Update 5.13.19: Updated this review to reflect my more recent use of this lens.
Usually when talking about Sony’s long zooms, photographers traditionally refer to the 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master and f/4 G lenses. Now those are great lenses, and I look forward to owning them one day, however for now, I think the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G lens is a really strong alternative. It can be had at a better price than the f/4, and a much better price than the f/2.8.
|Aperture Blades||9 Circular|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||3ft/0.9m|
I was able to purchase mine used off of B&H for under $1,000 in great condition which makes this lens a more affordable option. Overall, I have been very happy with it, though I am always aware of its limitations — most notably its low-light performance. This is a big, heavy lens, but feels really well-balanced and natural on the a7. It looks positively ridiculous on the a5000, however, so if you’re shooting with a NEX, a5xx, or a6xx series body, you will need to keep the lens size in mind. The flip-side of the coin is that the crop sensor DOES give it a 450mm reach, so it may be worth it if reach is important to you.
Usually, I take the 70-300mm G with me virtually everywhere I go. In my opinion, pairing it with one of my 50mm lenses and my Sony 28mm f/2 gives me a complete camera bag. Another lens I frequently pair it with is my Minolta MD 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5. This combination will cover mostly anything I will shoot.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this lens…
Construction and Build Quality
Typical of the G/GM series lenses, it feels well-built. The housing is solid, though I can’t tell if it’s metal or a really high-grade plastic. The focus and zoom rings are rubberized and have a good grip and feel to them. This lens doesn’t have an internal zoom mechanism unfortunately, so zooming from 70 to 300mm will increase the length of the lens by almost twice its original length. For me this isn’t a major factor, but it may be for some photographers in tight places.
My wife gets a kick out of the lens extension, and likes to refer to it as my “paparazzi lens” — I’m cool with that. I won’t be hanging out in Beverly Hills to get pictures of Scarlett Johansson with it anytime soon.
When I first got this lens, I was still shooting on the mk1 a7, so my results were mixed in low-light conditions. The simple fact is that this isn’t the fastest lens in the west. There’s a reason it’s so much less expensive than the GM f/2.8. If you plan on shooting indoors — or at night — you are going have to bump up the ISO significantly. Since I began shooting with the a7II and later the a7RII, this hasn’t been nearly as much of an issue for me.
Sharpness is often cited as an issue with the 70-300, especially over 200mm, however, I feel this is overstated. I think the sharpness above 200mm is just fine. Under 200mm, to my eyes, this lens feels tack sharp.
Autofocus can be hit or miss sometimes which is very frustrating. For a lens this expensive, I find it is a little slow. Also, I find that sometimes it isn’t accurate — focusing on objects in the foreground/background rather than the subject I want to focus on. I’ve had plenty of bird images ruined because of this. I have sworn at this lens a LOT.
When I was shooting on the a7 mk1, the Optical Steady Shot (OSS) was a huge help in keeping images sharp at shutter-speeds I would be very uncomfortable using on a lens without stabilization. Now that I am working with an a7RII, the lens’ OSS and the camera’s IBIS work together very well.
With a minimum focus of 0.9m, the 70-300mm G lens acts almost as a pseudo macro-lens, which makes for another reason I frequently put this lens in my bag. It gives me better macro shots than most of my dedicated macro lenses.
Nano AR coating eliminates most flaring and ghosting issues, and Chromatic Aberration is well-controlled. Vignetting is quite noticeable at f/4.5, however it is mostly eliminated at f/5.6.
To my eyes, the 9 rounded blades produce quite a nice bokeh, especially at longer focal lengths, which is to be expected for a telephoto lens. However, busier backgrounds may suffer a little bit. Overall, I’m quite happy with the bokeh the 70-300 produces, so I have little to complain about.
You may or may not need this lens. If reach is something you’re concerned about and you don’t have the thousands to spend on the 100-400mm GM, this may be a strong alternative. I personally use this lens — possibly more than any other lens I own. It’s served me well and I don’t have any plans to sell or get rid of it. If you are interested in buying the 70-300mm G lens, however, do yourself a favor and pick it up certified used from a reputable dealer. I was able to save over $400 on my copy and six months later, I am satisfied with my purchase.