Sony FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS Lens Review – Part 1
Sony FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS is a full frame standard tele-zoom lens made for Sony E-mount cameras. It is a longest lens in a so called holly trinity – zoom lenses which covers FL from 16-200mm (usually 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200) that most professional photographers relies on. Sony introduced first Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 f/4 ZA OSS, lens that has that famous Zeiss “Z” on the body. I haven’t buy that lens, nor I plan to do, but according to the reviews, it is not without flaws, especially in the corners. On the other hand, I have seen many “real life” images, which were mostly nice and crisp and I certainly haven’t seen significant corner smearing. The only drawback of that lens in my opinion is rather high price. But that’s Sony…
There is one more thing to consider. When Sony introduced their first NEX cameras in June 2010, their main selling point was a large sensor in a small body. By taking off the mirror, Sony was able to design camera with a sensor of the same size as it was in many DSLRs that time, but in a much smaller package. Moving lenses closer to the sensor, allowed Sony to make them smaller too, and they indeed started with SEL 16/2.8 pancake lens, which made DSLR IQ system possible to carry in the pocket.
But since today, Sony haven’t released anything longer than 200mm (210 actually) for the E-mount. There is a good reason for that though… While short flange distance (distance between lens mounting flange and sensor plane) allow smaller lens design up to approx. 50mm. Lenses with longer FL won’t benefit much from a shorter flange distance and in a result they have to be almost as big as their DSLR equivalents. Understanding this, we should also understand why there are not many E mount lenses longer than 50mm and those there are, are usually quite big.
What Sony probably didn’t expect, is the number of experienced enthusiast and even professional photographers, who were attracted by the mirror-less concept. Once the whole show started, Sony realized that there might be space for bigger but professional grade lens, and by introducing full frame E mount cameras, that becomes even more clear.
So after already mentioned Zeiss standard zoom – FE 24-70 f/4 OSS ZA, we have FE 70-200 f/4 OSS with a Sony professional designation – label G. Let’s see, if this lens rightfully belongs to the G family…
Price is not friendly, especially for early adopters. In the time of this review writing, lens cost just bellow 1500 USD, but I had to pay for mine, even more in Europe – 1399 EUR (above 1800 USD). In comparison, mighty Canon EF 70-200 f/4 L IS USM, cost recently 1020 EUR (something above 1300 USD) and relatively new Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/4 ED VR costs 1099 EUR (approx. 1420 USD). That makes Sony in Europe significantly more expensive than closest competitors and the fact that tripod ring is included in the package, can hardly help.
You’d expect thus to get something really special for the price, and the build quality doesn’t disappoint for sure, but it also doesn’t pull far away, from already mentioned Canon or Nikkor.
On the specification sheet though, we can read that lens features some of the most advanced recent technologies:
Advanced Aspherical element – quite hard to produce (according to Sony) due to the high requirements on precision of molded process. This element should significantly improve spherical aberration, delivering in a result crispier and higher contrast image. It also help keeping lens smaller with fewer glass elements.
Two ED elements, one being labeled as a Super ED, which on result should reduce chromatic aberration and improve sharpness and color rendition. Sony nano AR coating should help surpassing external and internal reflections.
Internal focusing, keeping front element steady, which makes usage of polarizer filters much easier e.g. Lens length stays intact with IR, and AF is supposed to be faster.
Circular 9 blades aperture, good for circular OOF highlights when lens is stopped down a bit.
OSS – optical steady shot, Sony name for optical stabilization. I can’t find how many extra stops it should allow for hand holding, but I would guess from experience – 3 to 4.
Finally there are also focus range limiter and focus hold button. First should allow for faster focusing at longer distances, while second should help to lock the focus in AF-C mode. (more about it in – handling)
Most of those technologies are rather small improvements in a real life, but some of them, especially aspherical and ED elements, as well as modern coatings, really improve resulting images. (If well designed and applied of course).
My first thought after taking the lens from the box was – what a light lens for its type! Looking at the specification, we can see that heaviest is Nikon at 850g, followed by Sony at 840g and the lightest is Canon at 750g. I had all of those lenses in my hand, and I find Sony to subjectively be the lightest one, even if figures says something else. It could be that Sony weight is with included tripod ring and hood, while Canon was weighted without both.
Lens is white and that should help to keep it cooler in the hot sunny days (in theory) but mainly, it should make its owner look more professional. I don’t like white lenses, but I got used to them and don’t really care anymore.
In the box you will find already mentioned tripod ring, protective bag and plastic, but very light – lens hood.
This is probably first Sony E mount lens, that features some professional lens controls, such as focus hold button, AF/MF switch on lens, OSS stabilization switch with separate 2 modes (hand held 1 and monopod 2) and surprisingly – focus limiter (full range or 3m to infinity). With a minimum focus distance of only 1m, that can be useful addition for speeding up the AF at longer distances.
Tripod collar is smart design (you can put it on or off, without taking lens from camera), but it doesn’t have hard stop at landscape and portrait orientation which is surprisingly omitted by designers. That makes alignment of the lens a bit tricky, despite little printed dots for both positions that should help with the task.
Tripod mount foot is a bit short for my taste, but I usually don’t work with this light lenses, so it could be just fine.
Lens hood is plastic but well made and I don’t really see the reason to have metal hoods as some lenses features. It fits quite well (there are red dot and line for alignment) and locks in a 90° twist. There is very little wobbling when properly mounted. Lens cap has two handles on the top surface, so in theory it should be easy to mount or take off the cap with the hood on, but in practice, it needs a bit of effort. When the lens cap is on and you want to take off the hood to mount it in reverse, cap will most probably jump off though. When the hood is in reverse position, focus ring is covered and MF is not possible.
Focus hold button is welcomed feature for action photographers who are often using AF-C mode (continuous focusing). ILCE-7 and ILCE-7r cameras, needs firmware 1.02 for this function to be enabled and when using it, you might experience some inconsistence in EVF reported values against recorded one. To use this button, you should be in a AF-C mode and when you hold it, camera will lock the AF, until you release it. Imagine that you shot runner using AF-C and he runs behind the trees on his track. You’d like to keep focus on him, while the camera in AF-C will intend to refocus on the trees in front. That’s the moment when you press focus hold button, telling the camera to keep the focus where it was. You can of course use AF-lock on button to, but position of those buttons on the longer lens such as FE 70-200 f/4 OSS is much more convenient. In theory, those buttons should be programmable for some other functions, and I am quite surprised that Sony didn’t allow it. Maybe some future firmware releases or new camera models will allow it.
It is quite pleasing experience to shot with this lens on Sony A7/r/s cameras. While the lens look large and long (and it is to certain extent), due to its reasonable weight, system is well balanced, at least much better than it might look.
What I hate however is a focus by wire. During my test in the last few months, I constantly had a problem to properly focus this lens, either using clumsy Sony A7 AF system, or more importantly, using manual focus. If you are looking for the critical sharpness at f/4, you might find (at least I did) a problem to achieve it with this lens. (more about it later)
Testing the zoom lens is never easy. There are many images that needs to be taken, and many permutations that appears, if you want to create some valuable data in result.
Obligatory part of the review is some test chart. I am not using IMATEST generated MTFs, for many reasons, main being my skepticism toward reliability of data obtained that way by independent reviewers, and I don’t have optical bench to perform “pure” lens tests as I’d like to, but I will present you ISO 12333 chart that can be visually compared (and used for MTF results if you like too).
However, looking at the chart usually won’t tell you much, unless you can compare two images next to each other. For that reason, we are working hard to develop a module, that should allow our readers to select two lenses and/or cameras for direct comparison. It is quite demanding proposition, so meanwhile I have to stick with a Photoshop created “static” compositions.
In this case, I decided to put against Sony, one of the best standard tele-zooms that I know – Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM II. It isn’t quite fair comparison, so rather treat Canon as a reference, I never expected Sony to rival it, and in a test chart shoot out, it certainly didn’t. But test chart results are often quite useless for the real life situations, especially when it comes to things like field curvature, flaring resistance and distortion. I hope that with few sample images, you will see what I mean…
To make this review more readable, I decided to split it to several parts. In this first part, we will take a look at lens performance at 70mm.
Here is comparison of the 100% crops of the center part against Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM II
In the center, Canon is sharper at f/2.8 than Sony at f/4 but at f/8 both lenses are almost indistinguishable. However, in the corners, Canon pulls apart in terms of corner resolution.
Results here would indicate pronounced field curvature with Sony FE lens, but also very good control of CA.
Before you fall into conclusion that Sony lens under-performed here, please take a look at following samples…
With increased distance from the subject, field curvature start to fade as a problem. Here is shot at some 2.5 meters from the flat wall at f/4.
With increased distance from the subject, corners are already much better and by stopping lens further, you can expect – respectable results across the frame.
But moving even further from the subject shows even better improvement in terms of even performance across the frame and it also reveals already mentioned – effective control of chromatic aberrations.
Finally, let’s take a brief look at distortion at 70mm.
There is very slight barrel distortion, but nothing that stands out.
As you can see from the samples above, Sony FE might not have greatest MTF figures, because charts are shot at close to minimum focus distances. With increased distance to the focus plane, relative DOF increases too and thus field curvature becomes less relevant. Of course with the different zoom settings, performance will vary too.
You can read second part of the review here – http://www.verybiglobo.com/sony-fe-70-200-f4-g-oss-lens-review-part-2/
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