Sony FE 70-200 GM 2.8 review
There was a long wait between announcement and actual availability of the Sony FE 70-200 f/2.8 GM, but I finally got my hands on one a few months ago. The Sony Grand Master range of lenses are the pinnacle of modern lens design and should produce unrivaled quality images, even for the most discerning professional photographer.
And indeed, everything you’d expect from a pro lens is here: a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, weather sealing, and image stabilization. The SEL70200GM has a very complex optical formula with 23 elements in 18 groups and an 11-bladed diaphragm for smoother bokeh.
You’ll find a lens like this in many photographer’s bags, as it’s a must have for portrait, wedding, fashion, and nature photography. The lens is also useful for mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors, offering an equivalent focal length of 105-300 mm.
Even though mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than a typical DSLR, you can’t really cheat physics. Fast apertures and excellent optical quality lenses need lots of glass elements, and this means that the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM weighs just as much as the Canon or Nikon f/2.8 equivalents (1.480 grams).
The Sony FE 70-200 GM 2.8 includes optical image stabilization (Optical SteadyShot, OSS), which allows you to work at longer shutter speeds. This OSS system is important for a zoom because the built-in image stabilization in Sony cameras that operate by moving the sensor is not effective at long focal lengths. There is a lens switch that allows you to choose between OSS mode 1 for general use and OSS mode 2, intended for when you want to capture a subject moving from left to right or vice versa (panning). There is also a second switch that makes it is possible to limit the focus distance between 3 meters and infinity.This is useful, for example, if you want to focus through a fence or high grass etc.
All images on this page are RAW converted to jpeg with no sharpening applied.
As I mentioned earlier, this f/2.8 Sony mirrorless zoom weighs just about as much as Canon and Nikon DSLR equivalents. I have to say I’ve never really had a problem with using larger lenses on the E-mount system, and this is also the case here. The Sony 70-200 GM balances well with the A7rm2 and actually feels quite light. If you’re going to use it for extended periods of time, I would suggest using a grip.
I’m using the SEL70200GM with the Sony A7R II for this test. For me, it’s the first A7 series cameras that actually has a decent autofocus system, although the new A9 will undoubtedly perform better with this zoom.
The autofocus works quickly and accurately for stationary subjects. For portraits, the Face and Eye Detection of the Sony A7R II is a great tool to focus on where you want it. Manual focusing goes very smoothly thanks to the very smooth ring and the fact that the auto magnification in the viewfinder is engaged as soon as you touch the focus ring.
For moving subjects, the A7R II continuous autofocus combined with this zoom pushes against its limits. The camera does track birds and planes accurately but not as well as an equivalent DSLR combo. You’ll notice the focus moving forward, hunting for acquiring focus with very fast moving subjects. I’m not saying it’s not usable for fast moving subjects, but you’ll need to work a bit more to get the shots you need. I’m sure the Sony A9 will do better in this regard.
Color rendering and contrast
Sony needed to differentiate their GM line to their other top of the line range Zeiss designed lenses. You’ll notice the difference most in the color rendering of the SEL70200GM which is more neutral than with a Zeiss designed lens. Images look life-like with a good amount of contrast. Micro contrast like you see in many Zeiss lenses can give the appearance of sharpness in images, but it looks like the GM range is actually sharper when zoomed in 100%, something that was needed for high megapixel cameras of the future.
You’ll see some CA pop up here and there when there is a lot of contrast in your scene, but this lens is also generally well-behaved in this regard.
The out-of-focus-area look smooth and eye-pleasing. That eleven-bladed diaphragm certainly seems to be plus for this lens, and this tele-zoom can often capture images that could be mistaken for those shot with a prime lens.
Sharpness and vignetting
With a resolution of 42 megapixels, the A7rm2 sets high demands on lenses. I’m using one or four 300 dpi test charts to assess sharpness. I’ve chosen only three focal lengths of the Sony FE 70-200 GM 2.8, as in my experience you use a zoom like this either at the wide end, long end, or somewhere in the middle. The camera is on a sturdy tripod, image stabilization is off and I’m using the timer to engage the shutter.
Sharpness and vignetting at 70mm
At 70mm, the Sony FE 70-200 GM is already very sharp at 2.8 in the center, and even more so at f/4. A slight loss of sharpness due to diffraction becomes visible only at f/16, great news if you want to use this lens with a teleconverter like the SEL14TC.
The corners are totally in line with the center performance at 70mm. f/2.8 is very usable, f/4 even better and usable up to f/16. You’ll see some vignetting at f/2.8, although not problematic in my opinion. At f/4, it’s gone.
Sharpness and vignetting at 116mm
At maximum aperture, the Sony FE 70-200 GM 2.8 looks a bit softer at 116mm than at 70mm. Still very usable though, and it gets a huge bump at f/4 in terms of sharpness, remaining very sharp up to f/16.
Same thing in the corners, where you’ll need to stop down to the f/5.6-f/16 range to get the sharpest images. Vignetting visible at f/2?8, also disappears by f/5.6.
Sharpness and vignetting at 200mm
I had to switch to only one of the 4 test charts here, because of room constraints.
The image center is very sharp at F/28 at 200mm. f/4 receives a slight bump and you’ll see a loss of sharpness due to diffraction from f/16 onwards.
Compared to the center, corners lag behind somewhat, reaching maximum sharpness at around f/8, remaining very decent up to f/16/ there is some vignetting visible only at the maximum aperture.
The Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM is what you’d expect from a professional telezoom lens and more. It’s already very sharp in the center at f/2.8 both at the far and near end, and the corners are quite decent too. Vignetting is no real problem and only visible at maximum aperture. Chromatic aberrations are well under control too, only visible in extreme contrast situations.
The SEL70200GM balances surprisingly well on the Sony A7rm2 although I wouldn’t recommend this combo for fast action photography due to the body autofocus limitations. I’m sure the new Sony A9 will be a better match for this kind of photography.
The built-in image stabilization helps with getting in-focus shots in the field and the weather seals certainly look like it can handle quite a bit of dust and moisture too.
Image rendering is in line with other GM lenses: realistic colors with a decent amount of contrast. Out-of-focus areas look smooth and compelling thanks to the 11 bladed diaphragm.
High-resolution cameras like the Sony A7rii demand new lenses with excellent resolving power to maximize their potential. This is the second GM zoom I’ve tried and both pf them perform very well, even on this 42 megapixel camera. In terms of sharpness and bokeh, you could often mistake imagse from the SEL70200GM as from a prime lens. It is expensive though, and I would like to see the price come down by about 20%, but this certainly is a future proof stellar performing tele lens for the Sony full frame E-mount system.