Sony Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4: Overdue write up on a bread and butter lens.

A while back I wrote an apology letter review to a lens. That was admittedly odd. This is another one of those.

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Differences? The prior had a G badge while this one earned a Zeiss badge. The prior a telephoto zoom and this is a wide to short tele zoom.

Similarities? Quite a few. Both are early full frame mirrorless Sony Alpha mount lenses. Both have image stabilization. Both zooms. Both had aperture specs a stop less than what was expected for top rung offerings. Both were pricey at the time of their release. Both are plentiful on the used market likely owing to them having higher spec’d variants being released since. Both are lenses I wildly underestimated.

Have to say that looking back Sony was right and I was wrong. Looking at both lenses with fresh eyes I now realize that I was focused on specs while they were focusing on size, weight, and cost. Looking at the prices of the newer lenses I said I wanted initially (24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8s) I now realize that they are so large (defeating a major stated advantage of mirrorless) and expensive that I would have never considered this system at all. Plus releasing the lower variants last would mean that it would have delayed their depreciation.

On the used market I paid hundreds less for both of these f/4 lenses combined than the new 24-70mm f/2.8 alone. Nearly $1,000 less combined than one new 70-200mm f/2.8.

AF adapt a Canon DSLR or an earlier Sony DSLR lens? Personal preference, but I never seriously considered either of those paths. No matter the combination there always seemed to be a considerable compromise in size, weight, and AF capabilities.

The more I learn about photography the more I realize what gear will actually do is ultimately far more important than whatever the specification sheet has to say. In use the 70-200mm f/4 blew me away.

Sidebar: Wrote reviews here, here, and here pleading the case for the lower rung Sony 28-70mm lens. That is still an amazing lens. Nothing has changed. Would still be using it today, but Southeastern Camera had a second hand 24-70mm f/4 at a price that undercut the current market value so much that I simply could not ignore it so I pulled the trigger on a gear trade (ultimately part of a larger, significant housekeeping use it or lose it gear trade swap out). Otherwise I would still gladly be using the former. But I love a good deal.

…and we are back. Like I said the 70-200mm f/4 blew me away, but I did not expect the same from the 24-70mm f/4. I was wrong. The 28-70mm was very good. The 24-70mm is better.

How?

  • Sharpness. That Zeiss badge is not just a sticker. The 28-70mm was fine on the 24MP A7ii, but I must admit that the 42.4MP A7Rii stretched it a bit beyond it’s capabilities. Not so with the 24-70mm.
  • Build. The previous lens had a fine build quality, and was even more compact while zooming, but the Zeiss is a tank. Proper melee weapon in a pinch grade kit. And a fine looking hood you have there Mr. Zeiss.
  • Focusing speed. May just be the Zeiss pixie dust clouding my judgment, but while the 28-70mm was a zippy focuser the Zeiss seems a touch quicker.
  • Who am I kidding? It says Zeiss right there on the side. I am not immune to the charm of that name and its history.

Now on to the even more surprising bit. This is all the lens I really need between 24mm and 70mm. If I were not a prime lens zealot (first step is admitting you have a problem) I could (gasp) trade my other primes. I would never have believed this, but it was first made apparent at a work event I shot in low conference room light (a St. Baldrick event where the room light was kept low since a projector was running) where it performed flawlessly…

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and later proven at a recent photo shoot.

At this recent event I was the solo shooter moving between 2 rooms with very different lighting/flash conditions (ballroom w/ on camera sto-fen flash vs. 3 remote light couple vs. 3 remote light group shots).

Ballroom w/ on camera sto-fen flash:

At first I was determined to use primes (switching between the FE 50mm f/1.8 and the FE 85mm f/1.8 depending on how far I would be from the subject) due to the meager light available. Despite my earlier experience with the Zeiss I was convinced that f/4 would not cut it. But then I realized that in such an informal setting f/1.8 was actually working against me. With the subjects seated at round tables it was not always possible to get both persons in a couple on the same focus plane with such a thin depth of field. Meaning I had to stop them down. (ding, ding, ding) The bells went off in my head and I realized I would be better served (and possibly save my lenses from drops and sensor from dust contamination) by using the 24-70mm instead of swapping lenses back and forth.

3 remote light couple vs. 3 remote light group shots:

This one was more cut and dry. Was switching from full length to waist and up and group shots here so a zoom is a natural choice. Plus since f/4 is more desirable for group shots and confidence was bolstered by having the three light set up I knew the Zeiss would be at home here. But this lens really shined. This lens more than stood up to the demands of a 42.4MP sensor. I own no lens sharper than this. I own no lens that renders colors better than this.

It even performed flawlessly when I was caught flat-footed and brought outside after 10pm to take a group shot that I had not expected. They knew. Just did not tell the photographer. Details. No time to move lights. No time to test. No time to switch lenses even. But with a little cooperation from the subjects in holding still and a firm tucked in elbow no breathing hold I got my favorite shot of the night using this lens.

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Even did well getting a candid shot of the band I took while they were throwing down. They were phenomenal. Still trying to find out their name.

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For my next shoot this is the lens I will start with and I expect that it will be the one that stays on the camera the entirety of the shoot. My primes will now be reserved for personal and special use. It is that good.

Would I have paid the going rate for one new or used before using this lens? Likely not. Would I do so now that I have seen first hand what it can do? No doubt.

Again, the 28-70mm below it is no slouch. But this lens goes that bit further where it matters.

Is the newer 24-70mm f/2.8 a better lens. I am sure it is. But by how much? I do believe this 24-70mm f/4 (ongoing gallery here) is worth serious consideration before spending over twice as much for its larger, pricier successor.

Happy shooting.

-ELW

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