SEL1224GM Review: The Ultra Wide-angle Zoom Lens Just Got Even Better
By Darren Soh
Two years after introducing the world’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras aka the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R, Sony announced the new line of ‘future-proof’ lenses: The G Master (GM) series of optics in February 2016.
A few years later, the G Master lenses went on to earn a reputation of being the best in Sony’s line-up, from quality of resolution, bokeh, autofocusing speed and accuracy to even the sunstars produced when point light sources were photographed.
In a nutshell, the lenses were developed to the tee and Sony’s engineers were confident they would continue to hold their own even as imaging sensors came to have higher and higher pixel counts.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1.3 sec | F2.8 | ISO 100
Before the SEL1224GM, there was the SEL1224G
One of the most highly anticipated G Master lenses was launched in May 2017 — the FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM (SEL1635GM) zoom lens.
The SEL1635GM lens is exceptional among its peers. It can be used wide open at F2.8, while ensuring the images produced are well-resolved with beautiful contrast display. Distortion is also optically corrected extremely well straight out of the camera.
What was unanticipated with the SEL1635GM launch was that Sony also rolled out the FE 12-24mm F4 G (SEL1224G) at the same time.
This surprise announcement of an ultra wide-angle zoom lens was very much welcomed by architecture photographers like myself, as we often find ourselves backed up against corners in a densely-built city like Singapore.
The SEL1224G, though neither a GM lens nor designed or built to the same standards of GM lenses, has proven itself to be a very capable lens indeed. I have personally used the SEL1224G in almost every work scenario and it has found a permanent place in my camera bag.
The birth of the SEL1224GM
Fast forward to mid-2020, Sony now has a total of 10 G Master lenses in its line-up of full-frame E Mount optics. On 7 July 2020, Sony announced its 11th G Master lens — the SEL1224GM, a G Master and F2.8 version of its already famous sibling, the SEL1224G F4.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 24 mm | 1/250 sec | F2.8 | ISO 100
I had the chance to test out the SEL1224GM prior to its official launch in everyday scenarios, where I normally would with the SEL1224G. The experience had me completely sold! If you thought the SEL1224G was a great lens, then you definitely need to try the SEL1224GM.
Weighing just 847 g, the SEL1224GM is only 282 g heavier than the SEL1224G. To put things in perspective, both lenses are way lighter than any other equivalent full-frame 11-24 mm or 12-24 mm in the market, of which there are only two and neither are F2.8 lenses. I especially liked how the SEL1224GM felt so balanced while mounted on the Alpha 7R IV because it is less than 20 mm taller than the SEL1224G.
Sony’s engineers have stated time and again how G Master lenses are designed with no compromise and this lens is no exception.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/640 sec | F11 | ISO 100
Impressive tech specs
The SEL1224GM’s specification sheet reads like a list of bells and whistles everyone would like to have in modern lenses, but seldom found together in one lens.
Among the exotic glass in the lens are three Extreme aspherical (XA) elements, one aspherical element, two Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and three ED elements.
From fluorine coating on that bulbous XA front element for optimal contrast even when shooting into the light to an array of floating elements that ensures consistent quality throughout the focus range of the lens, Sony has really pulled out all the stops in designing the SEL1224GM.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/125 sec | F11 | ISO 100
How the SEL1224GM has changed the way I shoot
Personally, I no longer have to think twice before shooting at the maximum aperture of F2.8 in scenarios, where light levels become more challenging in the evenings; for example, a one exposure stop advantage when shooting at F2.8, instead of F4, means I can continue shooting handheld for a longer time before I need to switch to using a tripod. This is a big deal for me when I am trying to work as quickly as possible.
Not having to worry about whether my images would lack contrast or sharpness, even near the edges of the frame when shooting at F2.8 also allows me to concentrate on other aspects of my photography like composition and chasing light.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 19 mm | 0.6 sec | F2.8 | ISO 100
In the 1990s, I remember working on 35 mm film camera systems, where wide-angle and ultra wide-angle prime lenses spotting F2.8 maximum apertures were the lenses to have because of the quality of prime lenses over zoom lenses back then.
With the SEL1224GM, it is really like working with 12 mm, 15 mm, 18 mm, 20 mm and 24 mm F2.8 prime lenses all combined in one compact package. The lens is that amazing.
When it comes to distortion and aberration control, many lens manufacturers choose the software route to correct these flaws inherent in any lens design in post by means of software.
Sony has instead opted to optically correct the G Master lenses. As the SEL1224GM is optically very complex, this is no mean feat. However, even without a lens profile, I have found that distortion is very minimal throughout the entire zoom range of the lens and chromatic aberration is almost non-existent.
Again, this means that I can free myself from worrying about the lens’ limitations and instead, stay focused on getting the image I want to get.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/160 sec | F13 | ISO 100
Shooting stunning sunstars and architecture
The last optical aspect of the SEL1224GM that I want to touch upon is the quality of the sunstars produced by the lens when stopped down to F8 or F11. The lens utilises a 9-bladed aperture that produces a near-perfect circular opening for the best quality bokeh, it also gives wonderfully pleasing 18-pointed sunstars when shooting toward point light sources.
Many photographers, myself included, have come to dub these 18-pointed sunstars as the GM sunstars because of how sharp and defined they are and how they are a way to tell whether an image was captured by a G Master lens.
Being an architecture photographer, I don’t really need lightning-fast autofocusing. However, AF accuracy is still important for me, especially using an ultra wide-angle lens that makes everything seem in focus when viewed through the viewfinder. In this area, the SEL1224GM ensures autofocusing is kept both fast and accurate as it uses not one, but a total of four XD Linear Motors to move two separate focus groups of elements within the lens.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 12–24mm F2.8 GM | 12 mm | 1/125 sec | F8 | ISO 100
For those of you already familiar with the excellent SEL1635GM zoom lens, the SEL1224GM functions exactly the same, except it goes much wider to 12mm.
I will definitely be adding the SEL1224GM to my camera bag as soon as I can get my hands on one.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of Darren Soh. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony Singapore.