Monday, September 15, 2014

Initial Impression Review - Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens

Update: To see more photos taken with this lens, see the following blog post(s): DAY & NIGHT

Not too long ago, I dove into the deep end and purchased my first mirrorless full frame camera, the Sony Alpha A7. Spoiler Alert! I am extremely happy with the camera and I am happy I waited as long as I did to upgrade for the price alone. I have owned a handful of telephoto zooms in the 70-200 range and noticed (and documented in prior posts) that adapted lenses with AF tend to have unpredictable performance. While I loved adapting the Olympus 50-200mm four thirds lens to my E-M1, I noticed it would hunt in low-light conditions or sometimes back/front focus (a common but easily fixable problem with phase detect AF systems). I decided that moving forward, I would invest only in native AF glass for both my Sony and M43 cameras with exception to vintage and manual focus only lenses. So with the purchase of the A7, I also bought the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens. This is similar to purchasing a 35-100mm f/2 lens for a M43 camera in field of view and depth of field (not light gathering) respectively. 

My first in studio shot using this lens and I am extremely happy with the focus accuracy and image quality
Although I like to do a more extensive review after using any photographic equipment for longer than 6 months, I think this lens warrants at least a small write up. I've been asked by a handful of people what I think about this zoom and whether or not I would recommend it. It is always hard to answer this question without getting to know what kind of photographer you are, so hopefully this semi-short initial impressions review will help you decide whether or not you want to spend $1,500 on this lens. Short answer is it fits perfectly in my collection and is here to stay. 

It is hard to comment on color rendering because it is an extremely subjective topic. The fact that I am reproducing colors similar to my Olympus cameras (well to my eyes that is) makes me a happy shooter. This doesn't surprise me since it is commonly known that Sony supplies the sensors to most newer generation Olympus cameras.
Let's start with some of the bad. There have been many reports around photography forums stating this lens when mounted on the A7 series of cameras has some wiggle/play. I can confirm that my copy on the A7 does exhibit this problem though it seems to be slightly exaggerated. Although it does not bother me, I can definitely understand those who might be disturbed or put off by this play (less than 1 millimeter in rotation). The overall size of the lens can also be a bit strange to someone using the Alpha cameras without a grip so that is something to definitely keep in mind. 

I simply like the quality of the background blur (Bokeh). You get nice round bokeh balls that are smooth and not distracting even as you close the aperture down. 
Now that we have the negatives settled. I can now gush over the fact that this lens is amazingly sharp even wide open. I find that my shots are even good at the 200mm end, but I don't pixel peep or perform strict laboratory tests like DxO Mark. From the very first day, my brother and I both were amazed at how much detail this lens captures. Whether it's the sensor, lens or combination of the two, this zoom simply delivers on the image quality end - stop it down and it gets better. I even tried using this in crop mode while I was at the L.A. Dodger game and was simply impressed. The following shots were both taken at the longest end (roughly 300mm in field of view) at f/5.6.

Yasiel Puig bunting - definitely unexpected

I was able to capture Justin Turner's clutch hit during the Washington Nationals 14 inning game. During this sunny day, losing that extra stop of light from cropping the sensor was not a big deal (I cannot confirm it's a full stop of light but have read on forums that this is the case). To my eyes, I did not notice a big hit to image quality.  
Probably my favorite thing about this lens besides the fact that it is one of the few Sony FE lenses with an optical image stabilizer (meaning the stabilizer is in the lens not in the body like the OMD), is the fact it has a focus limiter. I have never had this on any of my lenses/camera bodies and this feature truly is a welcomed addition. As an occasional concert and sports photographer, limiting the focus range the camera uses definitely comes in handy. In many situations, especially in concerts, members of the band go in and out of high contrast or well lit areas. This usually causes the camera to hunt and attempt to focus by moving through the entire focus range (back and forth between closest focus to infinity). By limiting the range, it will take a shorter period of time to snap back into focus once the conditions become more ideal. I just wish I had a bit more control over the distance it limits as seen on the Sony A99 (in software adjustment), but I am definitely happy nonetheless. You can physically toggle between two options on the lens itself: the entire focus range or from 3 meters (~9.8 feet) to ∞.

Nathan Shrake as the Mad Hatter and Sheena Loza as Alice - definitely move around stage a lot. With ample lighting it is not difficult to capture a sharp image

Heart from the Hottest Deck

Nathan Shrake was dancing along moving in and out of the direct light. The focus limiter truly helped under these conditions

Before this post turns into the a long exhaustive review, I will say that I purposefully opted not to discuss the focus speed. It is hard not to review this aspect of the lens without also reviewing the camera itself, since they go hand in hand. I will leave that for a future post when I have had more mileage with this beast, but I will say that the speed is most definitely not as fast as my Olympus OMD yet fast enough that it doesn't bother me. I have heard reports that this lens is blistering fast on the new Sony A6000, an APSC model, and the A7s, a 12 megapixel full frame camera. I hope you found this mini review helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away or let me know what you think in the comments below.

A sneak peak at my time shooting Halloween Mad T Party with the Sony FE 70-200mm. This is a shot taken at ISO 2500 and it still remains relatively clean and full of detail
So say we all,

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