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 thelook 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.