The Minolta 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM lens is the lens that essentially started the introduction of the Super Sonic wave Motor technology to the then Minolta lens mount. The lens lives on as part of Sony's high end lens line up on its alpha mount for both the APS-C and full frame DSLRs. This lens will work on all Sony DSLRs, Konica Minolta 7D, Minolta Dynax 7 and Dynax 9 (upgraded) film SLRs.
Every camera systems has a pro 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and this G lens fills that requirement. It is an all metal construction with large optical glass elements to produce a lens of significant weight.
The key features of the lens are:
- Constant maximum aperture of f/2.8
- Internal zoom and focusing
- Super Sonic Wave Motor
- Focus range limiter
- Direct Manual Focus
- Circular aperture
- 3 focus hold buttons
There is no image stabilisation built into the lens. As with all Sony lenses (and prior Konica Minolta) the image stabilisation is provided by the systems build into the Sony camera bodies. This method does not always make the lens cheaper or smaller than similar lenses with built-in stabilisation but it does mean that any compatible lens attached to an Alpha camera body will automatically benefit from the cameras image stabilisation feature. As always when needs be the tripod can always be resorted to.
This lens has the original SSM technology introduced by Minolta for its G series lenses. It offers smooth, silent and accurate autofocus that has proved capable under a range of conditions. The lens does not have the focusing speed of the more recent G series like the Sony 70-300mm G lens but its quick enough for most purposes.
This lens over time has been used on the Konica Minolta 7D, Sony a100, a350 and a700 DSLRs. The auto focusing accuracy was more than respectable on all the cameras. The AF speed seemed equally as swift on all the cameras but there were differences when it came to photographing sports. The ability to track a subject was more about the camera bodies ability than the lens. The a700 not surprisingly offered the best performance when it came to tracking and keeping up with motion. The 7D did not do so badly but the a100 really struggled.
When shooting sports (or for that matter any subject in motion) it was found best to employ the focus limiter. This limited to focusing range from between 3 metres to infinity. The result of this was focus locks were achieved more promptly as any mis-focusing did not result in the lens having to focus from the whole of its range. However, the 70-200mm G SSM lens can focus as close as 1.2 metres and there were times it was better to give the lens free range just in case the tracked subject got closer than 3 metres to the camera.
It is usual for Minolta/Sony high end lenses to have a focus hold button and the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens has three of them. The one used is dependant on the orientation of the camera (portrait or landscape). They are nicely placed so that they easily pressed by the users thumb.
There are times when manual focus is the preferred choice and it was easily engaged by a twist of the large and grippy focus ring. Whilst manually focusing it becomes obvious why the lens can feel slow at auto-focusing at times. The distance the focus ring must travel from the closest distance to infinity is quite large. In terms of manual focus this makes it easy to fine tune the focus and promotes better AF accuracy. Getting from one end of the focus range to the other takes longer than doing the same task with the Sony 70-300mm G SSM lens.
It is worth pointing out that the success of manual focus will depend on the camera used. The bigger the viewfinder the better but DSLR focus screens are not optimised for manual focus and for serious manual focus use the viewfinder screen would need to be change. The camera will usually still provide focusing guidance in the viewfinder using the indicator used to confirm AF lock.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM lens gave sharp results across most of its range. With its aperture wide open results only really become soft towards 200mm. This was a shame as this was the focal length mostly used. Stopping the aperture to f/3.5 helped to produce the level of sharpness as expected from this type of lens.
The lens produced high contrast images. The look of images had more 'pop' as colours tended to look stronger, details sharper with more 'depth' to images.
Chromatic Aberration did not appear to be an issue at any focal length. This is good as Sony Alpha cameras do not have CA correction built into their image processing. Should any CA be found it is likely to be minimal and easily removed in image post processing. It is worth noting that the software provided with Sony Alpha DSLRs does not provide for CA removal.
There is no escaping the fact that the 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM lens is heavy. Whilst on a camera body the neck strap will become uncomfortable on the neck but better to put the strap on a shoulder. If shooting from a tripod the lens tripod mount has to be used. Without doubt a sturdy tripod is very necessary with a good tripod head.
The Plus Points:
- Superb build quality
- Internal zooming and focusing
- Constant f/2.8 throughout focal range
- High optical sharpness and contrast
- Minimal CA
- Focus range limiter
- Lens hood allows adjustment of filter
The Negative Points
- A little soft at 200mm
- Heavy (but unavoidable for this type of lens
The 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM lens is an expensive lens but when you handle the lens it is clear it is a very serious piece of kit. It is extremely well constructed and was used in a range of environments without any trouble. On occasions the lens was caught in a sudden downpour for brief periods and survived without and problems but care has to be taken as the lens was not specified as being weather sealed.
The weight of the lens means that only the more dedicated photographer is likely to want to travel with this lens. It usually means taking a larger camera bag to accommodate it or at the very least keeping it in its on protective casing (it comes with a case but the Lowepro Lens Case 3 offers more protection). For travelling with the lens the photographer is rewarded by the quality of the results obtained which makes it worthwhile.
If the constant f/2.8 aperture is important then the 70-200mm G SSM lens is the lens to have. If the fast optics is not required then consideration should be given to the 70-300mm G SSM lens. It has great optical quality, longer optical reach and weighs half the weight. The build is smaller and not constructed from metals but is still well built. EA