Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Review
February 7th, 2018
I’ve noted in previous reviews that there are few lenses more important to a company’s lineup than a good 24-105mm lens. The reason for this is simple: more people are likely to use the lens than just about any other. This focal length (on a full frame system) seems to be about the limit of what a lens designer can do while retaining a constant aperture and delivering professional grade results (Nikon does push this limit up to 120mm, but with inferior results on the long end). This is an amazing focal length, enabling you to shoot everything from landscapes to portraits with a single lens. Sony has lacked a professional grade fixed aperture (f/4) 24-105mm lens for their full frame E mount…until now. The Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS debuted with the new Sony a7R3, and it is an excellent match to Sony’s full frame mirrorless cameras. Find out if the 24-105G is the lens for you by reading on…
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FE 24-105G Build and Handling
One of the first “objections” to this lens by some of my viewers was in reference to the size. It’s my feeling that mirrorless camera makers somewhat painted themselves into a corner by their early marketing of mirrorless cameras as smaller, lighter alternatives to DSLRs while delivering equivalent image quality. That’s really only true so long as you are talking about smaller sensors (M43 and APS-C) and smaller aperture lenses. You can take advantage of the design (flange distance, lack of mirror box) and create some truly compact lenses. As soon as you move into full frame (or medium format) sensors and wide aperture lenses, however, that size advantage goes out the window. Sony’s G Master lenses are, for the most part, the largest and heaviest in the class.
This video breaks down the build and design in detail:
That’s not entirely the case here, as the 24-105G is the lightest lens in the class at 1.46 lbs (663g), which undercuts the Canon 24-105L II (795g) and definitely the Sigma 24-105 ART (885g) – Sigma seems to love making heavy lenses these days! I suspect the focus mechanism (designed for focus by wire mirrorless systems) is lighter than the Canon or Sigma alternative – both of which employ a full ring-style ultrasonic/hypersonic focus motor. The lens is physically just as large, however, with a 3.28” (83.4mm) diameter and 4.46” (113.3mm) retracted length. The Canon is just a hair wider (83.5mm) and longer (118mm), while the Sigma is a bit wider (88.9mm) but slightly shorter (109.2mm). These lenses are essentially all the same size, in other words.
So, while on one hand it could be argued the Sony lens is the most unwieldy when paired with the camera system it’s designed for, in practice I found that the balance is fine, and the improved grip on the a7R3 makes this a practical (though certainly not small) application.
Though lighter than the Canon 24-105L II that I reviewed last year, the 24-105G lens feels more sturdy and professional grade. The Canon lens came off feeling a little “plasticky”, and, while the construction materials are probably similar here, the feel of the lens is better. It feels better engineered with better tolerances. The zooming inner barrel action feels very precise as it extends out to a maximum of about 3 inches (5cm), with no wobble or play. The zoom ring itself is nicely damped, with no “sticky” spots along the way. The manual focus ring has a quality feel as well, though the nature of focus by wire focus systems common to mirrorless systems (input from the manual focus ring is routed through the focus motor without any direct connection to the lens elements) means that the feedback from the focus ring is rather numb. The input from the MF ring will only be registered if the camera is on, as input is routed through the camera into the focus motor. As such systems go, however, this isn’t bad, and Sony automatically zooms the image in the viewfinder/LCD screen if you are manually focusing.
On a very positive note there are actual switches on this lens, something lacking on many mirrorless lenses. This enables you to directly control AF/MF and ON/OFF for the OSS without resorting to menu options. This is definitely a faster, more intuitive process, though I personally keep Sony’s IBIS mapped to the C2 button and on several occasions out of habit hit that button. It produces an error message reminding me to control SteadyShot from the lens. The lens also has a focus hold button on the side between the two ribbed rings. This button can be programmed with a number of different functions from within the camera. I personally like to map Eye AF to the button for quick access to that very valuable feature.
The OSS (Optical Steady Shot) works in conjunction with the camera’s sensor shift IBIS to provide superior performance, and it seems to work well in practice, though not the absolute best that I’ve seen. I wouldn’t say that it worked any better than, say, Canon’s IS in the new 24-105L II, though I expected it to. Still, the importance of good stabilization with the high megapixel count on the a7R3 I did the review on (42MP) can not be overstated.
The lens features dust and moisture sealing, and the language seems fairly confident (I also look for certain euphemisms like “resistant” in the company’s language, as this often reveals the degree of confidence they have in the weather sealing). In this case they say dust and moisture “sealed”, which is usually indicative of quality sealing. The front element has a fluorine coating to help protect against dust and smudges. With such lenses I now no longer bother with a protection filter.
The lens has the fairly standard (for the focal range) 77mm front filter thread and nine rounded aperture blades.
One potential issue is that there is no zoom lock mechanism on the lens. My copy didn’t exhibit any tendency to “creep”, but sometimes as lenses get more broken in this becomes more of a potential issue. I’d rather have one and not need it than not have one and end up needing it!
All in all, this lens not only gave me a good first impression but left me feeling that way after nearly six weeks of use. It worked well in all the various situations I put it in, from extremely cold conditions (-30C), snow, sleet, and generally unpleasant weather condition. Nothing to complain about here.
There’s no question that the FE 24-105G benefits from being released alongside the new Sony a7R3 and its vastly improved autofocus system. Good focus systems tend to help lenses focus well, and that’s certainly the case here. Autofocus is quick, quiet, and accurate.
One huge asset to mirrorless cameras and their native focus system is that the need for typical lens calibration is eliminated. That’s certainly a big plus as a lens reviewer, as it eliminates one of the more tedious, time-consuming aspects of lens testing. It also means that you can be confident about the lens’ ability to produce consistent, repeatable results. Sony’s proprietary Eye AF technology makes this even more true when shooting human subjects, as it means that not only focus will be accurate but also that it will accurately focused on the right thing! In practice Eye AF works very well on this lens, though if you start Eye AF when an eye is not visible (subject in profile, for example), you may induce some hunting, which is logical.
Outside of that scenario I saw very few hunting situations. For the vast majority of my shots autofocus was quick and accurate.
Focus is essentially silent, so when combining this with the a7R3’s Silent Shooting mode you have essentially the stealthiest approach to photography I’ve ever seen. The only confirmation I had that a photo had been taken in this mode was when I saw the writing to the card. Pretty incredible for event work, which I do a lot of. I shot a lot in church settings with the lens with ISO values between 3200 and 6400 and had no issue with hunting in those situations.
I tested the lens for tracking, and, while this isn’t a dedicated sports type lens, the focus motor kept up with my high-speed test of have a hockey player skate as hard and fast as he could towards me. Essentially focus results were accurate so long as his face was visible. It was only when he got so close that his face left the frame that the lens lost focus. This kind of performance only adds to the usefulness of the lens as a general purpose option. Here’s a few selections from that burst:
I tested the lens with all three of the a7R3’s choices for AF drive speed in video mode. The behavior was excellent in all three cases, with focus changes always being smooth; they just happened at different speeds, which is exactly what you would want. Face tracking was excellent during video work as well. This will be a very useful lens for those that do video work and even for vlogging. The face tracking results combined with the Sony a7R3 were as close to Canon’s class-leading DPAF as I’ve seen with another manufacturer.
Outside of my ongoing dislike for focus by wire manual focus work (an inevitability here), I found a lot to like and little to complain about in the focus department. My focus accuracy during the review was excellent.
FE 24-105G Image Quality
This is where the rubber meets the road for many shooters. A 24-105mm zoom range is about as large as you can go while retaining quality optical results. The 24-105G has the added burden of being naturally paired with Sony’s high resolution A7R series, which means that it must adequately match the demanding 42 megapixels sensor. My review time with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II left me somewhat disappointed because there were few gains in the optical department over the previous generation. Fortunately, the Sony left me feeling a little more positive.
For someone like myself who reviews so many quality lenses, a lens like this requires a mental recalibration to bring my expectations in line with reality. One cannot expect a lens like this to compete with the best prime lenses at their given focal lengths…and it doesn’t, though there are moments where I was pleasantly surprised. This shot of my wife and her uncle was one that stood out to me as quite an excellent result at 105mm f/4.
This lens is optimized for center focus results (like many of them), so I found a fair bit of variance between what I saw in the center of the frame (often very good) to what I found on the edges (not as impressive). Remember that this is a lens optimized for general purpose shooting, and most photos tend to be focused on subjects within the center portion of the frame. Typically it mostly landscape shooters that require great corner performance, and the widest end of the focal length is where they will shoot the most. That puts a lot of pressure on the 24mm end for landscape shooters, and it is there that the lens doesn’t quite perform.
Wide open (f/4), center sharpness and contrast are quite good, and that sharpness extend across about three quarters of the frame and only weakens out near the edges. The extreme edges lack contrast and resolution, but for a wide-open result this really isn’t bad.
Here’s crops across the frame from the left, center, and right.
Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 improves center contrast and gives a little resolution boost. Unfortunately, the improvement in the corners is only mild, and even stopping further down to f/8 doesn’t improve things there. The corner performance is never exceptional. Here’s a look at the f/8 crops.
At 50mm the center performance is quite good wide open with the edges lagging behind (though a little stronger than 24mm). At f/5.6 there is an notable uptick in contrast and apparent resolution, but the corner performance is still quite a bit weaker than the center. The corners make an improvement at f/8 and are stronger than what we ever see at 24mm. Here’s a look at the f/5.6 crops across the frame:
At 70mm the lens gives the most even performance across the frame, and, unlike other focal lengths, it doesn’t really improve when stopped down. This is the strongest point in the focal range in terms of evenness across the frame, with the center looking excellent and only a mild reduction in edge contrast marring the performance. Stopping the down the lens past f/5.6 actually reduces image quality rather than improving it at 70mm. Here’s the f/4 crops:
At 105mm we see a result somewhere in between the 50mm and 70mm results. The center looks good, but the edge performance is weaker than the 70mm. A mild improvement is realized across the frame when stopped down to f/5.6. A little more contrast and a little more resolution. The center result is about the same going on down to f/8, but the edges do perk up a little more. Here are the wide open crops at 105mm:
So, while the lens isn’t mind-blowingly sharp, it actually delivers an above average performance for this type of lens, and I was left with a more positive impression than with the Canon 24-105L II. The great sensor of the a7R3 certainly didn’t hurt!
Video performance from the lens was good in terms of both footage and quality of focus, and no other existing 24-105mm lens is going to give better results for video work.
Distortion and Vignette
You have to work a bit to see imperfections like distortion on Sony bodies, as both JPEGs and RAWs arrive with embedded profiles (the latter is unlike Canon and Nikon). Even when you open a RAW (.ARW) file in Adobe (or other software) you will see the “after” result with the profile applied. You have to purposefully deselect that profile to see the uncorrected result. The good news is that you will basically always see the corrected result…and it is fairly well (and non-destructively) corrected.
At 24mm and f/4 the uncorrected result actually shows a fairly pronounced amount of barrel distortion and vignette. While there is a very minor amount of barrel distortion that remains after the profile is applied (the geometry with something like a brick wall is just a little “off”), it is largely corrected. Any remaining distortion will be essentially unnoticeable in most scenes.
There is some vignette that you can see in the image above as well. At the extreme corners there is a very small, very dark area, with a much milder vignette extending into the frame. This all seems to correct cleanly in the finished product after the profile is applied.
By 50mm there is a minor amount of pincushion distortion, and this cleans up nearly flawlessly with the profile applied. Vignette is essentially a non-issue at 50mm even at f/4.
At 70mm there is a similar result, though with a slightly more pronounced amount of pincushion distortion, but once again it corrects cleanly. There is very little vignette to speak of.
At 105mm there is a mild amount of pincushion distortion once again, but the corrected result looks fine. There is a bit more vignette than 50 and 70mm, but still fairly mild and easily corrected in the standard profile.
Outside of 24mm there is little of significance to note in both the distortion and vignette departments, which is pretty much par for the course with such lenses. After correction only a mild amount of distortion remains there, and so this shouldn’t be an issue for most shooters.
Flare Resistance, CA, Bokeh and Color
Flare resistance is a key area for any lens that will be used for landscape work (and that will be a major use of this lens on the wide end). Sony used their Nano AR coatings to reduce flare and ghosting, and, for the most part, it seems to have done the trick. I found that in most images I got next to no veiling (loss of contrast), though there were a few ghosting artifacts (colored “blobs” of light) here and there, particularly when the lens was stopped down.
On a very positive note I found the look of the “sunburst” very attractive with the lens stopped down and a nice addition to landscape images.
Chromatic aberrations exist in a mild sense and are mostly of the axial CA persuasion. This was an area where the Canon 24-105L II really disappointed me. Sony’s correction doesn’t completely eliminate it, but I found it mild enough to rarely need my attention. Because it is axial (LoCA) and not lateral, just clicking a “remove chromatic aberration” button won’t do the trick; you need to use an eyedropper tool and sample the color. In this case it seems to be almost exclusively of the purple variety, which means sampling just one color is enough to produce a clean result without much loss of contrast.
Bokeh quality is a somewhat subjective metric, but I felt that the bokeh quality was (for this kind of lens), pretty good. I didn’t see a lot of hard edges or busyness in defocused areas, and when close to your subject (and at 105mm), you can actually blur out a background fairly well.
On that note, this lens has a class leading minimum focus distance and magnification figure. The class average is close to 1.5’ (45cm), but the 24-105G can be focused down to 1.25’ (38cm) and has a very impressive 1:3.2 (0.31x) reproduction ratio. This is considerably more than the competition, which averages something more like 0.22x. I did find that close focus distance results were not exceptional, however, and moving back a couple of inches (to the more typical range) produced better optical results. These watch photos illustrate my point.
The color rendition from the lens was very good. I shot the lens in a wide variety of situations and was happy with the results that I got. I think the color rendition may be the lens’ greatest strength for landscape purposes.
I would recommend that you check out the Image Galleries here for a look at more photos. These will help you get a further “feel” for the lens and the images it can produce.
It’s hard to top the versatility offered by a lens like the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS. A lens like this can handle the vast majority of the shooting situations a photographer might find themselves in, and supplementing it with a fast prime lens and a dedicated telephoto lens results in a pretty versatile kit. I see little about the lens itself that I’m disappointed in, though some will be put off by the fact that it really isn’t any smaller than comparative DSLR lenses. I will highlight one challenge, however, and that is price. Sony’s premium FE mount lenses (G and G Master) are consistently the most expensive lenses in their class, and the 24-105G is no different. It retails at an MSRP near $1300, while the Canon and Nikon alternatives are closer to $1100. Sigma’s excellent 24-105mm f/4 OS Art lens is only $900. As a result, it may be hard to argue this lens from a price to performance perspective. Still, if you want native glass on your Sony a7 series camera, this is really the only option, so you may need to spend the extra cash. As least you can be assured that you’ll have gotten an excellent lens for your investment. This lens pairs very well with the new a7R3 and makes for an incredibly useful combination. This is a lens that Sony’s E mount cameras have desperately needed and one that will undoubtedly do very well for them.
- Quality feeling construction with dust and moisture sealing
- Mechanical functionality of the lens is excellent
- Quick, quiet, and accurate focus
- Focus and face tracking in video work is very good and essentially silent
- Good color rendition and flare resistance
- Image quality solid across focal range with no major dips
- Chromatic aberrations and flare well controlled
- OSS works well
- Physical switches and Focus Hold button are very useful
- Most expensive lens in class by a good margin
- No smaller than DSLR alternatives
- Distortion pattern at 24mm fairly complex
- No zoom lock switch
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