Sony FE 70-200mm f/4G OSS SEL70200G
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April 01, 2015
by Andrew Alexander
The Sony FE 70-200mm ƒ/4 OSS was announced shortly after the unveiling of the first two Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras, the A7 and A7R. Announced next to its wide-angle cousin -- the FE 24-70mm f/4 OSS Zeiss -- the 70-200mm FE lens appeared on store shelves in the middle of 2014.
The lens is designed to fit the full-frame sensor of its E-mount Alpha cameras, but also works on the sub-frame Alpha mirrorless series, where it produces an effective field of view of 105-300mm. It features a constant ƒ/4 aperture, Optical SteadyShot, and an removable tripod collar. It's slightly shorter and almost half the weight of its DSLR-specific A-mount 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 SSM, making it more appealing as a travel telephoto lens.
The lens ships with the ALC-SH133 lens hood, takes 72mm filters, and is available now for around $1,500.
The Sony 70-200mm ƒ/4 provides sharp results, even with at its widest aperture setting, between 70-135mm; at 200mm, we see a drop in sharpness, however.
When mounted on the sub-frame NEX-7, the lens produced sharp results at 70mm and ƒ/4. Zooming in to 100-135mm provides better results, however at 200mm sharpness drops off somewhat and the user must stop down for better results. Tack-sharp results are obtained by ƒ/5.6 at 100mm and 135mm, and ƒ/8 at 70mm, but at 200mm, no amount of stopping down will provide exceptional sharpness; there is always some trace of corner softness.
Mounted on the full-frame Sony a7R, sharpness results follow essentially the same trend as noted on the sub-frame NEX-7, with notably softer corners. Instead of ƒ/5.6, the sharpest results are obtained at ƒ/8, but with the exception of 100mm, we never see ''tack-sharp'' results from corner to corner.
Diffraction limiting begins to set in at ƒ/11, but it's not really noticeable until ƒ/16 and ƒ/22, where generalized softness impacts on sharpness across the frame.
The testing on this lens shows impressive resistance to chromatic aberration, on both the NEX-7 and a7R bodies; it's worth noting that, as we discovered when testing the Sony FE 35mm ƒ/2.8 lens, Sony RAW image files will have optical corrections baked in if they're enabled in the camera. We've tested the lens both with and without CA, vignetting and distortion corrections. The graphs here in this review, however, represent the results without correction applied.
With the 70-200mm ƒ/4 mounted on the sub-frame NEX-7, corner shading isn't significant, even with the lens used wide open at ƒ/4. Mounted on the full-frame a7R, it's only an issue when used at 70mm and ƒ/4; here, it shows corners that are two-thirds of a stop darker than the center. At any other setting, corner shading is negligible.
The Sony 70-200mm ƒ/4 shows some level of barrel distortion at 70mm, but it's not hugely significant. What is significant is the amount of pincushion distortion at 200mm. On the NEX-7 it's almost -0.4%, and on the a7R it's almost -0.8%.
The Sony FE 70-200 ƒ/4 OSS lens autofocuses very quickly, taking under one second to focus through the whole range. Nice and fast. It's also extremely quiet. It should be noted, however, that by default, the Sony A7R and A7 cameras have a "Pre-AF" setting enabled, which makes the camera continually focus, which can help speed up focusing as the lens may already be near the appropriate focus distance for whatever you're shooting. This setting can be disabled, though, as we found it can be distracting as well as impact battery life.
Manual focusing is also available on this lens, though like other Sony FE lenses, it uses an electrical focus-by-wire system. The focus ring on the lens will therefore rotate smoothly, but indefinitely with no stops at minimum and infinity focus distances. Also a consequence of the focus-by-wire design, there are no focus distance markings or window on this lens.
With a close-focusing distance of over 3 feet and a magnification of just 0.13x, don't look to this lens for any macro work.
Build Quality and Handling
The build quality of the 70-200mm ƒ/4 certainly meets its price point, with 21 elements of this lens solidly protected in a robust metal shell. The coloring of the lens is different than most Sony lenses which are all-black: this lens has the white texturized finish similar to Canon's L-glass. Sony's usual finely-ribbed focus rings are in black, however. The lens is lighter than its ƒ/2.8 A-mount counterpart - 840 grams, or around 30 ounces. It can be hand-held, much more so than the ƒ/2.8 model.
Sony camera bodies control aperture, so there's no aperture ring on the lens itself nor does the lens have a focus distance scale. With no depth-of-field scale, there is no infrared index point, if such an indicator is important to your use of the lens.
There are four switches on the side of the lens: the AF/MF toggle, the focus limiter switch, the Optical Image Stabilizer On/Off switch, and the associated OSS mode 1 or mode 2 switch (Mode 1 for hand-held shooting, Mode 2 for tripod/panning shots). The focus limiter allows you to restrict focus at the 3-meter mark (around 10 feet). There are three focus hold buttons placed at 90 degree intervals between the zoom and focus rings. Pressing these buttons will override autofocus operations, allowing the shooter to lock in exposure settings without engaging autofocus. The layout of these switches is very natural, in particular, the focus limiter and autofocus switches falling within easy reach of where you naturally hold the lens.
The zoom and focus rings are well-constructed, nicely damped and very smooth to turn. The lens design uses internally-moving elements, so the overall length of the lens does not change while zooming or focusing. The zoom ring is about an inch and a half wide, and requires a 90-degree turn to go through the zoom range. The focus is about an inch wide, and turns forever in either direction without stops to let you know you've reached either closest focus or infinity focus. Focusing will not rotate any attached 72mm front filters.
The 70-200mm ƒ/4 is equipped with Sony's Optical SteadyShot (OSS) system for providing a steady hand-held platform; in our testing it provided about two and a half stops of hand-holding improvement.
The lens comes equipped with a tripod mount which rotates easily between portrait and landscape modes; a hefty screw engages resistance to effect the turn.
The lens hood provided is quite substantial, a barrel-shaped hood lined with a matte material, which adds three inches to the overall length of the lens. As you would expect from a lens of this caliber, focusing or zooming does not rotate the front lens element.
Sony claims the lens features "dust and moisture resistance," however there's no rubberized gasket around the lens mount, so we recommend caution if you plan to use this lens in harsh conditions.
Sony 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 G ~$2,000
This model of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 is now discontinued by Sony, replaced by the version II model; it was definitely more of a bargain than the new version, by an order of $1,000. Optically, it was on par with the 70-200mm ƒ/4, though of course it allowed for an extra stop of light-gathering ability.
Sony 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 G SSM II ~$3,000
We haven't yet tested this lens, but it's definitely one of Sony's premier offerings.
Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 II EX DG Macro HSM APO ~$1,200
Slightly less expensive, Sigma offers the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 with optical stabilization. We haven't tested this version of the lens, but previous versions have been very good. However, it'll be a bit heavier than you're looking for, if you're interested in the weight savings of an ƒ/4 version of the 70-200mm lens.
Until recently, the FE 70-200mm was the longest focal length lens offered for Sony's relatively new full-frame mirrorless models. The Sony FE 70-200 ƒ/4 OSS offers a compact and comfortable shooting experience with a classic, versatile range of focal lengths. Optically, the lens is very good and carries many of the technical bells and whistles that an enthusiast to professional photographer demands -- good image stabilization and well-built construction (though we have our doubts about the lens's purported dust and moisture resistance).
While the ƒ/4 aperture is not as bright as the ƒ/2.8 version of a 70-200 lens, a native FE-mount option doesn't currently exist. Sony shooters can opt to use their larger, three-pound 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 SSM A-mount lens + an adapter if they need the extra light-gathering capabilities. But for all other avenues, the 70-200 ƒ/4 FE lens is solid choice for Sony mirrorless shooters looking for a high performance telephoto zoom.
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 ƒ/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 FE 70-200mm f/4G OSS SEL70200G User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by philbaum (1 reviews)Lightweight, well-made,stellar optics200mm end best at f5.6
I took some shots of a hillside on the other side of Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens. When i got home, i looked at these pictures, and one can make out the limbs on a small tree, 10 miles away. This shot was taken handheld at 200mm, f5.6, 1/1000s, 200isoreviewed October 7th, 2015 (purchased for $930)
I bought the A7RII about 2 months ago, and am awestruck by the resolution. I also have the FE 55 f1.8, so i know what sharp is. This lens is also very sharp. The lens foot easily removes to allow an even lighter lens. I don't miss an F2.8 lens at all.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by zoro02 (4 reviews)Sharp lens, beautiful creamy bokeh at full zoomHeavy, wish it's an F2.8
Fast AF especially when combined with A6000. Sharp even at 200mm. This is the Canon L F4 equivalent but also has a very creamy bokeh.reviewed April 17th, 2015 (purchased for $850)
It worked well for portrait and sports. Also a keeper for A7/A6000 Sony cameras. Only wish it could be smaller.