70-200mm lenses are often one of the bread-and-butter lenses of a camera system, and they tend to be workhorse lenses that get a lot of use. With these things in mind and the moderate 2.85x zoom ratio, manufacturers also tend to focus on excellent optics with their 70-200mm lenses, and Sony, thankfully, has done so as well.
The FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS produces images with very good image sharpness throughout the focal range and at all apertures, though how good it is across the frame varies with focal length and focus distance. At 70mm, the center is impressively sharp at all focus distances, and this sharpness extends across the majority of the frame. The edges and corners show a little minor softening at wide apertures, though these sharpen up to quite good levels upon stopping down.
In the middle of the zoom range, the 70-200mm is excellent closer up, with very sharp results across the frame from f/4, with only a touch of minor softness in the corners that disappears when stopping down, though it oddly inverts its edge performance at infinity, with a bit of softness at the edge of the frame.
At the long end, the lens can be a bit of a mixed bag, though it’s still quite good throughout. The center is sharp at all apertures and focus distances, though the corners lag behind when focused closer up. They’re very soft wide open and don’t ever get truly sharp stopped down. However, at infinity, the lens is quite sharp across the frame at 200mm. The edge sharpness at the long end when focused close doesn’t bother me, as most of the time these compositions don’t require great corners. See the image above (and the included 100% crop) to see how good this lens can be wide open. Overall, I think the lens engineers did an excellent job balancing sharpness where and when it’s needed.
The 70-200mm f/4 does a nice job with regards to out of focus character, producing generally pleasing background blur with smooth falloff.. Specular highlights show no obvious outlining, but they do show fairly prominent onion ring centers due to the aspherical elements in use. On the whole, however, I don’t feel this distracts from the rendering of the lens in most instances, and I was pleased with the bokeh produced by the lens.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 produces images with a pleasing contrast profile and relatively neutral color response. This lays a nice base for postprocessing, as it’s punchy enough to be pleasing, but not over the top. The images take saturation and contrast adjustment with ease. The performance here is perfectly fine, though it’s a bit of a flatter rendering than what I’ve experienced with other 70-200mm zoom lenses for other systems. For example, I noticed when I compared the lens to my Canon 70-200mm f/4L, the Canon produced richer color to my eye.
Lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration are both very well controlled with this lens. It is very rare to see in real world images even at 100% magnification.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
With regards to distortion, the FE 70-200mm f/4 produces similar results to many telephoto zoom lenses. There is mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom range, that progresses to slight pincushion distortion at the middle of the range, which worsens towards 200mm. While the distortion at 200mm is noticeable when shooting buildings and such, it’s not severe. When shooting subjects with straight lines, using the built in-profile for correction in Lightroom or Capture One eliminates the distortion with minimal residual effects on image sharpness.
Unfortunately, I found flare resistance to be fairly poor with this lens. In some situations, contrast is only minorly affected, but shooting around the sun in these situations shows purple and green flare emanating from the sun away from the center of the image frame, along with some smaller ghosts. However, in other situations, especially at the wider end of the zoom range, contrast can be significantly affected, and large flare ghosts appear throughout the frame. The shot above is a 3 shot HDR, but the contrast was so severely limited that detail was lost in all three exposures. Also, large purple and smaller green ghosting is clearly visible. Thankfully, with the narrow angle of view this lens produces and the deep lens hood, these situations aren’t too common when shooting the lens.
The lens shows notable corner shading at f/4 at all focal lengths, which eases significantly at wider focal lengths when stopping down. At the long end, however, some vignetting is visible even at f/8.
When looking at the lens as a whole, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is a strong performer, but it’s certainly not a flawless performer. While I was very pleased with the images I got from the lens, the high price tag left me wanting just a bit more.