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Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM review

Sony's latest ultra wide-angle lens is an expensive masterpiece

Sony FE 12-24mm f2.8
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

It's certainly expensive, and third party alternatives might offer better value, but this ultra wide-angle zoom lens is sublime for landscape, architecture and astro photographers. It's pin-sharp throughout its aperture and focal ranges, while offering quick autofocus and near distortion-free images at 12mm. Add its incredible close-focusing and quiet operation, and you have a wide-angle zoom that largely justifies its considerable premium for pro snappers.

For

  • Little to no distortion
  • Excellent sharpness
  • Close minimum focusing distance
  • Rear filter slot

Against

  • Bulbous front element will requires 150mm filters
  • Heavier than Sony A7R IV body

Two minute review

After the release of the hugely impressive Sony FE 20mm f/1.8, few would have expected Sony to have yet another lens-based ace up its sleeve, but with the launch of the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM, that's exactly what we've got.

It certainly isn't cheap, but this is an ultra-wide professional G Master lens with a large f/2.8 maximum aperture, so it does sit within the pricing structure of the G Master range. Not to mention, the excellent handling of lens distortion at 12mm alone arguably justifies its price.

Taking up position at the wide-angle end of Sony’s coveted G Master line-up of lenses featuring a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, the 12-24mm is aimed at landscape, architecture, interior, astro and sports photographers, and helps to take the lens range from 12mm up to 200mm. At the time of writing, the 12-24mm is also the world’s widest zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture.

The ultra wide-angle 12mm focal length and is extremely useful for exaggerating and accentuating foreground interest in landscape photography, as well as capturing wide-angle interior shots in both large and small buildings. It’s these two areas where the lens truly excels, but the performance and features make it a versatile lens worthy of serious consideration for your kit bag.

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM release date and price

Sony says that the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM will be available to buy from early August 2020.

The ultra wide-angle zoom has a suggested retail price of £2,900 – we're awaiting confirmation of pricing for the US and Australia, but a rough conversion of that price is $3,600 / AU$5,200.

That is pretty pricey when you consider that third-party alternatives like the Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art cost less than half of this, but the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM's combination of build quality, optics and image quality go some way to justifying its premium, as we'll discover in this review.

Sony FE 12-24mm f2.8

(Image credit: Future)

Features

  • Fast f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • 9-blade circular aperture
  • Ultra-wide 12-24mm focal range

Before delving into the aspects of the lens that you can’t see, and the specs that drive its high performance, the basics of the lens itself are impressive features that are well worth highlighting.

The 12-24mm focal range is incredibly wide and, when coupled with the large f/2.8 maximum aperture, makes this lens a highly attractive proposition from the outset. But there’s a lot more to be excited about.

The nine-blade circular bokeh is pleasing when shooting wide open, and thanks to a 28cm minimum focusing distance with a maximum magnification of 0.14x, you can shoot close-up wide-angle images with impressive focus fall-off to isolate the subject. 

Another useful feature is that the zoom occurs internally, so the lens remains the same length at all times. This isn't the case with the Sony 16-35mmm f/2.8 GM, which has an external zoom that sees the lens change length with the focal length.

Sony FE 12-24mm f2.8

(Image credit: Future)

Build and handling

  • Dust and moisture resistant
  • Compact size
  • Rear filter mount 

As with all G Master lenses, the 12-24mm is dust and moisture resistant, which is often high on the list of priorities for outdoor photographers. 

Lenses of this speed and focal range are traditionally quite large, so at 137x97.6mm and 847g, it’s highly portable and gains another big tick for outdoor photographers for whom size and weight is always an important consideration. That said, it’s heavier than the Sony A7R IV body, which weighs 655g with a memory card and battery installed. Still, the weight balance between body and lens make it a comfortable lens to shoot with handheld.

With such a wide-angle lens offering an f/2.8 maximum aperture, the front element is bulbous and features a permanent lens hood to help control flare, so you’ll need to use large 150mm filters (ND grads) once the connector for the lens has been created by filter manufacturers. This size filter is much more hassle than 100mm filters. 

However, on the lens mount, there’s a sheet-type filter holder for NDs and color correction filters, so they don’t have to be mounted in a filter holder on the front of the lens. A cutting template is supplied so you can create your own filters for rear mounting, although at some point it’s likely that some filter manufacturers or even Sony itself will produce sheet filters specifically for the lens.

With the 12-24mm, you need to be shooting with a full-frame E-mount camera such as the Sony Alpha A9 II or Sony A7R IV to take full advantage of what it has to offer; you could use the lens with an APS-C E-mount camera such as the Sony A6600, but this combination would have an equivalent focal range of 24-48mm, which would negate the whole point of investing in an ultra wide-angle lens of this kind. 

Sony FE 12-24mm f2.8

(Image credit: Future)

Performance and image quality

  • Minimal distortion at 12mm
  • Fast and quiet autofocus
  • Four XD linear motors

With any lens boasting the features of the 12-24mm f/2.8, not to mention its professional price tag, expectations will always be high, but this lens certainly doesn’t disappoint. 

In terms of performance, autofocus is driven by four XD linear motors for fast and near-silent AF that provides fast subject tracking and shooting speeds of up to 20fps using Sony’s A9 cameras. Focusing is internal, like the zoom, so the front element remains fixed at all times.

Image 1 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

This shot takes advantage of the 28cm minimum focusing distance. (Image credit: Future)
Image 2 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

Distortion present in this image is due to the camera angle and not the lens itself. (Image credit: Future)
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Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

The 12mm focal length opens up a wide range of creative options. (Image credit: Future)
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Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

There's impressive depth-of-field even at f2.8. (Image credit: Future)
Image 5 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

Shooting at f/11 produces some of the sharpest results possible with the lens. (Image credit: Future)
Image 6 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

Shooting wide means you have to take care when composing images to avoid converging verticals. (Image credit: Future)
Image 7 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

The field of view that's possible with this lens is incredible. (Image credit: Future)
Image 8 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

At the 24mm end, it's easy to frame shots up perfectly. (Image credit: Future)
Image 9 of 9

Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8

There's excellent edge-to-edge sharpness even at f/5.6. (Image credit: Future)

In terms of image quality, be prepared to be blown away. Distortion is minimal at 12mm and only actually visible when shooting subjects like a wall close up. But with slightly wider scenes you’d be hard-pressed to identify any distortion whatsoever. 

The combination of 17 lens elements in 14 groups has worked nothing short of lens-based miracles. Plus, the Nano AR Coating II is effective in reducing problems such as flare and reflections that can be a challenge with wide-angle lenses featuring a bulbous front element.

Perhaps the most important question here is how sharp is the lens? And it’s safe to say that performance throughout the entire aperture and focal range is excellent. At f/2.8 the image is sharp with noticeable vignetting that disappears completely at f/4. 

The sweet spot of the lens sits between f/8 and f/11, and it’s only at f/22 where diffraction and a loss of sharpness become noticeable. But this is in a test environment – in the field, f/22 is more than usable and will provide great image quality despite not being as sharp as f/16.

Sony FE 12-24mm f2.8

(Image credit: Future)

Verdict

It’s not often a lens comes along that warrants such high praise, but the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM is sublime. Excellent image quality throughout the aperture range up to f/16, fast and quiet autofocus, virtually no distortion at 12mm and incredibly close focusing to name just a few points make this lens a pleasure to shoot with. 

Landscape, architecture, interior, astro and sports photographers shooting with Sony FE cameras will undoubtedly be impressed by what’s possible with the lens, and how it can be used to expand their creative visions. Of course, there’s already the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4, but the new f/2.8 GM takes image quality, features and versatility to a new level.

The lens is lightweight in the hand and balances well with full-frame E-mount camera bodies, but at 847g it’s not the lightest ultra wide-angle lens available in the Sony stable. Still, this is a small price to pay for the excellent image quality at 12mm coupled with impressive sharpness levels even at f/2.8, which is partly a reason for the weight of the lens – the larger the aperture, the larger the front element of wide-angle lenses needs to be.

This 12-24mm certainly isn’t cheap and its price tag will make this lens prohibitive for many amateur photographers. But this is an ultra-wide professional G Master lens with a large f/2.8 maximum aperture, so it does sits comfortably within the pricing structure of other Sony G Master lenses. And if you can justify the cost, you certainly won't be disappointed with the results.