The Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens ($1,999.99 direct) is the top-end standard angle zoom lens for Alpha cameras. It can be used with full-frame and APS-C bodies alike, and is impeccably sharp throughout its zoom range—but that performance comes at a price. If you’re an Alpha shooter and require the best zoom you can get, this is the lens for you, but there are lesser priced alternatives available. We haven’t yet tested them, but Sigma has a 24-70mm f/2.8 that is priced at $1,400, and Sony offers a budget 28-75mm f/2.8 for $899.99—but neither bear the legendary Carl Zeiss name.
The lens is fairly squat, measuring 4.4 by 3.25 inches (HD), but hefty at just under 2.2 pounds and uses 77mm filters. It’s by no means a macro lens, but its 13.4-inch close focus distance is steady throughout the zoom range, even at 70mm. A lens hood is included, and the front element doesn’t rotate when you zoom or focus, so you can use a polarizing filter, but the lens does extend in length as you zoom. Nikon’s similar AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED weighs about the same, but it juts out further from the front the of the camera—it’s 5.2 by 3.3 inches in size.
I used Imatest to measure the sharpness that the lens was able to capture when paired with the full-frame Alpha 99. The lens is better than the 1,800 lines per picture height required to call a photo sharp throughout its zoom range, even at the maximum f/2.8 aperture. At 24mm it notches 2,209 lines, but does soften to 1,806 lines at 50mm and 1,800 lines at 70mm. Stopping down increases sharpness across the board, with the best performance coming at f/8—better than 2,300 lines throughout the range. There is some distortion—1.3 percent barrel distortion at its widest, and 1.3 percent pincushion at the longest zoom setting, which can make straight lines appear to curve in and out, respectively. This can be corrected via software for those instances when it is distracting.
You can’t argue with the performance that the Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens delivers, even if its price is out of your reach. You can use it at its maximum aperture and capture sharp images. While heavy, the lens isn’t as long as its Nikon counterpart—nor is its price out of line when compared to it, or Canon’s top-end 24-70mm optic. If your budget can’t handle a $2,000 lens, Sony also offers a $900 24-75mm f/2.8 optic, and Sigma markets a $1,400 24-70mm f/2.8 in the Alpha mount.
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