In February 2013, this Sony 18-55 mm II kit lens was announced. In particular, the styling of the lens is modernized relative to the previous Sony 18-55 mm lens, that from 2011. If you today buy a Sony A58 or Sony A65 camera, then you get the lens for almost nothing. According to Sony, this lens is less prone to flare and ghosts than its predecessor, thanks to a new front lens design. In addition, a few mechanical improvements have been made to make use more comfortable. The Sony 18-55 mm lens looks nice. Just like the kit lenses from other brands, the Sony 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 is not so bright. If you want to know how the optical performances are, read our Sony 18-55 II review:
Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II @ Sony A77
Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II @ 18mm, f/8, 1/250
This lens is designed for use on a camera with an APS-C sensor and a Sony A-mount, such as the Sony A58. With the Sony 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 II, you have an airy, compact and versatile lens with an view angle equivalent to a 27-83 mm lens on a camera with a full frame sensor.
Despite the beautiful appearance, you do notice when holding the Sony 18-55 mm II that this is a cheaper lens. It is largely made of high quality plastics. Even the lens mount is plastic. Built-in image stabilization is missing, because Sony uses image stabilization in the camera. That does make the lens light, however. The zoom ring is nice and wide and turns pretty smoothly. The lens doesn't remain the same length as you zoom, but the difference in length isn't bad. The Sony 18-55 mm is equipped with a "Smooth Autofocus Motor" (SAM), which uses its own AF motor with internal focusing (IF). The autofocus is pretty fast and pretty quiet and does its job well (focusing). Manual focusing is done with the inner ring all the way at the front of the lens. This is narrow and does not work really well if you are used to more expensive lenses. If you like a lot of manual focus, it is worth the trouble to choose a more expensive lens.
You can take nice sharp pictures with this lens. The sharpness is generally highest after aperture 1 stop. At all focal lengths, the sharpness in the corners and at the edges is lower than the center sharpness, but the difference is usually so small that you won't notice. The performance at 55 mm is relatively the lowest. The sharpness at maximum aperture is not as high as after (less than) 1 stop stopping down, as you can see in above 100% frame cutout of a practice shot, and the sharpness in the corners lags behind the sharpness in the center. At the other focal lengths the differences in sharpness are smaller, as you can see in the cutouts below.
At maximum aperture you will sometimes encounter vignetting, which disappears after aperture 1 stop. If you use the in-camera lens corrections, then you find no visible vignetting in jpg files. In image editing programs like Lightroom, it's also easy to correct vignetting using lens correction profiles, which are in the program. With one click of a button, you can correct the vignetting in all the pictures you've taken with a given lens.
Distortion Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II
We reviewed the Sony 18-55 mm II on a Sony A58 and on a Sony A77. Both cameras can correct the jpg files for distortion, and doing it well: without in-camera fixes, this lens exhibits the usual pattern for standard lenses, from barrel distortion clearly visible at the shortest focal length to very light, practically invisible cushion-shaped distortion at 55 mm. If you compare the distortion at 35 mm with much more expensive lenses with a fixed focal length, then this lens does better than the much more expensive fixed focal length lenses. In the corrected jpg files, you don't see distortion at any focal length.
Bokeh Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II
Cheap standard lenses for cameras with an APS-C sensor usually don't have great brightness and offer no sensationally nice bokeh. Probably no one expects that for that price, either. The bokeh of the Sony 18-55 mm SAM II is beautifully round, but also shows clear rings. It delivers a less beautiful background blur than that of brighter, more expensive lenses.
According to Sony, this lens is better protected from flare than the old Sony 18-55 mm. We haven't reviewed the old Sony 18-55 mm, but this lens indeed has little trouble from flaring. In the practice shots, we did not encounter any flares or ghosts. Only under extreme conditions, where you're photographing directly against the light, do you really see it. But that's also true for much more expensive lenses.
You won't encounter lateral chromatic aberration, sometimes recognizable as colored edges at sharp contrast transitions, when you take pictures with the Sony 18-55 mm II, even at high magnifications. Here to illustrate, you see a 100% cutout made from the corner of a practice shot.
Conclusion Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DT SAM II review
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
If you get the Sony 18-55 mm SAM II for a very low price when buying a Sony camera, then you have a versatile lens with a common zoom range and an attractive price-quality ratio. The sharpness is OK, distortion is absent in jpg files, and the lens has little problem with flare. At maximum aperture you will sometimes encounter visible vignetting, which disappears after aperture 1 stop. If you use the in-camera lens corrections, then you won't find vignetting in jpg files. An advanced photographer will not as quickly purchase this lens separately from a camera, I expect. Personally, as a more experienced photographer, I'd rather choose a Sony 16-50 mm or a Sigma 17-70 mm. In terms of both construction and image quality, these lenses aim higher. And you might pay a bit more, but you get higher brightness and a nicer bokeh in return.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.