Sony 16mm f/2.8 – Is it as bad as people say?

Sony 16mm f/2.8 is terrible!

The Sony 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens in APS-C is a fairly old lens by digital camera standards (released in 2010), and reviews of it are, on the whole, mostly negative. It’s panned as being soft (even in the center), exhibiting distortion, and a very prominent dose of chromatic aberration. But just how bad is this lens in reality?

Sony 16mm f/2.8 Pancake Lens

Let’s run down the basic stats, and then I’ll get into my overall thoughts on this lens.

  • Focal Length: 16mm APS-C (24mm Full-Frame Equivalent)
  • Mount: Sony E-Mount (APS-C)
  • Max/Min Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
  • Aperture Blades: 7
  • Focus Type: AF
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 9.6 inches / 25 cm
  • Glass: 5 Elements in 5 Groups
  • Filter Thread: 49mm

Overall Thoughts: Sony 16mm f/2.8

This one won’t take a whole lot of space. The Sony 16mm f/2.8, which fully qualifies as “pancake” lens, is generally pretty dreadful all around. To answer my original question in the review title (and I promise that wasn’t just for clickbait): YES, this lens is every bit as terrible as most reviews describe. It’s good at almost nothing, and bad at just about everything you’d want a lens to be good at doing.

I’m not even going to do affiliate linking for this lens, because I don’t think anyone should buy it. And I didn’t bother posting any sample images. It’s that bad.

What is good about the Sony 16mm f/2.8

Because I’m a positive person (most of the time), I will start with the good things about the Sony 16mm f/2.8 (and trust me, there are not that many).

It’s Very Small and Light

This lens is quite possibly the smallest and lightest lens I’ve ever tested. It’s absolutely tiny, measuring just 2.44″ in diameter a surprisingly short 0.89″ depth from the lens mount. It weighs in at a paltry 2.3oz (65g), making it extremely light to carry in any given camera bag (you won’t even notice if it’s in the bag or not).

It’s Relatively Cheap

The new price is about $225, which for a wide angle prime lens is fairly inexpensive. Used prices are even better, averaging around $150 at the end of 2020. For an autofocus prime lens, that’s pretty affordable.

At f/16 It’s Not Entirely Terrible

With very great lighting conditions (outdoors, bright sun, etc) and stopped down to f/16, the Sony 16mm f/2.8 can produce decent image quality. This is a very limited application, especially for a lens that is capable of a maximum aperture of f/2.8. But hey, it’s something positive.

And Now for the Bad Stuff

Here’s a simple list of what is bad about this lens:

  • Image Quality: It sucks. This lens is soft and blurry. In the center, at the edges, pretty much all over at any aperture below f/8, and f/16 is really where it becomes merely acceptable. Most other modern lenses at maximum aperture would outperform this lens at f/8 in terms of center sharpness (never mind the edges).
  • Autofocus is very slow and pokey. It often misses even the most obvious subject right in the center of the frame. It “hunts” quite a lot, and usually is not successful in locking on to whatever it is you might want to photograph.
  • Vignetting is pretty bad. Falloff at the edges is very noticeable up through f/5.6.
  • Chromatic aberration is also quite prominent, up to around f/5.6. It’s mostly purple. This is easily corrected in post, but it’s worth mentioning.
  • It’s made almost entirely of plastic and feels like a toy. I do not have confidence that it would hold up to even light wear/tear.
  • Do I need to go on?

Final Summary

Do not buy the Sony 16mm f/2.8. It is not at all good. That is all. 🙂

If you want a budget-friend pancake lens, check out the Meike 28mm f/2.8 (and be sure to read my review of this lens). It’s cheaper and has superior optics to the Sony 16mm f/2.8, albeit with manual focusing only.