When Sony announced the 400mm f/2.8 G Master lens, many of my sports and wildlife photographer friends were excited to add this lens to their kit. As a portrait photographer myself, I was curious to see what a lens like this could do when used for shooting fashion, beauty, and portrait work.
Fortunately, a few weeks ago Sony held a World Photography Day event in Brooklyn, New York to kick off their "Be Alpha" campaign and brought one of only 19 400mm GM lenses currently in circulation. Even better yet, they had models available for us to work with and set up our own 15-minute photoshoots in the surrounding area. Here is my experience working with the lens for shooting portraits.
Size and Weight
The first thing I was surprised by was the weight of this lens. I'm sure by the looks of it in photos and videos it looks like it would weigh too much to be able to handhold it, but I found the opposite to be true. It was around twice the weight of the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM lens but because it was rear weighted, the lens was surprisingly comfortable to hold. Granted, I only had it for 15 minutes so it's possible a longer photo session would have been a bit more grueling, but a lens like this isn't really meant to be handheld anyway.
I tested out the Eye AF to shoot some walking shots, and even with my model wearing a hat the camera locked on to the eye and held on shot after shot. The results were razor sharp, which is to be expected for a lens in this price range. I imagine the performance would have been even better on a camera like the Sony a9, but it certainly did the job here at a variety of distances from the model.
While the lens definitely gives a unique look, in hindsight I would have preferred to use this lens with a monopod and possibly even a gimbal head. I crop my images in camera to maximize the resolution I'm getting from my cameras, but handholding this setup after awhile caused me to drift a bit and mess up my composition. A lens like this isn't for everyone, but if you're looking to create portraits that have a distinctively different look to what you'd see out of some of the more common portrait lenses out there, I'd say its definitely worth a look (perhaps a rental) and a test to see what you can make of it.
Editor's note: Miguel Quiles is a Sony Artisan of Imagery.