Reviews |Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G Review

Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G Review

Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G
Review

Price when reviewed

£1400

€1600
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Our Verdict

Extending the focal length of a lens by 4mm doesn’t sound like much, but when it’s at the wide end of a standard zoom like a workhorse 24-70mm, it makes a huge difference. The Sony FE 20-70mm f/4 G offers that extra bit of flexibility which is helpful in a wide range of situations. I found it invaluable for street photography, cityscapes and landscapes, but it’s also ideal for shooting indoors. Its price will likely cause an intake of breath, but the Sony FE 20-70mm f/4 G’s image quality is excellent.

For

  • Versatile focal length range
  • Aperture ring
  • Weather-sealed

Against

  • High price for a G-series lens
  • F/4 rather than f/2.8
  • Correction profile essential to deal with curvilinear distprtion

What is the Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G?

Sony has an extensive range of lenses for its full-frame mirrorless cameras, including three with the popular 24-70mm focal length range (counting the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II). However, in response to the increasing demand for greater wide-angle capability, Sony introduced the FE 20-70mm F4 G as a new ‘standard’ zoom lens with a constant maximum aperture of f/4. The ‘G’ in its name denotes that the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G is a mid-range lens and sits below the G Master series. It’s suitable for stills or video shooting, with the wider end of the lens being especially attractive for vlogging.

However, the FE 20-70mm f4 G isn’t too far off twice the price of the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar Carl Zeiss T*, so it will have to impress.

Specification

  • Announced: 17th January 2022
  • Lens mount: Sony FE
  • Focal length: 20-70mm
  • Maximum aperture: Constant f/4
  • Minimum aperture: f/22
  • Construction: 16 elements in 13 groups with 2 AA (advanced aspherical), 1 aspherical, 3 ED (extra low dispersion) and 1 ED Asph. (extra-low dispersion aspherical) elements
  • Autofocus mechanism: XD Linear motor
  • Coatings: Fluorine-coated front element
  • Weather sealed: Yes
  • Closest focusing distance: AF at 20mm: 30cm, at 70mm: 25cm, MF 25cm through the focal length range
  • Maximum magnification: 0.39x
  • Filter: 72mm
  • Lenshood: Petal shaped hood
  • Dimensions (length x max diameter): 78.7 x 99mm / 3-1/8 x 4-inch
  • Weight: 488g / 17.3oz

Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G price and availability

The Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G price is £1,400 / € 1,600 / $1,099, and it went on sale in early spring 2023.

Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G

Features

Sony constructs the FE 20-70mm f4 G from 16 elements arranged in 13 groups including two AA (advanced aspherical) elements, one aspherical element, three ED (extra-low dispersion) elements and one ED Asph. (extra-low dispersion aspherical) element. These seven special elements are designed to minimise aberrations, including chromatic aberration and spherical aberration, and deliver high image quality across the whole frame.

The Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G also has two SD (extreme dynamic) linear motors for focusing to ensure that it gets subjects sharp quickly and quietly and with minimal vibration. The focusing is also said to be 60% faster than with the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Zeiss Vario-Tessar, while the tracking capability is claimed to be almost 2x better.

In addition, focus breathing is suppressed optically, but the lens is compatible with the Breathing Compensation feature in some recent Sony cameras.

There’s also a linear response manual focus system, a focus hold button and a focus mode switch on the lens barrel.

Sony hasn’t given the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G inbuilt stabilisation, instead it relies on in-camera stabilisation.

Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G

Build and Handling

The price of the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G gives you certain expectations for its build, and it lives up to them as it feels robust and well-made. It’s also sealed against dust and moisture and has a fluorine coating on its front element to make it easier to keep clean and keep fingerprints and raindrops at bay.

While the 488g (78.7 x 99 mm) FE 20-70mm F4 G is 62g heavier and a little bigger than the FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar Carl Zeiss T* (73 x 94.5 mm), it still feels nicely balanced and well suited to use on a Sony A7-series camera such as the Sony A7R V. Its three rings are also within convenient reach of my left thumb and forefinger when I need to rotate them.

The narrowest of the three rings is the aperture ring and sits closest to the mount. This has a switch to enable it to operate with or without clicks and an Iris Lock switch that can prevent the aperture ring from being accidentally rotated away from A (for Automatic) or the manual range (f/4-22). If this switch is unlocked, the ring can be rotated freely between A and an aperture value.

The zoom ring, which is the widest of the three rings, sits further forward than the aperture ring and close to the midpoint of the barrel. Its location makes it the logical resting place for your left hand. When supporting the camera, it can be rotated quickly and smoothly to zoom in or out to adjust the framing.

The focus ring sits towards the front of the lens, closest to the front element. As usual, the focusing-by-wire system means that the ring’s rotation has no physical endpoints or distance scale. If you should decide to focus manually, however, you’ll find it moves smoothly.

The lens barrel has an AF/MF switch to swap between the two focusing methods and two focus hold buttons, one positioned for shooting in landscape orientation and the other for shooting in portrait orientation. While the Focus Hold option can be useful, the purpose of the buttons can be customised via the camera’s menu.

Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G

Performance

Shooting with the Sony A7R V, which has an excellent autofocus system, meant I didn’t encounter any occasions when I had to switch focusing manually. The AF system gets the subject sharp quickly and quietly. However, there are times when it’s helpful to focus manually, and the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G’s manual focus system is very responsive to any rotation of the focus ring. As usual, the movement of the ring can trigger the area under the AF point to magnify in the viewfinder and on the main screen, which makes it easy to ensure the subject is sharp.

Further good news is that focus breathing is controlled very well for most of the focal length range, but you’re likely to spot a slight shift in the framing at the wide-angle end when the focus moves from infinity to the closest point. However, this is pretty effectively addressed, albeit with a slight crop, by activating the Focus Breathing Compensation feature found on Sony’s latest cameras, including the Sony A7 IV and A7R V.

My images shot throughout the focal length and aperture ranges reveal that the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G delivers excellent detail resolution, even when the aperture is wide open. There’s a slight fall-off towards the corners at the widest apertures, but the corner sharpness is generally very good, especially when zoomed in to 50mm or longer.

While the results at f/4 are excellent, closing down to f/5.6 raises the bar a notch, while f/8 ensures superb corner sharpness. By f/22, there’s slight softening due to diffraction, but it’s not unusually problematic, and I would use the setting if I needed to get the maximum depth of field.

Getting close to a subject and shooting at a wide aperture gives some subject separation, but I longed to open up to f//2.8 when shooting head and shoulder portraits. That said, the background blur is attractive, and the bokeh isn’t especially ‘busy’ or distracting; the out-of-focus highlights also look pleasantly round.

It’s now standard practice to use correction profiles to iron out issues like vignetting and curvilinear distortion. These corrections are baked into the Jpegs files, but they can be deactivated when processing the raw files if you wish. Turning off the profiles applied to raw files captured with the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G mounted on the A7R V reveals that there’s relatively significant barrel distortion at focal lengths shorter than around 35mm, and there’s mild pincushion distortion at focal lengths longer than 35mm. This distortion makes straight lines bend one way or another, but the lines are straight when the profile is applied.

Correcting curvilinear distortion involves some cropping, so, for example, a shot captured at 20mm will contain more at the corners without the profile than with. However, the profiles are applied in-camera, and their impact is visible in the viewfinder, so you compose accordingly.

Turning off the profile also introduces pronounced corner shading at the very outer corners of images shot at 20mm. But it’s not apparent at 24mm, and the correction profile is very effective at 20mm.

Naturally, you can force the issue, but the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G controls flare well, so it’s not a significant problem even at the widest end. Chromatic aberration is also kept in check.

Sony FE 20-70mm f4 G

Sony FE 20-70mm f/4 G sample images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Sony FE 20-70mm f/4 G.

Verdict

Many photographers consider a 24-70mm their go-to focal length for everyday photography. I enjoyed swapping to the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G because that extra 4mm at the wide end makes a significant difference. When shooting around the city of Manchester, there were a few occasions when I’d have liked to have swapped to something wider, perhaps the Sony 16-35mm f/4 G PZ, but the 20mm option seems a luxurious extension from 24mm without the need to change lens.

While it requires the correction profiles to get the best from it and iron out the curvilinear distortion, the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G is an excellent lens. It’s impressively sharp throughout its focal length range and at every aperture (albeit with a hint of diffraction at f/22), and chromatic aberration and flare aren’t a concern. Its price is significantly higher than the FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar Carl Zeiss T*, but I would be very tempted to go for the 20-70mm for the extra flexibility.