Sony’s Master plan – new 85, 24-70, 70-200 and more


On Tuesday, February 2nd 2016, Sony UK held a press event to which I was invited. Well, I’m in a different country and about 400 miles from their Weybridge offices, so as usual my trusted English office editor at large (and son) Richard made the still substantial journey from Leicester. The result was a completely wasted day, his time and our company’s money, looking at a mixed bag of TVs, camcorders, headphones and all the Alpha and RX gear we already had seen long before.

Then on February 3rd, mid-afternoon, the same PR agency which had extended this generous invitation to come and gather ZERO editorial content for our magazines announced the new G-Master series 24-70mm f/2.8 FE, 70-200mm f/2.8 FE and 85mm f/1.4 FE, 1.4X and2X extenders, and upgraded A6000 successor A6300.

I was attending an excellent event with Graphistudio on the road in Edinburgh (they do try to cover the whole of our surprisingly large and still united kingdom) and returned to see the news. Talk about mixed emotions! I was furious that they should cost me a very real £300 or so (that’s what it costs, whether I do it, or Richard, or a hired freelance) to cover yet another of their red herring events just 24 hours before a major announcement like this. We get nothing free from Sony, they don’t advertise in our magazines, and unlike Minolta they don’t offer pre-launch access to pre-production samples.

And that’s why I should not even be writing this. In the past, I would never – as a responsible journalist and technical editor – have made any comment on equipment I had not been allowed to handle and preferably use if only for an hour or two. But these days a thousand bloggers try to drive traffic to their sites by doing exactly that.

Here are my thoughts, anyway.



a6300_N_wSEL1670Z_fronta6300_N_reara6300_N_lefttside   Click to open full size official images!

The A6300

It’s 24 megapixels like the A6000 and does claim a slightly faster and wider zone AF. But the A6000 is already close to perfect and I normally shoot with centre point focus, not any of the wide zone modes. I really don’t want the collar on a dog sharp and its face out of focus just because the collar is the more contrasty target which the wide area focus finds first. It’s also twice as much as I paid for my A6000, which happens to have been selling for a market-beating price. I have a great set of lenses – 10-18mm, 16-50mm, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 55-210mm. All except the 10-18mm cost about half the official retail because Sony did some great deals. Basically anyone like me who has invested in a decent A6000 (or NEX-6, even) kit and already own an A7S, SII, or RII can take the A6300 or leave it. In fact my now-outdated RX10 and RX100 MkIII do pretty neat silent shooting, one of the main upgrades over the A6000.

If you need the very fast (120fps) refresh of the new EVF, 4K video and the improved audio functions (whether using jack plug mic or the MFAccessory shoe mic choices) then it’s easy – it will cost you less to get these than any other comparable route. Even the RX10 MkII no longer looks so attractive. As others have commented, it’s partly a matter of waiting for the body price to fall by the end of the year. In the meantime my A7RII actually does all the movie stuff I need (its APS-C 4K is superior to its full frame, and makes full use of line-up of lenses above).

However, if they manage to lend me a test sample and the new sensor turns out to kill the already wonderful noise/ISO ratio of the 6000 I could be won over early at a high price. Had this been a 36 megapixel body I would be thinking very differently, and perhaps even considering a switch from full frame to APS-C.

The 24-70mm f/2.8  and 70-200mm f/2.8 G-Master FE


With a 77mm thread and an overall size not far removed from the A-mount equivalents, the weatherproofing and generally improved design of the AF system will win buyers. The longer lens has the 0.96m close focus I’ve been campaigning for now for several years, and it’s disarmingly simple. If you study lenses, you’ll have realised that SSM, stepper or linear motor type AF (silent, no gears) has caused the increased and restrictive focus distances I’ve covered in Cameracraft and elsewhere. It has just been unable to provide enough movement. As an example, compare the old screw-drive 28-75mm Konica Minolta with the ‘identical’ Sony 28-75mm SAM. The 24-70mm f/2.8 A-mount models are actually amongst the better in this respect, managing the magic quarter life-size to important for many subjects. The 24-70mm f/4 FE is not as good though you would have though it easier to make close focusing with a simpler, slower lens – only 0.20X. At least the 24-70mm f/2.8 FE matches up to its A-mount equivalent.


In these new fast FE zooms Sony has improved performance by using more accurate asphericals, designated as XA (extra aspherical, presumably meaning a curve which was out of reach before). Combined with expensive glass types (low and extra-low dispersion) and complex design (23 elements in 18 groups for the 70-200mm) this enables apochromatic correction although they do not use the term. This removes ugly colour bokeh effects. A ‘floating’ internal focus action for the rear unit gives a wider fully corrected focus range, affecting both the focused distance and the flatness of field. An SSM (ring) motor drives the heavy, larger forward group focusing and a linear (rail) movement shifts the rear assembly but the whole focus action is internal.


I welcome the 96cm close focus (I trust it applies across the whole zoom range and with AF all the way). This lens achieves 0.25X scale at 96cm. Compare that to the Tamron Di VC USD 70-200mm which can only manage 0.125X, half the subject size, at 1.3m and that’s by switching to manual focus – it forces you back to 1.4m from the subject if you use AF.

It’s also worth comparing size; most new 70-200mm DSLR lenses are around 185mm long, the Sony is 200mm long. But it’s really ‘smaller’ than the original Sony A-mount 70-200mm’s 197mm. That 15mm extra length is almost entirely dead space, a kind of extension to the barrel in order to handle the 18mm register of the E-mount, and also enable the use of the 1.4X and 2X extenders. This extension falls behind a fixed, not removable, rotating tripod mount collar which has a removable foot instead.


I’m sure that the dual focusing will be fast, with two simultaneous actions combined, and ideal for contrast detection  as well as on-sensor PDAF. My reservations are simple enough though – these are lenses for one-system users, dedicated to mirrorless. There really is no saving over the latest A-mount versions in weight and size, and many photographers (like me) may want to use both A and E mount bodies. I’ve been considering investing in another A99 even though I sold mine. That’s because it is so much more comfortable and complete with my longer lenses than the A7RII with LA-EA4 or 3, both of which I have. If I did so the 24-70mm and 70-200mm A mount would be on the shopping list, and what reason would I have for buying even more expensive new FE versions which could never, ever be used on a A-mount body?

The 85mm f/1.4 G-Master FE


One guide to acceptable minimum focus distance is the simplest formula imaginable. A lens should be able to focus – at the least – to the same centimetre distance as its millimetre focal length. So, a 50mm lens should manage 50cm, a 100mm lens 1m, a 200mm lens 2m or closer. But that’s the least you need. The ideal is HALF the mm in cm. A 50mm focusing to 25cm is brilliant, a 200mm focusing to 1m is amazing (Vivitar once made one, with a bright f/3 maximum aperture too).

So, for me the 85mm f/1.4 with its substantial 82mm filter thread, 850g weight and focusing down to 80cm (some data tables say 85cm) with 0.12X image scale is just acceptable. A Samyang 85mm won’t go so close and most 85mms don’t break the 1m barrier. But an ideal new, modern 85mm would focus to 50cm. It’s just pretty hard to enable this using SSM or linear AF drive. Even the Carl Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 is the familiar 80cm, 0.126X scale.


What I actually use right now is an 85mm f/2.8 SAM lens on LA-EA3. It’s not 100% free from CA and colour bokeh issues, but it is exceptionally sharp and it focuses right down to 60cm with 0.20X scale. Above all it is very small and light, and for me that is most of the point of the A7RII and all the A7 series bodies. It focuses perfectly on my LA-EA3. I can use it with A-mount extension tubes or my Meike metal full frame FE extension tubes, but that’s a bit of a crude solution.

Results from the MG 85mm so far seen, disregarding some fairly cheesy portraits, show that its 11-blade iris and apochromatic XA correction do deliver more than you will ever get from an 85mm f/1.2 Canon or a Samyang or a Sony 85mm f/1.4 ZA. The manual 1/3rd stop clicked or click-free aperture ring combined with the absence of magenta-green bokeh shift mean this lens will be massive for vids, whether creative porno or music promo. It should be on the same level as Zeiss/Arri ciné lenses if the claims stand up, and I would not be surprised to see a dedicated cinema version.

It’s a long way from the 85mm SLR lenses of Minolta’s past – six iris blades!

The extenders

Sorry, but most FE and E lenses can never (ever) use a a tele extender. That’s why you have not seen any. It’s also why I use that 85mm SAM… it makes a neat 170mm f/5.6 wth my Teleplus 2X MC-7. Way back, one of my favourite travel outfits including the Minolta XD-7 with 85mm f/2 and a 2X converter, 170mm f/4 was a sweet spot in every respect.


These two converters can only be used with the new 70-200mm f/2.8 G-Master FE. When you look at how far the converter unit extends into the lens barrel,  you’ll see that this is a combination designed from the start. The rear element of the FE lens is deeply recessed, midway between a typical E-mount design (18mm register) and an A-mount (rear element no closer than 42mm to the sensor).


The extenders add less length than an A-mount variant would, and the back focus of the FE lens is shorter. But it’s a mid-way compromise. Extenders are easy to make for DSLR back focus register, they are difficult or impossible to design for 18mm register mirrorless like Sony or Fuji unless the host lens is matched exactly to the extender. And the 70-200mm f/4, for example, is not…

The compromise

And, having mentioned compromise, I should explain the great compromise which has made the entire Sony E/FE system much larger than it needs to be.

It’s all down to the A7R 36 megapixel sensor. This sensor, more so than the 24 megapixel full frame, requires a very telecentric lens design. That is, more like a DSLR lens, despite the slim A7 series body. In order to perform acceptably with this sensor, the FE lens range could not be designed to be as small as a rangefinder system equivalent, or to take full advantage of the 18mm mount to sensor distance. Brian Smith, whose images are great (not cheesy portraits) but whose technical info clearly comes via Sony PR, says this: “Mirrorless camera design has allowed Sony’s lens designers to place larger than normal lens element close to the body”. Actually, they don’t, as the design of the extenders will tell you. They’ve used a stronger degree of telephoto construction in the long zoom, allowing a smaller than normal rear element and they have taken measures to move it further away from the body – and this is a general trend. If you want to see what a properly small 85mm f/1.4 looks like try a Carl Zeiss Planar 85mm f/1.4 ZE in Canon mount – 72mm filters not 82mm, 570g versus 850g and really solid all-metal manual focus. The mirrorless bodies do provide a zone from around 16mm to 42mm from the sensor surface which can accommodate the rear of the lens, and can’t ever be used on a DSLR. But Sony does not make full use of that and can not do so because of the microlens, filter layer and structural characteristics of the A7R sensor.


All Sony FE lenses and all CZ independent FE lenses have been designed to work well with the A7R. The 28-70mm kit lens was not, but most owners find it acceptable. They could have made some of the lenses a fair amount smaller and lighter if the A7R had never existed. The A7RII is so tolerant towards short back focus, oblique ray angle imaging, that a whole different range of lenses could be designed for it… but never will be.

The system has to remain compatible with its earlier components, especially the first ‘flagship’ body A7R. And that is going to constrain design and increase costs for ever into the future. In contrast, see the Fujfilm X system. We have yet to find whether the new 24 megapixel Fujifilm sensor disagrees with any older lenses, but all new lenses no matter how fast, small or clever have full compatibility with all the earlier bodies and don’t seem to have any compromises in design.


Here’s my view, after doing a lot of digging around over the last two days (Sony PR does not supply any of the technical data for the released lenses – all that had to be found, and cross-checked, from Sony corporate and various dealer sites). I have found some interesting historic lenses like the 50mm f/1.5 and 85mm f/1.5 Zeiss Biotar. They are simple and perform poorly by today’s standards but they are very small. I am familiar with many excellent lenses I’ve used in the past like the Minolta MC/D 45mm f/2, the MD 85mm f/2 and of course the ‘beercan’ 70-210mm f/4 AF. I loved my first serious freelancing kit, Pentax Spotmatics with 20mm f/4.5, 35mm f/3.5, 50mm f/1.4 and 105mm f/2.8. I’ve used some good lenses which have been perfect with all A7 series bodies, such as the Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8, the Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM, and several rangefinder 35mm f/2 or f/1.4 lenses. All of these have been small and perfectly in keeping with the A7 series mirrorless bodies. I think Sony’s inspiration for new lenses should have come from classic rangefinder and compact pre-digital SLR glass, rather than from the bloated f/2.8 zooms of professional digital SLRs.

In 1999, with a multi-state road trip in the USA to enjoy, I left the SLR kit at home because I was using two Minolta CLE bodies, a 20mm Russar, 28/40/90mm Minolta set and a Leitz Elmar 135mm f/4.5. SLRs in the AF era had started to became big, plastic and clumsy with fairly poor zoom lenses. I opted for the NEX/A/A7 system because I thought we were heading back to light, elegant, unobtrusive little jewels of lenses. Ah well, not so. We’re going to be sold lenses built like a Kardashian ass and learn to live with it!

– David Kilpatrick


A zoom specification comparison

  • Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA SSM II – focuses to 34cm, 0.25X, 77mm filters, 975g
  • Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 ZA SSM – 34cm, 0.25X, 77mm filters, 955g
  • Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 ZA FE SSM OSS – 40cm, 0.20X, 67mm filters, 430g
  • Sony GM 24-70mm f/2.8 FE SSM OSS – 38cm, 0.24X, 82mm filters, 885g
  • Sony G 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM II – focuses to 1.2m, 0.21X, 77mm filters, 188mm long, 1300g
  • Sony G 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM – 1.2m, 0.21X, 77mm filters, 197mm long, 1500g
  • Sony G 70-200mm f/4 FE SSM OSS – 1-1.3m*, 0.13X, 72mm filters, 175mm long, 840g
  • Sony GM 70-200mm f/2.8 FE SSM OSS – 0.96m, 0.25X, 77mm filters, 1480g, 200mm long, 11-blade aperture

*Focus to 1.3m at 200mm, 1m when set to 190mm or shorter focal length. 0.13X at 1m and 190mm.

All the pictures used here have, linked to them, the full sized unwatermarked official Sony PR images except the first image which we have cropped a load of useless white space from – Sony likes useless white space, as the others show. Web and magazine editors hate it and constantly have to crop product shots…




Minolta 70-210mm f4 versus Canon 70-200mm f4 L IS

The Canon 5D MkIII arrived, but I will not be reporting on that here – it is with me for a British Journal review, and that will take a little time and will also be exclusive to the BJP in print and on iPad App. So no sneak preview anywhere else!

However, with the camera came a 70-200mm f4 Canon L IS lens. This month I picked up a very cheap 70-210mm f4 Minolta AF – the ‘beercan’ original from 1985 which has a broken lens hood, the wrong lens cap (why the hood got broken) and a slightly rough focusing travel that tends to get locked into a near or far range without having a limiter.

So, since the loaner 70-200mm from Canon was in an equally well-used state, and the question keeps being asked whether the old Minolta is a match for it, I thought I would A-B the two lenses with the Canon on the new 5D MkIII and the beercan on the Alpha 900.

I call this comparison ‘can o’beer versus a yard of L’ for reasons the product size comparison should make clear:

Of course a lot of this is the Canon lens hood (anyone with a flair for geometry will spot that the narrower, shorter Minolta hood is nearly as effective, just draw a diagonal from front left to rear right of the hood to see why). And the Canon has IS built in, as well as a focus range limiter. During operation the Canon was rather noisy, making a constant whispering sound from the IS even though the USM focusing was silent. The Minolta of course zips and clunks into focus, but is otherwise silent, and the A900 in-body stabilisation did not make anything like the same level of operating noise as the in-lens IS.

Although there is no doubt the Minolta lens is less sensitive to AF commands (if that’s the best way to put it) actual targeting a new focus point and locking on seems every bit as fast. It’s nowhere near as good as the Canon at continuous AF subject tracking, but the Canon was nowhere near as good as the Minolta/Alpha combo at user-targeted aim and focus operations. The Canon spent a lot of time being out of focus and then rapidly refocusing, with my moving targets (backyard hens, if you have them you’ll know what perfect focus test subjects they provide). The Minolta spent time staying focused and not responding much.

Reviewing the results, I can only say the Alpha/beercan combo had a better success rate. Nearly all the shots were critically sharp where a good few Canon shots either didn’t get enough IS to combat shake, or maybe the IS was actually taking the edge off sharpness. This applied particularly at closer distances, where the Minolta (210mm, front group focus  and 1.1m focus distance) seemed much better than the Canon (200mm, internal focus and 1.2m minimum).

For this article, I have made 2000 pixel wide reductions from my test images. These are within the 2MB limit at high quality for images within the site. Subscribers to photoclubalpha can also access hi-res full sized images (over 70MB in total, so beware) through an additional page link provided at the end of this report.

The tree and twigs test

Our big old holly tree provides a suitably evil subject for any lens with chromatic fringe or purple fringe issues. I shot everything raw; no lens profiles were used, the conversion was done using Adobe Camera Raw 6.7Beta. Like Lightroom 4, this offers automatic analysis of CA even without requiring lens profiles. In fact, adjustable CA is entirely disabled – gone. I can tell you it works amazingly well. Lenses which have been very difficult to clean up are fixed. It isn’t even one-click – just set ‘Remove CA’ as a default, and that is it, for all lenses, for ever.

I used the tree for hand-held (with stabilisation) ISO 100 tests at f/4, f/5.6 and f/8.

I thought the beercan would be bad for fringes and CA. On the Alpha 900, it simply wasn’t. The full aperture image was surprisingly clean. The Canon lens on the MkIII actually showed more colour fringing. Both cleaned up in ACR 6.7b. As for sharpness, it seemed to me to be a draw. I picked a 3D target to avoid slight front of back focus differences influencing the result.

Above – Canon at 70mm and f/4 – click image to open 2000 pixel wide version

Above – Minolta at 70mm and f/4 (same applies, to all these example)

Above – Canon at f/5.6

Above – Minolta at f/5.6

Above – Canon at f/8 (for the f/8 images, the ACR conversion was cut by -0.30 EV exposure, as I felt both cameras had predictably overexposed a little, but the wider apertures were left this way as it emphasises any CA – since f/8 is an optimum aperture with cameras of this resolution, I aimed for the best straight conversions)

Above – Minolta at f/8.

Long end tests, moving and static, medium to close

A range of different subjects ended up being shot on both cameras in the garden. I was, at the same time, shooting various tests on Fuji X10 and Pentax Optio WG-2. If that Pentax could shoot raw files it would be a real winner because the lens is lovely! When you start poking small cameras one or two cm away from small flowers, you realise how limiting the larger format and longer lenses can be.

But the small cameras could not catch a single decent snap of hens scratching around as I worked. They move too fast and just the focus lag along, let alone the shutter lag, stops even the best compact or pocket digitals from being useful.

Here’s a Canon shot. I took half a dozen similar shots with both cameras, slightly varying in distance and with two different hens, at f/5.6 and also some at f/8, all at maximum focal length. It would be hard to say the Canon was better as the success rate was lower. It seemed to focus faster but not as accurately, with both cameras set just to use the centre sensor (as the overall frame compositions tell you).

This is 50% of original pixel scale. Click the image for a 1200 pixel square, 100% clip view.

Here’s an Alpha 900 shot with the  Minolta at the same settings, ISO 320 RAW, exactly the same ACR 6.7b parameters used (25, 0.5, 25, 0 Sharpening; 20, 25, 0, 25, 50 L and C NR; strong contrast curve; black point 0; Adobe Standard colour calibration; CA Correction enabled with Defringe Highlights but no Lens Profile; both with exposure dropped by -0.3EV, no other change to defaults).

Again, if you click this 50% view you get a 1200 pixel square clip. Remember, no web or print sharpening is applied. The red hen is a little lower in contrast but so is the Minolta lens, I think, and so is the Alpha 900 default rendering – the 5D MkIII either has less dynamic range, or processes with a steeper curve to the raw. Or Adobe simply applies more contrast to the Canon raw ‘under the hood’.

These pictures are at 1/320th for the Canon, 1/200th for the Alpha – anything less than 1/200th and hens move their heads so fast you don’t stand a chance of a sharp image. Aperture priority auto.

Close-up ability

I find the small difference between 1.1m and 210mm, and 1.2m and 200mm, significant. This is a recurring theme for me. Around 1m, differences of 10 or 20cm either way in minimum focus distance are critical. They can make the difference between working at arm’s length, within reach, or out of reach. My perfect close-up situation allows me to reach a hand out and adjust a subject, so I really like lenses which focus down to 60cm or so. I also like to be able to place my lens against glass, or right up to wires, to get shots through windows and barriers. A classic example would be a small animal in a wire zoo cage. If your lens won’t focus closer than say 1.5m, often you can’t place it up to the wire and therefore you can’t get the shot and blur the wire out. But if the lens focuses down to say 0.9m you can. So for me, any gain at all in minimum focus distance is good. I’m not keen on the way Sony’s SAM versions of once-screw-drive lenses generally lose a bit of close focus range.

Here are the results of the Canon and the Minolta at their closest focus-confirmed setting. I used ISO 320, and f/11, hand-held with stabilisation.

Again, if you click this image you will get a 2000 pixels high version. The Canon colour – or maybe the Auto White Balance – is better than the Alpha shot which follows. It may be down to lens colour transmission, as the 1985 Minolta glass is yellower than the Canon. I measured the transmission using a Kenko Color Meter (the new version of the classic Minolta Colormeter IIIF). The Minolta is roughly 5Y+5G and would need a 5B+5M filter pack to match the Canon lens transmission.

Here’s the Minolta lens shot, closer because of the 1.1m focus and 210mm focal length:

Again, clicking on the image will get you to a 2000 pixel high size.

These close-ups had me really thinking. I had to go back and check the settings. I can assure you the pix really are from a distance of 10cm apart – I did not move, I just squatted back a bit with the Canon; the lenses were at 200mm and 210mm; the apertures were both f/11, both cameras were at ISO 320, both gave the same 1/160th exposure. Yet just study the bokeh (differential focus) of the Minolta images. Look at the thickness of the blurred dry plant stem crossing upper right in the background. Look at the green leaf behind the hyacinth. Study the larger version for the focus point in each case (it’s comparable). The beercan just seems so much better able to separate out the subject from the background, without losing depth of field within the flower. Yet if you look through the two lenses from the back element end, wide open, the Canon appears to have a huge aperture by comparison – a really wide exit pupil.

Does it all prove anything?

So, what do I conclude? Well, I know from many years of using the 70-210mm that it can benefit from an even deeper hood, maybe on the scale of the Canon. It’s not a contrasty lens, and it can get some serious internal reflection – big flare patches, even veiling the entire frame. And on some earlier cameras even APS-C size, my earlier examples of this lens had been prone to very strong purple fringes. But I have never had an unsharp example and some of our best, sharpest digital shots have come from the classic 70-210mm beercan.

I’ve already been finding just what a transformation Adobe’s Camera Raw 6.7 beta (release candidate) makes with its auto analysis of the image to apply CA removal. Distortion and vignetting just aren’t significant issues with tele zooms of this type, so full lens profiles are hardly needed (and they are very difficult to make, you need a working distance most studios or homes do not contain).

Using this rather beaten-up example makes me think that it would be good, again, to find a mint condition little used one. It is a lens with interesting properties; it is a true zoom, and a constant aperture, which means that if you lock the focus down and shoot video you can zoom without losing sharpness (many modern ‘zooms’ are varifocal not parfocal, and shift focus as you zoom) and without any aperture jumps (only constant aperture lenses offer you this).

Most of all, comparing this lens with the relatively expensive and much larger Canon it’s clear that the performance is either equal, or better. Take into account advances in coatings, and the effects of age on any lens, and I would have to think a new version of exactly this same Minolta lens would be stunningly sharp and ideal within the Alpha system. It would be a perfect companion for the 16-50mm, or 24-70mm, on APS-C or full frame.

Full size images for subscribers only

If you are a registered subscriber to photoclubalpha, you can go to our download page for this article, and get the full size (JPEG quality 10, sRGB) images for all the shots here except the chicken pix which are already available clipped as 100% views. It is very interesting to study the twigs at the extremes of the 70mm shots from both lenses, look at the level of colour-fringe induced tinting to out of focus details, and affirm that the legendary status of the ‘beercan’ may indeed be deserved.

And, as a final point, though I am sure the Canon will win me over in low light situations and many other ways, these tests certainly proved that the Alpha 900 has not been made obsolete by almost four years of progress.

– David Kilpatrick