Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS SEL600F40GM

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600mm $12,998
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Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Field Test

by William Brawley | Posted 06/11/2019

Although the full-frame Sony Alpha system has been around for a few years now, it's still a fairly new system in the grand scheme of things compared to other full-frame camera manufacturers. As such, Sony has been steadily filling out its FE-mount lens lineup over the years, and now offers an extremely versatile range of lenses across the focal length spectrum.

However, one of Sony's more recent areas of focus has been to address its lack of pro-grade supertelephoto lenses. Last year, Sony introduced their first such lens, the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS. A classic, sports-centric telephoto prime, the FE 400mm f/2.8 lens is a must-have for serious and professional sports photographers. Alongside the high-performance A9 camera, a 400mm f/2.8 lens was an important addition to the FE-mount lineup. Plus, what made Sony's particular 400mm f/2.8 lens unique and very impressive was its super-light construction and a balanced optical design that made it a surprisingly hand-holdable lens. In short, it was unlike any full-frame 400mm f/2.8 lens before it.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 1000

Sony has now followed up its 400mm pro prime with yet another supertelephoto offering, the FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS. Much like its 400mm f/2.8 GM sibling, the FE 600mm f/4 lens utilizes a very similar design and construction, making it extremely lightweight, balanced and shockingly easy to use handheld. And, according to Sony, this particular lens has been the most requested lens from professional photographers. Much like a 400mm f/2.8 lens, a 600mm f/4 is another must-have lens for any camera and lens manufacturer catering to professional photographers.

I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days shooting with the new FE 600mm f/4 GM at a Sony-organized press event -- along with another supertelephoto lens, the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G -- and I wanted to share some of my first impressions of the lens as well as a handful of real-world sample images.

So, let's dive right in...

Build Quality & Handling

The overall look and construction of the FE 600mm f/4 GM lens are, by design, strikingly similar to the 400mm f/2.8 GM lens. At the time, the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM was the world's lightest full-frame 400mm f/2.8 lens -- since then, Canon's managed to shave off a bit of weight on their latest 400mm f/2.8 L III lens to make it a bit lighter than Sony's offering -- and now the FE 600mm f/4 GM is the world's lightest full-frame 600mm f/4 lens.

Weighing in at only 6.7 pounds (3040g), the Sony 600mm lens is lighter than rival models from both Canon and Nikon, for example. The Canon 600mm f/4L III comes in at 6.72 lbs (3050g) -- not much heavier than the Sony -- but the Nikon 600mm f/4 tips the scales at a comparatively hefty 8.4 lbs (3810g). Also, despite the 200 extra millimeters in focal length, the Sony 600mm f/4 lens is only five ounces heavier than the Sony 400mm f/2.8!

In the hand, it's not only the ultralight mag-alloy design that aids in ease of handling and maneuverability, but much like in the 400mm f/2.8, there's also a thoughtful, deliberate optical design that places more of the lens elements (and thus weight) towards the rear of the lens for better balance. Plus, there's a large air gap between the lens' big front element and the rest of the elements that further aids in lightening the overall bulk and moving the balance back towards the lens and camera's center of mass, thus reducing front-heaviness.

Yes, despite being a full-frame 600mm f/4 lens, you can hand-hold it!

Just as I experienced with the Sony 400mm f/2.8 lens, the new FE 600mm prime is shockingly lightweight and easy to use handheld -- within reason. Don't get me wrong; this is still a full-frame 600mm f/4 lens. There's a lot of lens here. The lens is quite big, quite bulky and can feel heavy after use for long periods of use. This isn't an Olympus 300mm f/4 Pro lens!

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1600s, ISO 1250

Our first of two shooting events with the new lens was at a Red Bulls MLS soccer match. I initially began shooting with the 600mm lens supported on a monopod, but I'm not generally accustomed to shooting on a monopod nor an overly experienced soccer photographer. Having my own movement restricted on the monopod combined with the fast-paced, sporadic movement of the players on the field forced me to ditch the monopod rather quickly. It was much easier to follow the action and frame shots handheld, and being able to do that easily with a full-frame 600mm f/4 lens is just astonishing. In the end, I shot the 600mm f/4 lens handheld for the vast majority of the game, and when shooting wildlife the following day, in fact.

I will note that I mentioned the 600mm f/4 lens is easy to handhold within reason. The lens is easy to raise and maneuver in short bursts, but your arm will still get tired after awhile. By the end of the soccer match, I was definitely feeling some fatigue in my arm and elbow.

When it comes to the build and optical layout of the lens, the FE 600mm f/4 lens features 24 total lens elements situated into 18 groups. The lens sports some exotic optical elements, including three fluorite elements and two ED glass elements to help combat chromatic aberration. Unlike the 400mm f/2.8, the 600mm lens also uses a large XA element, or extreme aspherical element. The XA element, first seen on shorter Sony GM lenses such as the FE 24-70mm f/2.8, is a Sony-designed, extremely precision-crafted aspherical element that has a very smooth surface that helps maintain sharp image quality and by way of its precise smoothness, clean bokeh without onion-ring artifacts. The 600mm f/4 is the first lens to feature such a large XA optical element.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 1000

As mentioned, the Sony 600mm f/4 uses a magnesium alloy barrel for strength, rigidity and lightness. According to Sony, the lens also features "professional dust and moisture resistance." We're unsure just how sealed the lens actually is, but given its price point and customer base, the lens should be fairly well protected from the elements. There is a rubberized gasket around the lens mount as well.

External switches and rings are all similar to those the 400mm f/2.8 GM lens. Sony made a point to design the 600mm lens in such a way that the placement of all the controls, switches and customizable buttons are as identical as possible and located in the same place between both lenses. If you're familiar with the operability of the 400mm f/2.8, the 600mm f/4 should feel no different.

The Japanese-made lens is compatible with both 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters and features the usual 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 reversible lens hood, and a robust tripod collar/foot.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 1600

Image Quality & Performance

Although we've yet to lab-test this new lens and I was only able to shoot with the lens briefly over the course of a weekend, the image quality from the real-world shots I've captured is nothing short of fantastic. And given that the price of the 600mm lens is $13,000, I should expect nothing less.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 100

Images are tack-sharp even at f/4, which is the aperture I'd suspect most photographers to use most of the time. The resolving power is fantastic, even with the 24MP A9 body I was using. Shooting both soccer and wildlife, I was thoroughly impressed with the detail I captured -- individual hairs on the soccer players, beads of sweats, crisp feather detail from birds in flight and more. Chromatic aberration appears practically nonexistent, 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 600mm f/4 GM renders wonderfully smooth out of focus areas.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1600s, ISO 1600

Autofocus performance is also top-notch, as I expected. Like the 400mm f/2.8, the new 600mm lens uses the same high-speed, high-precision XD Linear Motors for fast, smooth AF performance. Single-shot focus was, for all intents and purposes, instantaneous. Half-press the shutter and boom, focus. Of course, for moving subjects, C-AF performance is the real story, and when using a camera like the A9 that can shoot at up to 20fps, you need a lens that can continuously focus precisely and extremely quickly in order to keep up with these types of burst speeds. The 600mm f/4 is such a lens, at least from what I can tell based on my time with the lens thus far.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 100

Shooting unpredictable sports like soccer or birds in flight with a full-frame 600mm f/4 lens makes for tricky shooting due to the incredibly shallow depth of field and super-long focal length. Thankfully, the A9 has terrific subject tracking autofocus, and the 600mm lens works brilliantly on it. I wasn't left with too many dud photos where the focus was entirely off. Focus tracking felt really accurate and very responsive. For the shots I did miss, it's hard to know for sure if it was the camera/lens or simply user error.

Sony A9: 600mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 125


What to say? The Sony 600mm f/4 GM lens looks to be another outstanding professional-level lens. At $13,000, you should expect nothing less. Yes, the lens is very expensive, but it's right in-line with other full-frame 600mm f/4 lenses from competing manufacturers. The big difference is usability. The Sony 600mm is a full-frame supertelephoto lens that you can use handheld, and that's quite a rare feat. Combined with high-speed AF performance and crisp, clear image quality, the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM is yet another impressive optic for professional Sony Alpha owners.


Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS SEL600F40GM

Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS SEL600F40GM User Reviews

9.0/10 average of 1 review(s) Build Quality 7.0/10 Image Quality 7.0/10
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by DaniKear (2 reviews)
    Perfect for indoors low-light portraits
    A bit pricey but not too bad.

    Honestly, I think this lens has an undeservedly bad reputation among "technical" reviewers on the internet. I went ahead and bought this lens for a client that needed a bunch of photos of his jobs. The photos turned out very clean actually.

    When I purchased it I was worried I would never be able to enjoy a cheaper lens, but I'm finding that's not the case, I'm simply pickier. :P

    reviewed October 2nd, 2020