The Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS lens is remarkable on many levels. First, it’s smaller and lighter than any that have come before. It’s silent, fast and very accurate when paired with the Sony a9 camera. But to stop there would be a mistake. It’s the longest and fastest full-frame, super-telephoto lens designed specifically for mirrorless technology, which by its own nature is the shortest distance between two points.
Everything about this lens is new. There’s no ancient institutional knowledge that Sony drew from to make this lens. While there have been 300mm f/2.8 and 500mm f/4 Sony-branded lenses since about 2007, these truly belonged to “The Mind of Minolta,” which Sony acquired in 2006. Taking a look at a couple physical features of the new lens will make this obvious. First, note the drop-in filter is on the side of the lens rather than on top, making it easier to access. Second, note the secret door on the right side of the tripod foot. Behind it, you’ll find a laptop-style security cable connection that will make the new lens tougher to steal for pros covering big events.
Designed For Mirrorless Advantages
The entire optical formula of this super tele prime is also new. Sony wasn’t able to snag a Nikon or Canon lens, take them apart and duplicate the placement and elements of glass. As the focal plane distance is radically shorter than any DSLR system, all the optical design had to be new as well. Now add in the fact that Sony makes not only this lens and the cameras it will mount to but also the sensors that it will project light onto. In testing and early prototype phase, Sony was able to tune in this optic to favor the sensor in every way.
The “Predictive Auto Focus” systems found in DSLR systems now seem as antiquated as a ’57 Chevy parked next to a Tesla Model S. Why predict when you can just see all the time what you’re shooting and never be blind waiting for the mirror to cycle up and down as you try to shoot action? What’s so important to realize is that you can’t really compare the new 400 from Sony with similar lenses from Canon or Nikon. You must consider the added value of the a9 to really begin to experience the next level of action photography.
Enough tech-talk. What’s it like to shoot? It’s awesome. Once you pair up the a9 with it, even with adding Sony’s 1.4x or 2X teleconverters, you get speed and accuracy not possible with previous technology. As an added bonus, you pick up 20 fps with full AF tracking and extremely low light performance and very wide dynamic range. The a9 also enables you to shoot at shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 sec., which allow you to shoot at ƒ/2.8 on the brightest days anywhere on the planet.
The images I got to shoot on my first time out with the lens illustrate this. Most of the game was under lights, but the images have excellent quality and exhibit low noise even with high shutter speeds selected. I shot much of the game using Face-Detect AF, which allowed me to ignore everything but the face I wanted. At certain points, I was even able to use Eye-AF as well during action sequences. I also set up a custom function that allowed me to use the focus lock on the lens to instantly “push in” to APS-C mode, which gives me an instant, electronic 1.5x magnification that I could turn on and off with one movement of my finger, letting me go from a 400mm ƒ/2.8 to the equivalent of a 600mm ƒ/2.8 on the fly.
Though the specifications of the new Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS lens appear similar to Canon and Nikon’s options, anyone serious about getting one needs to experience the sharpness, speed and accuracy of the new lens with the a9 to begin to understand some of the advances Sony has made on behalf of sports, dance, wildlife and news shooters around the world.
See more of Patrick Murphy-Racey’s work at pmrphoto.com.