when attached. The hood will reverse for storage on the lens.
At the time of writing, there's precious little in the way of alternatives for the Sony E mount. An adapter exists to allow you to mount standard alpha lenses, but the only comparable lens would be the regular Sony 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 kit lens, which wouldn't offer as many features as the E-mount version.
Sony E 16mm ƒ/2.8 ~$250
The 16mm pancake lens offers slightly sharper performance in a smaller package, with of course the fixed focal length and lack of image stabilization.
Sony 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DT SAM ~$200
If you were possessed to mount this lens to a NEX body via an adapter, you would note a definite improvement in sharpness; CA is slightly better in some cases, but as bad or worse in others (especially at the wide angle). There's no image stabilization built-in, and you'd lose focusing functionality inherent in the NEX series.
As the kit lens for the NEX series, we don't expect it to be perfect, but the lens has a few objectionable results in our testing of it. The lens could certainly stand to be a bit sharper, and there are some odd results in our CA testing. Corner shading is good, and distortion is about what you would expect, so in the end, it's probably what you would expect for the price, but nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, from a practical point of view, the camera / lens combination is a bit too bulky to be the ''pocket camera'' many might have been expecting, but if you're fine with the idea of carrying the camera in one pocket and the lens in the other, it does make a very portable combination.
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.
Sony E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS SEL1855
Sony E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS SEL1855 User Reviews
7 out of 10 points and recommended by dugong5pm (52 reviews)good finish, small & lightweightso-so performance
a decent kit lens. has a beautiful finish & comes with a hood.reviewed November 11th, 2013 (purchased for $100)
a so-so performer, but it's ok as a kit lens. sits mostly in the drybox though.. almost never used it :-P
7 out of 10 points and recommended by Ocean (21 reviews)solid, good hood, sharp in black versionlarge
i experienced with silver and black Versions - the black ones are by far better - optical (but only with Nex 7) - maybe selected.reviewed December 30th, 2012
it's not very small but I like it a lot more then my new 16-50 mm pancake.
After 18 months it is better then expected and with the new AF from Nex 6 - most pics are now sharp.
Not so good with Nex 5n or Nex 3.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by brugj03 (11 reviews)Very nice aluminium design, versatile also for video and good OSSSoft, mediocre contrast,slow
I got this lense as a kit lens with my body and kept it for video and OSS functionality.reviewed November 4th, 2012 (purchased for $200)
This is my least used nex lens, it`s practical for video shooting but foto`s show the apparent flaws of this nice kit lens.
It`s as slow as any kit so nothing special there.
It`s just not sharp enough to resolve the resolution of the nex 7 or any other nex.
It still makes nice pictures if you are not that critical and print small. The colors are nice and natural. The contrast is just good enough but nothing special.
If you postprocess good results can be had with this lens.
I use it mainly for video because of the excellent OSS which gives a steady picture, also the resolution is not such a problem with video.
As a kit lens it`s better than average and i would recommend it.
It looks and feels sturdy with it`s all aluminium barrel. It also seems a lot better made than most kit lenses.
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Beachrider (22 reviews)Metallic construction, good IQ, useful zoom range, reasonable cost, quiet/small/light, consistent with NEX small-camera motif.Somewhat lower IQ than Alpha version, MF isn't 'direct', not very fast fstop
Nice starter lens for NEX. CDAF functions VASTLY improve after NEX3 firmware 5.0 (different numbers for each NEX). Still not for fast-action photos, though. Good for basic NEX video, too.reviewed April 11th, 2012 (purchased for $160)
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Rover (13 reviews)fast and silent AF, decently sharp, great build qualitypoor (but better than average in class) aperture, somewhat awkward to MF, visible distortion at 18mm
Today even the kit lenses are (mostly) decent performers and this lens is no exception. My wife has it on her NEX-3 but I'm using this camera sometimes as well - enough to make an impression.reviewed December 9th, 2011
The build quality is very good; the only (minor) reasons that prevent me from giving it a "10" are the slightly wobbly plastic inner tube, the slippery metal of the rings that sometimes makes them difficult to turn (esp. when wearing gloves), and lack of distance scale (which, coupled with the fact that manual focusing can only be engaged from the depth of the menus, makes MF rather awkward). The AF is fast, silent and accurate - not something we're used to getting from Sony.
Optical quality is quite fine. Barrel distortion is visible at the wide end and there's some CA. The sharpness is very decent overall, especially stopped down to f/6.3 or thereabouts on the wide end where the lens is insanely sharp. f/3.5-5.6 aperture is nothing to write home about although this lens is better than most here because it maintains the f/4.5 aperture up to about 48 or 50 mm - not bad! To a point this can be offset by the ability of the NEX to go to very high ISO levels.
All in all, a very worthy representative of the kit lens category.