Review Sony 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II
Just before the start of the Photokina in 2012, the Sony 300 mm 2.8 G II was announced. This lens has the same optical design as its predecessor from 2003, which in turn descended from a design by Minolta during the analog era. The lens elements of the Sony 300 mm 2.8 G II are treated with a nano coating to reduce internal reflections. Furthermore, the seal against splash water improved and the AF is modernized. After the Sony 500 mm f/4, which we tested before on a Sony A77, this is the most expensive Sony lens.
Sony 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II @ Sony A77
Sony 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II @ f/2.8, 1/400, 200 ISO
|Characteristic of bright telephoto lenses is a fully uniform background, completely eliminating distracting elements in the background. In addition, the progression from focus to out of focus in the subject on the foreground is quite nice.|
The lens consists of 13 lenses, including 3 ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses, in 12 groups. The lens comes in a case and includes a tripod collar. If desired, you can rotate the camera while the tripod collar holds the lens. That works quite handily if you need to switch from landscape to portrait mode. The lens is also supplied with a large carbon fiber lens hood, which is secured with one screw and that you put reversed over the lens during transport, so that the focus ring on the lens and the switches are covered. So don't forget to first to turn the lens hood around for shooting.
Most professional telephoto lenses, including the 300 mm f/2.8 lenses from Canon and Nikon, have built-in image stabilization. With Sony, the image stabilizer is in the camera. In theory, the lens should thus be cheaper and lighter than equivalent lenses from the competition. That is not the case. As you would expect from a professional lens, the lens is, on the front, back, and at the focusing ring, extra-well sealed against water splash and dust. It is thus an obvious partner for the Sony A77 or Sony A99, both of which are also extra-well sealed. Filters are held in a filter holder half way up the lens.
|The shortest distance setting is 2 meters, with a magnification of 0.18. That makes this a less obvious lens for close-up photography, although the fast AF – with a lot of light – is well suited to focusing on fast-moving subjects. |
The Sony 300 mm 2.8 G II uses an internal focusing system, whereby the length of the lens remains unchanged. The drive of the autofocus is accurate and lightning fast. According to Sony, the Sony 300 mm f/2.8 G II, thanks to "a new LSI drive circuit", is 4 times faster than its predecessor – a pleasure to work with. At low contrast, the AF sometimes has to do some searching. On that point, it's nice to have the option of having an extended focus boundary, where you can set the shortest and longest distance. There's a button for DMF (Direct Manual Focus), which enables you to manually overrule the AF at any time, by turning the focus ring. Such a button appears a bit unnecessary, because I don't see why you would not leave this set to standard full time. If you want to use it, you don't have to flip a switch first.
|If you are shooting by hand with this lens, I recommend using a shutter speed of 1/1500 or faster to prevent motion blur. Recordings made at a shutter speed of 1/750 are sharp if you are shooting with a steady hand, but are still just a bit less sharp than recordings made from a tripod. At slow shutter speeds, you can use image stabilization. |
Sony uses image stabilization in the camera, by moving the sensor, instead of moving a lens element in the lens. This system was designed years ago by Minolta and provides, compared to other brands, a modest advantage of 1 to 2 stops (at the longer shutter speeds).
|From full aperture the Sony 300 mm f/2.8 G II takes pictures with a nice high contrast. Recordings at all apertures are sharp from the center to the outer corners. If you measure the resolution, it's maximum at f/5.6, but I wonder whether you see a difference in sharpness in practice between shots made at an aperture between f/2.8 and f/11. In particular, at 50 and 100 ISO, the Sony A77 delivers nice sharp, noise-free images with a high dynamic range. At higher ISO values (800 ISO), you'll see, zooming to 100% (click the picture at the bottom right), the influence of the noise suppression. If you limit yourself to low ISO values, you probably have more blurred shots. But there's likewise a higher percentage shots with a high "WOW" effect. |
|The Sony 300 mm 2.8 G II is designed for use on a camera with a full frame sensor and has a huge front lens to get as much light as possible on the sensor. No wonder, then, that this lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor in practice shows no visible vignetting. |
Although the Sony 300 mm f/2.8 G scores high on this part, various other Sony lenses like the Sony 70-400 mm and the Sony 70-300 mm G score even better.
Thanks to the high brightness of the Sony 300 mm f/2.8 G II, the electronic viewfinder is slightly less affected by noise if you have to focus in low light situations. In addition, the AF works well in low light, as long as there is only one subject with contrast in frame.
Click on the images below to view a 100% crop.
The Sony 300 mm 2.8 G II is designed for use on a camera with a full frame sensor and has a huge front lens to get as much light as possible on the sensor. No wonder, then, that this lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor in practice shows no visible vignetting.
|Thanks to the high brightness of the Sony 300 mm f/2.8 G II, the electronic viewfinder is slightly less affected by noise if you have to focus in low light situations. In addition, the AF works well in low light, as long as there is only one subject with contrast in frame. |
|Also in this part, there is nothing to find fault with on the performance of the Sony 300 mm 2.8 G II. You will not see distortion in the pictures you take with this lens. As usual with many telephoto lenses, we measure a very slight pincushion distortion. |
On a camera with a full frame sensor, you'll get the most beautiful bokeh, but even with the Sony A77, which has a smaller APS-C sensor, the bokeh is quite nice. That was already clear in the test shots above. There is a very small amount of structure visible in the bokeh, as you can see in the image excerpts below. If you stop down to f/8, then the bokeh changes from round to aperture-shaped.
One of the improvements over the previous version is the application of an anti-reflective nano coating, with which glare is limited. Even so, we made a few test shots in which it appears that you can still have considerable problems with flares and ghosting. Even if you use the lens hood and aim right next to a bright light source, as with concert photography, then you can get a purple haze and ghosting. Point light sources in frame can also sometimes flare, as you can see here.
Telephoto lenses with a long focal length naturally suffer earlier from chromatic aberration if you use regular optical glass. Therefore, in more expensive telephoto lenses, use is made of much more expensive glass with an extra low color separation (ED glass). In the Sony 300 mm f/2.8 G ED II, there are 3 (very) large ED glass elements applied in order to limit chromatic aberration. That works well. Even at large magnifications, you find no visible chromatic aberration when you use this lens. When testing lenses, we save jpg files in the camera, to which we apply all possible lens corrections, including chromatic aberration. In this case, that made little difference.
|This image was shot by Gustav Kiburg (you should visit his site) with the previous version of the Sony 300mm f/2.8 @ f/5, 800 ISO Sony A700. Since the optical design of the Sony 300mm f/2.8 II hasn't changed compared to the original Sony 300mm f/2.8, we didn't want to withhold this image from you. |
Conclusion Sony 300mm f/2.8 II review
|WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get". |