Which Sony telephoto lens should I get? The Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is going to be the answer to that question for a great many photographers.
When Sony MILCs began their path to popularity, adapting Canon lenses to the Sony FE mount was what many serious photographers were doing. The Sony lenses were considered lesser in many cases (and those already having Canon lenses in their kits had an additional reason for adapting). But, using a native lens has many advantages, including better AF performance and being able to activate the higher-end features on some cameras (such as the 20 fps frame rate on the Sony a9). With the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens now on the streets, Sony camera owners have another good reason to go native-Sony with their lens lineup.
Few are the professional and serious amateur photographers (including serious parents) who do not have need for a high quality 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and this one is completely pro-ready. Delivering high grade image quality from a beautifully-designed package makes this one of the must-have lenses in a Sony-based kit.
What is a 70-200mm lens useful for? The list of uses for a short-mid-telephoto focal length range is very long, but I'll defer that list, first sharing a look at this focal length range.
You would probably classify the images in this example as fitting into the landscape definition and this is a great lens for this purpose. When landscape photography is mentioned, many immediately think of wide angle lenses. But, telephoto focal lengths are an important part of a landscape kit. The telephoto focal lengths can create excellent landscape images, especially when there is a distant subject that is to be emphasized, such as a mountain, sunset or ... clouds.
The 70-200mm range is one of the best portrait focal length ranges available. At the wide end of this range, head and shoulder portraits show a nice perspective as do any portraits captured from longer distances. At 200mm, even very tight headshots retain a nice perspective for a great look, one that typically includes few discernable background subjects.
With this lens, people can be photographed in the home, in the yard, at the beach, at the park, in the studio or at a wide variety of events and venues, and this focal length range is frequently a first choice for all of these. The 70-200mm focal length range is very popular for covering events including weddings, performances (including kids on stage) and speaking engagements.
People are also frequently photographed participating in sporting and other action scenarios with this focal length range. While the 200mm focal length may be modestly too wide for large field sports photography, it works very well for closer action such as that found at track and field meets, on the basketball court and sometimes, at the races. Basketball is typically played indoors and with the f/2.8 aperture (more on this soon), indoor action sports are within this lens' capabilities.
By virtue of the longer focal lengths and aided strongly by the wide f/2.8 aperture, the background of 70-200mm images can be diffusely-blurred and that attribute is especially great for portraits where the background cannot be fully controlled, including at sporting events and performances captured from a seat in the audience.
If you want to make money with a camera, photographing people is often one of the easiest ways to accomplish this and this lens, easily covering the classic portrait range of 85mm through 135mm (after FOVCF is factored in) is ideally suited for this purpose.
While portrait photography generally refers to images of people being captured, some of us also refer to certain types of wildlife photos as portraits. These images typically include the animal at least nearly filling the frame and for that task, this focal length range often falls short of that need. Unless the wildlife subject is very large and/or very close, the longest native focal length in this lens (I'll discuss the teleconverter options later in the review) will usually be found to be far too short for this task. If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive (zoo) wildlife, this focal length range may be perfect.
Another great use for telephoto lenses is to focus on closer details, optionally allowing a strong background blur to isolate those details within the image.
A 70-200mm lens is my most-used studio lens, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications.
Mount a 70-200mm lens on a Sony APS-C-format camera (1.5x FOVCF) and the angle of view (AOV) becomes like that of a 105-300mm lens on a full frame camera. While the narrower AOV does not greatly change the uses list for this lens, these AOVs make widely-framed portraits less ideal and most will prefer this AOV range for sports and wildlife pursuits.
This lens has a wide f/2.8 aperture available over the entire focal length range and that is a big asset for this lens. What are the advantages of a wide aperture? More light reaches the imaging sensor and it provides a shallower, better-subject-isolating depth of field.
While those photographing landscapes with this lens may not find the wide f/2.8 aperture mandatory (and those hiking to remote landscape destinations may not appreciate the weight that accompanies an f/2.8 lens), those capturing portraits or photographing low light events, including sporting events, definitely will. The f/2.8 aperture represents the widest aperture available in a 70-200mm zoom lens and, even with the improvements we've seen in DSLR camera high ISO performance, f/2.8 remains the minimum aperture I want mounted when photographing indoor activities. More light reaching the sensor means that a lower ISO setting can be used. An example of the difference between using f/2.8 and using f/4 is ISO 6400 vs. ISO 12800, and that difference is a big one.
I often talk about the compositional advantages of a clean border and one way to achieve such is make the border and background into an unrecognizable blur of color. This lens makes blurring the background easy. Zoom to 200mm, open the aperture to f/2.8, move in close to your subject and watch even a very busy and distracting background melt away – like this:
The wide aperture invites stopping action in low light and handholding the camera in perhaps even lower light levels. A wide aperture can also improve AF capabilities in low light scenarios.
What are the disadvantages of a wide aperture? I already mentioned the weight, and increased size also comes along with this feature. The other wide aperture disadvantage one can count on is increased price over similar focal length lenses with narrower apertures. From my perspective, the advantages often far outweigh the disadvantages.
Sony makes a lot of noise about their cameras having IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization), but many of their lenses also feature OSS (Optical SteadyShot). About the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens, Sony says: "High-performance image stabilization is built right into the lens for sharp, blur-free images with a wide range of subjects. The heavy stabilization lens is driven by a linear motor for fast, precise stabilization. 5-axis image stabilization becomes available when used with α series bodies that feature built-in image stabilization." [Sony]
While the wide aperture alone makes this lens a great choice for low light photography, this lens' optical image stabilization system significantly increases its versatility, improves its usability and, in many situations, can greatly improve the image quality it delivers.
Handholding this lens under ideal conditions, using an ultra-high resolution Sony a7R II, rendered most of my 70mm images sharp at 1/8 second exposures with the keeper rate tapering down to about 50% at 1/5 second, and rapidly tapering thereafter with only sporadic sharp results obtained at .4 seconds. An infrequent sharp image was captured at even longer shutter speeds, but the success rate was very low and not practical for use in most situations. At 200mm, nearly all images were usably sharp at 1/30 second exposure durations. About 60% we sharp at 1/15 with a very strong taper to no sharp images beyond that exposure duration.
Those numbers are far better than I could obtain without stabilization assistance. Photographing outside, perhaps in the wind or on unstable footing? Expect to need faster exposures than those I reported. But, also expect a similar amount of assistance from OSS as it is still similarly and significantly compensating for shake.
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. While OSS is active, drifting of framing is not an issue for me with the viewfinder view being well-controlled, not jumping at startup/shutdown and subject reframing being quite easy to accomplish.
Both Mode I and II (panning mode, stabilization in one direction only) are provided. This OSS system is almost completely silent with only a faint whir heard with my ear nearly against the lens. Handheld video recording is nicely assisted by OSS and OSS also provides a still subject to the camera's AF system, permitting it to do its job better.
To get the full benefit from the size, weight and price penalties imposed by a wide aperture lens, the image quality at that wide aperture must be good, or at least good enough. And, in this case, wide open results are quite good and easily good enough, including sharp results fully into extreme full frame corners. Stopping down only 1/3 stop to f/3.2 results in a nice increase in contrast and resolution and by f/4, this lens is razor sharp. Aside from an increased depth of field and potentially stronger star effects from point light sources, there is little reason to stop the lens down beyond f/4.
Veering slightly from the global description of image sharpness for this lens are the results at 135mm. Wide open image quality degrades slightly at 135mm with the bump of improvement at f/3.2 and f/4 being more substantial at this focal length, bringing 135mm back into the global razor sharp definition at f/4. Another variation that should be mentioned is the top-right (only) corner image quality of the review lens degrades somewhat at 200mm wide apertures. Expect another stop of aperture stop-down to reach full impressiveness in this single 200mm corner.
Below you will find sets of 100% resolution crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a7R II. 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). These examples are from the center of the frame.
Look carefully for the sharpest focus depth in each comparison as this lens can deliver a very shallow depth of field. If I hadn't shared the f/4 results, the f/2.8 results would look quite nice and even better with some more-substantial sharpening added during processing. But, the f/4 results are so extremely sharp that they show a marked improvement over the "quite nice" results.
This is a good time to address another image quality-related topic. Notice how the foreground does not sharpen much with the increased depth of field realized at narrower apertures? We are seeing some focus shift here. The amount of shift seems to be a bit stronger at wider focal lengths. Here is an example of this issue at 100mm.
As the aperture narrows, ideally, the foreground would sharpen at a similar rate as the background. In this case, the plane of sharp focus never falls behind the intended subject (this is very important), but the numbers on this scale get far sharper behind that subject than they do in front of the subject. If you are focusing on a distant mountain or city and expecting a narrow aperture to carry the foreground into sharp focus, you might be disappointed.
Another shift I noticed in some tests was in subject framing. I also observed the subject framing to shift slightly from frame to frame in some of the testing, most notably at the wide end and even with OSS switched off.
I often show an outdoor-captured corner comparison in lens reviews, but until I figure out how to get the a7R II to show me fully-magnified live view in the extreme corner, I'm going to find it hard to be totally satisfied that the results I have are the best possible, especially from a wide-aperture telephoto lens. But, this lens has great full frame corner image quality (aside from the minor 200mm top-right issue). The results on the test chart make this very "clear".
On a full frame format camera, the 70-200 f/2.8 GM, like all other lenses, shows peripheral shading when used with a wide open aperture. The amount of that shading is what we want to evaluate and overall, this lens performs fine in this regard, not delivering any miracles, but performing nicely including from a shading pattern/smoothness perspective.
At 70mm, corners are about 1.6 stops darker than the center of the frame and by 100mm, that amount is increased to about 2.5 stops. The 135mm results are similar and the 200mm results are very slightly improved to just under 2.5 stops. These amounts are noticeable, but not terribly strong.
Stop down one stop to f/4 and the periphery brightens by roughly 1 stop. At 70mm, the remaining amount (about .7 stops), will not typically be noticeable. Stopping down to f/5.6 at 70mm reduces vignetting to about .4 stops at the most and only slight improvement is seen at narrower apertures. At the longer focal lengths, f/4 results in about 1.4 stops of shading, about 1 stop at f/5.6 and then about .7 stops isolated to the extreme corners at f/8.
APS-C format camera users will see at most 1 stop of vignetting (at 200mm f/2.8), and will be mostly otherwise unaffected by this issue.
Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty. Vignetting can also be simply embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. The latter can work especially well for portraits, though the shading can affect the brightness of a subject's face if not centered.
Another issue most-affecting corner image quality is lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration), the effect of different 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 greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Zoom lenses generally have lateral CA and lateral CA is generally the worst at the two ends of the focal length range.
The four 100% crops shown below were taken from the extreme top-left corner of a7R II frames and show the normal-ness of this lens in this regard.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the additional colors are showing lateral CA. The color shift is most noticeable at 200mm and there is little lateral CA showing at 135mm. While it is better to not have any lateral CA, this defect is usually easily corrected with software (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or 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 look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while 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.
In the 100% crop images shared above, the most-prominent bracelets are silver in color. The presence of other colors, most notably in the periphery of the out of focus specular highlights, with different colors showing in the foreground vs. background, indicates the presence of these just-described issues. The focus shift example also shows this effect. While present, the issues are relatively mild and color fringing has not been problematic for me.
At f/2.8 with the sun in the corner of the frame, this lens produces a modest amount of flare. At longer focal lengths, aided in part by increased vignetting, nearly no flare effects are seen at f/2.8 in this situation. Stopped down significantly, this 23-element, 18-group lens produces a very noticeable amount of flare. This normal for telephoto focal lengths and this lens performs decently for its class.
Flare effects can be embraced, avoided or removal can be attempted. If not embraced, flare effects can be destructive to image quality and it is sometimes extremely difficult to remove these effects in post processing.
Another typical trait of zoom lenses is geometric distortion, with barrel distortion at the wide end transitioning into negligible distortion and on into pincushion distortion at the long end being the norm. And again, we find this lens delivering normal in this regard. The barrel distortion at 70mm is mild, 100mm is nearly distortion-free, very slight pincushion distortion begins to appear at 135mm and mild pincushion distortion shows at 200mm.
We have already established that a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens can produce a significant amount of background blur. From this lens, the quality of that blur, referred to as bokeh, is very nice. Here are some stopped-down aperture examples:
I didn't see a significant difference in blur quality over the focal length range, but as is often the case, the background specular highlight blur (BG) is slightly better than the foreground blur (FG).
Aiding especially in the roundness of the blurred specular highlights are the 11 rounded aperture blades. Yes, that is a very high blade count with only one non-Sony lens in our current database of 388 lenses having even 10 blades (the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens). Those 11 blades stopped down create very nice 22-point stars from point light sources. Here is an example.
Sony claims "Advanced Nano AR Coating technology produces a lens coating with a precisely defined regular nano-structure that effectively suppresses reflections that can cause flare and ghosting, for notable improvements in clarity, contrast, and overall image quality."
Another lens coating provided is fluorine. While this coating is less targeted at image quality, it increases the liquid contact angle, repelling contaminants and making the lens easy to clean. An easy to clean lens is a big advantage when in the field and a clean front element can maintain the image quality this lens is capable of (for sure, water drops can impair image quality).
While this lens delivers good image quality components, the sharpness performance is the stand out in this regard. With resolution and contrast being the highest priority for many photographers, sharpness is going to drive selection of this lens for many.
Sony states that "Advanced double-linear and ring SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor) actuators provide the precision and power required for both still and video AF in this full-size, heavy lens."
Clarifying, "The FE 70–200 mm F2.8 GM OSS deals with the weight of the focus lens by splitting the focus group, which is usually one piece, into two separate focus groups. This distributes the weight. Furthermore, by combining the focus groups with independent actuators and controlling them independently, the lens achieves smoother focusing not only for still images, but for video as well. Splitting the focus group in two also creates a floating structure that makes it possible to effectively correct various aberrations at all subject distances, and thanks to the floating structure, which is capable of fully independent control, you can adjust the position of each lens element one by one to its ideal position in a way that's impossible in a typical floating structure, making it possible to get the most out of the inherent performance of the lenses." [Sony]
Also: The focusing system’s double linear motor takes on the vital role of providing “wobbling” actuation for the AF contrast detection system when shooting video. An optical design that effectively minimizes focus breathing plus quiet mechanical operation further adds to focusing performance that is ideal for movies as well as stills." [Sony]
Overall autofocus performance relies on a camera to complete the task. One AF component, speed, is notably hindered by the Sony cameras available at this time. While the lens seems to focus quite fast, when mounted on either the Sony a7R II or the Sony a9 (best available technology at review time) in AF-Single mode, the lens is de-focused slightly before being focused on the subject, even if focusing at the same distance with the same subject, for an overall mediocre focus speed.
Most of us consider AF accuracy of utmost importance and this lens delivers excellently in this regard. In AF-Single mode, most images were properly focused even when using the 200mm f/2.8 combination at near minimum focus distance.
In AF-C continuous focus mode, the a9 gives up the focus hunting practice and the result is noticeably-faster focus acquisition.
One task I gave this lens (mounted on the a9) was photographing a soccer game, starting at dusk and quickly transitioning into under-the-lights action. While the 200mm long end felt completely inadequate for the purpose with average soccer action distances photographed at 200mm f/2.8 resulting in a depth of field that was not terribly challenging to AF, the results were excellent. Nearly all of the over-1,000 images were in focus.
For a staged test, I had subjects run toward the camera from much closer distances than those encountered at the soccer match. The a9 also performed extremely well in this test with nearly all images being in sharp focus until the subject approached very closely, at approximately 1/2-body 200mm framing distance.
For this image, I used an AF zone located near the top of the frame with the camera impressively keeping the eyes in focus. The wide area coverage of the AF points allowed me to place focus points on Brianna's face while framing very tightly.
More to the extreme was the challenge some tame white-tailed deer fawns provided for the a9 and Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens combination. These adorable little animals were very active, constantly playfully running around. In this case, the a9 and 70-200 did not perform as well. When the fawns were not moving much, AF-C proved very accurate even at 200mm f/2.8 at minimum focus distance. Slow action results were also good, but when the fawns started running around, the out-of-focus percentages went rather high.
As hinted to by the sample picture near the beginning of this review, I also photographed a dirt track race with the a9 and this lens. The extreme power-to-weight ratio cars were coming around the turn at very high speeds. I could hold the AF point accurately in place while the cars approached, but panning with the cars as they went by was physically very challenging. To more accurately access the fault of out of focus images, I would need to be able to see where the selected focus point fell on the scene as the car went by. Unfortunately, I have not found software to show the selected AF point overlaid on a Sony RAW image. Thus, I have to go with perception for the passing car results.
On the easier-to-perceive side of the equation, the a9 and this lens kept the cars in focus on the inside of the track (closer to the camera) until a certain point where I could see the plane of sharp focus begin drifting back and the cars then went out of focus. The camera was better able to track the cars on the outside of the track, but it was noticeably challenged by the closer subjects. As the cars passed, sometimes the camera could pick up the right focus distance, but frequently not.
Unlike that race, this lens is very quiet with at most very light shuffling sounds being heard inside. Especially when mounted on a camera like the a9, this lens will let you shoot continuously through even the most sound-sensitive events you will face, including weddings, recitals, concerts, speeches, etc.
Unique to this class of lenses are 3 AF hold buttons, located at the top, bottom and left side of the lens. The right side of the lens does not get a button for some reason and while I might make use of such a button in that position (when holding the camera in vertical orientation), the other three buttons are sufficient and I appreciate having them. While in continuous focus mode, these buttons can be pressed to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique. Note that the owner's manual indicates that "the focus hold button of this lens does not function with some camera models." It fails to mention which cameras are not compatible, but ... one would expect the latest models to support that feature.
A focus limiter switch permits selection of the full focus distance range or a limited 9.84' (3m) - ∞ range with the narrower range improving AF speed in some situations. This lens focuses internally and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is made available by the (mechanically-driven) focus ring.
The forward-positioned manual focus ring is nicely-sized and very smooth with ideal rotational resistance. I find the 123° focus ring rotation to affect focusing slightly quickly for ideal precision while the smooth surface with nice shallow ribs provide a good tactile experience.
There is a noticeable change in subject size as focus is adjusted over full extents, an attribute photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus and anyone very-critically framing a scene may care about.
While a distance window is not provided, a focus distance meter shows in the lower portion of the electronic viewfinder during manual focusing.
With a 37.8" (960mm) minimum focus distance, this lens delivers a near-best-in-class 0.25x maximum magnification that will be greatly appreciated for tight head shot portraits, product images, photos of details and much more.
|Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens||47.2"||(1200mm)||0.21x|
|Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens||43.3"||(1100mm)||0.21x|
|Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens||55.1"||(1400mm)||0.13x|
|Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens||37.8"||(960mm)||0.25x|
|Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens||37.4"||(950mm)||0.16x|
|Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||51.2"||(1300mm)||0.13x|
|Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens||37.4"||(950mm)||0.32x|
|Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens||47.2"||(1200mm)||0.21x|
|Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.27x|
|Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.13x|
This fawn head shot was captured at near minimum focus distance at 200mm f/2.8, resulting in a sample photo showing near maximum magnification and near maximum background blur.
At the sacrifice of infinity/long distance focusing, minimum focus distance and maximum magnification can be increased using extension tubes. To more dramatically increase the maximum magnification at the same focus distance, add teleconverters.
The addition of a Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter creates an attractive full frame 98-280mm OSS lens with a 1-stop narrower max aperture (f/4). While the focal length versatility provided by the TC is very nice, magnifying the image by 1.4x slightly impacts image quality. However, stop down to f/5.6 or f/8 and the results are looking very nice.
While this lens is modestly sharper wide open at wider-than-200mm focal lengths and the with-extender results will appear similarly improved at these focal lengths, the reason for using an extender is to gain a longer focal length than is natively available in the lens and that means any with-extender focal length below the 143mm focal length mark can be better-served without the extender in place. There are times when the full with-extender focal length range is desired, but the most focal length increase with a teleconverter is obtained at the 200mm setting. Thus, the with-teleconverter results at 200mm (providing a 280mm equivalent focal length) are the most important to consider.
The Sony FE 1.4x increases barrel distortion, but that increase is just the right amount to offset the native 200mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile. Surprisingly, the TC has negligible effect on lateral CA.
With the Sony FE 1.4x mounted behind the 70-200 GM, autofocus speed remains good and I encountered no focus hunting in even low light conditions.
Use the Sony FE 2x Teleconverter to create a 140-400mm OSS Lens with 2-stops of max aperture loss. Fortunately, even with a 2-stop max aperture reduction, this is still a very-reasonable-for-400mm f/5.6 max aperture lens. I am seldom enamored with the performance of 2x teleconverters and you will likely find the 400mm f/5.6 image quality ugly. However, stop down to f/8 or, better still, f/11 and ... the results are not so bad. The f/8 max aperture is wide enough and still very useful for the wildlife and sports photography that these focal lengths are especially well suited for if the lighting conditions are bright.
With the Sony FE 2x mounted, barrel distortion is again increased and again that increase is just the right amount to offset the native 200mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile. Lateral CA becomes somewhat more noticeable, but a less-sharp image means that lateral CA is less-focused and the color fringing appears larger. While the 2x has a slight impact on AF speed, it is relatively mild and I again encountered no focus hunting in even low light conditions.
The Grand Master lens series represents Sony's best-available lenses and the design and build of this one helps qualify it for the GM badge. Those familiar with the Nikon and Canon equivalents will not be disappointed in this Sony lens.
This is a beautifully-designed lens, featuring a relatively-constant diameter and a fixed (non-extending) size. The matte-white color looks sharp against the black zoom and focus rings and promises to keep the lens cooler under direct sunlight.
Like the focus ring, the zoom ring is nicely sized and requires just the right amount of rotational force to turn it. A clockwise zoom ring rotation selects a longer focal length. Those familiar with Canon lenses will require some mental retraining as this zoom ring rotates in the reverse direction while the Nikon-experienced will feel right at home with this design.
Not so common for 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses is that the Sony's zoom ring is located to the rear of the lens, behind the focus ring. Many 70-200mm lens designs feature the zoom ring located toward the front of the lens, resulting in a very problematic unbalanced grip when adjusting focal length. Sony gets this design right. With the lens balanced in the left palm, fingertips are free to quickly adjust the rear-positioned zoom ring while the right hand is free to change camera settings and capture images without having to support the weight of the camera and lens.
The shallow, well-populated switch bank is conveniently located with all conventionally-available switches present in recessed form. Unlike some switch-less Sony lenses that require camera settings changes for enabling or disabling features such as MF and OSS, this one provides the functionality at your fingertips, enabling fast and easily discernable changes.
This is a weather sealed lens, as hinted to by the mount gasket seal seen above and verified by Sony's gasketing illustration below.
A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is not going to be considered small or light by many and the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is similarly-sized with the rest – which are all surprisingly similar. Those never using one of these lenses may require some acclimation and a monopod or tripod may be found helpful for weight relief during very long periods of use, but ... most do not have a problem using lenses of this size for relatively long periods of time.
What is definitely not comfortable is my knuckle pressing into the back of this lens (and many other Sony lenses) while gripping the camera. The grip on the Sony a9 (shown above) and a7R II is not adequately sized to clear the finger on my medium-sized hand.
Here is a comparative look at current 70-200mm lenses, focusing on the size and weight aspects.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens||52.6 oz||(1490g)||3.5 x 7.8"||(88.8 x 199.0mm)||77mm||2010|
|Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens||50.5 oz||(1430g)||3.5 x 8.0"||(88.5 x 202.5mm)||77mm||2016|
|Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens||52.2 oz||(1480g)||3.5 x 7.9"||(88 x 200mm)||77mm||2016|
|Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens||50.5 oz||(1430g)||3.4 x 7.8"||(86.4 x 197.6mm)||77mm||2011|
|Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens||52.9 oz||(1500g)||3.5 x 7.6"||(87.9 x 193.0mm)||77mm||2017|
|Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens||26.8 oz||(760g)||3 x 6.8"||(76 x 172mm)||67mm||2006|
|Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||30 oz||(850g)||3.1 x 7"||(78 x 178.5mm)||67mm||2012|
|Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens||29.7 oz||(840g)||3.1 x 6.9"||(80 x 175mm)||72mm||2014|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
Here is a visual showing the size similarities of current 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses:
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 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens to other lenses.
At the bottom of the previous chart, I shared the specs for a trio of 70-200mm f/4 lenses. While an f/2.8 aperture is extremely advantageous, the f/4 lenses are considerably smaller and lighter and sometimes smaller and lighter is more important than an f/2.8 max aperture. Here is a comparison between the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens and the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens that shows the size difference.
The half-as-wide max aperture translates to a nearly half-as-much weight and the size difference in volume is similar.
All 70-200 f/2.8 optically stabilized lenses must have 77mm filter threads. While I doubt that law is written anywhere, the current models of these lenses all follow it. While 77mm is a relatively large filter size and filters increase in cost with size, 77mm filters are very commonly used, making them readily available and easily shared.
Also common with all current 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses is a tripod ring included in the box. When lenses reach this size and weight, they become too heavy to hang from a camera-mounted tripod, causing a significant sag after the head is tightened and potentially tipping the tripod over. Using a lens of this size mounted on a tripod ring is very easy and vertical orientation is easier to achieve than with any camera-mounted setup.
The tripod ring included with this lens is very nicely integrated into the design. This ring is not removeable, but that design decision aids in the smoothness of this ring in use and this is a very smooth-rotating tripod ring, showing smooth rotation while being tightened, right up until the point of being locked. While the tripod ring is not removeable, the foot itself is. A large thumbscrew on the side of the foot unlocks the foot, allowing it to be removed. When everything is locked tight, this foot is quite solid.
With two threaded inserts on the bottom of the foot (instead of one), lens plates can be more securely attached, resolving the twisting issue that can occur in single threaded-insert designs.
I am not aware of any 70-200mm lens available today that does not include a lens hood in the box and the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens comes with the same. The size of the Sony ALC-SH145 lens hood is rather large, but it provides significant protection from flare-inducing light and from dust, rain and impact. I have to admit that I think "Star Wars" every time I look at this white hood with its black-flocked interior. Black would have been my aesthetical preference for the color. I know, white absorbs less heat, but ... I can't see a hot hood making much difference in the functionality of this lens. Of course, white doesn't affect it either.
The deeply-petaled hood is plastic, though quite rigid for its thickness. The push-button release allows the hood to stay locked into place, yet install and remove with ease.
Sony included the filter adjustment window feature in this lens hood design, but ... I have not found these to be useful. There is simply not enough room in the window to rotate a circular polarizer filter far enough. Most often when I am adjusting a CP filter, I need to rotate it 90 degrees because I have also rotated the camera the same amount. To make that adjustment through the little window takes a frustrating number of little rotations. I would rather remove the hood and hold the filter in place while I rotate the camera, holding the previously-established effect.
Not all CP filter adjustments are as large as 90 degrees and the filter window is less aggravating to use for minor changes. If this filter adjustment method is your preference, no problem. This Sony lens has you covered with a window that can be positioned at the top or the bottom of the lens, depending on the orientation of the hood when it is installed. However, expect to frequently find the window open as removing the camera-mounted lens from a case often causes this annoying issue. I epoxied the window on one of my own similar lenses closed and am happier with it fixed in place.
Sony delivers this lens in a nice, useful zippered padded nylon case with a neck strap and a 2" belt loop on the back.
While Sony camera prices may seem comparatively appealing, you will not likely find the same to be true in regards to the Sony GM lenses, at least as of review time. The Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is currently the most expensive lens in its class. However, it is priced only $1 more than the Nikon equivalent at this time. While the price may seem high, the value from this lens comes from its extreme usefulness and versatility.
As an "FE" lens, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full frame and APS-C sensor format models. This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
The lens used for this review was obtained online/retail.
As of review time, direct alternatives to this lens require a lens mount adapter and adapted lenses do not perform as well on Sony cameras. Thus, if performance, most notably AF and frame rate performance (especially on the a9) are important, I highly recommend staying with the manufacturer brand lens in this case.
Staying in the Sony FE family means the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens is the alternative. This lens provides only half as much light at max aperture (with much-reduced background blur potential), but it is roughly half as large, weighs 60% as much and that it is currently priced more than $1,000 less will certainly gain it attention. The f/2.8 is sharper than the f/4 in most direct aperture comparisons and shows less lateral CA overall. As can be expected from a wider aperture lens, the f/2.8 has less peripheral shading at f/4 than the f/4 lens has wide open. That difference is mostly erased at f/5.6 and the f/4 lens has even slightly less vignetting in some f/8 comparisons. The two-year-older f/4 lens has electronic manual focusing with a two-speed focus ring (not my favorite), has 9 aperture blades vs 11 and has 72mm filter threads vs. 77mm.
To get the f/2.8 aperture means adapting lenses and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is a favorite at this time. Overall, the Sony and Canon are mostly equivalents, though my Canon is sharper than my Sony review lens at 200mm (and sharper with teleconverters at 200mm) and also has less lateral CA at that focal length. The Canon shows less vignetting at f/2.8 and less distortion at 200mm. The Sony has a higher maximum magnification (0.25x vs. 0.21x) and has three additional aperture blades (11 vs. 89). The Canon lens is considerably less expensive, but the required adapter has a cost.
Tamron's current entry in this lens class is the 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens. This is also a very high-performing lens that competes strongly with the Sony in terms of sharpness. The Sony has a higher maximum magnification (0.25x vs. 0.16x) and has two additional aperture blades (11 vs. 9). The price tag of the Tamron bearing a number nearly half as much as the Sony is ... attention garnering.
Sigma's current entry in this field is the 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens. I look for a replacement to this lens, most likely bearing the "Sports" moniker, in the near future, but this lens is not that old model (5 years older than the Sony) at review time and Sigma lenses are usually worth considering. We don't have ultra-high resolution test results from the Sigma at this point, but I don't see this Sigma lens surpassing this Sony lens in terms of image sharpness. The Sony appears to have an edge in the bulk of the flare comparisons while the Sigma takes the edge in a couple of those comparisons. The Sony has a much higher maximum magnification (0.25x vs. 0.13x) and has two additional aperture blades (11 vs. 9). You will like the price of the Sigma much better than that of the Sony.
As already established, the non-Sony lenses require adapters for use on Sony cameras. Adapters provide opportunity for misalignment to be introduced and adapted lenses do not typically perform as well from non-optical standpoints including AF speed. If you are using a Sony camera, it is best to get the Sony lens made specifically for it.
For a great many photographers, professional and amateur-alike, a 70-200mm lens represents the longest focal length f/2.8 aperture lens they can afford. But thankfully, the versatility afforded by a 70-200mm f/2.8 stabilized lens is immense. For those reasons, 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses show up everywhere. For a Sony E-mount-based kit, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is the ideal lens to fill that all-important slot with.
In most kits where the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens finds a home, it will quickly become one of the most-used lenses.
Serious Sony-based photographers will surely find this lens to be an indispensable part of their kits.
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