Sony G Master 24-70 f/2.8 e 85 f/1.4 (Eng)

Categoria: English Pubblicato: Sabato, 17 Settembre 2016 Scritto da Max Angeloni

 Translated by Pietro Todaro

Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/3200, f/2.8, Iso 125

In the article dedicated to the second generation of  Sony's “Alpha 7”, I began an analysis of the lenses dedicated to this system.
Just as I was finishing up the article I got a chance to try out, for a short span of time, the new Sony G Master lenses.
Too short a time to allow me to express an opinion. Therefore I decided to postpone the field test to a moment in which I would have had sufficient time to put these lenses to the test.
Traditionally, one has a bit of free time during the summer holidays.


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/8000, f/1.4, Iso 125


Now... suitcases, beach umbrellas, masks, flippers, swimming trunks, children and relatives oftentimes translate themselves into the furthest thing to the concept of “free time”.
And... something that is even more difficult for a photographer... never translate themselves in the concept of “free hands”.
Mirrorless cameras should, in these cases, come to our aid. That is, light and compact cameras in which technological innovations have allowed for greater miniaturization compared to traditional reflex cameras.
The point is, as highlighted in numerous occasions in my previous articles, that lenses solely follow the laws of physics. Therefore a hypothetical 50mm f/1 lens will have a light entrance pupil of 5 centimeters. Such an important quantity of “glass” should require it to have an adequate motorization, if things are designed properly, not to mention that good mechanical workmanship and a thorough weather proofing need their space as well.
This is the reason why I rarely add to the list of “pros” of CSC cameras the “general compactness” of the system. On the other hand, a great plus, is the possibility to opt for a light and discreet setup when the photographic requirements call for this.
For example... a Fujifilm X-T2 with a Fujinon 35 f/1.4 will always be more compact and discreet compared to a Nikon D500 with an equivalent lens... just as a Sony A7RII with a 35 f/2 will be more compact and discreet than a Nikon D810 with an equivalent lens.
The Sony G Master lenses however surely do not fall in to the category of “lenses to choose” if one is looking for compactness and discretion.
Big and heavy, these lenses belong to the range of lenses whose principal prerogative is the search for maximum performance and maximum image delivery. These two aspects translate themselves in lenses without compromises... and lenses without compromises mean a high price tag.
Given these preambles, its only normal to ask oneself if the Sony G Master lenses are indeed able to satisfy all these expectations.

Sony FE 24-70 mm F2,8 GM

Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/1250, f/4, Iso 125

The 24-70 f/2.8” is the normal professional zoom par excellence. Regardless of the brand and type of system used, professional equipment cannot do without this lens.
As far as I am concerned, this is surely the lens that I have used most through the years. As per all the zooms, that cover focal lengths that range from a wide angle to a moderate zoom, one must accept some compromises as far as delivery and luminosity are concerned.
Its clear that prime lenses generally, have a better performance under all aspects, but its also evident that in many photographic situations its quite difficult to do without this wild card among ones equipment.
As per my habit, during field tests I mostly tend to use lenses with their maximum apertures. And even this time around I did not make any exception.

Many have asked me why I have made this choice.
The main reasons are two: the first is that with environmental light I prefer to shoot with a reduced depth of field while the other reason is that with f/5.6 even the bottom of a bottle could give acceptable results. Seeing that luminous lenses cost more because of a greater aperture of the diaphragm, I feel that its important to understand if this type of acquisition could justify greater weight, greater bulk and last but not least, greater cost.


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/3200, f/2.8, Iso 125


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/640, f/3.2, Iso 125

Just like all the lenses of this system, Sony has given it all to create the best possible construction, and the Sony G Master confirms this strategy.
Under this aspect the 24-70mm is impeccable. Its rugged and strong feel gives a sensation of absolute solidity. Sensation that is confirmed by the facts.
The aperture ring gives back a proper feel, not too loose and not too hard. I also find that the presence of the button to hold the focusing that can be pressed with the thumb of the left hand is great. I have never understood why this accessory has always been a prerogative of telephoto lenses.
Lets move on to the lens hood. Those who have been reading my articles for some time know just how much attention I give to this accessory which is oftentimes underestimated. I find that the lens hood is fundamental for two reason. The first, is the most obvious one, to avoid the entrance of undesired rays of light that could ruin the picture. The second is that the lens hood is also a shield against accidental bumps and falls of our precious instruments. Even in this case Sony has done an excellent job. Minimal bulk, maximum effectiveness.


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/100, f/8, Iso 100

Another positive note is the block of the zoom's excursion which can be activated when transporting the lens in a bag. In reality I feel that this solution has been been deemed necessary due to a characteristic of this lens that has left me rather perplexed. When passing from 24mm to greater focal lengths the area of the lens that comes out from the barrel becomes rather relevant. Now... it certainly isn't the increase in size that worries me as much as the fact that such a great part of the lens protrudes from the barrel that could, in case of an accidental bump, cause a misalignment of the optical group. Naturally this is only an impression that I got and has not, for the moment, proven to be true. But experience teaches me that lenses that adopt such solutions have more chances or being prone to these type of problems.
Have you ever heard of discrepancies in performance of the same lens between one lens and another? It is said that this is due to several reasons: poor quality control, tolerances that are too high and other hypothesis that are more or less realistic. The fact is that most of the time its a question of the alignment of the optical group. And the misalignment of the optical group is, most of the time, caused by accidental bumps. If the lens is not well built,  even a bump that could occur during transportation while the lens is in the box, could be enough to damage it. If the lens is well built then this can happen when an important section of the lens is out of the barrel.
I repeat... I have no element that could make me assume that this could happen to this lens, its just one of my reflections.


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/125, f/2.8, Iso 12800


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/125, f/2.8, Iso 12800


Field Test
I had great expectations for the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM ever since the announcement of its presentation.
For me the 24-70 f2.8 (or 16-55 in the case of an APSc sensor) represents the “working” lens by definition.  Its a versatile lens that, if  one accepts a few compromises, is perfect for a very wide range of photographic situations. When  getting ready for work its the first lens that I have always placed in my bag regardless of the brand and model of the system used during my professional career.
Once mounted on the A7RII the  Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM it takes a bit of time to get accustomed to the “visual contrast” between the bulkiness of the lens and the compactness of the body.
In practice however one does not feel any imbalance. I habitually use my left hand to clutch heavy equipment, therefore from my point of view a CSC with a lens as described above will always feel more comfortable compared to a D810 or another reflex of the same category.
Anyhow lets not lose ourselves in chitchat, lets start shooting. I have already highlighted that 24-70 mm F2.8 in general is the lens that best represent the compromise between versatility and performance. They are probably the most difficult lenses to design. Making a wide angle coexist with a the small telephoto in the same lens is certainly not an easy task. And if to this we add a high level of luminosity (high considering that its a variable focal length lens) we can understand how difficult it is to make these type of lenses.
The first compromise is tied to the distortion. Even the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM does not dodge this rule. Its nothing particularly noteworthy nor extremely excessive as what we witnessed with the Sony FE 24-70 mm f/4 ZA OSS Vario Tessar T*. Lets say that we are aligned with the performance offered by other lenses that are present on the market of the same category.
The second is tied to the resolution that is not always constant with the focal range that is being used. Under this aspect I feel that the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM is surely one of the best “normal” zoom lens for Full Frames. Not only this. The level of clarity is high even using very open diaphragms. Resolving at 42MP is not a joke, and under this prospective Sony has pleasantly surprised me.


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/15, f/13, Iso 100




Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/2000, f/2.8, Iso 125

Lets pass on to the bokeh.
One of the great advantages of prime lenses, compared to zoom lenses is that they (usually) deliver a more structured, creamy and progressive bokeh. In other words a nice bokeh.
High end zooms try to do what they can, and unless we are after something close to science fiction (but if that's the case then why not choose a prime lens from the start), they do their job in a more than dignified manner. Obviously making examples using all the focal lengths and all the apertures becomes complex and difficult.
If you have trust in me then in broad terms I can say that the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM is capable of producing a decent bokeh. To make up for this, the images captured with this lens deliver a strong sensation of three dimensionality.


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/80, f/2.8, Iso 1600

Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/125, f/2.8, Iso 10000


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/125, f/2.8, Iso 12800

Lets pass on to the auto-focus.
Here the discussion becomes a bit more complicated. First of all one must understand which merits and which demerits should be attributed to the lens and which to the camera. These two aspects are tightly bonded to one another.  During the summer, Sony released a new firmware for the Sony A7RII. The 3.30 to be precise. I still have not been able to study in depth the improvements that have been made with this release, therefore my considerations will be based principally on the work done using the firmware 3.20.
In situations in which the lighting is not complex, the auto-focus does not put down the expectations. Fast and precise, the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM is capable of offering performances that are worthy of high end lenses. With the correct settings on the camera, even the continuous focusing does not seem to have uncertainties that are noteworthy.
As the lighting becomes more complex, some uncertainties start to appear. Nothing dramatic, but from a pair up of a lens and camera whose market value goes above 5,500 euros one must expect perfection.  This is the reason why I am always rather fussy and meticulous when I write about Sony products compared to other brands. Seeing that the market prices of its products are on the high or very high market range, there are no excuses that justify any imperfection.


Sony G Master FE 24-70 mm F2,8 - 1/4000, f/2.8, Iso 1250

To round it up,
The Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM is the lens that was missing. The expectations were high and I must admit that as far as the photographic delivery and the global quality are concerned the performance is of a very high level. A lens that coupled with the Sony A7RII is capable of delivering images that rarely can be replicated using equipment from other brands. Some uncertainties however remain from an operative point of view that still must be fine tuned. Fortunately Sony understood that to obtain customer loyalty, its more important to release firmware fixes rather than to churn out one new camera after the other. And the frequency of firmware releases make the future seem bright.

Very high global image quality produced by the Sony A7RII
Image three dimensionality
Auto-focus precision and speed (single and continuous) in good light situations.
Button for the auto-focus hold
Lens hood

Excessive excursion of the section that protrudes from the barrel.
Some uncertainties of the auto-focus (single and continuous) in critical lighting situations.

SONY FE 85mm f/1.4 GM

Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/6400, f/1.4, Iso 125


85mm and 35mm are two focal lengths that I particularly adore.
My equipment has always had both an 85mm and a 35mm. More precisely an 85mm and 35 f/1.4.
This said you can understand my joy when the announcement of this lens had been made. Until that moment my solution for an 85mm f/1.4 on the Sony was that to mount the Zeiss Otus 85 f/1.4 with an adapter.
Ok Ok... I admit... mounting the best lens in the world to the Sony A7RII is surely not to be considered a make-shift solution. But one thing is true... bringing around a manual lens that weighs, and is as cumbersome as an adult wild boar is not always an optimal solution.
In any case I must reveal a small anecdote. This is the second sample of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM that I try. The first one had clear limits in the focusing and made a strange metallic sound.
I had abstained from writing about this as a sign of honesty.
Some time passed and new firmwares were released and I received a new sample of this lens.
OK... this one functioned well.


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/6400, f/1.4, Iso 125


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/6400, f/1.4, Iso 125

The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM is really well constructed. Generally speaking what I have written about the Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM is valid here as well. The rings are fluid and precise. The choice of inserting a focus hold  button is great, just as I find impeccable the diaphragm ring and the command to deactivate the “click” in case of its use during filming.
The lens hood is beautiful. It seems that its made with a rubbery material and lined on the inside with an anti-reflex materials.
There is no point in going on... This lens is surely one of the best lenses that have ever been built as far as the construction is concerned.


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/8000, f/1.4, Iso 125


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/8000, f/1.4, Iso 125


On the field
Ready? Go! With the new firmwares the lens has finally become silent and the auto-focus functions have improved substantially. There is certainly more that can be done.
When the light goes down, one senses one too many uncertainties. Just like when shooting against the light; at times the slowness with which the lens tries repeatedly to focus becomes nerve-racking.
I'm sure that its just a question of fine tuning something regarding how the lens interacts with the camera. For the moment we can only wait for a new firmware release.

Another issue is that of the image quality. Here there is absolutely nothing to be improved.

The Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM goes straight to the target without compromises towards the high end of the market and its results give it all the reasons to do so.
Its clear that behind this lens a great effort was made to align itself to the what Cannon and Nikon offer. Under this aspect the quality of the image that is delivered can satisfy even the most demanding photographers.
I don't want to linger on the single characteristics. As always I prefer that the pictures do the talking.
Then again, already at full aperture the lens is able to deliver excellent results under all aspects, especially as far as the quality of the bokeh and three dimensionality of the image are concerned.


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/1600, f/2, Iso 125


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/1600, f/2, Iso 125


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,7 - 1/3200, f/2, Iso 125

Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/1600, f/2, Iso 125


To recap
The Sony FE85mm f/1.4 GM is an extremely refined lens as far as construction and image delivery. Some uncertainties remain as far as the focusing goes, in scarce or difficult lighting conditions. Uncertainties that should be soon resolved with the introduction of new firmwares.
This is a pity seeing the high performance levels that this lens reaches under the aspects of image dellivery when paired up with the Sony A7RII make it reach the vertex of lenses that are destined for portrait use.


Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/8000, f/2, Iso 125

Very high global image quality produced by the Sony A7RII
Image three dimensionality
Focus hold button
Lens hood

Slowness of the auto-focus when used in non-optimal lighting conditions


Final Considerations

Sony G Master FE 85 mm F1,4 - 1/5000, f/1.6, Iso 125


Its without a doubt that Sony wants to impose itself in the high end market range. Basically offering an alternative to the Nikon's and Cannon's Full Frames and to gain market segments of reflex systems.
The Sony G Master have been thought out for these reasons.
They are modern lenses, and as such, aim to achieve maximum image delivery that the market requires but at the same time winking an eye to the actual review methods that principally aim at reaching the maximum grades in the various MTF measurements, diagrams, percentages and things along these lines. Surely this is the correct way to conquer market sectors. A market that requires impeccable lenses... cold impeccable lenses.
But... allow me to go upstream. I have abandoned reflex systems for the simple reason that they had become standardized. Without a doubt, impeccable systems, but without any personality.
The Sony FE 24-70 mm F2.8 GM, for example, leaving aside the work that must be done to fine tune the auto-focus, is without a doubt destined to becoming a reference lens and a forbidden dream for many photographers.
And yet, if I compare the shots taken with those of the “very humble” Sony Vario-Tessar T*FE 24-70 F4, I feel a bit of regret in not finding the same “taste”. The Vario-Tessar T*FE 24-70 F4 is a lens that is full of defects, but is able to deliver a tonal passage and a general equilibrium that is very difficult to find in products offered by its direct competitors.

There... Sony G Master are just like the high end lenses of Nikon and Canon... if not better. For me however, whether the Sony lenses are better than those of Nikon or Cannon, is not something that particularly interests me. What I would like is that they be different.
But this is obviously a completely personal consideration, a consideration that will surely remain a drop in the ocean of the appreciations that Sony has received for the path taken.
Obviously, all of this in a hopeful expectation that other performances, not tied solely to the image quality, are also elevated to the level that lenses of this caliber require.


Special thanks to Ilaria Brandaglia for the great dedication and professionalism.

A big thanks to Pino
, Miriam e Gioele Catalano, Jacopo Bruni, Luca e Fabrizio, Daniele e Miriam Rufino.