Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS SEL100400GM

 
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100-400mm $2,498
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Sony FE 100-400mm GM Product Overview

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Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Field Test

Sony's new G Master telephoto zoom lens excels in its unique role

by Jeremy Gray | Posted: 08/01/2017

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 800.
Click for full-res image. Click here for the RAW file.

Introduction

The Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens is the longest lens in Sony's ever-expanding mirrorless lens lineup. The telephoto zoom occupies a distinct role in Sony's G Master lineup and was announced alongside the Sony A9 camera, which makes perfect sense given that camera's emphasis on speed and the 100-400mm lens' excellent capabilities for fast-paced situations.

Not only is the new 100-400mm GM zoom the longest lens in the G Master lineup for Sony, it is also the longest full-frame lens Sony makes for their E-mount (Sony has a 300mm f/2.8 and a 500mm f/4 lens available for A-mount in addition to a 70-300mm A-mount zoom lens). This lens will be of particular interest to sports and wildlife photographers.

Highlights

  • Full-frame telephoto zoom lens
  • G Master lens, meaning it is constructed to Sony's highest optical standards
  • 100-400mm focal length range on full-frame, 150-600mm-eq. on APS-C cameras
  • 22 elements in 16 groups, including 2 ED and 1 Super ED elements
  • 5-axis image stabilization available on compatible bodies
  • Optical SteadyShot
  • Dust and moisture resistant
  • Retails for around US$2,500

Build Quality and Handling

Construction and Feel

The Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens has a very robust construction. The lens is dust and moisture resistant and feels like a professional optic. The lens is fairly heavy, but it is very manageable, especially for photographers accustomed to long prime lenses. The 100-400mm GM weighs 49.3 ounces (1,395 grams) without the tripod mount attached. The lens is just over 8 inches long (205 millimeters) and has a maximum diameter of 3.7 inches (93.9 millimeters). The filter thread is 77mm. I'd like to point out that the lens hood is excellent. Not only does it fit nicely onto the end of the lens, but it has a sliding door that allows you to reach in and rotate a polarizer without removing the hood, which is a nice touch and good attention to detail.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review -- Product Image

When paired with a Sony A7 II body, the lens balances quite nicely. On a smaller A6500 body, the lens looks very large, and its weight paired with the smaller size of the APS-C camera makes for a front-heavy combination.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review -- Product Image

Regarding the tripod foot, it is rugged and sturdy. The tripod collar can be rotated, which is nice, and the foot itself can be removed -- although it can be quite tough to remove.

The lens has a nice textured light gray finish, reminiscent of Sony's 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens. The model name is raised on the barrel of the lens but all other markings are painted on rather than engraved.

Rings and Switches

The ring closest to the camera body is the zoom ring, which is plenty wide and has a good grip on it. The zoom ring's tension can be adjusted using a ridged ring between the zoom ring and the camera body. The tension ranges from "Smooth" to "Tight," and I found myself opting for something roughly in the middle. At the "Smooth" end of the spectrum, the lens will creep when you have the camera tilted forward, which I don't like. There is no switch to lock the zoom at 100mm for traveling, but if you set the tension ring all the way to "Tight," it'd be hard-pressed to extend when in storage.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review -- Product Image

The focus ring is near the end of the lens barrel and is slightly narrower than the zoom ring. The focus ring rotates smoothly, and in my opinion, maybe too smoothly because it feels somewhat loose. It is difficult to make very precise manual focus adjustments with the 100-400mm lens, although it is not a lens I would expect many users to use with manual focus, so it's not a big issue.

There are four switches on the lens which control AF/MF, focus range, Optical Steady Shot On/Off and OSS mode (there are two options). In addition, there are three focus hold buttons on the barrel between the zoom and focus rings. The buttons are a good size and are conveniently located for both shooting in landscape or portrait orientation.

Overall

Overall, the Sony 100-400mm lens has a great build quality and feels very good in real-world use. The lens is large, but not too heavy to comfortably use for extended periods of time. Its build quality absolutely lives up to the G Master moniker.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review -- Product Image

Optical Quality

Optical Construction

As part of Sony's G Master series, the new 100-400mm zoom lens is required to have high optical quality. After all, it's a pro-oriented lens. To that end, it includes 22 elements across 16 groups, including 2 extra-low dispersion and a single Super ED element. The lens also includes Nano AR coating and a fluorine coating on the front element (for extra protection and easier cleaning). Let's find out if all this glass and the "GM" billing results in great optical quality.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 640.
100% crop. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sharpness: Impressive performance across the zoom range

I'm happy to report that this lens is very deserving of being included in Sony's high-end G Master lens lineup. All those elements and coatings result in fantastic sharpness across the entire zoom range. Even at 400mm and on a full-frame camera, the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 delivers high sharpness across the frame. I'm used to telephoto zoom lenses compromising on image quality for the sake of versatility, affordability and usability. There are no such compromises made with the G Master telephoto zoom.

At 100mm, the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS is sharp across the entire frame. In the two shots below, the first a center crop and the second a corner crop. You can see that even when shooting wide open at 100mm, the lens delivers very good performance on the full-frame Sony A7 II.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
Sony A7 II: 100mm (100mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO 100.
100% crop from the center of an unedited JPEG image shot with the above camera settings. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
Sony A7 II: 100mm (100mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO 100.
100% crop from the top right corner of an unedited JPEG image shot with the above camera settings. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

At 400mm, the lens remains very impressive, even when shooting wide open. In the shots below, you can see that when shooting a distant or close subject, the Sony 100-400mm G Master lens delivers very sharp results in the center and even in the corners, although corner sharpness does drop off more at 400mm than it does at 100mm.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100.
100% crop from the center of an unedited JPEG image shot with the above camera settings. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100.
100% crop from the top left corner of an unedited JPEG image shot with the above camera settings. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 100.
100% crop from the center of an unedited JPEG image shot with the above camera settings. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 100.
100% crop from the top left corner of an unedited JPEG image shot with the above camera settings. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

No matter what focal length you shoot at, full frame or crop sensor, the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens delivers very good performance for a powerful zoom lens. All else equal, a zoom lens generally will not deliver the same optical performance as a prime lens, but with this single optic, you can capture sharp shots from 100mm to 400mm. That is a good amount of reach, as you can see in the comparison shot below.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Sharpness Test Image
This comparison shows the zoom range of the Sony 100-400mm G Master lens on the Sony A7 II.

Vignetting performance is very good

Even on the full-frame Sony A7 II, the 100-400mm G Master lens showed very little vignetting. I noticed slightly more darkening toward the edges at 100mm than at 400mm, but in both a test scene and in real-world shooting, vignetting is barely an issue. The falloff performance here is excellent, even when shooting wide open.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Vignette Test Image
Sony A7 II: 100mm (100mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/640s, ISO 100, +1.33 EV.
Vignette test image. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Vignette Test Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 100, +1.33 EV.
Vignette test image. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Aberration and Flare

The Sony FE 100-400mm does a good job handling chromatic aberration overall during real-world shooting. While there is some CA visible in test shots, as can be seen below, in real-world use not many subjects caused issues. The exception to this was photographing loons, where some chromatic aberration and purple fringing can be seen around certain edges. This isn't unusual as loons are particularly challenging subjects in numerous ways.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Chromatic Aberration Test Image
Chromatic Aberration Test. Sony A6500.
These are from RAW files processed with Adobe Camera Raw defaults and no additional lens corrections applied. You could correct this chromatic aberration without much difficulty, but I wanted to show how the lens does in its worst-case scenario. Click here for the 100mm image and here for the 400mm image. RAW files are here: 100mm and 400mm.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A6500: 250mm (375mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 250.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A6500: 250mm (375mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 250.
100% crop of the above modified image showing some purple fringing around the high contrast details. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

When considering flare, the 100-400mm GM lens continues to impress. You have to go out of your way to introduce much lens flare. Even in the example shots below, with the sun barely out of the frame, it was not easy to get lens flare.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Lens Flare Test Image
Sony A6500: 107mm (160mm equiv.), f/14, 1/400s, ISO 100.
Notice the tiny bit of lens flare in the bottom right corner. The sun was just outside the frame. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Lens Flare Test Image
Sony A6500: 100mm (150mm equiv.), f/8, 1/160s, ISO 100.
The sun was just outside the frame and pointing right toward the lens, but the image has good contrast and barely, if any, lens flare is present. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Lens Flare Test Image
Sony A6500: 400mm (600mm equiv.), f/8, 1/500s, ISO 160.
The sun was just outside the frame and pointing right toward the lens but the image has good contrast and doesn't have lens flare. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Overall

For a $2,500 100-400mm zoom lens, I am very impressed by the Sony 100-400mm G Master lens. Even when shooting with a full-frame camera body, the new Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens is very sharp across the frame no matter which focal length you shoot at. Some long zoom lenses need to be stopped down to deliver the best performance, but that is not the case with this new lens from Sony. Its optical quality lives up to its "G Master" namesake.

In the Field

Autofocus: 100-400mm GM lens offers quick, reliable autofocus performance

In the field, the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS handles very well. I've discussed its build quality and optical performance extensively, but another aspect of the lens that is critically important is its autofocus performance. The lens has a floating focus mechanism driven by a combination of a double linear motor and Direct Drive SSM (DDSSM). All the technical lingo aside, this first-of-its-kind autofocus system delivers fast, accurate AF performance across the focal length range.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 339mm (339mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 250.
Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

On the full-frame Sony A7 II, the 100-400mm focused quickly, with its only weakness being at or around 400mm -- the lens was sometimes hesitant to refocus on a very close subject, forcing me to manually override it to help it along. This didn't happen often and only was an issue when near the close-focus limit (more on that in the next section). On the crop sensor A6500, the 100-400mm lens was not quite as fast to lock focus, but it was still speedy.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A6500: 333mm (499mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 500.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

It can be difficult to make direct comparisons across lenses from different manufacturers given how important the camera body itself can be -- but I expect the 100-400mm is even better on the new Sony A9 than it is on the A7 II -- and I would say that the GM 100-400mm lens focuses as quickly or quicker than the Canon 100-400mm lens and faster than the Nikon 200-500mm lens.

Another perk of the lens is its focus hold buttons, which work well and make focus and recompose situations easy. They're also useful when I was waiting for birds to appear so that I wouldn't accidentally touch the shutter and trigger a focus adjustment while waiting to capture shots.

Close Focus: You can get impressively close to your subject with this long zoom lens

The Sony 100-400mm GM OSS lens has very impressive close focus capabilities, although as I mentioned above the focus speeds can decrease at the extremes. The close focus distance of the lens is 3.22 feet (0.98 meters), which results in a maximum magnification of 0.35x and a max magnification ratio of 1:2.86. This is very good for a long zoom lens and allowed me to shoot nice images not only of small birds from a blind but also of flowers and other still life.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Close Focus Test Image
Sony A7 II: 100mm (100mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/500s, ISO 500.
Close focus test image. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Close Focus Test Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 800.
Close focus test image. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Close Focus Image
Sony A6500: 100mm (150mm equiv.), f/4.5, 1/800s, ISO 500.
Close focus test image. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Close Focus Image
Sony A6500: 400mm (600mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 800.
Close focus test image. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

In the Field: Collection of sample shots

The Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens impresses across the board, from its build quality, image quality and autofocus performance. No lens is perfect though, and an area where I occasionally felt the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 to be wanting is with regard to its low-light performance. When shooting from around 160mm to 400mm, the maximum aperture is f/5.6 and that can be limiting when photographing moving subjects in low light. This is a great lens for wildlife, but it must be paired with a camera that performs well at high ISOs. Many shots I captured were at ISO 3200 and higher.

As camera's high ISO performance continues to improve, I suspect that we will see a continued shift toward versatile, lightweight long zoom lenses rather than the heavy, expensive fast exotic prime telephoto lenses you see many professional sports and wildlife shooters using. The optical quality is there with the new Sony 100-400mm lens, to be sure, but I was occasionally left yearning for a faster aperture, not only for dealing with low light situations but also for creating better subject separation from the background. At the end of the day, there is no lens that will excel in every situation, but this telephoto zoom lens gives sports and wildlife shooters in particular a fighting chance in nearly every scenario.

I've included a selection of some of my favorite shots captured with the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens below.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A6500: 400mm (600mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 2000.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 160.
100% crop inset. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been cropped. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 500.
This image has been modified. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 291mm (291mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 250.
Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 388mm (388mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 400.
This image has been cropped. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Sony A7 II: 400mm (400mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 2000.
This image has been cropped. Click for original image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Field Test Summary

A home run for Sony E-mount owners

What I like:

  • Great build quality
  • Excellent image quality
  • Good control of chromatic aberration
  • Versatile zoom range - and a really nice zoom mechanism
  • Impressive close focus capabilities
  • Despite being expensive, this is a great value given its unique role in the E-mount lineup

What I didn't like:

  • Quite front-heavy with the APS-C A6500 body
  • Autofocus can be slow when focusing on a close subject, especially at the telephoto end
  • Focus ring feels loose
  • Not easy to remove the tripod foot

While the performance of a zoom lens won't match a similar prime lens, all else equal, the Sony 100-400mm G Master lens is still incredibly sharp and performs very well. Considering its versatility, build quality, optical quality and price, the Sony 100-400mm GM is a home run and deserves a place in the kit of every Sony E mount shooter in need of telephoto reach. Granted, it is still $2,500 and that is a lot of money, but if you can afford this lens, buy it.

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Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Review -- Overview

(From Sony lens literature) Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world's largest image sensor manufacturer, has today introduced their furthest reaching E-mount lens, the FE 100-400mm F4.5--5.6 GM OSS Super Telephoto Zoom (model SEL100400GM).

The new full-frame lens maintains the high standard of resolution that is shared among all of Sony's flagship line of G Master™ series, while also offering incredibly fast, precise AF capabilities, a lightweight, portable design and a variety of professional functions and customizability. It's an exceptionally powerful photographic tool for a variety of enthusiast and professional shooters, in particular those that are commonly shooting sports or wildlife.

Uncompromised G Master Design and Performance

A super telephoto zoom that meets the intense build requirements of Sony's acclaimed G Master series lens lineup, the new FE 100-400mm GM model produces outstanding corner-to-corner sharpness throughout the lens' zoom and focus ranges and beautiful rendered 'bokeh' or background defocus, ensuring the finest details are brought out in every subject and scene.

The complex design features 22 lens elements configured in 16 different groups, including one Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and two ED glass elements, all of which are working together to minimize chromatic aberration and ensure the ultimate resolution is captured. The lens also has Sony's original Nano AR coating, which is particularly useful for shooting sports scenes or wildlife, as it reduces unwanted reflections.

Precise, Quick AF Performance

In order to keep up with fast-moving action, the new FE 100-400mm GM super telephoto zoom lens features a combination of double linear motor and a Direct Drive SSM actuator, which also ensures precise, quiet operation.

The double motor system allows rapid focus lens drive acceleration to capture the sudden motion that is common with sports and wildlife photography, while high precision positioning control and a newly optimized AF algorithm ensure the subject is quickly found and focused on. This ensures that the maximum AF performance of a camera like the new α9 is realized.

Lightweight Design, Extensive Customizability

In order to satisfy the extensive demands of customers craving lighter, smaller and more portable super telephoto lenses, the new FE 100-400mm GM weighs in at a mere 49.3 ounces (1,395 grams), making it among the lightest in its class and an ideal fit for Sony's wide range of compactly designed cameras.

Functionally, the lens has a zoom torque adjustment ring -- a first for Sony α -- allowing the user to adjust the level of torque in the ring to zoom faster or slower depending on their shooting style. There is also a focus hold button that can also be assigned to variety of functions including focus mode selection, AF area selection or the popular Eye AF lock feature.

The telephoto zoom lens is dust and moisture resistant as well1, and has fluorine coating on the front lens that makes it easier to remove dust or grease. There is also a removable tripod mount.

Professional Operation and Reliability

The new FE 100-400mm GM Super Telephoto Zoom lens features built-in optical image stabilization, ensuring that sharp images can be captured during handheld shooting. It also offers a minimum focusing range of just 3.22 feet (0.98 meters), which maximizes its versatility in the field, and a 9 bladed circular aperture design that produces soft, beautiful bokeh.

The FE 100-400mm GM is compatible with both the 1.4x (model SEL14TC) and 2.0x (model SEL20TC) teleconverters, allowing photographers and videographers to shoot at up to 800mm on full-frame cameras and approx.1200mm (35mm full-frame equivalent) on APS-C cameras.

Pricing and Availability

The new FE 100-400mm GM Super Telephoto Zoom Lens ship this July for about $2,500 US and $3,399 CA.

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