Sony FE 12-24mm Review | Ultra Wide Angle Lens for Sony a7 & a9

by alessandro_carpentiero

Sony FE 12-24mm F4 Review | Ultra Wide Angle Lens for Sony a7 & a9

When I first switched to Sony I had one major complaint: there was no ultra-wide angle zoom lens for the system.
Luckily I didn’t have to wait for long for something special to be released: the Sony FE 12-24mm F4!

I’ve put together a pretty in-depth video review that you can watch above (or by clicking here) still, you should also keep on reading, as here you’ll find some additional details, more sample pictures, and the 100% crops without any compression.

Without further ado, let’s get started with the Sony FE 12-24mm Review!

Weight & Dimensions

What surprised me the most about this lens, besides of course its ultra-wide Field of View (FOV), it is how light it is. To be precise, it weighs just 1.24 lb (565 g), which makes it the lightest ultra-wide angle lens of its category.

To let you better understand how light it is, just consider that the Sigma 12-24mm F4 Art weights 2.53 lb (1151 g).
That’s double than the Sony, without mentioning that in order to use the Sigma 12-24mm on a Sony you’d also need the MC-11 adapter, but that’s another story.

The dimensions are well contained, in fact, the lens measures 3-1/2″ x 4-5/8″ (87 x 117.4 mm),  which makes it just a bit bigger than the Sony 16-35mm F4.

Professional lenses are usually pretty heavy and bulky, due to the complex glasses system they have inside, so you might think that Sony gave up on quality to make it more portable. This is gladly not the case, and you’ll see why in the following paragraphs.

Build Quality

The Sony FE 12-24mm F4 is nicely built and feels solid, even though its main body is made out of polycarbonate.
I personally prefer aluminum lenses, as they feel more professional and resistant to me, and I do expect premium materials when paying a premium price.

In any case, polycarbonate is a high-quality plastic, and I’m sure that Sony engineers decided to use it over aluminum to keep the lens light, which probably was a good choice if we consider that it is specifically made for mirrorless cameras.

For this exact reason I’ve found this lens very comfortable to use, and it perfectly pairs with my a7rII.

This is something that I highly value, as I think there should always be a good balance between the camera and the lens you’re using (except obviously if you’re using extreme lenses such as a 400mm f/2.8 or similar), as it’ll make the shooting experience more enjoyable and comfortable.

Oh, and if you often shoot outside in the elements, you’ll appreciate that the lens is dust and moisture-resistant (even though this is not guaranteed to be 100%).

Features

The lens looks fairly simple from the outside while providing all the essential controls.

Integrated Lens Hood

This is something to be expected with such lens otherwise, it would pick up an unwanted flare from every direction.
The lens hood also helps to protect the front glass element (which is spherical and protrudes quite a lot) from scratches.

What about filters?

On the other hand, it makes it more complicated and expensive to mount filters on the lens, as there’s no filter thread.

So, if you want to use ND, GND or Polarizers on this lens, you will have to get the specifically designed NiSi Filters Holder, which will allow you to mount 150mm filters.

Definitely, something to double think about if you have already invested in a 100mm kit as I did.

Zoom & Focus Ring

Being a zoom lens, it obviously has a zoom ring as well as a focus ring.
Nothing to note here, except that I would have liked a grippier focus ring; the one in my unit is a tiny bit too loose for my taste.

AF/MF Switch & Focus Hold Button

As we can find in other G and GM lenses (such as the 85mm f/1.8) on the side of the body we have the AF/MF switch and a programmable button, which is by default set to hold the focus.

I appreciate having such easy-access and immediate controls, as you don’t always have the time to dig into the menus when on location.

Missing Features

  • Optical Image Stabilization (OIS):
    You’ll have to solely rely on the in-body stabilization (available from the a7II series and the a6500) because this lens doesn’t have a dedicated stabilization system. I can definitely live without having IS on such a wide focal range, plus adding such system would have definitely added quite some weight to it.
  • Focus Distance Scale:
    The focus distance scale is not present; this is something common for mirrorless lenses, as you can see the focus distance directly on the back screen; still is something that I would like to have for practicality.
    I wish it would have an OLED display for this exact purpose, such as the one available on the new Zeiss Batis lenses lineup:

Will these features be available on the GM version? We’ll see.

Let’s now see what this lens is capable of!

Real-Life Performances

Let’s get this out of the way: the 12-24mm is an EXTREME lens.

I do believe you need a certain degree of experience in order to use it properly otherwise, you’ll end up using it when not appropriate, just as I did with fisheye lenses at the beginning of my photography career. 

In fact, Ultra-Wide angle lenses need appropriate subjects to express their true potential, so that’s why I decided to conduct my field test in New York City.
Tight spaces, massive skyscrapers, and busy streets: it looks like the City That Never Sleeps is somehow extreme as well, isn’t it?

Field Test in New York City!

This has been my first trip to New York City, a destination that has been at the very top of my bucket list for quite some time.
In a few weeks I’ll be releasing on my YouTube channel the “Travel Photography” videos filmed during those days, so you’ll be able to see all that I’ve done and especially photographed.
For now, let’s focus on the pictures that I’ve taken there with the Sony 12-24mm F4 G lens!
The camera used for all the picture is the Sony a7RII and all the images, except if stated otherwise, are processed with Lightroom & Photoshop CC 2018.

Manhattan from the Empire State Building 

12mm | f/8 | 1/125″ | ISO 400
Besides getting an idea of how incredibly huge Manhattan is, this is a clear example of how much you can capture at 12mm. The field of view is truly incredible.
I would have definitely liked to capture the same view with the city lights on, but it’s forbidden to use tripods from the Empire State Building Terrace.

Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink

12mm | f/16 | 1/6″ | ISO 50
Talking about tall buildings, this is the Rockefeller Center!
After visiting the 70th floor terrace at 8:00 AM (where I’ve shot with the Sony 16-35mm, because I wanted to use ND Filters), I came down to have a coffee at the bar you see on the right, and while sipping it I figured that the ice skating rink would have been a great subject for some ultra-wide angle shot, and ta-dah!
Obviously, if you don’t keep this lens perfectly parallel to the ground you’ll have a distorted perspective, but you can use this to your advantage for creating some dramatic and unique results, just as I did above.

Grand Central Terminal

12mm | f/9 | 2,5″ | ISO 100
I’ve seen Grand Central Terminal so many times in movies and series that I just couldn’t miss the chance to capture its beautiful interiors.
This, on the contrary of the previous shot, is an example where maintaining the vertical lines of the architecture is really important. I had to shoot tilting the camera up, otherwise I couldn’t have included enough ceiling, so what you see here is the resulting crop after the perspective correction. Still, it’s a really wide shot, so this shows another great advantage of using such an ultra-wide angle lens, especially if you pair it with a really high-resolution camera such the Sony a7RII.

The Oculus

12mm | f/16 | 1,6″ | ISO 100
This is my favorite piece of architecture in New York City.
Seriously, how beautiful is it?
It also happened to be the best location from where to show you how the 12mm focal length can really make a difference, as it let me capture all the majestic structure with a single shot.
To let you better understand the difference from a more “standard” wide angle lens, I’ve also taken a shot at 16mm.
You can play with the slider below and see the difference by yourself (those are RAW files).

That’s a very noticeable difference, isn’t it?

Field of View (FOV)

This is probably why you are considering getting this lens, and if super-wide views are your thing, then you are going to love it.
At 12mm the field of view is a massive 122°, until a more regular 84° at 24mm.

Sunburst & Flare

This kind of lens is also great for playing with the sunburst effect when shooting directly at the sun or at some light sources at dusk.
The diaphragm is made by 7 blades, and it renders a very good sunburst.

The flare is nicely handled and I didn’t notice any loss of contrast, even though I’ve noticed the presence of “rainbow artifacts”, as you can see in this 100% RAW crop of the bottom right part of the picture above:

 

Sharpness

Wide angle lenses usually struggle with sharpness, especially at the edges, as it’s a quite difficult area to represent when capturing a very wide field of view.
Let’s see how the Sony 12-24mm F4 behaves!

At f/4 it is surprisingly sharp at the center. The edges are a bit soft but definitely usable and I find it to be a great result for such an extreme lens.
At f/5.6 the situation improves, and that’s actually where you’ll find the best overall sharpness.
After that, the sharpness decreases a little bit, but it is more than good until f/11. Past that point, you’ll start to introduce quite some diffraction, so go beyond f/11 just if really needed.

You can find in the gallery below (click to load it) the 100% RAW crops of the center, taken at 12mm:

While here you’ll find the 100% RAW crops of the edges:

These are really good results, which make this lens suitable for professional use.

At 14mm the results are pretty similar, while at 18mm you will find the best performance throughout the whole frame.
Finally at 24mm, as you would expect from this kind of zoom lens, the quality drops a tad, but it is still more than good, making this lens usable at every focal length.

Autofocus

The autofocus is silent and reliable, which makes it also a good lens for shooting videos; the inner-focus mechanism is driven by the well known Sony’s Direct Drive SSM (DDSSM).
For calm shootings on a tripod though, I always prefer relying on the MF and calculate the exact hyperfocal distance.

Minimum Focus Distance

Why would you need to focus close to a subject with such a wide-angle lens?
I personally really like doing this, because it offers a new perspective and moves away from the more common 35mm or 50mm looks.

While I was at the 9/11 Memorial Site for example, I wanted to photograph one of the white roses positioned on it, while still showing the surrounding area and the buildings.
Thanks to the minimum focus distance of 0.92 ft (0.28 m), I was able to get this shot:

Here’s a 100% RAW crop of the rose: that’s sharp!

Only lenses with a great optical quality can produce such results on the super-dense sensor of the Sony a7RII (the camera used for all this test).

Distortions

Besides sharpness, another challenge for ultra-wide angle lenses is to handle distortions.

All the following analysis has been conducted with SOOC (straight out of camera) RAW files. Do note that Sony cameras, as well as other manufacturers’, apply a certain degree of correction to the raw files when it comes to distortions.

Radial Distortion

Between 12mm and 16mm, the lens has a noticeable (and easy to correct) barrel distortion, while from 18mm to 24mm it switches to a pincushion distortion.

There is a certain amount of stretching at the extreme edges, especially when at 12mm. This is to be expected, but in general, the Sony 12-24mm handles the radial distortion very well.

Chromatic Aberration

I haven’t notice any chromatic aberration when evaluating all the shots at 100%; definitely a great result!

Vignetting

At 12mm vignetting is noticeable, especially when wide open (1.8EV of light falloff). Things improve when stopping down the lens, with 1.2EV of light falloff at f/11.

At 12mm you get the most vignetting, while it will decrease when zooming in.

Lens Profile Correction

All the above distortions can be easily corrected with two clicks in Lightroom, ticking the “Enable Profile Corrections” and “Remove Chromatic Aberration” in the “Lens Corrections” module.

 

The lens profile correction does a good job with the perspective distortion, but I feel it exaggerates the vignetting correction. In fact, leaving the amount in Lightroom at “100” will make your shot look unnatural (as you can see in the example above), so I recommend you to dial the slider down somewhere around a value of “50”.

The Wrap-Up

As I’ve previously mentioned this is a really extreme lens, which needs some experienced to be used correctly.
If you still don’t own a wide-angle lens I would personally suggest you go for the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4, as it is a more balanced and versatile lens which you will end up using more frequently.
While if you know for sure that ultra-wide shots are your thing, don’t look further and get this lens.
You’ll love it.
The price tag of $1,698.00 makes it a fairly expensive lens, but I think it’s a fair price considering what it offers.

I feel that Sony’s plan to dominate the photography market is going towards the right direction:
It all started with the development of incredible cameras (the a7 family), and it’s now getting to its completion with the launch of a variety of lenses aimed to answer to the professional’s needs.

The Sony 12-24mm F4 G is THE ultra-wide angle lens for the Sony FE system.

 

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10 comments

Irina 20 January 2018 - 12:07

Nicely made article! Thanks Alessandro!over that tool for seeing the difference, so convenient
Keep on releasing great stuff!

Reply
alessandro_carpentiero 21 January 2018 - 20:03

Thank you so much Irina!
Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed this review 🙂 Stay tuned for more!

Reply
Mohamed Nanabhai 19 February 2018 - 09:10

Good Job Buddy, Very rare to find So Honest Reviews these days. Keep it up.

Reply
alessandro_carpentiero 19 February 2018 - 12:27

Thanks a lot for your kind words Mohamed, very glad to hear you’ve enjoyed this review 🙂
Have a good one!

Reply
Scott Edwards 9 April 2018 - 23:10

Thank you very much, Alessandro… Very helpful to read! The debate in my mind (12-24 or 16-35) rages on… as I’m picking up some interior/interior design and realtor work atop my portrait work. There’s also a secondary debate – scoping out the Sigma 12-24 2.8 that is out/coming out/adaptable for Sony E mount…

Reply
alessandro_carpentiero 20 April 2018 - 19:03

Hey Scott,

thank you for commenting!

Pardon my delay but I’m traveling extensively lately 🙂
I totally relate to your debate, and there’s actually not an absolute answer.

As you might have seen from my website, besides Travel Photography I also do Architectural, and I can tell you I’d never use the 12-24mm for that as it’s definitely too extreme for the purpose. Surely it’d give you some great perspectives, but they’d be highly exaggerated. That might be good for Real Estate work, but you can’t deliver such images to an interior designer.
In my personal opinion, you’d be better off with the 16-35mm and I’d also recommend you pick up the Samyang/Rokinon 24mm Tilt-Shift lens. That’s definitely a must-have lens for interior/archi work 😉

Good luck and thanks again for stopping by!

Best,

Alessandro

Reply
Federico 22 April 2018 - 07:11

Thanks Alessandro for the excellent review! It really is an excellent lens.
But I have a big doubt, (it does not matter if you did not analyze it yet), between this sony and the venus laowa 12mm f2.8 for interiors and architecture, what do you recommend?
Regards!

Reply
alessandro_carpentiero 22 April 2018 - 08:02

Hey Federico,

thank you for your comment! I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed this review 🙂

Regarding your question, I did not try the Laowa 12mm. One of my friends has the Canon version, and he confirmed me the good quality of the lens.

In your case, you’d like to use it for interiors/architecture so I can definitely suggest you the 12-24mm between the two. Having just 12mm doesn’t really give you much of a choice in terms of composition, while the 12-24mm has a pretty interesting focal range which allows you to obtain different results.

I’d recommend the Laowa more for some astrophotography work or something very specific. You could surely use it for archi/interiors, but you’d definitely have to bring an extra lens to cover the other focal lengths.

As I said in a comment above, also consider the Samyang/Rokinon 24mm Tilt-Shift lens (if you want to do some serious architecture work), or also the Laowa magic shift converter if you will go with the Laowa 🙂

Reply
Federico 30 October 2018 - 09:34

Hi Alessandro,
thank you so much for the review. I’m going to buy this lens for interior/architecture photography but i don’t found a good review about the distortion (mi spiego in italiano: parlo proprio di distorsione da barilotto a 12mm).

Can I work with straight lines at the corner with this lens?

Reply
alessandro_carpentiero 2 November 2018 - 12:20

Hi Federico,
Thanks for your comment, I’m glad to hear you’ve liked the review!
The lens has quite some barrel distortion, but it’s not much visible because Sony cameras have an automatic correction. With that active (by default), the distortion is not that much and in any case it can be fixed in post production. You can find more info about the lens distortion here: https://www.kenrockwell.com/sony/lenses/12-24mm.htm#dist

On the other hand, if you want to have less distortion, I would recommend you the solution I am using:

1) Laowa 12mm lens for Canon
2) Laowa Magic Shift Converter
3) K&F EOS-NEX

1 + 2 —> it becomes a 17mm shift lens
1 + 3 —> you can use it as a regular 12mm on your Sony

I hope this helps 🙂

Ciao!

Reply

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