Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS lens review: My personal experience
~ by Manish Lakhani
Generally, I don’t get into technical reviews of any equipment but I don’t mind sharing my hands on experience with fellow photographer friends.
Recently I was using newly launch Sony telephoto lens (FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS - SEL400F28GM) for few weeks to shoot birds, animals, of-course portrait and landscape. I really would like to share my experience of shooting along with some technical information and sample images. Hope you like it.
There are three telephoto lenses from Sony:
- FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS
- FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS
- FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS
Today I would like to share my shooting experience about FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS prime telephone lens which was paired up with a7RIII, don’t wonder why I not shooting on a9. a7RIII - A 42.4-megapixel full-frame camera gives me a tremendous amount of crop when it needed and 10 FPS was sufficient for my kind of image making process.
The FE 400mm f2.8 GM OSS is the first super-telephoto prime for Sony's full-frame mirrorless camera system. This is lens is one of the lightest from the competition but when you attached them Sony mirrorless body, setup becomes really noticeable. I had paired up with (ILCE-7RM3) widely known as a7r3. Lens weight is 2.895kg and a camera is about 0.657kg, total weight 3.552kg which is really less compare to other competitions with their pro camera bodies and this is really noticeable when you are shooting handheld. This lens is "GM" and being G Master lens, it also delivers very sharp details right into the corners coupled with attractive rendering in out-of-focus areas. That means its edge to edge sharp.
This lens comes with a newly developed Motor (XD Linear) which focuses the lens really fast enough. OSS means lens includes optical stabilization, focus range limiters, four focus lock buttons and a twistable function ring which can be configured to return to pre-focused distances, smoothly rack focus or toggle between full frame and APS-C crop modes, but makes sure your camera body is with latest firmware update to support these options and functionalities.
Some of the highlights:
- Super Lightweight 2.895kg.
- Extraordinary G Master resolution.
- Super telephoto prime lens is designed for full-frame sensors, and it can work with APS-C sized sensors which is an equivalent focal length of 600mm.
- Aperture Range F/2.8 to F/22 and F2.8 aperture provides great control over depth of field and better low-light performance.
- Three fluorite elements help reduce colour fringing and chromatic aberrations for increased quality and colour accuracy.
- Nano AR Coating reduces flare and ghosting, which provides increased better clarity and contrast
- Dual XD Linear Motor System quietly and quickly focuses on fast-moving subjects while shooting at high speeds.
- 4x customizable multi-function focus hold buttons and function ring.
- Optical SteadyShot Stabilization provides 5-axis image stabilization when paired with a camera that features in-body image stabilization.
- Weight distribution is balanced toward the back of the lens, making it easier to pan and track moving subjects and handheld use.
- GM Means G Master as it named lens is protected against dust, dirt, and moisture throughout its weather-sealed design and made out of magnesium alloy.
- Works great with 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters (compatible)
- Power Focus functionality for smooth focus during video recording.
- Rounded, 11-blade diaphragm provides silky smooth bokeh, means backgrounds defocused really nice.
- Drop in filter system (size 40.5mm).
- Last but not least it's made in Japan.
Lens Construction 1 Yellow: Fluorite lens 2 Gree: ED Glass
MFT-Chart  Contrast (%)  Distance from optical centre of lens (mm)  Max. aperture  F8 aperture  Spatial frequency  10 line pairs / mm  30 line pairs / mm  R: Radial values T: Tangential values
|Lens type||Prime Lens|
|Max Format size||35mm FF|
|Focal length||400 mm|
|Number of diaphragm blades||11|
|Special elements and coatings||1 fluorite and 3 ED elements, Nano AR and fluorine coatings|
|Minimum focus||2.70 m (106.3″)|
|Motor type||XD Linear|
|The depth of Field Scale||No|
|Focus distance limiter||Yes|
|Weight||2895 g (6.38 lbs.)|
|Diameter||158 mm (6.22″)|
|Length||359 mm (14.13″)|
|Filter notes||Drop-In Filters Type|
1. Focusing ring / 2. Function ring / 3. Tripod collar ring / 4. Focus-hold button / 5. Drop-in filter holder / 6. Strap eyelet / 7. Tripod collar ring-clicking select switch / 8. Security slot (To attach a security cable)
Design & Handling:
When we talk about prime telephoto, first we nod head and think about total weight and perhaps we talk about physical dimensions. For full-frame cameras, super telephoto lenses, especially ones with bright F/2.8 apertures, most of us can't think about the lightweight, they are massive and heavy as well difficult to handle. For example, Canon's popular EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II weighs-in at 3.9kg (8.5 lbs) and it's the same story on the Nikon side of the coin as well. Here Sony did a wonderful job without compromise on the structure and built, it's just 2.895kg.
The optical layout of the lens, which incorporates 23 elements in 17 groups arranged in such a way that many of the lens elements are towards the rear part of the lens barrel. Means handheld operation is easy in terms of weight balance. Just not balance but large free gap towards the front end of the lens makes it feel lightweight.
I was using with A7RIII with battery grip and this lens, all put together, I must say its well-balanced camera system just not for the handheld but on a tripod too. 3.5 Kg camera system we don’t call a lightweight in general, but You can easily operate and control this lens handheld, depending on the subject or situation.
The made in Japanese tag is really mean it and it all weather-sealed for tough conditions. The nice thing about this lens is compatible with both 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters and you won't lose much of aperture.
Optical Design and construction:
The FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS made out of 23 Elements in 17 Groups including three Fluorite lens elements and one ED glass element to virtually eliminate both axial and lateral chromatic aberrations while maintaining corner-to-corner sharpness.
While most 400 2.8s are incredibly front-heavy from the other competitors this one is designed by moving the AF groups to the rear "not front" side of the lens which allows front lens element sits five full inches of the air. This design helps the lens balances at the focus ring rather struggling with front elements. Weight balanced made it in such a way you will more like a mid-range telephoto lens 300mm 2.8, not 400mm 2.8 beasts.
The lens features 23 Elements in 17 Groups including three Fluorite lens elements and one ED glass element that virtually eliminate both axial and lateral chromatic aberrations while maintaining sharpness corner to corner.
Body construction made of magnesium alloy, which provides durability to hold up to heavy use yet it’s lightweight helps trim two pounds from the weight of competing lenses.
AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR and Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM are excellent lenses from competitions and they are the best lenses Canon & Nikon ever made. But they simply don’t match the corner to corner sharpness as Sony made it with FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS.
And of course you can use teleconverters to match your reach, there are two models available from Sony which works perfectly with this lens. FE 1.4x and FE 2.0x, without losing much on F-stop. And 1.4x will give you a focal length of 560mm at F4, where FE 2.0x 800mm at F5.6.
Lens Features and some of the buttons.
Buttons are really easy to use and understand.
- AF/MF Auto Focus or Manual Focus from the lens.
- DMF STD/Fulltime (Direct Manual Focus)
- FULL-TIME DMF switch is ON, manual focus is immediately engaged by simply rotating the focus ring, even while shooting in the AF-C mode
- Focus Limiter
- The focus range limit switch allows a limited focus range to be selected when the fastest possible focusing is required. Three settings are provided: FULL, 7m-2.7m, and ∞-7m.
- Focus Hold
- PreFocus Set Button
- Function ring, ahead of the focus ring is programmable to "Preset" a quick return to a preselected focus distance.
- Optical Steady Shot ON/OFF
- On Body, OSS switch to control externally.
- OSS Mode 1/Mode 2 /Mode 3
- Shake compensation mode switch for three different movement situations
- Mode 1: Normal.
- Mode 2: Panning.
- Mode 3: Tracking unpredictable motion
- BEEP ON/OFF button.
- PRESET lets us pre-set a focus distance to which the lens returns anytime when we want it. One slightly rotates the thin black ring between the focus ring and the focus lock buttons. To use the PRESET, set BEEP to ON, focus the lens where you want it, and hold SET until it beeps and you are done with preset focus.
My Overall experience with this lens.
It took me little time to understand and get used to with lens, its functionality and technical details. After a few shots, it was really to shoot with this lens as I used my all-time favourite Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS lens. Lots of common features helped to get used to with this lens quickly.
Following setting, I kept on my Sony A7RIII for action shoot and which is my most favourite settings for action and fast-moving subject which is saved with option 3 on the dial mode. 1 is for portrait and 2 is for landscape photography.
Setting orders are in random here:.
- Image format RAW - Compressed (that gives me more room for buggering during continuous shooting)
- White Balance: Auto (Can be set later in Post Processing Software)
- Focus - AF-C
- Eye Auto Focus is configured with a focus hold button on the lens (sports/action to hold focus on eyes)
- Drive mood - Shooting Speed H (High). I don’t use H+ as it doesn't give me LiveView option on LCD and definitely, no one likes to shoot on blank screen or legging.
- Select Media - I keep slot 1 which allows me to put high-speed memory card for reading and writing speed ( I use 64GB SDXC II R300MB/s & W299MB/s)
- Focus Area Lock - ON and mainly using two option from there
- Local On - AF Expand Flexible Spot (All rhythmic moments, means more predictable)
- Local On - AF Expand Wide (All random moment of your subject)
- Set Face Prty ON (Really helpful for sports)
- Face Priority in AF - ON
- Face Detect Frame Dsp - ON
- These options are helpful to understand where your camera is setting focus on which face and too many faces are around and you have register one to get priority on the face.
- AF Trace Sens - I leave it to standard 5 which is responsive
- AF W/Shutter - ON / OFF to get activate back button focus, I use half click to focus.
- ISO Auto (between 100-6400)
- ISO Auto Min Shutter Speed Fast or I limit depends on how fast object and light condition.
- Metering mode: Multi
- AEL W/ Shutter: Off (helps a lot when your subject moves from light to shadows or vice versa.
- Silent Shooting: Off (for A7RIII)
- E-Front Curtain Shut: On (It FPS becomes slow if you are shooting high speed and keep shut)
- Cont. Shoot. Length: Always Display - Gives an idea about how much bugger is still remaining or the next shoots.
Why this lens became my favourite for practical purpose.
- It's F 2.8 really good performance with low light.
- Compatible with 1,4x and 2.0x can reach with more focal length without losing much aperture
- Super sharp edge to edge
- Lightweight, entre system I could mount on my regular travel tripod (overall weight reduction)
- The overall system, weight is less and handheld is possible even in low light.
- Super creamy bokeh.
- Super fast autofocus and equally manual.
- Carry in same travel backpack with travel tripod is possible.
- The lens is the well-balanced which increases mount strength and reliability.
- Supplied hard carrying case to transport.
- Portraits are superb smooth if you are looking for silky smooth bokeh.
- It's really nice for landscape too if you are in an area where 400mm can be used, personally I use 400+ mm in Ladakh many times.
Why I hate this lens :
- It is expensive (But every penny is worth but still expensive)