Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS review
Sony’s FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS ($ 11,999.99) was the company’s first high-end lens for its mirrorless system in 2018. Its focal length is ideal for bringing action closer at a distance and the lens focuses fast enough to keep pace with the world. -class athletes, capricious fauna and other moving subjects. It’s as good as expected for the price, and its magnesium alloy barrel should outlast most digital cameras. This is a lens for the most demanding photographers, especially those who capture the action with the Sony a1 and a9 II cameras.
Sony’s big white lens
The FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS is heavy, but that’s the case with any telephoto lens with such a narrow viewing angle. At 14.1 x 6.2 inches (HD), it towers over any full frame camera you stare at. The lens is also heavy, weighing around 6.4 pounds. Add an a1 and you are carrying around eight pounds. The size and weight are not exaggerated, however; The Canon RF 400mm F2.8 L IS USM for the EOS R mirrorless system is almost identical in size, shape and mass.
(Photo: Jim Fisher)
Sony designed the lens to make it easier to use, despite its bulk. For example, Sony centered the largest and heaviest optical glass in the barrel just under the tripod leg. The lens barrel uses a strong yet lightweight magnesium alloy material and incorporates extensive dust and splash protection for all-weather use. The 400mm is finished in white, a popular choice for telephoto lenses. Color reflects light, so the lens is not as prone to picking up heat as black barrel optics.
The large front element includes fluoride stain protection, and it’s always a good idea to use the hood to keep raindrops and fingerprints away. The lens hood is tall on its own and adds a good five inch height to the lens when attached. It’s made of carbon fiber, attaches with a thumbscrew, and has a rubber bumper around its front. Sony includes a nylon lens cover in the box, as well as a carrying strap and a hard carrying case.
Hand holding the FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS (Photo: Travis Keyes)
The tripod collar is an integral part of the design and I wouldn’t want to use the lens without it. It’s a useful handle for carrying the lens, with a soft faux leather finish on the top for added comfort. There are two standard 1 / 4-20 sockets for a quick release plate or strap, as well as the larger 3 / 8-16 thread for mounting directly to a monopod. Collar rotates for quick swaps between portrait and landscape photos when mounted.
Photographers using Arca-Swiss mounts will need to add a quick release plate or swap the stand for one with a compatible dovetail cut. Sony did not adopt the standard for its lenses, but third-party manufacturers did. For example, Really Right Stuff sells a replacement Arca foot for $ 100 and Photo by Kirk has one for $ 65.
Sony a9, f / 2.8, 1/2 500 second, ISO 320 (Photo: Jim Fisher)
The 400mm does not support front filters, but you can still add a neutral density (ND) filter or circular polarizer. The plug-in filter holder is placed far aft of the narrow rear groove of the barrel. For the basics, such as ND filters, it can accommodate 40.5mm threaded filters. The circular polarizer in this lens is a $ 399 add-on and also works with the $ 13,000 FE 600mm F4 GM OSS. The 600mm F4 features a similar design and places its control surfaces in the same positions, a benefit for photographers who rely on muscle memory to change settings.
Controls on the lens
The FE 400mm goes well beyond the basics when it comes to controls. Manual focus is an option – the control ring is prominent and takes up much of the mid-section of the barrel. There are four control buttons right in front. They are spaced in 90 degree increments and can be set for AF-ON, AF Hold or others through the camera menu.
(Photo: Jim Fisher)
There is a second ring between the manual focus control and the function buttons. It supports a simple twist action and works with the preset focus function, one of the many switches located on the left control panel. It is a useful tool for filming certain sports. For baseball, you can save a preset for first base or home plate games, and for soccer, you can lock the distance between the camera and the goal. You can configure the lens to beep when adjusting the distance or to make it silent (a plus for wildlife photography, where silence is a virtue).
There are also switches to set focus modes. It’s quick to switch between manual focus and auto focus, and you can turn permanent manual focus on or off using the DMF switch. There is also a limiter option: the autofocus can be set to find focus over its full range, at close distances only (2.7 to 7m), or for distant targets only (7m to infinity).
(Photo: Jim Fisher)
Autofocus is deadly fast. Two linear motors drive the focus and the lens is able to match the shooting speeds of the a1 at 30 fps and at 20 fps of the a9; Sony limits third-party zooms to 15 fps and 10 fps on these cameras, respectively.
Sony’s Optical Steady Shot stabilization system is also present here. There is a switch to turn it on or off and another to set its mode on the lens. Use Mode 1 when the camera is stationary, Mode 2 for panning, and Mode 3 to track subjects moving in unpredictable directions.
Sony a1 + 2x Teleconverter, f / 5.6, 1/500 second, ISO 125 (Photo: Jim Fisher)
OSS works in tandem with the stabilizers built into most Sony cameras. It’s not as effective as some of the others we’ve tried, however. With the 60MP a7R IV, I had to stick to shutter speeds greater than 1/60 second to ensure photos without handshake-induced blur; my results were random at 1 / 30th of a second.
Slower aperture zooms do a better job with stabilization, in general. The Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports achieves crisp results in 1/8 of a second. However, this lens doesn’t pick up as much light, so you end up using lower ISOs with the 400mm F2.8, especially for those quick 1/500 second and 1/1000 second exposures that you’ll want to use for freezing. movement in place.
Sony a1 + 2x Teleconverter, f / 5.6, 1/800 second, ISO 250 (Photo: Jim Fisher)
Zooms with narrower apertures are also better macro lenses. The aforementioned Sigma focuses very closely, for a 1: 2.9 reproduction. The FE 400mm’s closest focus is almost 2.7m from the camera sensor. It’s good enough for some close-ups, but not for macro. At its closest focusing distance, the lens captures life-size 1: 6.3 subjects.
The FE 400mm F2.8 works with Sony’s two E-mount teleconverters, which reduce the viewing angle. These are useful for obtaining greater magnification at closer distances and for better viewing distant subjects. When paired with the 1.4x multiplier, the objective becomes a 560mm F4. With the 2.0x, it becomes an 800mm F5.6.
High resolution optics
I used the FE 400mm in the field with Sony’s stacked a9 and a1 sensors, but chose to test its resolution in the lab with the 60MP a7R IV. Imatest shows that the resolution is very good at f / 2.8 (4,300 lines) and excellent from f / 4 to f / 8 (4,700 lines). Apertures down to f / 22 are available, although you will notice some loss of detail when using the smaller settings, the inevitable result of optical diffraction.
Sony a9, f / 2.8, 1/1250 second, ISO 100 (Photo: Jim Fisher)
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The details in the photos I took are just as clear towards the edges of the frame as they are near the center. I noticed some field curvature in close-up resolution tests, but that’s nothing to worry about in actual use. A 400mm lens easily blurs backgrounds. If you are focused on your subject, the backgrounds simply disappear.
Sony a9, f / 2.8, 1/2 500 second, ISO 250 (Photo: Jim Fisher)
Defocused reflections are slightly elongated when using the lens at f / 2.8 and take the form of a distinct cat’s eye around the edges of the mount. The narrowing of the aperture makes them rounder – the 11-blade diaphragm closes in a circle, matching highlights.
Exceptional, but expensive
The FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS stands up to the most demanding types of photography. Its focal length focuses on a narrow angle of view, which you’ll want to use to get sports page-worthy photos from your place on the sidelines. And its bright F2.8 optics help keep your ISO low when working under overcast skies, during nighttime games, or inside a sports arena.
Sony a1, f / 5.6, 1/500 second, ISO 4000 (Photo: Jim Fisher)
Teleconverter support adds some versatility – with an extender, the 400mm becomes long enough to keep bird watchers happy. Its all-weather design and magnesium frame make it a good choice for outdoor use, although I imagine many wildlife photographers would find the FE 600mm F4 better suited due to its longer focal length.
The FE 400mm and FE 600mm are however prohibitive for most of us. It’s one thing if it’s the tools that help you work and put food on the table, but other than the one percent, goals like these are beyond the reach of hobbyists and enthusiasts alike.
(Photo: Jim Fisher)
For the rest of us, a rental is always an option on one of these unique photo tours. Or you can just zoom in. The $ 2,000 Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS is able to match the full focus speeds of Sony’s stacked sensor cameras. If you’re using an a7 series camera, the Tamron 150-500mm F5-6.7 and our Editors’ Choice award winner, the Sigma 150-600mm DG DN OS Sports, are lenses in their own right.
Thanks to Lensrentals for providing the FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS for review.
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