Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens Review
Nearly all photographers need at least one zoom lens covering the general-purpose focal length range and those using mirrorless cameras to gain smaller size and lighter weight benefits will appreciate a general-purpose zoom lens featuring the same characteristics. The Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens is that lens.
The FE 24-70 f/4 ZA lens is compact, functions well, has a nice design (including from an aesthetic perspective), does not cost a fortune, and has an ideal all-around focal length range.
Focal Length Range
When determining what a lens is useful for, the focal length range it provides is one of the top considerations. Focal length especially matters because it drives focus distance choices which also determines perspective. Covering the angles of view ranging from wide-angle through normal and on to short telephoto, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens’s focal length range comfortably covers what I consider the ideal range for a standard do-everything lens.
A 24-70mm lens is an essential part of many landscape and cityscape photography kits. At the 24mm end, this lens provides a very wide-angle of view, able to show a strong perspective and create a sense of presence in an image while not being so wide that composition becomes too challenging. By the 70mm end, smaller portions of a scene can be isolated and distant mountains will appear larger in proportion to closer elements.
This is a great people photography focal length range. At 24mm, environmental portraits can be captured and by 70mm, people can be framed tightly enough for head and shoulder portraits while retaining a pleasing perspective. This focal length range will work well for photographing a wide variety of events, from informal birthday parties to formal galas at large venues.
Sports photographers able to get close to their subjects or wanting to capture a wider/environmental view of their events appreciate this focal length range. These angles of view can work well for architecture photography. Product photography is on this lens’ capabilities list. This is an ideal focal length range for videography needs.
The above is just a beginning to the list of uses for the 24-70mm range. That this focal length range nicely complements a 70-200mm lens for sports and many other uses is another advantageous feature.
Here is an example showing the angle of views taken in by this focal length range when mounted on a full-frame camera.
When mounted on an APS-C imaging sensor format Sony camera, the 24-70mm angle of view becomes similar to that of a 36-105mm lens on a full-frame camera (1.5x). These angles of view shift this lens’s strengths somewhat, especially favoring portraiture over landscape uses.
The f/4 in the lens name refers to the lens’ max aperture opening, the relationship of lens opening to focal length. The lower the number, the more light the lens will allow to reach the sensor. Each “stop” in aperture change (examples: f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8, etc.) increases or reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor by a factor of 2x (a big deal).
An f/4 lens is one stop slower/narrower than what is typically found in the fastest/widest zoom lenses covering the general-purpose focal length range. The narrower max aperture means that smaller diameter elements are needed, resulting in a lighter weight, smaller size, and lower cost. Having a narrower max aperture also means that there may be better options for stopping action in low light. I emphasize “action” as this lens’s image stabilization system (OSS, Optical SteadyShot) makes it even better-suited for handheld low light non-action photography than a non-stabilized f/2.8 option. The subject speed and how rapidly that subject is crossing pixels in the frame makes low light capabilities situational.
Long focal lengths, wide apertures, close subjects, and distant backgrounds are the keys to a strong background blur. While the f/4 aperture is not extremely wide, the 70mm f/4 combination, along with a relatively close subject and distant background, can produce great subject separation by blurring away the background. That is an example of the maximum background blur this lens can produce.
It is very satisfying to see the background melt into a blur of color. That is referring to the 70mm end of course.
Especially nice is that this lens has a fixed max aperture over the entire focal length range. Manually-set wide-open exposures can be retained and counted on throughout the entire zoom range. That said, I always wonder if I’m giving up some potential wide focal length max aperture to get the fixed max aperture feature.
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 minor with the viewfinder view remaining well-controlled and subject reframing being easily accomplished.
This OSS system is nearly silent except for some clunking heard during significant movement. 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.
If the image quality of a lens is not acceptable, nothing else matters. Of course, most of us want more than “acceptable” and that is the topic we’ll explore next.
In the center of the frame with a wide-open aperture, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens delivers very good contrast and resolution — i.e., sharpness. The 35mm results are the sharpest with 24mm trailing only slightly and the long end trailing modestly less slightly. Very little difference in sharpness is seen at f/5.6 except at 70mm where the center of the frame image quality sharpens modestly. Don’t expect any improvement at f/8 and improvement is not needed.
F/4 image quality in the periphery of the frame is slightly soft except at 35mm where corners are rendered with very good sharpness. The 50mm and 70mm results are slightly better than the 24mm results. Except at 35mm, corners improve noticeably at f/5.6 (though only slightly at 70mm). Some slight corner improvements are seen at f/8 with 24mm corners still not rendering impressively.
Below you will find sets of 100% resolution crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a7R III. 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.
Most will be very happy with these results.
Focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration or RSA), is not an issue with this lens (many modern lenses automatically correct for it).
Following is a look at 100% crops from the extreme top-left corner of the frame.
The extreme 24mm corners with heavy lateral CA impacting them are not going to give you that exciting feeling but the other corners are looking quite good. Corner sharpness does not always matter but it does matter for many disciplines including landscape and architecture photography.
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. At 24mm f/4, the over-3-stops of shading in the corners will not go unnoticed. That said, this amount is not unusual for a lens in this class. Zoom to a longer focal length and the shading decreases significantly with about 1.5 stops showing in the f/4 corners. Using a narrower aperture is usually the best option for reducing shading and f/5.6 yields about 2 stops of shading in 24mm corners and 1 stop in the longer focal length corners. With just over 1.2 stops of shading remaining in 24mm f/16 corners, vignetting may still be noticeable in some images, typically those with an even color such as a blue sky in the periphery. The about-.7 stops of shading showing in longer focal length narrow aperture corners will not be noticeable in most images.
Vignetting can be corrected during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty. Vignetting can also be simply embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the frame.
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.
While lateral CA is usually easily corrected with software (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide, it is of course better to not have it 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 Sony a7R III frames.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the additional colors are showing lateral CA. As you likely expected after seeing the corner sharpness crops, the lateral CA at 24mm is very strong. Only a modest amount of this defect is present in the mid focal length test and the 70mm result is not bad.
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.
There is considerably more color showing here than preferred.
Each element in the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens gets a Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating to control the reflections that create flare and ghosting. At f/4, our standard flare test utilizing the sun in the corner of the frame produces practically no flare effects. Stopping down increases the likelihood of flare effects showing and while the typical flare artifacts remain very low, some streaking effects become visible, especially at the 70mm end.
Flare effects can be embraced, avoided or removal can be attempted. If not embraced, flare effects can be destructive to image quality and it is sometimes extremely difficult to remove in post processing.
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). 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).
The images below are 100% crops taken from the top-right corner of a7R III frames.
The wide and mid focal length results above are not impressive but the 70mm results, featuring sharper stars (but with wings) are not as bad.
When this lens is mounted, the camera forces distortion correction to be enabled. When we process the test images for our distortion test results, that correction is disabled. I cringed as I first looked at the results but … the distortion is not as extreme as I initially expected.
Still, there is very strong barrel distortion at 24mm, a primary reason for the correction being forced. By 35mm, moderate pincushion distortion sets in and by 50mm, that distortion pattern becomes strong and increases in strength through 70mm. This pincushion distortion is the other primary reason for correction being forced. Overall, this lens has very strong geometric distortion.
Most modern lenses have aberration 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 and this technique is seldom as good as using a distortion-free lens and focal length in the first place.
The amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show (and was shown earlier in the review). Assessing the quality is a bigger challenge due in part to the infinite number of variables present in all available scenes. I’ll share some f/11 (for aperture blade interaction) examples.
In the first set, the f/11 defocused highlights appear nice though not perfectly smoothly filled. The second set of results look nice (the 70mm sample was reduced by 50% before being cropped).
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. The first two examples are upper-left quadrants and the third example is a full image, all reduced in size.
The peripheral circles are truncated, primarily at the focal length extents. As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming rounder.
With a 7-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 14 points. Below are the f/16 sunstars this lens produces.
The 24mm star has a decent shape but the shapes deteriorate as the focal length is increased. In general, the more a lens is stopped down, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars are. At 24mm, the aperture opening must be made considerably smaller than at 70mm for the same aperture setting.
This lens features a Zeiss Vario-Tessar design incorporating five aspherical elements and one extra-low dispersion (ED) glass element.
Overall, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens turns in mid-grade optical performance with center of the frame sharpness being an especially positive attribute. Lens aberration correction will aid with many of the negative performance issues including lateral CA and linear distortion.
The Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens uses an internal focusing design driven by a linear autofocus motor. This lens focuses very quietly with good speed. With a medium-sized max aperture opening, this lens has mid-level low light AF performance.
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 modest change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made as illustrated below.
The reviewed lens appears to be parfocal with a subject remaining in focus after zooming in or out.
The FE 24-70 features a forward-positioned (as I prefer) ribbed manual focus ring. It is not rubber-coated but that detail seems of low importance on this design. The ring is not huge, but it is properly sized for the amount of space available on the lens barrel and it rotates smoothly with rather low resistance.
This is a multi-speed focus ring. Turn it quickly for a full extent change in about 30° or turn it slowly for several full rotations of adjustment (I lose my focus when trying to turn the ring around that many times). I generally prefer a linear response adjustment and this one switches into high-speed mode slightly early for my preference.
Focusing down to 15.7″ (400mm) at 70mm yields a maximum magnification spec of 0.20x, a useful mid-level number.
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
At 70mm, a subject measuring approximately 5.9 x 3.9″ (150 x 100mm) will fill the frame at the minimum focus distance. The largest flowers in the image below are approximately 1″ in diameter.
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
Those familiar with the other Sony ZA lenses will immediately notice the family resemblance this lens has. The design features a smooth overall shape, it feels great in hand, and it has aesthetics to meet or exceed that.
Like all of the other zoom lenses in its class, this lens extends and retracts modestly (1.2″, 30.5mm) and like most other lenses in its class, the most-retracted zoom position is the widest focal length. At full extension, only a tiny amount of lens barrel play can be felt.
Much of the lens barrel surface is consumed by a pair of rings with the zoom ring logically being the considerably larger of the two. The zoom ring is nicely-sized, smooth, and without play. Note that, without a rubber coating, a modestly firmer grip is needed to make adjustments.
There are no switches or buttons on this lens and I miss having the AF/MF and OSS switches. The switches are much faster to use and make it is easier to visually confirm settings than checking menu options. Of course, it is harder to inadvertently change a menu setting than it is to move a switch and switches add moving parts that could be a source of failure and, minimally, increased cost.
Switches can also be a point of moisture entry and this lens is listed as being dust and moisture resistant. “Reliable operation in a variety of conditions is ensured by a design that prevents dust and moisture from entering the lens.” [Sony] That said, the mount does not appear to have a gasket seal, creating concern for not only moisture penetration into the lens but also into the camera body.
From size and weight perspectives, you will like this lens for even long-term carry. This is a compact lens with a relatively light weight.
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 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
A very positive size feature of this lens is that the diameter is narrow enough to not significantly impact my finger joints when mounted on a tightly gripped Sony a7R III or a7R IV.
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 and fully extended.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens to other lenses. I preloaded a comparison in that link for you.
This lens has 67mm filter threads, a common and relatively small size. You might notice standard thickness circular polarizer filters increasing peripheral shading just slightly at 24mm and f/4. A slim model such as the Breakthrough Photography X4 avoids that issue.
Sony includes the petal-shaped ALC-SH130 hood in the box. This is a very attractive semi-rigid plastic hood with a matte finish on the end and interior. This bayonet-mount hood does not include a release button but smoothly snaps into place without substantial effort. This hood is sized large enough to be protective from both contrast-robbing light and front element damaging impact.
A thin fleece-lined vinyl drawstring pouch is included. While the bottom of this pouch has thick padding, little protection from impact from other directions is provided. Consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.
Price and Value
The Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens has a moderate price that falls below most other zoom lenses in the Sony FE lens lineup. This lens is worth the price.
As an “FE” lens, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full-frame and APS-C sensor format models. “The Vario-Tessar T FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS was developed jointly by Zeiss and Sony Corporation and designed for Sony E-mount cameras. This lens is produced under the strict standards and quality assurance system of Zeiss.” [Sony] Sony provides a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens was online-retail acquired.
Alternatives to the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens
A normal zoom lens generally has many alternatives available for comparison. I’ll start this section with a comparison against the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens, featuring the f/4 max aperture and OSS in a longer focal length range.
In the image quality comparison, the 24-105mm lens easily outperforms the 24-70mm lens. and the 24-105 has modestly less geometric distortion.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens vs. Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens comparison shows the shorter zoom to be considerably smaller and lighter. The 24-105 has 2 additional aperture blades, 9 vs. 7, 10mm-larger filter threads, 77mm vs. 67mm, and switches for AF/MF and OSS. The 24-105’s AF system is driven by a Direct Drive SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor) vs. the 24-70’s linear motor and the 24-105 has a considerably higher maximum magnification (0.31x vs. 0.20x). The 24-70’s remaining big advantage is the considerably lower price.
The Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens shares the same focal length range but omits OSS while providing a one stop wider aperture, allowing up to 2x more light into the exposure and permitting a stronger background blur.
In the image quality comparison, the two lenses perform similarly at their widest apertures with each taking some of the focal length wins. At f/4 equivalents, the f/2.8 lens takes most of the wins. Comparing peripheral shading at the same wide apertures seems a bit unfair, but the wider max aperture lens has the advantage at f/4 and that advantage is utilized if shooting at f/4. Stopping down eventually erases the f/2.8 lens’s vignetting advantages. The f/4 lens shows modestly fewer flare effects at the wider focal lengths. The f/2.8 lens is better corrected for geometric distortion.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens vs. Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens comparison shows us that, as expected, the f/2.8 lens is considerably larger and heavier. The f/2.8 lens has 2 additional aperture blades (9 vs. 7), 15mm-larger filter threads (82mm vs. 67mm), and switches for AF/MF and OSS. The f/2.8 lens’s AF system is driven by a Direct Drive SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor) vs. the 24-70’s linear motor and the f/2.8 lens has a modestly higher maximum magnification (0.24x vs. 0.20x). The f/4 lens is considerably less expensive.
Next, we’ll compare the variable max aperture, shorter focal length range Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens. In the image quality comparison, we see the 24-70 ZA performing modestly better at most of the tested wide-open aperture focal lengths. 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 larger image sharpness advantage – here is the 70mm comparison. At the same apertures, the 28-70 has less 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 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens vs. Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 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.
A strong alternative lens from outside of the Sony brand is the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens. The Tamron lens shifts the available focal length range to slightly longer numbers with the wide end difference being the most noticeable and the Tamron lens provides a one stop wider aperture, allowing up to 2x more light into the exposure and permitting a stronger background blur.
In the image quality comparison, the Tamron lens is seen impressively taking most of the comparisons even with a wide-open aperture. These two lenses have a similar amount of peripheral shading at their wide-open apertures, giving the Tamron lens the easy win at f/4 as expected. At f/11, the two lenses are similar in this regard with the Tamron lens showing slightly less vignetting at 28mm vs. the Sony lens at 24mm. The Tamron lens has considerably less geometric distortion.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens vs. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens comparison shows the Tamron lens to be heavier, but surprisingly only by 4.2 oz (120g). The Tamron lens is modestly longer and has 2 additional aperture blades, 9 vs. 7. The Tamron lens’s slightly lower price tag will seal the decision for many.
Use the site’s comparison tools to create other comparisons.
The Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS is a very attractive lens on several fronts. The size and weight are very convenient. The AF performance is good. The lens looks great and has a comfortable luxury feel. The image quality is decent
Those looking for a reasonably-priced Sony general-purpose lens have a good option in the FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens.
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