Review – Sony FE 70-200 F4 Zeiss lens (SEL70200G)
As mentioned in our last post, we recently added the Sony FE 16-35 F4 G OSS Zeiss and the Sony FE 70-200 F4 G OSS Zeiss lenses to our stable of lenses for the Sony A7r mirrorless camera (we now use these on the Sony A7Riii). To read our post on the 16-35 lens click here. This lens has been available since about mid-2014 and was one of three highly anticipated lenses that Sony users were waiting for as there were few Full Frame lenses available at the time. This focal range is generally useful for Portraits, Nature and Sports photography.
Although we don’t shoot in the 70-200 range that often (even less these days now that we use the FE 24-105mm f/4G lens), in our Travel Photography work, it is still a focal range that we would not leave home without. For many years we used a Nikon 80-200 F2.8D lens (see picture below) which produced magnificent images on our Nikon cameras, however, this weighs in at 1300g (1.3kg) due to the fact that it has an F2.8 maximum aperture which will always make a lens heavier. It also doesn’t have Image Stabilisation/Vibration Reduction. As we get older this lens had become harder and harder to handhold.
Nikon 80-200 F2.8D lens – weight approx 1300g
The Sony FE 70-200 F4 lens, on the other hand, weighs in at 840g which is significantly lighter and as we really don’t need the low light or portrait capabilities of an F2.8 lens. This lens, for our work, was really a no-brainer for us. With the addition of Image Stabilisation/Vibration Reduction, it theoretically gives us back the extra stop lost and allows us to handhold longer without increasing the ISO. Naturally, if you really wanted to use the Nikon 80-200 F2.8 lens then you could still use this with the Sony camera using the appropriate adaptor, however, we tested this combination before purchasing the Sony lens and the results were not as sharp as the dedicated Sony lens.
Sony FE 70-200 F4 Zeiss lens – weight approx 840g
The first thing that surprised us about this lens was the colour. Sony has produced all of their lenses in the standard black colour but produced this one with a white finish which makes it look a little like a Canon telephoto lens. Not that this makes any difference, just unusual. The lens also comes with an extremely large lens hood (if you put a base on it, it would make a really good coffee cup :-)). When attached it adds significant length to the lens however it can be reversed over the end of the lens when not being used.
The lens is noticeably light and extremely well built and is also dust and moisture-resistant. The black ribbed rubber focusing and zoom rings are extremely smooth to rotate and like most electronic systems, the focusing ring will keep turning with no beginning or end. There is also no focus distance marks when wanting to use Hyperfocal Focusing although using Focus Peaking in Manual Focus with the Sony cameras is just as good. Between the black Focus Ring and Zoom Ring are three focus lock buttons located at the 12, 9, 6 o’clock positions which is extremely handy saving you time fumbling around for a single button however we have set these buttons to the Eye AF feature as a custom preset. Just in front of the tripod lens collar are the lens controls consisting of 4 switches –
- AF/MF switch – for switching between AutoFocus and Manual Focus
- Focus Limiter – set a focus limit of 3m to infinity or the complete range
- Optical Steady Shot ON/OFF – turn this off when mounted on a tripod. When turned off on the lens you will not need to turn off the SteadyShot feature in the camera (Steady Shot function in the Menu will be greyed out)
- Optical Steady Shot Mode 1 & 2 – Mode 1 is best for normal shooting while Mode 2 is best when panning moving subjects
The tripod lens collar can be rotated in any direction but can also be removed entirely from the lens however we keep it attached as we find it gives more grip when holding the lens.
Sony FE 70-200 f/4G lens with hood attached
We did quite a bit of testing with the lens and found that there is some vignetting (light falloff) when wide open at F4 which is quite normal and is mostly corrected once stopped down to F5.6 and completely gone once at F8 which is the optimum F-stop for this lens throughout the 70-200 range. The lens also struggles with edge softness at 200mm when shot wide open at F4 but again this improves vastly when stopped down to F5.6 and F8.
While this lens is absolutely awesome on a Sony Full Frame camera such as the Alpha A7 series, it would also be ideal on the APS-C sensor cameras such as the fabulous Sony a6000. Although, the lens dwarfs the small a6000 camera the focal length of 105mm-300mm would make it a great piece of kit for the travel photographer especially when shooting at 11 frames per second!. The small camera body may look a bit ridiculous hanging off the rear of this lens however the secret to using this combination of camera & lens is to take most of the weight of the lens in your left hand and leave the right hand to change the settings on the camera.
- Very Good edge-to-edge sharpness at most apertures
- Lightweight compared to other lenses with this focal range
- Excellent build quality
- Minimal vignetting at wider apertures
- Lens stabilization (with 2 modes)
- Dust and Moisture resistant
- Removable tripod collar
- Not a fast lens (f4)
- Expensive (RRP AUD$1999)
We really debated whether we should get this lens or just stick to the Nikon 80-200 F2.8 lens and use it with the adaptor on the Sony camera. Considering the amount of usage the focal length gets in our work we were really on the fence. We were swayed by several important advantages –
The weight. Any weight saving is a blessing in Travel Photography
The Optical Stabilisation (OSS).
The sharpness compared to using the Nikon with adaptor and only having Manual Focus.
The speed of use compared to using it manually with the Nikon lens.
Option to remove the tripod collar making it even lighter to handhold (if needed)
All in all, we have definitely not regretted the purchase this lens and although it is an expensive lens we are confident that it will produce the quality images that we expect. Below are some images shot at 70mm, 120mm, and 200mm and although shot at different settings they highlight just how sharp this lens is at the various focal ranges when shot at the optimum apertures. Hover over the images for a closer look.
Sydney Harbour Bridge & Luna Park – Sony FE 70-200 f4 OSS lens @70mm f11 30sec ISO50
Arashiyama, Kyoto – Japan – Sony FE 70-200 f4 OSS lens @120mm f4 1/125th ISO320
Sydney Harbour Bridge & Luna Park – Sony FE 70-200 f4 OSS lens @200mm f8 10sec ISO100
Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Sony FE 70-200 f4 OSS lens @ 200mm f5.6 1/400th ISO640
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