Did you know that the original Sony 16-35 GM was released more than 6 years ago? That’s right: SIX years! It was originally announced May 17, 2017. Either time flies or I am getting old. Probably both. Nevertheless it’s great to see Sony upgrading all the older lens designs. Earlier it was the 70-200 GM II and the 24-70 GM II (which are both excellent new lenses) and now it’s finally time for the new 16-35 GM II. And the question is: Is this is something to be excited about or is it just a ‘standard’ upgrade with the usual ‘lighter & smaller’ ? In this article I’ll tell you all about this new lens as I already have it with me for about 2 months.
Full Disclaimer: I am a Sony Europe Ambassador and Sony has given me this lens to try out a few weeks before its release date.
As usual, I’ll tell you everything that I think you should know about this lens regarding landscape and cityscape photography, because that’s mainly what I am using this lens for.
If you don't want to read and prefer to watch a video, please watch video of this article on my YouTube channel:
‘The Standard Stuff’
The funny thing is, usually when Sony sends me these new lenses they give me a short briefing with the standard things about sharpness, new focus motors, size and weight and all that stuff. It’s usually myself that finds out the ‘fun’ stuff. After all, I’m the one that’s using it in the field. And that’s what I am here to tell you about.
Let’s get the ‘standard’ stuff out of the way first! Yes, this lens is (of course) smaller than the Mark I version. Here you can see them side by side.
The GM II is a bit smaller and more portable than the first version. The new 16-35 GM II extends (on the wide end) a tiny bit. So the zoom is not internal. It’s basically the same as the old version, but the extension is much less! I’d say it extends around 1 cm, or maybe a bit less. This would perfectly fine to put on a gimbal and you would not have to readjust it.
The weight of the lens comes in at 547 grams, versus 680 grams of the first version. That’s about a 130 grams difference, so about 25% lighter. Not too bad, but I can hear you think: “well what’s 130 grams in my bag anyway?” I think the difference here is the biggest when you compare the whole Mark 1 trinity set vs the whole Mark II set, so let’s take a look at that now that the full trinity of mark II lenses is complete:
The Sony GM II Trinity weighs:
16-35 GM II : 547 g
24-70 GM II: 695 g
70-200 GM II : 1045 g
Total: 2287 g
Versus the Sony GM Mark I trinity:
16-35 GM : 680 g
24-70 GM : 886 g
70-200 GM : 1480 g
Total: 3046 g
So the total difference is 3046 g - 2287 g = 759 g.
That’s definitely much lighter, plus the GM II lenses are more portable, and simply better. But I have to say, my favourite Sony wide angle lens is (or was?) the Sony 12-24 GM. Here’s a side by side comparison of the new 16-35 GM II, the old 16-35 and the 12-24 GM on the right:
For me, the 12-24 GM was quite compact for its specifications. But now with the newer and lighter wide angles coming out, the choice makes it more difficult. The 12-24 GM weighs 847 grams, vs the 547 of the GM II. That’s quite a lot heavier. Not to mention having to carry around a bigger (and heavier) filter system. I guess us Sony users just have to deal with this luxury. Because if we look at the competition, for example: the Canon 15-35 RF f/2.8 (which is a great lens) This weighs 840 grams alone. That’s almost the same as the 12-24 GM.
After looking at the size and weight, let’s take a look at the other design properties:
As you may have already seen: this lens has an aperture ring which a switch to make it clickless. That’s the same as all the new GM II lenses. It also has 2 buttons on it (instead of 1 on the old version).
Next, it has 4 XD Linear Focus Motors. That basically means the lens focuses extremely fast with no noise.
And the last important thing to mention is that the filter thread is 82mm. That’s the same as all the GM II lenses, which make it super convenient to use a filter system over your trinity range.
Note that I use the Nisi V7 square filter system for my trinity GM II lenses. I usually carry only a 8 and 10 stop ND filter, 1 graduated ND and a CPL. That covers basically all my needs in the field.
This gives you an overview of the design and functions of this lens. Now let’s get to the fun stuff: photographing with it!
In The Field
Located in the Netherlands and not having the possibility to go far (my little baby was just born upon testing this lens), of course my first venture was to go out to a nearby windmill to capture a sunrise. Loving my wide angle lenses, there are always a few things I want to try out first. Sharpness is (or used to be) a thing, but with the new GM II lenses I care about it less and less. The reason is simple: These lenses are always so sharp that you hardly see a difference on different apertures, even on corners. Still, I’ll so some tests later on in this article.
The size and weight upgrade are of course already great, but like I mentioned at the top of this article: Is there anything else we can get excited about? The short answer is yes! And I immediately found this out on my first shoot at the local windmill:
Focus breathing is the slight zoom that happens when you change your focus. This lens has basically NO focus breathing. That’s right. Almost none. For me that’s huge (and for video people it will be as well). People that know my shooting style know that I’d like to use focus stacking on my wide angle shots. For this, I go really close to my foreground and use the focus stacking technique to get everything in the photo sharp, from front to back. This way I can create really immersive photos that almost look 3D. I was already happy that Sony implemented automated focus bracketing on their A7RV (you still have to combine the shots in software). The focus breathing makes you lose some resolution (and mm) when it’s too much. For reference, while the 12-24 GM is my favourite wide angle lens, it does have a significant amount of focus breathing, especially at 12mm. This makes you lose a few mm when doing focus stacking with that lens. The new 16-35 GM II has almost NONE. So it’s incredible to do focus stacking.
Sony A7RV - Sony 16-35 GM II at 16mm - f/11 (focus stacked) - 1/13s - ISO 200 ( tripod)
Here’s an example where I use a lot of flowers at the foreground and use focus stacking to get both the foreground and background very sharp. I was expecting some fog this morning, but instead got a nice sky. Couldn’t complain too much about that :)
Next, I waited a bit for the sun to come up to capture the sunstar. Something else I find important in a wide angle lens. I like to incorporate the sun into my photos (I know some of you don’t, just personal preference). Here’s a photo of when the sun just came up:
The sun here is squeezed in between clouds and the edge of a tree for a maximum effect of the sunstar, shot at closed down aperture of f/22. In my opinion the sunstar looks very nice (but you have to decide for yourself). The streaks are nice and sharp, and don’t look strange.
Here’s another example of the sunstar from another shoot at f/14 at 16mm.
Satisfied with my shoot and first tests, I drove back home. But on my way back I saw a field of flowers next to the road with some Sunflowers and other wildflowers, probably left there for insects. I decided to put the 16-35 GM II to the test for some close ups here and discovered by next exciting feature:
The Minimum Focus Distance
What’s very cool about this lens is minimum focus distance: It’s only 22 cm. That’s much closer than the original GM, which has a minimum focus distance of 28 cm. And by the way, the 12-24 GM also has a close focus distance of 28 cm. The close minimum focus distance means the magnification is 0.32x, versus the 0.19x on the original. If we look at the competition: The Canon RF 15-35 has 0.21x magnification. So having a 0.32x magnification on the new 16-35 GM II is simply huge! Not only for potentially interesting bokeh close up shots, but also for focus stacking very close to your lens (more on that later).
So back to the flower field! The first thing I spotted were obviously the beautiful sunflowers that I mentioned earlier. Here’s a frontal detail of one of them shot at f/8
This lens has excellent sharpness (more in depth tests later). Notice the interesting texture in the middle of the sunflower. Even a much bigger crop on the 61 megapixels of the A7RV is no problem, and brings out the details of the nice middle texture of the sunflower:
Alright, I didn’t forget about the minimum focus distance thing. I noticed bees were really interested in the sunflowers. They were so busy with them that they didn’t mind me getting up close to them at all to test the close focus distance:
The result honestly blew me away. Using the insect autofocus on the A7RV I was able to perfectly focus on the bee and look how close I could get. Now I would normally never shoot these kinds of scenes with a wide angle, but the fact that this is possible is incredible. Here’s a closer crop of the above image:
I love how you can see the little dew drops on the flower and the detail on the wings of the bee. Here are 2 more photos of the same scene:
Also notice how clean the bokeh is at 35mm. It’s butter smooth, both the background and foreground (see the second photo) bokeh. I really started to have fun in this little flower field. Before I knew it I spent an hour photographing wildflowers up close next to the road. Let’s talk some more about the close focus bokeh of this lens:
I know most of you will not use this lens for that, but it’s great to know that this lens has a really nice and smooth bokeh (that I mostly used at 35mm). This comes at no surprise. Sony markets their G-Master line up as tack sharp with a super smooth bokeh. And they always deliver. Here are some examples in which I used the close focus distance at 35mm in combination with a wide open aperture of f/2.8:
I really enjoyed getting quite artistic with this lens. I noticed these interesting shapes of flowers that almost looked like molecules.
Here I went completely out of focus on purpose to show the harmony of colours and shapes. I really like how this shot came out and I am currently using it as a wallpaper :)
I then saw some little daisies and tried my luck on these:
Again, butter smooth bokeh and nice sharpness at the focus point. These were almost at minimum focus distance. Here’s another creative shot at close focus distance of a detail of a plant.
So as you can see, I really enjoyed myself in this little field of flowers and got some nice tests out of it. I was shocked by the close focus possibilities of this lens and it’s beautiful bokeh.
And before we continue to something different, let’s take a quick look at another use case of the nice bokeh of this lens: Product photography:
Here’s a photo of I took of an old Praktica film camera. Both the foreground and background bokeh look beautifully soft. I can only imagine videographers are going to love shooting product shots with this lens because of the bokeh, and close focus distance. With the close focus distance you can perfectly focus on smaller parts of products, like the brand details:
In this photo I used the minimum focus distance to capture a close up-of the front of the camera. Alright, enough bokeh!
Let’s continue to something what this lens was made for: photographing cityscapes.
My Rainy City
Wide-angle lenses are great for landscapes. But also for cityscapes! So for this lens I had the idea of photographing a rainy evening in my hometown Amersfoort. Why rain you ask? Because it was simply raining almost every day during the time I was asked to try this lens! But honestly, I love photographing cities in the rain. Rain gives our beautiful cities that extra bit of magic touch. It just makes you feel warm. And I guess I am lucky to live in a very picturesque city.
But before we get to the rain, and while we’re still with the thought of the close focus distance of this lens, let’s start with a photo showing the close focus distance in action in combination with focus stacking:
Here’s a composition of one of the most beautiful streets in Amersfoort. I positioned the camera very low and close to the flowers here to get a huge foreground. I then used the Sony A7RV’s focus bracketing function to take multiple focus point, and combined them in Photoshop to get the flowers very sharp in the foreground.
And then the rain (as predicted) started. I asked my friend Daan to come with me for some modelling. Here’s the same street in the rain:
For this shot I had to use a higher ISO to achieve the faster shutter speed to get Daan sharp in the photo as he was walking.
Here’s a crop of the above photo. We can see that the sharpness at f/2.8 is excellent. While it was getting dark we continued our walk through the beautiful little streets of Amersfoort.
The streets really come alive with the picturesque lights reflecting on the tiles. Here I had the idea of creating a filmish look with Daan holding the umbrella from up close:
Again we can see a nice soft bokeh with good detail on drops on the umbrella. Here’s another shot, this time with the out of focus foreground, focused on the background.
I really enjoyed taking these ‘film-look’ shots in the evening and this lens worked very well for it. A thing to note is that I almost never use rain covers for my gear in just normal rain. I never had any issues with rain in the past and I feel like the Sony bodies and lenses are totally fine against a bit of rain. Here’s a photo of how my gear looks in the rain:
This was shot with the A7RIV with the 24-70 GM II by the way, nice bokeh as well :) About bokeh: Of course I had to try out some close ups in the rainy streets of Amersfoort as well:
Here’s a shot of a chrome bell on a bike, wide open at f/2.8. The bokeh balls in the background look very nice, with perfect sharpness on the water drops on the bell.
I then found this detail on a bench and spent some time photographing it. I really liked how the light hit all the rain on the bench, causing dozens of bokeh balls.
At that point it was already getting quite dark and I closed this evening shoot. Here’s the full Amersfoort evening gallery:
Shooting the Stars
To stay in the night mood, let’s take a look at how this lens performs wide open at f/2.8 for star photography. As a landscape photographer, we tend to prefer to bring just one (fast) wide angle lens to also occasionally photograph night skies with on trips if the trip is not dedicated to astrophotography in the first place. But if I really focus on stars and milky way, I always take my 24mm f/1.4 GM and 14mm f/1.8 GM with me. Those lenses are top of the line for night photography.
But let’s take a look how the 16-35 GM II performs in that regard. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to try out real milky way photography as most of the time it was extremely cloudy and rainy during this part of the summer in the Netherlands. Also, with the more clear nights the moon was in the way. But with a close to full moon and a decently clear sky, I still went out to see how the stars looked on this lens to give you a general idea of how it performs :)
And so I went to an open space near my house and photographed some scenes with trees:
Here we can see how nicely lit the landscape was by the moon. It might be a bit difficult to see the stars on the smaller size of the photo. So let’s take a look at a crop:
On the center crop we can see the stars look pin point sharp at f/2.8 without any chromatic aberrations. For the corners, I want to show some photos where I photographed into another direction with some more visible stars to give you a better representation:
Both shots at f/2.8, ISO 2500, 10 seconds. (left shot had foreground focus stacked) . On the left image I was standing a little bit further from the tree. At the right photo I was standing very close to the tree, pointing the camera up. I could now see much more stars and a very vague part of the milky way if you look closely. Let’s check some crops of this photo:
On the center crop we can again see that the stars are pin point sharp wide open at f/2.8. Now let’s take a look at a corner crop from the same photo:
On the top right crop, everything still looks very sharp. We can definitely see a little bit of coma on some of the stars here, but it’s nothing major. I’d say the ‘star’ performance of this lens is very good and after seeing these results, I would not be afraid to use this lens wide open for milky way photography.
The Wadden Sea
Having tested most of the properties of the lens, Let’s continue with some landscapes during the day: Capturing the mud-textures on the north of the country at the Wadden Sea. At low tide, the water drops and all of the textures at the bottom of the sea become visible. I drove around for a bit trying to find the best textures and eventually called Bas Meelker (friend, and iconic Dutch Landscape Photographer) who told me where to go to find the best ones. The North Coast is his home, so he’s the expert. So thanks Bas, for the advice :)
Arriving there I was not disappointed. Even though I was greeted and got wet by a passing raincloud, I really enjoyed. This is what landscape photography is about. Mud textures as far as the eye could see, with the raincloud that just hit me pulling away, making for some beautiful cloud formations. It was time to get to work!
For me, these mud textures are a playground. You can find endless compositions with leading lines everywhere.
By getting closer to the ground you get a completely new perspective where you can really play with the lines leading you into the image. As the mud patterns aren’t huge, I used focus stacking here as well to get all the lines sharp from front to back.
Another interesting perspective was the top down view:
Shot hand held at f/8, corner to corner are very sharp. This is obviously no surprise with this kind of lens stopped down.
The light kept changing so I spent a good few hours trying out different compositions and photographing the textures in different light as the sun was getting lower and the clouds kept changing.
Left: Sony A7RV - Sony 16-35 GM II at 16mm - f/10 (focus stack) - 1/80s - ISO 200 (tripod)
Middle: Sony A7RV - Sony 16-35 GM II at 16mm - f/14 (focus stack) - 1/1000s - ISO 200 (tripod)
Right: Sony A7RV - Sony 16-35 GM II at 16mm - f/8 (focus stack) - 1/1600s - ISO 200 (tripod)
All these photos were focus stacked and shot at 16mm. Having the possibility to get very low and close to the cracks and being able to focus up so close is great here. This way I was able to capture the maximum amount of detail through all of the images.
Close to sunset I decided to move position as the tide was at its lowest point, creating a beautiful reflection just behind the tiny dike on all of the above photos.
The spectacular cloud formations reflecting on the super low water of the low tide was magical to see. If you look closely, you see poles in the distance. I moved a bit to catch some of them closer to the coast and use them as a leading line:
All in all it was worth to take the drive up to the north coast and photograph some mud textures, spectacular clouds and a nice sunset. I got soaking wet multiple times and the clouds were full of mud, but I was walking around happy as a kid! Again, this is what landscape photography in the low lands is about for me!
Last but (certainly) not least
Most of this article was written before I went to Greenland & Iceland to guide tours. I took the 16-35 GM II with me and further enjoyed using the lens because of the features mentioned above. Here are some more images from those trips. I quickly had to finish these literally 2 days before this lens was announced, but I am happy I could still put them in here :)
All photos in this post were shot in RAW and post processed via my own techniques and style. Noise Reduction was applied to the higher ISO shots. If you enjoy my processing work, please consider taking a look at my editing course (www.edityourlandscapes.com) in which I teach my complete workflow, suited for both beginners are advanced photographers. We also have a private community where I can give feedback on your photos and answer questions.
Summary and Closing
In this article I showed you the capabilities and properties of this lens through various shooting sessions. And after photographing a lot with it the last couple of weeks, here’s what I can say in short:
The new 16-35 GM II is better than the mark 1 in every aspect. But it’s not simply smaller and more portable with the usual added aperture ring and some more buttons. There is much more to it. Facts:
The 16-35 GM II weighs 547 g and is smaller than the Mark I.
The whole GM II trinity weighs 760 g less than the old GM trinity.
Filter thread is 82mm , the same as the 24-70 GM II and 70-200 GM II.
It extends when zooming, but it’s only a tiny bit. Less than a centimeter.
Minimum focus distance of only 22 cm, which is much closer than most other wide angle lenses. Magnification of 0.32x.
Almost no focus breathing.
Because of the 2 above points, super nice to do focus stacking with.
Beautiful soft bokeh
Great sharpness from corner to corner at every aperture.
Good for milky way photography with very sharp stars in the center , almost no CI, and a little bit of coma in the corners.
This lens is not just better than the mark I in every way, it also adds more versatility because of the points mentioned above. Now the obvious question is: Will I prefer to use this lens above my all time favourite 12-24 GM? The only answer I can give you right now is: Time will tell. I do love shooting at wider focal lengths than 16mm. If weight is not an issue I’d probably take the 12-24GM, but on any travel trip where weight is important I’d go for the 16-35 GM II. Also, the fact that one filter system can be used over the all set of trinity lenses is nice. Again, I haven’t decided yet and I have to get more ‘feel’ for the lens by using it longer and on travels, as I have currently mainly used it in the Netherlands.
But one thing is for sure: Sony did a very nice upgrade to the 6 year old 16-35 GM that I’m sure many photographers (including me) are going to be very happy about!
I hope this article gave you a good look of this lens and hat you enjoyed reading it. Feel free to ask my any questions! Thanks for reading, as always!