In 2022, Sony made a big splash with a second, compelling and accomplished version of its FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM trans-standard.
A new f/4 trans-standard
At the beginning of 2023, Sony is tackling a zoom lens almost 10 years old: the Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS. This first trans-standard for the manufacturer’s 24×36 hybrids is thus relegated to the background by the FE 20-70mm F4 G.
With a simplified name, a wider angle lens and a modern construction… this zoom looks like a shortened – and less bright – version of the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II.
The 20-70mm f/4 thus collides with brighter lenses such as the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art and DG DN 28-70mm F2.8 Contemporary, or the Tamron 28-75mm F2.8 Di III RXD as well as the more recent 28-75mm F2.8 DI III VXD G2 or even the Samyang AF 24-70mm F2.8 FE.
We now know the specifications of the new G and GM lenses: more compact and light, tropicalised, with a smooth or notched aperture control ring, several adjustable buttons, and an autofocus switch.
Smaller but no less comprehensive
They can also have one or more switches to activate and adjust the optical stabilisation. So, not surprisingly, this FE 20-70mm F4 G is a perfect match for these codes. It is a miniaturised version of the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II. From a distance, nothing distinguishes them except their size.
So we have a well-built, modern lens that doesn’t skimp on controls. However, unlike other recent Sony lenses, this zoom lens is a bit bulkier and heavier (488g and 7.8 x 9.9cm) than the Zeiss model. This is still relatively marginal, and one can always argue that this FE 20-70mm F4 G is not replacing the venerable trans-standard.
A high-end construction
The handling is, however, successful, and we find with a certain satisfaction all the features that make the success of the latest Sony lenses. The zoom is labelled G, which is the middle of the manufacturer’s range, but this is mainly due to its “limited” maximum aperture at f/4. As far as the construction and ergonomics are concerned, we are dealing with a high-end lens.
For photographers and videographers
We still appreciate the rotating aperture ring, which videographers can quickly make smooth with the appropriate control. The focus ring is precise but still a bit fluid, and the zoom ring has no complaints. Its travel is good, and the change of focal length is relatively easy.
We note in passing that Sony still does not provide an indicator of the focal length used, either on the screen or in the viewfinder. This function, implemented by many competitors, is relevant.
Very sharp at the widest aperture
At Sony, the lenses are all the same. So much so that one wonders whether a new lens will ever offer anything other than excellent sharpness, and this at the widest aperture (here f/4). This FE 20-70mm F4 G is no exception, and the result is a zoom lens that is on par with the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II and even surpasses it at times. The comparison with the FE PZ 16-35mm F4 G is also evident.
At the widest angle of 20mm and f/4, the best of the zoom is almost achieved. The maximum sharpness of this focal length is reached just after at f/5.6, and it is a very high level. This logically decreases at f/8 while remaining very sharp.
At mid-zoom, or 50mm, the same behaviour is observed, with excellent values at f/4 and f/5.6 and still good at f/8. However, whether at 20mm or 50mm, it is worth noting a relative homogeneity between the centre and the corners of the images at the best apertures.
At full zoom, the lens offers slightly different results. This time, the largest aperture (f/4) is slightly behind, although it still provides an outstanding sharpness. The maximum sharpness is reached at f/5.6, remaining equivalent to other focal lengths.
Facing the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II, we can see that the work on the lenses is similar. The G Master zoom benefits from an additional stop.
The Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G is an excellent lens. Well built, with a versatile focal range and perfect sharpness. Its only real drawback is that it is limited to a maximum aperture of f/4, which is tight for a reasonably high-end product. However, it makes up for this with excellent performance.