Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G – Lens Review

The Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens is Sony’s widest zoom at the time of writing this. Sony advertise the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G as a lens to be used for “dynamic landscapes” and “architectural” photography; I partially disagree and I will cover why in this Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens review.

This review is not complete and I will be adding photographs and whatnot in the near future.

This Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens review might seem somewhat scathing and I hope it is interpreted the right way; I own this lens, will keep this lens, and recommend this lens but I want you to realise what you are buying. I consider it like a tractor. For most tasks, there are better vehicles to get around on, but if you need a tractor, you need a tractor. What the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens does, it does incredibly well.

The are a few reasons I do not recommend the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G for a landscape photographer and I’d argue 12-24mm is quite a niche zoom range in general, outside of interior and architectural photography:

  • Beyond a certain point, the wider a lens is, the shorter a mountain looks. This, in my opinion, kills the grandeur of a landscape photograph with mountains.
  • 35mm is highly useful for landscapes, and therefore having a zoom which cover 24-35mm is more useful and weight efficient.
  • The Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens doesn’t accept filters; you can use filters if you get a weird looking rig e.g. the NiSi Filter system (it is annoying to take on a hike but it’s perfectly acceptable for interior/architectural photography).
  • It’s just not as versatile as other options.

For videographers, my argument changes; having a lightweight lens that works well on a gimbal is useful. Crop mode also turns this into an 18-36mm equivalent lens. It is objectively true that wider lenses make mountains look less tall; however, photography is subjective. Just as you won’t always follow the rule of thirds, there are bound to be situations where 12mm is more suitable for a landscape than 16mm. I believe these situations are rare.

I’m not saying you can’t use the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens for landscapes–you can–but rather it’s not the best option for it. The Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens is better, if you don’t currently have a landscape lens; it’s brighter (has a wider aperture), and it’s altogether a more usable focal range.

First impressions

My first impressions were a mixed bag. The Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens is lightweight at only 565 grams and this is the byproduct of having the sensor close to the lens mount–the back focal distance does not need to be extended past a mirror. I can certainly understand why you’d consider this a good lens for portability and I really noticed its weight upon picking it up. It balances well on something like a Sony a7III, Sony a7rIII or a Sony a9.

Even though it doesn’t have the G Master designation, it feels like a high quality product and its optical qualities are generally good. It’s certainly a sharp lens and the colour rendition is good. At f/4 a pixel peeper can find fault with it, but I typically shoot around the f/8 mark anyway. It sharpens up a lot by f/5.6, so you will have no problems with it for rooms of all sizes.

The front element is very bulbous and at first I didn’t see the lack of a filter as a problem, but unfortunately as time passed I realised how important filters are to me. I have a choice, to either spend more money on the NiSi filter system or put that money towards another lens; I cannot currently afford both. As I love hiking and landscape photography (I’m not very good at landscape photography), I chose to buy the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G master lens. The more serious you are with interior photography, I think you will find the filter problem less of a problem because you can simply invest in the NiSi filter system.

Extended use

After extended use with my Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens, I realise I am not going to give it up. That 12-16mm range makes a huge difference for shots:

  • Small bathrooms look bigger
  • I can correct vertical distortion
  • Software tilt and shift effects

The biggest benefit to 12mm, I believe, is software tilt and shift. You can take a shot deliberately at an angle and then correct the verticals in Adobe Photoshop. In doing so, you lose some of the resolution but this really isn’t a problem. If you’re not 100% sure about a shot, you can also zoom out a bit and then crop it at home. I know that isn’t how a purist would take a photograph but it’s a nice option.

In theory you could do some of this with primes but it’s annoying switching lenses a bunch of times. The AF/MF button is incredibly useful too, as you can get the focus roughly correct and then quickly switch to manual. You can do this in camera, but it’s still nice free up camera buttons for other tasks.

What if I already own the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens

Lens Filter Weight Lens Filter Weight Total Weight
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master 82 680 Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2.0 52mm 320g 1000g
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master 82 680 Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 67mm 614g 1294g
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master 82 680 Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 67mm 452g 1132g
Sony 12-24mm f/4 G Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master 82mm 886g 1451g
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master 82 680 Sony 85mm f/1.4 G master 77m 820g 1500g
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master 82 680 Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master 82mm 886g 1566g
Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master 82 680 Sony 135mm f/1.8 G Master 82mm 950g 1630g

If you’re a landscape photographer and you already own the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G master lens, I still recommend getting the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens:

  • You won’t always be carrying the same two lens combinations.
  • If you’ve got one lens in your hand and won’t be switching for a while i.e. you don’t want to access your backpack, they’re both very versatile together.
  • You might find yourself taking an 85mm lens with your wide angle.
  • A CPL, 10 stop ND filter, etc. might be important to you.
  • You might decide to bring a 100-400mm and that will work better with the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G master lens.

Theoretically, the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens perfectly aligns with the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens, but in practice I don’t believe that is the case.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Good Sharpness
  • Comfortable to hold
  • AF/MF button
  • Enough plastic that if you do use it for landscapes, your fingers won’t stick to the metal
  • High quality materials and doesn’t feel cheap even though it’s not a solid metal construction
  • Good colour rendition
  • The 12-16mm range is great for software tilt and shift

Cons

  • No filter thread
  • Poor flaring

The Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens is a lens I need in my bag, but I don’t necessarily want it in my bag unless I’m doing something very specific. Its optical qualities are good and it has only ever let me down when the sun/flash was at an annoying angle–lens flair.

The Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lenses weight makes packing it a breeze and lowers the risk of incurring baggage charges. It is just one lens but once you add in the lighter weight camera, the lighter lenses, etc. it is a huge benefit.

I’d really like a filter thread but I can understand the difficulties Sony would have implementing one. Killing surface reflection required investing in a NiSI filter system, but for now I get by with the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G master lens in shots where surface reflection is problematic.

In my opinion, the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens is a better buy in general, unless you are an interior or architectural photographer.  In which case, that 12-16mm is an incredibly important focal length. 12-16mm is a hard range to imagine too; it might not seem like a big range but at that focal length, 12 as a percentage of 16 is a bigger field of view difference than 22-26mm for example.

It’s incredibly useful for small rooms and I think if you already own a 16-35mm lens, it’s a nice addition for creative/unique/niche shots. I wholeheartedly recommend the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens with the caveat you know what you’re buying it for.

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