A quick look at one lens that fits into a popular mould. The Sony 70-200mm f4.0 G.

Sony's answer to Nikon and Canon's 70-200mm f4.0 lenses.

I bought a new camera on Friday but you know that no one really buys into a new camera system without grabbing some new lenses to go along for the ride. I bought two. In this blog I will write about the one that makes me most happy; the 70-200mm f4.0 G zoom. It actually has more letters in its name but I can't keep up with all the abbreviated garble. 

For the last two years I have been using one of Nikon's 80-200mm f2.8 zooms. It's an earlier, push-pull design and I have absolutely no complaints about the optical performance I got from it. It's really sharp! Even though we now require lenses to be sharp from corner to corner, wide open to consider them passable, that lens from the 1990's was a very competent optical system for use in the real world. 

The thing that bothered me about the lens was the weight and the lack of a tripod collar. Given the design and the operational target of that lens there's really not much Nikon could have done about the weight. Their reasoning for not including a tripod collar was a bit disingenuous though. They suggested that the lens was aimed at photojournalists who would rarely ever want to use a tripod and who needed fast, handheld operation. The time spent removing a collar might mean precious seconds that could spell the difference between winning that Pulitzer or not....

But it was a disaster for a studio/tripod shooter. I liked the
look of the lens, on sensor, but when I mounted the lens on a DSLR body and attached the body to a tripod not even the stoutest tripod head in my inventory would keep the body and lens in the right spot for a vertical, portrait orientation. The three or four pounds of metal and glass, supported by friction and a quarter inch screw, would immediately capitulate to gravity and start to arc down toward the floor. It's probably what led me to: A. Start shooting horizontal portraits, and B. Start buying much lighter prime lenses within the same focal length range. 

All history with Nikon aside the 70-200mm and 80-200mm range of zoom lenses is extremely popular with most photographers and represents one of the first or second lenses most of us buy when we dive into a new system. I am no different, but this time I was adamant that any long zoom I bought to replace the aging Nikon needed to have an included tripod collar. I so missed my previous Sony Alpha 70-200mm f2.8 lens and the ability to loosen its collar locking knob and swing the camera into a vertical orientation that put next to no strain on the camera, and even less on the tripod head itself. 

When I decided to purchase the Sony A7R2 camera I researched all the lenses available for it and decided that the lens I really, really wanted was the ultra-cool looking Sony cinema lens, the 28-135mm f4.0. It has a hard stop, manual focusing ring which you can slide forward or backward to engage or disengage the autofocus. This lens is parfocal which means it does not change focus as you change focal lengths. It's very impressive to look at and seems to be built like a tank. Wow! I thought I hit the jackpot and could buy one lens to handle all my photography and videography needs in one swell package. I called my sales guy, Ian, at Precision Camera and asked him if they had one in stock. Yay! They did. 

My enthusiasm was short-lived. When I got to the store Ian grabbed the demonstrator 28-135mm f4.0 off the front of an FS7 video camera (talk about a well stocked photo/candy store!!!) and put it on the front of an A72 body. When I lifted the camera and lens combination up off the counter my fantasy balloon of owning a single, perfect lens popped. The damn thing weighed a ton. Massive. A 92mm front filter element which would require a $500 variable neutral density filter. And the lens itself cost $2500. 

After I got over my initial disappointment I consulted my notes and looked at my "second choices." These were: the lens at the top of the article, along with a 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss zoom lens. By making this choice I'd end up with more focal length range on either end and two lenses that, together, weighed less, and took up less space than the cinema behemoth (which I still want to use some day). These two lenses were much more practical and perhaps even better performers, as far as imaging is concerned.  Where the 28-135mm would need to spend its life on a stout tripod both the 24/70 and the 70/200 are eminently hand-holdable. While the tripod collar on the longer zoom means it's a practical vertical portrait lens when used on a tripod. 

I have had the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens since Friday afternoon and I've been testing it. It's at least as good as the version I owned from Canon and, in a bright spurt of innovation, Sony has integrated the in body stabilization of the A7R2 with the in-lens stabilization of the lens. The camera controls the several axis that are most effective for a sensor shift technology to handle while the bigger movements of vertical and horizontal yaw are handled, in concert, by the lens. It's a remarkably smart implementation. 

I've shot the lens using my usual tests and also find that it's at least as good as the faster Nikon lens it will be replacing. 

Will I miss the extra stop? Not likely. I'll mostly shoot it wide open at the theater where it might be even sharper than the Nikon was at f4.0. The added in-body and in-lens image stabilization will also be a big factor in actually increasing the overall image quality. Finally, the A7R2 seems to be a bit better than the D810 when it comes to higher ISO performance. Something to do, I think, with the new BSI technology of the sensor; which represents the most current technology. With that in mind I won't hesitate to use ISO 3200 as a reasonable standard theater setting and maybe 6400 as an more than adequate if needed setting. 

An additional benefit of the lens is my ability to use it on Sony's APS-C body, the a6300 where it emulates a 105-300mm f4.0 lens in full frame-speak, for those times when I crave just a bit more reach...

Finally, the 70/200 G is optimized for AF with video and seems to do a really great job both locking focus and tracking focus while the camera is shooting video. No hunting in decent light (so far) and a nice ability to keep optimizing focus on an interview subject who moves front to back and side to side just enough to make one crazy if trying to manually pull focus. 

Just thought I'd let you know my thoughts on an addition to the inventory. 


Anonymous said...

I have no idea how it compares to the Sony lens, but Nikon's own (fairly new design) 70-200 f/4 is the best Nikon lens I've ever owned, bar none. I own or have owned the excellent Nikon 80-400 (new version), 300 f/4, the 70-300 kit lens and two versions of the 80-200/2.8. 70-200 has the best combination of sharpness, quick-to-focus and lightweight. If the Sony is anything near half as good, you have yourself an excellent lens.

In any case, enjoy your new lens.


Paul said...

What is your take on the 24-70mm f4 Zeiss? Every review site regards this lens as waste of money saying the the cheaper 28-70 while not optically better represents better value being $1000 AUD cheaper.

Kirk Tuck said...

Paul, I have no opinion on this yet because I haven't had the opportunity to test the 24-70mm f4.0 yet. I'm certain that the cheaper lens might be the better value for most users but....

I bought the lens partially on the strength of testing by DXO with the A7R. In that instance, as opposed to previous tests on APS-C bodies with much inferior sensors, the lens ranked very, very well.

Having owned a Nex-7 I am familiar with the Jekyll and Hyde behavior of some lenses on older versions of Sony sensors. It's always best to do your own tests. If the lens isn't satisfactory I'll return it and try another avenue.

I am relatively indifferent to the difference in cost.

Nigel said...

Is the Sony 28-135 a true parfocal zoom, or are they just emulating this using refocus as it (electronically) zooms ?
Interesting discussion of what is and isn't parfocal over at Lens Rentals.

Kirk Tuck said...

Just returned to the studio from photographing the chief operating officer of a company. I used the A7R2 and the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. Focusing was exact and the file easier to color correct than anything I've been able to pull out of the D810. Winner! The lens, used wide open is sharp and has beautiful out of focus rendering in the background. Love it.

eric4758 said...

I use the 70-200g f/4 G lens for mostly shooting video (pro still photographer I am not) and the autofocus performs amazingly fast in combination with the a6300. The price of the lens is kind of steep for camera enthusiasts like me though. I saw the 28-135 lens in the wild on a recent trip to shoot a bullfighting match. It looked like overkill for taking family pictures, which is what the owner of that zoom lens was doing using a tripod.

Tom Barber said...

I own the lens and agree that it is optically excellent. However I do have a major gripe with the lens. For anyone who prefers to focus manually, this lens is terribly frustrating, like most of Sony's focus-by-wire lenses. Focus-by-wire can be tolerable if the software logic endeavors to emulate lenses where the focusing ring is mechanically linked to the lens elements that move when focusing, and where there is a fixed, non-changing relationship between the movement speed of the lens elements and the movement speed of the ring. In Sony's focus-by-wire lenses, the software logic implements a non-constant relationship between the two speeds. If you move the ring moderately fast, the movement of the ring is exaggerated, with focusing changing more abruptly than the change in the position of the ring. The effect is strongly similar to the effect you get with a computer mouse in Windows, where the mouse cursor movement is erratic if you set the "acceleration" too high and then move the mouse too quickly. You would never find this behavior in a conventional lens without focus-by-wire, and might not find it in focus-by-wire lenses designed by other manufacturers where the engineers exercise greater restraint. Sony engineers clearly are of the opinion that the ability to apply this behavior is an advantage of focus-by-wire. I strongly disagree. I think they are trying to be clever for the sake of being clever. They should select a single ratio, somewhere between the slower ratio and the faster ratio. For a focus-by-wire lens, a variable speed ratio is just a bad, bad idea, and it is a perfect example of how engineers in a culture caught up in gadgetry and cleverness are too clever for anyone's good.

Hendarman Tedja said...

Hi Kirk, would the lens have lower performance if mounted on Sony a7m2? Thanks

Hendarman Tedja said...

Hi Kirk, would 70-200 f4 has lower performance if mounted on Sony a7m2? Especially on low light condition. Appreciate the advice. Thanks