Sony FE 24-70 - Yet Another View

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PaulR
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Sony FE 24-70 - Yet Another View
6 months ago

The Sony 24-70mm lens has been the subject of quite a bit of controversy and wildly conflicting opinions about its quality on this and other forums.  Consequently, it is with some trepidation that I am going to make some general comments on my initial opinions on the Sony FE 24-70mm F4 OSS lens.  This forum seems to have become overrun by flamers and trolls, fanboys and critics, and way too many posters that simply feel a need to express some comment, no matter how inane, in every thread they read.  And I am sure that even making that observation is going to result in countless off topic attacks and comments but so be it.

I have had the Sony FE 24-70mm F4 lens for a few days now and I have had the chance to shoot several hundred frames with it on my A7R in a variety of situations.  Some of that shooting has been carefully taken shots of the stereotypical brick wall where I compared it to other zooms but I have also taken advantage of the break in our winter rains to go out and shoot a wide variety of landscape and architectural subjects.  I am not going to post any of those images.  When I have done that in the past it has resulted in some of the more bizarre comments I have gotten and I simply don't see the point.

1) I appear to have a fairly good copy of the lens.  There is no decentering and any fall off in sharpness is symmetrical in each corner and consistent with what I would expect from a good lens. Maybe there are better copies of the lens out there but I don't feel any need to try and find them.

2) As others have noted, the sweet spot of the lens is roughly 28-60mm.  24mm is not terrific but it also isn't bad and many excellent zoom lenses have trouble with the extremes of the zoom range.  70mm is relatively soft accros the frame but it improves nicely at F8, especially in the center.  On my copy, 28mm is really very sharp.  In my tests, I am hard pressed to tell the difference in the center between the zoom and the FE 35mm lens.  I assume the FE 55mm is markedly better but I didn't test it against the zoom.

3) The center sharpness of the lens is generally excellent at all focal lengths and all apertures. There is definitely a drop off in sharpness that occurs as you progress to the corners, again at all apertures and all focal lengths.  And this softening is not limited to the extreme corners.  But in my opinion the corners are never unusable, even wide open, but they may be soft.

4) The optimal aperture varies at different focal lengths but it is typically either F5.6 or F8. Generally, the lens does sharpen up as you stop it down but the biggest effect I am seeing is in improved micro-contrast.  There is quite a bit more "pop" at f5.6 or F8 but it doesn't always show as better sharpness in my pixel peeping.  And there is no question that the lens is softer in the center and corners at every focal length at F11 and up.  You just can't get around diffraction and the laws of physics.  But if you need the depth of field then the smaller apertures work just fine.

5) I compared the lens to the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens as well as the older but still sharp Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-D lens, both shot at F5.6.  The Sony outperformed both lenses at all focal lengths except 24mm where the Nikon was noticably sharper in the center but weaker in the corners.  And the Sony was typically MUCH better in the extreme corners than the Nikon zooms.  I think some users don't realize just how bad most full frame lenses are in the corners, with zooms worse than primes, but neither typically that sharp in the corners.

6) Distortion and vignetting are not good but are both likely to be easily correctable once Lightroom is updated for the Lens Profile.  For me this is a non issue but I understand that many users will have problems with this.

6) Colors and contrast are really quite excellent I think.  This is one place where the Zeiss design seems to make a difference.

7) I didn't test the OSS rigorously, but I had no trouble consistently getting sharp images down to 1/30th of a second and that hasn't been my experience with non-OSS lenses.

8) I couldn't get the lens to flare.  I didn't use the hood, I shot into and around the sun, and I simply couldn't get it to flare.  And I found little to no chromatic aberration even shooting tree branches against a bright sky or street lights at dusk.  Very impressive performance.

Overall, I think the Sony FE 24-70mm is a very good lens and it pairs well with the A7R.  I am going to keep my copy and I thought I was going to return it after some of the initial negative comments about the lens.  I think it will be interesting to see which of the three lenses spends the most time on my camera.  I love the FE 35mm and the FE 55mm is a great lens at a focal length I don't much use.  But the FE 24-70mm is versatile and doesn't demand that many negative tradeoffs.  Obviously, the very best results will come from using primes with the A7R on a tripod at their optimal aperture, but frankly the FE 24-70mm comes pretty darn close, especially if you don't care about the extreme corners.  And I was surprised at how well the FE 24-70mm performs wide open.  Yes, it is better at F5.6 or F8 but F4 is really quite good and that is pretty unusual for most zoom lenses.

SO WHY ALL THE CONTROVERSY?

Well, first of all this is a zoom lens and it simply is not as sharp as the two Sony prime lenses, and those lenses are truly excellent lenses.  And it is a fairly expensive lens at $1200.  Also, I think a lot of users would like to have perfection and it probably just isn't obtainable.  But, as the DXOMark review suggests, the Sony generally outperforms the roughly comparable zooms from Nikon and Canon.  Certainly that was my experience.  Also, many of us wanted a F2.8 zoom not a F4 zoom. And distortion and vignetting aren't good and the lens profiles to correct that don't exist yet and many purists find those sorts of software corrections offensive.  But I also think that the terrific FE 35mm and FE 55mm lenses have created some unusual expectations among Sony A7 and A7R users.  We are now using camera/lens combinations that are offering quality that was simply unthinkable a few years ago.  It may be that it isn't possible to engineer a mid-range zoom with light weight, corner to corner sharpness, and a reasonable aperture (but I really hope Sigma proves me wrong and SOON!).  So the FE 24-70mm isn't without its compromises and that is a bit disappointing.

My bottom line is if you can afford the lens and you need a mid range zoom it is well worth getting unless you have unrealistic expectations.  It is a good lens, even a very good lens, compared to what other manufacturers have available.  Of course, it would have been terrific if it were an unbelievably great lens but being better the much larger Nikon equivalent is still pretty good.

And I changed my mind, I am going to post two images taken at the very worst focal lengths the lens has to offer, 70mm and 24mm.  Both were taken hand held and are straight out of camera with OSS on. The first shot of the skyline was taken from a rapidly moving ferry with incredible winds that made it extremely challenging to hold the camera still.

 PaulR's gear list:PaulR's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-7 Nikon D600 Sony Alpha 7R Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN +1 more
Sony Alpha 7 Sony Alpha 7R
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