Sony 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SAL-75300
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(From Sony lens literature) Get extremely close to your subjects from a relaxing distance. The SAL-75300 zoom lens lets you take incredible close-up portraits without making your subject nervous.
The Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is an economic introduction to the telephoto zoom category of lenses. Priced at $229, the lens offers a versatile range of telephoto focal lengths at a price that won't break the bank.
The specifications of this lens appear identical to the Konica Minolta 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 zoom lens, suggesting the only real difference between the two is cosmetic. On a Sony digital body with a 1.5 crop factor, the lens will represent a 112-450mm lens in 35mm film terms. It's a full-frame lens design, so it won't vignette on a Minolta film body or a forthcoming full-frame Sony body. It weighs in at just over a pound (460 grams) and takes the smaller 55mm filters. It ships with a solid circular lens hood and a carrying case.
On the whole, and for the money, the Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 produces fairly sharp images. Wide open at ƒ/4.5 and 75mm, the lens gives above-average performance with a touch of softness in some areas of the image; above 100mm, this softness increases, and by 300mm, the image is quite soft across the frame.
Closing down the aperture by just one stop improves this performance dramatically. As is the case with most economy-style lenses, optical performance is optimized towards the middle, most-often used apertures and focal lengths. In the case of this lens, ƒ/8 produces the most consistently good results across all focal lengths with more of an emphasis on focal lengths below 105mm. At 75mm and ƒ/8, you get a tack-sharp image, about as good as our test will measure, and I would point to that as the optimal setting for this lens.
Above ƒ/16, performance begins to suffer as diffraction sets in (it should be noted that at ƒ/16 and 75mm, sharpness is still excellent). Extremely small apertures are possible with this lens (ƒ/32, ƒ/36 and ƒ/40) but the soft images produced make it hardly worth it.
Chromatic aberration is well-controlled up to about 200mm, where light purple fringing becomes evident on edge sections in the image. To its credit, this effect is present more noticeably in smaller apertures than large, so using this lens at farther end of the telephoto spectrum may result in a trade-off between sharpness and chromatic aberration.
Vignetting isn't really a problem for the Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6. Only at two points, (75mm, ƒ/4.5 and 300, ƒ/5.6) will you see a third of a stop less light in the corners than in the center of the image. In all other situations, corner light loss is negligible.
Our test results for distortion show excellent results for this lens. Distortion is pretty much what you'd expect for a telephoto lens, ie., pincushion ("squeezed in"), but you really only see it when zoomed in greater than 135mm. At its most obvious, at 300mm, you're still only distorted by 0.25%, which is easily correctable in most image processing software.
To its credit, the lens is optimized at the zoomed-out range (75-85mm), where distortion is almost zero percent.
The focusing operation of Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is conducted mechanically. The autofocus isn't particularly fast or quiet, talking probably around one second for the entire range. It's not an internal focusing lens, so there is some forwards-backwards travel as the lens focuses, but more importantly, the assembly rotates as it focuses, meaning any filters attached are also going to rotate as they focus. Not a huge issue, it just means that while using a polarizing or graduated filter you'll want to make sure you're focused before you align your filter to your preference.
The lens isn't a dedicated macro lens, focusing fairly distant (4' 11'', 1.5m) from the subject. The lens provides a magnification of 0.25x.
Build Quality and Handling
The lens is well constructed, with a rugged plastic mechanism. Being a budget lens there aren't any frills such as a distance scale or aperture ring. There is quite a bit of lens extension during zooming, with the lens almost doubling its length. Zoom creep wasn't really a factor for this lens; we only saw it if we waved it around substantially.
The focus ring travels about 1/4 of the diameter of the lens, not great for accurate manually focus, but not the worst we've seen. To its credit the focus ring is substantial and well-textured, rather than just an afterthought. You can hear the gears whirring as you turn the focus manually. Being gear-coupled, manual focus can only happen when the camera is in MF mode.
Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G SAL-70300G ~$800
We haven't yet reviewed this lens; at the time of writing, it hasn't yet hit the store shelves (Spring 2008). On paper, there's not much that differentiates the two lenses other than a big price jump: it's expected to sell for around $800. The lens contains another group of three lens elements and has some perks such as a dedicated focus button and a distance scale, so in theory, it should be a quality optic deserving of the higher price tag.
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro APO ~$200
We haven't reviewed this lens either, but our wild speculation would be similar optical characteristics and build quality. However, as with the Tamron, you get macro mode tossed in.
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 AF ~$180
With a much lower price, the Tamron actually has better results for sharpness and resistance to vignetting, and comparable results for chromatic aberration and distortion. Focusing speed is a little slower, but you get the added bonus of a macro mode (0.50x magnification and a 37" close-focus distance) at 300mm. Build quality about the same.
Konica Minolta 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 ~$?
This lens hasn't been subjected to our tests, but it's logical to assume it's the same lens, given that Sony assumed all of Konica-Minolta's technology to make its Alpha line.
The Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is a capable budget zoom lens, and set to the right aperture and focal length you can get images of a high optical quality. However, it has a few weak points - image softness and chromatic aberration above 100mm, and we're not big fans of lenses whose front filters turn while focusing or zooming. You shouldn't feel bad if you got this lens as part of the A100 twin-lens kit, and it is certainly a good second lens if you already have the 18-70mm lens and want to stay loyal to the Sony system. However, at these price points, you might be better off with the worthy Tamron 70-300mm macro. Or, if you can find it, you may find identical performance with the Konica Minolta 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and f/8. For the "VFA" target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sony 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SAL-75300 User Reviews
7 out of 10 points and recommended by dupmeister (5 reviews)solid build, good qualitysoft at 300, slightly stiff zoom ring
I have the minolta version of this lens but they seem identical so I will give my reflections on it based on what I discovered about the Minolta.reviewed September 26th, 2008
its a good enough lens, not a top performer but then again we are not paying anywhere near top performer prices are we? for the money its a good lens, very solid feel and weight to it, in my copy the zoom gets stiff at 135 and 200 but that is not a major disadvantage considering the lens starts to get soft after 200 and its sharpest is 135 so if you are zooming while looking through the viewfinder you know you are at 135 when the zoom sticks the first time and if you push past that resistance you know you are at 200 when it sticks again.
This lens will serve me well until I can plunk down the $800 for either a 70-300G or a Sigma 70-200
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Focus (11 reviews)Good build, good IQ, lightZooms a little tight
I tried the Canon and Nikon equivalents, but found this better in IQ and weight. Excellent value.reviewed May 11th, 2008
8 out of 10 points and recommended by touristguy87 (33 reviews)decent IQ, *real* cheap if you catch it on a rebateslightly soft images, short zoom range
Can't say too much about it that's bad. It's definitely not as sharp as say an EF-L 70-200 F2.8 but it's not bad. If you're just looking for a cheap knockabout 70-300 lens with decent IQ you can hardly fault this one. Especially not at $135.reviewed February 10th, 2008 (purchased for $135)
SSS definitely takes a load off the lens. I think all alpha-mount lenses have to have a fudge-factor added onto them. If the cameras were better these lenses would be extremely hard to beat even with average IQ