Photography / Hands-on Review

Hands-On Review: Sony 85mm + 24-70mm G Master Lenses Deliver Superb IQ

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The G Masters have finally arrived, and definitely deliver on their promises of outstanding sharpness, creamy bokeh, and durable, ergonomic construction. Starting off this new high-end series are the much desired FE 85mm f/1.4 GM and FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, each filling a gap in the professional lens lineup. And, thanks to Sony, we were given a set of these lenses to test.

Sony’s Perfect Portrait Prime

One thing definitely and sorely missing from Sony’s own E-mount lens line was a portrait-length prime. Some third-party options do exist, but Sony wanted to go straight to the top when it developed the FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. There’s just a look to super-fast telephotos that can’t be replicated, and it’s the reason optics like Canon’s EF 85mm f/1.2 II USM are so highly regarded. Fortunately, the Sony G Master lives up to those expectations and delivers incredible image quality.

a7R II with FE 85mm f/1.4 GM at f/1.4; 1/125 sec.; ISO 125

Of course, a lens of this style begs to be used wide open, where it was astoundingly sharp on the a7R II and, of course, has exceptionally shallow depth of field. There is a noticeable amount of chromatic aberration on high-contrast edges at f/1.4, but it was easily corrected in post and I wouldn’t necessarily consider it unexpected. It only gets better as you stop down, peaking at about f/4-5.6, where you will experience optimal performance. Vignetting is also very well controlled and flare is nonexistent.

a7R II with FE 85mm f/1.4 GM at f/1.4; 1/250 sec.; ISO 100

The main advantage of this lens, compared to many third-party options, is the native AF system. It benefits from all of Sony’s features, including Eye AF. It is okay when it comes to speed, but the lens is much slower than other native options. This is likely due to the use of an older, and louder, Linear SSM system to move the large elements precisely, as opposed to the Direct Drive SSM available in many current models.

a7R II with FE 85mm f/1.4 GM at f/1.4; 1/160 sec.; ISO 100

Operation is great, with a rubberized focus ring that acts much like you would expect a mechanically coupled lens to feel. The focus-by-wire system has been tweaked on these lenses to have a more natural feel and does not seem to ramp up or down in speed depending on how fast you turn it. This means that you can easily repeat focus moves with muscle memory, a vast improvement over other E-mount glass. Another bonus of the G Master series is the physical AF/MF switches and a programmable Fn button (defaults to Focus Hold). I personally set the button to activate Eye AF for natural and easy access to the setting during use.

a7R II with FE 85mm f/1.4 GM at f/1.4; 1/125 sec.; ISO 400

Another feature of the 85mm, specifically, is the integration of a physical aperture ring, which can be clicked or de-clicked with a switch, exactly like the kind we saw on the Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA. This makes it a stellar option for video shooters, as well as photographers, and seems to be a perfect pairing for 35mm shooters. Finally, there is a ton of attention put on the physical details of this lens, as you can see from a small ridge on the bottom of the lens. Since the lens is large, compared to the camera body, the ridge ensures that the lens’s aperture and focus rings are not lying directly on any surface when the camera is laid down.


The Professional’s Workhorse

You asked for a “professional” mid-range zoom, and now you have it, with the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM. While it may upset many who moved to mirrorless specifically for the size advantage, this G Master lens matches the optical quality of many of its peers. It also feels like a serious optic, with rubberized zoom and focus rings, along with an AF/MF switch and programmable Fn button. It is definitely going to be one of the must-have zoom lenses in any Sony professional’s bag.

a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM at 70mm; f/22; 1/13 sec.; ISO 100
a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/3.5; 1/640 sec.; ISO 100

This lens is sharp! The optical performance of this zoom and the 85mm make me really excited for what is coming next. Wide open, both these lenses impress with crisp, contrasty imagery. Distortion is really well controlled at both ends and vignetting, while definitely noticeable at the far corners of the tele end, was not a problem. It does get better stopped down, with a sweet spot around f/5.6-8.

a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM at 60mm; f/2.8; 1/2500 sec.; ISO 100

Autofocus was fast throughout the zoom range. But, while the manual focus ring does function much better than previous Sony E-mount lenses, the ring feels really loose. While the 85mm felt close to that of a truly mechanically coupled lens, the 24-70mm definitely betrays the lens’s focus-by-wire design.

a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM at 70mm; f/2.8; 1/125 sec.; ISO 800

A side note, since this lens wasn’t designed for video, is that my copy seemed to be close to parfocal. It wasn’t quite perfect but is perhaps good enough for run-and-gun work, meaning hybrid shooters can make great use of this lens, especially with the a7S and a7S II.

a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM at 70mm; f/2.8; 1/125 sec.; ISO 800

One thing is very clear from this release: Sony is listening to customers. This was among the many demanded lenses for the FE system and it definitely delivers, with excellent image quality and construction.

Benefits of Both Lenses

While the lenses themselves are very different, the G Master Series lenses share many features that make them really great options for Sony shooters. One of these benefits is the enhanced weather resistance, where the most noticeable addition is a rubberized gasket at the lens mount, which results in a tighter seal that should prevent water and dust from entering the camera. The lenses themselves feel very solidly built, and considering teardowns of other Sony glass, I would expect the sealing to be very good here, as well. In addition to the improvements to build quality, the lenses are larger. Some may see this as an affront to the mirrorless name but, for the most part, they handle very well and while definitely heavier, you have to understand the limitations of current lens designs.

a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM at 70mm; f/4; 1/500 sec.; ISO 100

An issue I ran into with firmware version 3.10 on the a7R II is that both of these lenses ignore the “Setting Effect” setting and always stop down during use, regardless of this being turned on or off. For those unfamiliar with this menu option, the camera defaults to a mode where it always stops down the lens during preview and composition—Setting Effect allows users to turn this off so that the lens functions more like that of a DSLR. I personally prefer this and was a bit annoyed that these lenses weren’t 100% functional, even with a firmware update. Hopefully, Sony will fix this in the next update.

a7R II with FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM at 31mm; f/6.3; 1/125 sec.; ISO 200

Overall, these lenses surprised and impressed with optical performance and build quality. The FE 85mm f/1.4 GM will definitely be one of the signature lenses of the system, and pairs quite perfectly with the 35mm f/1.4 that is already available. The FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is great in its own way, providing sharp imagery throughout the versatile range of focal lengths. And with the faster f/2.8 aperture, many demanding shooters will be happy. Sure, both of these lenses are quite large for the mirrorless design, but they aren’t designed to fit into the smaller and lighter arena. These lenses were developed to take on professional DSLR options where quality is more important than saving a few ounces.

17 Comments

I own the 24-70 Sony G Master lens, and am totally in love with it. Normally a die hard Zeiss man, this lens sure gives that brand a run for it's money. Well done Sony. I use a Sony A7R body, and even at 2500 ISO shooting live performances of musicians, I get images they love.

This lens is simply stunning!

With the A7Rii using Continuous Eye AF...the results just will blow your mind. Fantastic sharpeness wide open and that Bokeh is just fantastic. Yes its a bit noisy but I would take that any day in return for the amazing IQ it has. The clickless aperture option and extra button on the lens (I use it for Eye AF), just make it even sweeter.

There is a noticeable amount of chromatic aberration on high-contrast edges at f/1.4?

At that price I'll stick to the Sony 1.4 I already have.

Hi Rodrian,

If you already have an 85mm f/1.4 that is doing the job for you, then it is probably a good decision to stick with it instead of buying a new lens. I will say that none of the CA was corrected in these image in order to demonstrate what it actually looks like. In my editing I found that it was fairly easy to remove in Photoshop or Capture One, though this isn't a benefit of an expensive lens.

I love these lenses but my 85mm is making an amazing amount of noise while trying fo focus.  It is loud and very distracting.  I've already read others are having same issue.  I'm trying to figure out if I'm able to get past the noise. 

Hi Jim,

I did also notice the noise, though not to the extent you mention, probably due to shooting a lot in NYC. I will say that other early user reports have found that the AF motor may quiet down a bit after extended use, hopefully this is the case. 

hi Jim ! i am not %100 percent sure if the soluion i am giving you may help or not but i saw a youtube review with the same noise issue with this lens and the problem was his A7R firmware update , and there was no any noise in the lens, hope this helps.

It seems that this is just a noisier lens than the usual fare due to the different AF motor needed for the large elements. I've seen and heard other copies do a similar thing so unless you have reason to believe there are issues it is likely not a problem. Also, I'm not going to say a firmware update won't affect the noise, but this is a physical issue so I'm not sure how it could help.

I agree with Mike. F4 lenses would be half the size, weight and cost of their f2.8 brethren. With the high ISOs now possible from state of the art sensors, f4 lenses are also capable of shooting in low light, so no problem there. And bokeh is only slightly different @ f4 compared to f2.8. Canon and Nikon have high quality f4 lenses; Sony should too. It's the way to go! Big ultra fast lenses are great for pros who need every ray of light and the narrowest depth of field, but the sheer mass of these optics runs counter to the primary draw of mirrorless systems: minimal size and weight.

Hi Gary,

I have a similar answer for you as well as Mike below which is that Sony does in fact make one already which you can find here. Now, if you are asking for G Master quality in an f/4, I think that it will be a long while before that happens due to the fact that they already have one available and will be focusing on new lenses for the system until they have a more complete lineup. We will have to wait for updates many years down the road.

Thanks Shawn. Your link didn't work, so I'm assuming the lens you mention is the Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS. I was hoping for quality comparable to Canon L series lenses. Unfortunately, I think your assessment of what Sony will bring out is correct.

Hi Gary,

Sorry that link didn't work, try the one below. And actually I am referring to the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1008126-REG/sony_sel2470z_vario_tessar_t_fe_24_70mm.html

Thanks again, Shawn. Based on many reviews, the Sony Vario Tessar 24-70 f4 appears to be a capable though not outstanding lens. It's a step in the right direction, but at this point in time I think not more than a nod from Sony. Like many other photogs, I'm looking for the right lenses to round out a system. A few tests I've done with lens adapters on an A7 were disappointing, so it'll have to be Zeiss/Sony lenses.

I really like the sharpness of the new GM lenses. However, I am now an x-pro who no longer needs the high speed. I prefer the smaller cameras with the smaller lenses. Can't they make the same lens in a F4 size? This will reduce size and weight and still deliver the same sharpness.

Hi Mike,

If you are looking for a 24-70mm f/4 lens, Sony does in fact make one already which you can find here. Now, if you are asking for G Master quality in an f/4, I think that it will be a long while before that happens due to the fact that they already have one available and will be focusing on new lenses for the system until they have a more complete lineup.

Shawn C, i have some negative reviews about this lens specialy the corners of images are a little out of focus ? but i agree over all this lens is amazing.

Hi Farzia,

There are usually going to be some issues with every lens (except perhaps the Otus series but some may consider the price to be an issue) as every design is going to compromise in order to provide a balance of size, quality, and price. The f/4 I personally feel is a fine compromise, especially for its size, but the compact zoom will be prone to issues, especially in the corners which you seem to have identified as softer or prone to field curvature.

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