I’ve tried several 70-200mm lenses for the Sony system, and even as I stood there holding it in my hands, I could hardly believe the new 70-200mm f/2.8 II from Sony.
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens has still not been released yet at the time of writing, but it is expected to be released sometime in December 2021 or early 2022. Previously, there have only been two options from Sony to scratch the 70-200mm itch, and neither of them were particularly good. The f/4 version is fine; it’s lightweight but slow. The f/2.8 was sharper wide open than the f/4 version stopped down to f/8, but it was absurdly heavy, and it was nearly double the price (or more than double if you wait until the f/4 model is on sale). Given that I would nearly exclusively use the lens on hikes, weight and size are of paramount consideration. There is also the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, which is very sharp and is quite quick to focus; however, it does not have a tripod collar, nor does it have internal stabilization. Given that it’s priced similarly to the Sony 70-200mm f/4, they are typically compared together, and for good reason. That said, they each come with their tradeoffs: the Tamron is sharper and faster than the f/4 Sony, but the Sony comes with a tripod collar and OSS built-in.
All in all, I have not been able to settle on which was the right lens for me. I was willing to spend the money on the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, but to say I was uninterested in carrying the lens around in my backpack or even on the camera would be an understatement. I understand that many people push through it and deal with the 1,480 g anchor the lens felt like to me. It just was not the right fit for me. I have been anxiously awaiting an alternative from Sigma that would be the best of both worlds, but that just left me with empty hands.
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS is not the lightest of the bunch (coming in at 1,045 g, a good 29% lighter than the original f/2.8 model), but it is only 205 g heavier than the f/4 Sony model and only 235 g heavier than the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 option. Similarly, it is the same length as the original Sony f/2.8 model (200 mm) and less than 30 mm longer than the Sony f/4 and Tamron alternatives. It is here that we get to the elephant in the room. That is, given that the f/2.8 II is now the most expensive option, does the added cost come with enough added value to be worth it?
Build Quality and Handling
The build quality of all of the Sony G and GM lenses is quite high, so it will most likely satisfy even the pickiest of Sony shooters. The material is a high-grade plastic and has a nice, robust feeling when held in your hands. The lens hood comes with a welcome change: it is no longer a pedal style lens hood, which I’ve always liked the looks of but thought was woefully impractical. Now, similarly to my Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM, it has a rubberized rim, which is quite nice to have. There were also several switches to hone in the settings and get them just right. I also really loved that manual focusing of the lens is linear, which makes a big difference for someone like me, who often prefers to manually focus.
Sharpness and Vignetting
The sharpness of this lens was just mind-blowing. Even shot wide open, I was stunned with the results, so much so that I only stopped the lens down when I was testing the sharpness of the lens. Truth be told, I couldn’t tell much of any difference in sharpness between f/2.8 and f/5.6, even at the very most corners of the frame. As for vignetting, I didn’t notice much of any from my real-world examples. The following examples of vignetting and sharpness are at 70mm, 135mm, and 200mm. As you can see from the comparisons, the results are second to none.
Note: All samples below have the f/2.8 shot on the left and the f/5.6 shot on the right.
What I Like
- Sharpness is incredibly impressive wide open.
- Internal stabilization works quite well and opens up opportunities in low-light settings.
- Weight: while it is not the lightest lens you can buy, it is surprisingly lightweight for a 70-200mm lens, especially for the f/2.8 version.
- Build quality is on par with other GM lenses, which is great.
- Autofocus is above and beyond fast. I am confident it will surprise you when paired with the right camera.
What I Don’t Like
- Price. It is a very expensive lens. You would have to already be considering the original Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 and willing to spend the extra money.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS (cost: $2,298 at the time of writing, $2,598 when not on sale): I would not fault you for thinking that the first generation of the Sony 70-200mm GM is the natural best comparison to this lens, but it isn’t. When it isn’t on sale, it is only $200 less than getting the MK II. I cannot imagine why someone would spend nearly the same amount of money on a less sharp (albeit, still a wonderfully sharp lens), slower focusing, and sizably heavier option. That said, I would not at all be surprised if used copies of the Mark I lens become significantly less expensive, as I imagine Sony will soon adopt a lower price point similar to what they did with the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA after the Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM arrived. Should the used prices of the Mark I go down significantly enough to be more similar to the going rates of the Sony f/4 version new, perhaps then, it will present itself as a strong option.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 OSS (cost: $1,498): As I mentioned at the head of this article, this lens has long been a strong contender for the 70-200mm lens I would eventually buy. The sharpness is decent, though not particularly impressive. That said, it goes on sale regularly enough that you can often pick up a new copy for about the same if not even less than a used copy. The build quality is much better than the Tamron option but did not focus as quickly as the Tamron.
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD (cost: $1,099): As the cheapest and lightest option that can hold its own in the sharpness department, this lens is a great option for anyone looking for a mid-range zoom lens. If it came with a tripod collar and/or had internal stabilization, I would have bought this lens shortly after I gave it a test drive. I also didn’t fall in love with the build quality. It was okay but was pretty far behind the Sony options. That said, if you do not anticipate using your lens for landscape photography in subpar conditions, this Tamron would likely be all you need for portraits or to take on trips.
When I was test-driving the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens, I had it fitted on the new Sony a7 IV, which together felt like an unstoppable duo. Having been putting off upgrading my gear for a long time, this lens finally pushed me over the edge, and I put in a preorder with B&H. That is to say, I was properly enamored with this lens — enough to spend my own money on it. Will I later feel like I spent too much money on it? Maybe. Probably? For now, however, I’ve never enjoyed using a telephoto lens as much as I have this lens, and I couldn’t stop smiling when using it. I can highly recommend it.