Sony FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM: Quite a Masterstroke

 
Sony FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM

Sony FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM

The Sony FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM is the first f/2.8 pro zoom for the popular A7 series of cameras. Raj Lalwani puts it to the test, and comes away pleased, but with a few reservations.

Along with the newly announced 85mm f/1.4 GM, the Sony 24–70mm f/2.8 GM heralds the beginning of the G Master lineup of lenses, which according to the company, are the flagship lenses of their system, built for the discerning pro.

Features
The optical design is impressive. In Sony’s words, there are “three aspherical elements including a newly developed, extremely precise XA (extreme aspherical) element that reduces aberration and delivers the ultimate resolution throughout the zoom range and aperture range, as well as from corner to corner of all image files.”

Handling
The build quality of the 24–70mm is sturdy, with the lens being rated as resistant to both dust and moisture. I was surprised to see its size and weight though, as it is bigger and heavier than similar lenses from other manufacturers, and almost as heavy as the new Nikkor 24–70mm f/2.8E that we have tested in this issue, despite the fact that the Nikkor has VR, while the Sony depends on the camera’s stabilisation!

The design has been looked at in minute detail. The focal length markings are not flat on the barrel as they are in most other lenses. Instead, they are printed on the raised area where the zoom ring steps up, which actually allows you to see the focal length from the corner of your eye, without removing your eye from the viewfinder.

Aside from a zoom lock switch, there is a lens hood release, and most usefully, an AF-lock button that prevents the lens from refocusing while it is kept pressed. This is an invaluable, not-very-commonly found feature that can be very useful in critical, rapidly changing situations.

The AF-lock button is an extremely useful tool for street photographers and allows you to override the rather simplistic AF system of the A7 cameras. 1/500sec at f/16 (ISO 640). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The AF-lock button is an extremely useful tool for street photographers and allows you to override the rather simplistic AF system of the A7 cameras. 1/500sec at f/16 (ISO 640). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Performance
The Sony 24–70mm f/2.8 GM is arguably the sharpest lens of its type, amongst those we have tested. The corners are quite good wide open, but stop down to f/4, and we are reaching near levels of perfection, with f/5.6 being the sweet spot. The level of sharpness is maintained across the zoom range, and considering how accurate contrast-detect AF tends to be, I was delighted by the detail I could extract out of the A7R II.

AF is fast, but is hindered by the camera itself, which, admittedly, is nowhere near as good as DSLRs in its price range, especially when light levels fall. That said, this Sony lens is the fastest focusing lens within this system. Light falloff (around two stops at the wide end) and barrel distortion are seen, but are correctible. There is some coma that’s visible in the corners in extreme conditions. Bokeh is particularly lovely.

Conclusion
There is no doubt that the Sony 24–70mm f/2.8 GM is a stunning piece of optics. The lack of stabilisation may be an issue for those who own the first-generation Sony A7 cameras, but since the newer ones have an extremely efficient five-axis stabilisation, I don’t see that being a problem.

That the A7R II is also arguably the best 35mm sensor at the moment, only means that this combo is guaranteed to give you the best possible image quality, while retaining the convenience of zoom. This (along with the three or four excellent primes that are now available) is a lens that finally allows the company to project the A7 series as a serious system for extensive, gruelling pro assignments… leaving aside, of course, the quirks and compromises that the cameras have, so far.

The only downside is the size and weight, and while that would be expected of any fast 24–70mm, the camera-body balance leaves a lot to be desired here, considering how slim the A7 cameras are. It is time that Sony stops using a purported size advantage to promote the FE system. With the lenses being bigger than equivalent products in rival systems (another case in point being the 35mm f/1.4), the A7R with this lens becomes as obtrusive as a Nikon D750 with its equivalent VR-enabled lens. And this, whilst having all the problems of a truncated design, including awkward handling and poor battery life.

Until now, one felt that the A7 cameras need some masterful lenses. Now that we have them, one realises how much better these optics would be on a better designed body, even one that’s as big (but thus, comfortable) as a DSLR. If they make steps in this direction in the upcoming photokina, Sony’s masterstroke will surely give other manufacturers a lot to ponder over.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Fast aperture, AF-lock button, XA button
18/20
Performance
Extremely sharp, slight fringing
34/35
Build Quality
Weather sealing, zoom locking mechanism
24/25
Ergonomics
Poor lens-body balance, well designed
12/15
Warranty & Support
Good number of service centres
3/5
MRP Rs. 1,54,990
OVERALL 91%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3/5
Who should buy it? Professional photographers and cinematographers, who need the flexibility of zoom.
Why? This is an incredibly sharp lens and is the first zoom lens to do full justice to the 42MP sensor of the A7R II.
Tags: A7, August 2016, better photography, Gear Guide, Raj Lalwani, Reviews, Sony, Sony FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM