A traditional weakness of Sony’s FE lens lineup has been the number of options available at the telephoto end of the range. The issue has been somewhat rectified in recent years with the release of the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS, Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS and Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS lenses, with the latter two options commanding hefty price tags of $2,499 and $12,999 respectively. Of these three options, only the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS comes in at a more accessible price range of $1,198. Accessible is a relative term, and this price tag places the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS same realm as Canon’s premium EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L USM IS lens for the EF lens mount.
The 70-300mm focal range is ideal for a variety of photographic applications including nature, wildlife, landscape, travel, and even portraiture photography. Nature photographers using Sony’s mirrorless cameras will be especially satisfied with the release of this lens as the 70-300mm focal length range is one of the most useful for general purpose nature and travel photography. The wide end of the range is excellent for landscapes and environmental portraits while the longer end is useful for larger wildlife subjects and intimate landscapes.
As part of the Sony G lens lineup (Sony’s Prosumer lens lineup), the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is built to a high standard and features a weather-sealed construction. Its optical design contains 16 elements in 13 groups, with 4 aspherical and 2 ED glass elements. The lens relies on Sony’s linear actuator focus motor rather than the companies sonic-type (Direct Drive SSM) motor which is unfortunate given the price tag. The lens features Optical Steady Shot which works alongside IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) found in Sony’s full-frame mirrorless camera bodies to effectively give 5-axis image stabilization. Based on its specifications and G branding, FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS promises to offer the sort of performance which justifies the not inexpensive matching price tag.
1) Lens Specifications
- Mount Type: Sony FE
- Focal Length Range: 70-300mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/4.5 at 70mm, f/5.6 at 300mm
- Minimum Aperture: f/22 at 70mm, f/29 at 300mm
- Lens (Elements): 16
- Lens (Groups): 13
- Compatible Format(s): Full Frame, APS-C
- VR (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization: Yes
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- ED Glass Elements: 2
- Aspherical Glass Elements: 4
- Autofocus: Yes
- Direct Drive SSM motor: No
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 35.4 inches (0.90 m)
- Focus Mode: Manual, Manual / Auto
- Filter Size: 72mm front filter
- Dimensions: 3.31 in. (84 mm) x 5.65 in. (143.5 mm) (Diameter x Length),
- Weight (Approx.): 30.1 oz (854g)
2) Build Quality and Handling
Given that it’s a part of Sony’s “G” series lineup, it’s no surprise that the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is built to a high standard with no wobbling parts whatsoever. The quality of the build is not quite up there with the G-Master series of lenses like the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM which features a robust magnesium-alloy barrel construction, but the fully engineered plastic outer barrel and the metal mount of the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G feel decidedly reassuring in use. The lens also features weather sealing, and a quick look at the back of the lens shows a rubber gasket around the bayonet mount. I couldn’t test the lens under challenging weather conditions, but I can say that I didn’t experience any problems when I used it during some light rain showers and foggy conditions.
Measuring 84mm in diameter and 143.5mm in length at the 70mm setting makes the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS relatively compact. The lens balances very well when used on Sony’s latest mirrorless camera bodies such as the A7III which features a more substantial grip than its predecessor. The lens extends quite a bit when zoomed out to the 300mm setting and uses a duo-cam system. This is a rather uncommon design for a higher-end telephoto zoom like this, but there is nothing weak or shaky in the duo-cam implementation on this lens. At 854 grams in weight, it is also comparatively light with the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L USM IS weighing in at 1050 grams.
Both the rotating zoom and focus rings feel very smooth while offering the right amount of resistance so that nothing feels loose. The lens also features a zoom lock switch at the 70mm setting though I didn’t experience any zoom creep. A clockwise zoom ring rotation selects the focal length. Those familiar with Canon lenses might require some mental retraining as the zoom ring rotates in the reverse direction while Nikon and Sony users should be comfortable with this design.
At the front of the lens is a non-rotating 72mm filter thread, surrounded by a bayonet mount for the Sony ALC-SH144 lens hood supplied with the lens. The hood is made of plastic and remains compact when it’s reversed for storage.
The FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS has three switches which adorn the side of the lens barrel. The first switch is a simple AF/MF switch. Next is the focus distance limiter which prevents the lens from focusing on anything closer than 3 meters. The last switch is an On/Off switch for the steady shot. There is also one AF-stop button situated on the lens barrel between the zoom and focus rings where your left thumb would naturally be. This can be set by the user to operate an array of different functions via the camera menu.
Overall, the build quality of the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is very good and a significant step up from most consumer-oriented 70-300mm lenses. The design is not quite as robust and reassuring as Sony’s G-Master line, but this helps to keep the weight down, and the lens balances perfectly on the A7 series of cameras. Overall, while I would have preferred a bit less plastic in its design, I feel that the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS makes for a perfect travel companion thanks to its solid yet lightweight build.
3) Focus Performance and Accuracy
As a professional wildlife photographer, autofocus is one of the most important things that I look for in a lens/camera combination. These days even the most basic lenses are capable of a solid focusing performance, especially when used in good light, but where the top of the line lenses come into their own (along with the better camera bodies) is in being able to focus accurately under challenging conditions. Conditions such as low light, fast-moving subjects, and complex backgrounds require lenses that make the most of the cameras tracking capabilities, and I am rarely satisfied with the performance of prosumer telephoto lenses in this regard.
Coming into this review, I was skeptical about the ability of the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS to keep up in demanding situations. This was mainly due to the relatively narrow max aperture of f/5.6 at 300mm along with Sony’s choice to use a linear actuator focus motor rather than their fantastic sonic-type (Direct Drive SSM) focus motor. After using FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS quite extensively, I can report that the overall focusing performance is good if unimpressive, wherein I was both positively surprised by its tracking capabilities while at the same time disappointed by its inability to consistently lock focus under dim lighting conditions.
An important aspect to consider when judging the focusing capabilities of a lens is that the camera body plays an integral role in the quality of the autofocus and because of this, it is essential to match your lenses with high-quality bodies that can deliver good focusing performance. I was able to test the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS alongside the highly capable Alpha 7III body whose focusing capabilities are excellent and make the most of what this lens has to offer.
When shooting in AF-S single shot mode, the camera needs to de-focus the lens before focusing on the subject which leads to a noticeably slower performance compared to using AF-C Continuous mode. In good light, focus lock happens quickly, and accuracy is very high. In low light, hunting sometimes occurs, and I found this happened more than I was used too with Sony’s 100-400mm GM lens even though the two share a similar f/5.6 max aperture.
Switching to AF-C continuous focus significantly speeds up focus acquisition but overall accuracy decreases. Initial acquisition is relatively fast, and I found that the camera and lens would quickly lock onto a moving subject as it crossed the frame. In good light with a single subject in the frame against an uncomplicated background, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS can lock onto a moving subject with relative ease.
The below sequence of a flying seagull highlights how the lens behaved in a rather typical nature photography situation. Most of the frames are in good focus, and when the camera/lens missed focus on one frame, it was quickly able to reacquire a lock on the subject. Unfortunately, this strong performance does not extend to dim lighting conditions where the lens often struggled to lock focus. This performance isn’t bad, but it highlights the shortcomings of using a f/5.6 max aperture zoom lens.
Sony’s inclusion of an AF-hold button, which can be pressed to lock focus at the current focus distance, enables you to use the focus and recompose technique while the camera is in AF-C continuous focus. This is highly beneficial if the cameras focus coverage does not extend out to the corners of the frame to cover your subject (a rarity with the most recent Sony mirrorless camera bodies). The button also acts as a custom button (C5) and can be programmed to do several different functions using the camera’s menu.
4) Image Quality
The versatility of the 70-300mm focal length makes it highly adaptable for a range of photographic applications but designing a lens with a wide focal range that offers stellar image quality is a genuine challenge. Fresh off reviewing Sony’s excellent 100-400mm G-Master lens, I was keen to find out just how well the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS performed in comparison. In short, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS can’t reach the same lofty heights of the G-Master lens, but it’s a highly competent performer.
In the center of the frame, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is impressively sharp throughout the entirety of its focal range. At 70mm and f/4.5, the sharpness characteristics are nothing short of excellent. The center of the frame is already very sharp, and the quality in the periphery is quite decent. Stopping down to f/5.6 noticeably improves the overall sharpness throughout the entirety of the frame with the center now tack sharp, and the corners are now on a very good level. The corners improve a bit at f/8, but the center of the frame reaches peak sharpness at the f/5.6 setting.
Zooming out to 200mm only slightly impacts the overall performance though now the maximum aperture is f/5.6. At 200mm and f/5.6, the center of the frame is a bit weaker than at the 70mm setting, but sharpness remains very high indeed. Performance in the corners of the frame is quite decent at f/5.6 with a slight improvement at f/8. At the 200mm setting, the corners never reach truly outstanding levels of sharpness but are nonetheless highly usable.
Zooming out to 300mm sees the sharpness take a marked dip though this is mainly seen in the corners of the frame. At 300mm and f/5.6, the center of the frame remains sharp but stopping down to f/8 improves things with sharpness now on a high level. Unfortunately, sharpness in the corners of the frame at the 300mm setting is quite poor at f/5.6. Things do improve at f/8, but the corners remain unimpressive and never reach a high level at the 300mm focal length.
Typical example of sharpness on the wider end at f/5.6:
Typical example of sharpness at 300mm and f/5.6:
Typical example of sharpness on the wider end at f/7.1:
Typical example of sharpness at 300mm at f/8:
5) Vibration Reduction
A unique element of Sony’s Mirrorless systems is that even though the cameras have IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization), many of their lenses also feature OSS (Optical SteadyShot). These two stabilization systems are complementary to one another and both work to give you 5-axis stabilization. Camera manufacturers usually provide the number of stops of assistance, but Sony does not specify one. Shooting handheld on the Sony A7III I managed to get around 3-stops worth of image stabilization which is quite typical for Sony’s FE lenses.
Zoom lenses of this type are not usually known for the quality of their bokeh, but the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS delivers reasonable performance. The most significant area of weakness is in the rendition of out-of-focus highlights whose discs are very busy with a pronounced “onion ring” effect. Thankfully, the lens delivers a relatively smooth blur in areas of focus transition, with this especially noteworthy in the bokeh of foreground areas.
The lens exhibits a moderate amount of vignetting of around 1.5 stops at the extreme ends of the range and a wide-open aperture. Stopping the lens by one stip resolves most of the corner darkening.
Thanks to Sony’s Nano AR Coatings, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS does an excellent job of handling flare for a lens of this type. If you try hard enough, it’s possible to induce some flare when shooting with difficult light angles, but overall, the Sony lens does a very nice job in how it handles flaring.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Modern lenses have become increasingly good at mitigating chromatic aberration, and the Sony lens is well corrected in this regard, showing little lateral chromatic aberration. This is especially true for the frame center where it is virtually nonexistent. The corners of the frame show a higher degree of chromatic aberration (especially at the 300mm setting), but even at its worst, the performance is very good indeed.
You can clearly see the chromatic aberration (green colored) where the water meets the coastline. You can also see hints of magenta colored chromatic aberration along the rocks on the shore.
There is a limited number of options in the FE lens lineup which can compete with the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS with the two most obvious options being the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS and Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lenses.
Released alongside the original Sony A7 series, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS was for many years the only telephoto zoom lens option available for the FE mount. The FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is very well built yet lightweight, very sharp and has a good focusing system. Compared to the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS, it features better sharpness in the corners, a one-stop aperture advantage and offers a slightly better build quality. Nonetheless, the loss of 100mm at the telephoto end is a big deal and while the two lenses share a similar price point I find that they are not genuinely comparable, with FE 70-200mm f/4 G a more landscape and street photography oriented lens whereas the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G proves the better all-around nature and travel photography lens.
Another possible comparison for the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5G OSS is the much pricier Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens. As part of Sony’s G-master lens lineup, the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens offers an excellent build quality, excellent overall sharpness a, and a very strong focusing performance. While the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS delivers good image quality, the two lenses aren’t truly comparable in this regard as the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM delivers one of the best sharpness performances at the 300mm focal length setting of any of the f/5.6 max aperture telephoto zoom lenses currently on the market. The G-Master lens also features a better build quality, handling and focusing performance. If you can afford it, the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM is an excellent lens that outperforms the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS in almost every way. In the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS favor is its noticeably smaller size and weight compared to the FE 100-400mm GM lens which makes it a lot easier to fit into smaller camera bags and to carry around all day.
The Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS fills an important gap in Sony’s FE lineup as it offers a high-quality mainstream telephoto-zoom lens option at a relatively approachable price tag. At $1198, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS isn’t exactly inexpensive but optically it’s several leagues ahead of your average consumer grade 70-300mm lens.
It isn’t capable of the same corner to corner sharpness as the twice as expensive Sony 100-400mm GM lens but it’s plenty sharp in the center of the frame and the corners aren’t all that bad just one stop down. Sharpness remains at a high level in the center of the frame at the all-important 300mm setting though stopping down to f/8 improves things markedly. The lens is also highly resistant to chromatic aberrations, offers a relatively pleasant bokeh and is solidly constructed. Overall, there is little doubt that the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is a good performer, and though it’s a little pricey for a relatively slow 70-300mm lens, it nonetheless remains an attractive option in Sony’s FE lineup.