Where Does the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Fit in, If at All?

Where Does the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Fit in, If at All?

Alongside the highly-anticipated a9 announcement, Sony also introduced the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master telephoto lens. After the initial buzz and excitement over something shiny and new being announced subsided, I began to question why Sony released this lens at this particular time of intense market expansion.

If you missed the news, here's a general rundown of the FE 100-400mm G Master. The $2,498 full-frame lens has a variable maximum aperture of f/4.5-f/5.6 and a variable minimum aperture of f/32-f/40. On a crop-sensor camera body, such as the a6500, the lens is effectively a 150-600mm super-telephoto. It contains one Super ED element and two ED elements, and in total there's 22 elements in 16 groups inside. There's a Nano AR coating to reduce reflections, ghosting, and flaring, plus the front element has a fluorine coating for dust and smudge protection. The lens has built-in Optical SteadyShot and uses a Direct Drive SSM focusing system. Physical controls on the barrel of the lens include a focus range limiter (full or infinity–3 meters), three customizable focus hold buttons (top, left, and bottom), AF/MF switch, OSS on/off switch, and a mode switch. The tripod foot is rotatable and removable and you can adjust the zoom stiffness to your taste. This is the second lens Sony has released that is compatible with the FE 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters.

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS

Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS

Now what I can't help but think is that the group of people who will actually buy this lens seems very small due to both the price and poorly distanced specifications compared to what Sony already has available. If Sony is going to release a lens alongside the battle-ready a9, wouldn't it have made more sense to really bring it and let loose on a sports lens show-stopper that goes all out in its niche rather than this slow, variable apertured telephoto zoom lens they announced? With the camera division kicking ass left and right in innovation, is there not any juice left over for daring lens development?

The lens seems crippled in a way in order to expand its marketability to a more diverse audience, but in doing so they made it into another generic release that pleases hardly anyone that they need on their side in taking this big step into professional sports and wildlife photography. Let's take a look at who the potential buyers are for this lens.

Canon or Nikon Photographers

The current lineup of lenses with Canon and Nikon beat out the FE 100-400mm from all sides. It's not a serious enough lens for sports and wildlife photographers and it's certainly not enough to be the final straw towards switching brands.

Sony Photographers

Current Sony photographers that are shooting off an E-mount body and require telephotos for their work probably already own the 70-200mm f/470-200mm f/2.8 GM, or the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6. To purchase the 100-400mm, the owners in these groups are either going to sell off their current telephoto lens to offset the new buy, or they will pay up the full $2,498 price to add the lens to their kit.

70-200mm f/4 Owners

Owners purchased this lens because it was cheaper ($1,498), smaller, or lighter weight than the f/2.8 GM version. Many who bought it prior to the f/2.8 GM being released didn't find it necessary to upgrade either. None of these specs that these owners are interested in get any better with the new 100-400mm.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 mounted to Sony a7R

70-200mm f/2.8 Owners

Owners purchased this lens because of the one-stop speed improvement over the f/4 model, better image quality over the f/4 model, plus were willing to pay a premium in price ($2,598), size, and weight in order to get those. The ability to pay another $548 and get a Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter may have been optioned and they have already been shooting at 400mm f/5.6 with good enough results for a while now. In comparison to the 100-400mm, 70-200mm f/2.8 owners already have a lower aperture in the 100mm-200mm range. Adding a 2.0x teleconverter will bring them up to a f/5.6 aperture and 400mm focal length, but that just ends up matching the numbers of the 100-400mm — plus there's still that versatility of just removing the teleconverter to open up your options again. Using a teleconverter will degrade image quality and autofocus to a degree, so it's up to the photographer for a final determination if it's enough to warrant paying for an additional premium G Master lens or selling the 70-200mm f/2.8 to help fund it; Either way will end up costing more than the FE 2.0x teleconverter's $548 price.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM with FE 2.0x Teleconverter mounted to Sony a6500

70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Owners

Owners purchased this lens either because it was previously the furthest reaching Sony FE telephoto lens option or for its cheaper price ($1,198). Owners who purchased on price simply may not be able to afford the $2,498 100-400mm. Owners who purchased for the focal length may not see the value in an extra 100mm reach being double the price.

Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-f/5.6 GM mounted to Sony a7R II

I'm confident that there are buyers excited for this lens, but it seems like they are merely the exception. The Sony a9 says "This is the new future of sports photography," whereas the lens announced alongside it says "Here's just another thing we made." Unfortunately it's not enough of a knockout in originality for it to not be comparable against their previous telephoto releases, and for that reason I don't understand why they thought right now was the right time for it. A true professional sports lens makes so much more sense at this pivotal time. When Sony announced the category-of-its-own a9, I would have loved to see it be paired with a category-of-its-own lens as well: A fast super-telephoto prime, anyone?

Log in or register to post comments

22 Comments

Agree. They desperately need long primes. A 300mm 2.8 would be a good start.

Nothing really wrong with the lens except the price. People will remember why they are sticking with Canon or Nikon when they compare lens prices.

With the A9 announcement you have to expect that a 2.8 long tele is coming within 6-12 months. The would probably sell more a9's if they announced a lens roadmap.

Alex Cooke's picture

This. I was really surprised they didn't at least follow the Fuji method of announcing a roadmap.

I think this was Sony dipping their toe in the water. The A9 was priced aggressively to see if they could get the Sports/Wildlife crowd and this lens was the minimum all-in-one lens to give them something to put on it. Nobody is going to sell all their Canon or Nikon gear to move to the A9 so they still have great lenses to shoot with on those cameras. If they try, and like, the A9 there'll be lenses forthcoming.

I don't see the lens actually selling the camera...if a genuine fast long tele had been announced same time, might work, but tends to deminish the camera...Nikon and canon wildlife shooters, pro action shooters are too deep into one or the other system to change, but Sony seems intent on blowing away one of the two, so perhaps they don't care if the lens is commercial success so long as it gains market share..

Garrett Reid's picture

I've been saying it since it was announced, I'm not sure how Sony expects pro sports and wildlife shooters to take the a9 seriously without any long glass to support it. That 100-400 should have been a 400 2.8. Preferably with a road map with either a 200-400mm f4 or a 600mm. The camera is very cool and I want it to succeed but the shooters Sony is marketing to won't touch it yet, at least not many of them. Both the camera and lens are cool, but they shouldn't have been announced together. They don't make sense together.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

I don't see what the confusion is here - most people, especially those coming from Sony's A-mount system are familiar with the 70-400 G version of this lens that fills the same spot. A-mount piece was very popular and known for very high IQ and overall performance, I loved mine. Been waiting for this very lens since moving to E-mount and my wish has just been fulfilled, pre-order's in.

Doesn't Canon, for instance, have all these exactly same zooms, in fact, some of which are on their Mk2/Mk3 runs now? 70-200 F2.8/F4, 70-300 F-variable, 100-400 F-variable? No one's wondering where of "if" they would fit in, lol, right? Yes, Sony's asking $$ for it - I think this is the only "issue" here.

And all those ultra expensive fast tele/super-tele primes... No doubt some will come in due time, but they sell by dozens, not thousands - let's see how well A9 performs, gains market share. Baby steps ;)

Kyle Medina's picture

"No one's wondering where of "if" they would fit in, lol, " The very obvious reason is because Canon and Nikon have the 300 2.8, 400 2.8, 400 5.6, 200-500 f5.6, 500 f4, 600 f4. Where Sonys E-Mount has no equivalent. Due time is not the right time. If they want to sell A9's. They need those primes that the Professional market uses. Sideline shooters aren't using 100-400.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

No one's arguing the need for those lenses. What you are saying is bring it all out at once or don't even bother with A9? And don't bother bringing out yet another new, longest to date, telephoto at the same time, because you know... it's just not good enough for the sidelines?

People said exact same thing when the original A7 came out with, like, what... 2 or 3 native lenses? Those who saw the light bought them in droves and system flourished ever since. Same thing will happen with A9 and whatever else is coming down the pipeline.

I think a great 100-400 like this one is an underestimated lens. I'm a serious professional (Canon) shooter, though not at the level where I have the arsenal of large-aperture long primes that some of my colleagues do. But I always found the 100-400 to be all the lens I need, to the point where I don't see ever owning one of the really really big lenses unless I'm shooting tiny birds or something, which is not even on my radar (as far as paying the bills in concerned). I've had multiple magazine covers with the 100-400, and positively love that lens and the range. That and a 24-104 is about all I need for just about everything except architecture.

But don't take it just from me, listen to an accomplished super-pro like Vincent Laforet, who has shot some of his most memorable images with a 100-400, choosing it over any of the big primes he could have chosen instead.

http://www.robgalbraith.com/multi_page4705.html?cid=7-6454-6928

This article was written by someone who isn't, according to his mini CV, a sports shooter and who doesn't evidence any understanding of the genre. He literally doesn't talk about ANY of the reasons you may or may not need a fast tele compared to this zoom. Which are

- Minimum shutter speed: compared to bodies that were good enough historically with those f2.8 monsters, the A9 almost certainly has several stops to spare

- Viewing brightness. This is the one that really keeps fast teles in demand with DSLRs despite improved sensors. And it's irrelevant to the A9 with its EVF.

So the bottom line is that the A9 probably won't have a problem - if you actually use your intelligence and break down the needs of sports shooters rather than waffling about "serious" lenses and the other kind:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWmCjrTIq9E

Shooting with fast primes means having two bodies for most sports so you can run a 200 and a 400 - that's an easy $20k of hardware even buying used glass. Shooting with an A9 and zoom means need only one body and one lens. For enthusiasts and budget-crunched news organizations and freelancers, that may well be preferable.

As for BIF people, there are big advantages to a zoom in that genre too - the XT2 and 100-400 and EM1 already have their adherents.

Even worse that the above, he's failed to consider how the lens/body combination may work in other genres like, oh, mainstream news. One lens to cover 100-400 connected to a BSI sensor, a night sight EVF, very reasonable rof and no blackouts? With silent shooting? How is that anything but bloody tempting?

I wonder how the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens for Canon with the MC-11 adapter for the Sony FE will measure up to this GM lens. The saving, however, is huge: $800 + $250 = $1050, more than half the price of the GM. This Sigma lens is also lighter with only half a stop penalty. I happened to pick up the MC-11 when it was on sales last month for $150 so I can save even more.

Have to give Sony some benefit of doubt...they so seem successful these days, at least for market share. Although it's hard to tell if any maker is actually enjoying positive earnings after regard for R&D in bringing out new product

Bengt Nyman's picture

I wish that outsiders reviewing photographic equipment would refrain from expressing their speculations about what the industry should and shouldn't do. If this lens delivers stellar performance at 300 and 400 mm it will be a winner.

Ryan Mense's picture

Those damn outsiders!

Bengt Nyman's picture

So you don't like the idea of a Sony 100-400 mm telephoto zoom lens which you have not tested and know nothing about, so simply shut up about it.
Compare your own babble above to somebody who did his homework: https://www.cameralabs.com/sony-fe-100-400mm-f4-5-5-6-gm-oss-review/

Ryan Mense's picture

Except I have tested it and do know about it.

Bengt Nyman's picture

You are making a fool of yourself.

Ryan Mense's picture

Nah it's fine, I'm an outsider.

Ryan, you said: Quote: "Current Sony photographers that are shooting off an E-mount body and require telephotos for their work probably already own the 70-200mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, or the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6. To purchase the 100-400mm, the owners in these groups are either going to sell off their current telephoto lens to offset the new buy, or they will pay up the full $2,498 price to add the lens to their kit."

You forgot something - they might sell off their Canon 100-400 lens to offset the cost of the new lens. Which work pretty well on some of the A7 cameras. But the new Sony one will work on all the A7 cameras, plus all "Nex" type cameras.

Do you say the same thing when Canon or Nikon introduce a new lens?

Wow... I couldn't disagree more - I've been waiting for this lens to happen for almost two years and bought it the second it hit the shelves. Why? Where does it fit in? Where doesn't it fit in? On the A9 sports photography? Birding? Wildlife in the mountains - can't tell you how many shots I've lost in the Rocky Mountains because I didn't have long enough focal length. Everyone knows Sony sensors are the best, now there's nothing to hold back more Canon and Nikon converts...