It's a quick assessment but I thought I'd write a hands-on review of the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens I bought a few days ago.

Front door to the pool.

After I bought the little Sony a6000 I upgraded the firmware and then started researching lenses. I really have no intention of making a very deep dive into Sony's E system but I wanted a good, all around, walking around, all terrain lens. Something I could keep on the camera for all the times I'm not shooting old Nikon lenses, or even older Olympus Pen-F lenses, with adapters.

I would have loved to have purchased some exotic Zeiss lens. If I couldn't find an E mount Otus 12-120mm f1.4 zoom I would have enjoyed shooting with the Zeiss 16-70mm just fine. But, like almost everyone else, I do have to operate with some budget constraints. Boy in a private college, property taxes soaring quicker than my income, that sort of thing. So I looked for a good compromise. I remember some basic math from my days in electrical engineering school at UT Austin and I ran the numbers; realized that $600 is less than $1000 by a lot percent, and decided I might be able to be happy with the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. After all, it's a servo zoom and has an extra switch on the side that the Zeiss dream lenses do not. 

My preliminary research pulled up formal lens reviews from the early days of this lens's appearance. I read that the corners (especially at 18mm and thereabouts) were not "critically" sharp and that the lens has some distortion. Imagine that! a 6x zoom with distortion. After I got confused by the melange of conflicting opinions from the professional testers I defaulted to the user reviews on Amazon.com which led me to believe that, while not in the stellar, once-in-a-lifetime, high performance category of lenses, this one made the majority of people who bought it with their own money pretty happy. Four or five star happy. I'm of the opinion that older technical reviews aren't always a good indication of the state-of-the-product as it exists two or three years later. I think conscientious lens makers probably go back and tweak stuff over time; especially based on user reviews. I found that this lens's performance was closer to what I was reading in user reviews and much less odious that what I had been led to believe by the reviewing "savants" of our industry. 

The lens is simple. The only external switch is for a servo zoom. That's a motorized zoom that is also endowed with variable zoom rates; depending on how precisely you can push the button. There is no I.S. on or off switch, no manual/autofocus switch and, of course, no aperture ring. There are two rotating rings near the front of the lens. The one closest to the camera body is the zoom ring, which duplicates the work of the servo toggle (the lens is zoom by wire and focus by wire). The forward ring is the focusing ring. In manual focus and DMF you can grab that ring and control focus. There's not much resistance but I found it easy to get used to after only a couple days of playing. 

The lens is long and gets wider at the front end, culminating in a 72mm filter size. It comes with a fairly big, tulip lens shade. While it looks big the lens is actually quite lightweight and rides around on the camera without making a big deal of its presence. Just be prepared though; the lens is much bigger than the a6000 camera body itself. 

Heading up to the pool from the locker rooms.
Not as much distortion as you might think;
the rock wall is circular....

I'm not going to go into depth in this article with an exacting analysis of the lens's f-stop by f-stop performance. I'm just going to say that I used the wide angle settings and I can blow up the image above and see clearly defined and well reproduced leaves on all the trees (even the ones on the edges). I shot this image at f6.3 and think the vignetting is well under control, the sharpness quite good and the general image quality more than acceptable for my work.

I shot wide open at the wide end and wide open at the telephoto end, and at random settings in between. I notice that, wide open, and with light bouncing around everywhere, the f4.0 aperture can give an overall image that's slightly veiled by overall flare but this is gone by the time you get to one stop down. This means it's probably not the optimum lens for shooting directly into the sun....

When I shoot in Jpeg the lens seems to have no distortion at all. When I shoot raw I see some distortions at the wide angles settings but nothing much worse than I see with the wide angle setting of any other zoom lens from any other maker. My Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 (which I like very much) has much worse distortion at the widest settings....

From the deep end of the pool, an hour before the noon workout on Friday.
So crowded. But I guess the 75 degree weather was keeping people away. 
Fortunately the pool is heated to 80f. 

Some nice things to know if you are considering this lens is the fact that it's all internal focusing and doesn't change lengths as you zoom or focus. The focus is absolutely silent, and, in good light, very fast and accurate. Since there is no distance scale, and the lens resets itself to the wide angle setting if you turn off the camera, you probably won't be using the lens to zone focus in the manual focus setting mode. That's okay with me. I have other lenses sitting around for the times when I want to play street photographer with an "old school" methodology.

The lens seems exactly designed to be a good, basic videography lens; something you might get a lot of use out of on an FS5 or FS7 camera. And, even in a 4K mode, the lens out resolves the format by a factor of a zillion. It should make for crisp video. With very few exceptions I am happy with the images I get out of the lens wide open. That bodes well for its overall performance. 

From the shallow end of the pool. The clear, blue sky can get a bit monotonous during 
long swims. It would be nice if we could get a smattering of puffy white clouds --- at least during 
swim practice ---. You know, just to break up all that infinite blue...

So, this lens is the Sony E counterpart to Nikon's 24-120mmf4.0 and Canon's venerable 25-105mm f4.0. It's not as wide as those two at its widest setting (approx. 27.5 in full-frame speak) but it extends the angle of view out a bit further on the telephoto end to give you the equivalent of a 157.5 mm. Not bad at f4.0. The lens also offers image stabilization but I have no real way of measuring the efficacy of Sony's implementation. It's good but it's not in the Olympus OMD EM5.2 ballpark. Just not. 

This is the workout the coach put up on the board for the Thursday noon workout. 
It was fun. The downward pointing arrows instruct us to "descend" our times 
which means the time elapsed for each repetition needs to be faster....
The secret? Don't go all out on your first 100...

Should you rush out and dump all your other cameras and lenses and buy one of the Sony a6000s and the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens? Well of course not. Just about any camera we shoot with today is pretty spectacular and at least competent to
make images as well. I can't really recommend the camera for video, even though it has an updated video codec, because it doesn't have microphone or headphone jacks. I can't really recommend the camera as a primary shooting camera because it's too small to use comfortably with long, fast, heavy lenses. Just doesn't feel right in that capacity. But --- if you have a full frame Sony, Nikon or Canon system and you're looking for a casual, secondary system then this one is pretty good. I have to apologize in advance for saying this but the sensor is better than the 16 megapixel sensor currently used in most of the m4:3 cameras. But not so much better that some of the other handling issues don't even out the balance.

Where does this leave my Sony combo now? Well, it's a fun system for b-roll video and little personal video projects. The lens works well with the camera. The camera is also fun to mount older, manual focus lenses on. But all in all this camera and lens is a good travel combo for fun, personal work. Especially so if I can resist the urge to "outfit" it with a full system of lenses that duplicate what I already have for the Nikon and Olympus systems. It's an alternative to the RX10ii which gives you a wider lens range but a smaller sensor.  It's the "no brainer" car, coffee and headed to the pool camera. If you can eliminate the desire to make it more than a glorified point and shoot you'll end up with a camera that doesn't require you to make a choice if you are not working for $$$$. 
Just grab it and go. Final point. The 60mm f1.5 Olympus PenF lens looks killer at f2.0 on this camera body. Does that just cancel my whole rationale? Yeah. Oh well, it's not life or death. 

Take away: Good, all around lens for the Sony E system cameras. Maybe a better choice for a kit lens than the collapsible 16-50mm. A nice choice for run and gun video stuff. I would have priced it at $496 but I guess Sony has done the research and knows what they can get away with. I did buy one, after all. 

Below is an assortment of random shots made with the lens and camera I've been writing about. As Ming Thein says, "enjoy!" (click on them. They get bigger. Like those dinosaur sponges that used to come in the little plastic capsules = "just add water.").

Lifeguard cleaning the oak pollen out of my lane.


Robert Hudyma said...

Thanks for your thoughtful review of this "do everything" lens. It was nice to see the warmer weather; there is still some snow on the ground here.

I don't have this lens from Sony, but I do like the 18-55mm kit lens that suits my needs well and the size and weight are both much smaller. Having a power zoom for video is also a big plus for video and that is becoming increasingly important.

You mentioned the Nikon 24-120mm FF lens and despite its distortion at the wide end, and overall bulk it is amazingly versatile for covering events such as conventions and weddings. You can use it for the entire event and don't need to switch lenses. For images with people the distortion is not noticeable. For images that have straight lines it is a disaster.

Gato said...

Good review. Which is to say I mostly agree. This lens -- and the 16-70 -- were the high points of my last venture into the Sony universe. Much as I liked the lenses and the image quality I just could not get comfortable with the NEX bodies -- and I'm not convinced I'd be much happier with with the 6000. So I'm back with Panasonic.

But I'm sure the combo can make some very nice photos. And I bet you're right about this as very competent video lens.

Ray said...

Unlike Gato above, I really like the form factor of the NEX line of cameras. The 18-105 is my current all day, everyday lens and I think you've hit the nail squarely on the head with this review. It's not perfect but it's good enough for my purposes. Any lens that's significantly better is probably attached to a camera that's twice the size and weight of mine and that wouldn't work for me. Love your blog. Keep it up.

James Weekes said...

I got the a6000 due to an alert from Mike Johnston on T.O.P. He suggested trying it with one of the Sigma Art lenses. I already had one of these for micro 4/3 so I ordered the 30mm for the Sony ($199.00!) It worked so nicely that I ordered the 19mm and the 60mm Sigmas too, both that same $199.00. So for $1,100.00 I got a lovely APS-C camera with three really good lenses and a great sensor. These three lenses are light, and fit the a6000 very well, not too nose heavy. May be my travel camera.

Kepano said...

Got this lens with my FS5. Decent, but not very special. You do hit on a point that is a constant problem for me - the lens resets itself when the camera is powered off or when I switch to playback mode to review footage. This is a pain when doing locked down green screen shots. For run-and-gun and on the a6x00 bodies, it would seem to be a good compromise.

Hardison said...

I think the A6000, dollar-for-dollar, is an excellent camera. I use it for everything, (I don't own any other cameras.)

I have been considering the 18-105, and this review helps a lot. Thanks.