Thursday 31 October 2019

Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS

Wow I have been inconsistent with blogging this year! Given how lousy my birding has been lately, here's a slightly different type of post. I rarely write about equipment, but sometimes something comes along that inspires me to do just that.

Enter the Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS.

Starting with film, I've been using Canon equipment for approximately 20 years and have generally been happy, despite having some extraordinarily bad luck with reliability of some of the bodies. For wildlife pics I prioritise the lens, hence why I use Canon, although for beginners or keen amateurs I would still recommend Nikon in terms of the overall package. Ideally I'd like a Nikon D850 with my big Canon prime on the front! Sony do seem to be getting there with lenses now though. 100-400mm is another popular wildlife focal range and the Sony 100-400 is superior (well, significantly sharper at least) to the equivalent lenses from Canon (100-400 ii) and Nikon (80-400).

You may or may not have seen some of my astro pics on here, Facebook or Twitter, but this shift in photography genre is why I've started investing in equipment outside of Canon. Earlier this year, I bought a Sony A7Riii. Part of the joy of the Canon EF and Sony E mounts is that there are adapters that let me use my Canon glass on a Sony body (with limitations) so I haven't needed to go out and throw a heap of money at new lenses.

My intention was for the Sony body to be used for astro and landscapes whilst my Canon kit would still be the wildlife rig. Here I am, a few months down the line, buying a wildlife lens for my Sony body. This isn't because I'm unhappy with any of the Canon kit (although it is fairly old), but more so because every review I've read/watched about the 200-600, and (almost) every sample pic I've downloaded, has looked excellent.

There are a few things that particularly attracted me to the Sony 200-600:
- Internal zoom, it doesn't extend during use
- Useful zoom range
- Short throw on the zoom ring
- Compact and lightweight vs what I'm used to
- Suitable size to travel with, it fits within cabin baggage dimensions/restrictions
- Sample pics were very sharp at the 600mm end

My main concerns:
- The widest aperture at 600mm is f6.3
- Minimum focus distance is 2.4m, which is a fair bit worse than 100-400mm lenses
- No full-time MF in AF-C mode

If someone is buying a superzoom like a 200-500 or 200-600, it is my view that the lens should be strongest at the long end. Why? Because if the person didn't need that lens primarily for the extreme reach, they'd buy something smaller. I was pleased to see that 600mm on this new Sony zoom is its strongest/sharpest focal length, although it is still excellent at shorter focal lengths. It's important to match camera and lens well for your intended purpose. Some lenses aren't good enough to make full use of a high resolution camera, and vice versa. Both the Sony A7Riii and 200-600 are geared up to take very sharp images.

Here's a test scenario (real-world testing is in progress) showing how sharp this combo is at 600mm and wide open at f6.3. No profile corrections were used hence the vignette, but they have been lightly sharpened. These are various crops of the same image:

It is SHARP.

I'm gonna stick my neck out and say that this could currently be one of the best lenses for general wildlife photography on a moderate budget. It's certainly up there amongst them. My Canon 600mm f4 ii is very slightly sharper, lets in more light and has better contrast. But here's the question. Is it worth 6x the money? Well, if I sell the rest of my Canon kit in the next year or so, that may provide the answer (for my usage/scenario at least). Within days of buying the 200-600, I sold my Canon 100-400 ii. I'm not saying I'm switching to Sony. I never even intended to use my A7Riii for wildlife. However, unless Canon releases some decent RF mount bodies in the next year, a full switch is definitely on the cards.

Before anyone suggests bias, I have none. I'm not loyal to any system, I use what fits my needs and budget at any given time and I'm realistic about what different systems have to offer. People may of course have a different opinion on gear for their specific uses, and that's fine!

More soon...

EDIT: Shortly after writing this I noticed some dust/debris inside the lens so I looked more thoroughly under lights. The news is bad; one of the elements in the middle of the lens (can't get to it without dismantling it) has dust/debris, dirty smears and what appears to be some scratches on it! Clearly a QC slip up, but not what you want for such a lens. Back to Sony it shall go...