Hands down, the best zoom lens you can get for the Sony mirrorless system is the 70-200mm f/4 G lens. I’ve been using it professionally for over three yearsm and it lives up to its reputation. Let me tell you why.
First, I’m going to talk through focal length, build quality, and lens features. I’ll also compare the f/4 to the f/2.8. Finally, I’ll dissect some of the reported problems or downsides with the lens and whether or not they’ll apply to you.
Why I Vote for the 70-200 f/4 as the Best Telephoto Lens for Sony Mirrorless
When I fully switched to the Sony system in 2018, I was looking to replace my old Canon 70-200mm f/2.8. Initially, I looked at the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM but quickly realized that one stop of light was not worth an additional $1,400. Sure, if money wasn’t a factor, I’d take all the stops, but money is a factor, especially in business.
That’s when I honed in on the Sony 70-200mm f/4 G lens. It had everything I wanted in a cheaper, more compact body. It has image stabilization, top image quality, a compact and lightweight design, and a great price point (currently around $1,200).
Essentially, just because you can have something doesn’t mean you need it or that it’s worth it. Not only is 70-200mm a great focal length, but this lens, in particular, serves my purposes really well. When I want to compress or isolate a scene or create epic lens flare, I know just what lens to grab out of my bag.
Why the 70-200mm Focal Length
The 70-200mm focal length has become one of my favorites over time because of the ability to compress and isolate a scene and give you the feeling of really being in a place. For example, being able to bring the mountains closer in a photo is important to help communicate how it feels, not just how it looks.
There are other telephoto lenses available, like the 100-400mm, but I just keep coming back to the 70-200mm because I love the simplicity. The difference between 100mm and 400mm is a drastic change, whereas the difference between 70mm and 200mm is a bit more controlled. I know what to expect, and it forces me to zoom a little more with my feet rather than just by turning the dial, resulting in more intentional photos.
Comparison: f/4 Versus f/2.8
As Sony began building its lens lineup, they focused on f/4 lenses before releasing the faster, more expensive f/2.8 versions. This was the case with all three of the staple zoom lenses, the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. In most cases, I prefer the f/2.8 version, but with the 70-200mm, I think the f/4 version is better.
For the way I shoot, the extra stop of light doesn’t make enough of a difference. If I am using a telephoto lens, it is often in bright conditions when the shutter speed is not a concern. And if I am shooting in lower light, I’m likely to switch lenses to something smaller, faster, and lighter.
For my wedding work, I rarely shoot an indoor ceremony, ceremonies don’t happen after dark, and I’ll switch to a different lens for the reception anyway. For my outdoor adventure work, I’ll often switch to a fast prime like the Sony 85mm f/1.8 if there is a chance I’ll be working in low light. And when I’m going for that compressed background, I’m shooting at a higher aperture anyway.
With the substantial price savings you get with the Sony 70-200mm f/4 over the f/2.8 version (over $1,400), you can easily buy an extra prime lens or two that will serve you much better. Additionally, the weight savings of over 1.4 lbs (635 g) would allow you to carry 2-3 lenses for the same weight.
As you expect with most professional quality lenses, the Sony 70-200mm f/4 is rock solid. It has bounced around my camera bag, car, office, etc, for over three years, while also taking a lot of abuse on outdoor adventures and has never missed an image.
As you expect from a Sony G-rated lens, it is durable and rugged. I am definitely not one to be gentle with gear, and this lens has survived my abuse. I don’t want anything in my kit that I’m afraid to use.
Prior to this lens, I had a non-stabilized version of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8. This led me to be very impressed with the image stabilization, allowing me to comfortably shoot down to 1/80 or even lower without loss of sharpness. I’ve heard complaints about the stabilization on this lens not being up to par with competitors, but overall, I have been very satisfied.
The other features of this lens are pretty standard for most Sony telephoto lenses: AF/MFswitch, focus hold button, effective lens hood, and solid tripod collar.
Usage and Image Examples
As described above, my experience using this lens has been outstanding. There are few things that were notable that I haven’t previously discussed.
First up, the lens flare when shooting at just the right angle on this lens is very cool. It gives a warm glow to the image that I’ve never been able to get with other lenses. It is only visible in just the right conditions but produces a very pleasing effect. In other scenarios, the lens flare is very well controlled.
Secondly, many people have complained about the lack of edge sharpness when zoomed out to 200mm. I haven’t really had an issue with this because I typically shoot a closer subject and let the background fall out of focus. If you are shooting landscape images and want edge-to-edge sharpness at full zoom, this might be an issue but I think it is a relatively minor issue.
Lastly, I’ve heard complaints that the manual focus response is non-linear. This is only an issue for video shooters that want to focus manually. With the finely controllable autofocus on modern cameras like the A7SIII, I think that manual focus is becoming less and less common, making this issue only pertain to a very select group of users. If you find yourself in this camp, it might be worth taking a look at, but most people can ignore it.
In summary, the 70-200mm f/4 is a great addition to my camera bag and my go-to telephoto lens. The 70-200mm focal length is great for compression and isolation, the f/4 is great for the cost, and the lens doesn’t have any noticeable downsides.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to use a 70-200mm lens, I highly recommend the Sony 70-200mm f/4. You can use it to create some incredible images. It is affordable, compact and lightweight, has excellent image quality, and might just become your new favorite lens.
What I Liked
- Excellent sharpness
- Lightweight and compact
- Useful focal range
- Cool lens flare
What Could Be Improved
- Optical stabilization
If you have any questions or disagree with my claims about how awesome this lens is, I’d love to hear from you down below in the comments!
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It's a fantastic lens and on a long shoot day the light weight of this lens really shines, over the f2.8 version
The one point you left out completely is depth of field.
Instead you only talked about aperture in terms of exposure.
You do frequently shoot portraits though, and especially at longer focal lengths the f/2.8 lens would be an absolute gem for shallow depth of field portraits.
I have the same lens, and I agree. As regards to choosing this over the f/2.8, which I haven’t tried, it wasn’t as much a matter of saving a good deal of money but saving a lot of weight. I think smaller size and lighter weight is generally an under appreciated quality in particular when are travelling with kit. Not just in terms of ever shrinking luggage allowances on airplanes but also as regards to schlepping gear about for many hours whether your in nature or going up and wandering about a city all day. This f/4 is just light enough, yet solid and rugged, to carry about all day without too much discomfort. I am quite pleased and I have never missed that extra stop.