Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS SEL400F28GM

 
Lens Reviews / Sony Lenses i Not yet tested
400mm $11,998
average price
image of Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS SEL400F28GM

Updates:
06/27/2018: Hands-On Preview & Gallery Images posted

 

Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM Hands-On Preview

We take Sony's long-awaited 400mm f/2.8 supertele lens to an MLS game!

by | Posted 06/27/2018

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 1250
This image has been edited from the raw file. Please click to see the original.

Alongside the A7R III launch back in October 2017, Sony gave out another tidbit of long-awaited information: the development of a full-frame 400mm f/2.8 G Master supertelephoto lens. We then spotted the lens in-person (but under glass) at this year's CP+ in Japan. But now, at last, the FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens is here!

Sony's gone gangbusters with the pace of developing their full-frame mirrorless cameras, creating multiple bodies in a very short span of time. Importantly, too, they are also quickly filling out their quiver of native lenses for these cameras. This latest addition of a 400mm f/2.8 is a crucial step in attracting an important segment of professional photographers to the Sony full-frame mirrorless system. Earlier in 2017, Sony debuted the A9, its flagship high-performance camera designed to compete with the likes of the Canon 1DX II and Nikon D5 -- in other words, a pro-tier sports- and wildlife-type camera. Now, when it comes to catering to professional wildlife and, in particular, sports photographers, having a 400mm f/2.8 lens in your lineup can almost be a make-or-break decision on whether or not one of these photographers picks your brand of camera. The Sony A9 has proven to be a fantastic camera, with excellent image quality and stunning performance capabilities, and now with a 400mm f/2.8 on the way, the Sony mirrorless system is even more competitive against long-time rival manufacturers.

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 1250
This image has been edited from the raw file. Please click to see the original.

Ahead of the official announcement of this FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master lens, with full specs, pricing and availability details, a group of press members had an opportunity to test out this new supertelephoto lens in one of the best ways possible: photographing an MLS soccer match. Paired to an A9 (of course) I tried my hand at capturing some fast-paced sports action. Now, I'm not a professional sports photographer, though I have shot sports from time to time (this was, however, only my second time shooting professional soccer). That said, I did manage to get a healthy selection of solid photos that I feel show off the image quality and capabilities of this lens.

Feel free to jump directly to the Gallery Page, where I have both RAWs* and JPEGs available, as well as a handful of Capture One-edited Raw conversions. Otherwise read on below for my Hands-On First Impressions look at the lens' handling characteristics, build quality, and a closer look at the image quality...

(*Note that due to memory card capacity limitations, I used the A9's "compressed RAW" format when shooting RAW+JPEG.)

Design & Handling

One of the most significant issues with supertelephoto lenses, perhaps not surprisingly, is the physical dimensions. For full-frame cameras, supertelephoto lenses, especially ones with bright f/2.8 apertures, are often massive, heavy lenses. For example, Canon's popular EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II weighs-in at a hefty 8.5 lbs. (3.9kg) -- itself much lighter than the original 400mm f/2.8L IS that tipped the scales at a whopping 11.5 pounds! And it's the same story on the Nikon side of the coin as well.

However, Sony managed to make a full-frame 400mm f/2.8 that's remarkably lightweight, all things considered. Not only does that bode well merely for weight savings in general, but it also helps when it comes to a comfortable balance when mounted to Sony's inherently smaller, lighter mirrorless camera bodies. In total, the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM lens weighs only 6.38 lbs (2.89kg), making it the lightest full-frame 400mm f/2.8 lens to date.

It's not only the weight that Sony's taken into account, but also how the lens itself balances on the camera. The optical layout of the lens (which incorporates 23 elements in 17 groups) is arranged in such a way that many of the lens elements are towards the rear of the lens barrel. There's obviously a few large elements towards the front, but there's a deliberate and fairly large air gap towards the front end of the lens that helps prevent the lens from feeling front-heavy.

So how does it handle in real life? The FE 400mm f/2.8 GM feels amazingly solid and well-built and is indeed incredibly lightweight and well-balanced for such a large, bright telephoto lens. I had the lens paired with an A9 body plus the battery grip, and I didn't notice much, if any, front-heaviness. It's very well-balanced on that camera setup. For comparison, there were a couple of Canon 1D X Mark IIs and Nikon D5s with their respective 400/2.8 lenses, and the Sony A9 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM was a breath of fresh air. The Nikon and Canon 400mm lenses are noticeably heavier and are quite front-heavy, even with these larger camera bodies.

In fact, during my time shooting the Sony 400mm lens, I was easily able to hand-hold the lens without issue -- which would be straight-up crazy talk had I been using the Canon or Nikon setup. Now, the Sony lens is still around 6 lbs, so it's not the lightest thing in the world; I would certainly get tired of hand-holding it after a while. But, it's not impossible. You can easily operate and control this lens handheld should you need to, depending on the subject or situation. In my case, while I was often using a monopod, there was a portion in which extra players and a referee moved in front of me, and it was faster and easier just to get up and move, leaving the monopod behind. Having that freedom is quite nice.

As for other handling or design notes, the Sony 400mm lens feels incredibly well-built, as it should considering its $12,000 price. The Japanese-made lens is all weather-sealed, is compatible with both 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters, and features the standard array of controls (AF/MF toggle, focus limiter, focus memory/preset buttons, image stabilizer mode switch, and a programmable function ring). It also has a rear drop-in filter, a large, reversible lens hood, and a robust tripod collar/foot.

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 800
Straight-from-camera JPEG.

Image Quality & Performance

To be a professional-class lens, the image quality has to be very, very good, and thankfully the Sony 400mm f/2.8 doesn't disappoint in this area. Shooting super-fast-paced, unpredictable sports like soccer with a full-frame 400/2.8 lens at f/2.8 makes for tricky shooting due to the incredibly shallow depth of field. Luckily, the A9 has terrific subject tracking autofocus, and the 400mm lens itself has incredibly fast autofocus, so I wasn't left with too many dud photos where the focus was entirely off. For the shots I did miss, it's hard to know for sure if it was the camera/lens or simply user error (given my rather brief experience so far at photographing soccer, I'm going to guess it's more of the latter than the former).

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 1250
This is still a nice reaction shot after scoring a goal, I think, but if you look at the crops below, it's obviously that I missed focus ever-so-slightly on any of the players' faces. Instead, you can see how the left hand of forward Bradley Wright-Phillips is actually in sharp focus. The shallow depth of field created by a full-frame 400mm f/2.8 can be very tricky!

Ok, now for image quality... Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM is very sharp based on my initial real-world experience. We've yet to get this lens in-house for our detailed lab testing, but so far, this lens has excellent resolving power even at f/2.8, with lots of sharp, fine detail in the center as well as out into the far corners. Chromatic aberration seems practically nonexistent based on the photos I've taken as well. As is the case with other Sony G Master lenses, special attention has been given to bokeh quality, and to my eye, the 400mm f/2.8 GM creates wonderfully smooth, non-distracting out of focus areas.

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 500
This image has been edited from the raw file. Please click to see the original.

Performance-wise, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM focuses extremely quickly. In fact, I barely even thought about autofocus during my time shooting with the lens; it's not really worth mentioning here. It works, and it works exceptionally well. While shooting, I kept watching the A9 lock onto the subject and continuously track it, rarely faulting. I never noticed or experienced any oddities or issues concerning autofocus performance when using the 400mm f/2.8.

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 1000
Straight-from-camera JPEG.

This experience falls in line with how Sony describes the AF performance of the lens. The 400mm f/2.8 was designed specifically for precise, super-fast AF, particularly continuous AF, in order to meet the ultra-fast shooting speeds of the A9. Rather than use ring-drive AF motors, like a DSLR lens, the Sony's 400mm uses linear actuator motors (dubbed "XD Linear Motors") which they claim offer five times faster AF tracking than traditional ring-drive or SSM-drive telephoto lenses. In the end, what this all means is that the camera and lens communicate and operate extremely quickly; the lens should focus fast enough to take full advantage of high-performance cameras, such as the 20fps-capable A9.

400mm, f/2.8, 1/1600s, ISO 800
This image has been edited from the raw file. Please click to see the original.

Summary

From what I've seen, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM is one heck of a lens. But for a flagship, professional supertelephoto lens that costs $12,000, I shouldn't really expect anything less. Optically, Sony's knocked it out of the park with the other G Master lenses, and the 400mm f/2.8 falls right in line. What is amazing is its unique optical design and construction that allows this often-massive full-frame lens to be nimble, balanced, and easy to hold in your hand, without the use of a monopod. One of the big draws for a mirrorless camera is the lighter and smaller design of the cameras, but for a full-frame model, lenses are still often quite large. To make a full-frame 400mm f/2.8 lens that balances well on a mirrorless camera and that's easy to operate handheld is nothing short of impressive.

I can't wait to shoot more with this lens as well as see how it fares in our lab testing, but so far, the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM looks like a clear winner in my book.

 

• • •

 

Product Overview

(From Sony lens literature)

Sony Introduces the Long-Awaited 400mm F2.8 G Master™ Prime Lens

New Large Aperture Super-Telephoto Prime Lens is World's lightest in its class, with outstanding AF performance, innovative optical design and exceptional image quality

Sony – a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world's largest image sensor manufacturer – has announced the highly anticipated FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS large aperture super-telephoto prime lens (model SEL400F28GM).

The product of extensive research and testing, Sony's new FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS lens is the first large aperture super-telephoto prime to join the E-mount lineup. This exciting new lens produces brilliant image quality with extraordinary focusing speed and precision, while also boasting the lightest weight in its class1 and an extremely balanced design. It's the ideal choice for professional sports, wildlife and nature photographers, and a perfect complement to Sony's extensive lineup of high-speed E-mount bodies including α9, α7R III and more.

"We're extremely excited and proud to officially introduce the new 400mm F2.8 G Master prime lens," said Neal Manowitz, Vice President of digital imaging at Sony Electronics. "The latest in our flagship series of G Master Lenses, this new lens offers exceptional image quality and an innovative lightweight design that will give professionals a level of flexibility with a 400mm lens unlike anything they've ever experienced. Combined with the unmatched shooting speeds and autofocus capabilities of our full-frame E-mount cameras, it will allow them to capture and create in ways that were never before possible."

World's Lightest 400mm F2.8 Prime with Ideal Balance for Monopod or Handheld Shooting

Weighing it at only slightly more than 6 lbs., the new FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS lens provides a level of portability and handheld maneuverability that has never before been achieved in a lens of its class. The remarkably light weight of this lens is achieved through an innovative optical design that includes three fluorite elements, with a reduced number of elements deployed at the front of the barrel, as well as the liberal usage of durable magnesium alloy components.

Repeated field tests and evaluation by professional photographers across the world have led to a lens design that is not front-heavy, reducing moment of inertia that resists rotation by up to 50% as compared to the SAL500F40G2, ensuring quicker, more precise panning when shooting handheld or on a monopod.

Fast, Precise Autofocus

To best take advantage of the rapidly evolving shooting and focusing speeds of Sony's latest cameras, the FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS lens features two newly developed high-speed XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors that drive the lens's focus group, achieving up to a 5x improvement3 in moving-subject tracking performance. These motors are supported by specially developed motion algorithms to minimize lag and instability, and control noise levels, resulting in exceptionally quick, accurate and quiet autofocus performance. This allows the lens to capture dynamic, fast moving athletes or wildlife with ease.

G Master Image Quality and Bokeh

A member of Sony's flagship G Master series lenses, this new large aperture super-telephoto prime lens features an incredible level of image quality and detail, with outstanding contrast and resolution maintained all the way to the corners of the image. The unique optical design includes three fluorite elements that help to minimize chromatic aberration and suppress any amount of color bleeding. The lens has also been coated with Sony's original Nano AR coating to suppress any unwanted reflections, glare, or ghosting.

In addition to the impressive resolution, the lens features an 11-blade circular aperture mechanism that allows it to produce extremely natural and beautiful background defocus or 'bokeh'.

The new FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS is compatible with Sony's 1.4x and 2.0x E-mount tele-converters, producing outstanding imaging performance at extended focal lengths4 while maintaining fast, precise AF performance.

Durability, Reliability and Control

To withstand the harsh conditions of sporting events and wildlife photography, Sony's new FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS is built with a durable magnesium alloy and a strong, lightweight carbon fiber hood. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant5, and its front element is coated with fluorine to resist dirt and fingerprints.

There is also an ample number of hard controls on the lens, including customizable focus-hold buttons in four different locations on the lens barrel, which can be programmed for control of features such as Eye AF functionality, if desired. There is also a 'Full-Time DMF' switch to immediately engage manual focus at any point, and a focus ring that features Linear Response MF for fine, responsive manual focus. Additionally, the new lens includes built-in optical stabilization for dynamic action and three different ‘Mode' settings, including a brand new Mode 36 setting with an advanced algorithm that ensures easier framing when following moving subjects. It also features a function ring with selectable 'Preset' and 'Function'7 settings, which is a first for any Sony lens.

The FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS includes a drop-in filter slot8 that accepts 40.5mm ND and other filter types, as well as the optional VF-DCPL1 Drop-in Circular Polarizing Filter. The VF-DCPL1 filter can be rotated to achieve the desired polarization while installed in the lens.

α9 System Software Update to Support FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS

The latest system software update (Version 3.00)9 for α9 (ILCE-9) provides support for the new FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS (SEL400F28GM) lens to optimize optical image stabilization performance, and enables continuous shooting with auto focus tracking, even when aperture is greater than F11.

The update also provides added option to input the camera serial number to the Exif data, a feature that has been strongly requested by professional sports photographers and photojournalists. Additionally, several other updates to the α9 camera have been implemented with the new firmware, including improved auto focus speed in low light conditions, enhanced continuous AF performance when tracking a moving subject, and reduced release time lag when shooting with flash.

Pricing and Availability

The new FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS large aperture super-telephoto prime lens (model SEL400F28GM) will ship in September for about $12,000 US and $16,250 CA. The optional Drop-in Circular Polarizing Filter (model VF-DCPL1) will ship in December for about $400 US and $550 CA.

Notes:

1. Compared to 400mm F2.8 lenses for 35mm full-frame format cameras, as of June 2018, Sony survey.
2. When mounted on the α9 with VG-C3EDM grip. Compared to the α99 II + SAL500F40G, Sony tests.
3. Compared to the SAL300F28G2 mounted on the α9 (via LA-EA3), Sony tests.
4. Maximum aperture with the 1.4x (SEL14TC) and 2.0x (SEL20TC) tele-converters is F4 and F5.6, respectively
5. Not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture proof.
6. α9 software must be updated to the latest version to activate Optical SteadyShot MODE 3 when this lens is used with the α9. Refer to the Sony support site for camera body compatibility information.
7. Functions can be assigned via a camera body menu. Power Focus is assigned by default. APS-C/Full Frame Select can be assigned by updating α9 software to the latest version. Refer to the Sony support site for up-to-date function and camera body compatibility information.
8. A normal filter is initially installed in the filter slot. The filter is part of the lens's optical system, and either the normal filter or circular polarizing filter should always be in place when using the lens.
9. Be sure that filter is installed before memorizing the focus point for the preset focus function. System software update for α9 is scheduled soon. For more information, please visit Sony support site. https://esupport.sony.com/US/p/model-home.pl?mdl=ILCE9

 

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