Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens Review
At review time, the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens is the second least expensive Sony FE lens available. Low price is a feature that everyone can get behind and a useful general-purpose focal length range, OSS, weather sealing, light weight, and compact size are more features that all will appreciate. Is this lens’s image quality good enough? That’s what I wanted to know — let’s find out.
Focal Length Range
A primary lens selection feature should be the focal length or focal length range. Zoom lenses have a great advantage over prime lenses in this regard and the 28-70mm focal length range contained in this lens covers a huge range of needs, making it a great general-purpose choice.
This is a great focal length range for photographing people and it is ideal for portraits, weddings, parties, events, documentaries, interviews, lifestyle, theater, fashion, studio portraiture, candids, and some sports (all when adequate lighting is available — more about this later). Use 70mm for head and shoulders portraits and the wider end for groups and environmental imagery. This focal length range is a perfect choice for media and photojournalistic needs.
This range is a good choice for landscape photography with compositions ideally captured using every focal length available in this lens. The 28mm end is not especially wide but it can create compelling wide-angle landscape compositions, providing emphasis on a foreground subject against an in-focus background with the viewer feeling a sense of presence in the scene. At the other end of the range, 70mm works great for mildly-compressed landscapes featuring distant subjects such as mountains remaining large.
This focal length range is well-suited for commercial photography and is ready to capture some architecture, cities, country sides, flowers, medium and large products, and much more.
Here is an example of what this focal length range looks like (borrowed from another 28-70mm lens review):
Many alternative standard zoom lenses offer 24mm on the wide end and I do miss this focal length sometimes, especially when photographing landscape. Here is a 24mm vs. 28mm comparison:
APS-C sensor format cameras utilize a smaller portion of the image circle and that means a scene is framed tighter with 1.5x being the angle of view equivalence multiplier for Sony’s lineup. With an angle of view similar to a 41-105mm lens on a full-frame camera, this lens has increased potential for portraiture and other short telephoto needs while the wide-angle uses are essentially erased.
This lens is very small and light but it is not very bright. The f/3.5-5.6 in the name refers to the maximum aperture, the ratio of the focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil, available in this lens. Wider apertures (lower numbers) are always better to have available — until the price, size, and weight penalties are factored in. To keep those factors especially low, many zoom lenses incorporate a variable max aperture design. A relatively narrow variable max aperture is what the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens has.
Here is this lens’ max aperture step down by focal length:
28-30mm = f/3.5 31-40mm = f/4.0 41-51mm = f/4.5 52-60mm = f/5.0 61-70mm = f/5.6
While the f/3.5 aperture at the wide end is reasonably wide, few 28mm lenses do not open to at least f/4 and, as is frequently the case with similar lenses, f/3.5 is only available for a very short 3mm range. Positive is that the narrowest max aperture does not kick in until 61mm. These max apertures make this lens a poor choice for low light action such as indoor sports without flash (as a main light/overpowering ambient light) being involved. Those following the old “f/8 and be there” rule and those photographing outdoors under direct sunlight will have the necessary apertures available for most uses. When recording video, only 1/60 second shutter speeds (twice recording framerate) are typically needed (assuming you’re not capturing high framerate slow-motion video) and wide apertures are not often required for 1/60 second rates in normally encountered ambient lighting.
A downside to the variable max aperture is that, by definition, the same max aperture cannot be used over the entire focal length selected. The camera automatically accounts for the changes when in auto exposure modes, but making use of the widest-available aperture in manual exposure mode is complicated somewhat by the changing setting.
Another disadvantage of narrow max aperture lenses is that they are less-able to strongly blur the background. While this lens does not have the wide-aperture advantage, the 70mm end has enough telephoto length to create a nice amount of blur.
The above examples, captured at this lens’s minimum focus distance, illustrate the maximum background blur this lens can produce.
Sony marketing touts its cameras as having IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization), but many of their lenses also feature OSS (Optical SteadyShot). While perhaps not immediately clear, these two stabilization systems are complementary: “5-axis image stabilization becomes available when used with α series bodies that feature built-in image stabilization.” [Sony]
While narrow apertures may not be optimal under low light conditions, this lens’ optical image stabilization system can save the day in such conditions, significantly increasing the versatility of this lens, improving usability and, in many situations, considerably improving the image quality delivered.
While OSS is great for reducing camera shake-caused blur in images, it is also very helpful for precise framing of subjects in the viewfinder. While OSS is active, drifting of framing is modest with the viewfinder view remaining well-controlled and subject reframing being easily accomplished.
This OSS system is essentially silent. Handheld video recording is nicely assisted by OSS and the stabilized composition also provides a still subject to the camera’s AF system, permitting it to do its job better.
I know, after I told you that this was the second least expensive Sony FE lens available, you were dreading this section of the review. Every lens gets an equal chance — let’s see what this lens’s results look like.
Lenses typically perform best in the center of the image circle and this lens creates decent center sharpness with the 70mm results lagging a bit. Little center-of-the-frame improvement is seen when stopping down.
In general, lenses are not as sharp in the periphery where light rays must be bent more strongly than they are in the center. This lens’s results in the mid and outer portions of the frame are soft at the widest apertures. Stopping down by more than 1 stop brings about a noticeable improvement in these areas though results are still just OK at f/11.
Below you will find sets of 100% resolution center of the frame crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a7R IV. The images were processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method with the sharpening amount set to only “30” on a 0-1000 scale. Note that images from most cameras require some level of sharpening but too-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the deficiencies of a lens.
Today we’re going to demonstrate focus shift (residual spherical aberration or RSA). In some lens designs, the plane of sharp focus can move forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected. Most Sony lenses are either designed to not have focus shift or they are designed to correct for it automatically. This one checks neither of those boxes and the issue is very obvious. When testing lenses, we establish focus at the widest aperture (shallowest depth of field) and use manual focus to ensure that the same focus distance is used to capture the entire aperture series. The results of this practice with this lens are as shared below.
The wide-open results appear decent. Especially in the Norway spruce example, the plane of sharp focus can be shifting dramatically toward the front at narrower apertures. What we learn here is that when using this lens, focus must be established at the aperture being used for the exposure.
Next, we’ll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. These images were manually focused in the corner of the frame (at the widest aperture).
A very narrow aperture is required for decent corner sharpness when using this lens. Corner sharpness does not always matter but it does matter for many disciplines including landscape photography and architecture.
Lenses project a circle of light onto the image sensor. The physical properties of light passing through a lens make it impossible for the same amount of light to reach the edges of the circle as the center, resulting in a darkening of the corners, referred to as vignetting or peripheral shading. Though this lens does not have especially wide apertures, the amount of peripheral shading at wide-open apertures is not especially strong. Expect about 2.5 stops of shading at 28mm with the amount progressively reducing until about 1.6 stops remains in the 70mm corners. Of course, the maximum aperture is also progressively reducing and at f/5.6, the 28mm corners show only 1.2 stops of shading. At f/8, shading ranges from a just-sometimes-visible 1 stop at 28mm to a very slightly higher 1.2 stops at 70mm.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems with this lens showing well under 1 stop of shading in the 28mm f/3.5 corners.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide though it is always better to not have the problem in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site’s image quality tool, but let’s also look at a set of worst-case examples, 100% crops from the extreme top left corner of a7R III frames showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the additional colors are showing the presence of lateral CA. The color separation at 28mm and 35mm is moderately strong (even in the mid-frame area) and the separation at the longer focal lengths is less but still noticeable.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
In the examples below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights created by the neutrally-colored subjects. Any color difference is being introduced by the lens.
Especially at the wide end, this lens is creating some color is these test results.
Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting artifacts. When used at a wide aperture, this lens does not show significant flaring in our testing with the sun in the corner of the frame. Stop down modestly to f/8 and very destructive flaring becomes present despite the low lens element count (9 elements in 8 groups). Results worsen at narrower apertures.
Two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point, instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma), or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Remember that lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.
The images below are 100% crops taken from the top-left corner of a7R III frames.
These results are not optimal.
At 28mm, this lens shows moderately strong barrel distortion. By 35mm, the barrel distortion has transitioned into very slight pincushion distortion and by 50mm and through 70mm, the pincushion distortion is quite strong. Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available for the popular image processing software and distortion can be easily removed using these, but distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level. Some portion of the image must be stretched or the overall dimensions must be reduced.
The amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show (and was shown earlier in the review). Assessing the quality is a much harder challenge due in part to the infinite number of variables present in all available scenes. Following are some f/11 (for aperture blade interaction) examples.
The first set of results shows how defocused highlights are rendered. These results are reasonably nice. The second set of results was captured outdoors and again, they look reasonably nice.
Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the corner of the frame does not produce round defocused highlights with these effects taking on a cat’s eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the corner of the frame, the shape is not round and that is the shape seen here. Here are the wide-open results from this lens.
As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming round.
With a 7-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 14 points. In general, the more a lens is stopped down, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars tend to be.
The examples above were captured at f/16. A narrow max aperture lens does not afford much stopping down before reaching apertures where diffraction causes noticeable softening of details and these lenses typically do not produce the biggest or best-shaped sunstars.
The design of this lens is illustrated above. Purple indicates aspherical elements, designed to reduce astigmatism, field curvature, coma, and other monochromatic aberrations, and an ED element, designed to reduce chromatic aberrations and color fringing, is shown in green.
Overall, this lens is a mediocre performer in regards to image quality.
The Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens utilizes a linear motor for focusing.
This lens internally focuses very quietly with good speed. As expected for a narrow aperture lens, low light AF is not a specialty and hunting can be expected at times when lighting and contrast are not strong.
This lens does not feature the AF hold button common on Sony lenses. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported via Sony’s DMF (Direct Manual Focus) AF mode.
Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as focus is pulled from one extent to the other, referred to as focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing negatively impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone very-critically framing a scene while adjusting focus. This lens shows a moderate change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made as illustrated below.
The reviewed lens does not appear to be parfocal. Refocusing should be done after zooming in or out.
The FE 28-70 features a forward-positioned (as I prefer) rubber-ribbed manual focus ring that works nicely. The ring is not huge, but it is properly sized for the amount of space available on the lens barrel.
This is a multi-speed focus ring. Turn it quickly for a full extent change in about 45° or turn it slowly for several full rotations of adjustment (I kept losing my focus when trying to turn the ring around that many times). I generally prefer a linear response adjustment but this multi-speed implementation has not bothered me (which is usually the real test).
With an 11.8″ (300mm) minimum focus distance, the Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens creates an up to 0.19x maximum magnification.
ModelMFDMM Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens15.0″(380mm)0.24x Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens15.7″(400mm)0.20x Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens15.0″(380mm)0.31x Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens19.7″(500mm)0.27x Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens11.8″(300mm)0.19x Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens7.5″(190mm)0.34x
A 0.19x maximum magnification is not amazing but it is useful. At 70mm, a subject measuring approximately 6.4 x 4.3″ (163 x 109mm) will fill the frame at the minimum focus distance.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and greater magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a very significant decrease and increase respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, which permits shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. Sony does not publish extension tube specs nor do they manufacture these items, but third-party Sony extension tubes are available.
This lens is not compatible with Sony teleconverters.
Build Quality & Features
The Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens has a build quality that feels lower-end than most of the other Sony FE lenses (and being very light in weight does not aid in that regard) but it seems reasonably well constructed.
This lens extends and retracts modestly (0.3″ / 8mm) when zooming with about 45mm being the most-retracted position.
Most of the lens barrel surface is rubber-ribbed rings with the zoom ring being nicely-sized, smooth, and without play.
There are no switches or buttons on this lens. Menu options are required to switch between AF and MF and to enable or disable OSS.
This is a dust and moisture resistant lens — not to be confused with waterproof. Having that feature specified for a lens in this price range is very positive.
If you have to carry a lens for long periods, sign up to carry this one. It is small and extremely light.
ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood “(mm)FilterYear Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens31.3(886)3.4 x 5.4(87.6 x 136.0)822016 Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens15.2(430)2.9 x 3.7(73.0 x 94.5)672014 Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens23.4(663)3.3 x 4.5(83.4 x 113.3)772017 Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens27.5(780)3.2 x 4.7(80.5 x 118.5)722015 Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens10.4(295)2.9 x 3.3(72.5 x 83.0)552013 Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens19.4(550)2.9 x 4.6(73.0 x 117.8)672018
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens Specifications using the site’s lens specifications tool.
Here is a visual Comparison:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM Lens Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens to other lenses.
This lens accepts 55mm threaded filters. While this size is not especially popular, it is very small and 55mm filters are relatively inexpensive.
Sony includes the petal-shaped ALC-SH132 hood in the box. This is a semi-rigid plastic hood with a matte plastic interior. This bayonet-mount hood does not include a release button but smoothly snaps into place without significant effort. This hood is large enough to be protective, especially on the top and bottom.
A lens case is not included in the box, but finding a case for a common lens form factor is not challenging. Consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.
Price, Value, Wrap Up
When being evaluated for value, a lens starting with the second-lowest price in the FE lineup gives it a significant head start over the competitors. While the image quality delivered by the FE 28-70 is not stellar, it is hard to hard about the value generated by the low price. The next-lowest-priced Sony FE zoom lens, the FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, costs more than twice as much.
As an “FE” lens, the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full-frame and APS-C sensor format models. Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens was online-retail sourced.
Alternatives to the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens
Expected is that a general-purpose lens has a wide range of comparable options. The closest Sony FE lens option is currently the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens.
In the image quality comparison, we see the 24-70 ZA performing modestly better in the majority of the wide-open aperture comparisons. The 28-70 has a wider aperture for a very small range of wide-angle focal lengths and the 24-70 with its fixed max aperture has the advantage over a more significant range of longer apertures. At equal apertures, the 24-70 ZA has a bigger advantage. Here is the 70mm comparison. At the same apertures, the 28-70 has lens peripheral shading at the wide end and the 24-70 has less at the long end. The 24-70 ZA shows less lateral CA, shows less flare over most of the range, and shows more barrel distortion at the wide end.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens vs. Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens comparison shows the 24-70 weighing 50% more and measuring slightly longer. The 28-70 has 55mm filter threads vs. 67mm. The 24-70 has a better build quality but costs roughly twice as much.
If looking for a bargain-priced Sony general-purpose lens, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens is definitely worth considering. While priced even a bit higher than the 24-70 f/4, this Tamron lens is a very compelling choice. High on the advantage list is the Tamron lens’s significantly wider max aperture over much of the range (the Sony lens’s aperture opens 1/3 stop wider over a short range at the wide end). The Tamron lens’s up to 2-stop wider aperture allows up to 4x more light transmission, a big advantage in low light, for stopping action, and for blurring the background.
The image quality comparison shows the Tamron lens sharper at f/2.8 than the Sony lens even when stopped down. Advantaged by the wide max aperture, the Tamron lens has less peripheral shading at the Sony lens’s widest apertures. While the Tamron lens shows some flare effects at narrow apertures, the Sony lens’s flare effects are stronger and more destructive, despite the Tamron lens having a significantly higher lens count (15/12 elements/groups vs. 9/8). The Tamron lens has less geometric distortion, especially at the long end.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens vs. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens comparison shows the Tamron lens’s penalty for the wider aperture – heavier weight. While not a heavy lens, the Tamron 28-75 weighs nearly twice as much as the lightweight Sony lens and the Tamron lens is also a bit longer. The Tamron lens has 9 aperture blades vs 7 (the additional blades help keep highlight blur round in shape when the aperture is stopped down a greater amount). The Tamron lens has 67mm filter threads vs. 55mm (67mm is more common but 55mm is smaller). The Tamron lens has a significantly greater maximum magnification (0.34x vs. 0.19x). The Tamron lens has a 6-year USA warranty vs. 1. The price is the Sony lens’s primary advantage.
Use the site’s image quality comparison tools to create additional comparisons.
The compact size, light weight, great general-purpose focal length range, and very low price are strong advantages of the Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens. Pulling this lens down to the middle of the FE lens popularity ranks is the low-end image quality. In that regard, you get what you pay for. If your budget reaches no higher than this lens, get it and learn how to use its strengths.
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