Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II lens review

Sony's new wide angle zoom is an excellent finale for its second-gen of holy trinity lenses

Sony A7C II camera with Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II lens
(Image: © Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Digital Camera World Verdict

The release of Sony's latest 16-35 GM II lens marks the culmination of their second-generation holy trinity lens series, and it certainly lives up to expectations as the grand finale. This lens delivers exceptional image quality across the entire frame, boasting remarkable sharpness. Notable enhancements have been implemented in the corners, effectively reducing distortion and vignetting. In a notable achievement, the lens is also more compact and lighter compared to Sony's previous 16-35mm G Master model.Nonetheless, this lens comes with a considerable price tag, attributed to the prestigious G Master branding, which commands a premium over third-party lenses that arguably provide similar image and construction quality.

Pros

  • +

    Excellent image quality

  • +

    Lighter and more compact than first gen

  • +

    Great build quality and weather sealed

  • +

    Balanced center of gravity

Cons

  • -

    Pricey

  • -

    Strong competition from third-party lenses

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Building on the momentum initiated by the Sony FE 24-70mm F/2.8 GM II in April 2022 and followed by the Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM OSS II in late 2021, Sony has now reworked its trio of pro zoom lenses to make the most of Sony’s latest sensors and those ever-increasing megapixels.

The trio of lenses casually referred to as the "holy trinity" of lenses, are the three zoom champs that any well-rounded pro photographer should have in their arsenal. These lenses offer wide f/2.8 apertures, are built for professional workloads, and with focal lengths from a wide 16mm to a telephoto 200mm, you've got everything covered, from landscapes, portraits, wildlife, and sports, with no need to keep swapping lenses constantly.

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

The lens comes in at around $100/£100 more expensive than the previous Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, which isn’t a huge bump, but does sting when this lens is already expensive to begin with. There are other cheaper lenses from third parties like Sigma and Tamron, that don’t quite meet the same focal length as the Sony lens but can be had for significantly cheaper.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: Specifications

Full-frame compatible: Yes
Effective focal length: 16-35mm (24-52.5mm APS-C)
Image stabilizer: No
Autofocus: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.28m
Manual focus override: Yes
Focus hold switch: Yes
Internal zoom/focus: No/Yes
Filter size: 82mm
Weather seals: Yes
Supplied accessories: Hood, soft case
Length: 111.5 mm
Weight: 547g

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: Key Features

The Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II is Sony's most compact G-Master zoom lens yet, measuring 111.5mm in length and weighing 547g. It's notably smaller and lighter than its predecessor, cutting down on length by 10.1mm and weight by 133g. When considering all three lenses in the series, they collectively weigh 759g less than the first generation, coincidentally matching the Sony A1 camera's weight.

Despite its size, the lens maintains its sturdy build with dust and moisture resistance, fluorine coatings, and an updated lens hood design. It offers manual aperture selection, two focus hold buttons, and remains balanced during focal length changes, saving the hassle of gimbal recalibration.

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Optically, it features 15 elements in 12 groups, including various specialized elements and floating focus. Sony claims it delivers enhanced corner resolution, reduced aberrations, and a closer 0.22m working distance. Focus is improved with four XD focusing motors, enabling up to 30fps with autofocus, 4k120p recording, and advanced focus breathing suppression.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: Build & Handling

The most remarkable thing about the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II lens is how much Sony has managed to save on the size and weight of this lens. Wide angle zoom lenses are renowned for being hefty pieces of glass, and while this lens still isn't exactly pocket-sized, it is noticeably lighter and smaller than the previous version. 

The lens has a focus hold button on the side alongside a AF/MF switch. (Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

The lens follows the design of other Sony G master lenses closely, with a solid plastic design, rubberized manual focus and zoom rings, as well as a manual aperture ring should you prefer to set your aperture that way. The aperture can be locked with a switch and also switched between smooth or clicked for quiet video recording. Finally, the lens has two focus hold buttons, and it comes packaged with a detachable lens hood and a carry case.

You can lock the aperture ring using this switch. (Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

The lens is interestingly most compact at its top 35mm focal length, although the barrel does not extend very far between the two pillars of its quite limited focal length, so remains a compact length throughout shooting. The zoom ring is smooth to turn, if I was being incredibly nitpicky then I'd say it was a little too loose and too easily turned by accident. The manual focus ring is again smooth in turning and offers a little more resistance so I found I could do very small focus shifts easily without overshooting.

The aperture ring can be clicked or 'de-clicked' using this switch if you need to change aperture silently. (Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: Performance

Performance is absolutely excellent when it comes to stills. This lens is very sharp, the most impressive change over the first generation is to the corners of the image which are much improved. Distortion and vignetting are also very minimal which is impressive given that this is not only a wide angle zoom but also has gotten even more compact. Focus is incredibly quick especially when used in conjunction with subject recognition autofocus. I'm testing the lens alongside the new Sony A7C II. The camera/lens locked onto targets instantly and in near silence.

Above: comparing the focal length of the lens, with the same image taken at 16mm and 35mm.

Video performance is equally as impressive. The lens works perfectly alongside the latest Sony cameras' latest subject recognition and tracking features, focusing swiftly and silently as the camera follows moving subjects. Focus breathing is nicely controlled throughout the zoom range and it was not distracting in the footage.

However, I am not sure if this is worth the upgrade for any users of the original lens, as the gen-one lens is still an incredibly capable lens, and this second generation is a significant financial cost for marginal improvements. If you shoot a lot of video, then the improvements might be more worthwhile for professionals and serious enthusiasts.

Above: showing the close-up range of the lens as well as the sharpness and detail it is able to capture with the new Sony A7C II camera.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: Sample Gallery

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II: Verdict

The latest Sony 16-35 GM II marks the completion of Sony's second generation of holy trinity lenses, and as the final act, it certainly doesn't disappoint. The lens offers spectacular image quality across the board with outstanding sharpness, with improvements made to the corners, as well as minimal distortion and vignetting. The lens is also much smaller and lighter than Sony's previous version of the 16-35mm G Master. 

However, this lens does not come cheaply, with that G Master branding commanding a hearty premium over third-party lenses that offer arguably the same image and build quality. But if you care about buying Sony glass to match your camera, then you can't get a better wide angle Sony zoom lens than this. 

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Read more: find more of our top picks for the best Sony lenses in our guide.

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