Saturday, July 08, 2017

Comparison ~ Sony APS-C mirrorless kit lenses

Since I'm on a roll... let's take a look at how Sony's kit lenses compare, shall we?

Kit lenses are traditionally viewed by the punters as being horrid things to be avoided at all costs.  The "common wisdom" is that a "serious" photographer ditches the kit lens as soon as they can to replace them with more "serious" optics.  Since I have two such kit lenses for my Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras, I thought now would be a good time to look at them more closely.

The first is the original 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS.  I used it for years before I found a beautiful trio of Sigma Art DN lenses.  The lens came with the very first NEX5 that I picked up "reconditioned" off Amazon less than a year after the camera was first introduced.  These days I'm not sure I'd give 50Euro for the lens, that's how bad it's reputation is.

The second is the newer Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS "pancake" optic.  I've not used the lens, but since it offers 16 mm's on the wide end I got to thinking that it might be a good, flexible lens to use when I didn't want to carry the Sigma DNs nor the Sony 16mm f/2.8 SEL.  The optic came as part of a Sony NEX-5T kit I recently picked up for a rather attractive price.  For the lens alone I see them going for around 100Euro, but I'm not sure that's warranted, given that the wonderful Sigma Art DN lenses can be found in mint used condition for around that price.

Comparison setup -

  • Some pages out of a local newspaper taped to the bedroom wall 
  • Sony A6000 set to "A", 100 ISO, 2second delay 
  • Massive Manfrotto tripod 
  • No sharpening applied to the RAW output 
  • 500 pixel sections were taken from the various images and organized below 
Here are the center and edge of the scene comparisons. As you can see, I looked at the lenses zoomed to their widest focal length, 30mm, and then at their longest focal length.  As a control, I added a Sigma 30mm Art DN into the mix. As always, take a look at the following image a full resolution to note the differences between the various focal lengths and apertures.

Sony Kit Lens ComparisonVariousFocalLengths

My observations are as follows.  The Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E is a very fine optic.  It's sharp to the very edges of the frame when shooting the 2D comparison subject.  This is why many times I use it as my comparison control.

By comparison, the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS is just OK when shot wide open.  It's nearly the same OK-ness at the three focal lengths I looked at.  The center sharpens up as the aperture is stopped down.  The edges, however, never really sharpen up with the copy of the lens I have.  In fact, it's pretty bad at 16mm's.  There may be a lot of field curvature at that focal length, so don't write this lens up completely.  Still, my thoughts are that no amount of distortion nor CA corrections will bring back the edges of the field.

The surprise is the Sony 18-50mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS.  I remember reading something on about how bad this lens was on a NEX7 they tried.  Yet, check out the results from copy I have in my hot little hands.  This lens appears to be as good at f/8 as my Sigma 30mm control lens.  Even wide open, this little kit lens appears to hold it's own.  Looking at the comparison images I feel that this kit zoom would make a great f/8 lens.  If you're a critical photographer who simply can not abide slightly soft corners, set the aperture to f/8, float the shutter speed and ISO, and let 'er rip!

There you have it.  Two cheap, unregarded, commonly available Sony APS-C mirrorless kit lenses.  One is just OK.  The other?  Well.  There are no excuse for not being able to make a very fine image with that one.

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