Sony 16-55mm Portraits: The Perfect addition for your Sony APSC E-mount System

Sony 16-55mm portrait lens

Even though my main portrait camera is the full-frame Sony a7riii, I regularly use my Sony a6400 crop-sensor camera for shooting portraits. It’s good to switch up your gear and focus on your composition and lighting with a different tool in your hands.  

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 34mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera

Portraits with the Sony 16-55mm F2.8 G Lens

The Sony a6400 paired with the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 lens is a light weight combo and very versatile when shooting portraits on location. I can get wide and telephoto shots of my subjects all while standing still because of the mid-range zoom.

The last major photoshoot I did lasted about 6 hours and I used this camera and lens the entire time. I shot over 2000+ photos and got some amazing wide angled and telephoto shots.

Let’s check out some of the portraits from this shoot and I’ll also give you a quick review of the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 for portraits. 

Sony a6400 APSC Mirrorless Camera
Close up | Sony a6400 with Sony 16-55mm f2.8

Introduction to the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 lens

The Sony 16-55mm f2.8 G Lens is a permanent fixture on my Sony a6400. It rarely comes off my camera. The versatility and zoom range just make it a perfect all-around lens for my shoots. Especially when I want to keep my camera bag light and only have a single lens with me. 

The lens was introduced mid 2019 and has been met with great anticipation. Many photographers have been waiting for a native zoom lens for the Sony APSC e-mount system.

Sigma gave us the trinity of prime lenses including the 16mm, 30mm, and 56mm. These are all great prime lenses, but we were waiting for a single zoom lens that could shoot at f2.8. Yes, I know you could use sigma lenses with third-party adapters but I choose not to invest and go that route. Just personal choice.

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 43mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera

Sony 16-55mm f2.8 portraits

With the crop factor in mind of the APSC system this zoom lens actually is more of a 24-82mm full-frame equivalent. 24mm is still a wide angle and the 82 is perfect for close portraits especially when shooting at f2.8

The mid-range zoom covers some pretty standard full-frame focal lengths that many photographers love such as the 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and close 85mm. (I know it doesn’t go all the way to 85mm but it’s close enough)

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 27mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera

Benefits of the 16-55mm lens

The Sony 16-55mm f2.8 is light weight, compact and gives you the option of shooting at f2.8 through the entire focal range. No need to worry about the aperture changing when you zoom in and out.

The lens features a single button on the side of the lens for custom control. The lens is fast and hits focus pretty much every-time in my portrait photography.

Sony 16-55mm portrait lens f2.8
Sony 16-55mm f2.8 portrait lens

Not I don’t shoot portraits of models running or jumping around so I’ll have to do more testing to see how this lens does with focusing and subject tracking with moving subjects.

  • lightweight when paired with Sony APSC cameras
  • Sharp and high quality
  • Fast focusing of subjects
  • Side custom button for mapping a menu feature
  • Variable focal range of 16-55mm (24-82mm full frame equivalent)
  • Aperture of f2.8 for low light portraits

Autofocus performance of Sony 16-55mm f2.8

I have not come across any focal length within the zoom range that is not sharp. The f2.8 aperture is high quality throughout the zoom range and equally fast at focusing on subjects.

When combined with the continuous eye auto-focus of my Sony a6400 this lens is a perfect combination for portraits. A side note: I do have trouble focusing on the eye in high-contrast times when outdoors and the sun is behind the subject. I find this true of many lenses so the problem is not unique to this lens.

In order to combat this, I switch to single point auto focus and move the point over the subject’s eye or face. This usually helps the auto-focus system catch the eye in most cases.

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 27mm | 1/320sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera

Drawbacks of the 16-55mm f2.8 lens

I can’t really think about any major drawbacks to this lens other than the pricing. Starting at $1399.00 it’s more expensive than the camera bodies that it is meant to mount on. If you consider the Sony a6400 or the Sony a6600 this lens is more expensive than the camera bodies.

For that price and considering it is an APSC lens I would have loved for this lens to go to f1.8 for that price or at the very least f2.0.

  • Expensive for an APSC lens
  • No OSS (optical steady shot)
  • Limited to 55mm on telephoto end. Would love to see at least 70mm

Alternatives to the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 G Lens

Currently there are no other native Sony zoom lens options for APSC e-mount system. Again, you can use sigma zoom lenses with adapters for the Sony a6000, a6300, a6400, a6500, etc, but I have not tested these lenses and can’t speak on the results. I just know they are available.

The current Sony APSC native lineup is limited but you can use the full-frame FE lenses on the APSC system. Just keep in mind the crop factor of the sensor and how this will change your focal length of your lens. You’ll find that your cropped and zoomed in with any FE lens you put onto an APSC sensor.

When using this option, you have a wider range or lenses to use for the APSC system.

Sony 16-55mm portraitSony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 39mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera

Using off camera flash with the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 Lens

I used the Profoto TTL Air Remote and Profoto B2 strobe for my last portrait shoot. The combination did create on the Sony a6400 paired with the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 lens.

I shot around 2.8 and used the B2 strobe to add a small accent of light on my subjects. I wanted to keep the light looking natural and compliment the ambient light in the large natural light studio.

The flash sync speed of the Sony a6400 is 1/160sec so I tried to stay at this speed and never faster. Being able to start at f2.8 or stop down gave me lots of options when using the 16-55mm.

The Sony 16-55mm lens on a full-frame camera

Yes, you can use the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 lens on a full-frame camera. I actually use it on my Sony a7riii 42MP camera. This bring me down to about 18MP but it is still plenty of resolution and the quality looks great.

I think the 16-55mm actually focuses faster on full-frame cameras but I can’t prove it. It’s just an observation. This may be the technology and focusing system in the Sony a7riii.

You can also use the 16-55mm on the Sony a7iii but this will also automatically put your camera in crop mode. The crop mode will bring your resolution down to around 12mp but again this is still plenty of resolution for posting on the web or social media.

The best way to shoot with the 16-55mm lens

If I have a lens that goes to f2.8 I’m probably going to shoot at f2.8. I love to shoot wide open with all my lenses. This maximizes the bokeh in portraits and subject separation from the background.

Yes, I love this look, and no there is nothing wrong with it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t shoot wide open for all your portraits. Every photographer is different and you have to experiment and study different apertures to find a good balance of sharpness and depth of field.

Sony a6600 Sony 16-55mm G Lens

The best way to shoot with the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 is wide open in my opinion when shooting portraits. Other types of photography might call for different apertures.

I use the Sony 16-55mm at the widest apertures for shooting outdoor portraits unless I need to stop down because of bright ambient light.

I do stop down when shooting photos in studio to f5.6 or even f8.0. Again, just depends on the portrait and the look I’m going for.

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 16mm | 1/200sec | ISO 160 | Sony a6400 camera

How sharp is the Sony 16-55mm f2.8

This G Lens is pretty sharp in the mid to telephoto range. I have noticed some softer images when shooting wide angle, but I would need to do more exact testing to be sure.

I am normally further back from my subject and also shooting wide makes for a harder time for the camera to eye auto-focus. You can’t expect it to be perfect. I’ve been waiting for DXO Mark to release their results on testing, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The closer focal lengths do great and I get sharp photos for my portraits from 28mm to 55mm with no issues.

Take advantage of the wide-angle for creative portraits

If your interested in taking some exaggerated portraits, I would recommend using the side focal length of the Sony a16-55mm. I have shot portraits at 16mm and 24mm and I love the way they came out.

I stayed about 5-6 feet away from the subjects and laid on the floor for the shots. You can really use both the wide and telephoto lengths to get a variety of shots.

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 27mm | 1/500sec | ISO 120 | Sony a6400 camera

Is the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 worth the price

For me, I would have liked to see this lens at or around $800.00 – $1000.00. There is no optical steady shot built in and it is only a f2.8. Maybe I’m just being picky, but the $1399.00 new price tag is a bit hard to swallow. You can find it on sale as of this article, so make sure to check it out here. 

Would I recommend the Sony 16-55mm f2.8 for beginner portrait photographers?

The Sony 16-55mm has a great zoom range and I know it will help portrait photographers lighten their load with only having to carry a single lens.

But, if I’m a beginner on a limited budget, I would go for the Sigma 56mm f1.4 or the Sigma 30mm f1.4 as a started lens. You could buy both and still have extra money left over for other accessories compared to buying the single 16-55mm lens.

Who should purchase the Sony 16-55mm lens?

I think this lens would be great for travel photographers who want versatility and wide-angle zooms.

It would also be great for more seasoned photographers looking to do events or weddings and you need that same versatility for wide and telephoto shots. The f2.8 would help with low-light situations as well.

If you’re a beginner portrait photographer with a budget that fits this lens, then I would say go for it. You might not need any other lens at all since this one would cover your mid-range lengths.

If your budget doesn’t allow for it, save the money and go with a few prime lenses first and then work your way up to the Sony 16-55mm.

Conclusion

Compact, light-weight and versatile are the easiest ways to explain this lens. It is pricey but I am very happy that I got my copy of it.

You can now start finding this lens on the used market so you can save some money in the meantime. You can also check Amazon.com for deals that happen often with mirrorless camera gear.

The lens is an awesome addition to the Sony e-mount lineup and I am hopeful more and more lenses continue to come out and be made available specifically for the APSC system.

As always, happy shooting and best of luck!

Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 55mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 28mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 27mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 32mm | 1/200sec | ISO 125 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 26mm | 1/160sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 34mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 24mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 16mm | 1/500sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 24mm | 1/500sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 31mm | 1/500sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 16mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 16mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 55mm | 1/320sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 30mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 55mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 20mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 26mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 25mm | 1/200sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 43mm | 1/250sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 16mm | 1/160sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 27mm | 1/320sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 34mm | 1/160sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera
Sony 16-55mm portrait
Exposure Settings: Sony 16-55mm f2.8 @ 2.8 | 36mm | 1/160sec | ISO 100 | Sony a6400 camera

 

Author - Jason The Creative
My goal is not to be best portrait photographer. It’s to enjoy the journey and have some fun learning. Welcome to my photography blog on portraits, Sony gear and more.

If your interested, check out my portfolio at dallasportraits.com. I hope you learn something and leave being inspired to grab your camera and go out and shoot. Instagram.com/jasonthecreative


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