Sony Announces FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II: Should You Upgrade?04/27/2022
Over the course of six years, Sony’s G Master lineup has offered some of the best lenses in the business—and yet Sony still pushes itself to get even better. With the release of the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II, it’s easy to see Sony’s drive to improve in action based on all the upgrades made to one of its earliest, and still good, G Master lenses. Sony also appears to be watching industry trends, further tuning its optics and handling to suit the demands of modern photographers and filmmakers.
What’s New in Version II?
The original FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is a great lens and became a staple for many photographers due to its versatile zoom range and fast aperture. For many shooters, the 24-70mm is the only lens they need. Sony took the opportunity with the 24-70mm II, much like they did with the 70-200mm II, to make some substantial upgrades to such an important lens.
- 22% lighter and 18% smaller body
- Improved image quality with latest optical technologies
- Faster, more responsive AF system
- Optimizations for video recording
- Additional physical controls for enhanced ergonomics
It’s an entirely new lens in every important aspect.
Lighter, Smaller Size
Sony claims the new 24-70mm II is the smallest and lightest in its class. It looks shockingly small, especially compared to its predecessor, and it is better balanced when mounted on the camera. The actual specs mark the new 24-70mm II at 24.5 oz and 3.46 x 4.72", compared to the original’s 31.3 oz and 2.45 x 5.35".
Similar offerings from Canon, Nikon, and Sigma are easily heavier and larger. In fact, to find lenses that manage to shave off the ounces while keeping the f/2.8 aperture, you will need to start looking at 28-70mm and 28-75mm offerings. Those are good lenses by all accounts, but losing that bit at the wide end is less than ideal.
One notable similarity between the original and version II is that the front diameter remains essentially unchanged, with an 82mm front filter thread. You won’t need to find new filters if you are planning on upgrading, and when you are aiming for a fast f/2.8 aperture, it shows there are still some limits to optical design, thanks to physics.
Improved Image Quality and Autofocus
GM optics have always been superb, and the GM II is even better. A brand-new optical design with three aspherical lenses, two ED elements, two extreme aspherical (XA) elements, and two Super ED elements help with that. The use of Nano AR Coating II also limits flares and ghosting. A few years of optical advancements have definitely benefited the 24-70mm II.
Sony claims to have improved sharpness, especially out to the edges, and furthered suppression of optical aberrations. Of note is a focus on reducing onion-ring bokeh, which we have seen since the launch of the G Master series. Additionally, an upgraded aperture diaphragm that now uses 11 blades (up from 9) allows for even rounder bokeh.
A floating element in the focus system allows the 24-70mm II to focus closer. The new minimum focus distance is 8.3-11.8" from 24-70mm with a maximum magnification of 0.32x. The original is only capable of reaching about a quarter life size, while the II can reach about a third life size. This should provide a little extra flexibility during shooting.
Autofocus has seen some major improvements with the use of four XD Linear Motors. These are the latest technology and we have seen a lot of these motors in the newer Sony lenses. This update results in a faster, more accurate, and more responsive autofocus system. The lens will even support tracking at 30 fps and while zooming.
Optimized for Video Production
Compared to newer lenses, the original 24-70mm GM didn’t check all the boxes for filmmakers. The original featured a photo-centric design. This was fine at the time but, for today’s creatives who often need equipment that can handle both photo and video, the original was lacking in comparison to other options.
Sony has addressed this directly in version II. The optics have been designed to minimize breathing and focus shift. The AF system is quieter and smoother. Manual focus features a linear response that videographers need. And there is now a physical aperture ring.
For videographers, the 24-70mm GM II is a huge upgrade.
Enhanced Ergonomics and Controls
Earlier, we talked about the smaller, lighter design. This is particularly impressive because even though the body is smaller, Sony still managed to add functionality to the exterior with more controls.
- Manual focus ring (linear response)
- Two programmable Focus Hold buttons
- Physical aperture ring and de-click switch
- Zoom smoothness adjustment switch
- Aperture lock switch
The exterior remains a hybrid of metal and plastic that feels rugged. Many of these improvements are welcome, yet not totally new, although a couple deserve some added attention.
First, there is a zoom smoothness adjustment switch. This does exactly what it sounds like it does. The two settings are “Smooth” and “Tight,” and while the smooth setting feels just as you would expect, the tight mode locks things down. It isn’t totally locked, but if you were worried about the zoom slipping when the camera is slung over your shoulder, this totally solves that issue. This feature could also help if you need precise movement.
The second is the aperture lock. Sony’s aperture rings are somewhat old news by now, even with its de-click switch, but the aperture (iris) lock is still relatively new. This prevents the aperture ring from being switched to or from the automatic “A” setting when engaged. If you were having issues accidentally knocking the lens from one mode to the other, this makes sure that can’t happen.
Another small change is the lens hood. There is now a sliding filter window to make it easier to adjust any rotating filters you have attached.
In my limited hands-on time with the lens, I would add that the new size and controls make the whole lens and camera package feel better in the hand. Carrying it around the city or throwing it in a bag is a lot easier with the smaller body, and the extra controls are much appreciated, since I am very comfortable using things like the aperture ring on my other GM lenses.
Should You Upgrade?
If the current 24-70mm GM is your go-to lens, then I think the answer is a resounding yes. The new 24-70mm II is better in every conceivable way. Plus, if the 24-70mm is your main lens and you travel often, then the weight savings alone is noticeable. Since the 24-70mm is an essential piece of the kit for many working photographers and videographers, having the latest and greatest is usually worth it.
Videographers will have an even easier time with this decision since version II introduces many features specifically for them. Focus breathing is extremely well controlled, there is now a physical aperture ring with de-click switch, and the focus ring offers linear response MF. The new XD Linear Motors for autofocus are faster and quieter as well. All these factors are huge improvements for making movies. Additionally, image stabilization when used in Active Mode with in-body IS has been optimized for extra stability.
Now, if you are perfectly content with the current 24-70mm (or are looking to save some cash), the first-gen lens is going to continue to serve you well. It’s still a great lens.
But I think anyone who picks up the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II will be extremely happy and find it a worthwhile investment.
What do you think of the upgraded 24-70mm GM II? Are you planning on picking one up? Be sure to let us know your thoughts and ask us any questions in the Comments section, below!