Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM II review
Written by Gordon Laing
The Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master Mark II is a high-end telephoto zoom for the e-mount mirrorless system and Sony’s first G Master lens to receive a Mark II redesign. Announced in October 2021, it comes five and a half years after the Mark I which actually launched the G Master series alongside the 24-70 2.8 and 85 1.4 lenses – I wonder if they’re slated for upgrades too?
Five years is a long time in modern lens design and Sony’s not just reduced the weight of the Mark II, but reckons they’ve also upgraded the performance over what was already the best telephoto zoom of its class for the e-mount. Note that the original Mark I version remains on sale, and presumably will fall in price to reflect the differences in performance.
In my full review I’ll show you round the design and controls, demonstrate the autofocus for stills and video, and delve into the quality for portraits, landscapes and macro subjects, of course taking a close look at the rendering. Everything is in the vieo below, but if you prefer to read a written version, keep scrolling!
Ok let’s start with the design with the new 70-200 2.8 Mark II being essentially the same size as its predecessor: 88mm in diameter and 200mm long. But with fewer elements in the construction, Sony’s significantly reduced the weight from just under 1.5kg to just over 1kg, saving almost a third. Indeed it even shaves 25g from the weight of the Canon RF 70-200 2.8 to become the lightest of its peer group. Tamron’s 70-180 2.8 is 225g lighter still, but has a shorter range. As you’d expect the Sony lens is fully sealed against dust and moisture.
As before there’s a built-in tripod collar and foot which allows the lens to rotate through 360 degrees, although there’s sadly no notches or clicks to indicate 90 degree intervals, forcing you to rely on barrel markings or the camera’s leveling gauge. In a new addition over its predecessor, the Mark II now sports a manual aperture ring, which like all recent Sony lenses can be clicked at one-third increments or de-clicked for smooth and silent adjustments in video. The switch to declick is on the opposite side of the barrel. Next up, the zoom ring which turns smoothly and has a fairly short throw to get from one end to the other. Note the zooming still takes place internally with Sony resisting the extending barrel design of the Canon RF version. As before there’s three focus hold buttons around the barrel and finally at the end a very smooth manual focusing ring with linear response.
Sony supplies the Mark II with a hood but like Canon has switched from the petal design of earlier models to a cylindrical shape which, with the rubber tip, allows you to more securely stand the lens up. The hood also has a sliding window to access rotating filters, with the thread remaining 77mm.
Taking a closer look at the switches, Sony’s increased from four to six on the left side, with the Mark II adding one to allow manual focusing override at any time even when the camera’s set to AFC, and another to lock the aperture to the A position for body-based adjustment if you prefer. Also note the optical stabilisation now has three modes, with mode 2 for panning and mode 3 for erratic subjects like birds or football players.
Like the Mark I version, the Mark II is supplied with a tripod foot that can be removed to save weight, or to switch to a third party foot with an Arca Swiss dovetail. With the foot removed, you’ll see the lens still offers a built-in tripod thread if you prefer to mount it with no foot.
Ok now for my optical tests, starting with coverage, shown here filming video on the Alpha 1 which I used for all my tests and sample images. 70-200 is a classic short to medium telephoto range, covering all typical portrait lengths, although if you want extra reach the Mark II is compatible with Sony’s 1.4 and 2x converters. Note Canon’s RF 70-200 2.8 is not compatible with teleconverters due to its optical design, and Tamron hasn’t yet announced any for its 70-180.
Next for autofocus starting with the Mark II at 70mm 2.8 on the Alpha 1 in Single AFS mode where you can see the lens pulling focus very swiftly even when this mode couples phase and contrast detection. And next in Continuous AFC mode where it’s become as good as instant. Sony claims it’s improved the focusing speed and it certainly feels extremely quick in use.
And now at the other end of the range at 200 2.8 again starting with Single AFS mode, where again the lens refocuses very swiftly on the Alpha 1. And finally in Continuous AFC mode where again it’s almost instantly snapping back and forth. I’ll show you video autofocus later, but first my landscape, portrait and macro results.
Sony reckons the optical performance is improved over the Mark I, especially in the corners, so to find out I photographed my usual distant landscape scene at a variety of focal lengths and apertures; these outdoor tests are harder than photographing charts but I think provide valuable insight to the overall performance, so if you like my approach please consider subscribing. Oh and I’ve angled the view so that details run right into the corners.
So starting with the 70-200 2.8 Mark II at 70mm 2.8 on the Alpha 1, let’s take a closer look in the middle. The Alpha 1’s 50 megapixel resolution is unforgiving, but here the new lens happily keeps-up with very crisp details and absolutely no reason to stop-down to improve the centre sharpness. Moving out to the corners at 70mm 2.8 was an area where the earlier Mark I version softened slightly in my tests, but here you can see the benefit of a more modern optical design on the Mark II, maintaining sharp details right into the extremes with only the slightest evidence of darkening due to vignetting, but it’s barely visible. Stopping down the aperture fixes that straightaway but again doesn’t provide any perceptible improvement to sharpness or contrast. So another nice upgrade over the Mark I.
Next midway through the range at 135mm, a classic portrait focal length, wide open at f2.8and taking a closer look in the middle once again reveals a tremendous amount of sharp detail with high contrast. Again I couldn’t see much benefit to contrast or sharpness by stopping-down. Heading out to the far corners and the story remains the same with very crisp results and only the very slightest evidence of darkening due to vignetting which is barely visible and disappears at f4.
And finally at the longest focal length of 200mm, again wide-open at f2.8. Zooming-into the middle again reveals a huge amount of sharp detail from the get-go, and again no gains to be had by closing it down further. Likewise for the far corner which at f2.8 remains very sharp, and as before only shows the tiniest amount of vignetting which again disappears at f4. So overall Sony has managed to improve the optical sharpness across the frame over the Mark I, especially at the shorter end of the range; it’s become one of the sharpest tools in the box.
Ok next for portraits, the bread and butter of a 70-200 zoom, so let’s start at 70mm, wide open to f2.8 where the Mark II is delivering a pin sharp subject with a satisfyingly blurred background. Zooming-into the 50 megapixel A1 image reveals razor sharp details around my eyes and stubble, without ever compromising the buttery smooth rendering behind me. This is the goal of G Master and the new 70-200 certainly delivers it. And just for reference, here’s the same shot with the aperture closed one stop to f4 where the background has become more detailed without being distracting.
Next for the other-end of the range at 200mm f2.8 where the longer focal length has reduced the field of view for a less distracting background. Taking a closer look again reveals pin-sharp details on my face with perfectly-focused eyes using the A1’s face and eye detection, and nice, smooth rendering of the trees behind me. And again for comparison, here’s another version closed one stop to f4.
Moving onto the rendering of bokeh balls, here’s the 70-200 2.8 Mark II focused close to its minimum distance at 70mm f2.8, where you can see the blobs are very well-behaved with minimal outlining or textures inside. As I gradually close the aperture you can see the blobs also remains mostly circular, rarely if ever revealing the shape or construction of the diaphragm system.
And next at 200mm f2.8 where the bokeh balls become larger, but remain essentially bereft of artefacts – certainly no outlining or onion rings to complain about here, which is impressive for any zoom. And again as I close the aperture down one stop at a time you’ll see the diaphragm system stays out of the way with the blobs remaining mostly circular.
To find out the potential magnification, I photographed a ruler as close as the lens would focus, starting at 70mm f2.8, where it’s reproduced a subject 121mm across the frame, and if you’d like it sharp at the edges, I’d recommend closing down to f5.6. And now at 200mm f2.8, where it’s reproduced a subject 138mm across the frame, and again benefits from stopping down for the sharpest edges.
Now for some video tests filmed on the A1, starting with a focus pull between the bottles when set to 70mm f2.8, where you can see the camera and lens smoothly adjusting and settling on the target. Also notice the lens looks like it has no breathing issues over this distance.
And next at 200mm f2.8 where again the camera and lens have no issues pulling focus between the bottles smoothly and confidently, and again there’s no visible breathing in this test.
Next for a face tracking test at 70mm f2.8 showing how the lens is ideal for presenting pieces to camera from a modest distance with the camera easily keeping me sharp, and now again at 200mm where you’ll ideally need someone behind the camera to aim it properly, but as you saw in the stills portrait section, there’s plenty of opportunities to concentrate on the subject and blur everything around them, but always with the knowledge that the camera’s face and eye detection will keep them sharp.
And finally a test for focus breathing, first at 70mm where I’ll manually focus from infinity to the closest distance and back again. There’s a small change in magnification here, but it’s less than both the Mark I and Canon’s RF version. Remember this is going through the entire focus range, which you’re never likely to do in practice.
And next at 200mm, where focusing from infinity to the closest distance and back again shows a small amount of breathing, but again less than before and nothing you’d notice in real life situations. Sony claimed it had improved breathing on the Mark II and it bears-out here.Check prices on the Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM II at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!