Today I’m taking a look at one of the first FE lenses released for the system, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS. Until the recent announcement of the new G Master 70-200mm f/2.8, this lens was the only option for a native telephoto zoom lens for full-frame E-Mount. It fills the classic telephoto zoom range that is a staple of many photographers’ kits, and the constant f/4 aperture strikes a balance between speed and compactness. This lens is one of Sony’s ‘G’ series lenses, which are intended for high-end glass, so my expectations are fairly high for the lens. Let’s take a look.
Construction and Handling
The FE 70-200mm f/4 is billed as a pro-grade lens, and as you’d expect, the build quality is on a very high level. The lens body is constructed of a mix of high quality plastics and metals, and the result is a solidly built lens that isn’t overly heavy. The lens is similar in size to 70-200mm f/4 lenses for DSLRs, as is expected: the benefits of a short flange distance are lost once you get into the telephoto range. The FE 70-200mm has very smoothly operating zoom and focus rings that are well damped and feel great to use. The included lens collar and white plastic lens hood are also well-built and fit the lens well. In short, there’s nothing to complain about here.
The FE 70-200mm f/4, like most lenses of its type, has both internal zooming and internal focusing, such that the lens is constant in length regardless of zoom or focus setting. Unfortunately, the internal focusing design suffers from significant focal shortening when focusing up close. When comparing to my Canon 70-200mm f/4L (also an internally focusing and zooming lens) at focus distances around 2-3 meters, the Sony gives up around 35mm of reach at the long end to the Canon, even though the field of view of both lenses is near identical when focused at infinity. This doesn’t matter for distant subjects, but if you’re trying to maximize close-up framing and subject separation, be aware that at close to medium focus distances, the lens has a true focal length of around 60-165mm.
The side of the lens features several controls. There are dedicated switches for the optical image stabilizer settings, for switching between manual and autofocus, and for a focus limiter, that can limit the focus range to 3m and further to help increase focus acquisition speed. Finally, there are three focus stop buttons that sit forward of the manual focus ring. These buttons, when held, will prevent the camera from trying to autofocus. This can be a useful feature to have if you are prefocusing on a subject, to allow you to keep that focus locked for multiple different shots, or simply so you don’t have to keep the shutter button half pressed. The placement of the three buttons ensures that one of them is always at the ready to depress with your left hand, regardless of camera orientation.
Autofocus and Image Stabilization
The FE 70-200mm f/4 has a fast and quiet focus motor, making it an ideal choice for most any type of shooting. In single shot mode, I experienced quick autofocus that locked surely and accurately in good light. When the light gets dim, I did have some occasional trouble with obtaining a focus lock, and speed definitely suffered a bit, but this may be as much a camera limitation as it is a lens limitation.
The speed of the focus motor in good light makes the 70-200mm f/4 a great lens for which to shoot action. On both my Sony a6000 and A7 II, the FE 70-200mm f/4 was able to accurately track a moving subject, even when it was moving directly towards me. The shot below was taken at 200mm as the man rode his bicycle towards me at a fairly good clip.
I only took a 3 shot burst for this frame, but all three were in perfect focus. Testing it in other situations, I had a very good success rate. This is a great lens to choose if you shoot moving subjects, and are OK with the moderate amount of reach. The lens does pair very well with the a6000 (and the new a6300), for a relatively lightweight setup that is capable of high-speed tracking and burst shooting.
The FE 70-200mm f/4 also has Sony’s Optical Steady Shot (OSS). The OSS system will work in concert with the in-body stabilization on the Mark II series A7 bodies, or by itself on all other E-mount bodies. The stabilizer works, though I found it to be only an average implementation. I regularly achieved between 2 and 3 stops of extra handholdability, which is decent, but nothing special. The OSS system didn’t seem to gain much when used with my A7 II, as my results were similar to what I get with my adapted Canon 70-200mm f/4 using the IBIS. I did very much appreciate the OSS when shooting on my a6000.
There’s one key thing to note with this stabilizer, though: It doesn’t play too nicely at very high shutter speeds. I had several instances where the OSS system actually induced some blur when shooting at speeds faster than 1/1000s, which was a bit odd, so it’s probably a wise move to flip the OSS switch to OFF when shooting in bright daylight.
70-200mm lenses are often one of the bread-and-butter lenses of a camera system, and they tend to be workhorse lenses that get a lot of use. With these things in mind and the moderate 2.85x zoom ratio, manufacturers also tend to focus on excellent optics with their 70-200mm lenses, and Sony, thankfully, has done so as well.
The FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS produces images with very good image sharpness throughout the focal range and at all apertures, though how good it is across the frame varies with focal length and focus distance. At 70mm, the center is impressively sharp at all focus distances, and this sharpness extends across the majority of the frame. The edges and corners show a little minor softening at wide apertures, though these sharpen up to quite good levels upon stopping down.
In the middle of the zoom range, the 70-200mm is excellent closer up, with very sharp results across the frame from f/4, with only a touch of minor softness in the corners that disappears when stopping down, though it oddly inverts its edge performance at infinity, with a bit of softness at the edge of the frame.
At the long end, the lens can be a bit of a mixed bag, though it’s still quite good throughout. The center is sharp at all apertures and focus distances, though the corners lag behind when focused closer up. They’re very soft wide open and don’t ever get truly sharp stopped down. However, at infinity, the lens is quite sharp across the frame at 200mm. The edge sharpness at the long end when focused close doesn’t bother me, as most of the time these compositions don’t require great corners. See the image above (and the included 100% crop) to see how good this lens can be wide open. Overall, I think the lens engineers did an excellent job balancing sharpness where and when it’s needed.
The 70-200mm f/4 does a nice job with regards to out of focus character, producing generally pleasing background blur with smooth falloff.. Specular highlights show no obvious outlining, but they do show fairly prominent onion ring centers due to the aspherical elements in use. On the whole, however, I don’t feel this distracts from the rendering of the lens in most instances, and I was pleased with the bokeh produced by the lens.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 produces images with a pleasing contrast profile and relatively neutral color response. This lays a nice base for postprocessing, as it’s punchy enough to be pleasing, but not over the top. The images take saturation and contrast adjustment with ease. The performance here is perfectly fine, though it’s a bit of a flatter rendering than what I’ve experienced with other 70-200mm zoom lenses for other systems. For example, I noticed when I compared the lens to my Canon 70-200mm f/4L, the Canon produced richer color to my eye.
Lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration are both very well controlled with this lens. It is very rare to see in real world images even at 100% magnification.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
With regards to distortion, the FE 70-200mm f/4 produces similar results to many telephoto zoom lenses. There is mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom range, that progresses to slight pincushion distortion at the middle of the range, which worsens towards 200mm. While the distortion at 200mm is noticeable when shooting buildings and such, it’s not severe. When shooting subjects with straight lines, using the built in-profile for correction in Lightroom or Capture One eliminates the distortion with minimal residual effects on image sharpness.
Unfortunately, I found flare resistance to be fairly poor with this lens. In some situations, contrast is only minorly affected, but shooting around the sun in these situations shows purple and green flare emanating from the sun away from the center of the image frame, along with some smaller ghosts. However, in other situations, especially at the wider end of the zoom range, contrast can be significantly affected, and large flare ghosts appear throughout the frame. The shot above is a 3 shot HDR, but the contrast was so severely limited that detail was lost in all three exposures. Also, large purple and smaller green ghosting is clearly visible. Thankfully, with the narrow angle of view this lens produces and the deep lens hood, these situations aren’t too common when shooting the lens.
The lens shows notable corner shading at f/4 at all focal lengths, which eases significantly at wider focal lengths when stopping down. At the long end, however, some vignetting is visible even at f/8.
When looking at the lens as a whole, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is a strong performer, but it’s certainly not a flawless performer. While I was very pleased with the images I got from the lens, the high price tag left me wanting just a bit more.
- Very well built lens with excellent zoom and focus feel
- Fast and accurate autofocus
- Sharp over most of the frame right from f/4
- Good bokeh
- Versatile focal range
- Very good chromatic aberration control
- Good contrast and neutral color
- Optically Stabilized
- Poor flare control
- Some edge softness at 200mm, even stopped down
- Focal length shortens considerably at close focus
The FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is a high quality telephoto zoom lens that produces sharp images with pleasing bokeh and good color and contrast. The lens focuses very fast and the optical stabilizer allows for an extra two to three stops of handholdability. It’s also a very well built lens with great haptics. If you need a native telephoto zoom, it’s a great option. However, given the high $1,499 price tag, I expected just a bit more. It’s a very good lens, but performance wise, it’s about on par with my $599 Canon 70-200mm f/4L. Now, that lens is a very good lens, and the FE is very good as well, but Sony is asking $250 more than the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS (which is optically superior) and $100 more than the Nikon variant. For the extra cash, you’d hope for some extra performance.
Still, price aside, it’s a very good zoom lens, and one that will fit perfectly for shooters on both the full-frame A7 bodies and the APS-C E-Mount cameras. If you can get over the price premium, it’s an excellent option for the Sony shooter.