SONY E-mount 16mm f2.8 pancake SEL16F28 : a controversial lens!

“The best camera you own is one that you can always carry with you.” This lens shrinks the Sony NEX down to nearly pocket size!

Sony NEX 3 + SEL 16mm f2.8 pancake  (almost pocketable)

Sony NEX 3 + SEL 16mm f2.8 pancake (almost pocketable)

I wouldn’t recommend anyone buys the 16mm F2.8 as their only lens for a NEX. But if you plan to combine a few lenses with your Sony NEX, I think this one is the first to buy with the camera as a kit lens.

Before purchasing my NEX, many online reviews of this pancake were almost discouraging from buying it.

But this lens was so attractive considering it’s compactness…

Sony NEX pancake SEL 16mm f2.8

Sony NEX pancake SEL 16mm f2.8

…so I decided to perform my own test:

I had the opportunity to compare this SEL 16mm on a NEX 5 with my Alpha 700 and the Tamron 17-50 f2.8 @17mm just before purchasing.

The Tamron is considered as a very good zoom. Even if it is unfair to compare a zoom with a fixed focal length lens, I would say that the Tamron is my walkaround lens.

The comparisons in the same conditions revealed that:

  • There is less geometrical distortion on the pancake than on the Tamron @17 (considerably)
  • Wide opened the Tamron is more affected by chromatic aberration (even on the center)
  • Wide opened, the sharpness of the pancake is good on the center while the Tamron need to be stopped down to f4.0
  • Wide opened both are soft in the corners particularly on the extremes
  • When both are closed to f8, they are both sharp

I would add that the pancake is very sharp on the center @f2.8

Globally the image quality of the SONY SEL 16mm f2.8 pancake is considerably better than what can deliver the Tamron 17-50 @ 17mm particularly wide opened.

I would add that optically it fulfills my expectations:

  • When shooting landscapes, it is stopped down to F8 so the softness of the corners is no more a concern.
  • When shooting indoor and lowlight conditions at F2.8, the focus is mainly done on the center of the scene, so I don’t care if the corners are tack sharp or not.

So it is difficult for me to understand wy this pancake is so underrated. Considering the price (particularly when purchased with the camera) and considering it’s compactness, what are the alternatives? With manual lenses there are a few Voigtlanders: e.g. Heliar 15 mm F4.5 => 3 X the price, 1.5 stop slower and affected by magenta vignetting on NEX 3 and NEX 5 like many Voigtlander wide angle . Any other alternative for a wide angle? Yes the Sony zoom SEL 18-55 also provided as a kit lens. But the combination is bulkier and the image quality is not better.


I think that many people were expecting a 35mm pancake instead of a 16 in order to have a single lens compact combination.

First, this is the trade-off that certainly did Fujifilm designers or marketing department with the Fuji X100 and it’s 35mm lens (but not interchangeable lens)

Secondly, they were disappointed because they didn’t played enough time with the Sony NEX.

Let me explain…

For the same scene, you won’t use the same focal length with a NEX than with a classical DSLR (without efficient liveview) or an old rangefinder.

Because the liveview implemented in the NEX with the tiltable high-resolution screen helps you to shoot differently than with a DSLR.

The composition of your image is different, and you will fill more all the layers of your picture composition.

I think it is considerably easier to use a wide angle than with a conventional DSLR or rangefinder.

My plan was to use my NEX mainly with a 35mm mounted on and to have the 16mm pancake in the pocket. A few month later I can say that the pancake is mainly mounted on the camera and a 40mm or 50mm is on my pocket. I think I fully enjoy this focal length combined with the implementation of the tiltable liveview of the Sony NEX.

I do no more seek for a 35mm lens. I am more waiting for the availability of the SONY SEL 50mm F1.8 to complement this 16mm pancake.



  • Lens structure (elements/groups) 5/5
  • Number of diaphragm blades 7
  • Thread diameter 22 mm
  • Weight & dimensions
  • Diameter 62 mm
  • Filter size 49 mm
  • Length 22.5 mm
  • Weight 67 g


The built quality is very good for a modern kit lens. It is so unusual to have a metal body with a fluid metal focus ring! It has a metal mount.

It has no optical stabilization (OSS) implemented. It is not an issue for photo shooting. But for video operations it would have been better to have it.

But if you plan to use the NEX for video operations, purchasing a good steady cam is certainly a good thing to consider. (more efficient than any OSS)

The auto-focus operation is completely silent because it a focus motor inside similar to SSM (Sony) or USM (Canon), not the cheaper SAM (Sony).

The auto-focus is quick, accurate. Like with SSM you can continuously manually adjust the focus (DMF function) during auto-focus operation even in continuous mode. When you retouch the focus, the focus magnifier is activated on the liveview for being more accurate. This feature is very helpful and pleasant to use.

Just to mention that this lens has been designed for 2 accessories: a wide angle converter and a fisheye converter. It may be a nice feature but I have not tested by my own for the time being, so I won’t tell more.

SONY SEL 16 good built quality

SONY SEL 16 good built quality

SONY SEL 16 between Konica 40mm and Konica AR to E mount adapter

SONY SEL 16 between Konica 40mm and Konica AR to E mount adapter

Sony NEX3 with SEL 16mm F2.8

Sony NEX3 with SEL 16mm F2.8