So, this is all about the Sony G 200-600mm f5.6-6.3 OSS lens. It’s a massive lens that is the longest zooming telephoto lens that sony currently has in their full frame lineup. In this review I am going being talking about the lens after I have used it for the last few months and I’ll talk about the build quality, autofocusing, image quality and really just all about the lens and close off with comparing it to the other similar options in the sony lineup.
I’ll start off the with just the functionality of what a 200-600 millimeter lens is really for, because it is quite a ridiculous class of lens, as its minimum zoom is already 200mm which is very far. The most obvious and common use is going to be for wildlife and sport photography. Many seasoned wildlife photographers will be familiar with the similar lenses put out by Tamron and Sigma that are the 150-600mm lenses, and this lens fills the same class. This focal length is simultaneously incredibly versatile at long range photos, but also completely useless for anything else. In other words, it’s not great for casual photography, but makes photography of things relatively far aware very convenient. I’ll touch on it more later in the review, but this lens could be described as the perfect lens for some, but for most people, it is going to be a fun lens they rarely use because of how niche it is.
With all that said, I’ll start off the review proper with the build of the lens. The lens comes in at a hefty 2.1 kg and is 31.8cm long or just over a foot… without the lens hood. So what I’m trying to say is it’s big, to the point of it be almost difficult to use, but even though this lens has an incredibly large design, relatively speaking, it’s very compact for a lens of its class considering it also has completely internal zooming, meaning that when you zoom in and out with the lens’s moving components are all inside the lens, making focusing faster, handling better, and the overall lens balancing easier.
One pickle you may find yourself in is if you would like to use a filter on this lens’s, the front element is an insane 95mm, which makes sense considering the lens’ focal length, it’s still very large, making it nearly impossible to find any reasonably priced filters .
As far as the actual materials go, the lens is made of a magnesium alloy and hardened plastic design and also is weather sealed thoroughly, and thanks to the aforementioned internally zooming, it has greatly increased ruggedness too it. I usually keep this lens out of my bag, mainly because the lens is so big, but thankfully it can easily take a bit of roughing about and the occasional branch hit with ease. If you have ever used the sony GM 70-200, this lens basically feels like its big brother, sharing in the same layout of having 3 of the same programmable focus hold buttons and having the focus setting and stabilization toggles on the side of the lens.
Now I’ll move on the to image quality, and as with most of Sony’s lenses, this lens doesn’t disappoint. Overall, this lens is very sharp, and realistically is going to perform basically to the point where the camera is more of a limiting factor for the image resolution. I usually end up shooting with the lens wide open in order to keep the shutter speed higher to capture moving subjects. At f5.6 at 200mm the lens is a little bit softer, however its only noticeable if you are cropping in on and image significantly, and if you are cropping in, you might as well zoom in with the lens physically, and the lens is quite sharp at f6.3 when at 600mm, though if you stop it down to even just f8 it basically is perfect.
I don’t like to dive too heavily into MTF charts and using charts to determine sharpness, and with this lens in particular I find that it is particularly not a good representation of the lens, cause even though this lens does perform very well in ideal conditions, more often than not the bigger deciding factor for image sharpness is going to be the camera stabilization, settings and the atmospheric conditions if it is a particularly long range image. In regards to the lens stabilization though, the lens’s active stabilization is absolutely marvelous, it has 3 modes, mode 1 is for basic use, 2 is for panning and 3 is for extreme movements, like flying objects or fast paced sports. With the stabilization in the lens paired with the camera body stabilization you can get some pretty insane shutter speeds, as low as 1/50 when at 600mm and still get very useable images.
As far as distortion and vignette goes, there is basically none or either and turning distortion correction on in lightroom is comically useless.
Minimum Focal distance & Bokeh
Usually when you are looking at a lens for super telephoto photography, the first thing you think of isn’t the lenses minimum focusing distance, but if you are, I’m sorry to disappoint, because this lens is rather rubbish at basically 2.4 m or 8ft, meaning though it can get very far, you cant get very close.
The other thing that may not be top of mind but is rather important to some is the bokeh, and this lens really has no difficult in isolating subjects. Even though its minimum aperture is mostly f6.3 throughout the zoom range, it’s extreme focal distance will very easily isolate a subject, and with 11 rounded aperture blades it manages to get very even and smoothly rendered out of focus areas.
Auto-focus performance and Manually focusing
The most impressive thing about this lens to me is it autofocusing system. The lens utilizes a ‘Direct Drive Super Sonic Motor’ which allows the lens to essentially have a completely unnoticeably quiet AF system that is it extremely responsive, though it is less premium than the system found in most of sony GM lenses, it is driving less glass. Overall its exactly what you need and then some, its snappy, responsive and most important accurate. I have never really had an issue with the AF, and my only real complaint is more inherent to the extreme nature of the focal length is that if you have multiple objects between you and your subject, choosing a focus point is often a game of focus and recomposing until it latches onto the subject that you are aiming for, but this is due to the focusing algorithms of the camera, not the lens itself.
Price, Value, and Competition:
So, I think I have established by this point that I do in fact like this lens, and for its class, it really just did all the important stuff right, a solid build, great image quality and reliable auto-focusing. This ultimately leads to the last deciding factor for most and that is the value. This lens comes in at 2000$ US currently, or 2600$ Canadian, which is a high price, however relatively speaking is quite a good value for the lens’s quality when compared to similar lenses both native to sony or that can be adapted.
Starting off with the most logical comparison, it’s the Sony GM 100-400 f/4.5-5.6, this lens comes in currently at a similar 2500 USD or 3300 Canadian, and covers a very similar focal range. The choice between these lenses is less related to the price though and more towards application that the different lenses have. The 100-400 is smaller and lighter, but even though it has a smaller footprint when at 100, while at its max zoom of 400, it is a similar length to the 200-600. The 100-400 also has a better minimum focusing distance too of just under a metre, with gets decent pseudo macro shots. However, in terms of sharpness the lenses are basically the same, and if you want to use a teleconverter with the 100-400 to get it to the same focal range as the 200-600 no only do you pay a extra 300$, the lens is going to be slower to focus and not as sharp. So ultimately in my opinion is you want a more utilitarian lens that can do more than just super telephoto, the 100-400 may be better, but if you are looking for strictly a mother of all zooms, the 200-600 is there for you. For myself, I already had a 70-200mm so the 200-600mm help extend my reach for my wildlife photography.
Moving on though, there is the new option on the market which is the sigma 100-400 f5-6.3 OS C which just just was released for sony, and realistically all the same things I said about the GM apply to this lens, but the sigma is hitting the market at only 1000$ US or 1300$ Canadian which makes it a super compelling option, and unless you are very committed to needing that extra 200mm, I think the sigma 100-400 is a lens you should consider heavily.
Lastly, I am going to briefly talk about the two classic value zoom lenses that can be adapted to sony, the Tamron SP 150-600 f5-6.3 and the Sigma 150-600 f5-6.3. These two lenses are for Canon EF and can be adapted to Sony FE with a variety of different adapters and are on the market usually for 1300-1600$ US. Overall I just don’t highly recommend picking these lenses up, mainly because as a long term investment for the cost, the autofocusing performance is nowhere near that of the sony and the build quality also doesn’t compare especially because there is the unfortunate necessity to use a adaptor which costs more money and isn’t weather sealed which isn’t ideal for lenses basically exclusively designed for outdoor use. I’m not saying adapting these lenses isn’t doable, I’m just saying provided the option between picking up these lenses new and adapting them or getting the sony 200-600, I would hands down choose the sony.
So with that all said, I’ll come to my final points. The sony 200-600mm is a sweet lens, and Sony did everything right with their design. The lens performs so well and comes in at a very reasonable price point for it’s quality. For wildlife photographers, this lens is ideal, I recommend it highly. For sports photographers like wise, though I intended to take this lens for a spin at a few soccer matches this year, Covid kinda got in the way of that, but I can say based on my use of this lens it will handle well. The issue though for most people is that it is a massive lens that has a very small amount of applications, which makes is a difficult lens to justify adding to collection, but if you are like myself and want the lens for the simple point of having a fun lens to use, this is a very fun lens that allows you to easily get quality photos in a focal range that is beyond that of most traditional lenses.