Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM Review - Photo Jottings

Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM Review

Here’s a brief look at the Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM telephoto lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Box contents
Front and rear caps, hood, carrying case and users manual.
$998 retail
Build quality
Good, to very good.
Additional information
Huge upgrade optically and mechanically from the cheap Sony 75-300mm.
Specifications below
Optical configuration
16 elements in 11 groups
Angle of view
34°-8° full frame, 23°-5° APS-C.
9 blades, circular
Full frame and APS-C
Yes, made for full frame.   APS-C equivalent, 105-450mm
Depth of field and focus scales?
Focus distance window.
Minimum focus, image plane to subject
48″  (1.2m)
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject
33.5″  (851mm)
Hard stop at infinity focus?
Length changes when focusing?
Focus ring turns in AF?
Filter size
Filter ring rotates?
Distance encoder?
Max magnification
Min. F/stop
Sony teleconverter compatible?
Length changes when zooming?
Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)
3.2″ x 5.3″   82mm x 135mm
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
7.8″  (197mm)
Weight bare (my scale)
27oz  (767g)  28oz (795g) with caps, hood 2.2oz (61g)
Requisite product shots.

Box and lens
Small front element.
Side view.
Fully extended
Inconsistent cap designs.
Backside mount.
Compared to Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 lens.
Sony X-ray view and MTF chart
The Sony A700 and A900 were used for this review.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.
For a better understanding of my review methods and terminology, go here.
The Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM is a somewhat expensive and well built lens designed for hobbyists and advanced amateurs that are looking for a little better color and contrast from what the entry level zoom offers (75-300mm).
The lens is matte to almost flat black, different than most other Sony lenses.  It has rubber ribbed non-slip grip areas on the focus and zoom rings.  It says “made in Japan” so I’m assuming it’s made in Japan.  The lens has a few features that some other Sony lenses don’t have, like a focus hold button, which can be changed to DOF in the camera menu on select bodies.  SSM, or Super Sonic Wave motor that’s built into the lens, which is very smooth and quiet.  Also, there is a switch on the left side with three different positions.  On top is auto-focus full range, in the middle is an auto-focus range limiter, 3 meters to infinity, and the bottom position is Manual focus.  You have simple direct manual focus, though there are no options as on the 70-200mm F/2.8.  You also have the standard focus distance window, and the focal length marks coming at 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm, they match up with the EXIF data thankfully.  Sony claims they use an “ED” glass element in the lens.
In the box you get a carrying case, a large hood and the normal front and rear caps.  One thing that doesn’t make sense is Sony’s use of cap logos for identification.  On the 70-200mm F/2.8 G lens, you get the standard front cap with no “G” or orange “α” logo like you get on this lens.

The zoom and focus rings are reversed on this lens as compared to most other Sony lenses, but I like the focus ring close to the camera, it just seems to be a more natural position for me.  I tend to manual focus more so than zooming on-the-fly.  The focus ring rotates a little over 1/4 turn, and that’s a nice easy range in my opinion.  The zoom ring is pretty tight, and isn’t likely to creep out as you walk.  Hopefully, It’ll loosen up a bit as it wears in.  Extended all the way out to 300mm adds another 2.5″ (63mm) to the overall length of the lens.  No length is added for focusing.

Aperture/focal length guide below.
Sony 70-300mm G SSM F/4.5-5.6
Maximum aperture
70mm – 85mm
90mm – 130mm
135mm – 300mm
Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6
Maximum aperture
70mm – 85mm
90mm – 110mm
120mm – 300mm
Lens flare/ghosting.  Very good control, and much better than the Sony 75-300mm.  Check out the goofy shots below where the sun is just at the corner.  I used no lens hood for either shot, and it wouldn’t have helped anyways.  If you use a hood or your hand, there wouldn’t be anything to worry about if the sun is just out of the frame.  Surprisingly good control.  You don’t need to use the big hood on the 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6.  Also, it has no window for filter adjustments or velvet like anti-reflective finish on the inside like the one on the 70-200mm F/2.8 G.  Replacement hood cost is $49.
Lateral color fringing.  Good control here, I see very little when I’m staring at white roof tops against dark A/C units at 100% on my computer screen.  Much better control than the Sony 75-300mm.   See comparison below.
Bokeh.  pretty smooth over the full range, much the same as the Sony 75-300mm.
Color.  The same as the rest of Sony lenses.
Filter size is 62mm.  Other Sony lenses with this size are: CZ 16-80mm, 16-105mm, 18-200mm, 18-250mm, 24-105mm.
Filter use.  Regular filters cause no additional vignetting on APS-C or full frame.
Distortion is mild at 70mm, and 300mm.  If you like looking at your pictures with a grid overlay, there’s some mild pincushion distortion from 70mm to 300mm.  It’s not a problem for me and you don’t see it in regular pictures.  Distortion performance is nearly the same as the Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6.
Distortion examples
70mm, mild pincushion.
300mm, some mild pincushion, again, not much of an issue.


Lens flare/ghosting examples


Sony 70-300mm G SSM @ 70mm F/4.5 
Sony 75-300mm @ 75mm F/4.5


Above is a comparison between the less expensive Sony 75-300mm and our review lens.  The Sony 70-300mm handles flare and ghosting much better, and it should for three times the price.


Random shots below.


Sun centered, 70mm @ F/5.6
Sun in shot, 70mm @  F/5.6
october08/70300sunctr.jpg october08/70300sunoff.jpg
Bokeh, 70mm @ F/4.5
Bokeh, 70mm @ F/5.6
october08/70300ffbokw45.jpg october08/70300ffbokw56.jpg
Bokeh, 300mm @ F/5.6
Bokeh, 300mm @ F/8
September2009/70300f56bokb.jpg September2009/70300f80bokb.jpg
Ghosting is very well controlled with the sun centered, as in sunset or sunrise type shots.  At 70mm, when the sun is at an angle in the image, there are one or two small green and red blobs, though not really visible in the top right shot above.  At 300mm, things look good too.  Overall, very good control.
Bokeh looks good around 70mm at wide open apertures, but gets a little busy stopped down in my opinion.  Towards the long end, the background blur seems a little busy at F/8, but smoother wide open.
Below are color fringing examples for each lens.  100% crops.
Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM at 300mm F/5.6
Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 at 300mm F/5.6
As you can see, color fringing is controlled very well on the 70-300mm, not so with the less expensive 75-300mm.
Light fall-off.

As you can see, light fall-off or corner shading is mild at F/4.5 and 70mm, what little there is blends nicely towards the middle so I wouldn’t consider it a problem by any stretch.  One stop down and it’s clear.  At the other end, 300mm, there really isn’t any.  In actual use, you won’t notice any problems at any aperture.  This lens performed about the same in light fall-off as the Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6.

           70mm @ F/4.5
          70mm @ f/8
          300mm @ F/5.6
Center sharpness.

Below are crops from the centers at 300mm.

The photos above indicate sharpness differences at about 25′ (7.6m).  The refrigerator magnet is about 1 3/4″ x 2″ (44-51mm).

Below are macro examples from the Sony 70-300mm G SSM at 300mm.  100% crops.

If you like taking pictures of stamps with this lens, use F/8.  The detail here is extreme, and probably wouldn’t be noticeable in normal use outside.  There is very little difference between F/5.6 and F/8.  There’re no image examples from shorter focal lengths, simply because there aren’t any real differences from the 300mm shots, plus I don’t want to bore you silly with endless cropped images.
The corners are nearly the same as the centers at all focal lengths and apertures, so no rediculous shots of corners.
Below, check out the same shots with the less expensive Sony 75-300mm.
Obvious here is the difference in sharpness of the two lenses at F/5.6.  Interesting enough, it looks pretty bad, but it isn’t so noticeable in real life shots.  When the 75-300mm lens is at F/11, things even out pretty close to the same between the two lenses, although I think the 70-300mm G SSM is just as sharp at F/5.6, but again, not noticeable at this point in real life images.  All images were taken at 300mm, but the other focal lengths results were similar to what you see here.  Also, the above images were taken with the Sony A700 and cropped and displayed at 100%.

Let’s check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the sample and click the picture to see a 100% cropped portion of the full shot (333kb file).  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1″x 3/4″ or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a lengthy 33 1/2″ or .85m, measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.

The macro is very sharp and detailed with 0.25x magnification.

As close as you can get macro, at F/8.


Moving on to full frame samples below.


Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.


Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I’m only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don’t show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.


Light fall-off


         70mm F/4.5
          70mm F/5.6
october08/7045ffw.jpg october08/7056ffw.jpg
         300mm F/5.6
          300mm F/8


Light fall-off is worse than the APS-C crops shown earlier.  At 70mm, F/4.5 shows moderate to heavy, but isn’t all that noticeable in real shots, see image below.  It lessens as you stop down until F/11.  At 300mm, there isn’t much to worry about.


Full image from A900 below.




This full scene shows how the light fall-off from 70mm, F/4.5 isn’t so noticeable in real shots as opposed to the gray crops above.


70mm corner samples next.


october08/70300ffw45.jpg october08/70300ffw56.jpg


The 70mm corners look sharp with plenty of contrast at F/4.5, and don’t need to be stopped down.  Very good performance, and better than the much more expensive Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G lens.  The dark shot at F/4.5 is from light fall-off.  These crops were taken from the extreme corners.


300mm corners below.


october08/70300fftel56.jpg october08/70300fftel80.jpg


The 300mm corners don’t change much (if at all) as you stop down.  They look sharper than the Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G crops, which is real good news if you don’t need the extra light.  You’ll also notice the lateral color fringing in the crops, stopping down doesn’t help.  The exposure differences are from light fall-off.


Distortion next.


Pincushion distortion @70mm on A900
Pincushion distortion @ 300mm on A900


There is moderate to strong pincushion distortion at both ends.  The results above are exacerbated by full frame coverage, and noticeably different from the APS-C crops shown earlier.


The Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM telephoto lens is surprisingly sharp wide open, (at all focal lengths), sharpening up just a bit more one stop down.  In normal shooting, you’ll never notice the difference.  I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot wide open at any length on this lens, in fact, you will never notice any sharpness variations from different apertures unless you look at your images enlarged 100%.

This is what I like about the lens: Nice color rendition, sharp wide open at any length, instant auto-focus over-ride, very quiet and accurate focusing.  I also like the reversed Focus/zoom rings, it’s more natural for me.

The differences between the Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 and the Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM.  The 70-300mm has better control of; CA, flare and ghosting, contrast, and is sharper wide open.  It also has more accurate (especially at the long end) and potentially quicker focusing with the SSM and is better built than the 75-300mm.  The 70-300mm is $750 more.  If you’re a casual type weekend photographer, you can get similar results with the much less expensive 75-300mm, though you will need to stop it down to F/8-11.  The Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 is a little better all the way around, and will give you more confidence in your abilities by way of being more predictable at getting the shot in focus, and the fact that it’s sharp wide open, So you can maintain higher shutter speeds for those telephoto shots, especially at 300mm.

For full frame users; this lens performs very well on a full frame camera, in fact, you’re only giving up a little more distortion and light fall-off as compared to the APS-C results in the main review.  This lens gives better results in light fall-off, ghosting and corner sharpness than the much more expensive Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G, as I’ve mentioned earlier.  If you don’t need the extra two stops, this lens will save you about $1000.
If you don’t have a whole lot of money, be sure and check out the highly recommended Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 USD lens, (check price here), it’s very similar to the Sony, but less than half the price.
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