Friday, January 2, 2015

The Review: SELP18105 zoom lens in amateur hands

Sony SELP18105F4 – the review part 1

Update 7.4.2017 Surprisingly for me, the interest in this review is still going strong after two years and will attracted more than  20k visits. Maybe this is due to the continously high percentage of 1670s dud lenses approaching roughly two digit range. Maybe it is because the 18105 so nicely complements the 1018 for a super wide focal range travel zoom kit. Or because it is an affordable, high image quality standard zoom also allowing great video capture? In any case, enjoy the following review :-). I added some minor edits and some few words on video in this post.
Update 6.1.15: Part 2 for pixel peepers separately available  For those who really want to dig the pixels :-)   
Update 9.1.15: Added another detail shot at 74 mm 
Update 8.5.15: There is another comparison with 1670 and 1650 now available
This lens means business :-)

On A6000 with hood
On A6000 without hood


Prehistory 

Regarding zoom lenses, I have been using the SEL1855 extensively on my 5N as well as the SEL1650 and SEL1018 on my A6000. I also tried out the SEL1670 for some time.

The SEL1855 (at least my copy) was visible less sharp and contrasty than my 1650 in the wide region, and not better at the long end. 
Retired unless for high-casuality situations.
Vintage SEL1855


The SEL1650 offers 16mm and is very good in the mid range around 24mm, outmatching the SEL1670 I had. However, vignetting compensation is strong and increases edge noise at high ISO. The lack of a lens hood I compensated by using my hood of the 1855 instead (see other blog entry for how to adapt).  The long end performance is nothing to write home about, especially with the minimum aperture of f5.6, but I usually switched to the great SEL50F18 for that purpose. The big advantages of the inexpensive SEL1650 (even with hood mounted) are the very small size, light weight and the good IQ from 16 to about 35mm if stopped down at least one stop. The SEL1650 however is not for low DOF. It is sharp at the wide end where you generally have large DOF, and the long end has minimum f5.6 and needs further stopping down to improve IQ. One thing to note is that, using RAW and Capture One, you can extend the captured image frame after lens distortion correction to a scene equivalent to 14.9 mm. This can be very handy if you managed to accidentally crop out some part of the scene at the edges.

My current everyday lens.
The most compact and light zoom lens
for Sony's APSC camera series
Turned on, it gets larger....
.... and after adding the lens hood, larger


My current everyday lens.

The SEL1018 offers a lightweight zoom lens with super wide view, coupled with OSS allowing to go stop down even in lower light. The lens is best around f5.6 to f8 and 10-12 mm and still good at the long end of 18mm. Image Quality is great, especially the outside colors this lens delivers are impressive. This zoom lens is outside of the competition except for extending the standard zooms to wider regions. Everyday usage is not it's aim.
The architecture and sky specialist.

So no need for another zoom lens, right?

Well, in my view a standard zoom lens should work for most everyday shooting situations. Lack of low DOF at the long end with most kit lenses as well as the sad lack of longer E-mount native primes around 85 to 100 mm leave a gaping hole in the functionality of the available standard e-mount zooms.

The SEL-1670Z Lens comes to the rescue, adding both a longer tele end (making it an equivalent of a stabilized 24-105mm f5.6 FF lens) as well as providing a constant f4 throughout the zoom range. The lens bears a Zeiss label which is reflected in low optical distortions and a great build quality. Wide-open, it is mostly better than the SEL1650. But stopped down to f8, the differences became so small that in a blind test I created on dpreview, the majority mistook the shots from my 1650 as being the Zeiss ones. 
Product shot from Amazon.de
Furthermore, there are some shortcomings:

Price: Initially launched at 1000 Euros, then coupled with the A6000 at 800 Euros, it can be now had for 800 Euros as single part. This is still a steep price since this is not a FF lens, but might be acceptable if the quality holds up. Used copies are somewhat cheaper, but due to QC (see below) a gamble without return policy.

Image quality: Several initial reviews showed a lack of quality control with a significant probability of decentered lenses. Also, while providing very good IQ at 16mm and good IQ at the long end wide-open, the mid range around 24 mm was only average on mine and Kurt Munger's copies. Then, even stopped down the edges don't get that sharp. 
I have posted a extensive zoom comparison here between the 1650 and 1670 on the A6000 here, as well as more here. To put things into perspective, a comparison to A7-FF might also help. 
QC appears to have picked up with the recent copies. Testing and selecting a good copy out of several is however not possible in every country, and shouldn't be necessary in this price region. I wasn't motivated to try that out yet.
UPDATE 19.4.15: I have recently bought and tested another copy of the SEL1670. Unfortunately, it was again a fail, read more here.

Range: Well, what is there left to complain about a lens offering a nice FF equivalent 24 to 105mm? That the actual 70mm are nice, but not far enough away from the available excellent Sony SEL-50F18, Sony SEL55F18Z Sonnar and Sigma 60mm f2,8 primes, outshining the zoom lens even if they are cropped down to offer the same view. Agreeable a minor thing, but worthy keeping in mind in relation with the SELP18105.

Build: A good lens needs a bigger size, especially if being constant f4. However, at the lower focal end and stopped down, the SEL1650 competes with this lens in terms of IQ, but offers dramatically smaller size, weight and price. Furthermore, the great impression of the Zeiss is somewhat marred when you extend to tele, since then the same plastic inner tube design protrudes out of the metal body as with the SEL1855:
Yes, this is not the SEL1670 but the SEL1855, but no, the SEL1670's tube doesn't look much different extended except obviously being painted black. Google yourself for some pic's.

Enter the SELP18105.

SELP18105F4

Declared as a videographers lens because of the power zoom function, but also labeled as a “G” lens by Sony. Let's go through the main criteria:

Build quality: The lens with the lengthy name Sony SEL-P18105G E PZ 18-105 mm F4 G OSS is larger (11x8 versus 10x9 cm) than the SEL1670 and weighs more (427 versus 308g), too. However, it is a constant length build, meaning that no outside parts extend or move during focus or zoom operation. Great for that shot on a sandy & windy beach. Furthermore, its full metal body looks at least as well built as the Zeiss 1670. In fact, it reminds me of the good ol' Minolta beer can zoom, although is only about half the length and weight. Also keep in mind that with both constant f4 lenses, the camera is no longer a pocketable oversized compact camera on steroids. I personally found the weight and handling not that different from the 1670 and surprisingly light & comfortable for the large diameter of the lens.

Range: It offers a FF equivalent stabilized range of 28 to 155mm f5.6. So you sacrifice some wide range and get more tele range. If you are into lower DOF, this lens allows more of that than the 1670 when you go beyond 70mm.

Image quality: This is no prime lens. But the images are sharp! Nice to actually get low DOF with an e-mount zoom lens. I compared with my FD100/2.8 at f4, and the SELP18105 is sharper, more contrasty and with better color!

To illustrate bokeh and sharpness, a ISO3200 105mm f 4 out-of-camera shot with small spot focus on the eye. 
Of course, the SEL50 would technically beat this shot, but it wouldn't allow the necessary distance from the wild animal :-).

This is ISO3200 100% with an inexpensive zoom lens hand-held wide open! You can see me reflected in eye of the cat.
Keep in mind that to evaluate, download the image since blogger doesn't display properly.
Since ISO3200 is not what most will have in mind as a good starting point for good image quality, I have now added another shot at ISO800, 74 mm f4:
AF with Small Spot Focus on left eye ISO800 74 mm f4 1/125 sec
100 % crop, please download and view locally to assess image quality correctly


Stabilization: Works great. I shot fireworks hand-held and the pictures were fine. I suspect that the large lens barrel actually helps a lot in keeping the lens-body in a calm, relaxed grip during shooting.
This is a 4 Mpx crop (!), ISO500 18mm f4 1/40 handheld -3EV OOC. I took a series of these fireworks and all were instantenously focused using AF-C and not shaken.
AF: I initially had some misses in AF-A during a low contrast snow day, but then I am not sure whether I waited for focus confirmation, I certainly didn't check what & if the camera locked upon. When I took  static scenes, AF was good using AF-A. However, I was really pleasantly surprised shooting fireworks hand-held with AF-C, fixed ISO 500, -3EV, AF-6-field. The camera instantly locked focus time after time, see example above.

Power Zoom operation: Maybe I am in the meantime accustomed to power zoom operation after using the SEL1650 for some time, since every great photographer is supposed to hate it. But using the lens ring (instead of the slider) to change focal length feels actually surprisingly quite natural, if slightly delayed. I also have no issue with the lens atarting at 18mm upon power-up. This allows me to zoom into the scene knowing what is outside of it.

Normal operation and Handling: When powering up the camera, or after sleep, there is a noticeable delay before the screen stops showing a black image. Otherwise, the handling is smooth, the lens rests comfortable in my hands and looks & feels nice. MF with fly-by-wire is same as with other lenses, that is poor compared to a real mechanically-coupled MF lens operation.

Price: The lens can be currently had for below 500 Euros. I got mine from Amazon.DE (SEL-P18105G F4 G OSS) in a fire sale for 410 Euros. I consider this price, in relation to the functionality and the delivered image quality, a similar bargain like the SEL50F18. Both share great image quality, low price, and some drawbacks (in the case of the SEL50 slower AF and more CA when wide-open). Furthermore, like many I am still tempted to go FF in the long run, even after a – for me - sobering time with the A7 (sensor reflections, light leaks through the wobbly mount, kit zoom problems). Investing kilo Euros in expensive lenses for e-mount with a proportional loss in resale value is something to be considered, but not a stopping point with this lens compared to the SEL1670.

Shortcomings of the SELP18105:
Build: If you want to use your camera exclusively as a compact, pocketable system, stick with the SEL1650, use it between 16-35mm, stop down, and be happy. The SEL18105 lens is not pocketable. Neither is the SEL1670. But you can easily afford to keep the SEL1650 on top for those space-restricted situations. And remember, "I'm all about that bass" ....


Image quality: While vignetting and distortion at 18mm is low (and IMHO is almost optional), the in-camera distortion correction around 50mm is visibly not working that well. Sony please provide a lens firmware update! Adobe Camera Raw however removes it fine. Capture One does an even better job by the way. Also, as with the SEL50 and my FD135/2.8, high contrast shots with e.g. glistening chrome edges can have some purple CA when shot wide-open. This however can be removed in Adobe by e.g. reducing violet saturation. Or use the CA slider present in newer versions of LR and Capture One. These are 1 Mpx ISO3200 crops at 100%, so you can see this effect is not really that visible:

ISO3200, OOC, uncorrected
From ACR, purple saturation reduced

Range: After wishing for 16mm during my 1855-days, and using the 16mm with my 1650 quite frequently, it is a step backwards reducing the wide end to 18mm, especially since the 18105 looks more like 19mm after lens compensation. That being said, I still have the 1650 as well as the 1018 if I want to go wider. And currently I am more busy playing around with the longer end and low DOF.

Video: I am not much into video since my kids have grown up. I however did a recent school play using the SEL18105, filming from the side and alternating between full scene and the individual protagonist. Lighting was, as is the usual case for such plays, a bit dim, but the A6000 and SEL18105 did a great job with AF and colors. The lens zoom is nicely controlled with the zoom slider (which I don't use for stills, opting for the zoom ring instead). Had to burn DVDs for the whole class and the teacher.

The Verdict.

One should always take a step back from the pixel peeping stuff and assess what easily visible improvements for your personal photography can be had from potential new equipment. This is not about 100% pixel peeping edge sharpness at all, but instead what your wife sees from across the room glancing at your 27” monitor at full picture view. This sobering feedback is a good guideline to avoid G.A.S. induced shopping. For example, the SEL50F18 gives you beautiful low DOF for portraits & details, coupled with OSS to allow sharp AF'd night time street photography. The Sel1018 gets you that incredible superwide views that you got your first hint of with the SEL1650 at 16mm.

Now, the SEL18105 gets you into low DOF territority with an well-affordable all-round, everyday zoom lens, coupled with a real tele range (replacing your MF legacy primes), but without the usual loss in image quality associated with the quite heavy super zooms (18-200). It also works at night time, but of course can't replace a stabilized prime in that application.

The SEL18105 has replaced the 1650 as my everyday lens. However, I still use the 1650 for space-limited trips or when I simply have a small camera onhand.  

Due to (too) many internet opinions, I was expecting to find this a cumbersome, heavy and optically inferior zoom lens. Quite opposite, I found it to be a large but light, well-operating and sharp lens giving me back a lot of fun and creative freedom in shooting.

A useful, good lens.

-------------------------

In further parts of this review, I did my usual lens comparison test series at different apertures and focal lengths, so us pixel peepers can have REAL fun :-). 
There is also a quick summary comparing essential performance differences of Sony's standard zooms in another post. If you have some time, you can also browse through my travel posts, since many pictures in those have been shot alternately with the SEL18105 and the SEL1018.

If this review was helpful or not to you, feel free to comment. Also, if you feel inclined to spend your hard-earned money on Amazon, it would be nice if you'd go there through one of those product links above to Amazon.de or here:  Sony SEL-P18105G E PZ 18-105 mm F4 G OSS
For you visitors from the US, you might consider Amazon.com. The lens is located there, too: Sony SELP18105G E PZ 18-105mm F4 G OSS, currently at 598$.

Some example shots follow here, scaled to 50% (8Mpx). Download and use your own viewer instead of your webbrowser for best image quality:


20 comments:

  1. Can you tell me how you got your Selp 1650 lens hood? Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Chris, the link is actually above in the text. See this post for more information:
    http://luxorphotoart.blogspot.de/2014/05/tipp-diy-lens-hood-for-sel1650pz.html
    In effect I used the hood of my SEL1855, a stepup filter ring from 40.5 to 49, some stronger tape and that was it. Very solid.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Many thanks for a really helpful, practical, beautifully illustrated and informative review, and for the helpful reminder that pixel peeping is of little value in the real world.
    Don't make us wait too long for Part 2!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Humpy,
    thanks for your kind words. Part 2 is already out, see top line of this review or use the following link:
    http://luxorphotoart.blogspot.de/2015/01/review-selp18105-part-2-real-pixel.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very nice review. Just wanted to compare the G with the Zeiss. If the Zeiss was only $100 more than the G, would you still reach the same conclusion? I want to know how both would compare optically when the price difference is immaterial.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Raghav, thanks! I was in that situation when I bought the 1670 at 500 something. First it was decentered, after repair that was fixed but I found that the benefits of the 1670 in terms of size and weight were not significant to me since I still have and use the compact champion 1650. The 16mm at the low end are nice, but the 1650 goes to less than 15mm when using RAW, I also have the 1018, too. And the sides are really visibly not that great with the 1670.
    Most important to me however is the fun aspect: Playing with low DOF with the 18105, and having 105 mm at your fingertips just allows you to get some special shots, whereas 70mm/f4 just doesn't doe it for me. I also have the SEL50/1.8 by the way.
    Optically the 1670 is better below 30 mm, the 18105 above.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Chris,
    thanks a lot for this review. I own 18-105 and was considering the 16-70 for everyday walks, thanks to you I have saved 750 EURO ! Will wait for the next generation of 16 - 70 now ! Good light ! :-)
    Jarda

    ReplyDelete
  8. Really a great review...!
    In terms of lensprofile, I opened a support ticket with CaptureOne. I asked them to add better profiles for this lens. I saw your Sony Community forum post and thought that you might also want to open a ticket. Guess the more tickets are open, the better it is :)

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for your feedback! Great idea to contact Capture One, I have more hope that they will respond on this request as with Adobe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,

      C1 replied, that they put it on their feature reuquest list. Lets hope that there are some more people who issued a ticket.

      regards

      Delete
  10. Thanks for your article ...

    I ask you, you know where I could buy online the lens hood sony, which mounts on your camera?
    In Italy I can not find!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you mean the hood used for the SEL1650, see the separate articel I posted. It is the original Sony lens hood for the SEL1855, for which replacements are available for example on Amazon.

      Delete
  11. Appreciate your presentation and all the information. I would like to ask if you have any comments on the FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS. I am about to buy the Sony 6300 and want a walk-around lens and a long zoom which I would leave in a camera bag, in a locked storage area in my car to use when needed. I have checked the photos with my old camera and took a lot of photos at 300 - 400. It was a bridge camera and took great sunlight shots and good flash closeup group shots but not good with low light or at higher ISO, and those are the reasons I want to switch. Hope you can help me assess this lens. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great review! I have a question:

    I have this lens but I am looking for a lens that would be best for landscape photography. Should I consider SEL 1018 or should I stick with what I have and save my money. I have a Sony NEX-6. I greatly appreciate your help.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Mohsen, as you may have noticed in my travel posts, I use the combination of 1018 and 18105 and enjoy it very much. I bought the 1018 used at 600 Euros, maybe an option for you since the lens is quite expensive. This combination covers just about all occassions in landscape photography.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you very much for sharing this series of posts! These helped me to decide between the 18-105mm and the 16-70mm.
    You did exactly the kind of testing I was interested ind :-)
    So, after much reading I decided that I'm going for the 18-105mm + the 10-18mm.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks Massimiliano! The 18105 and 1018 is a great combination and my combo on each travelling tour.

    ReplyDelete