Review: Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II (Sony A Mount)

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I don’t always handle big lenses, but when I do, it’s the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II (or it’s equivalent across camera systems). I’ve been a Sony shooter for a long time, but the closest I ever got to this lens was Minolta’s beercan, the 70-200mm f4. Times have changed, and with that, so has lens technology. The 70-200mm arrived in the same box as the Sony a77II, which has been a joy to use, and while this lens isn’t all that affordable, it’s a strong addition to anyone’s kit.

With a constant aperture starting at f2.8 and stopping down to f32, the lens also features a nine-blade aperture and some of the company’s other technologies.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-Crisp image quality throughout the zoom range

-With the Sony a77II’s v2 firmware update, the AF is super fast

-Large rubberized focusing and zoom rings flow smoothly

-Dust and moisture resistant

Cons

-Expensive at $2,999

-Fairly hefty at 2.87 pounds. Weight is a given with a lens like this, though it’s something to keep in mind.

Gear Used

We used the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II with the Sony a77II.

Tech Specs

Courtesy of B&H Photo Video’s listing:

  • Sony A-Mount
  • Aperture Range: f/2.8-32
  • SSM (Super Sonic Wave Motor) AF System
  • Two Extra-Low Dispersion Glass Elements
  • Nano AR Coating
  • Focus Range Limiter
  • Nine-Blade Circular Diaphragm

Ergonomics

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And so we begin our ergonomics tour with a look at the lens and its hood. Without the hood, the lens’s length is just shy of eight inches. With the hood, it’s just about a foot. When not in use, be sure to keep it tucked away or close to your body, lest you should knock it as you move, not that it couldn’t sustain a few bumps, but it’ll wear your neck out after a while.

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Here you’ll see the large rubberized focusing and zoom rings. The focusing ring is at the front of the lens, and just behind the depth of field scale is the zoom ring, with appropriate focal length markers. Keep in mind with an APS-C body like the a77II, the equivalent focal length is 105mm-300mm. That button you see wedged between the focusing ring and the depth of field scale is the “Focus hold” button. There are three of them around the barrel. One is directly below the visible one here, and the other is on the left side of the barrel. At the base of the lens is the adjustable tripod collar.

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Ah, the wonders of switches. You set AF/MF on the lens, as evinced by the top switch. The middle switch allows for manual focus override in AF mode, which can prove useful for a fast-moving subject. The third switch is the focus limiter switch. Commit these to memory, and you’ll be fine.

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Don’t underestimate the weight. Your neck will wear out, and your arm will get tired after several hours of photographing. If you have the time and space to do so, use a tripod or a monopod to offset the physical costs of using a lens like this. It delivers excellent image quality, but there’s a physical cost.

Build Quality

With this lens, you’re looking at a hard plastic barrel and rubberized focusing rings–which are a boon in cold weather. The SSM in the name stands for Super Sonic Wave Motor. Essentially, autofocusing is fast and quiet, and when paired with the a77 Mk II’s firmware update, the lens’s AF is very fast. I was thoroughly surprised by how fast and how accurately it could focus. The 70-200mm G SSM II is very solidly built, and this is an update to the original 70-200mm f2.8 G. This time around, you’ve got dust and moisture resistance and Nano AR coating, which helps reduce lens flare and internal reflections. This lens and its predecessor are the same optically and externally.

Autofocus

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Oh how fantastically fast the autofocus is! When I first received the lens and the a77 Mk II, the camera was on its first firmware version, and then the autofocus was very fast. Once I got word of and downloaded the v2 software, I was pleasantly surprised by how fast the autofocus became. I could raise the camera to my eye, and upon half-pressing the shutter immediately, I had everything I needed in focus.

I did not, however, rely solely on autofocus. Manual focusing was a breeze, too, thanks to the a77II’s big and bright electronic viewfinder and the prominent focus peaking. The focusing ring, too, moved very smoothly. Although admittedly, if the shot took too long, my arms got tired.

Ease of Use

This lens, like most others, is easy to use. The main differences are the focus hold buttons around the barrel and the three switches along the left side. Size and weight factor into ease of use, though that’s something you will have to get used to. An easy workaround is either a tripod or a monopod, or doing some bicep curls before you head out the door. Otherwise, the AF is quick and MF is smooth, too.

Image Quality

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The 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II delivers exceptional image quality at all levels. Through protests and less intense photo walks, the lens constantly produced excellent colors with just the right amount of contrast, and it was a joy to use with the Sony a77II. I can only guess at how it would perform with the venerable a99, but it will more than suffice for APS-C shooters, though the a77II is the best of the bunch when it comes to Sony’s crop-sensor bodies. The lens performed well throughout the zoom range, both wide open and stopped down.

Bokeh

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A 70-200mm lens with an aperture of 2.8 throughout? You’d better believe the bokeh is nice, though bokeh isn’t the only reason to sing this lens’s praises. Those who pore over the technical details will be pleased, and those who don’t care about technical details will also be pleased. All out of focus areas are smooth, which will accentuate your subject nicely.

Sharpness

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This lens is might sharp, particularly when stopped down. Admittedly, I’m not much of a strobist, though I’m sure the lens would have been even sharper with additional lighting. Rest assured that, flash or no flash, your images will be crisp. This is particularly good for any Sony-toting photojournalists looking to move into a longer range.

Color Fringing

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In our time with the 70-200mm f2.8, we didn’t notice any color fringing. This is largely thanks to the Nano AR Coating. This is one thing you won’t have to think about in post-production.

Color Rendering

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The 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II was an absolute ace with colors, particularly when combined with the a77II. I only did minor bumps for exposure and contrast in Lightroom, just to fine-tune the RAW file. In terms of color rendition, wedding photographers, photojournalists, portraitsis, sports and wildlife photographers will get the most of this lens.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Likes

-Super fast AF

-Excellent color rendition

-Sharpness wide open and stopped down

Dislikes

-Price

-Weight

The-Phoblographer-Editor's-Choice-Award-Logo

The Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II is the quintessential piece of glass for several types of photographers. Take a look at the kit of any wedding, portrait, news, sports or wildlife photographer, and you’re bound to find this lens or its equivalent across camera systems.

For certain genres, some compromises can’t be made. You’d have a hard time at the races with the 55-200mm f4-5.6. That lens is simply too slow. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but it certainly isn’t easy. Knowing your craft means you can work around the limitations of what you have, but there are times when you need certain types of gear.

It goes without saying that this lens is a significant investment. At $2,998 pretax, you’re spending more on this than you probably did on your camera. Now, the a99 is $1,998. You’ll need to stick to a budget in order to set aside for this purchase, and you need to do it for the right reasons.

Don’t get this lens because “it’s what the pros use.” Professional-level gear doesn’t in any way guarantee professional-level quality. The right gear in the right hands will get you the best results. If you don’t have a specific need, your three thousand Washingtons are best spent elsewhere.

If you’re serious about your craft, however, and you find that you increasingly need this focal range, make the jump to this lens. Or rent it, at least, to make sure its the right purchase for you.

Having said all that, it’s more than understandable that this lens gets our Editor’s Choice Award. It’s a lens that consistently delivers, and will most likely outlive your camera, as many lenses do. Throughout the focal range and both wide open and stopped down, this lens is a quiet powerhouse. It’s a heavy powerhouse, too, so give your neck a break when you’re not using it.

Phoblographer-Star-rating

All things considered, we give the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G SSM II five out of five stars  and our Editor’s Choice Award.

Pick yours up at B&H, Adorama  or Amazon.

Recommended Cameras and Accessories

Sony a99 – The cream of the crop as far as Sony alpha cameras go. You can’t beat full-frame.

Sony a77II – The next best thing if the a99 is too expensive for you. Its 24.3 APS-C sensor will give you wonderful levels of detail and some beautiful colors to boot.

BlackRapid RS-7 – You’ll need a strong camera strap with a good degree of latitude to make this lens hang comfortably. The factory issued strap for whatever Sony camera you have will be far too uncomfortable.

CaseLogic DSLR Camera Backpack – A camera bag with good padding and ample space is necessary when you’ve got a lens like this. CaseLogic’s offering is a solid choice.