The Sony FE 4/70-200 G OSS is Sony’s answer to CaNikon’s very popular 4/70-200 lenses and covers a wide range of applications. For this review I used it for a year on my Sony a7II and gave it a thorough examination.
|Close Focusing Distance from the sensor
|Number of aperture blades
Build quality and handling
Sony has a wide range of categories for their FE-lenses: ZA, G, GM and more basic lenses like the FE 2/28 or 1.8/50 which are quite different in appearance. I would say that the FE 4/70-200’s design is more durable and less fancy than that of the ZA lenses which have a metal hull which scratches easily. The G’s hull is made from plastics and focusing ring and zoom ring are rubberized. Markings are not engraved. Both rings have no noticeable play and a pleasant resistance. There is a bunch of buttons which work fine.
Unlike Canon, Sony claims no weather resistance, only “dust and moisture-resistant design” for their 4/70-200 and the lens does not have a gasket at the lens mount.
I bought my copy with an attractive rebate because it was lacking the hood so I can’t give you an assessment on the hood.
The FE 4/70-200 G is a very fast focusing lens. For less challenging applications it performed well for me on my a7ii. It is not a very fast focusing camera though so when my subject was more challenging it often failed. For example when I tried to take a snap of this gull from a moving ship most images weren’t in focus but that is mostly a camera issue.
So my own assessment of the FE 4/70-200’s AF is limited by my camera. When Philipp Zieger who shoots with a a6500 asked me to borrow the lens to shoot a bike race I was happy to say yes. Here is his assessment of its AF-capabilities in a more demanding scenario with a more capable camera:
The focusing ring feels nice. It is wide enough, well textured and offers a pleasant resistance. What I don’t like too much is the focus by wire implementation.
One problem here is that it matters how fast you turn the focusing ring. If I turn it by 80 degrees very fast the focus changes from 1 m to infinity. If I turn it slowly it takes more than 360 degrees (one full turn) to change focus from the close focusing distance to infinity.
In theory this sounds like a great idea because focusing should be either super precise or very quick, depending on what you need. But so far I have failed to get to a point were my I am able to use this subconciously, and I have used manual focus with Sony FE lenses for two years now.
The other problem is that there is a small lag between the moment when you turn the focusing ring and when the lens reacts.
I am used to manual lenses where the focusing ring is coupled directly to the focusing helicoid and I am faster and as precise with them. So manual focus works okay but it isn’t very enjoyable (says a hardcore manual lens user).
The G 4/70-200 usually comes with a nice and solid hood but I got mine with substantial rebate because it came without hood so I can’t report on it.
Size and Weight
The Sony 70-200mm f/4 is by my standards a large and rather heavy lens at 850g. If you include an adapter it is a bit shorter than CaNikons offerings so this is expected for a 4/70-200 but still it will take quite a bit of space in your camera bag. Personally I often found myself hesitating to put it into my bag because of it’s size. But it depends on your personal standards how much of an issue the size and weight will be to you.
On the camera handling is fine. Usually I support the lens with the palm of my left hand and operate zoom and focus ring with my fingers. In my experience the Sony 4/70-200 G is well balanced.
You also have four solid switches on the lens which make operation easier:
- A focus switch
- A focus limiter
- A switch to activate or deactivate the optical stabilizer
- A switch to change the stabilizer mode. Mode 1 is for normal use and Mode 2 for panning shots.
These switches override the camera’s setting. So when AF is deactivated on the lens you can’t activate it in camera.
There are also three focus stop buttons on the lens which you can reprogram to something more useful like eye-AF.
The Sony (unlike the CaNikon Variants where it is optional) comes with a tripod collar. I think on the smaller E-mount cameras it is needed more. And on first generation a7-series cameras or the a6000 with their weak mount I wouldn’t risk to use the lens on a tripod without it.
It is easy to remove and quite light weight and can be rotated to portrait orientation.
The Sony FE 4/70-200 has an optical stabilizer so it is stabilized on any E-mount camera and not just those with an integrated stabilizer.
To be honest I wasn’t impressed by the stabilizers performance. For me it compensates only about two stops while competitors are good for four or more stops. In the field I had quite a few images where I thought that I was safe to take an image at 1/50 second but at home I had to discover that in fact my image wasn’t that sharp. So now I take several images to be safe.
Close focusing distance
Sony claims a 1m close focusing distance. Curiously the close focusing distance isn’t constant. Until around 175 mm it is indeed 1 m but at longer focal lengths it jumps to 1.35 m. So for the best reproduction ratio of 1:5.5 zoom in to 175 mm, at 200mm the minimal reproduction ratio is 1:6.25.
These results are based on the use with a Sony Alpha 7ii.
The flare resistance is quite good. I had to try really hard to provoke any ghosting or contrast loss and then all I got was a very small green blob.
When the sun is just outside of the frame I got some nasty veiling flare. I don’t own the hood so I don’t know if it would have prohibited veiling flare in this image, probably it would since I could remove the flare by shielding the lens with my hand.
As always bokeh depends a lot on the conditions. For portraits you usually have a shallow enough DOF to get a very smooth background.
At longer distances and in the transition zone bokeh is a little more nervous.
Thanks to 9 aperture blades oof-highlights stay round when you stop down. In the shot you can also notice traces of onion ring like structures.
Foreground bokeh is pretty smooth:
The cat-eyes-effect can be rather pronounced wide open:
Axial CA is corrected very well and only traces remain.
Lateral CA: Correction depends on the focal length. At 70mm and 200 mm the SEL70200G shows a moderate degree of lateral CA but at 100 mm and 135 mm there is hardly any lateral CA.
At 70 mm vignetting at f/4 is at moderate 1.3 stops and goes down to hardly noticeable 0.6 stops at f/5.6.
At 200 mm vignetting is slightly higher at 1.6 stops wide open and 0.8 stops at f/5.6 but negligible from f/8 (0.4 stops).
I think these figures are quite a bit higher than for CaNikon’s 4/70-200 lenses but still not excessive.
Some barrel distortion at 70mm, almost zero distortion at 100mm, a little pincushion at 135mm and significant pincushion at 200 mm
At any focal length the Sony 70-200mm F4 shows very good sharpness in the center from f/4 which improves a bit at f/5.6 where it is excellent.
The midframe is sharp at any aperture or focal length but for very good results you should stop down to f/5.6.
The corners are not sharp at f/4, especially at 100mm and below and you should stop down to f/8 for good to very good results.
Field curvature also plays a significant role. Here are 100% crops from the extreme corner at 70mm. First focused at the center and then focused at the corner.:
This means that for portraits you can expect better results than in my test and you should take it into consideration when adjusting focus for landscape images.
My copy is quite well centered for a zoom but from Roger Cicala at lensrentals.com we know that it among the Sony lenses with the highest variation. Be sure to check your copy when it arrives.
So all in all a strong performance, only the corners do not reach the excellent mark as a good prime would.
4/70-200 lenses are among the most versatile lenses you can buy. After a 24-70 they are probably the most popular zooms found in photographer’s bags. That is because they cover the range from short to moderate tele an can be used for a wide range of applications.
Of course you won’t get a similar amount of background blur from the 4/70-200 as from a dedicated portrait lens as the Sony FE 1.8/85 if you use it at the wide end.
But if you zoom in you can trow your background out of focus completely. The quick AF, and very good image quality also come in handy. Your subject will also be impressed by your large lens. That is unless he/she/it is a complete oaf.
Here the wide zoom range comes in handy. Optically I see no real limitations. The relatively slow aperture can be an issue though because you can’t isolate your subject much which can be an issue with unattractive background you often have to deal with when covering an event.
As a landscape lens the Sony FE 4/70-200 is a bit more limited in my opinion because it does not deliver quite the across-the-frame-sharpness of a good prime and it is also quite heavy to carry around longer. On the other hand it is quite versatile and covers a wide range with good quality and the weight is still manageable so it is Sony’s best zoom for this purpose if you ask me.
For a more detailed discussion see the AF section. Here the rather slow aperture of f/4 can be an issue but image quality and AF are top notch.
Sony FE 2.8/70-200 GM OSS: The much more expensive f/2.8 version’s most important advantage I see is the extra stop. It certainly can make a big difference when you shoot in low light or you want to isolate your subject a little more. Optically the GM seems to be a bit sharper in the center and a little less sharp in the corners. For that the GM is nearly twice as heavy and more than twice as expensive.
Canon EF 4/70-200: This much cheaper lens is optically about as good as the Sony if not a little better and with adapters like the Sigma MC-11 is offers decent AF on you 2. generation a7 but it won’t give you all the features like eye AF. There is also an optically slightly superior IS version which is more expensive but still more affordable than the Sony.
Canon 2/135: Of course not as flexible but optically superior with great bokeh and a much higher blur potential.
Zeiss Batis Apo 2.8/135: Technically the most perfect native E-mount lens at the moment. It is a stop faster and more portable but of course very expensive and not as flexible as the Sony. Sharpness is no contest: The Zeiss is as sharp across the frame from f/2.8 as the Sony never gets but you need to print really big to see that difference.
The Sony FE 4/70-200 is a jack of many trades but a master of none. For most applications the sharpness is very good, only the corners are a bit softer but still good enough for most applications. Bokeh again is usually good but not great and f/4 limits the amount of blur you can get. The Sony also shows very little CA and a good flare resistance. Only distortion is rather high but easily corrected. So I was usually quite happy with my results and thanks to the wide zoom range and quick AF I could cover a wide range of applications. The solid build quality should also be mentioned.
Since the OSS isn’t very effective I expected too much of it in the beginning and lost a few images because of it and I think the competition delivers better results here. A common annoyance with Sony FE lenses is the sluggish manual focus. I also found that I didn’t take the lens with me as often as I had anticipated because of the size and weight.
All in all the Sony FE 4/70-200 is a very capable lens which delivers a very good optical performance in most situations.It is built well and its AF is very quick. So if you need a flexible tele zoom be assured that the Sony usually will deliver good images only limited by the modest aperture. The price is a bit high compared to Canon’s offerings but not expensive compared to Sony’s other FE lenses.
The Sony FE 4/70-200 G OSS sells for $1498 at amazon.com or for 1249€ at amazon.de (affiliate links).
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Images Samples in full resolution
You can find these images and more in full resolution in this flickr set: Sony FE 4/70-200.
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