We take a close look at a holdover from the Minolta days
November 10, 2009
Made exclusively for Sony DSLRs with APS sensors, the Sony 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 has the Minolta DNA. Does it deliver what digital shooters need?
When Sony took over Minolta in 2006, it inherited a number of lenses for the existing Maxxum line of DSLRs. One of them was the 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6, which they promptly re-branded. With a typical Sony DSLR’s APS sensor’s crop factor, the lens delivers a roughly 16.5-27mm range with a maximum angle of coverage of 104 degrees. Any point in its zoom range is capable of producing dramatic panoramic vistas.
Let’s look at this lens and see if it has aged gracefully.
Look & Feel
Unlike the plastic construction of the typical Sony 18-55mm kit lens, the 11-18mm feels and looks substantial. The mount is metal and therefore more rugged, and the rubber-ribbed focus and zoom rings are wide enough to be easily grasped and rotated. Aperture and meter distance markings are legible white on black, while foot distance markings are bright orange and quite legible. The lens lacks depth of field indications. The Petal-type lens hood does an adequate job blocking light, and the 77mm filter ring can acommodate frontal glass.
Sony 11-18mm lens, set to 11mm.
The view at 18mm.
Despite the lens’s heft and solid construction, it is somewhat slower than I’d like, at f/4.5-5.6. That’s one area where this lens is showing signs of its age, since optical design has improved to the point where one can reasonably expect another half stop (at least) from a lens this size.
The lens lacks an on-board AF motor, and instead depends on the host camera’s autofocus control, which can slow down its operation slightly. However, at this focal range, unless you’re shooting extreme close-ups (and the lens can focus to about 10 inches), depth of field will take care of any focus failings. In fact, I’d leave it in manual focus for most uses.
The lens produces nice, sharp images with very well controlled flare throughout. The seven rounded aperture rings produce pleasing bokeh, with circular spectral highlights. The AD glass and three Aspheric elements contribute to excellent contrast and minimal internal flare, despite the lens’s wide angle of coverage.
Even with the sun in the picture, there was surprisingly little flare, and only moderate vignetting (darkening of the image towards the corners), a bit better than I was expecting.
Naturally, with a superwide zoom lens such as this one, there will be distortion—lots of it. It’s well controlled at 18mm, but at 11mm, I just think it’s part of the charm of a superwide. Enjoy it, and make it work for you!
Fringing, however, is an issue as you near the corners of the frame. Distinct blue/red fringing can be seen at the corners at all focal lengths, although fringing disappears in the “sweet spot”, approximately the central 50 percent of the image. Fringing is caused by how light hits the sensor, and is more common among lenses that were not designed with sensor placement in mind. As such, this is an issue that hopefully Sony can resolve in a future update of this lens.
The 11-18mm is worth considering as a companion to the Sony kit lens. While I wouldn’t mind if Sony were to update this model with a larger aperture version so it can handle lower light, this lens is solid, and will certainly widen your horizons for memorable travel and scenic photography.