Sony 70-400 f/4-5.6 SSM G First Notes

Yes, the thing I was talking about yesterday is the Sony 70-400 f/4-5.6 SSM G lens. It’s here, and it’s very cool.

Sony a700 with 70-400 SSM G Lens

Sony a700 with 70-400 SSM G Lens

That’s the lens mounted on my a700. It’s a large-ish lens. It’s actually smaller than my old Sigma 50-500 in some respects. It’s also nearly half a pound lighter with all the doodads attached. Not bad, if I say so myself.

70-400 G Box and case

70-400 G Box and case

The Sony lens case for it is interestingly designed. It’s certainly more compact than the Bigma’s soft case. The strap is very thin, though. Maybe I’ll put my old Sony camera strap on it instead. Odds are this case won’t be used much. However it does have a loop connector so you could thread it on to your belt or a backpack.

Sony 70-400 G Case opened

Sony 70-400 G Case opened

The case opens and closes via means of a twin zipper system, making it easy to stow if you attach the case to a bag or belt. The Bigma’s bag requires you to unzip the top, which can be a bit cumbersome to add or remove it. I hear this case design is similar to some Nikon cases; it wouldn’t surprise me if it was made by the same company. The materials are leather and felt with some ballistic nylon mixed in.

Sony 70-400 G

Sony 70-400 G

The silver color is not as garish as I thought it would be. It’s a platinum type of color, similar to my old Titanium Powerbook G4… though the G4 was a little darker. The finish has a tacky non-glossy texture to it and it’s not very smooth. Probably some form of powder coat. If you don’t like it… buy a lenscoat.

The lens shade is not as flimsy as I expected. In fact, it’s quite similar to the Bigma (which is shorter) and the Tamron 70-200 hood in terms of weight and feel. I have a nice, positive CLICK when locking it in. There isn’t much resistance when it is not locked in, though. It is not metal, thusly people will notice, but I do not think it is bad. Plus, it has the polarizer window, one of my favorite features. Simply slide the window open and you can adjust your polarizer or other filter. It’s also flocked with velvet instead of the ribbing used by Sigma and Tamron.

In the hand the weight does not feel too different than the Bigma at first. That is to say, this is a very dense lens. With the caps, tripod collar, and lens shade attached, the 70-400 weighs 3.8 lbs (1,723 g). The Bigma in the same configuration is 4.4 pounds (1,995 g). Sony’s official specs lists the lens at 3.5 pounds or 1500 g, so that extra weight must come from the tripod collar and lens shade. Suffice to say that nearly half a pound is a significant weight reduction.

I do love the silent and fast SSM focus.  The Bigma was not really a slouch for tracking but it did take forever to rack from minimum to infinity. The focus limiter works from 3 meters to infinity, which cuts a lot of the focus range out. Perfect for aviation and air shows, cause you’re not going to close focus in those situations.

70-400 G versus Sigma 50-500 "Bigma"

70-400 G versus Sigma 50-500 "Bigma"

The lens, in terms of compactness, is about an inch shorter than the Bigma in their collapsed and extended positions (when the Bigma is at 400mm). The 70-400 G’s hood is significantly longer. The 70-400 is also somewhat narrower in diameter. This makes it easier to fit in camera bags, especially with a body attached.

The tripod collar on the 70-400 cannot be removed when the camera body is attached. Incidentally, this is also true for the Bigma. However, the 70-400’s collar is much easier to turn, and it has both 1/4 and 3/8 inch tripod sockets to accommodate various quick release systems. The collar also can’t act as a handle like the Bigma’s, but the Bigma’s collar can be unwieldy at times. Bit of a tradeoff here but Sony erred on compactness.

Unfortunately, the weather around here is going to be pretty terrible for a few days, maybe even a week. Image quality samples won’t be coming for a while. Rest assured that this will be used extensively during airshow season this year, and there’ll be a lot of hands-on reports in these situations to come from me.

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