Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens Review
For a very long time, my favorite wildlife and large field sports lens has been a 600mm f/4. Sony filled in this gap in its FE lens lineup by introducing the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and on the same day, also announced another lens covering the 600mm focal length, the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens. Both lenses feature the longest native (without teleconverters or adapters) Sony telephoto focal length currently available, greatly extending reach from the previous 400mm to 600mm, leaving a great wildlife and sports photography demand awaiting both of these lenses.
Fortunately, I preordered the FE 600 because six months after receiving this lens, it remains unobtainable, out of stock at all of the major retailers. Further driving demand is that in addition to having an extremely useful focal length and max aperture combination, this lens features outstanding image quality and superb build quality featuring an ultra-light weight. The price? Sometimes there is a cost to differentiatingly-high image quality.
While this lens is amazing in many ways, it is the 600mm super telephoto focal length that you should especially grab your attention and note that, despite the size and cost of this lens, it provides a similar angle of view as all of the other 600mm lenses (including zoom lens options if accurately-denoted). What is the 600mm focal length’s very narrow angle of view commonly used for?
When you need to frame a subject tightly and can’t get closer, due to …
- physical barriers (streams, cliffs, etc.)
- legislated barriers (lines on a field, property boundaries, etc.)
- a subject that does not tolerate closer photographers (skittish birds, for example)
- safety reasons (dangerous wildlife, high-speed vehicles, etc.)
- for a stealth mission (such as for law enforcement)
- a requirement to avoid being a viewing obstruction (including speaking events at a large venue)
… you might need a 600mm lens.
If you simply don’t want to get closer, including for comfort reasons or avoiding impact to wildlife behavior, a 600mm lens might be just right. Sit in the comfort of your car, avoid the need to cross a creek, stay back from the surf, stay out of view, etc.
When you want to capture a compressed look from a distant perspective, you might want a 600mm lens. When you want to create an extremely strong background blur, isolating a subject from even a busy and otherwise-distracting background, a 600mm lens might be precisely what you need, especially a 600mm lens with an f/4 max aperture.
While a 600mm lens has a wide variety of uses, wildlife and sports are at the top of the most-frequently-used-for list with most other 600mm uses occurring at a far lower frequency. When using a camera with a full frame imaging sensor, a 600mm f/4 lens has long been my first choice for wildlife photography. Subjects ranging from small birds up to large game are readily captured with this focal length. Wildlife is typically most active early and late in the day when the light is dim, and the f/4 aperture (more about this feature coming soon) is a great complement to the narrow angle of view. The light weight of this lens along with the long focal length makes it a good choice even for birds-in-flight.
When using a camera with a full frame imaging sensor, a 600mm lens has long been my first choice for field sports photography including soccer and some running events. This lens is an excellent choice for baseball, football, surfing, and a host of other sports.
Photojournalists and others covering events will love this lens’ reach. When photographers covering events are not permitted close access to their subjects, including at concerts, speaking events, etc., this focal length will often provide the reach needed. This lens is a great choice for photographing air shows, especially when single aircraft are flying.
The 600mm focal length used on smaller APS-C/1.5x (FOVCF) imaging sensor format cameras provides a very narrow angle of view, equivalent to a 900mm lens on a full frame camera. This much narrower angle of view diminishes the scenarios this lens is ideally suited for. I rarely hear a bird photographer complaining about having too much focal length but this angle of view is challenging to use at many sports events (keeping a subject in the frame at this angle of view is challenging) and it is even too long for some wildlife photography. Moving back can be an answer, but obstacles can get in the sight path and longer distance means that heat waves are more likely to be an issue.
While on the heat waves topic … just because you have an amazing 600mm lens doesn’t mean that you can create sharp images with it, even when using the fastest shutter speeds and best techniques.
When present, heat shimmer/haze/waves will create optical distortion that will diminish the quality of long-distance photos and I encounter this issue with some frequency when using 600mm lenses. Artificial turf sports fields are among the worse venues for this issue — sun on artificial turf spells doom for image quality.
When reviewing long prime telephoto lenses, I like to discuss the optimal framing distance range. Image cropping is often required during post-processing when a prime (non-zoom) lens is used to capture action from a fixed position, as is very frequently the case with sports photography. A longer focal length lens has a narrower angle of view, which of course requires you to be farther from the subject for optimal framing. One huge advantage that a narrower angle of view provides is a deeper optimal framing distance that provides a longer duration in which to capture an optimally-framed subject. That advantage can result in less cropping needed with higher resolution retained.
Explaining that concept … if you are photographing a running person with a 24mm lens on a full frame format DSLR, optimal framing distance to capture the entire person might be 9′ (3m). At 18′ (6m), that person would only be 1/2 of the optimal size in the frame. A person running at full speed will only momentarily be near that optimal distance.
In contrast, a 600mm lens would frame this person similarly-optimally at around 225′ (69m) with the 1/2 optimal distance being 450′ (138m). It takes a running person far more time to cover this 250′ (69m) 1/2 optimal to optimal distance than the 24mm lens’ 9′ (3m) distance. Distances much closer than optimal will often result in the subject being cropped in the frame with both focal lengths being compared, so I’ll not count this distance (but the rate of cropping increase is dramatically slower with the 600). The greater amount of time the subject remains at the near-optimal framing distance, the more time you have to capture ideally framed shots. Also, the longer focal length allows a much greater area of an event to be covered from a single position.
This does not mean that a 600mm lens is always a better choice, but it is definitely the answer for many sports events. There are longer focal length lenses available (such as Canon’s EF 800mm f/5.6L) and these lenses provide even larger areas of optimal coverage. However, these longer lenses do not offer the big f/4 aperture advantage and again, the angle of view at 800mm is narrow enough to make keeping a fast-moving subject properly framed challenging.
Here is an example of the 200-600mm focal length range captured by a zoom lens (the 600mm sample might be a touch wider angle of view than it should) as seen by a full frame camera:
Want to add some color to your portfolio? Just direct this lens at an even modestly colorful sky just after sunset or before sunrise (never look at the sun through a long telephoto lens unless an adequate solar filter is being used). This lens is a great option for photographing the moon.
There are other 600mm lenses and some of them even have a zoom focal length range advantage but none of those zoom options have an f/4 aperture available and no prime 600mm lens opens wider than f/4.
A larger aperture means larger lens elements are required and that leads to increased lens size, weight, and cost. However, the one stop (or more) difference between this lens and the alternatives is big, big enough to make the difference between getting a great shot with a strong background blur and getting a blurry or noisy image with a more distracting background in focus.
When you want to stop action, including sports action and wildlife in motion, especially in low light, when wildlife is most often active and when sports are often played, you want the f/4 feature in your 600mm lens. When you want to isolate the subject from even a busy, distracting background, you want f/4 and 600mm combined with f/4, via shallow depth of field paired with strong telephoto magnification, delivers one of the strongest background blurs available in any lens.
Use this lens to blur the background, turning advertisement banners, fans, and their clothing, apparatus, gear, seating, etc. into just blurs of color, making the subject stand out, popping from the frame. Most of the common uses for this lens do not permit manipulation of the background and the backgrounds found in many of the venues this lens gets used in tend to be busy and distracting. Look at the images in the popular sports magazines/websites and you will see the results this lens can achieve.
The f/4 aperture can markedly differentiate your work from the crowd. When using this lens (or the Canon and Nikon equivalents), I use f/4 far more than any other aperture and could probably be perfecty happy with only f/4 available in this lens.
Despite the f/4 aperture being so huge in a 600mm lens, it may still not be adequate for photographing sports under (normal) field lighting at night or indoors where an f/2.8 aperture may prove to be the minimum aperture desired and a 400mm f/2.8 lens may be the better choice for those environments.
The other sensor that works better with the large amount of light provided by this lens’ aperture is a camera’s AF sensor.
Sony marketing touts their cameras as having IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization), but many of their lenses, including this one, 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 an in-lens optical stabilization system can be ideal, tuned to the specific lens design, a lens is not able to correct for rotation.
A number of stops of assistance rating is often provided by a manufacturer, but in this case, Sony does not specify one for the lens. Handheld 600mm f/4 lens image stabilization testing is a bit brutal and this one was especially so. I unsuccessfully struggled for many hours to draw a consistent handholdable shutter speed conclusion using both an a7R III and a7R IV. Most images were sharp at 1/100 sec. and sometimes most of the result set was sharp at 1/60, but sharp results should have been consistently captured at longer exposures. Overall, this lens works better on a support for me. With OSS enabled for fast shutter speed action I noticed some double-edge imagery at times (such as the edge of a runner’s bib), showing movement during capture. Also note that shot-to-shot scene framing is not always consistent with OSS likely recentering between shots.
Photographing outside, perhaps in the wind or on unstable footing? Expect to need faster exposures but also expect a similar amount of assistance from OSS as it is still similarly and significantly compensating for shake.
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, especially with the narrow angle of view at 600mm. While OSS is active, drifting of framing is not an issue and the viewfinder view is well-controlled, not jumping at startup/shutdown and subject reframing is quite easy to accomplish.
Along with the standard Mode I, Mode II (panning mode, stabilization in one direction only) and III (stabilization provided only at precise moment image is captured) are provided. The switch on the lens controls both the lens and in-body image stabilization systems and a faint whir is heard when the switch is enabled and when it is disabled. 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.
When you pay this much for a lens, you expect it to deliver outstanding image quality and the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens is one of the best performers we’ve tested.
No one buys a lens like this to photograph a test chart with but … test chart shots are extremely revealing and this lens even makes test charts look really great. I love reviewing awesome lenses in part because their image quality is so easy to describe. Choose your aperture for depth of field purposes because, at least until the softening effects of diffraction kick in, this lens is extremely sharp across the entire full frame image circle regardless of the aperture selected.
Below you will find sets of 100% resolution center of the frame 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).
Depth of field is shallow — be sure to find the center of the plane of sharp focus to base your sharpness evaluation on.
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).
Next, we’ll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-bottom-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.
It is challenging to get perfect 600mm corner test results but I think these examples contain the plane of sharp focus — look for the sharpest details.
When used on a camera that utilizes a lens’ entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings. The amount of shading is of course the big concern and this one has close to 2 stops in the f/4 corners. While that amount is not too strong, it is about 0.5 stops more than the current Canon and Nikon equivalents. At f/5.6, less than a stop of shading remains and rarely will the 0.3-stops and less shading at narrower apertures be noticed.
APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the under-1-stop of shading showing at f/4 will seldom be visible.
One stop of shading is the amount often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely-varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine if your subject (subject’s face) will be darkened or if it will be emphasized by the darker periphery.
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 worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of a Sony a7R III frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should be only black and white colors in this image and as good as it gets is what I see here.
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 example below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights created by the neutrally-colored subjects. Any color difference would be introduced by the lens but this result is excellent.
Flare is caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and interesting artifacts and flare is an image quality attribute that can be quite destructive. This lens utilizes Sony’s Nano AR Coating to reduce flare and ghosting. Our standard flare testing uses the sun in the corner of the frame and after slightly melting a camera when flare testing a 600mm lens, we limit this testing to 400mm. Utilizing bright lights in the frame shows that this lens will, not suprisingly, show some flare from bright light sources.
This lens produces a very good geometric profile, showing just a hint of pincushion distortion.
The amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show and this lens can create a blur strength like few others. Assessing the blur quality is a much harder challenge due in part to the infinite number of variables present in all available scenes. That said, I very much like what I see from this lens. Following are some bokeh examples.
The first three samples are 100% f/11 crops. The first two show defocused highlights having good shape (round) despite strong aperture blade interaction and a smooth fill. The third shows a very smooth blur and the fourth example, a full frame image reduced in size, also shows very good blur quality.
With the exception of 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.
This example is a 1/8 crop from the top-left of the frame. As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced and the mechanical vignetting is also reduced with the corner shapes becoming rounder.
With an 11-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 22 points. I don’t use 600mm lenses for creating sunstars very often but here is what this lens’ sunstars look like:
Here is the design responsible for the impressive image quality we’ve just reviewed:
The elements in yellow are fluorite (especially light), an extreme aspherical lens (XA lens) is shown in orange, and ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements are shown in green. This weight-saving design positions most elements toward the rear of the lens where they become smaller and also shift the weight balance rearward.
For most of us, AF performance matters a lot.
“The FE 600mm F4 GM OSS lens features two extreme dynamic (XD) linear motors that drive the lens’ focus group to provide fast, precise AF and reliable subject tracking. These motors are supported by specially developed motion algorithms to minimize lag and instability, as well as to control noise levels, resulting in exceptionally quick, accurate and quiet autofocus performance, allowing the lens to capture dynamic, fast moving athletes or wildlife with ease.” [Sony]
Under decent light levels, this lens focuses very fast with mostly light clicks heard during AF. The whine of a motor can be heard during long focus distance changes and AF speed is considerably slower in low light conditions.
The depth of field a long focal length wide aperture lens can create will challenge a camera’s AF system, but this lens’ AF accuracy has been excellent except for one exception. The Sony a7R IV (with early firmware) in AF-C AF mode seems to waver AF distance slightly with a significant percentage of images rendered slightly out of focus. I expected this issue to be resolved via a firmware update by now.
This lens features a focus distance range limit switch that, in addition to making the full distance range available, enables distance selection to be limited to 14.8′- 49.2′ (4.5m – 15m) or 49.2′ (15m) – ∞ range with the narrower ranges improving AF speed in some situations. Like all of the other 600mm f/4 lenses, this one focuses internally.
The Sony FE 600 has 4 AF hold buttons located around the lens. While these buttons are 90° from each other around the lens, they are not in even 90° locations in relation to the front of the lens. Instead, they are positioned for easier access when the lens is being used in the standard and vertical orientations. While in continuous focus mode, these buttons can be pressed to lock focus at the currently selected focus distance, permitting a focus and recompose technique without changing back to AF-S (Single) mode. If you don’t value this feature, use the camera menu to program these buttons for different functionality.
This lens includes preset and power focusing features. Preset focusing permits a specific subject distance to be stored (slide function ring select switch to preset, focus as desired, press and hold SET until beep is heard (if enabled via the BEEP switch)) and the focus setting is immediately recalled by rotating the function ring in either direction. An example of this feature being useful would be when photographing birds from a blind. Program preset focus to a desired perch and when a bird lands on that, rotate the function ring to immediately have the bird in focus. When the function ring select switch is in the middle function position, the function ring acts as a 2-speed power focus switch. In any AF mode, turn the ring a very small amount for a consistently slow speed focusing or by a more significant amount for a consistently fast speed focus adjustment with the direction of turn changing the direction of focus adjustment. Video recording is the suggested use for this feature. Alternatively, the function mode can be assigned to the APS-C/full-frame switching function, allowing the ring to switch between APS-C and full-frame angles of view (not supported by all cameras).
Along with an AF/MF switch, this lens features a Full-Time DMF switch, enabling manual focus to be utilized at any point. I find this feature especially handy when photographing big field sports from the sideline, enabling me to bring the action I’m not actively photographing into focus without engaging the camera’s autofocus. That said, the camera must be on and awake for the viewfinder and DMF to function and half-pressing the shutter release is an easy strategy to make that happen.
This lens features a linear manual focus adjustment rate and with about 70° of rotation between focus extents, adjustments happen relatively fast. Those shooting action will find the rate perfect and those attempting to perfectly focus on close still-life subjects may find the adjustment rate a touch fast. The rubber-ribbed focus ring is big, lightly damped, and smooth with little play.
This lens shows a noticeable amount of focus breathing with scene framing changing a noticeable amount during full extent focus pulls.
While a distance window is not provided, a focus distance meter shows in the lower portion of Sony’s electronic viewfinders during manual focusing.
Few are going to get excited by this lens’ 14.8′ (4.51m) minimum focus distance and the related 0.14x maximum magnification, but those numbers are normal for this lens class.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens165.4″(4200mm)0.15x Nikon 600mm f/4E AF-S FL ED VR Lens173.2″(4400mm)0.14x Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens177.6″(4510mm)0.14x Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens94.5″(2400mm)0.20x
A subject measuring approximately 10.3 x 6.9″ (262 x 175mm) will fill the frame at the minimum focus distance. The small rabbit in the full-size/reduced image below was captured at this lens’s minimum focus distance.
Need a shorter minimum focus distance and greater magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a slight decrease and increase respectively. As of review time, Sony does not publish extension tube specs nor do they manufacture these items, but third-party Sony extension tubes are available.
The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens is compatible with the Sony FE 1.4x and Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter. Retaining the lens’ native focus distance range, teleconverters offer a far greater magnification impact than extension tubes for this lens.
The addition of a 1.4x Teleconverter creates a full frame 840mm OSS lens with a 1-stop narrower max aperture (f/5.6). Magnifying the image by 1.4x usually noticeably impacts image quality, but this lens takes this teleconverter extremely well, showing very minor sharpness and CA impact. The 1.4x creates slight barrel distortion from this lens’ native slight pincushion distortion.
Teleconverters slow AF performance but the 1.4x mounted behind the FE 600 focuses quickly in decent light conditions.
Use the 2x Teleconverter to create a 1200mm OSS Lens, the focal length used along with a Solar Filter to capture the above image of Mercury transiting the sun (with some cropping still). With the 2x comes 2-stops of max aperture loss, making this an f/8 combination. I am seldom satisfied with the performance of 2x teleconverters but this combination is rather impressive. Yes, you are going to see a contrast and resolution decrease but the 1200mm image quality is very usable. The f/8 max aperture is wide enough to be useful for the wildlife and sports photography that 1200mm is especially well suited for if the lighting conditions are bright.
With the Sony FE 2x mounted, barrel distortion is increased and this time the increase is just about the right amount to offset the native 600mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile. Lateral CA becomes slightly more noticeable with the 2x in place. While the 2x has slightly more impact on AF speed, this combination still focuses quickly in good light conditions.
Build Quality & Features
Sony’s G Master series lenses are their top-of-the-line, professional-grade models. This is a beautiful lens that is beautifully designed and beautifully built.
This lens utilizes a magnesium alloy frame for lightweight strength and 7 screws are used to attach the mount (vs. 4 normally used).
There are a lot of switches on the side of this lens.
Each switch has been mentioned previously in the review, but I’ll add that they are on a low-profile switch bank easily accessible to the left thumb and that the switches themselves are low profile and snap surely into their positions. Three-position switches always require more care to utilize the middle position.
This is a weather-sealed (not waterproof) lens that is ready for the rigors of professional outdoor use.
The front element is fluorine coated for reduced adhesion of dust and moisture, making the lens easier to clean and stay clean.
From a size perspective, there is no hiding the fact that this is a 600mm f/4 lens. All similarly-specced lenses are very large. While the unaccustomed may find this size daunting, acclimation is relatively short and the amazingly-light weight of this lens makes the acclimation process considerably easier. I’ve run a lot of miles with this lens, trying to get ahead of elk, deer, and cross country runners, and the light weight makes a huge difference.
With this lens, Sony technically claims the record light weight for this lens class but the measured 0.5 oz (15g) difference between this lens and the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens is irrelevant (the Sony lens weighs slightly more without the hoods included on the scale) and both are awesome in this regard, both easily handheld.
ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood “(mm)FilterYear Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens107.7(3050)6.6 x 17.6(168.0 x 448.0)DI 522018 Nikon 600mm f/4E AF-S FL ED VR Lens134.5(3810)6.5 x 17.0(166.0 x 432.0)DI 40.52015 Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens107.3(3040)6.4 x 17.7(163.6 x 449.0)DI 40.52019 Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens74.8(2120)4.5 x 12.5(115.5 x 318.0)952019
For many more comparisons, review the complete Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens Specifications using the site’s lens specifications tool.
Positioned below from top to bottom are the following lenses:
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens Nikon 600mm f/4E AF-S FL ED VR Lens (with a Wimberley Lens Foot)
All three are similar in size but the Sony lens having the shorter (and lighter) hood shows it smaller in the with-hoods comparison. Replace the standard Canon hood with the short version and that lens becomes considerably shorter with the shorter hood trade-off being reduced protection.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens to other lenses.
Like the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens, the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens utilizes side-mount 40.5mm filters in the drop-in/slide-in holder (clear filter provided). Optional (and expensive) is the Sony VF-DCPL1 Drop-in Circular Polarizing Filter.
It is a big lens to balance with a narrow angle of view to stablize and the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens get a correspondingly large, solid tripod foot to meet these needs, avoiding tripod head and camera strain and sag and allowing easy camera rotation. This tripod foot has three threaded inserts with a 3/8″-16 size positioned between the two 1/4″-20 sizes. Mounting plates with two screws is important to prevent twisting and three screws is even better. Note that most lens plates will require a 3/8″-16 to 1/4″-20 Reducer Bushing in the larger threaded insert. Much better would have been for Sony to machine the needed Arca-Swiss dovetail grooves into the foot as some other lens manufacturers have started doing. Replacing the Sony tripod foot with a Wimberley AP-616 Replacement Foot (seen in many product images on this page) or Really Right Stuff Tripod Foot is popular for good reasons.
The tripod collar is very smooth and by default provides light click-stops at 90°-degree rotations. While the click-stops cause a small bump during rotation (such as when panning with a subject as a monopod tilts), I much prefer to have the click-stops assisting me with finding center, aiding significantly in keeping a camera level. Those preferring smooth rotation get their way also with this lens as the click stops can be disabled.
Provision for using a security lock is provided at the base of the foot.
As the super telephoto lenses continue to drop weight, the demands of the support they are used on also diminish. While this lens can be handheld for reasonably long periods of time, you will still appreciate having support for longer periods of use (and for stabilizing the view). Avoiding future shoulder issues may not seem important today, but I assure you that you will one day appreciate having taken good care of your body in your youth. Keep your elbows in and shoulders at rest.
For tripod mounting, I suggest using a strong ball head (such as the Really Right Stuff BH-55 or Arca-Swiss Z1) with this lens. Much better (safer, easier) is to use a lens of this size on a gimbal style head such as the Wimberley Tripod Head II or Really Right Stuff PG-02. The FE 600mm OSS is shown mounted to the RRS FG-02 head with an RRS Ground-Level Tripod under it in many of the product images on this page.
While not as large as the Canon and Nikon equivalents, the included Sony ALC-SH158 Lens Hood is still very large and with that size comes great protection. This thumbscrew-attached carbon fiber-constructed hood has only a very slight flex. The interior is flocked to avoid light reflection and the end of the hood is rubber coated to protect it and anything it might come into contact with. The colored ring at the end of the lens is a nice design touch.
It is recommended that this lens supports the weight of the camera mounted to it and not the other way around, meaning you should not rely on the camera’s mount to fully support the weight of this (or any other large/heavy telephoto) lens. To aid in this recommendation, a shoulder strap is provided for attachment to the tripod ring, allowing the lens to freely rotate without tightening the strap around your neck.
Sony ships the FE 600 in a black hard case. This shaped, lockable trunk is very nice, is very protective, and is very good for storage, stacking, and shipping purposes. Weighing 9.25 lbs (4.2 kg), this case is rather heavy and measuring roughly 24x14x10″ (61x36x25cm LxWxD), it is rather large. Molded-in space for two teleconverters is provided inside. While I would find the case more useful if space was provided to hold a camera body mounted to the lens, that is not the safest transport method.
A shoulder strap is provided for carrying the hard case.
Sony provides a nice padded flexible wrap-around lens cover with a semi-rigid end to protect the lens. This cover is made to fit the hood in reversed position and can just barely be attached to the installed hood.
I used a MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L for carrying this lens through airports and in vehicles. In the field, I primarily carried this lens in a LensCoat rain cover using a BlackRapid Sport Breathe Camera Strap (left version) attached to a Wimberley AP-616 Foot via a Really Right Stuff B2-FABN Screw-Knob Clamp (38mm). This lens and I spent over 3 weeks together in the field and the setup described above was ideal. The lens still appears as brand new.
Price, Value, Wrap Up
At review time, the 600mm f/4 GM OSS is the most expensive FE interchangeable camera lens Sony offers. The price tag is very significant and without a doubt, this is the biggest barrier for getting this amazing lens into the hands of photographers wanting it (which is nearly all of them).
While this lens is expensive, it is priced in line with the other camera brand options and while I cannot promise anything in this regard, quality lenses hold their value well. The overall cost of ownership for these lenses can vary greatly (including from monetary exchange rate fluctuations) but a Sony super telephoto lens can typically be sold later for a solid percentage of the purchase price. The concept of buying this lens to photograph a child’s high school sports career and later selling it to help fund their college education seems realistic. Those pursuing professional wildlife and/or sports photography will likely find this lens to be a career requirement.
If the price makes the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens unobtainable for you, consider renting one for your special events. If you are not shooting professionally, consider getting other parents to share in the rental expense in exchange for photos of their kids participating in sports.
As expensive as this lens is, you get what you pay for. Also consider that price is a barrier for entry, meaning skilled photographers with this lens have a competitive advantage that will not be overcome by the masses with a camera. Anything less cannot create the separation of the subject from the background like this lens can.
The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM 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 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens was purchased online-retail.
Alternatives to the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens
There are three phenominal 600mm f/4 lenses on the market right now with the Sony being one of them. The other two options are not native Sony mount lenses and minimally require an adapter for use but lenses at this price point can become the priority decision factor for the camera selection.
I’ll first compare the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens to the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens. These two lenses are from a similar design era and have a lot in common.
In the image quality comparison we see both lenses turning in razor sharp results and trying to determine a winner is … hurting my eyes. The Sony lens may have a very slight advantage in the center of the frame. Easier to determine is that the Sony lens performs better with teleconverters than the Canon lens does. The Canon lens shows less peripheral shading and slightly less geometric distortion.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens vs. Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens comparison shows the two lenses nearly identical in size and weight. The Sony lens has 11 aperture blades vs. 9 and the Canon stops down to f/32 vs. f/22 (though likely few care). The Sony lens has 24 elements in 18 groups vs. the Canon’s 17/13. The Canon’s IS system performed better for me. At review time, the Canon lens costs $1 more.
Nikon’s current entry in the game is the Nikon 600mm f/4E AF-S FL ED VR Lens, a superb option that I spent nearly a year using. This image quality comparison is another challening one to call. Both lenses perform extremely impressively but the Sony lens appears to have a slight edge in the mid and periphery of the image circle. Add teleconverters to the comparison and the Sony lens starts extending that lead. The Nikon lens shows noticeably less peripheral shading.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens vs. Nikon 600mm f/4E AF-S FL ED VR Lens comparison shows these two lenses sharing a similar size but though only 4 years older, the Nikon sports a much heavier weight. The Sony lens has 11 aperture blades vs. 9. The Nikon lens’s $700.00 USD lower price tag may sway a few votes.
Use the site’s comparison tools to create your own comparisons, but you will be challenged to find a lens that obviously outperforms the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens.
The Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens is arguably the sharpest 600mm interchangeable camera lens ever produced. This superbly-designed, ultra-light weight lens performs extremely well, making it a perfect choice for advanced amateur and professional wildlife and sports photography and photojournalism.
I would have been happier if OSS performed better in my testing and vignetting is slightly higher than in the competition, but this lens leaves very little to complain about (aside from price).
As I siad in the Canon review, this is the type of lens that will have under-funded photographers digging through their gear kits searching for anything that might be considered non-essential and potentially contributing to the FE 600mm f/4 fund. Once the investment challenge has been overcome, taking delivery of a new Sony super-telephoto lens such as this one will make even the most jaded photographer feel like a kid on Christmas morning.
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