Everyone that knows me knows that I love shooting with extreme wide angle lenses. When I just got the original A7 and no native (fast) wide angle lenses were available yet, I was always shooting with the Samyang 14mm. At some point the 12-24 f/4 G lens came out. I was super happy with the release of this lens and was always enjoyed shooting with it. But it lacked something: speed. As I am always traveling around the world it’s important for me to have one wide-angle lens that can do ‘everything’, meaning shoot extremely wide, and also preferably f/2.8 (or faster). The Sony 16-35GM is great, but I wanted something wider. Sony released a bunch of fast primes recently (with the newest one the 20mm f/1.8 that I really love) but I made no secret about the fact that I wanted something wider. At every Sony Event in Europe where I talked with the ‘big guys’ I always joked ‘where is my super fast wide-angle lens? Why is it still not there?’ I’ve done this for years and I’m sure everyone at Sony HQ knows me for it. That’s probably also why Sony called me a few weeks ago saying ‘we have something new for you to try’. And there it was: the 12-24GM. Finally Sony came up with the ultimate lens for me (on paper) : Extreme wide-angle , with an f/2.8 aperture. I don’t know if they finally just made it to stop me from bothering them, or that it was genuinely in their line up (probably that). Either way, it’s finally here and I’m going to tell you a few things about it.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a Sony ambassador and was given this lens before the release and announcement. The lens was used on the A7RIV. This article is not called ‘REVIEW’ because I’ve experienced people didn’t find it ‘fair’ or reliable that I (as a Sony ambassador) would review Sony gear. That’s why this is simply an article by myself to show what this lens can be used for and what it is capable of.
So this is actually the widest f/2.8 zoom lens on the market right now. Most of the lenses on the market are 14 on the wide end, and not 12. Combine this with the f/2.8 aperture and I was thinking: this thing must be big and heavy. When I first got it I was quite surprised. Ok, it’s not extremely small of course, but Sony did an amazing job again in keeping it relatively light and compact, for the amount of glass it carries. Because the front element is huge.
According to Sony it’s the biggest front element they have produced with 3 XA elements, one of which IS the front element. They also told me they designed a new Nano coating (Mark 2) specifically for this lens for the curvature of the lens, to reduce aberrations, curvature and flare. Added coating on the front elements protects it from dust, liquid and marks. The AF consists of 4 XD Linear motors that make it really fast, smooth and silent.
So yes, it has a big front element! The front element is protected with a non detachable hood. As a landscape photographer I of course immediately think about filters. There are several filter brands that always make filter holders for custom front elements, so I guess we don’t have to worry too much about that. It’s going to be 150mm or even 180mm filters, would be my guess. But Sony apparently thought of this, as it’s possible to put filters on the back of the lens. Sony put an outline mold (is that what you call it?) with the lens so you can basically create your own filters in the right shape. I’m sure filter manufacturers will soon come up with a specifically designed set for this lens.
Let’s take a closer look at the design of the lens. It has a similar design of the GM lenses with the red GM batch, premium matte look, 1 function button and a designated af/mf switch on the lens itself. The lens does not extend while zooming.
The weight of the lens is 847 grams. It’s not super light, but certainly lighter than any of the competition’s 14-24 f/2.8 lenses (Except the Sigma 14-24 f/2.8 for the e-mount, with comes in close at 795 Grams). And keep in mind, this lens is 12 on the wide end, and not 14. So Sony impressed again trying to bend the laws of physics by keeping this lens within proportions and weight. I certainly had no problem hand holding the A7RIV with this lens and taking proper shots. As you can see on the photos above, it doesn’t look particularly big also. A nice size that feels right when holding.
The 12-24 f/2.8 GM is obviously bigger than it’s little brother the 12-24 f/4 G
But when we look at the comparison with the 16-35 f/2.8 GM, the difference is actually not that much. Keep in mind that the 16-35 doesn’t have a lens hood attached. The 16-35 GM is 680 gr, vs the 847 gr of the 12-24 GM, a difference of a little less than 160 gr.
In the Field
I have the lens for a couple of weeks now and I managed to use it in a lot of different scenarios:
Big storms (we had some crazy ones this week)
The conditions in the Netherlands were quite ideal last weeks allowing me to use the lens in lots of different conditions and scenarios. In general, I was just so happy I could shoot at 12mm again with a fast, high quality lens. Let’s start with some narrow streets and canals in Amsterdam.
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 21mm, f/11, 1.6s, ISO100
When we zoom in we can see that both edge sharpness and corner sharpness are excellent at these slower apertures. On a side note: when I compared the sharpness of this lens to the 12-24 G, the GM is noticeable sharper.
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/8, 4s, ISO200
This is a good example of an image where the 12mm is really utilised. To capture this whole corner of streets in the Red Light district in Amsterdam (that is completely empty and close because of COVID) you need a lens as wide as possible. The sharpness and super wide lens works really well for these kind of cityscape images.
Sharpness is again what you would expect: excellent.
We had a lot of storms coming over the city that week and the 12mm was perfect to capture all the drama in the sky.
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/5.6, 1/40s, ISO320
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/14, 0,6s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/5,6, 1/50s, ISO320, Panorama of multiple images
For this image I took a quick panorama (hand held). The incoming storm cloud exactly mirrors the small stream in the foreground. It looks like a fisheye perspective because of the panorama.
Storms were followed by nice sunsets around the canals.
Now I really like to use such a wide angle zoom in the city. The 12-24mm range is perfect for most uses cases when you’re photographing the streets and buildings, especially in packed cities.
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 14mm, f/9, 20s, ISO100
A wide shot of this beautiful corner reflecting in the canals in Amsterdam. The 24mm allows me to also capture a closer, slightly different image:
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 24mm, f/8, 15s, ISO160
Same scene, different focal length.
Now let’s take a look at some architecture using the extreme wide angle:
Here are some images of an apartment complex in Amsterdam, playing with different angles. It’s always great fun to put the wide angle in interesting corners and do creative compositions with such a wide angle. You start to see things you don’t normally see with your eyes. By looking on the live view and walking around, pointing up and rotating the camera, you always start to see interesting angles. The flip screen of the A7RIV definitely helps here.
These were all shot at 12mm:
By playing with lines and shapes, you can make ‘ordinary buildings’ look spectacular on a photo. That’s the fun of playing with an extreme wide angle lens.
But some buildings just look great by itself. I took the opportunity to visit this beautiful town hall in Nieuwegein that looks very futuristic from both inside and outside. A perfect building to do some wide angle shooting:
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/10, 1/320s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/10, 1/320s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/11, 1/6s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/9, 1/50s, ISO160
Now this week also had some beautiful mornings, so I occasionally woke up at 3 AM to capture the beautiful sunrises amongst the countryside, windmills and Dutch forests. With mornings like this you see the true beauty of the country.
A spectacular morning in the forest:
While a 12-24mm is not the ideal lens for the forest, forcing myself to use it certainly got me interesting results.
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 12mm, f/10, 0,5s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 23mm, f/11, 0,6s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 18mm, f/8, 1,3s, ISO100
Sony A7RIV, 12-24GM, 24mm, f/11, 0,5s, ISO100
I occasionally use a technique called ‘focus stacking’ in which I get extremely close up to a subject and use multiple images with different focus points to get the whole image from front to back in focus. You do this because: If you get very close to a foreground, even f/22 will not help you to get everything in focus.
Here’s an example of focus stacking at 12mm :
Focus stack of 3 images at f/11. Setup shown on the right
Here’s another example of a focus stacked image:
Focus stack of multiple images to get both foreground and background in focus in this poppy field that was just hit by a rain shower.
Another focus stacked image where I shot 2 images : 1 focused on the flowers and 1 focused on the house to get the entire image sharp from front to back.