A Sony FE 24-70mm. Again.

Yup, it’s my second sample. I got my first sample a few months ago and put it up for sale after a week because it was unsharp at the right edge in the middle of the zoom range. More precisely, it had a sharp inward curvature of field there: details at the right edge were sharp when they were much closer than a feature focussed on in the central region. The picture below was taken at 41mm and f/8. Click on it for a full-resolution image and check in the lower right corner where details are sharp while I focussed on the leaves of the tree in the mid-upper region. Kind of funny but not useable for me when I do this type of shots.

As I have this lens for its middle range I decided I didn’t want to live with that and out it went.

But not having it frustrated me as I really like its zoom range and general image quality, especially its punchy contrast and vivid colors. I tested a few samples in nearby stores but wasn’t convinced that these were very good and I didn’t really want to pay list price either. It seems like there’s a sort of mutual understanding between all shops in The Netherlands to use list price, € 1199 at this time. In Germany it’s somewhat below € 1000! I settled for another used sample that I tested before buying. It turned out that this one wasn’t great at 70mm, another case of curvature of field, but this time it bends outward especially at the left edge, meaning that features farther out are almost sharp as in the center region.

Check out the blue paint at the left, it’s almost as sharp as the rusty white pump features in the middle. This phenomenon is practically eliminated at around 55mm and below so that’s not an issue for me.

Image quality

The fact that I went through testing a total of 6 different samples and getting a second one says something about how much I want this lens. Reviewers generally don’t like it and I can see why. It’s indeed unsharp in edges and corners at 24mm, so much so you really don’t want to do landscapes or cityscapes with it. My sample is OK between say 35mm and 55mm, just about good enough for this type of shots. At 70mm it’s alright, provided you stop down to at least f/5.6 and don’t count on a flat field. I can live with these shortcomings because I also have the FE 16-35mm and 70-200mm, so it really comes down to me how the FE 24-70mm performs in its middle range between 40 and 60mm. It’s of course great as a snapshot lens on its own with its convenient zoom range and excellent image quality on the focus point; just put the focus point on your subject, don’t focus in the center and recompose. A flat field is hardly a concern there, but bokeh quality is. I’m not very picky on it, but the bokeh can be a bit ugly in the foreground, background is better.

I was planning to also include a comparison between using Live view settings ON or OFF for this lens on the A7, meaning to show that it’s better to set it to ON. However, upon revisiting the comparisons I find it very difficult to really come to a conclusion, even though I set up a test on a tripod with OSS off. Let’s just say it’s worth to experiment with it because there can be subtle differences. Manual focus is the ultimate resort for best results, if you have the time of course. I’d have to do a lot more testing to find out if there’s an interaction between not having a flat field and focus shift. With OSS enabled you get another variable that randomly influences the results.

Is it overpriced?

That’s hard to say because in my opinion there isn’t any really comparable alternative. The Sony FE 28-70mm? I had it and sold it because it seemed to throw a grey veil over every picture. A lot cheaper though and equivalent in terms of sharpness according to many, although I didn’t like my copy for it. The Sony FE 24-240mm? Image quality is less but its price is too and its range is great of course. I’ve only seen internet sample pictures so I can’t really judge if contrast and colors are in the same league, my guess is they’re not. The Sony A-mount 24-70/2.8? More than twice as expensive and needs an adapter to get fast AF. Heavier and bigger as well. Other brands? Mostly heavier and bigger and slow autofocus at best, although that last point may change for the better with the upcoming A7R Mark II.
Compared to the FE 16-35mm you might say it’s overpriced. The FE 16-35mm is generally considered a better lens and I agree, and it’s a wide-angle lens with a relatively large zoom range.

On a side note, I’m very glad that Sony decided to stick to f/4 for the FE premium zoom lenses, I can just about carry the 3 zooms in a sling bag, my back would certainly not tolerate the extra weight of f/2.8 versions. And a 2.8 version would be a lot pricier too.

So far, so good

I’ve been using my second copy for a week now and so far I haven’t really had any failures that can be attributed to lens defects, apart from an instance where I used it at 24mm thinking it wouldn’t be a problem. Fortunately it wasn’t a keeper, but next time I’ll switch to the FE 16-35mm for a similar type of shot.

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