Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS SEL200600G

 
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200-600mm $1,998
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Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Hands-On Preview

by William Brawley | Posted 06/11/2019

When it comes to versatility, it's hard to argue with the appeal of a zoom lens. It's perhaps especially so when you get into the realm of supertelephoto lenses, which are often big, heavy, and usually very expensive. So, for photographers wanting to capture sports, wildlife, birds and other far-off subject matter, having a single lens that can "do it all" is an appealing concept.

In the Sony camp, they already offer a classic 100-400mm full-frame zoom, which is already quite a versatile, high-quality zoom, but for those who want or need more reach, the new FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS zoom lens is a very tempting option.

Sony A9: 415mm, f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 5000

For full-frame shooters, DSLR systems have long offered a wide variety of similar supertelephoto zoom lenses, both from OEM and third-party manufacturers. For example, Nikon offers a 200-500mm zoom for F-mount and both Sigma and Tamron produce a 150-600mm lens -- Sigma, in fact, offers two versions -- for DSLR systems. For mirrorless systems, things are a bit more sparse, especially for native lenses for full-frame systems. In fact, the Sony FE 200-600mm lens is currently the world's first native supertelephoto zoom lens for a full-frame mirrorless system. Sure, Sony shooters could use one of their DSLR lenses with an FE-mount adapter, but there could potentially be performance and compatibility issues. For Sony Alpha owners looking for a super-long, all-one-zoom, the FE 200-600mm lens addresses that gap in the market.

Announced alongside the FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens, I also had the chance to test this high-powered zoom lens for a couple of days, shooting both soccer and birds. Surprising for both its lightweight design and its affordable price point, this new Sony superzoom lens looks to be a really great option for enthusiast Sony shooters looking for a powerful zoom lens.

Sony A9: 200mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO 5000

Build Quality & Handling

Keen-eyed readers will notice that the FE 200-600mm lens, unlike its shorter FE 100-400mm GM sibling, is not designated as one of Sony's top-tier G Master series of lenses. Rather, it's a G Series lens, Sony's middle-level lens family. Sony wanted to create a lens for multiple types of photographers, at various skill levels and budgetary levels, and thus designed it within their G Series of lenses. However, don't think that just because this isn't a top-of-the-line G Master that it's somehow inferior or low quality; far from it! The lens construction and overall build quality feel robust and very solid, and from my testing so far, the image quality and AF performance are fantastic. According to Sony, the lens also features "dust and moisture resistant" construction, however, just how sealed this lens is has yet to be determined.

Let's start with build quality. At first glance, it appears much like any other white Sony telephoto lens. However, a unique feature of the 200-600mm, unlike most other full-frame supertelephoto lenses, is that it's an internally zooming lens (it's internally focusing, too). By using an internal zooming design, the lens does not extend or change length at all when you zoom. I was already impressed by the compactness of the 200-600mm from the start, but having the lens stay the same length is a very, very nice touch.

For usability, the internal zooming design avoids issues with lens creep that a lot of long-zooming lenses suffer from, and it also reduces issues with balance and front-heaviness that you might feel if the lens physically extended as you zoomed. In actual use I did notice a slight bit of front-heaviness once I zoomed to 600mm -- the lens elements are, after all, still moved around inside the barrels as you change focal length. I should stress the word "slight." It didn't negatively impact usability, but you can feel a subtle change in overall balance if you're looking for it.

Though the 200-600mm lens is likely to be used for still photography first and foremost, it can be used for video shooting as well. The internal zooming design is a plus for video, as well, as it lets you easily use cinema-style accessories, like a matte box on the front of the lens. Furthermore, the lens is designed for minimal focus breathing, which means there should be very little change to framing as focus changes -- a visually distracting issue otherwise, particularly for video shooters.

In terms of the optical layout, the 200-600mm features 24 total elements situated into 17 groups, and includes five ED glass elements and one aspherical element to suppress chromatic aberrations.

Overall, the lens looks and feels very similar to the 100-400mm GM lens. The zoom ring is large, with nice grip material, and is very smooth to rotate. The focus ring is smaller, but rotates easily. Like most Sony telephoto lenses, it features the standard array of controls (AF/MF toggle, focus limiter, focus memory/preset buttons, and image stabilizer mode switch). It also has front screw-in filter threads, a reversible lens hood, and a two-part tripod collar/foot.

Image Quality & Performance

Similar to the new 600mm f/4, I was only able to shoot with the new 200-600mm lens for a brief period over a weekend, so it's too soon to make any final verdicts on the lens' image quality performance. That being said, what I've seen so far based on real-world shots has been impressive. Image quality overall is quite good; the 200-600mm captures very crisp, detail-rich images. I also observed little to no CA or vignetting with the bare lens.

I shot with both the 200-600mm and new 600mm f/4 side by side at an evening MLS soccer match, and I quickly noticed the disadvantage to the 200-600mm's dimmer variable aperture: Noise. Although the stadium was nicely lit, the dimmer aperture range of the 200-600mm combined with the necessary fast shutter seeds used for sports meant the ISO of my images climbed significantly compared to those from the 600mm f/4. Thankfully, the Sony A9 has great high ISO performance, but it's definitely something to be aware of with the 200-600mm; this is a lens that's best used outdoors or in other brighter conditions.

Sony A9: 463mm, f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 8000

In terms of autofocus performance, the 200-600mm lens is extremely responsive, offering swift single-shot AF speeds as well as excellent tracking performance. The lens uses a Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave Motor, or DDSSM, for driving autofocus adjustments. Unlike the 600mm f/4 or 400mm f/2.8 lens, which both use Sony's newer XD Linear Motors, the 200-600mm doesn't require this higher-speed, higher-precision linear AF motor system since the focusing group inside the 200-600mm is smaller and lighter than those in the supertelephoto primes. So, even though the 200-600mm doesn't utilize Sony's fanciest, uber-precise AF motors, AF performance proved fast and accurate.

I should point out that I'm not a full-time professional sports or bird photographer, so there were times where I did miss focus. However, I'm more comfortable chalking that up to user error rather than placing blame on the lens. Overall, there was never a time where I felt frustrated or disappointed in the focusing performance of the lens.

Using the 200-600mm with a 2x teleconverter -- Handheld shooting up to 1200mm!

One interesting thing to point out about the 200-600mm lens is that, despite its fairly dim variable f/5.6-6.3 max aperture range, the lens is still compatible with Sony's 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters. That in and of itself isn't a big shocker, as other variable-aperture long telephoto zoom lenses from other manufacturers are usable with teleconverters. However, when using teleconverters on these types of lenses, you often run the risk of having a maximum aperture smaller than f/8. Most, if not all, DSLRs are not capable of through-the-viewfinder AF functionality past f/8. There is no such limitation here with the Sony 200-600mm and teleconverters. The 200-600mm + 2x TC on the A9 offer full AF performance with little to no observable degradation of AF speed. Here I was handholding a full-frame lens at 1200mm while tracking and capturing birds in flight. That is bonkers!

Using the 200-600mm with a 2x teleconverter -- Handheld shooting up to 1200mm!
Sony A9: 742mm, f/13, 1/1000s, ISO 3200

One downside, though, is that the 200-600mm lens plus the 2x teleconverter knocks the max aperture range down to f/11-13. That's pretty dim. Even in bright daylight, I was, again, seeing the ISO level rise on my camera. Plus, with such a narrow aperture, sensor dust is also a more obvious problem. I also noticed a bit of vignetting with the 2x TC attached.

Watch out for sensor dust when using a teleconverter on the 200-600mm.
Sony A9: 712mm, f/13, 1/1000s, ISO 500

Another thing that I initially forgot to factor-in was heat distortion. On a hot, sunny morning, the sand here was already radiating a lot of heat, which can be easily picked up in long telephoto images. Notice in the close-up crop below, that due to the heat waves rising off the sand, pretty much nothing in focus is actually crisp and sharp, and there is a lot of wavy background distortion artifacts. I found this to be more pronounced with the super-long focal lengths of the 200-600mm + 2.0x teleconverter, but I also observers it with the 600mm f/4.
Sony A9: 712mm, f/13, 1/1000s, ISO 500

Summary

All in all, the Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G lens is an impressive zoom lens. Image quality is excellent, as is AF performance, based on my initial real-world shooting experience. I can't wait to get my hands on this lens again to shoot more with it as well as test it in our lab. With a price point of $2000, this full-frame supertelephoto is pricier than DSLR competitors, particularly those from third-party manufacturers. But, given the lens' design, build quality, features and overall performance, the Sony 200-600mm is shaping up to be a very impressive lens at a reasonable price.

 

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS SEL200600G

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