The FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master OSS is the ultimate Sony action sports and low-light wildlife lens. If you can get past the price, this lens will impress in most other regards.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS, featuring superb image quality at even wide-open apertures, super-fast AF, relatively light weight, and best-available build quality, was the first big white Sony FE super-telephoto lens. Owners of this lens will primarily be professional and serious amateur photographers (or simply wealthy) who require differentiatingly high image quality. Due to this lens's focal length and max aperture combination, those photographers will most frequently primarily pursue sports, wildlife, and photojournalism when this lens is mounted.
Your lens selection decision should always be significantly weighted to choosing the right focal length. While perspective remains important for telephoto lens focal length selection, distance-to-subject tends to become the bigger factor at these lengths. How close can you get to the subject from the vantage points available to you? Or, how close do you want to get to the subject? Safety, for both the photographer and the subject, may be a factor in the answer to the second question.
While this lens has some amazing features, the 400mm focal length is (should be) the same as that in all of the other 400mm lenses (including zoom lens options). Four hundred mm is a moderately long telephoto focal length that has a correspondingly narrow angle of view.
What is the 400mm focal length commonly used for?
Action sports is always at the forefront of my mind when thinking about 400mm subjects, with many sporting events ideally captured with this focal length. I'll talk more about the ultra-wide-for-400mm f/2.8 aperture soon, but that feature makes this lens the ultimate choice for many indoor sports and for sporting events held under the lights or after sunset. The 400mm focal length reaches mid-field on a big field event (soccer, football, baseball), and this is my first choice focal length for running events, including track and field meets.
The 400mm focal length finds a lot of wildlife in front of it. Wildlife is typically most active early and late in the day when the light is dim, and the f/2.8 aperture is a great compliment to the narrow angle of view. This lens's relatively light weight, along with the 400mm focal length make it a good choice for birds-in-flight — or dogs in flight.
Photojournalists and others covering events will love this lens's reach, especially combined with the f/2.8 aperture. When photographers covering events are not permitted close access to their subjects, including concerts, speaking events, etc., this focal length will often provide the needed reach.
While 400mm is long for portraiture and the working distance needed can present communications issues with the subject, the results of overcoming these minor challenges can be impressive.
I often use 400mm lenses for landscape photography, but the size, weight, and cost of this lens are not optimal for that purpose. However, if you have the lens and the opportunity arises, it can work superbly for this endeavor, capturing mountain vistas, fields of flowers, colorful foliage, etc.
Utilizing a smaller portion of the image circle means that APS-C sensor format cameras frame a scene more tightly than a full-frame camera. With 1.5x being the angle of view multiplier for Sony's lineup, the full-frame angle of view equivalency is 650mm. The uses for 400mm on an APS-C body shift toward big field sports and longer-distance wildlife. It is an ideal option for both.
Let's briefly discuss optimal framing with a prime lens. Image cropping is often required during post-processing after using a prime (non-zoom) lens to capture the action from a fixed position, as is very frequently the case with sports photography. A longer focal length lens has a narrower angle of view that requires you to be farther from the subject for optimal framing. One huge advantage of being farther from the subject is that the subject remains optimally framed for a longer duration, potentially resulting in less cropping needed overall with higher resolution retained.
Let me explain that concept. If you are shooting a running person with a 24mm lens on a full-frame format DSLR, the optimal framing distance to capture the entire person might be 9' (3m). At 18' (6m), that person would only be 1/2 of the optimal size in the frame. A person running at full speed will only momentarily be near that optimal distance.
In contrast, a 400mm lens would frame this person similarly optimally at around 135' (42m), with the 1/2 optimal distance being 270' (82m). It takes a running person far more time to cover this 135' (42m) 1/2 optimal to the optimal distance than the 24mm lens's 9' (3m) optimal distance. Distances much closer than optimal will often result in the subject being cropped in the frame, so I'll not count this distance. The greater amount of time the subject remains at near-optimal framing distance, the more likely that ideally framed shots with perfect body positions will be captured, and a much greater area of the event can be covered from a single position.
This illustration does not mean that a 400mm lens is always a better choice, but it is the best answer for many sports events. There are longer focal length lenses available, and these lenses provide even larger areas of optimal coverage. However, these longer lenses do not offer the huge f/2.8 aperture advantage.
Here is a focal length comparison to show how the 400mm focal length fits into some other popular options (created with a different lens).
While 400mm is not the longest focal length available, it does have a relatively narrow angle of view.
On a short focal length lens, such as 50mm, an f/2.8 aperture opening is relatively narrow. Because the aperture is measured as a ratio of lens opening to focal length, f/2.8 at 400mm is huge. The large lens elements required to make that opening available account for the large size, heavy weight, and high price of this lens.
For the right uses, those downsides are minor.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens's huge f/2.8 aperture is the key to its greatness. Sony has other lenses covering 400mm with sharp image quality, but none has an aperture opening close to f/2.8. This is the longest focal length Sony FE mount lens with an f/2.8 max aperture, and the only longer option in any mount is the enormous Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG APO IF Lens, an expensive lens that very few have been willing to pay for or carry.
Allowing a significant amount of light to reach the camera's imaging sensor positions this lens as the ultimate choice for long focal length low light needs. To stop subject and camera motion under low light levels, including indoors or outdoors under the lights or after the sun sets, f/2.8 is often the minimum requirement to avoid ugly-high ISO settings.
A larger aperture enables autofocus to perform better. A larger aperture enables a shallower depth of field. Combined with the 400mm focal length, these two features put the "WOW!" in an image.
Most of the common uses for this lens do not permit manipulation of the background, and often those backgrounds are busy and distracting. Use this lens to blur the background away, turning advertisement banners, fans, and their clothing, apparatus, gear, seating, etc. into blurs of color, making the subject pop from the frame. Look at the images in popular sports magazines and websites to see the results this lens can achieve.
Here is an aperture comparison created using a similar lens.
As you can see above, the background blur difference between 400mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/5.6 is substantial.
These examples illustrate the maximum blur this lens can create:
The preferred subjects for this lens make use of the f/2.8 aperture, and I seldom stop this one down.
The longer the focal length, the larger subject details (captured at the same distance) are rendered, and the more still the camera must be held to avoid subject details crossing imaging sensor pixels, the source of image blur. Image stabilization, OSS (Optical SteadyShot) in this case, is an extremely valuable feature in any lens and an especially valuable feature in a super-telephoto lens.
Sony marketing touts their cameras as having IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization). While perhaps not immediately apparent, these two stabilization systems are complementary: "5-axis image stabilization becomes available when used with α series bodies that feature built-in image stabilization." [Sony] Once example of the IBIS benefit is camera rotation correction, a correction unable to be performed by the lens.
Another image stabilization benefit is its aid to AF precision. The camera's AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized.
Sony does not provide an assistance rating in stops for the FE 400. Handheld 400mm f/2.8 lens image stabilization testing is a bit brutal. I was not my steadiest on this day, but very few of my 1/50 second shutter speed images were sharp. Like the FE 600, this lens works better on a support for me.
Handheld video recording is nicely assisted by OSS.
While OSS is great for reducing camera shake-caused blur in images, it is also very helpful for precise framing of subjects in the viewfinder, especially with the narrow angle of view at 400mm. While OSS is active, drifting of framing is not an issue, and the viewfinder view is well-controlled, not jumping at startup/shutdown and permitting easy reframing.
Along with the standard Mode I, Mode II (panning mode, stabilization in one direction only), and Mode III (stabilization provided only at precise moment image is captured) are provided. The switch on the lens controls both the lens and in-body image stabilization systems simultaneously. A faint whir is heard when the switch is enabled and when it is disabled.
When you need/want to leave the tripod behind, OSS is there for you, helping to ensure sharp images and adding significant versatility to this lens. When vibrations, such as those caused by wind, are present when using a tripod, OSS can save the day.
When buyers are expected to pay a substantial price to gain an f/2.8 aperture at 400mm, the lens must deliver high image quality at that wide-open aperture. Anything short of excellent performance would result in a failed product, and Sony designers knew this.
In the center of the frame, this lens produces extremely sharp details at f/2.8, with only very slight improvement seen at f/4. No improvement is needed, though I will mention a very slight color blur visible in the center of the frame.
In general, lenses are not as sharp in the periphery, where light rays are refracted to a stronger angle than in the center. However, the lens's periphery performance is not far behind the center of the frame performance. Only a slight improvement is seen at f/4, and at f/5.6, the image periphery is razor-sharp.
Below you will see a set of 100% resolution center of the frame crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a1. The images were processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method with the sharpening amount set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening, but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
Ideally, outdoor comparisons are created on a clear day for even lighting and short shutter speeds. Unfortunately, heat waves become an issue with direct sunlight and the magnification of a super-telephoto lens. The above- and below-selected results seem mostly free of that issue, but use your discernment in that regard.
Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused in the corner of the frame to capture these images.
Samples taken from the outer extreme of the image circle, full-frame corners, can be counted on to show a lens's weakest performance. With vignetting clearing, the f/5.6 result has noticeably higher contrast than the f/2.8 result. Still, the f/2.8 sample shows great resolution.
Corner sharpness does not always matter, and for the uses of the 400mm f/2.8 combination, I seldom have in-focus subjects in a corner of the frame.
Focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration or RSA), is not exhibited by this lens (many modern lenses automatically correct for it).
Although the amount is noticeable, this lens shows a relatively low amount of corner shading — under 2-stops at f/2.8 and less than 1-stop at f/4. Vignetting decreases through f/8, where a very low about 0.2-stops shows in the test.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the about half of a stop of shading showing at f/2.8 will rarely be visible in images.
One-stop of shading is often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.
Lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) refers to colors of the spectrum being magnified differently. Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better to avoid this aberration in the first place.
Color misalignment can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example. The image below is a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of a Sony a1 frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should only be black and white colors in these images, with the additional colors in this sample indicating a very low amount of lateral CA.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light. More simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to observe. Axial CA remains somewhat persistent when stopping down, with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused, and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation, with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
The examples below look at the defocused specular highlights' fringing colors in the foreground vs. the background. The lens has introduced any fringing color differences from the neutrally-colored subjects.
There are mild color differences showing in the wide aperture examples. Interesting, though not in a good way, is that some color fringing shows in the center of the frame in our image quality test results.
Bright light reflecting off of lens elements' surfaces can cause flare and ghosting, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes interesting, usually destructive visual artifacts. A super-telephoto focal length combined with a high 23-element count spells trouble for our standard sun in the corner of the frame flare test, but this lens, featuring Sony's Nano AR lens element coating, handles this test very respectably.
Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality. High flare resistance is a welcomed trait of this lens.
Two lens aberrations are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma) or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either sagittal (radiating from the center of the image) or meridional (tangential, perpendicular to sagittal). Remember that Lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The image below is a 100% crop taken from the top-left corner of a Sony a1 frame.
While a small amount of star trailing is visible (due to exposure time), this result is otherwise excellent.
Though difficult to see, this lens has very slight pincushion distortion. The "difficult to see" part is what you need to know. It is unlikely that geometric distortion will show in your FE 400 images.
Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available (including in-camera), and distortion can easily be removed using these. Still, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level as some portion of the image must be stretched or the overall dimensions reduced.
As seen earlier in the review, the amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to illustrate. The 400mm f/2.8 combination is able to produce nearly the strongest blur of any lens, perhaps surpassed only by the 600mm f/4 lenses. Due to the infinite number of variables present among all available scenes, assessing the bokeh quality is considerably more challenging. Here are some stopped-down (for diaphragm blade interaction) examples.
The first example shows defocused highlights well-rounded and evenly filled at f/11. The second example is a full image reduced in size and looking great. This lens melts the background away as few others can.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the frame's corner does not produce round defocused highlights, with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the frame's corner, the shape is not round, and that is the shape seen in the 100% top-left crop.
As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced, and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming rounder.
With an 11-blade count diaphragm, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 22 points. Wide aperture lenses tend to have an advantage in this regard, and this lens is capable of producing beautiful stars.
The example above was captured at f/16.
The design of this lens, as illustrated below, includes three fluorite lens elements  and one ED glass element.
Notice that all lens elements except one are positioned in the mid and rear of the lens. These elements are a substantial factor in the overall lens weight, and their rearward position creates a better handling lens.
Overall and unsurprisingly, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens produces outstanding image quality. Some mild color fringing near the center of the frame can be called out, but it will not likely be noticeable in most images.
When a lens delivers extremely shallow depth of field and is designed to be used for fast action, fast autofocus speed and reliable autofocus accuracy are critical. This lens performs impressively in those regards.
"New XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors deliver higher thrust than conventional types, achieving up to a 5x improvement in moving-subject tracking performance with current and future camera bodies. Two of these new motors and newly developed algorithms quietly drive the lens's large focus lens group faster and more precisely than ever before. The full speed performance of advanced camera bodies can be applied to capturing dynamic sports or wildlife subjects." [Sony]
You likely noticed that some of the sample pictures included in this review feature subjects in fast motion.
This lens features a focus distance range limit switch that, in addition to making the entire distance range available, enables distance selection to be limited to 8.9'- 23.0' (2.7m - 7m), 23.0' (7m) - ∞, or the full range with the narrower ranges improving AF speed in some situations. Like all of the other 400mm f/2.8 lenses, this one focuses internally.
The Sony FE 400 has 4 AF hold buttons located around the lens. While these buttons are 90° from each other around the lens, they are not in even 90° locations to the physical lens. Instead, they are positioned for easier access when the lens is being used in the standard and vertical orientations. While in continuous focus mode, press an AF hold button to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique without changing back to AF-S (Single) mode. If you don't value this feature, use the camera menu to program different functionality.
This lens includes preset and power focusing features. Preset focusing permits a specific subject distance to be stored (slide function ring select switch to preset, focus as desired, press and hold SET until a beep is heard (if enabled via the BEEP switch)), and that focus setting can be immediately recalled by rotating the function ring in either direction. An example of this feature being useful would be when photographing birds from a blind. Program preset focus to the desired perch, and when a bird lands there, rotate the function ring to have the bird in focus immediately. When the function ring select switch is in the middle function position, the function ring acts as a 2-speed power focus switch. In any AF mode, turn the ring a very small amount for a consistently slow speed focusing or a more significant amount for a consistently fast speed focus adjustment with the direction of turn changing the direction of focus adjustment. Video recording is a suggested use for this feature.
Along with an AF/MF switch, this lens features a full-time DMF switch, enabling manual focus to be utilized at any point. I find this feature especially handy when photographing big field sports from the sideline, enabling me to bring the action I'm not actively photographing into focus without engaging the camera's autofocus. That said, the camera must be on and awake for the viewfinder and DMF to function, and half-pressing the shutter release is an easy strategy to make that and conventional AF happen.
This lens features a linear manual focus adjustment rate, and with about 145° of rotation between focus extents, adjustments happen relatively fast. Those shooting action will find the rate perfect, and those attempting to focus perfectly on close still-life subjects may find the adjustment rate modestly too fast. The rubber-ribbed focus ring is big, lightly damped, and smooth with little play.
This lens shows a noticeable amount of focus breathing, with scene framing changing a noticeable amount during full extent focus pulls.
As usual for lenses in this class, a relatively long (8.86', 2.7m) minimum focus distance creates a mediocre (0.16x) maximum magnification.
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens||98.4"||(2500mm)||0.17x|
|Nikon 400mm f/2.8G AF-S VR Lens||114.0"||(2896mm)||0.16x|
|Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens||106.3"||(2700mm)||0.16x|
|Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens||177.6"||(4510mm)||0.14x|
A subject measuring approximately 8.75 x 5.8" (222 x 148mm) fills a full-frame imaging sensor at this lens's minimum focus distance.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a modest decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. As of review time, Sony does not publish extension tube specs, nor do they manufacture these items, but third-party Sony compatible extension tubes are available.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is compatible with the Sony FE 1.4x and Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter. These accessories retain the lens's native focus distance range and OSS feature while providing a far greater magnification impact than extension tubes for this lens.
The addition of a 1.4x teleconverter creates a full-frame 560mm OSS lens, with a 1-stop narrower max aperture (f/4). Magnifying the image by 1.4x usually impacts image quality noticeably, and in this case, it shows modest sharpness impact and color fringing impact. The 1.4x creates slight barrel distortion from this lens's native slight pincushion distortion.
Teleconverters slow AF performance, but the 1.4x mounted behind the FE 400 focuses quickly in reasonable light conditions.
Use the 2x teleconverter to create an 800mm OSS Lens. With the 2x comes 2-stops of max aperture loss, making this a still-reasonable f/5.6 combination. I am seldom satisfied with the performance of 2x teleconverters, and this combination is doesn't change my favor. Expect to see a strong contrast and resolution decrease. Stopping this lens down produced minor image quality improvement without the teleconverter mounted. Nothing changes in that regard when the teleconverter is in the optical formula. Stopping down at 800mm does improve peripheral image quality modestly.
With the Sony FE 2x mounted, barrel distortion is increased. This time the increase is just about the right amount to offset the native 400mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile. Lateral CA becomes much more noticeable with the 2x in place. The 2x has slightly more impact on AF speed, with hunting becoming more frequent. Still, this combination focuses quickly in good light conditions. The f/5.6 max aperture is wide enough to be useful for the wildlife and sports photography that 800mm is especially well suited for if the lighting conditions are bright.
Sony's G Master series lenses are their top-of-the-line, professional-grade models. Like the rest of the GM lens models, this one is beautifully designed and built.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens utilizes a magnesium alloy frame for lightweight strength and 7 screws are used to attach the mount (vs. 4 normally used).
There are a lot of switches on the side of this lens.
Each switch has been mentioned previously in the review, but I'll add that they are on a low-profile switch bank easily accessible to the left thumb and that the switches themselves are low profile and snap surely into their positions. Three-position switches always require more care when selecting the middle position.
This is a weather-sealed (not waterproof) lens that is ready for the rigors of professional outdoor use.
The front element is fluorine coated for reduced adhesion of dust and moisture, making the lens easier to clean and stay clean.
From a size perspective, there is no hiding the fact that this is a 400mm f/2.8 lens. All lenses in this class are very large. The unaccustomed may find this size daunting. However, acclimation is relatively short, and the amazingly light weight of this lens relative to previous-generation models makes the acclimation process considerably easier.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens||100.3||(2840)||6.4 x 13.5||(163.0 x 343.0)||DI 52||2018|
|Nikon 400mm f/2.8G AF-S VR Lens||163.1||(4620)||6.3 x 14.5||(159.5 x 368.0)||52||2007|
|Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens||102.2||(2895)||6.2 x 14.1||(158.1 x 359.0)||DI 40.5||2018|
|Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens||107.3||(3040)||6.4 x 17.7||(163.6 x 449.0)||DI 40.5||2019|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.
Here is a visual comparison:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens to other lenses.
Like the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens utilizes side-mount 40.5mm filters in the drop-in/slide-in holder (a clear filter is provided). Optional (and expensive) is the Sony VF-DCPL1 Drop-in Circular Polarizing Filter.
It is a big lens to balance with a narrow angle of view to stabilize, and the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens gets a correspondingly large, solid tripod foot to meet these needs, avoiding tripod head and camera strain and sag and allowing easy camera rotation. This tripod foot has three threaded inserts with a 3/8"-16 size positioned between the two 1/4"-20 sizes. Mounting plates with two screws is important to prevent twisting, and three screws are even better. Note that most lens plates will require a 3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20 Reducer Bushing in the larger threaded insert.
My preference would have been for Sony to machine the needed Arca-Swiss dovetail grooves into the foot as some other lens manufacturers do. Replacing the Sony tripod foot with a Wimberley AP-609 Replacement Foot (similar model AP-616 shown above on the FE 600) or Really Right Stuff Tripod Foot is popular for good reasons.
The tripod collar is very smooth and by default, provides light click-stops at 90°-degree rotations. While the click stops cause a small bump during rotation (such as when panning with a subject as a monopod tilts), I prefer to have the click stops assisting me with finding center, aiding in keeping a camera level. Those who prefer smooth rotation can also their way, as the click stops can be easily disabled.
Provision for using a security lock is provided at the base of the foot.
As the super-telephoto lenses continue to drop weight, demands on the support they are used on also diminish. While this lens can be handheld for reasonably long periods, you will still appreciate having support for long handheld use (and for stabilizing the view). Avoiding future shoulder issues may not seem important today, but I assure you that you will one day appreciate having taken good care of your body. Keep your elbows in and shoulders at rest.
For tripod mounting, I suggest using a strong ball head (such as the Really Right Stuff BH-55 or Arca-Swiss Z1) with this lens. Much better (safer, easier) is to use a lens of this size on a gimbal style head such as the Wimberley WH-200-S Sidemount Head, Wimberley Tripod Head II, or Really Right Stuff PG-02.
While not as large as the Canon equivalent, the included ALC-SH155 Lens Hood is still very large, and with that size comes great protection. This thumbscrew-attached carbon fiber-constructed hood has only a very slight flex. The interior is flocked to avoid light reflection, and the end of the hood is rubber-coated to protect it and anything it might come into contact with. The colored ring at the end of the lens is a nice aesthetic touch.
It is recommended that this lens supports the weight of the camera mounted to it and not the other way around, meaning you should not rely on the camera's mount to fully support the weight of this (or any other large/heavy telephoto) lens. A shoulder strap is provided for attachment to the tripod ring, allowing the lens to freely rotate without the strap tightening around your neck.
Sony ships the FE 600 in a black hard case. This shaped, lockable trunk is very nice, is very protective, and is very good for storage, stacking, and shipping purposes. Weighing 8.2 lbs (3.7 kg), this case is rather heavy and measuring roughly 21.8 x 13.4 x 10.2" (55.4 x 34.0 x 25.9cm LxWxD), it is rather large.
Molded-in space for two teleconverters is provided. I would find the case more useful if space was provided to hold a camera body mounted to the lens, though that combination is more susceptible to damage.
A shoulder strap is provided for the hard case.
Sony provides a nice padded flexible wrap-around vinyl lens cover with a semi-rigid end to protect the front lens element. This cover is made to fit the hood in reversed position and can just barely be attached to the installed hood.
In the field, I'll carry this lens in a LensCoat rain cover using a BlackRapid Sport Breathe Camera Strap (left version) attached to a Wimberley AP-609 Foot (coming soon to replace a Wimberley P40 Lens Plate) via a Really Right Stuff B2-FABN Screw-Knob Clamp (38mm).
As I've said before, lens manufacturers are in business to achieve a profit for their shareholders; therefore, lens prices are optimized for profitability. Price a lens too high, and sales volume goes below optimal. Under-price a lens and costs are not recovered. A lens with an aperture this wide is expensive to produce, and the development and production costs push it into a lower volume category. Lower volume means the recovery of expenses must happen with fewer lenses sold. That was a lot of words to say that this lens has a high, but not unexpected, price.
At review time, the 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS is the second most expensive FE interchangeable camera lens Sony offers. Only the FE 600 is priced higher. The price tag is very significant, and without a doubt, this is the biggest barrier for getting this amazing lens into the hands of photographers wanting it (which is nearly all of them). While this lens is expensive, it is priced $1 less than the Canon option.
Good has that, historically, quality lenses hold their value well. While this lens is expensive, it is priced $1 less than the Canon option. The overall cost of ownership for these lenses can vary greatly (including from monetary exchange rate fluctuations), but a Sony super-telephoto lens can typically be sold later for a solid percentage of the purchase price. The concept of buying this lens to photograph a child's school sports career and later selling it to help fund their college education seems realistic. Those pursuing professional sports photography will likely find this lens to be a career requirement.
If the price makes the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens unobtainable for you, consider renting one for your special events. If you are not shooting professionally, consider getting other parents to share in the rental expense in exchange for photos of their kids participating in sports.
As expensive as this lens is, you get what you pay for. Also, consider that price is a barrier for entry, meaning skilled photographers with this lens have a competitive advantage that will not be overcome by the masses with a camera. Anything less cannot create the separation of the subject from the background like this lens can.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full-frame and APS-C sensor format models.
Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens was purchased online-retail.
With no other same-class lenses in the Sony lineup, I'll start the comparisons with Sony's next-introduced big white super-telephoto lens, the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens. Aside from the big focal length and max aperture differences, these lenses are very similar.
In the wide-open aperture image quality comparison, the results from both lenses are looking great, but the 600 produces slightly sharper image quality overall. Equalized at f/4, the two lenses perform similarly. At wide apertures, the 400mm lens shows less vignetting.
It is logical to look at the image quality comparison with the 1.4x teleconverter mounted to the 400, creating a 560mm f/4 vs. 600mm f/4 comparison. Being a slightly sharper lens to begin with, the 600mm option is clearly sharper in this comparison.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens vs. Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens comparison shows the two lenses weighing nearly the same, but the 400 is noticeably shorter. Both lenses feature similar construction and features. The 600mm lens costs $1,000 more, though this difference as a percentage does not sound so bad.
For this decision, I recommend going with the 600mm lens unless, and this is important, you need the 400mm focal length or the f/2.8 aperture.
Looking for a same class lens across brands brings the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens to the top of my list.
In the image quality comparison, the Canon lens produces slightly sharper image quality. At f/4, the two lenses perform similarly.
The Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens vs. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens comparison shows two very similar lenses. The Canon lens has a longer focus ring rotation (540° vs. 145°), and the Sony lens has 11 aperture blades vs. 9. The Canon lens IS system performed better for me. The Sony lens comes in a hard case, and the Canon lens comes in a soft case. As I mentioned before, the Sony lens is a dollar less expensive.
This decision should be made based on the camera brand. While the Canon lens can be adapter to fit a Sony Alpha camera, it makes more sense to buy the Sony lens for a Sony camera and the Canon lens for a Canon camera. Still, it is interesting to compare across brands for a reality check.
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When it is big and white and has a big "G" on the side, the lens is surely an exceptional one. When photographers pay the price for and make the effort to carry such a lens, it is expected to produce outstanding imagery.
With superb build quality, a moderately-long telephoto focal length, an ultra-wide aperture, a fast and precise AF system, and high-grade image quality, the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS performs exceedingly well for serious, discerning sports photographers, wildlife photographers, and photojournalists.
Does this lens have any downsides? The handheld image stabilization performance underwhelmed me, and some slight color fringing shows near the center of the frame, especially impacting teleconverter performance.
On essentially all other accounts, the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is exceptional. It produces the expected results and can separate the subject from the background like few other lenses can match.
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