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Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Lens Review

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Lens Review - Gary Wolstenholme reviews the new telephoto zoom from Sony the 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II.

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II
Price : £1,700
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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Sony 70 400mm F4 5 6 G SSM II (3)

This telephoto zoom lens for use with Sony A-mount cameras and adapters sports an improved silent focusing motor that should focus noticeably faster than its predecessor and a new Nano AR coating, which promises to reduce ghosting and flare.

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Handling and Features

Sony 70 400mm F4 5 6 G SSM II (7)

The build quality of this lens is excellent, with a selection of high quality plastics and lightweight metals being used for much of the lens barrel's construction. The lens isn't sealed against the ingress of dust and moisture, which is a little surprising given the excellent robust build. This optic tips the scales at exactly 1500 grams, which isn't overly heavy for a lens covering this focal range. As a result it balances well with the Sony A99 body used for testing.

Autofocus is powered by a Super Sonic wave motor, which is improved over that found in this lens' predecessor. As a result, autofocus is very quick indeed and the lens has no trouble keeping up with erratic and fast moving subjects. Manual focus adjustments can be made at any time by turning the focus ring and three focus lock buttons are provided on the lens within easy access of the zoom and focus controls. The focusing ring has a well damped, silky smooth action, which makes it a pleasure to apply fine manual focus adjustments.

Sony 70 400mm F4 5 6 G SSM II (8)

As focusing is performed internally, the 77mm filter ring doesn't rotate. This is ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters. The included lens hood even has a small door that can be slid open to provide access for rotating a polarising filter. Unfortunately this has a tendency to open itself too easily as it doesn't lock closed very firmly at all. Closest focus is 1.5 metres, which is typical for a lens of this focal length and aperture.

Sony 70 400mm F4 5 6 G SSM II (6)

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Performance

At 70mm and maximum aperture, sharpness in the centre of the frame is very good. Unfortunately, the clarity recorded towards the edges of the frame falls short of good levels at this aperture. Stopping down improves performance across the frame with  sharpness reaching outstanding levels in the centre and excellent levels towards the edges of the frame between f/5.6 and f/11.

Zooming to 200mm results in an improvement in performance at maximum aperture with sharpness being excellent in the centre and good towards the edges of the frame. Stopping down to f/11 results in peak clarity across the frame for this focal length.

Finally at 400mm sharpness levels continue to hold up well at maximum aperture, with clarity in the centre approaching excellent levels. Stopping down to f/8 results in peak sharpness across the frame for this focal length. Here clarity in the centre is outstanding and excellent towards the edges of the frame.

MTF@70mm
MTF @ 70mm
MTF@200mm
MTF @ 200mm
MTF@400mm
MTF @ 400mm

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. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A99 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are reasonably well controlled throughout much of the zoom range, although fringing peaks at levels that may become an issue in some circumstances at 200mm. At maximum aperture chromatic aberrations towards the edges of the frame approach 0.9 pixel widths. This level may start to become visible along high contrast edges near the edges of the frame.

CA@70mm
CA @ 70mm
CA@200mm
CA @ 200mm
CA@400mm
CA @ 400mm

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.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A99 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is fairly pronounced for a lens with an f/4-5.6 maximum aperture. At 70mm the corners are 1.7 stops darker than the image centre and at 400mm the corners are one stop darker. Visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down to f/8 throughout the zoom range.

Distortion is well controlled throughout the zoom range with only 1.8% barrel distortion at 70mm and 1.1 pincushion at 400mm. This low level of distortion should pose few issues during normal shooting, but if absolutely straight lines are required, you'll be glad to hear that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame. This should make applying corrections in image editing software relatively straightforward.

The new Nano AR anti-reflective coatings applied to this lens do a very good job of controlling flare and retaining contrast, even when shooting into the light. A deep petal shaped hood is supplied with the lens, which does an excellent job of shielding the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues. The bayonet fitting for the hood isn't very secure, and it has a tendency to come loose when being removed from a bag.

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Sample Photos


Value For Money

Currently, it is possible to pick up one of these lenses for around £1700, which may seem expensive at first glance, but when this price is compared to the Nikon 80-400mm, which retails for around £2015, it suddenly seems very good value indeed.

However, if you've a nose for a bargain and aren't all that bothered about the improved AF performance and anti-reflective coatings, the older version of this lens can still be picked up from some UK retailers for around £1400.

The closest equivalent lens from third party manufacturers is Sigma's 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM lens, which retails for around £630. This lens starts its zoom range at 120mm instead of 70mm but is similarly specified otherwise.

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Verdict

This is an excellent lens, that performs well, and is priced well enough to be considered good value for money too. The build quality is very good, although it is a little strange that it is not weather sealed, as you may expect lenses pitched at this level to be. Even so, this should prove to be a very popular lens, as its predecessor was thanks to the improved autofocus speed and anti-reflective coatings, which are both welcome improvements.


 
  The Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II is an excellent lens, that performs well, and is priced well.

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Pros

Very good build quality
Good sharpness throughout the zoom range
Very fast autofocus
Nano AR coatings perform well
Not overly heavy for the size of lens

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Cons

Not weather sealed
Supplied hood comes loose easily
CAs on the high side at 200mm

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II Specifications

ManufacturerSony
General
Lens Mounts
  • Minolta AF
  • Sony Alpha
Lens
Focal Length70mm - 400mm
Angle of View4 - 23
Max Aperturef/4 - f/5.6
Min Aperturef/22 - f/32
Filter Size77mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Focusing
Min Focus150cm
StabilisedNo
Construction
Blades9
Elements18
Groups12
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight1490g
Height196mm

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Comments


30 Aug 2013 9:02PM
Doesn't even compare to to the Canon 70-200 IS + x2 converter

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franken e2
12 3.1k 4 Wales
31 Aug 2013 9:23AM

Quote: Doesn't even compare to to the Canon 70-200 IS + x2 converter

Strange statement as the review is not based on a comparison between both lenses.

Ken
JJGEE 9 6.3k 18 England
2 May 2014 9:58AM

Quote: Doesn't even compare to to the Canon 70-200 IS + x2 converter

You cannot compare as this a review for a Sony camera mount not a Canon one

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