The versatility of the 24-105mm focal length makes it highly popular with a range of photographers but designing a lens with such a wide focal range that offers stellar image quality is a genuine challenge. Naturally, I was keen to find out if the new Sony 24-105mm f/4 lens would meet my high expectations and the good news is that it’s wonderfully sharp.
The FE Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G is impressively sharp throughout the entirety of its focal range. At 24mm at f/4, the sharpness characteristics are nothing short of outstanding and are only let down by the extreme amount of vignetting at this setting. The center of the frame is tack sharp, and the quality in the periphery is also very good. You gain a little extra sharpness in the center of the frame when stopping down, but the already good corners noticeably improve from f/4 to f/5.6 and again down to f/8. The reality is that at 24mm and f/5.6, the sharpness of this lens is genuinely optimal and impossible to fault for a standard zoom lens of this type.
Zooming to 35mm does impact the performance a bit. At f/4, the lens isn’t quite as good as before in the center of the frame, but overall sharpness is still very high. The periphery of the frame takes a big step back at this setting, but just one stop down at f/5.6 the corners are again on a very good level.
A similar performance is found at the 70mm setting. At f/4, the center of the frame remains at a very high level with the corners of the frame catching up by f/5.6. Frequently, 24-105mm lens designs falter at the 105mm setting, but the Sony FE 24-105mm does not.
At 105mm and f/4, the center of the frame is still on a high level if a tad weaker than at all the other focal lengths with good to very good levels of sharpness. The periphery of the frame is quite weak at this setting but stopping down to f/5.6 again alleviates this problem, and here the corners are very good indeed.
Overall, the sharpness of the FE Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G is excellent in the center of the frame at all focal lengths, with the 105mm setting lagging behind a little. Sharpness in the periphery of the frame is also very good at all focal lengths just one stop down. Sharpness wise, the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G is the best 24-105mm full-frame lens I have tested, and the surprisingly consistent performance at all focal lengths truly stands out.
A unique element of Sony’s Mirrorless systems is that even though the cameras have IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization), many of their lenses also feature OSS (Optical SteadyShot). These two stabilization systems are complementary to one another and both work to give you 5-axis stabilization. Camera manufacturers usually provide the number of stops of assistance, but Sony does not specify one. Shooting handheld on the Sony A7III I managed to get quite sharp shots at the 24mm setting down to 1/8 of a second. Using a longer focal length magnifies motion and the keeper rate drops at the 105mm setting. Still, I managed to get consistently sharp shots at 1/20 of a second at this focal length. The below shot at 41mm and 1/10th of a second shows how you can achieve very sharp handheld shots at very low shutter speeds.
Lenses of this type are not usually known for the quality of their bokeh but the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS is quite solid in this regard. Out-of-focus highlights are rendered circular in shape, but the discs are relatively busy with a quite noticeable “onion ring” effect. This is not a portrait lens and the maximum aperture of f/4 is very limiting when it comes to subject isolation, but overall, the smoothness of the bokeh is quite decent.
The most noticeable optical flaw of the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS is in its handling of vignetting at the 24mm focal length setting where it is exorbitantly high. At this focal length and a wide-open aperture, the amount of far-corner darkening exceeds 5-stops. This is quite extraordinary and almost seems like an oversight on Sony’s part and a genuine design flaw. Stopping down to F/5.6 improves things but the darkening is still at around 4-stops of light. Sony bakes their auto-correction settings into their RAW files and when Sony’s profile is applied to the RAW file the amount of darkening at the 24mm setting lowers to a much more manageable one and a half stops of light. Thankfully, the excessive amount of vignetting displayed at the 24mm setting is virtually gone by 35mm when there is just over one stop of corner darkening. At 70mm and f/4, there is about 2 stops of darkening which lowers to less than one stop by f/5.6. A similar performance is seen at the 105mm setting.
With so many glass elements (17 in 14 groups) it isn’t surprising that the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS shows quite noticeable flaring with a bright light source in the frame. Sony’s Nano AR Coating does help things somewhat, but the flaring effect is significant. This performance is quite typical for a lens of this type and the effect is quite simple and predictable which makes it easier to find ways to work around it. This lens has 9 aperture blades, and thus, distant light sources captured with a narrow aperture show an 18-point star-like effect.
Modern lenses have become increasingly good at mitigating chromatic aberration and the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS shows very little lateral chromatic aberration. Longitudinal chromatic aberration or bokeh fringing is also relatively well controlled. This is especially noticeable at the wide end of the focal range where bokeh fringing is quite low. Things become more noticeable at 50mm and more so at 105mm but overall the FE 25-105mm f/4 G OSS does a lovely job of handling chromatic aberrations.
Given the popularity of this focal range, it is a bit surprising that until recently there were only three lens options in this range available for the FE mount.
Introduced alongside the original Sony A7 models, is the Sony FE 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS lens served as the kit-lens for the FE mount for many years. At only $499, the FE 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS is a relatively inexpensive option that offers solid sharpness in the center of the frame, weak corner performance alongside acceptable handling of vignetting and chromatic aberration in a small and lightweight plastic body. Compared to the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS, the Sony FE 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS is noticeably inferior in almost every department except for having significantly less vignetting at the wide end of its focal range. If you can’t afford the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS, the new Tamron FE 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD is a much better option compared to the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS.
A more sensible competitor to the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS is the Zeiss branded FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA lens. The FE 24-70mm f/4 OSS ZA lens was the first professional-grade standard zoom lens available for Sony’s mirrorless cameras and remains a solid if a flawed option. It’s less expensive, lighter in weight, and plenty sharp in the center of the frame but isn’t nearly as sharp in the corners at wider angles compared to the Sony 24-105mm lens. It’s also not very good at the 70mm setting when used wide open and has a relatively busy bokeh even by zoom lens standards. I would pass on the Zeiss branded offering as the Sony 24-105mm f/4 G OSS is a much better lens.
The Sony 24-70mm F/2.8 GM lens is also worthy of consideration even though its price tag is not in the same league as the Sony 24-105mm f/4 G lens. The FE 24-70mm F/2.8 GM is much bigger and heavier (224 g, though in hand it feels nearly twice as heavy), lacks image stabilization, and benefits from a one-stop aperture advantage. Optically, the two lenses are surprisingly similar with the G-Master lens offering better sharpness in the center of the frame. If you need the extra stop of light and don’t mind lugging it around your neck all day, the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens is an excellent option. Nonetheless, I find the FE 24-105mm f/4 G lens to be the better buy given how well it competes with the more expensive GM lens in almost every facet while offering a more useful zoom range and lighter weight.
The recently released Tamron FE 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD looks to be an exciting alternative to the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS. The new Tamron lens’s focal range is indeed more limited, but it does have a one-stop aperture advantage and a weather-sealed body at 2/3 of the price. We have yet to test the new Tamron lens but based on specifications alone; it promises to be a genuine alternative to the Sony offerings.
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