Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM II review
Written by Gordon Laing
The Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 G Master II is a high-end standard zoom aimed at event and wedding photographers, or anyone who wants the best quality general-purpose lens for their Alpha mirrorless camera. Sony loaned me the lens for testing and in my review I’ll show you what it can do. As always, the full review is in the video below, but if you prefer to read the written highlights, keep scrolling!
Launched in April 2022, the 24-70 GM II becomes the second G Master lens to receive the Mark II treatment, although the original Mark I which joint-launched the G Master series six years earlier remains on sale. The new Mark II version costs around $2300 compared to around $2000 for the Mark I at the time I made this review. This puts the new Sony at a roughly similar price to the equivalent Canon RF and Nikon Z models.
If you’d like a more affordable f2.8 zoom, Sigma’s 24-70 2.8 DG DN Art is around half the price at just $1099, while Tamron’s 28-75mm f2.8 Di III VXD is even cheaper at $899, albeit starting and ending at a slightly longer focal length.
Ok back to the new Sony 24-70 GM II, which at 88mm in diameter may be roughly similar to its peers, but comes in shorter at 120mm, shaving 16mm from the Mark I and around 6mm from the Canon and Nikon. The really big difference though is the weight which at 695g is comfortably lighter than the Mark I at 886g, not to mention the competition with Nikon, Sigma and Canon weighing-in at 805, 830 and 900g respectively. This makes the Sony GM II the smallest and lightest 24-70 2.8 in its class and I certainly felt the weight difference carrying it around all day.
Starting from the end of the barrel is an 82mm filter thread, followed by a free-spinning and very smooth manual focusing ring. Behind this is an AF / MF switch and two programmable function buttons, followed by the zoom ring which extends the barrel by about 35mm when zoomed to the longest focal length.
While the Mark II lacks the locking switch of its predecessor which held the barrel at its shortest focal length, it gains a large switch on the opposite side of the barrel that allows you to adjust the zoom friction between smooth and tight, which can be handy when adjusting it during video.
When the lens is set to Smooth where it feels quick and light to turn, but difficult to perform a zoom at a constant speed. Set the switch to Tight and it feels much more damped, making it easier to maintain a fairly constant zooming speed, or to make smaller, more precise adjustments. Oh and even when it’s set to smooth, I didn’t experience any creep with the barrel pointing directly up or down, so I didn’t miss the locking switch.
Closest to the mount-end is a new aperture ring, now common on most new Sony lenses, but absent on the Mark I version. It runs between f2.8 and f22 in one third increments, with an A position for body-based control and a lock switch to keep it there if desired.
Like other recent Sony lenses, the aperture ring can be declicked for smooth and silent adjustment using a switch on the other side of the barrel. While I don’t believe the increments have become any finer than one third EV, the actual change between them is smooth, giving the visual impression of stepless adjustment.
And finally here’s the lens fitted with its supplied petal hood which mounts on the bayonet at the end of the barrel. In a nice upgrade over the Mark I, the hood now includes a small window which slides back to provide access to a polarising or variable ND filter.
The 24-70 GM II is also extensively sealed against dust and moisture, and includes a rubber grommet at the lens mount. Like its predecessor though, there’s no optical stabilisation, so you’ll need a body with IBIS to iron-out any wobbles, or of course a gimbal. At least the lighter weight will make it easier to balance.
Ok, now for my tests all made using an Alpha 1 body and here starting with autofocus on the 24-70 GM II at 24mm f2.8. The lens now employs four XD Linear motors in a floating group that delivers visibly snappier focusing than the Mark I. When the lens is zoomed to 70mm f2.8 it’s still very quick and confident in operation. These tests were with the Alpha 1 set to Single AF, but the extra speed also makes it more practical for shooting close range action in Continuous AF.
Here’s a quick burst of Brighton’s Seagulls, using the 24-70 GM II at 70mm f2.8 on the Alpha 1 set to wide area with bird eye detection and continuous AF. I shot this at 20fps using the H+ mode on the Alpha 1, but the lens will support speeds up to 30fps on future bodies.
While we’re talking autofocus, here’s a video test in AFC with the lens back at 24mm f2.8 using a single AF area in the middle of the frame, where as you’d expect, the focus-pulling is smooth and confident. And now for the long-end of the range as 70mm f2.8, again effortlessly pulling focus between near and far. The lens autofocus is also essentially silent in operation.
Next for face-tracking at 70mm f2.8 where you can present pieces to camera with a decent amount of blurring in the background. Again with the Alpha 1 set to wide area with face and human eye detection, the tracking is effortless.
And now at the wide-end of the range for environmental presentations, showing more of the surroundings. As I wander around the frame, a brief nod to Sony for continuing to make AF tests a breeze on their latest bodies and lenses which simply nail it first-time. Who cares if the Alpha 1 screen doesn’t face forward – if I’m in front of the camera, I know I’ll be in focus.
Now for focus-breathing with the lens at 24mm f16, manually focusing from infinity to the closest distance and back again. As I focus the lens closer, you’ll see the field of view broaden a little as if the zoom was becoming a little wider. It’s fairly mild though and also works with the compensation mode on models like the Alpha IV.
With the lens zoomed to 70mm f16 and again manually focusing from infinity to the closest distance and back again, you’ll notice the opposite effect: so there’s still some breathing visible, but this time as I focus closer, the field of view reduces a little as if I was zooming-into a slightly longer focal length. Again it’s pretty minimal though.
Set the lens roughly mid-way through its range though, at around 45mm here, and you’ll be able to essentially eliminate any effect of breathing without the need for digital compensation. So if you’re really bothered about field magnification or reduction, just zoom halfway.
Ok, now for my landscape, portrait and bokeh tests, and again all were taken on an Alpha 1 body with the default settings for Lens Compensation: so Shading and Chromatic Aberration correction set to Auto, but for this lens, Distortion Compensation set to off.
So let’s start with my distant landscape scene, angled as always so that fine details run right into the corners. Here’s the lens at 24mm f2.8 and taking a close look in the middle reveals a tremendous amount of detail and high contrast even with the aperture wide-open. Closing it one stop to f4 provides a tiny boost for pixel-peepers, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s looking great in the middle at f2.8.
Heading out to the corners of the f2.8 image shows the lens maintaining a respectably flat field – remember this was focused in the middle of the frame – with only some darkening due to vignetting to mention. As you gradually close the aperture, this darkening lifts and there’s a mild boost in overall corner crispness, but the lens really is performing well at 24mm.
Next let’s zoom the lens to the 35mm focal length, here starting again with the aperture wide-open to f2.8. Taking a close look in the middle of the frame tells the same story as at 24mm, so lots of fine details and high contrast out of the gate, with a very mild boost if you can stop it down to f4.
Returning to the f2.8 image and heading into the far corner shows a very mild drop in sharpness and minor darkening from vignetting, but it’s still a great-looking result especially as again it was focused in the middle. As you gradually close the aperture, any darkening will lift and you’ll gain some extra sharpness on the far corner.
Next here’s the lens at 50mm, again starting with the aperture wide-open to f2.8. Now on the previous Mark I model, I found the quality gradually reduced as the focal length increased, but Sony appears to have banished those demons here. There’s loads of fine detail in the middle at f2.8 and again only a tiny boost if you close to f4. Meanwhile returning to the f2.8 image and moving into the far corner sees those details remain crisp right into the extremes, and at this point little to no vignetting to mention. Indeed closing the aperture here has minimal benefit.
And finally for my distant landscape scene at the longest focal length of 70mm, again starting with the aperture open to f2.8. Taking a closer look in the middle shows a tremendous amount of high contrast detail with no real benefit to stopping-down. The original Mark I may have been weakest at 70mm in my tests, but I’ve no complaints here.
Heading into the far corner shows the lens continues to perform very well and deliver a flat field with no real softness to complain about. Stopping down a little will give you a minor boost, but ultimately I was very satisfied with the results throughout the zoom range with a distant subject.
Now let’s move onto portraits, the bread and butter of this kind of lens at the long-end of its range, so here’s what you’ll get with the 24-70 GM II at 70mm f2.8. Even looking at the full image you can see the subject is very sharp and nicely separated from the background.
Zooming-in on the eyes reveals loads of fine details and again bonus points to the Alpha 1 and lens combo which delivered a 100% hit-rate in my portrait tests, here using a wide area and eye detection alone. Looking more at the background shows the lens enjoys smooth rendering of blurred areas with no busy-ness or other distracting artefacts. So a solid result on the portrait front as you’d hope for this kind of lens.
To better evaluate the background rendering and performance at close distance, here’s the lens at 24mm f2.8 from its closest focusing distance of 21cm at this focal length. The subject’s sharp and the bokeh blobs are reasonably well-behaved, with only faint outlines and textures within. The blobs at the extremes do become sliced into unusual shapes though at the maximum aperture. As you close the aperture down, the shapes become more rounded, while the 11-bladed aperture system stays mostly out the way.
At the other end of the zoom, here’s the lens at 70mm f2.8, again from its closest focusing distance, which at this focal length is 30cm; from this distance I could reproduce 104mm across the frame. The blobs are much larger and there’s some faint concentric patterns within, but the elongation is milder, and essentially eliminated as you begin to close the aperture down. The Mark II lens can not only focus closer than its predecessor, but thanks to the floating focus group, delivers much crisper results at short distances as you’ll see in my sample images in a moment.
At the other end of the aperture scale, here’s the lens at 24mm f22, pointing directly at the Sun, where the 11 aperture blades deliver 22 well-defined diffraction spikes.Check prices on the Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM II at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!