Sony AF 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II A-mount lens review by dfwatt

reviewer#16304 date: Jul-13-2015
sharpness: 5
color: 5
build: 5
distortion: 5
flare control: 5
overall: 5
tested on:
  • film camera:Film camera
  • APS-C: 6MP6 MP; 10MP10 MP; 12MP12 MP; 14MP14 MP; 16MP16 MP; 20MP20 MP; 24MP24 MP
  • full frame: 12MP12 MP; 24MP24 MP; 36MP36 MP; 42MP42 MP; 61MP61 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:Sony 70-300 G1 SSM
Tamron 70-200 2.8 USD
Minolta 300 2.8 HS G
Tamron 150-600 5-6.3
price paid:$1600 used mint
positive:Pros

1) Optimized for sharpness at the long end - sharper at the long end wide open than any other competing telephoto zoom, including the new Tamron 150-600 f5-6.3, and premium Canikon products (which are typically excellent). Also quite sharp (on both APS-C and FF) at wide and in middle FL, if stopped down slightly. Overall, a very sharp optic, close to the class leading (for A mount) Minolta 400 4.5 prime, which is probably the benchmark for sharpness at 400mm for Alpha mount.
2) Compact size - at least for storage and shooting at 70mm (but extends on full zoom to a rather long lens ~ 13” at 400mm).
3) Virtually no CA or PF (purple fringing, esp. on bright edges, the principle vulnerability of the great Minolta legacy telephoto primes).
4) Built like a tank, like most Sony G lenses.
5) Excellent focus limiter.
6) Has corrections for vignetting (minimal on APS-C), CA (which is minimal anyway and very well controlled), and distortion (also minimal) in firmware for many A mount bodies - something no 3rd party lens can claim.
7) Very quiet and fast focusing, significantly faster than G1 version and somewhat faster than the best of the screw drive legacy lenses (advantage SSM).
8) Great soft case that really protects the lens in case of those potentially disastrous drops.
9) The 70mm wide end is really useful if you want to shoot people as well as animals, and is quite fast at that FL (f4) for a long lens, giving an extra measure of utility and reducing your kit size (I can drop the 'beercan' from the lens bag if I need to save weight) given the overlapping range. Almost 6 X zoom range (70-400 overall) is actually pretty impressive, and exceeded only by the Bigma 50-500 (which is poorer at the long end).

negative:Cons:

1) Heavy (but still lighter than the competition) at 3.3 lbs, just at the end of what you can tolerate hand holding for long periods of time.
2) Expensive (roughly twice the price of Tamron 150-600) and only slightly less than a used Minolta 400 4.5 in great condition (which is sharper lens and can use 1.4xTC to get additional reach to 560mm with only a very modest loss of sharpness).
3) Due to being only f5.6 at long end, no AF functionality with Sony or Minolta 1.4xTCs (can use Kenko 1.4TC OTOH, but with slowed AF).
4) Hood seems a bit fragile, particularly for such a heavy lens. Replacement cost for hood (if you can even get one!) is likely to be ridiculous (Sony baloney?).
5) Slightly stiff zoom ring? (contrast it with the butter smooth and light zoom action on the older Minolta Beercan, perhaps an unfair comparison perhaps given that the Beercan is a much smaller optic).
6) If you are looking for the smoothest bokeh, look elsewhere (true for virtually all tele zooms) - and get a tele prime instead.
7) That’s it - no major cons in terms of functionality, just premium cost for a premium lens.

comment:This is an expensive but premium quality long telephoto for A mount. Its only real competition in terms of later model tele zooms for A mount is the Tamron 150-600 f5-6.3 (and I can speak from experience, as I own both lenses, along with several Minolta telephoto primes and TCs).

This review offers some brief comparison of these lenses, all of which offer anywhere from good to great image quality, and good to excellent value (the Sony G2 perhaps being the slightly better lens overall, but the Tamron likely being the better value). Any A Mount body shooter (Alpha 77/77m2/65/55/57/58/33/35 as well as the older Sony DSLRs) looking for a long telephoto should look carefully at this lens, the Tamron 150-600, and the classic Minolta primes (available used in various states of preservation) before deciding which to buy. I would also recommend consulting the full body of reviews for all these lenses on Dyxum, which is a treasure trove of information about the entire A mount lens ecology. There are lots of good options in other words. This review will NOT cover the entirety of the A mount lens ecology (leaving out several older Sigma 400mm telephoto primes, and all the dozens of permutations of various Sony and Minolta and 3rd party 300 2.8 primes and TCs - after all, it's a lens review, not a book!)


So how does this stack up against the Minolta primes, the Tamron 150-600 and the older Sigma tele zooms, with both the Sigma and Tamron zooms being less than half the cost? Well, like in relationship to a lot of other technology items, you truly get what you pay for. It’s sharper at 400mm than any of the Tamron or Sigma zooms (but only slightly sharper than the new Tamron if both are at 400), and cropped images from the Sony at 400mm compare well to the Tamron at 600mm, which gets pretty soft frankly all the way out, and not nearly as sharp all the way out as the Sony is at 400. This suggests that the last 150mm or so of the Tamron doesn’t really get you that much - however at 400mm the Tamron is close in sharpness to the Sony and again, only 1/2 the price. So once again, there are basic tradeoffs. The Sony is lighter and more compact, slightly sharper, but lots more $. For BIF shooting, probably would vote for the Sony G2, given likely better AF optimization and wider FL range, lighter weight, and more compact dimensions. But you can't complain about the cost-to-function ratio of the Tamron, a real value home run IMO.


For a bit more money ($2500-3000 for excellent to mint copy) the Minolta 400 4.5 might be sharper, but only a little, although it is also a full stop faster. Although the Minolta and the Sony are roughly equally sharp wide open, if you set both at 5.6 (that’s still wide open for the Sony and a full stop down for the Minolta prime), you would find the Minolta perhaps a bit sharper even than the Sony G2, but OTOH, you will have a bit more PF/CA on the Minolta, and it’s quite a bit heavier and . . . even more money (!). The Minolta prime won’t focus as fast or as quietly, but it can use 1.4TC to get to 560mm. While the SSM of the Sony seems like a big advantage, the old screw drive AF on the Minolta tele prime is still competitive, and the excellent AF system on the Sony A77ii breaths new life into many older legacy Minolta screw drives. So on this comparison, it's the pluses of the Minolta against the PF issue and extra weight and cost that may help you decide which is better for you. As a big plus, the Sony G2 is significantly lighter at 1500 g than either a Minolta 400 tele prime (quite heavy at 1900 g), or the Tamron 150-600 (1950 g) or the Sigma 50-150 (1840 g). Its 3.3 lbs is just on the limit of what you can wear on your Black Rapid or competing strap system. So there you have it.


The Sony G2 and the Minolta primes are perhaps the best IQ choices, but all three options are in fact good to great values. The Minolta 400 4.5 is actually a phenomenal value, given the 2x cost of competing Canikon products. Only its screw drive and vulnerability to purple fringing are downsides, and the PF is easily removed in post processing, and as noted above, the screw drive is actually pretty fast and accurate with the A77ii. People complain about the lens ecology of Sony vs. the Big Two, but this is an example actually of where that negative chatter doesn't really hold up to much careful scrutiny. Admittedly, A mount lacks newer telephoto primes, particularly a 400 prime and a newer f4 300, but that's really about it. This lens is still better than the competing Canikon products (see testing at DPR).


Hopefully, this gives you a quick survey of the main current options for long telephoto zooms on your Alpha body.

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 21
  • sharpness: 4.69
  • color: 4.81
  • build: 4.48
  • distortion: 4.67
  • flare control: 4.62
  • overall: 4.65
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