Before anything else, this is the one lens every Sony mirrorless shooter should own. And no, it’s not part of their premium and pricey G Master line.
The Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS was announced as the “most lightweight design of its class.” While that appears to be true, the marketing jab should not overbear the fact that this is a high quality, highly versatile lens. I’ve used it extensively since its announcement in October 2017 and quickly it became my go-to glass for all types of photography. On appearances it can seem like the FE 24-105mm might be a bust — wide focal ranges usually mean sacrifices somewhere to image quality, it’s not an f/2.8 or lower aperture, it’s not a G Master series — so it’s surprising to me when I realized that this is actually Sony’s best lens yet for Alpha mirrorless cameras. Here’s why.
The focal range of 24-105mm covers all general photography for me. With landscapes, the topography of Minnesota doesn’t lend itself very well to anything under 24mm in my opinion (unfortunately, no sweeping mountain vistas here). Wider lenses just end up adding more clutter to a scene and increase the difficulty in achieving compelling compositions. On the opposite end, 105mm has a good amount of reach for whatever you are photographing before you enter into a specialty genre, such as sports or wildlife. And between these two lengths of 24mm and 105mm are the categories of portraiture, street, architecture, and so on.
There’s also some technological aspects to this particular lens that help push its versatility even more. The FE 24-105mm features Optical SteadyShot so it pairs well with older a7 cameras that don’t have in-body stabilization, it has a focus hold button that opens up more custom function options, and is built to be dust and moisture resistant for withstanding some exposure to the elements.
Additionally, the minimum focus distance is 1.25 feet. Unless serious macro shots are what you’re after, this short distance at 105mm is making essentially whatever is in front of your lens available to be photographed in focus.
When Sony announced the a7R III alongside the FE 24-105mm f/4 in October 2017, they paired these two up and gave them to the press to test out. To me, that says something about the high standards of quality that Sony placed in the 24-105mm, to not hand out peak-quality G Master lenses to make sure the first images people saw from their flagship a7R III would be impeccable quality. And as it turns out, the FE 24-105mm kept its paces with that monster imaging sensor.
There’s impressive sharpness through the focal range and from corner to corner. Being an extended standard zoom lens does not seem to mean compromises need to be made here. The FE 24-105mm uses four aspherical elements, three extra-low dispersion elements, and a Nano AR coating on the glass. In total there’s 17 elements in 14 groups. Considering the size, that’s a lot of compact tweaking going on to make the image quality great. There are probably lab reviews that refute this, but I have never seen color fringing in any photos I’ve shot with this lens. As a bonus, there’s a useful fluorine coating on the front element that repels water, dust, and oils.
Now, let’s be real: the out of focus characteristics makes or breaks it for some people when they choose a lens. And once again, the FE 24-105mm impresses me here too. There’s a nine-bladed aperture that creates near perfect circles and the background objects appear to melt into each other rather than the weird soft-but-hard edges you get with other lenses.
Of course for good image quality, the subject in focus is usually desired. This lens packs the focus group in the rear of the lens and uses electromagnets to silently and quickly move it. In tandem with Sony’s Eye AF tech, it’s a perfect pairing.
As previously noted, Sony was quick to point out that this lens is lighter than similar lenses. For comparison sake, here’s how it compares up to a couple others: the Sony is 1.46 pounds, the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM is 1.75 pounds, and the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 GD OS HSM Art is 1.95 pounds. It’s also generally a more compact package; Sony being 3.28 by 4.46 inches, Canon being 3.29 by 4.65 inches, and the Sigma being 3.5 by 4.3 inches. Personally, I don’t think anyone is buying this lens because it’s lighter than others that aren’t even directly compatible, but it is interesting to note where it stacks up. And to be fair, maybe those two less expensive options could have been just as svelte if they were going to be sold at the same price point.
I think Sony did do some serious design work here to give them a wonderful size with no noticeable impact to image quality. Part of the travel-friendly size, however, is of course due to the f/4 aperture. Some don’t like this compromise for depth of field reasons, but for anything else, Sony’s latest generation cameras seriously crush it at the ISO game. One stop of light loss — f/4 versus a “professional” f/2.8 lens — is nothing that the ISO can’t pick up slack for.
Any one of these three characteristics make for a good lens, but having them all in one as well as at a mid-range price of $1,298 is why the FE 24-105mm is a great lens for anybody’s kit. I’d go as far to say that most people can get away with a two-lens Sony kit happily ever after; one being the 24-105mm, and the other being whatever specialty you’re after (a faster aperture for shallower depth of field portraiture, a longer focal length for sports, or what have you).