The versatility of the 70-300mm focal length makes it highly adaptable for a range of photographic applications but designing a lens with a wide focal range that offers stellar image quality is a genuine challenge. Fresh off reviewing Sony’s excellent 100-400mm G-Master lens, I was keen to find out just how well the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS performed in comparison. In short, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS can’t reach the same lofty heights of the G-Master lens, but it’s a highly competent performer.
In the center of the frame, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS is impressively sharp throughout the entirety of its focal range. At 70mm and f/4.5, the sharpness characteristics are nothing short of excellent. The center of the frame is already very sharp, and the quality in the periphery is quite decent. Stopping down to f/5.6 noticeably improves the overall sharpness throughout the entirety of the frame with the center now tack sharp, and the corners are now on a very good level. The corners improve a bit at f/8, but the center of the frame reaches peak sharpness at the f/5.6 setting.
Zooming out to 200mm only slightly impacts the overall performance though now the maximum aperture is f/5.6. At 200mm and f/5.6, the center of the frame is a bit weaker than at the 70mm setting, but sharpness remains very high indeed. Performance in the corners of the frame is quite decent at f/5.6 with a slight improvement at f/8. At the 200mm setting, the corners never reach truly outstanding levels of sharpness but are nonetheless highly usable.
Zooming out to 300mm sees the sharpness take a marked dip though this is mainly seen in the corners of the frame. At 300mm and f/5.6, the center of the frame remains sharp but stopping down to f/8 improves things with sharpness now on a high level. Unfortunately, sharpness in the corners of the frame at the 300mm setting is quite poor at f/5.6. Things do improve at f/8, but the corners remain unimpressive and never reach a high level at the 300mm focal length.
Typical example of sharpness on the wider end at f/5.6:
Typical example of sharpness at 300mm and f/5.6:
Typical example of sharpness on the wider end at f/7.1:
Typical example of sharpness at 300mm at f/8:
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 around 3-stops worth of image stabilization which is quite typical for Sony’s FE lenses.
Zoom lenses of this type are not usually known for the quality of their bokeh, but the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS delivers reasonable performance. The most significant area of weakness is in the rendition of out-of-focus highlights whose discs are very busy with a pronounced “onion ring” effect. Thankfully, the lens delivers a relatively smooth blur in areas of focus transition, with this especially noteworthy in the bokeh of foreground areas.
The lens exhibits a moderate amount of vignetting of around 1.5 stops at the extreme ends of the range and a wide-open aperture. Stopping the lens by one stip resolves most of the corner darkening.
Thanks to Sony’s Nano AR Coatings, the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS does an excellent job of handling flare for a lens of this type. If you try hard enough, it’s possible to induce some flare when shooting with difficult light angles, but overall, the Sony lens does a very nice job in how it handles flaring.
Modern lenses have become increasingly good at mitigating chromatic aberration, and the Sony lens is well corrected in this regard, showing little lateral chromatic aberration. This is especially true for the frame center where it is virtually nonexistent. The corners of the frame show a higher degree of chromatic aberration (especially at the 300mm setting), but even at its worst, the performance is very good indeed.
You can clearly see the chromatic aberration (green colored) where the water meets the coastline. You can also see hints of magenta colored chromatic aberration along the rocks on the shore.
There is a limited number of options in the FE lens lineup which can compete with the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS with the two most obvious options being the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS and Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lenses.
Released alongside the original Sony A7 series, the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS was for many years the only telephoto zoom lens option available for the FE mount. The FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is very well built yet lightweight, very sharp and has a good focusing system. Compared to the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS, it features better sharpness in the corners, a one-stop aperture advantage and offers a slightly better build quality. Nonetheless, the loss of 100mm at the telephoto end is a big deal and while the two lenses share a similar price point I find that they are not genuinely comparable, with FE 70-200mm f/4 G a more landscape and street photography oriented lens whereas the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G proves the better all-around nature and travel photography lens.
Another possible comparison for the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5G OSS is the much pricier Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens. As part of Sony’s G-master lens lineup, the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens offers excellent build quality, excellent overall sharpness, and very strong focusing performance. While the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS delivers good image quality, the two lenses aren’t truly comparable in this regard as the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM delivers one of the best sharpness performances at the 300mm focal length setting of any of the f/5.6 max aperture telephoto zoom lenses currently on the market. The G-Master lens also features a better build quality, handling and focusing performance. If you can afford it, the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM is an excellent lens that outperforms the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS in almost every way. In the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS favor is its noticeably smaller size and weight compared to the FE 100-400mm GM lens which makes it a lot easier to fit into smaller camera bags and to carry around all day.
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