Review Sony 55-300 mm
Sony 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DT SAM SAL-55300 & Sony A-77 (S APS-C)
The Sony 55-300 mm is a suitable telephoto lens for a wide range of subjects, from portraits to wildlife, and fast-action sports to a lesser extent (i.e.: in bright light only). If you really wish to specialize in action photography, a more expensive 70-200 mm f/2.8 or an even more expensive fast telephoto lens might be a better alternative. This recently introduced lens fits all A-mount camera models with APS-C sensors. In this review, we coupled the Sony 55-300 mm with the Sony A-77; a camera with an APS-C sized sensor.
Click (twice) on the image above for a larger version.
Field of view (FOV) Sony 55-300mm @ 55mm
FOV Sony 55-300mm @ 300mm
|The impressive 5.5 x zoom range of the Sony 55-300 mm gives you a field of view equal to a 83 - 450 mm zoom lens on a camera with a full frame sensor.
Construction and autofocus
|I was very pleased with the looks and feel of the Sony 55-300mm lens. It is well built and feels very good in daily use. The Sony 55-300 mm lens has a switch to lock the zoom lens in its shortest configuration during transport. The lens has a second switch for manual focus / autofocus. The SAM AF motor offers high-speed AF tracking capabilities for images and Full HD video. Sony claims the Smooth Autofocus Motor (SAM) to be "whisper-quiet." That seems a little exaggerated to me. I would say it has a noise level common for lenses in this price range, but lower than the AF noise of the Sony 75-300 mm.
In-camera Lens correction by the Sony A77
|When possible, we use in-camera corrections on jpg files in our tests as much as possible, and RAW files without analyzing in-camera adjustments. The Sony A77 camera in this test provides correction for vignetting, chromatic aberration, and distortion. Sometimes, no correction is available for a lens in the camera profile, especially for very old or very new lenses. Unfortunately, you cannot see if a correction profile is available for the lens you use beforehand.
Our results show that the Sony A77 has made a correction profile for the Sony 55-300 mm available. Distortion and chromatic aberration are smaller in the corrected jpg files than in the uncorrected RAW files.
Image stabilization Sony 55-300mm
The Sony A-77 camera has built-in image stabilization ("steady shot"), which has a gain of 3 stops in conjunction with the Sony 55-300 mm lens. That is very good. A hand held shot image using a focal length of 55 mm and a shutter speed of 1/50 second is as sharp as a steady shot image, taken at the same focal length and a shutter speed of 1/6 second. You cannot switch image stabilization on or off on the lens itself, unfortunately. For that, you have to dive into the menu of the Sony A77.
Vignetting Sony 55-300 mm
Vignetting is kept low for all focal lengths, both in jpg and RAW files. With the aperture wide open you might see a little vignetting in clear blue skies, but after stopping down 2 stops (lower focal lengths) or 1 stop (longer focal length), this is completely eliminated. At f/8 and higher, there is no visible vignetting at all focal length.
Move your mouse over the image for the Sony 55-300 mm vignetting in RAW files.
Distortion Sony 55-300 mm
In-camera correction of distortion by the Sony A77 yields jpg files without visible distortion over the entire zoom range. The RAW files show the true character of the Sony 55-300 mm lens, with a slight barrel shaped distortion at 55 mm and a more pronounced (~1.5%) pincushion distortion over the 90-300 mm focal range. Only when photographing buildings, the distortion in RAW files will become visible and has to be corrected by software.
Move your mouse over the image for the Sony 55-300 mm distortion in RAW files.
Bokeh Sony 55-300mm
|Most telephoto 4.5-5.6 zoom lenses on an APS-C camera do not show very attractive bokeh. The Sony 55-300 mm is no exception to this rule. If its bokeh you are after, the Sony 50 mm macro lens has a lower price tag and a much nicer bokeh. Click here for an image crop of a sample image with a less attractive Out of Focus area (OOF). If you wish to use this lens as a portrait lens, you should choose your background well.
|The Sony 55-300 mm comes with a hood, but if you do not use it, it is probably not a disaster. The Sony 55-300 mm seems highly resistant to flare. Only in a limited number of situations where, at a specific angle, a very bright light shines directly into the lens, green and purple ghosting may occur. This is a really good achievement by the designers of Sony.
||A Dikdik (Madoqua) is an antelope of 30 cm. For such an animal, a 300 mm telephoto lens comes in handy. This sample image illustrates the disadvantage of a not so fast (f/4.5 - 5.6) lens. To prevent camera shake, the Sony A77 camera was set to ISO 1600 for this image. By doing so, you will obtain a sharp picture but, because of the noise suppression, it looks less natural compared to an image shot at 200 ISO.
Click (2x) on the Dikdik for a larger version.
Resolution Sony 55-300 mm
As is usual for a telephoto zoom lens, the Sony 55-300 mm shows its highest resolution at the shorter focal lengths. Nevertheless, over the 55-267 mm zoom range, this lens will give you a resolution of 2000 LW/PH, which is very good. At focal lengths below 100 mm, the corner resolution almost equals the center resolution. At higher focal lengths, you will have to stop down one or two stops to obtain this same high performance. At a 300 mm focal length, the center resolution still amounts 1500 LW/PH, which might be 25% lower than the resolution at lower focal lengths, but it is still a value not reached by many lenses that are more expensive. Well done, Sony.
Click on the graph to the right to see all test results for Sony 55-300 mm resolution. Click (twice) on the flamingo at the top of this article for an impression of the sharpness @ 300 mm.
Chromatic aberration Sony 55-300 mm
|The Sony 55-300 mm contains an ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass element, commonly featured on premium Sony G Lens models, that reduces color aberrations. Chromatic aberration is indeed low and will not be visible in jpg files, even at large magnifications. Even large prints made from Sony A77 & Sony 55-300 mm jpg files show no visible chromatic aberration.
In order to determine whether this good performance originates from the in-camera correction of chromatic aberration by the Sony A77, or the ED glass element in the Sony 55-300 mm, we visually assessed the uncorrected RAW files. It appears to be a combination: the ED lens element really limits the amount of chromatic aberration, but the RAW files do show a little chromatic aberration, so the in-camera correction did a good job too. Whenever needed, you can still correct the RAW files for chromatic aberration in Lightroom or Photoshop, but I expect this will be rarely necessary.
Click at the graph to see all test results for Sony 55-300 mm chromatic aberration.
Sony 55-300 mm vs Sony 75-300 mm
We have already tested the Sony 75-300 mm on the same camera used for this Sony 55-300 mm review. This makes direct comparison of these two Sony lenses easy. Both lenses are zoom lenses with an approximately equivalent zoom range and price. The Sony 55-300 mm has a slightly larger zoom range and is built slightly sturdier. The zoom lock available on the Sony 55-300 mm lens securing the lens during transport is a nice addition. The largest differences in performance can be seen in chromatic aberration and distortion in jpg files. These differences can be explained by the in-camera correction of distortion and chromatic aberration, which actually occurred for the Sony 55-300 mm, but not for the Sony 75-300 mm. In both reviews, the in-camera correction was enabled. However, with the Sony 75-300 mm, we saw no difference between corrected jpg files and uncorrected RAW files. In terms of resolution, the differences between the two lenses are small, but the Sony 55-300 mm has a higher sharpness at a focal length of 300 mm and higher sharpness in the corners at the lower focal lengths. Add to this that the autofocus of the Sony 55-300 mm is quieter than the autofocus of the Sony 75-300 mm, and it will be clear that we prefer the Sony 55-300 mm.
Conclusion Sony 55-300mm review