As a sports shooter, telephoto lenses are bread and butter lenses. For most of my sports work, I prefer being in the water with a water-housing and a wide-angle, but there are some occasions where I don’t have that luxury.
With the Sony lens line-up, the choices for telephoto zooms provided limited options for an extended period.
Initially, there was the Sony 70-200mm, and then came the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM, along with some third party options if you used adapters.
Recently, Sony also extended this line-up to include two new telephoto primes, the 400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4, along with the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G.
Today we’re focusing on the land where most of us mere mortals live, one without gold-plated budgets, to review the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM.
Table of Contents
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Specs
- Image Quality
- No barrel extension lock
- No Arca foot
- Focal Length: 100-400mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/4.5-5.6
- Minimum Aperture: f/32-f40
- Number of blades: 9
- Optics: 22 Elements in 16 Groups
- Special coatings: Two ED, one super ED element. Fluorine-coated front element
- Minimum focus: 0.98 m (38.58″)
- Weight: 1395 g (3.08 lb)
- Dimensions: Diameter 94 mm (3.7″) and Length 205 mm (8.07″)
- Filter thread: 77mm
Build & Ergonomics
The Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM comes packaged with the usual Apple-like aesthetics.
Inside the box, you find the lens, hood, a nice padded case and the usual assortment of manuals and warranty documents.
The construction of the lens is excellent. It’s lightweight but feels robust enough to handle knocks.
I’m a big fan of the white lens look – I missed having it when I was a Nikon user. I’d stare longingly at the Canon users wishing I could have white lenses. Now with Sony, I get them.
I’m not sure whether it’s less prone to scratches, but it does seem to look newer for longer. I’ve had it for a year, and it still looks the same as I did when I purchased it.
Sony provides controls for autofocus/manual focus, range limiting (0-3m vs full), Optical Steady Shot on/off and two optical steady shot modes. These modes allow the user to differentiate between general OIS (1) vs panning (2).
The hood includes a slide to allow you to rotate a filter and has rubber bumpers to ensure that knocks don’t damage the lens.
As with any lens, the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 is not perfect.
Given the recent release dates, I’m surprised that Sony failed to provide an Arca lens foot. I can’t fathom why camera manufacturers would still be putting out lens feet without some form of tripod attachment built-in.
If they are worried about the Manfrotto vs Arca problem, at least an Arca plate would rule out the requirement for 50% of their customers to buy a lens plate.
Sony provides a tightening ring to prevent the barrel from extending, rather than providing an extension lock. It isn’t firm enough to hold the lens in place, which results in the lens creeping while you are carrying it.
Most users would expect stellar autofocus performance from the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM, and they will not be disappointed.
The lens performs as expected, and I haven’t found many situations where I’ve been left wanting more performance from the lens.
Having tested it with animals, I would say it doesn’t quite match the performance of a traditional 70-200mm f/2.8, but it’s good enough that the difference isn’t overly noticeable.
With an aperture of f/4.5-5.6, it’s not the type of lens that is suited to indoor sports. In low light (evening), it hunts more, but I find the issue of high ISO’s hurting image quality kicks in well before the AF performance issue.
Not everyone will be capturing action in low light. However, anyone shooting much lower shutter speeds than 1/12800 and 1/250 is unlikely to be sitting with high-speed AF requirements.
The image stabiliser on the Sony is very useful, even when working in conjunction with Sony’s onboard sensor image stabiliser.
Many people have indicated the need to switch off the stabiliser when shooting at high speed or on tripods, but I haven’t experienced any issues with this to date.
Lenses generally don’t get the red G label in Sony’s lineup unless their performance and the image quality, in this case, is very high.
Not only is the image quality of the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6high, but it’s high the entire way through the range. This includes 400mm, which is normally a weak point for these kinds of lenses.
While centre sharpness is fantastic, corner sharpness isn’t as impressive, although still strong for a lens of this zoom range.
Comparisons on DXOmark show that the Sony surpasses it’s Canon equivalent by a substantial margin.
Chromatic aberration is present but not excessive. Vignetting is noticeable but within expected ranges and easily corrected in post-processing.
While it may not be the intended purpose of the lens, the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM offers a fair amount of versatility as a landscape and portrait lens.
I’m not a landscape shooter, so if you’re looking for pretty landscapes, I’m probably not the right one to give them.
While not as good as a dedicate portrait lens, I find the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM still useful for event portraits. It allows you the flexibility to maintain your distance from people but still capture the emotion of the moment.
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Sample Images
Check out these sample images taken with the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM:
Value for Money
The pricing on the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM is around $2,500.
By comparison, the Nikon (Nikkor 80-400mm) and the Canon equivalent are $300 less.
Both models are older than the Sony – the Nikon was released in 2013, and the Canon was released in 2014.
I suspect the competition has pushed Nikon and Canon’s pricing down with multiple options available from Sigma and Tamron.
Outside of the native Sony lens, there aren’t any telephoto zooms without using an adapter, so I would be interested to see if pricing changes if or when Tamron or Sigma release telephoto zooms for FE mount.
Compared to the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G
I often see the question raised on the 100-400mm and 200-600mm along with questions about comparing image quality or sharpness.
With all due respect to anyone reading this, if you’re looking at sharpness to make a decision, you’re headed in the wrong direction. It’s not a sharpness test and it never should be.
The choice between these two lenses is simple:
- If you need 100mm, get the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM
- If you need 600mm and don’t need 100mm, get the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G
- If you need 100mm and 600mm, get the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM and the Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter
Weight might be a factor for some, with the
Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM Review | Conclusion
There isn’t a lot to say about the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. It’s a very impressive lens, and when it comes to finding faults, you have to nitpick.
Optically, it’s outstanding compared to its Nikon and Canon counterparts. The construction is excellent, and the autofocus is amazing. That is the trifecta for a lens of this type.
The only reason not to buy this lens comes down to whether the 70-200 or 200-600 focal length is more suited to the type of photography you do.