There's definitely more than meets the eye with this new standard zoom lens option. Aside from a wider range and a smaller size, let’s see what else this has to offer.
Standard zoom lenses will always be the most versatile lenses when it comes to range. If one were limited to just one zoom lens for a shoot that might require a variety of perspectives, 24-70mm or 24-105mm (or equivalent crop sensor) lenses should always be top-of-mind options. For the last few decades, standard zoom lenses have basically been updates of the same range of lenses, just given better glass quality, focusing speed, image stabilization, etc. That’s why it’s just high time for lens manufacturers to push the range further with the hopes of possibly offering more flexibility without having to compromise on image quality.
This new lens from Sony may very well be a great start to pushing the boundaries of the standard zoom lens. The range alone says a lot about the potential difference it could make to the workflow and gear choices of both photographers and videographers, but let’s take a closer look at what this lens has to offer.
The Sony FE 20-70mm F/4 G
One noteworthy difference of this lens is in size. It comes in at just 488 grams within a 99 mm barrel that is 78.7 mm thick. This is comparably more compact and lighter than the Sony 24-105mm f/4 G and even the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II.
The Sony 20-70mm f/4 G comes with two customizable focus hold buttons, the usual AF/MF switch, its own manual aperture ring ranging from f/4 to f/22 with an extra stop for automatic or body-controlled function, a switch to remove the clicks/stops of the aperture ring, and an iris lock switch which has been a constant addition to most Sony lenses in the past year. This also comes with its own reversible lens hood and takes 72mm filters in front.
Optics and Focusing
This lens is made up of 16 glass elements in 13 groups with extra-low dispersion glass elements for less aberrations and flaring. It has a 9-blade circular aperture assembly that has some significant implications considering the close focusing capabilities of this lens. The 20-70mm f/4 G is equipped with two XD linear AF motors that are compatible with the adaptive and seamless AF speed and tracking features of the recent Sony cameras.
More than the focusing speed and accuracy that everyone perhaps expects out of any new lens coming out in 2023, another aspect about this lens that could perhaps expand the functionality is the significantly close minimum focusing distance of up to 0.25 m when focused manually, or 0.25 to 0.3 meters on auto-focus across the 20-70mm range. Other 24-70mm lenses usually have around 0.35 to 0.38 m minimum focusing distance, and while that seems small in terms of the number, this can mean more applications in terms of shooting products, food, and smaller objects as well.
Standard zoom lenses are and should always be considered general use lenses. Since they sit right in the middle of the wide and telephoto range, they remain one of the most practical lenses to have. The Sony 20-70mm f/4 G stays true to this as it offers the same practical applications with the significant addition of offering a 4mm wider perspective and at the same time, the ability to focus closer.
As a landscape and cityscape photographer, I see the potential of this lens for instances wherein ultra-wide angle lenses (16-35mm) might not be the priority and the photographer doesn’t want to bring too many lenses. The extra 4mm on the wider end offers a huge difference, especially at locations where there might not be room to back up. I personally have also gone on landscape photography trips with the 20mm f/1.8 prime instead of the 16-35mm, and most of the time, 20mm is wide enough for what I want to execute. Then again, this is, of course, entirely based on the preference of the photographer, but it is definitely good to know that the option to have the 24-70mm and 20mm in one lens, in terms of range, is there.
When shooting landscapes with highly detailed foreground elements, the close focusing distance of 0.25 m can be quite handy. One approach would be to try to shoot with as much of the frame in focus with a smaller aperture. Another approach would be to do focus stacking to get every layer in as much detail as possible and combine them together in post. This ability to focus close on the foreground can be a great combination with the automated focus bracketing of the a7R V to create hyper-detailed photos of wide vistas.
In other forms of nature photography, being able to focus close even when zooming in at 70mm can also help. Whether photographing small animals, plants, or flowers, the 20-70mm can be a helpful tool. It is, however, not exactly a macro lens but can definitely get closer than most other zoom lenses.
Shooting portraits might not be the first application most would think of especially for those who prefer larger apertures, but this new standard zoom lens can definitely still perform well, especially when light is abundant. With close focusing, it still does blur the background pretty well, even at just the f/4 aperture.
20mm is a great wide perspective for shooting videos. I personally think that (in terms of video), anything wider might seem unnatural, especially when motion is involved. Having a lens that starts with 20mm with the option of zooming in can definitely be great for videographers, especially in well-lit conditions. Whether for vlogging or travel video content, the 20-70mm range offers a lot to work with. It would have been great to see a power-zoom function on this lens as well for smooth movement in videos, just like what we have been seeing on some more recent lenses from Sony.
Lastly, the close focusing distance of this lens offers a lot more applications in shooting small objects. Whether this be for photographing food, small products, detailed image of clothing, ring shots for weddings and engagement shoots, the extra 5 to 10mm of closer focusing distance can be a great middle-ground for photographers who don’t have a dedicated macro lens. Since this covers a wider range of focusing given that it can focus closer, there is that tendency for AF to miss by focusing on something further back. Perhaps a switch that would limit the focusing to closer objects would improve this.
The 20-70mm is definitely a step towards the expansion of the capabilities of our trusted standard zoom lenses. The more portable build, the wider perspective, and the closer focusing distance offer so much in terms of how we can use the lens. While it will not be the perfect lens for all shooting scenarios, it is a lens that covers many bases for many of them.
What I Liked
- Wider range
- Close focusing distance
- Compact and lightweight
What Can Be Improved
- No power-zoom option for video
- No focus range switch
You can purchase the 20-70mm f/4 G here.
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