This is a review of the Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM ultra-wide angle lens for full frame Sony cameras. In this review, pro photographer Ian Plant offers his assessment of this remarkable lens, and he asks the question: is this the best ultra-wide zoom ever made?
I recently got my hands on Sony's FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens for full frame Sony cameras. I tested it for two weeks while photographing in Badlands National Park of South Dakota.
What this review covers and what it doesn't
I don't have the equipment to perform MTF tests or anything like that. What I will provide in this review is my professional opinion about how this lens performs compared to other lenses I have used. Also, I will discuss how this lens can be used to its fullest advantage. Finally, I will discuss what makes this lens different from other lenses, and how it can expand your artistic opportunities. I'm mostly focused on the creative aspects of using this lens, but I will offer my technical observations to give you a more complete picture.
To learn more, watch the video summarizing my thoughts about the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens.
This is a completely independent review without direct compensation from the manufacturer. Affiliate revenue, however, helps support this site. We are committed to 100% transparency regarding financial relationships with equipment providers and brand partners, and we strive at all times to ensure that reviews are independent, honest, and free of bias.
Ultra-wide field of view
This is an ultra-wide angle lens, with an angle of view of 122° at 12mm. That's really wide, but it's not the widest ultra-wide perspective you can find. For example, Canon's excellent 11-24mm f/4 lens is a hair wider, and there are a few specialty third-party lenses that are even wider, such as the Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens. But, 12mm is pretty close to the widest you can go on a full frame camera with a rectilinear (not a fisheye) lens. Note that although you can use this lens on a crop-sensor camera, it won't be as wide after you apply the crop factor (besides, this lens is designed for full frame, so it is overkill for a crop-sensor camera).
The ultra-wide angle of view offered by the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens is perfect for landscape photography when you want to include a dynamic sky along with a compelling leading foreground.
G Master lens
The Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens is one of Sony's "G Master" lenses. The "G" essentially means it is one of Sony's "pro" level lenses. "G Master" means it is one of Sony's very best pro lenses. Simply put, G Master lenses have Sony's most impressive and state-of-the-art technology built into them. You end up paying more, but if quality is important to you, then you can't go wrong with a Sony G Master lens.
Build quality and size
This Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens weighs in at 1.86 lbs (847 g). It's a bit smaller and lighter in weight than the Canon 11-24mm lens, but still on the large/heavy side for a wide-angle lens (and it is bigger and heavier than the Sony 12-24mm f/4 lens). The lens also has a "popeye" design with a protruding front element. This makes filter use difficult unless you purchase an expensive and large oversized filter holder. You also have to be extra careful to avoid damaging the front element of the lens, and the protruding design makes it difficult to avoid light hitting the glass which can cause flare (but the lens has great flare resistance, see more below).
This lens is big, but not quite as big and heavy as some other ultra-wide zoom lenses.
Why is this lens so big? Well, a bulging lens design is necessary for high-quality ultra-wide lenses, as you need a lot of extra glass to expand image coverage enough to ensure quality results across the entire image frame even when shooting wide open. That fast f/2.8 aperture exacerbates the problem. How much quality are you getting as a result?
I don't need to run an MTF test to know that this lens is SHARP. And yes, this level of sharpness requires all capital letters. This lens is impressive even when used wide-open at f/2.8 from center to the extreme corners, and it just gets better when you stop down. I'd say that sharpness is optimized across the entire image frame by f/8. This lens also controls chromatic aberration extremely well; I saw virtually no evidence of chromatic aberration in any of the photos I made. Honestly, the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens is hands-down the sharpest wide-angle lens I have ever used (and that includes both zooms and primes). From all accounts, it is also sharper than the Sony 12-24mm f/4 lens, which is the less expensive cousin of the f/2.8 lens.
The Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens is impressively sharp from center all the way to the extreme edges and corners of the image frame.
Since I primarily shoot irregular landscape features, lens distortion isn't typically something I notice in my images, so when I tested the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, any distortion issues weren't apparent to me. Other reviewers doing controlled objective tests have noted that barrel distortion is very well controlled with this lens.
You'll notice, however, a huge amount of perspective distortion when using this lens, especially at 12mm. An example of perspective distortion is the "leaning in" effect you get with trees or buildings when you are down low and pointing the camera up; another example is getting low and close to a foreground object to make it appear larger and more prominent relative to the background. Perspective distortion is not inherent to the lens design; rather, it results from how you use the lens. Perspective distortion occurs with all lenses—it results from the fact that objects appear progressively smaller the farther away they are from the viewer—and its effect is particularly exaggerated with wide-angle lenses. So, be prepared for a lot of perspective distortion when using this lens. For me, perspective distortion is part of the point of using a wide-angle lens, and I frequently intentionally incorporate it into my compositions.
I didn't get a chance to shoot too many sunstars while testing this lens, but what I did shoot, I loved. From an objective point of view, the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens has excellent flare resistance, so when shooting into the sun I wasn't seeing much or any lens flare. This makes including a sunstar so much easier. But, sunstar quality is also subjective: different types of lenses create different looking sunstars, and some people prefer one type of sunstar over another. The Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens has an aperture with 9 rounded diaphragm blades, producing an 18-point sunstar. Some people hate a sunstar with that many points, some people are indifferent, and some people (like me) prefer more points for their sunstars. I love the sunstars produced by this lens, and while an 18-point star may not be for everyone, the flare resistance of this lens means you can get effective sunstars more often than with other lenses.
I'm a big fan of the sunstars produced by the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, and the flare resistance of this lens is superb.
How best to use the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens
This lens excels at extreme perspective, near-far juxtapositions, as well as working in small interior spaces. I love it for sweeping grand landscapes as well, especially when I have great clouds at sunrise or sunset, as the wide angle of view allows me to include lots of sky. Ultra-wide lenses are tricky to learn how to use, as they make everything look a lot smaller than they really are, and many people using ultra-wides for the first time have difficulty wrapping their brains around how they need to change their approach to photography to fully optimize the potential of the lens. And that usually (although not always) requires getting really close to an important foreground element of your scene. And I mean REALLY CLOSE; sometimes, I am only a few feet—or inches—away from my foreground subject. This makes the foreground larger and more prominent in the composition, resulting in a mind-bending perspective shift for the viewer (this is known as "forced perspective").
When using the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, I often have to get very close to my foreground to make it prominent within the final composition.
The Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens isn't cheap, coming in at just under $3000. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative and don't mind sacrificing a little bit of image quality, consider then less expensive Sony 12-24mm f/4 lens.
The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens is an engineering marvel, to say the least. It is easily the best wide-angle lens I have ever used. It's ultra-wide perspective, excellent image quality, and superb flare resistance make it a perfect lens for a variety of photography applications. For discerning landscape photographers, I think it should be in the bag of every Sony shooter.
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About the author
Whether hanging over the rim of an active volcano, braving the elements to photograph critically-endangered species, or trekking deep into the wilderness to places most people will never see, world-renowned professional photographer Ian Plant travels the globe seeking out amazing places and subjects in his never-ending quest to capture the beauty of our world with his camera. Known for his inspiring images and single-minded dedication to creating the perfect photo, Ian has reached hundreds of thousands of people around the world in his mission to inspire and educate others in the art of photography. Ian is a frequent contributor to many leading photo magazines, the author of numerous books and instructional videos, and founder of Photo Masters.