Along with the A6300 mirrorless camera, Sony today also announced three professional-grade lenses for the full-frame FE mount, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM, Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and two 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters. Because of the premium nature of these lenses, Sony gave these lenses a new “G Master” (GM) label; which is basically one step above the current “G Series” lenses. All these lenses are fully designed by Sony engineers, have advanced optical formulas, coating technologies and other advancements that are designed specifically for Sony’s A7-series full-frame cameras, and as a result, also have rather steep price tags. Since many DSLR shooters have been staying away from the Sony full-frame mirrorless line due to the absence of truly professional f/1.4 and f/2.8 lenses, Sony decided to address that gap with the GM-series lenses. Looks like this is the first step and more GM lenses will follow in the future. Let’s take a look at these lenses in more detail and see what they have to offer.
When Sony initially launched its A7-series cameras, it only offered slower f/1.8 and f/4 lenses to keep the marketing appeal of “smaller and lighter” mirrorless system. Overtime, the company realized that professional photographers wanted to shoot with equivalent gear if they were to change their camera systems, which Sony did not even offer. The new GM-series lenses were specifically designed to address those needs – now the Sony FE mount has both f/2.8 and f/4 versions of the most popular and most used zoom lenses among professionals, the 24-70mm and 70-200mm. Despite the superb Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 offering, the new FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens aims even higher to conquer the needs of portrait photographers who want to shoot those dreamy portraits at f/1.4. And with the super fast Sony A6300 AF system, there is a dire need to provide long focal length options for sports and wildlife photographers, which is why the company also decided to launch two teleconverters designed specifically for lenses like the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM
Targeted specifically for portrait photographers, the new Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM looks like a phenomenal lens that might potentially outresolve and outperform most other 85mm f/1.4 lenses on the market. I know, it sounds like a bold claim, but if you take a look at what Sony has done with the design of the lens, you will realize that it is a step above of what we have previously seen from any other brand.
Why would I say this? There are several reasons why I believe this may be one of the best 85mm primes we have seen to date. First, Sony was brave enough to use an aspherical lens as part of the design. As you may already know, while aspherical lenses are great for addressing spherical aberration and thus increasing the overall resolving power of the lens, they are also a curse – they introduce those ugly, onion-shaped bokeh patterns to images. Because of this, Nikon completely excluded an aspherical element from its design on the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lens, which indeed resulted in very pleasing bokeh, at the expense of resolution. Sony claims that it found a solution to the problem – apparently, the new “extreme aspherical” lens elements are designed differently than traditional aspherical elements, with 0.01 micron surface precision. Take a look at the below illustration provided by Sony:
The first bokeh shape is the onion-shaped bokeh that I talked about earlier – that’s what typically happens on lenses that utilize such elements. The below shape shows what Sony was able to achieve with the “extreme aspherical” lens element, which makes the bokeh shape appear much smoother in comparison.
Thanks to this aspherical element, the resolution of the 85mm f/1.4 GM lens looks stunning. Just take a look at the below MTF chart and compare it to the one from Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G:
If you don’t know how to interpret the above graphs, take a look at my detailed guide on how to read MTF charts. Basically, the above graphs illustrate both lenses at their wide open aperture. The red line represents contrast, while the blue line represents resolution. As you can see from the MTF charts (which are computer-simulated, but still should be fairly close to reality), the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM appears to have both better contrast and better resolution characteristics at f/1.4 when compared to the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. In addition, its resolution does not seem to be greatly impacted towards the corners, with only a slight drop, which is remarkable! The Nikkor is also excellent, but not anywhere close to what we see from the Sony.
So it is pretty clear that Sony was able to achieve some amazing results with this lens design. Sony has not yet provided good image samples that we could look at to assess the bokeh, but based on a couple of image samples, it appears to be very smooth and creamy. Here is one image sample that I could find:
Not a high resolution image, but still shows pretty smooth bokeh in the highlights. If it turns out to be as good as the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G while providing much more resolution, it will be a hot lens for sure.
And by the way, part of the reason why bokeh on this lens is supposed to be outstanding (even at smaller apertures), is because Sony is using a diaphragm with 11 rounded blades! That’s pretty crazy – this is the first time I see a standard lens using 11 aperture blades (commonly, it is either 7 or 9 blades).
The only gripe is its price – at $1,800 (B&H Photo Video), it is not a cheap lens to buy!
Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
Those who have been reading PL know how much I don’t like the original Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 OSS lens. When ranking Sony FE lenses in my best Sony FE lenses article, I put that one to the bottom of the list, because of how awful that lens looks when compared to other Sony FE lenses. I really don’t understand how Zeiss even let its name be slapped on that lens, because it certainly does not deserve it! By the way, if you are confused how Sony uses the Zeiss name, you should understand that Sony/Zeiss lenses are NOT designed by Zeiss engineers. Sony’s lens engineers (ex Minolta people) design lenses, then send the design proposals to Zeiss for evaluation. If Zeiss approves, Sony slaps on that Zeiss tag on the lens and sells it. Zeiss gets a share of the game / royalties, while Sony gets to use the Zeiss name, so it is a win-win for both companies. Always keep in mind that Sony/Zeiss designs have very little to do with the real Zeiss we know and trust. But please don’t confuse these lenses with the real Zeiss-brand lenses, like Zeiss Loxia, Batis, Otus, etc – those are real Zeiss lenses which are designed by Zeiss in Germany and manufactured by Cosina in Japan (Zeiss no longer makes mainstream lenses in Germany).
So anyway, back on to the Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f/4: that was one bad lens! I have tried a number of different samples of that lens and every time I saw the same terrible and uneven performance. That lens is plagued with all kinds of optical problems, from nasty distortion and uneven sharpness across the frame, to really bad decentering issues – I found QA to be totally unacceptable. Without a solid 24-70mm lens, Sony was really shooting itself in the foot.
Now we have the brand new Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and this one looks like a real beauty. At 886 grams this is almost as heavy as the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G lens and with its steep price of $2,200, it is fairly close to the new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt!
However, once you factor in all the advancements that Sony incorporated into this lens, you will realize why Sony wants to charge so much for it. First of all, this lens has a fairly complex optical design with 18 elements in 13 groups. That’s short of 2 elements when compared to the new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. Out of those 18 elements, 3 are aspherical (1 of which is “extreme aspherical” element I talked about above), one ED and one Super ED. Some of the lens elements are coated with Sony’s special “Nano AR Coating”, which is similar to Nikon’s Nano coating technology to reduce flare and ghosting. The front element is rather massive, resulting in superior overall performance and reduced vignetting, which also translate to a large 82mm filter thread. But the real beauty is in the MTF charts:
Now hop on over to the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR page and compare the MTF at both 24mm and 70mm. The Sony looks a bit better at 24mm and much better at 70mm. While I absolutely love the performance of the new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR (see my preview), this one appears to be better overall, which is hard to imagine. And its performance at f/8 looks pretty darn good too, especially at 70mm. It is a bit early to judge the performance of the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM just by looking at MTF charts, but I do have a concern with the meridional line dropping towards the corner at 24mm @ f/8, which is indicative of astigmatism. I wonder how that’s going to impact the overall sharpness at the corners – that’s something I’m definitely planning to test when I receive the lens.
Overall, it looks like a major step in the right direction for Sony. Yes, it is a beast and yes it is expensive, but for those who want the best out of the Sony A7R II sensor, this might be the lens to get for landscape and architecture photography needs…
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS
Now let’s take a look at the new Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS. Personally, I really like the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens – it is a very sharp and very capable lens, especially once stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller. So what does this lens offer that the f/4 version cannot deliver?
First of all, it is one stop brighter: f/2.8 vs f/4. That one stop gives more ability to separate subjects from the background and deliver that beautiful out of focus rendering – something pros always want to see in their pictures. Second, the design of the lens is totally different when compared to its f/4 brother. While the total number of lens elements only went up by 2, comprising of a total of 23 lens elements in 18 groups vs 21 elements in 15 groups on the f/4 version, we are now dealing with larger and higher quality glass elements. There are a total of 6 ED and Super ED glass elements, one extreme aspherical lens element and two regular aspherical lens elements – a total of 9 special elements.
All this results in pretty impressive-looking MTF charts:
Which again look great when compared to the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II counterpart, especially at 200mm. Nikon did not risk to use apsherical lens elements as part of its design in order to keep bokeh smooth, whereas Sony decided to use a total of 3 aspherical lens elements! That’s a pretty bold move, but Sony seems to be confident with its “extreme aspherical” element not impacting bokeh negatively. Just like the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM, this one also utilizes an 11 rounded blade diaphragm, so those out of focus highlights should look really good even when stopped down. We will have to see…
Lastly, Sony equipped this lens with a very fast AF optimized for both stills and video shooting and provided other must-have features like lens-based image stabilization and weather sealing. Although the pricing of the lens has not yet been announced, I bet it won’t be cheap! If it is indeed a performance monster, and especially if the lens works very well with the 2x teleconverter, we might be looking at a $3K lens. I hope Sony finds a way to price the lens lower, since high price tag will definitely negatively impact those who want to switch systems.
Sony FE 1.4x and 2.0x Teleconverters
Aside from some very basic information, Sony has not provided much details about these two teleconverters. At this time, they only work with the above-mentioned Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens and hopefully Sony will be adding more longer lens options in the future. You can find some info, along with lens construction and other info in the appropriate pages of our lens database:
Both TCs utilize one aspherical lens as part of lens construction. Pricing has not been announced yet, but it will probably be in the $400-700 range for each.
Overall, these lenses are definitely a step in the right direction. Sony’s biggest weakness of the mirrorless system has been lenses and if Sony makes more attractive lenses like the ones above, it will surely eat more of the market share away from other competitors.