Generally very good sharpness
Central CA almost eliminated
Ease of use
Unique focal length for E mount
Edges soften as we zoom in
Edge CA high
The 70-300mm lens is a highly versatile option for sports and wildlife in particular and the market abounds with low cost choices that serve well. This lens is one of a different breed though, at a much higher price level and including, in Sony’s jargon, their Optical Steady Shot mechanism. It will be very interesting to see how the lens performs and whether the higher cost is justified.
Handling and Features
This full frame E mount Sony lens was supplied with the Sony Alpha A7R camera body for the purposes of this review, the resulting combination working well together and providing a well balanced package. At 854g, the lens is not particularly light, but considering it is full frame then quite manageable.
From the front, the 72mm filter thread is surrounded by a bayonet that accepts the supplied round lens hood. This fits well and clicks into place positively. The hood is deep enough to be efficient and make a real difference. Immediately behind this we find the wide zoom ring. It is smooth enough, but quite firm in action and its rotation does reveal a slight rotational play in the Sony E mount. There is a zoom lock at 70mm to prevent the lens extending under its own weight when being carried. Behind this, a narrow focusing ring provides the means to manually focus. Between the two rings is the focus lock button. This enables the focus to be fixed after AF has locked on, so we can recompose without affecting the selected point of focus.
The lens switches are the last feature on the wide barrel, before it tapers down to meet the Sony bayonet E mount. Switches control AF/MF, there is a limiter to restrict the AF range to 3m to infinity and finally a switch for the OSS (Optical Steady Shot) system.
The lens focuses down to 0.9m (2.96 feet), a maximum magnification of 0.31x. This is refreshingly close for such a long lens and extends its usefulness down to semi-macro shooting around one third life size. Finally, the optical formula comprises 16 elements in 13 groups.
The lens seems very well assembled, all the controls being tight and smooth in operation. The OSS system locks on very quickly, so much so that there is no feeling it should be switched off even for rapidly moving wildlife. The AF system when combined the a7r is very fast and this too is up to the job for fast action subjects. However, in this respect the DSLR still has the edge. There are some situations where the combination of camera and lens just won’t lock on and where it would not be a problem with a DSLR. Generally, though, there are very few operational hazards and the lens works very well.
Sharpness centrally at 70mm is very good from the start, becoming excellent from f/8 through to f/16. It is still very good at f/22. The edges are of a good standard at f/4.5, very good from f/5.6 to f/16 and remaining good at f/22.
Centrally at 135mm, sharpness is very good from open aperture to f/8, peaks at an excellent standard at f/11, is still very good at f/16 and remains good at f/22 and f/25. The edge performance is good throughout, reaching very good levels from f/8 to f/16.
Sharpness at 200mm is dropping off slightly. The centre is good at f/5.6, very good from f/8 to f/16 and retaining a good level at f/22 and f/25. The edges are starting to slip though, and they are fairly soft until they perk up at a very good level at f/16, remaining good at f/22 and f/25.
Central performance is similar at 300mm, being good throughout and very good from f/8 through to f/16. The figures are slightly lower though, continuing the tendency to reduced sharpness as we zoom. The edges suffer the most at 300mm and are fairly soft throughout the range.
Most zoom lenses fall off in sharpness as we zoom. In the case of longer zooms having that extra reach does make up for it though, and provided detailed subject matter is held to the centre of the frame then very satisfactory results can be obtained. In general, the lens performed very well and it has the potential to produce some excellent images.
This potential can, of course, be easily marred by camera shake, so the provision of OSS (Optical Steady Shot) is a major feature. I can confidently say that a three stop advantage is easily possible. Maybe those with steadier hands will do better, but in any event, there is a real advantage to be had by its inclusion.
How to read our charts
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.
The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.
Control of CA is very impressive, it being virtually eliminated at the centre of the frame. At the edge, it is quite noticeable at 70mm, dips at 135mm and then steadily increases as we zoom in. Of course, CA can also be handled in software, so it can be dealt with as needed.
How to read our charts
Chromatic aberration is the lens’ inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.
Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.
Images from the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS lens are very pleasing, showing good colour and sharpness. Resistance to flare is excellent and there are no signs that even contrast is being reduced by shooting into the light.
Pincushion distortion is present throughout the zoom range, as may be expected with a telephoto zoom. It measures +1.98% at 70mm, peaks at +2.15% at 135mm, drops to +1.61% at 200mm and +1.16% at 300mm. If necessary, this can be handled in software.
Bokeh is pleasant, being very relaxed and certainly very acceptable. This is of course helped by the long focal length where objects in the background can be so easily thrown out of focus by using wider apertures.
Smooth Bokeh | 1/640 sec | f/5.6 | 300.0 mm | ISO 200
Landscape | 1/320 sec | f/8.0 | 70.0 mm | ISO 320
New Build | 1/640 sec | f/8.0 | 130.0 mm | ISO 400
Against The Light | 1/320 sec | f/5.6 | 111.0 mm | ISO 200
Andean Goose | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 259.0 mm | ISO 400
Chick And Stick | 1/800 sec | f/5.6 | 300.0 mm | ISO 400
Teenage Fashion | 1/125 sec | f/5.0 | 91.0 mm | ISO 400
Value For Money
The market has a wide selection of 70-300mm zooms, even full frame offerings starting from around £100/$150 for DSLR cameras. The full frame range for Sony E mount cameras has been gradually expanding and this new lens is the longest reach so far. At £1,099/$1,648 it is not cheap, and the nearest comparably priced lens for a rival marque would be the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DO IS USM at £989. As a comparison, Nikon’s equivalent is the Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G AF-S VR at £429. This seems to make the Sony lens quite expensive, even with the inbuilt OSS system taken into account. Hopefully, given time, prices will fall.
|Focal Length||70mm – 300mm|
|Angle of View||8.1° – 34°|
|Max Aperture||f/4.5 – f/5.6|
|Min Aperture||f/22 – f/29|
|35mm equivalent||105mm – 450mm|
|Box Contents||Hood, Rear Cap, Front Cap, Case|
The lens fills a real need in the Sony full frame E mount range. Handling is excellent, performance is very good throughout, albeit tailing off at the edges as we zoom in. However, it is rather pricey at the current level.
Set this against its usefulness and ease of use and we still end up with an attractive proposition and a unique optic for Sony E mount users.