SEL1224G Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens Review
by Darren Soh
Twenty years ago, when I started photography as an intern at the local English broadsheet back in 1997, the two ultra-wide-angle zooms to get were the Canon EF 20–35 mm 2.8 L and the Nikkor AFD 20–35 mm 2.8 IF. Used on film cameras, the two lenses were amazing alternatives to lugging around individual 20 mm, 24 mm, 28 mm, and 35 mm lenses. I remember the Nikon 20–35 mm as a personal favorite which I used on a variety of Nikon cameras like the F4, FM2, and F90X.
Fast-forward 20 years, and the market is saturated with a myriad of ultra-wide-angle zooms. Nikon went straight from a 17–35 mm 2.8 to a 14–24 mm 2.8, skipping the 16–35 mm 2.8 range entirely, and Canon is currently on its third iteration of the 16–35 mm 2.8 zoom lens. In addition, everyone has their own versions of the 16–35 mm f4 zooms and Sony is no exception, having launched a Zeiss-branded SEL1635Z F4 zoom in late 2014. As you can tell, full-frame wide-angle zoom lenses are big business. I’ve been using the Sony FE 16–35 mm lens since it was launched, and it is my go-to ultra-wide-angle lens when I don’t have to use tilt-shift lenses.
The old saying goes that you don’t miss what you’ve never had, so for the longest time I lived with 16 mm being the widest we could nicely go without compromising on quality. Sigma used to make a 12–24 mm f4.5–5.6 zoom lens that is best left unmentioned because you could not stop the corners down to a sharp enough aperture before diffraction set in. Things changed when Canon launched their EF 11–24 mm f4 L lens in early 2015, and when you live in a city-state where buildings are super close to each other and do architectural photography for a living, you take notice of such lenses.
To cut a long story short, I sold a kidney (no, I’m kidding, but have you seen the price tag on this thing?!) and bought an EF 11–24 mm to use with a Metabones adapter on my α7rII cameras. It wasn’t the best of marriages, with the 1.18 kg lens weighing nearly double what the α7rII body did (625 g) and almost always threatening to shear the Metabones adapter off the camera. It was an ergonomic nightmare and very, very scary to use, but it got the job done. The lens was sharp and whatever little distortion it had could easily be fixed with the ACR lens profile if you shot in RAW. It also really helped me make images that I could previously only dream about.
When Sony announced the SEL1224G F4 Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens and SEL1635GM F2.8 G Master Wide Angle Zoom Lens in May, I literally shed tears of joy because I knew that, given its price point (nearly USD 1,000 cheaper than the 11–24 mm here in Singapore), if the image quality of the lens was even close to the Canon’s, it would be a winner for sure. For one thing, the lens is smaller, half the weight of the Canon (565 g vs. 1.18 kg), and cheaper, and has a native FE mount. Since I first tried it in early June, I have completely fallen in love with the lens and also discovered something I did not expect from the lens—so long as the corners are in focus, it is still sharp wide open at the largest aperture of f4.
ILCE-7RM2 | FE 12-24mm F4 G | 1/13 sec | f/4,0 | ISO 800
The above image was made handheld at 1/13 of a second with the camera pointing straight upward. The IBIS of the α7R II ensured that I could get a sharp image (even though there is motion blur on one of the bubble elevators) and there are really no blur corners to complain about. In addition, there is absolutely no distortion correction applied to this image. Vignetting is also very, very well-controlled even wide open (as you can see for all the images I will subsequently be posting that were made at f4).
ILCE-7RM2 | FE 12-24mm F4 G | 2,5 sec | f/4,0 | ISO 100
The above image was ALSO made wide open at f4 and 12 mm, and if you look carefully, you will notice the distortion present in the lens. Currently, Adobe has not yet released profiles for the SEL1224G F4 (I suspect they are waiting to release it together with the SEL1635GM F2.8 G Master), so all images I’m posting that were edited from RAW files have no distortion correction applied. However, I’m confident once the profiles become available that it will no longer be an issue. (EDIT: The Adobe ACR Profile for the SEL1224G F4 has since been made available, but for clarity, all images used in this review remain uncorrected and converted straight from RAW files without correction.) Speaking of sharpness, take a look at the following crops.
ILCE-7RM2 | FE 12-24mm F4 G | 2,5 sec | f/4,0 | ISO 100
I could go on and on about how sharp the lens is even at f4, but instead, I will move on to its other features. Because the lens was launched together with the SEL1635GM lens, I felt that Sony had to manage the expectations of photographers trying both out, because the G Master would be so much sharper (and more expensive) and perhaps they undersold the SEL1224G lens a little. For example, the two lenses produce very, very different sunstars but I wouldn’t say one is superior over the other. The SEL1635GM has very pointy and sharp stars, but the SEL1224G’s isn’t ugly by any measure.
ILCE-7RM2 | FE 12-24mm F4 G | 1/500 sec | f/11 | ISO 100
Ergonomically, I could not be happier with the lens and camera combo of the SEL1224G lens and the α7R II. It just feels incredibly balanced and LIGHT. There’s no need to use an adapter and focusing is incredibly quick, even in low-light situations.
ILCE-7RM2 | FE 12-24mm F4 G | 0,5 sec | f/8 | ISO 400
I would say that the lens is sharp enough for landscape and architecture work, and fast enough for candid and street photography where required. Of course, at f4, you’re not going to get much if any background separation from the focused and out-of-focus areas, but hey, there’s another lens for that.
ILCE-7RM2 | FE 12-24mm F4 G | 1/160 sec | f/11 | ISO 100