Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II SAL18552
Lab Test Results
August 19, 2013
by Andrew Alexander
Sony has gone with a 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 as a standard kit lens since 2009, making it analogous to other camera manufacturers. This new version of the lens was announced in February 2013 and is now the standard kit lens to the A58 and A65 camera bodies.
The 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II was designed to fit only the APS-C sensor, and will show distinct vignetting if used on a Sony full-frame dSLR camera. Accordingly the lens produces an effective field of view of 27-83mm. The lens features a variable aperture, whose maximum size decreases as the focal length is extended:
A circular-shaped lens hood is available for the 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II, but is not included. The lens is available in a variety of camera kit combinations, or separately for approximately $220.
Sony hasn't made any substantive changes under the hood, so unsurprisingly, there aren't any substantive changes in performance from the previous version of this lens.
Wide open at 18mm and ƒ/3.5, the lens shows a generous area of sharpness reaching almost across the entire frame. The previous version of the lens (the "I" version, as opposed to the subject "II" version) had some issues on the left side at 24mm and 28mm which we do not see now - except now, we note some issues at 35mm instead on the right side. And as before, it's adequate at 55mm, but not great.
Stopping down by a stop shows marginal improvement across all focal lengths, but for maximal sharpness you'll need to stop down twice: optimal sharpness is found at 24mm at ƒ/8. Between 24mm - 35mm, it's sharp all the way to ƒ/11, where diffraction limiting begins to set in. Happily, the "II" version of the lens corrects some of the optical flaws we found in the mid-range of the lens, but all of this could be dependent upon the sample that you end up with.
Fully-stopped down performance isn't great, but isn't as awful as we've seen on other lenses - best at 18mm, where the smallest available aperture is ƒ/22, and poor at 55mm at ƒ/36.
While a bit high at 18mm, chromatic aberration is on the whole quite well-tamed, especially at 28mm and longer. The results are fairly uniform from aperture to aperture, with perhaps some advantage to stopping down, especially at the 18mm mark.
Corner shading is significant only at 18mm and 24mm; at other focal lengths, there is no appreciable light falloff. The corners are darkest at 18mm and ƒ/3.5, where we note corners that are 2/3 EV darker than the center. At 24mm and ƒ/4, the differential is just a bit lower than a half-stop. At any other setting than 18mm, corner shading falls below the quarter-stop differential; at 18mm, stopping down to ƒ/5.6 and greater will still show corners that are a third-of-a-stop darker than the center.
Distortion results for this lens are nicely predictable: highly barrelled at wide-angle, and as the lens is zoomed out towards 55mm, distortion decreases until it is negligible at 55mm. Distortion is fairly high at 18mm (+1.1%) in the corners, and +0.5% throughout the rest of the image. If you want to keep your straight lines straight, shoot at 55mm.
With Sony's SAM technology, the autofocus on the 18-55mm is quick and quiet, focusing from infinity to closest-focus in about one second. Shorter focus changes happen quite quickly. It's worth noting that the front element does turn during autofocus operations, making life just that little bit more challenging for filter users.
Macro performance isn't bad for this lens, at 0.34x magnification. Minimum close-focusing distance is just 25 cm (just over nine inches).
Build Quality and Handling
Other than some slight cosmetic changes and an updated internal shade for the rear element to reduce flare and ghosting, the "II" version of the lens is almost identical in look and performance to the "I" version of the lens. The emphasis on this particular lens is on economy, with an all-plastic construction. The finish is nice to look at - a smooth semi-gloss black. Both the body mount and the 55mm filter threads are plastic, and accordingly the weight of the lens is quite low, only 223 grams (just over 7 ounces). There is only one switch, which enables or disables autofocus; there are no other perks such as a distance scale or depth-of-field scale, though the lens does feature curved diaphragm blades to improve bokeh appearance.
The zoom ring is the larger of the two, rubber with a raised ribbed texture, about 3/4-inch wide. The ring takes about 80 degrees to turn through its zoom range, and the lens changes its length throughout; its shortest length is at 35mm, where the front element is basically flush to the body. At 18mm and 55mm, the front element is extended by about a half-inch. There's a good resistance on the zoom ring, making it easy to turn but not so easy that it would be subject to zoom creep.
The focusing ring will not win points with manual focus users. It is composed of smooth rubber, just 3/16-inch wide, and provides only 45 degrees of turning radius. The focusing range is bounded on either end with a hard stop. The short focusing throw undoubtedly speeds autofocus performance, but making small adjustments with manual focus is quite difficult. The lens is built with autofocus in mind.
A lens hood (model ALC-SH108) is available separately for the 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DT. The hood is the circular type, and reverses onto the front of the lens for easy storage.
Sony 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DT SAM ~$200
The previous version of this lens: the new 18-55mm is pretty much the same lens, with some slight technical differences. Optically, it performs about the same.
Sony 18-70mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 DT ~$200
While the new kit lens doesn't reach 70mm, the new 18-55mm is superior to the 18-70mm with regard to sharpness, resistance to chromatic aberration and corner shading, such that the improved image performance won't make you pine for the extra 20mm of reach.
Sigma 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 DC Macro ~$350
Sigma offers the 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 in the Sony mount, offering a wider, longer, and faster lens option than the Sony 18-55mm. The Sigma is slightly sharper, about the same with CA and distortion; corner shading is a bit more distinctive, particularly at 17mm.
Tamron 17-50mm ƒ/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical IF SP AF ~$450
Tamron's 17-50mm ƒ/2.8 is justifiably popular, offering a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture in a kit-lens range of focus lengths. And it's sharp at ƒ/2.8, sharper than the Sony when matched in the same focal length and aperture; CA performance and corner shading are quite low. Distortion is a bit of a mixed bag, perhaps a bit less predictable than the Sony, but otherwise, the Tamron is the stronger performer.
For a kit lens, the Sony performs quite well - fairly sharp wide open at 18mm, reaching its best performance when stopped down to ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/8. As kit lenses go it's fairly standard.
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 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II SAL18552
Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II SAL18552 User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Chris Munden Bauer (4 reviews)Superb image quality and very neat and compactRather poor and cheap plastic construction, but no worse than others brands
The old 18-55 SAM kit lens was a very good performer, I tested this Mk 2 on a A37 and its even better with new SD glass and reduced flare problems. The image quality is superb, and colours that only Sony seem to get right. No supplied lens hood but its recommended you get a round screw in one that is quite shallow for the wide end so you don't get any vignetting.reviewed October 15th, 2013
The construction is as expected from a kit lens but its no worse than other manufacturers.
It has a plastic lens mount but that's hardly a problem considering how light the lens is. Don't lose sleep over that aspect. No lens if perfect but this gets good from F/4. Yes it exhibits all the usual problems that cheap zooms have but in this case they are quite minor problems and its not really any worse than more expensive lenses in the Sony line up.
Probably one of the best kit lenses optically of any manufacturer. Well done Sony.