I recently go to test out the Sony 300mm f/2.8 lens a few weeks before it was released. Sony usually reaches out to photographers to try out equipment before it gets announced, so I thought I’d write a little about the experience and share some photos so you can see if this is a lens you would consider.
About the Lens
The lens is a fixed 300mm, so it’s not a zoom. The widest aperture is f/2.8 which is usually a good thing for photographers looking to allow a lot of light in (for lower ISO’s) as well as some slightly better background blur (bokeh). The lens will cost around $6000 which isn’t cheap. But also considerably less than a 400mm f/2.8.
It’s a GM lens which is Sony’s top quality of lens. These lenses have the best glass, coating, weather proofing, and overall build quality and optics.
What I Used the Lens For?
I primarily shoot landscapes and wildlife these days. When I got this lens, I took it out to a few of my favorite bird photo locations. I shoot mostly handheld and my settings were generally the same for most shoots. I shoot on Manual Exposure mode with Auto ISO turned on. The camera is on Continuous AF, typically f/2.8, with shutter speeds somewhere between 1/800th if the bird was sitting still and 1/3200th if it was moving. Auto Focus areas were mostly a center point in “tracking” mode, which means once the subject is locked on, even if it leaves the AF area I chose, the AF system still follows it.
My first outing with the lens was actually on a trip to Philadelphia at a local Audubon Center, where they had an owl (sitting still, but good chance to test sharpness and clarity), and hawk flying back and forth in a field for us to photograph. And with some of the trees changing colors, it made a really pretty backdrop.
NOTE: All photos were processed in Lightroom (NOT Classic, but using the new Local Tab in the newer Lightroom version). Noise reduction was done in Lightroom as well, and some minor distraction background clean up in Photoshop with the Remove Tool.
I also took the lens to my favorite spot here in the Tampa Bay Area (Ft Desoto North Beach). For those photos, I’m usually VERY low to the ground to get that great background separation that we look for. A lot of people think that the aperture is what gives you this background. It is actually more to do with your proximity to the subject, the subject’s proximity to the background, and also how low you get to the ground (so that background is actually WAY behind the subject). If you shoot down on the subject, the ground becomes your background, and no aperture will through that out of focus enough.
So what does the f/2.8 really get me, over let’s say my 200-600mm f/6.3? More light, which means lower ISO settings. And it’s not to say that f/2.8 doesn’t contribute at all to the background blur, but for me, it’s a very small part of it. I can’t stress how important it is to get low. As for the higher ISO settings, noise reduction is REALLY good these days so that’s not as big of an issue for me.
What I Liked About the Lens?
My favorite part about the lens was the weight. It’s half the weight of the 400mm prime lens. And it’s much lighter than what I usually shoot with (Sony 200-600mm). Plus, it’s balanced perfectly. It’s hard to describe, but when you hand hold a bigger lens the balancing of the weight that is there, matters. You don’t want that weight feeling like it’s pulling down the front of the lens, and this really feels like it sits well in your hands – without pulling you forward. And did I say it’s ridiculously light for a lens of this size?
The lens also focuses really fast. It’s hard to quantify because we’re talking milliseconds here compared to other lenses. But it definitely felt fast and smooth and locked on even in cluttered situations. But keep in mind a lot of that “lock on” is also a big product of the camera’s auto focus, not necessarily the accuracy of the lens.
What I Didn’t Like About the Lens?
There’s really not much to dislike about it. Lenses are better, lighter and perform better in every way today than they did 5-10 years ago. So how do you say you don’t like something… it’s a lens and, to me at least, they’re mostly all the same. The only downside to a lens like this (other than the $6000 price tag) is the focal length. For my wildlife photography, it’s just not long enough. I can rarely get close enough to the wildlife, and only having 300mm forces you to get closer – and potentially disrupt and even scare away the wildlife.
For most of the wildlife I shoot, I need at least 600mm. And I’ll take longer any day. If Sony came out with an 800mm, I’d be the first to buy it and probably put a 1.4x TC on it too 😉
Speaking of a 1.4x TC, I wish they put a built in teleconverter in it. Nikon is doing it with some of their lenses, so I would have hoped that this would start to become an industry standard by now.
Will I Add This Lens to My Kit?
So the big question is will I add a 300mm to my kit? The answer for me is no. As I wrote earlier, for my wildlife photography the more reach the better. I feel like I can usually never get close enough. But sometimes I am close enough, which is why I swear by the 200-600mm lens. It’s a bit heavier but it’s sharp, versatile and continues to be my go-to wildlife lens.
Now, I could see some one buying this lens (Half the price of the 400mm, and half the weight) and adding a 1.4TC to it for some extra reach. Sure, the lens would become an f/4 at that point and not f/2.8 but that difference is negligible and would rarely ever be noticed.
But I don’t believe this lens is aimed at wildlife photographers. Not that some won’t purchase one, but I think its main use is probably elsewhere.
Feel free to ask any questions below. And stay tuned for a write up on the new Sony a9 iii. I got to spend an entire day with the camera so I’ve got a lot to report. Enjoy!