Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM

Sony 70-300mm SSM G
Sony's 'G' lenses form much of their professional range and have price tags to match. Here we'll investigate whether this popular lens is worthy of the pro price tag.

Sony's 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G SSM lens is one of their line of professional quality lenses, sporting sturdy build quality and a fast silent focusing motor for a price tag of around £730, making it one of the most expensive 70-300mm lenses available at the moment. Here Gary Wolstenholme will investigate whether the performance and build of this lens justifies the high price tag.

This popular focal range is well catered for by third-party manufacturers with all of them offering lenses at various levels covering this range. Sigma offer a fair few 70-300mm lenses themselves, with budget lenses available from around £125. A closer comparison to a lens of this level would either be their Optical Stabilised 70-300mm which is available for around £300. Sigma also offer a professional quality lens in this range. Their 100-300mm f/4 is a much larger lens with a constant aperture of f/4, making it more suitable for lower light shooting and use with teleconverters. This optic costs around £810, which is little more to fork out though.

Tamron currently only currently offer one lens covering this range. Their budget 70-300mm costs around £130.

Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM: Handling and features
The build of this lens strikes a good balance between sturdiness and keeping the overall weight down. The lens barrel is constructed from high-quality plastics and the fit and finish is very good indeed.

Focusing is performed internally and the SSM motor is very quick and responsive, achieving a lock very swiftly in most cases. Manual adjustments to focus can be made at any time and a handy focus lock button is provided on the side of the lens barrel to make locking and recomposing in continuous AF a breeze.

The design and quality of the build is really exemplary for this kind of lens. Little touches like the focus lock button and the general fit and finish make this lens a joy to use.

Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM: Performance
Just like other lenses of its type, this lens performs at its best at 70mm and the resolution gradually drops off towards 300mm. I did find the amount of falloff in resolution a little disappointing though.

At 70mm this lens performs very well, producing images with good resolution across the frame at maximum aperture. Peak sharpness is at F11 where the lens performs excellently in the centre and the edges are still very good.

Zooming the lens to 135mm causes the performance to drop at every aperture, especially towards the edges of the frame. At maximum aperture performance is acceptable and peak performance is at f/11, where the resolution is very good in the centre, and approaching good towards the edges.

This lens' performance at 300mm is a little disappointing. At maximum aperture I found it difficult to achieve results I would say are truly sharp. Stopping the lens down improves the sharpness, but the lens still struggles to perform as well as I would've liked, especially towards the edges of the frame. Peak performance is at f/8, where the centre resolution is acceptable.

Resolution at 70mm Resolution at 135mm
 Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G  Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G
Resolution at 300mm  
Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G How to read our graphs
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an inidication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A500 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are kept well under control throughout the zoom range. At their worst, they just exceed 0.5pixel widths towards the edges at 300mm.

Chromatic Aberrations at 70mm Chromatic Aberrations at 135mm
 Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G  Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G
Chromatic Aberrations at 300mm  
Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G How to read out charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inabiity to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A500 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the image is well controlled. At 70mm the corners are only 0.924stops darker than the image centre at maximum aperture. This is pretty much constant throughout the zoom range as at 300mm the amount of falloff ahas dropped to 0.89stops.

Distortion isn't much of a feature with this lens either. At 70mm Imatest recorded 0.462% pincushion distortion and at 300mm the level of pincushion raises only to 0.758%. Throughout the zoom range the pattern of distortion is uniform, so should be easy to correct if perfectly straight lines are critical.

Click on the thumbnails for a high resolution image
Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G
Above: The lens performs well at shorter focal lengths, as can be seen in this shot at 70mm.

Right: At 300mm the lens really needs stopping down a stop or two for best results.
Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G
   

Flare and ghosting are well controlled, with strong sources of light in the frame causing a slight loss of contrast and a little flare in extreme circumstances. A deep scalloped hood is supplied with the lens which does a great job of shielding the front element from extraneous light, making sure light sources outside the frame are rarely a problem.

Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM: Verdict
I can't help but have mixed feelings about this lens. It's built superbly, is fast focusing and has great control of falloff, distortion and flare. At shorter focal lengths it also performs very well, but to get good results at 300mm, the lens needs stopping down.

When the high price tag is taken into consideration, it leaves me disappointed, as I would personally hope for better performance at 300mm.

Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM: Pros
Excellent build quality
Fast focusing
Good control of distortion, CA and flare

Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM: Cons
Disappointing resolution at 300mm
High price tag for such a lens

FEATURES
HANDLING
PERFORMANCE
VALUE
OVERALL


Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM: Lens specification
Price £730
Contact www.sony.co.uk
Filter size 62mm
Format Full-frame
Construction 16 elements in 11 groups
Angle-of-view 34-8.10
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 105-450mm
Internal focusing Yes
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 120cm
Maximum aperture f/4-5.6
Minimum aperture f/22-29
Weight 760g
Size 82.5x135.5mm
In the box Soft Case, Petal Shaped Hood

The Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM costs around £730 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM

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