Sony 18-135 travel zoom is the newest addition to Sony’s APS-C E mount lineup, coming about 2 years after the last one. This gap really indicated that Sony does not put much attention on their APS-C lenses, so who knows, it might also be the last one. It is known as the lens nobody really asked for, being a 9th lens to cover the normal zoom range (SEL1855, SELP1650, SEL1670Z, SELP18105, SELP18200, SEL18200, SEL18200LE and the Tamron 18-200) and the 5th travel zoom.
Given that there is only one wide angle zoom available and really no telephotos (SEL55210 with F6.3 at the long end is more of a snapper) it is really a strange decision on Sony’s part. But given the fact the lens is there, is it worth buying and how does it compare to the Sony lineup or the competition?
The short answer is yes. Given that almost all hte APS-C zooms come from the time of the beginning of mirrorless, the lens shows much improvement. Granted I have never used the travel super zooms, I also have not heard a good word about them. I do have some experience with SELP1650 and SEL1670Z, and I think that of the 3 the SEL18135 is the clear winner. When it comes to the power zoom kit lens (16-50), the new travel zoom beats in hands down in everything except the wide angle focal length (24mm equivalent on the kit lens vs 28mm on the SEL18135). It is sharper, shows some nice contrast and the colors are lively, none of which can be said about the 16-50.
Its performance is really comparable to the Sony Zeiss 16-70. It loses 2mm at the wide end but gains some aperture when at 18mm (F3.5 vs F4) and is sharp untill 135mm. The SEL1670Z becomes very, very soft and unsharp at the long end, whereas 70mm for the SEL18135 is the middle, where it really shines. If bokeh is what you’re after (you should really use some FF lenses for this), you will also get more separation at F5.6/135mm than at F4/70mm. The lens is also 200-300 Euros cheaper than the Soyn Zeiss offering.
The lens is not optimized for quality but rather for size. Sony cheats a bit when it comes to its size, which can be seen when shooting at 18mm. If you look at the distorted RAW file (without lens corrections applied) you will see some vignetting in the corners. Those corners however remain outside of the frame when lens corrections are applied. Sony used this gimmick to make the lens smaller. For some it might seem as a good idea, for others its an anathema. You need to decide on that for yourself as well.
Having said that the images produced by the lens have high quality, especially when compared to alternatives. After all, it has 2 to 5 years advantage over them. In the meantime Sony came with their E mount from a niche product to being one of the big pro camera producers, and the technology shows in this lens. It remains sharp thoughout the zoom range, with some softness showing at absolute long end. Other than that it works very well, at all apertures, which surely cannot be said about the old zooms.
It is not their top of the line offering (well, it is for APS-C) and as such is made of plastic, which however is very sturdy and high quality. This gives the lens a weight advantage, although the feel of it is less than what you get with SEL1670Z.
In my opinion, if you’re in the market for a zoom for your a6xxx series camera, you only need to choose between this lens and the 18-105 F4 option. So the decision comes down to whether you are a stills or a video person.