Thanks to Mark Baber (@markbaberphoto on Twitter) from Sony UK I’ve been shooting with both the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS and FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS for a few days. It’s a pair of lenses that I’ve been wanting to compare for ages.
In the UK, these optics retail for £1,509 and £2,500 respectively. In the US it’s $1,398 and $2,598. That’s a significant price difference so many Sony A7-series users are weighing up which they should buy.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 vs f2.8: The key differences
Aside from the 1 stop difference in the maximum aperture of the two lenses, there are a few other differences between them. The f/4 version has a minimum focus distance of 1-1.5m when focusing with the AF system and 1-1.35m when focusing manually. The f/2.8 optic can focus as close as 0.96m regardless of the focal length and focusing method.
This means that the f/4 lens has a maximum magnification ratio of 0.13x while the f/2.8’s is 0.25x.
Their construction is also different. The f/4 is constructed from 21 elements in 15 groups while the f/2.8 has 23 elements in 18 groups.
Naturally, there’s a size and weight difference. The FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS measures 80 x 175mm and weighs 840g without the tripod mount. Meanwhile, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS is 88 x 200mm and 1480g. It’s the weight difference that you notice in use rather than the size.
The f/4 lens also takes 72mm filters while the f/2.8 optic has a 77mm filter thread.
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As usual, I’ve been making an Ottofocus comparison with the two lenses by photographing my dog, Otto. I’ve been shooting with the A7 III and A7R III, swapping the optics between the two cameras.
Even in quite dim daylight, I didn’t really detect any difference in the speed of focus acquisition. And the tracking capability seems very similar whichever lens I use.
I’ve also been shooting in the photographers’ pit at Fairport’s Cropredy Festival. This has given me the chance to compare how the lenses perform with a range of lighting conditions. And again, they give very similar performance with the Sony cameras’ Eye AF is proving very useful.
In very low light conditions, there’s a slight suggestion that the cameras’ AF systems cope a bit better with the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS mounted. But to be honest, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS does such a good job it’s hard to say for certain. I tried continually swapping between the two lenses in the dark conditions and there were very few occasions when either lens missed the focus.
Obviously, with an extra stop of light getting through the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS there will be occasions when it enables the AF system to work and the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS doesn’t, but I’ve yet to encounter it. That’s despite shooting in very overcast conditions and at night during the festival.
In short, the f/4 lens stands up really well against the f/2.8 with respect to autofocusing.
Both lenses are capable of capturing a lot of sharp detail. On the whole, however, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS does a better job of rendering that detail across the frame.
The 200mm end is usually the most used point of a 70-200mm lens, so I’ll look at that in detail.
At this focal length and f/22, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS is a little sharper at the centre and better in the corners than the f/4 lens. At f/2.8, however, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS isn’t as sharp as the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS at f/4 at the centre.
When set to f/4, the lenses are quite closely matched for detail at the centre. And although still a little soft, the f/2.8 optic is better at the corners. At f/5.6 both lenses are very sharp at the centre, but the improvement in the corners from the f/2.8 lens is more noticeable.
Closing down to f/11 or f/16 significantly enhances corner sharpness from the f/2.8 optic. The f/4 lens’ corner sharpness also improves, but not to the standard of the f/2.8.
By f/22 both lenses show slight signs of diffraction. It means the results are just a shade softer than those shot at f/16. But they are still very good.
Distortion and Vignetting
Neither lens is troubled excessively by distortion or vignetting. However, there’s a little more pincushion distortion visible at the 200mm end of the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS than the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS. It doesn’t leap out at you though, even if the scene has lots of straight lines.
Similarly, there’s a hint of barrel distortion with both lenses at the 70mm end.
If you’re shooting a uniform subject, you may notice a little corner shading (vignetting) when shooting at the widest aperture with either lens at 70mm. It’s more noticeable with the f/4 lens, but it all but disappears when the aperture is closed by a stop. However, it’s controlled well so it’s really not much of an issue.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 vs f2.8: Conclusion
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is an excellent lens. It’s a nice size and weight for use with a Sony A7-series camera and it lets the AF systems in the A7 III and A7R III do their thing. It means you get moving subjects sharp and the Eye AF works well.
Its sharpness at the centre of the frame is superb. However, it can’t match the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS into the corners. The f/2.8 lens maintains image quality just a bit better towards the edges, especially if you stop down a little.
And of course, if you shoot in very low light on a frequent basis, that extra stop of light brought by the f/2.8 is useful. However, at the 200mm end, images shot at f/2.8 aren’t quite as sharp at the centre as those shot at f/4 with the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.
Should I buy the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS or FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS?
For the majority of photographers, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS makes a great choice. It strikes a good balance between price and image quality. However, if you want the absolute best results and you don’t mind the extra weight, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS is the lens to go for.
Follow this link if you’d like to browse or download full resolution images from the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS to make your own assessment. Follow this link to browse and download images from the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.