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Review of the Sony FE 600mm F4 G Master OSS | The Lightest Super-Telephoto Lens in Its Class.

The Sony FE 600mm F4 GM OSS is the first 600-mm lens of the Sony FE-Mount system. I still remember when the Alpha 9 was launched and Sony asked what lenses we would expect. At the time, what I longed for most was a super-telephoto lens to match with the Alpha 9. Two years later, Sony released the FE 400mm F2.8 GM OSS (SEL400F28GM), as well as the FE 600mm F4 GM OSS (SEL600F40GM) that is discussed in this article.

Thanks to Sony Taiwan, I received an FE 600mm F4 GM OSS lens for testing. I tried the lens out on an Alpha 9 and Alpha 7R III respectively. To my surprise, the Alpha 7R IV was launched on the day before the deadline of submission for this article. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is coming, so why not release the Alpha 9 II first? This is quite intriguing. Anyway, although the Alpha 9 was released two years ago, its performance goes up to a higher level after a firmware update. Its performance in focus tracking is almost incomparable when compared with flagship DSLR cameras of other brands.

Specifications of three 600 mm F4 lenses

  Sony Canon Nikon
Optical structure 24 elements in 18 groups 17 elements in 13 groups 16 elements in 12 groups
Special lenses Fluorite lens × 3
XA lens × 1
ED lens × 2
Fluorite lens × 2
ED lens × 4
Fluorite lens × 2
ED lens × 4
Focal length 600 mm 600 mm 600 mm
Aperture range F/4~F/22 F/4~F/32 F/4~F/22
Aperture blade 11 9 9
Circular aperture Yes Yes Yes
Minimum focus distance 4.5 m 4.2 m 4.4 m
Maximum magnification ratio 0.14x 0.15x 0.14x
Built-in filter Yes Yes Yes
Filter size (mm) 40.5 52 40.5
Optical image stabilization Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions (mm) 163.6 x 449 168 x 448 166 x 432
Weight(g) 3040   3050  3810

Sony: SEL600F40GM
Canon: EF600mm F4L IS III USM
Nikon: AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR

Both Sony and Canon launched new lenses in 2019. The AF-S NIKKOR 600mm F4E FL ED VR, released in 2015, is relatively weaker. For the SEL600F40GM, its performance in picture quality and weight, emphasized by the FE-Mount, is far superior to that of the DSLR systems of other brands. The weight of the SEL600F40GM + Alpha 9 is only 3,713 g, or 4,068 g if the battery grip is added, which means the combination is lightweight and portable.

SEL600F40GM’s Appearance

Like the SEL400F28GM, the SEL600F40GM comes in a Sony-exclusive storage box. It would be better if the storage box had wheels. I don’t know if anyone would want to carry the box around. Generally, I would get out of my car and take the lens without the box. It would be more versatile if the storage box had wheels. The storage box comes with a lock mechanism, with a key attached.

Made of high-density polystyrene foam, the storage box provides excellent protection. Note that the SEL600F40GM is built to order. This is understandable as the lens is expensive, so keeping inventory is not economical.

As the lens’ aperture is very large, a leather case is provided for protection. The lens can also be protected by using the lens hood while shooting. The storage box is like the leather case, used after the lens has been unpackaged.

The SEL600F40GM features a rigid magnesium alloy body, so it weighs only 3,040 g. The lenses are concentrated in the middle and rear sections of the body to balance its weight and prevent it from being top-heavy.

It is needless to say that dust and moisture resistance are basic features of the SEL600F40GM. Because such a lens is mainly used to photograph sports events and animals, it must be able to withstand harsh environments. When I was using the flagship camera and this lens to shoot pictures of a plane, it suddenly rained. I believe that the moisture-resistant feature of the lens saved me from having to quickly pack up. Here is a sample video of the scene.

As you can see in the video, it rained quite heavily. Other photographers nearby were either rushing to pack up equipment or using a raincoat or an umbrella to protect their camera and lens. The weather-resistant features of the Alpha 9 + SEL600F40GM save you from worrying during sudden downpours.

The lens hood model is ALC-SH158. To make the SEL600F40GM lightweight, the hood is made of carbon fibre (just like the hood of the SEL400F28GM), and its inner edge is fluffy. After the hood is attached, the length of the entire lens body is even more amazing. As it is inconvenient to remove the hood, I often keep the hood on to protect the front lens and block out excess light.

The SEL600F40GM takes pride in its optical structure, with 24 elements in 18 groups, including several special lenses. Let’s talk about these lenses.

  • 3 lightweight fluorite lenses, to suppress chromatic aberration
  • 1 extreme aspherical (XA) lens to solve the problem of onion-ring bokeh. It is the largest XA lens after the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM (SEL2470GM) and FE 16-35mm GM (SEL1635GM) lenses and demonstrates Sony’s expertise in optics!
  • 2 ED low dispersion lenses, also to address chromatic dispersion
  • Nano AR coating to eliminate flare and ghosting
●Fluorite lenses     ●XA lens    ●ED low dispersion lenses

The above figure shows that the lens assembly is concentrated in the middle and rear sections of the SEL600F40GM to make it easier to carry around and prevent the body from being top-heavy. Since the SEL600F40GM itself is 3,040 g, it is not easy to carry the lens for extended periods, especially when you are holding the lens with your left hand. It is recommended to use a tripod or monopod when shooting for extended periods. Finally, I’d like to add that the front lens of the SEL600F40GM has a fluorine coating, to repel water droplets and grease, which makes it easy to clean.

To meet the need for extreme shots, the SEL600F40GM is equipped with two XD linear motors, just like the configuration of the FE 135mm F1.8 GM (SEL135F18GM). From the minimum focus distance to infinity, the SEL600F40GM is sensitive to switching of speeds and the user’s responses. From my experience, the Sony Alpha 9 makes better use of the SEL600F40GM’s focus tracking than the Alpha 7R III.

The SEL600F40GM comes with four “focus-lock buttons,” which can be operated smoothly in any shooting position. They can be seen as function buttons (Fn-buttons). Usually, these customizable function buttons are set in APS-CAPS-C mode. This way, you can switch the equivalent focal length from 600 mm to 900 mm instantly by pressing a single button, but the pixel value of the resulting image may be different.

The middle “multi-function ring” (focusing ring, the largest one shown in the picture) can work with the Set button to store a preset focus distance. In the PRESET mode, you may turn the multi-function ring to restore the preset focus point immediately. This feature is very helpful for shooting pictures of sports events. For example, during a soccer match, the focus point may be set at the nearest gate, to reduce errors during switching from infinity mode to a close distance. The focusing ring can also work with the “full-time manual focusing” function.

The super-telephoto lens is usually used for extreme shots or unpredictable environments. To offer better control of the lens, Sony provides many custom functions.

  • Full-time DMF: Full-time Direct Manual Focus can be switched on or off as required without the need to enter settings in the menu. A linear manual focusing feature is used to determine the focus distance according to the amount of turning force you apply.
  • Slide the focus-range limiter to select the focus ranges available: Full (from the minimum focusing distance to infinity), 15 m–4.5 m, and 15 m to infinity. To reduce errors, you can set a suitable focus range according to the target distance.
  • “Preset/function/off”: The “multi-function ring” mentioned above is used together with “preset/function/off”. In the Function mode, the multi-function ring is used for “power focusing”. The speed is slow but consistent; suitable for shooting video.
  • Optical SteadyShot Mode “1/2/3”: A switch to compensate for camera shake. These three modes are optional. Interestingly, Sony did not disclose the levels of OSS image stabilization. Mode 1, the most commonly used, compensates for normal camera shake. Mode 2 compensates for camera shake when panning moving subjects. Mode 3 compensates for camera shake to minimize framing disturbances and achieve precise image composition.

The release button is mainly used to change the angle of image composition quickly from a horizontal to vertical composition. When the lens is successfully rotated by 90 degrees, there will be a clicking sound and a positioning prompt. The lens can also be switched off, depending on personal habits.

The lens is provided with strap holes on both sides, to be used with the strap that comes with the lens, which makes it easier to carry the huge lens. I personally have little use for the strap, so I would not install the strap as it is more efficient to carry the lens with a monopod.

The bottom of the SEL600F40GM’s tripod ring is conventional. It must be used with a quick-release plate, but I love this design since I tried out a Sigma quick-release plate supporting the ARCA system. The design is efficient when used with a holder and helps prevent displacement or loosening due to collision.

The tripod ring is provided with two 1/4" tripod holes on the bottom and a 3/8" tripod hole in the middle. I hope it can support the ARCA system in the future.

As the weight of the SEL600F40GM itself is 3,040 g, Sony uses seven screws at the end of the lens to ensure connection durability. In contrast, four screws are generally used in other lenses.

As the front lens’ aperture of super-telephoto lenses such as SEL600F40GM is very large, there are usually not many filter options. Even if they are available, they are expensive. The SEL600F40GM supports slot-in filters and comes with a 40.5-mm transparent filter. You can buy a CPL polarizing filter or ND filter separately if necessary.

This time, I tested the lens together with a 1.4x teleconverter and a 2.0x teleconverter borrowed from the manufacturer. After the 1.4x teleconverter was attached, the equivalent focal length was 840 mm at F5.6. After the 2.0x teleconverter was attached, the equivalent focal length was 1200 mm at F8. In fact, when the focal length goes up to 600 mm, the outcome may be affected by air quality and heat flow. Thus, a longer focal length is not necessarily better. The aperture of the 2.0x teleconverter is very small and focusing becomes difficult. That’s why all the sample images were shot at 600 mm for this test.

From the above picture, we can see the size difference between the FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G) and the recently launched SEL600F40GM. As the SEL600F40GM is not easy to carry around, its performance has not been fully demonstrated due to limited scenes within a short period. Yes, you should be mentally prepared. It is a pity that I didn’t have sufficient time to test the lens in more scenes.

Also, I’d like to thank Cheng Seng Trading for their support. They provided a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod and a carbon fibre monopod for me to test the combination of Sony Alpha 9 + SEL600F40GM. Their support allowed me to switch between the tripod and monopod for different scenes.

Testing the resolution at each aperture with the Alpha 7R III

An important part of a lens test is to determine the resolution at each aperture setting. When I tested the lens on a Sony Alpha 7R III, the effective pixel count was up to 42.40 megapixels. If the lens is combined with Alpha 7R IV and switched to APS-C mode, the equivalent focal length will be up to 900 mm at F4, and a pixel count of 26.20 megapixels can still be maintained, which is great for bird photographers. Let’s analyze the performance at different apertures: F4 is undoubtedly the working aperture; the lens exhibited high performance at F4-F8; images shot at F11 tend to be soft. In fact, such a lens is used to take pictures at open apertures, so it is not necessary to consider performance beyond F8.

From the above picture, we can see the size difference between the FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G) and the recently launched SEL600F40GM. As the SEL600F40GM is not easy to carry around, its performance has not been fully demonstrated due to limited scenes within a short period. Yes, you should be mentally prepared. It is a pity that I didn’t have sufficient time to test the lens in more scenes.

Aperture dispersion suppression test with Alpha 7R III

It is not easy to find a suitable high-contrast environment for shooting images at 600 mm. In the past, the most common method was to take pictures of a backlit subject. To test dispersion suppression at 600 mm, I used a reflective metal railing. Perhaps due to the use of several special lenses, or because the F4 aperture is not very large, no chromatic dispersion was observed. The test result below is for your reference.

Testing AF-S focusing speed with the Sony Alpha 9

The minimum focus distance of the SEL600F40GM is 4.5 meters. During the test, I set the focus-range limiter to “FULL.” In the video, you can see the focusing performance from the minimum focus distance to infinity. Performance conclusion: fast, resolute, and accurate.

Sony Alpha 9 + SEL600F40GM vs. Taiwan Football Premier League

In April, Sony released new firmware (version 5.00) for the Alpha 9 and added a “Real-time Eye AF” function, making the camera more powerful in tracking human eyes. When I was about to upgrade my Alpha 9, I noticed version 5.01, which seems to fix a small bug. It’s not much different from version 5.00.

The combination of “Sony Alpha 9 + SEL600F40GM” offers 693 phase-detection points and 425 contrast AF points. I use “Lock-on AF: Flexible Spot M” to lock on to a subject that I want to track and then select “AF-C + 20fps” to take pictures. The Alpha 9 offers 93% frame coverage, which means that as long as a subject enters a corner of the frame, the subject can be locked onto and photographed. This greatly improves the success rate of shooting and enables more photographers to take pictures of such a subject. Photo selection is a troublesome task. As the Alpha 9 has a continuous shooting rate of 20fps, it has the advantage of allowing you to enjoy taking pictures continuously.

▲In the dynamic picture above, you can see that once I lock on to a subject, the camera continuously tracks the subject even when they run through a crowd. The advantage of Real-time Tracking is very clear. Even flagship DSLR cameras manufactured by other brands cannot handle such complex scenes. Download original images

▲The above picture is an example of extreme shots. Even when the view of the subject’s lower half was blocked by the goalkeeper, the camera still tracked and captured the final moment when the subject hit the ball. Download original images

▲As the Alpha 9 offers 93% frame coverage, when the subject near the edge of the frame hits the ball, the AF frame could still lock on to the subject. An advantage of continuous shooting at 20fps is that the camera can capture dynamic moments, such as when the subject hit the ball and kicked up soil. Download original images

▲Compared to the previous extreme shots, this one was a piece of cake. On average, the shutter speed was 1/1250 s or more. Under this condition, accurate focusing and clear images can easily be achieved. Download original images

The following is a picture of two players competing for the ball. Through Real-time Tracking and a shutter speed of 1/1600 s, the camera could easily capture the moment. If you zoom in to the original picture in full scale, you can even see the players’ hair and sweat droplets in clear detail. It was a pity that the sky was cloudy and threatened to rain that afternoon. As a result, the lighting of the scene was not good.


Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 500

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2000 sec | F4 | ISO 6400

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

Alpha 9/Alpha 7R III + SEL600F40GM vs bird photography

These days, I use the Alpha 9 and Alpha 7R III. With a resolution of 42.4 megapixels, the Sony Alpha 7R III produces reference value images. Thus, I would use the Alpha 7R III to photograph subjects that are not moving at high speed. The following picture of a blue-tailed bee-eater was shot in the tropical rain forest theme park of Muzha Zoo. In the past, blue-tailed bee-eaters were rarely seen in Taiwan. It is possible to find some of them in Kinmen. It was a great surprise to see a blue-tailed bee-eater in the zoo. Bred and taken care of by the zoo, the bird did not seem afraid of humans, even in the face of a few cameras. It allowed the photographers to enjoy their shooting.

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 200

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 600mm | 1/400 sec | F4 | ISO 2500

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

Alpha 9 + SEL600F40GM vs planes

This 600 mm lens is suitable for shooting fighter planes. At Songshan Airport, I was not able to demonstrate its full capacity—it’s either that, or I don’t know the best shooting points at Songshan Airport. It turns out that civil aircraft, transport aircraft, and helicopters do not move fast enough to demonstrate the focusing power of the SEL600F40GM. That’s the only reasoning I have. The air force base will not be open until August 10. Unfortunately, I can’t wait that long.

To shoot the planes, I used the SEL600F40GM with the Alpha 9 and Alpha 7R III respectively. When a plane was about to land, its entire body could not be seen. The Alpha 7R III could not always capture the right moment, possibly because: (I) its focusing system could not keep up; or (II) the pixel count is too high and slight shock is detected at 100% view. After all, both the plane and the camera were moving at the same time. But things were different when the Alpha 9 was used. The success rate was almost 100%. You need only be concerned with deciding between the many good pictures.

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 1250

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 5000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 250

Conclusion

I have not tested Sony’s fixed-focus super-telephoto lenses for a long time. The last super-telephoto lens I tried out was their 500mm F4 G SSM in 2012, combined with an Alpha 77 APS-C camera. At that time, I was new to super-telephoto lenses and received advice from many netizens that I still remember today.

It was a totally new experience to test the SEL600F40GM—a super-telephoto lens that integrates Sony’s many years of experience and expertise in optics.

Using this super-telephoto lens together with a powerful Alpha 9 camera, you can easily handle many extreme shots and achieve excellent optical quality. At open apertures, this combination can produce images of super-high resolution, in both the center and the edges of images. If you are a sports photographer or a photographer working with the National Geographic Channel, the SEL600F40GM is a must-have because it almost has all the latest specifications which are reflected in its price.

Equipped with two XD linear motors, the SEL600F40GM enables photographers to handle various subjects easily. I am quite satisfied with its performance in both single and continuous focusing. Its driving power is so strong and worry-free. If a GM lens is considered a turbo sports car, then I think the SEL600F40GM is a Tesla. The control interface on the left side allows professional users to customize functions according to their needs. The flexible control ring is efficient and impressive when I shoot soccer matches.

With this SEL600F40GM, and the SEL400F28GM released last year, if Sony can launch the Alpha 9 II before the end of this year, then the mainstream brand at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would probably not be Canon or Nikon, but the ascending Sony. It is still uncertain when the Alpha 9 II will be released. I expect cameras with 5.76-million-dot EVF and 36 MP capable of continuous shooting at 10fps.

Picture style settings in this test: “standard: ±0, +2, +2”. All pictures are original JPG images produced by the lens in an exchangeable image file format (EXIF).

Gallery

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 5000

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 400

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 1250

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 500

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 125

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/400 sec | F4 | ISO 1250

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2000 sec | F4 | ISO 6400

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/3200 sec | F4 | ISO 160

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 250

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F4 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 1250

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 640

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/800 sec | F4 | ISO 200

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F6.3 | ISO 320

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 320

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 3200

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F7.1 | ISO 125

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/320 sec | F4 | ISO 160

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 2500

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 2000

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/5 sec | F4 | ISO 250

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/320 sec | F4 | ISO 320

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1600 sec | F4 | ISO 800

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 160

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/320 sec | F4 | ISO 1250

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/640 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 640

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F5.6 | ISO 2000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2000 sec | F4 | ISO 6400

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/640 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 250

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 250

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 640

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 1600

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F4 | ISO 800

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/640 sec | F5 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/200 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 125

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 1000

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 200

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F4 | ISO 320

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 1000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 5000

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 5000

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/320 sec | F4 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F6.3 | ISO200

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 4000

Alpha 9 | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 100

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | ISO 200

Alpha 7R III | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F4 | ISO 1600

Special thanks

  • Republic of China Football Association
  • Photographers on the football field who do not want to named
  • Zhengcheng Trading
  • My intervertebral disc

This article was originally published on https://www.mobile01.com/