Sony DT 55-300mm SAM f/4.5-5.6 Review
January 2013, Carl Garrard
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Sony SAM DT 55-300mm SAM f/4.5-5.6 Review: Intro and First Impressions
So the first thing most of us want to know is how this lens performs optically, right? Well I'll get more into that later (c'mon I can't blow the surprise/or/lack thereof that early), right? First lets discuss how this lens falls to the hand, how it balances on a DSLR/SLT, and my impressions of its "features".
Sony have seemingly decided to up the build quality on the SAM lens line from previous iterations. First, the 16-50mm f/2.8 and 18-135mm SAM were introduced with a new exterior and build quality, and now the 55-300mm SAM. I have to say, all of the new lenses are refined and sophisticated on the exterior, first of all.
Sony has struck a nice balance between form and function on the exterior of these new lenses and all I can say is- keep em' coming. Exterior wise, you've pretty much nailed it Sony, so no need to change the exterior on future lenses. I like it. My only small quibble is the ultra fine ribbing that seems to go out of its way to find particles of ... anything to suck into its crevices. And they aren't really easy to clean either, even with a top notch goat hair brush that I have.
Moving on, if you aren't looking closely, you may just mistake this lens for the more expensive 70-300 G Sony SSM. Of course there are differences in the exterior, but the general impression is similar to me and almost indistinguishable from any distance. It's a handsome lens, if that at all matters to any of you.
Made in China not Japan or Taiwan for that matter, this lens's low price is undoubtedly influenced by the lower production costs out of Sony's China manufacturing facility. But don't let that fact fool you. I see no differences in the quality of production between this lens and the 18-135mm that was produced in Japan. At least on the sample that I purchased. I can't report on sample variations if I only have one lens to work with.
Sony SAM DT 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Review: Optical Performance
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Optically this lens is not overly complicated. The addition of an ED element (shown in green below) helps tame the distortion output though over previous A-Mount lenses, such as the old KM rebadged 75-300mm, and it's much better than the Tamron 70-300mm DI Macro at controlling CA's especially. Sharpness is also improved over the budget Tamron model (and similar Sigma 70-300mm macro's), but the difference isn't as great as the reduction in color fringing which is very noticeable and well controlled (yes, I mean from the raw files not the corrected Jpegs in camera).
|12 elements in 9 groups and one ED element (in green). Not a complicated formula at all but rather one that simply has good overall optical performance. As you will see in all of the sample images below.|
|Sample at 300mm f/8. Tack sharp and very good contrast- simply hard to beat at any price. This sample was taken using the A57 Sony DSLT.|
|Again at 300mm, wide open at f/5.6 this time. Shot with the Alpha-7 DSLR for this image, still plenty of detail. Notice the lack of corner shading as well as the the detail retained in the entire image.|
|At 55mm the lens shows no real weakness either, and has a slightly wider filed of view than your typical lens of this class. Sharp corner to corner at f/8 and no corner shading/vignetting.|
|Wide open at 55mm f/4.5. Just a tad of corner shading (not a big issue at all) but very sharp.|
The MTF chart for the 55-300mm Sony looks pretty good too as you can see from the supplied graph here. When using this lens wide open in the field, results translate. Don't be shocked when this lens' performance in the field surprises you in a good way (at least optically).
|A little bokeh sample for you. Not too shabby.|
For close ups this lens has a decent magnification of about 1:4, which is very decent although lenses that cost half its price can be had that have 1:2 magnification. So if you are wanting the best performance from a lens in this class there are other options. Still I consider 1:4 very decent and with a bit of cropping close ups have plenty of detail even with a 6mp sensor. Remember too, a magnification filter can be added to the front of the lens if you really need more- and for little cost.
|Close ups look nice with this lens. Sorry to get artsy fartsy on you but hey, I'm a photographer before I'm a reviewer/writer so there you have it. I particularly liked this image. Shot at 210mm, even greater magnification can be achieved than this.|
|Excellent results are quite possible. Normally CA's show on this coots white beak when I make images of them every year, but not with this lens. As good of a performance optically as the much more expensive Sony 70-300mm G SSM.|
|Worst case scenario for color fringing. The dreaded tree limb test. Look at the lower limbs, CA is there even at f/8 but its not the sharp kind and easily correctable. I've seen much worse, trust me. Especially at this price.|
Sony SAM DT 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Review: Handling and Stuff
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Handling wise I prefer to use this lens on a larger Alpha body. The old KM Alpha-7 is an excellent paring, and a very comfortable duo (even more so than using it with my A57). Thus, the review was written using it on this camera and the Alpha 57 as well. The big zoom ring and and focusing ring are welcomed although I can't help but think this lens could be a bit more compact adding to it's overall appeal.
Size wise this lens is pretty large, here it is compared to the KM APO "D" 100-300mm lens and you can see its wider and longer than this very popular lens. Granted you get a much wider view than the 100-300mm as well, but they probably could have made it a bit more compact I'd think. Thus without the lens hood, it's not too bulky considering the range of zoom it has.
Both the zoom and focusing ring operate how I like them too, precise and smooth. The zoom ring can be a little bit jerky at times, but it won't creep when you point the camera downward- so I'd rather have it that way. The focusing ring is really nice for manual focus, with a quarter turn taking you through the focus throw. This makes it a bit difficult for precise manual focusing but most DSLRS allow magnification through live view now anyways- so it's not the issue it used to be.
It's smooth enough to combat even the short throw however. On the plus side the short throw makes for fast manual focusing on moving subjects- which is a good thing. Just be careful to remember that this lens has no auto clutch and does not disengage when you have it set to auto focus. It moves quickly when the camera autofocuses so keep your hands off it. Bummer.
Fit and finish are both very decent. The lens has sort of mottled flat finish that resists oil, scratching, and dirt/dust pretty well (bar the zoom/focus rings of course). The finish also looks very nice too. Although this lens is mostly plastic (bar the lens mount and front bezel) you don't really get an impression of a cheap fit or finish- better you get a feeling of value.
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|Overall a nice value for a "kit" zoom lens. It seems to straddle the bare bottom offering to mid priced zoom range quite well. Optically most shooters will need to look no further for a lens of this type|
Overall the Sony SAM 55-300mm doesn't disappoint this shooter. Unless you expect it to be an AF speed demon and use polarizers on a daily basis, this lens should please everyone else. It's most obvious weakness I found, is the hunting you'll experience. The lack of a focus limiter and a bit slower focusing means that if the lens overshoots your subject while autofocusing- you're going to have to have patience while it runs it's course to try and find your subject again.
Translation- it's not a lens I'd choose first for tracking moving subjects. For those on a budget though, you can overcome this weakness some by getting good habits and using multiple AF points rather than just the center (as I usually do).
Optically, it's much better than the sub $200.00 70-300mm cheapo Tamron's and Sigma's many of us have used or currently own because of the versatility and price tag of those lenses. The 55mm focal is welcome, and makes this lens a lot more versatile than you might think- at least when compared to the 70-300mm class. The Tamron 70-300mm VC is much heavier and a bit more expensive and you really don't gain any optical advantage. That lens will give you better tracking capabilities however.
Kit lenses keep getting better and better for the price in all other brands, so it is nice to see Sony keeping up with the pack here. My only wish is that the front element didn't rotate, but that would mean internal focusing and thus a higher price tag as a result - that's just the way the cookie crumbles friends. Otherwise I have no qualms about the image quality and for the causal shooter it's a very good handling and balanced lens, with very decent build quality for the price that should keep most purchasers happy for some time to come.
On a 1-10 scale for overall value I'd give it an 8.5. Optically, an 8, build a 7.5, and features a 6.5 (and that's being a bit generous). So overall a pretty good score considering it's $300.00 price tag because at the end of the day what matters most is how well the images look, and this lens is capable of making some very good looking images for it's price tag.
I do like a good bang for the buck, so an overall 8/10 rating for this lens which is very good considering a 10 would be a perfect performance in every aspect of a lens review. Comparatively the Tamron 70-300mm VC would get a 7.5/10 overall from me- but more on that at a later time perhaps!
Plug: If you liked the review please do not click the link below. Because if you do you might just send some monetary gain my way- and we all know my writing isn't worth a hill of beans let alone a tiny commission.
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As usual, please be safe and happy shooting!
Didacts and Narpets (Pro's and Con's for those that need translation)
Here is a quick and dirty assessment of the Sony 55-300mm lens in a fun and wonderful list that will take very little of your precious time to read. It pretty much sums up the entire review, but for those who do actually like to read, I recommend reading the entire article please. Thanks.
- Very Good image quality for a "kit zoom" (circular blades help out of focus areas/bokeh)
- Versatile focal range
- Good handling lens (lots of room on the control surfaces)
- Great Bang for the Buckaroni
- Decent magnification (1:4) for closeups
- Good build quality at any price (front element surrounded by metal bezel for example)
- Smooth focus and zoom ring action (almost no play on either)
- Comes with a zoom lock (but you'll never need to use it), yet no creeping
- Recessed rear element design means use of 1.4x teleconverters on all brands
- Includes a lens hood
- Low aberrations of any kind
- Common front filter size of 62mm
- Front element rotates when focusing, no auto clutch
- No focus hold button/or limiter
- Lack of distance scale information of any kind
- Minimum focusing distance (just shy of 5' from subject to sensor, too far for my taste)
- Focus speed can vary at times from very slow to only moderate (Tested on A57 and A7 DSLRS)
- Hunting, paired with slow focus, means you'll need patience (Tested on A57 and A7 DSLRS)
- Focusing not as quiet as the SAM 18-135mm (but also not as expensive, and its not loud by any means either)
- Lens Type : Telephoto & Telephoto Zoom
- Aperture (Max.) : f/4 - 5.6
- Aperture (Min.) : f/22 - 29
- Filter Diameter : 62 mm
- Lens Groups-Elements : 12 elements 9 groups including 1 ED glass element
- Minimum Focus Distance : 4' 6” (1.4 m)
- Aspheric Elements : No aspheric
- Distance Encoder : Yes
- Aperture Blade : 7 blades (Circular aperture)
- Focal Length (35mm equivalent) : APS-C: 55-300mm (35mm Equivalent: 82.5-450 mm)
- Lens Weight : 1 lb. 3 oz. (460g)
- Magnification : x 0.27
- Dimensions (Approx.) : 3 1/8 x 4 5/8" (77 x 116.5 mm)
- Weight (Approx.) : 1 lb. 3 oz. (460g)