Monday, March 9, 2015

Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens Review

Dale Matson

I want to begin by saying that I am an amateur photographer who specializes in mountain backpacking photography. This is akin to landscape photography but it is a specialized subset, which requires parsimonious lens and camera selection along with a lightweight backpack. This is because much effort is required to climb over high altitude (Sierra Nevada) mountain passes on multi day hikes.

I received my Sony lens from Hong Kong only two days ago and this morning I went for my usual morning walk in Woodward Park here in Fresno CA. My wife and two airedales went with me also as usual. There was the usual fog down by the San Joaquin River. It is an interesting place where I have seen coyotes, bobcats, deer, and even a mountain lion. 

I was curious to know how well the lens would work in early morning light. Sunrise here today was 7:20am. These photos were taken with a Sony A7R with the camera hand held. Except for the photograph of the Egret in the pond that needed to be cropped, I did not retouch any of the photos. The autofocus would not function when in full 240mm zoom until after sunrise . All shots were taken in full "Auto" mode.

My hope at this point is that I can use this lens in the mountains along with a C/Y Zeiss 18mm F4 lens for wider-angle shots. This lens weighs 1.7 pounds and is 3.2” X 4.7”. I carry it in a “ThinkTank Digital Holster 10 V2.0". The well-made holster weighs about a pound and has a built in raincover.

I have included file information on each photograph.

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
 6:48am 24mm F3.5 1/20 second ISO 6,400
6:54am 90mm F5.6 1/30 ISO 6.400 (Sierra Nevada Mountains In Background)
7:02am 70mm F5 1/160 ISO 3,200
7:12am 24mm F4 1/160 ISO 125 
 7:15am 172mm F6.3 1/200 ISO 4,000
 7:15am 226mm F6.3 1/250 ISO 5,000
7:18am 24mm F4 1/160 ISO 125 
7:20am 24mm F4 1/160 ISO 250
 7:22am 35mm F8 1/100 ISO 100 
 7:46am 87mm F5.6 1/160 ISO 320
 7:47am 52mm F6.3 1/60 ISO 100
 7:48am 240mm F6.3 1/250 ISO 1,000
7:53am 240mm F6.3 1/250 ISO 800




  1. I sent the lens back to the seller. I have given up on the idea that there could be a one lens solution to mountain wilderness photography. Although the combined weight may be greater, it seems like the solution includes both prime and telephoto lenses. This may be less convenient but if I am making the effort and spending the time to get to the mountain locations for the primary purpose of photographs, I should be after the best possible photographs. I have come to the realization that less than a 20 mile day is more important in order to get the best photographs.
    My current thinking is my 18mm C/Y f4, the Sony Zeiss 55mm 1.8, and the Sony G 70-200mm f4 lenses. Most of the time, I would be using the 55mm lens. I also have a 28-70mm C/Y Zeiss lens that is light and compact. This lens with adapter allows me to use the smaller ThinkTank Digital Holster 5.

  2. On the Sony website it appears that you highly recommend this lens, but here is says you returned it.

    1. Thanks for the response George. It sounds confusing doesn't it. I just don't think there is a one lens solution for me as a mountain photographer. I actually like the lens for landscape but I don't think that is the same as traveling into the mountains. Galen Rowell called what I pursue "Adventure Photography". I am still learning about mountain photography. Galen Rowell is perhaps the best example for me when traveling lightweight, what gear is essential. I just got back from the Eastern Sierras and will post a couple of articles. One is mainly on the Mammoth Lakes area and the other is on the Bristlecone Pines. I took all the shots with an 18mm F4 prime Zeiss Contax/Yashica adapted to my Sony A7R and a 28-70 C/Y Zeiss. All my shots were in manual mode. Maybe this is the way to learn the basics of photography. I hope no one felt mislead by my review which I stand by. The shots are clear and the color is true. The optical stabilization and autofocus worked well. It was great to have the information in each photograph file. I just bought a used e-mount 55mm f.8 full frame native to the A7R and hope to continue to learn how to fully utilize a single focus lens.

  3. so you didnt like that shots you took with the 24-240.. I must be a real amateur.. i thought the pics where great.. i cant wait to get my lense... Thanks for the photos.

  4. Thank you for the insightful followup comment. While I spend much less time in the wilderness now that I have two young kids, my priorities are similar. I ignored the 24-240 news until a buddy egged me on. But I have reservations about only adequate image quality. The FE 35/2.8 is pretty decent, but I'm contemplating the FE 16-35 for nature shots. I absolutely love the FE 55/1.8 for general and city scape and night club performances, but had not considered that it might also be persuasive in the wilderness...

    1. Nordic_68,
      I used only the 35mm/2.8 with my A7 for a year and a half. I have the Sony 30X optical zoom for wildlife. I sold my 35mm lens and bought a used 55/1.8. I want to see what it will do next year. It will obviously be better in low light. I want to photograph what I see. I am tired of coming home with what I thought were great shots only to see how ordinary I have made things that were magnificent.

  5. Dale, there really shouldn't be anything limiting with the 35/2.8 for landscapes, other than that the corners are fairly soft when wide open, so you need to stop down to maybe f/4 or more for sharpness. I assume you use a tripod in the backcountry? There are too many limitations shooting hand held, at least during sunrise/sunset in the range of light. If you're shopping, Feisol has some carbon tripods that are fairly light, fairly strong, and don't break the bank.

    Your comments piqued my curiosity about how you see a 55mm lens suiting your style in the mountains? I use the 55/1.8 probably 95% of the time, but for me, that's around town stuff. It would not be my choice for landscape, where something in the 24-35 range would be good, and/or 70-200 range like Galen used to carry (and is sorely missing from the Sony lineup - in a light, portable form)...

  6. Nordic_68,
    The 55/1.8 will be faster in the low light of morning and evening, plus it is considered one of the best 50mm lenses. I can shoot panoramas with it also with in camera stitching and a series of shots for photoshop stitching. I also just got the e-mount 70-200/F4 which means another carry adaptation. So much of what I do revolves around how to carry the equipment and quick access to it. My long time friend, who is an accomplished photographer, is fond of reminding me about tripods. So far, I have resisted carrying the extra weight into the wilderness. Perhaps when it is an easy access situation like Convict Lake near Mammoth Lakes, I would consider a tripod and will check out your recommendation. To this point, I have used photographs to help tell a story but it is slowly becoming the photographs themselves telling the story. Thanks for your irenic and helpful comments.

  7. Well, now that Sony has the new A7R II with in body image stabilization I suspect that when it becomes logistically and financially available, I will pick one up. I held out long enough against the tripod idea! In my most recent wilderness experience this week, I used an adapted Canon 17-40 f4 USM lens more than the 55mm f1.8 Zeiss for Sony and the 70-200mm f4 G lens for Sony. While a bit slow, the Canon Lens autofocus works on my Sony. The two pounds of telephoto lens is heavy to carry off trail uphill in the mountains. I am thinking about the new Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 to replace it with. I would save one pound. Once in the mountains, it seems like wide and ultra wide work best. Any thoughts out there?

  8. I generally consider a 16-35 great for wilderness. Then I'm often yearning for some true reach, perhaps 105mm or 120mm or more. Roughly two pounds for the 70-200 f/4 G seems like a lot of weight for the backcountry, especially if you're also lugging a tripod. I'd make do with a 16-35 and tripod, and perhaps the 55/1.8 as a second lens since it's light weight (but yeah, not at all tele but at least you can crop a bit with full frame)...

  9. Nordic_68,
    Thanks for the response. My tent weighs just a little more than the G lens. I am an ounce counter when it comes to backpacking in the mountains. Maybe we will see the day when you can use a Zeiss Batis 25mm lens with a 500mp camera and crop to zoom. I am only half kidding. A lot of Ansel Adams stuff was from the roof of his car or easy access like Cathedral Lakes but he has shots he took in Lake Basin and of Mt. Clarence King in King's Canyon Park that would have been difficult to get to. I suspect he used mules to haul his gear. While I am on the subject of famous landscape photographers, Galen Rowell had the physical stamina and skills to take some wonderful mountain shots hanging off granite walls but also took shots from planes. Both he and Adams did a lot of "post photograph processing" to create some of the rich color you see that do not really exist in the Sierras. I guess it sells more photographs. Maybe I'm a purest but try and limit my work to cropping. I guess that is just one perspective of many.

  10. 3 months since anyone posted. I have the Sony A7RmII I am just trying to understand landscape photography and Prime lenses? I guess in my thinking I would want 24-240mm across the canyon at a lone tree sitting on the edge of a sunset lit rock face, 55mm isn't going to get that. 85mm sorta, But Sony camera's seem geared more towards Film in some ways. Todays Bokeh shallow depth of field filming has become a way to shoot. I have an army of prime lenses for the Sony. Just need that lens that can reach out and grab that lone tree you know? I can't wait to hear more of your mountain photography.

  11. HI Charlie,
    At this point, I have the following lenses for my A7RII. Sony Zeiss 16-35, Sony Zeiss 24-70, Adapted Canon 70-200 and Adapted Canon 100-400. My mountain/landscape photography does not require the 100-400mm lens and I only pack it in for wildlife (in particular Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep). The 16-35 is great when I am actually in the mountains. and need ultra wide capability. The 24-70 lens is my "Walk Around" lens and despite some critics, is a wonderful lens for the A7RII. A used Canon 70-200 is cheaper and as good as the Sony G version and lighter even with the adapter. The autofocus is not as crisp but I am ok with that. I carry my A7R as a backup camera even though it is larger and heavier than a point and shoot camera. The Loxia and Batis Primes appeal to me but they are expensive, heavy and have more limited flexibility. They never seem to become available either. I used An A7 with a Zeiss 35mm f2.8 for two years in the mountains which allowed me to travel faster and farther but I am willing to carry the additional weight for the lens options. The A7RII has IBIS which means I don't have to carry the additional weight of a tripod. Mountain photography requires overnights to get the "golden hour" opportunities. As for the 24-240, it would not be wide enough for many of my shots and I found the low light autofocus to be as slow as the Canon 70-200.

  12. When I used to shoot a reflex camera (Nikon D90), I had 16-85 APS zoom (24-120 full frame field of view), and frankly I felt like that pretty much satisfied 90% of my outdoorsy wanderings. It didn't zoom long enough for that occasional wild pony on a distant ridgeline, but I was OK with missing that opportunity. But an ultra wide full frame view like 16mm really works wonders, so a 16-35 zoom is a no brainer in big country (where elevations and vistas vary dramatically). There's really no getting around the fact that a landscape photog, even a hiker, really needs two lenses if he really wants to capture many of the compelling scenes he witnesses. At that point, your personality will inform you whether to carry primes or zooms. I can see replacing my CZ 35/2.8 with the upcoming Batis 25/2. In the long run, I'm looking to carry two a7(x) bodies - my old a7 with the 25/2, and hopefully soon a new/refurb a7ii with whatever longer prime or zoom I choose for the day. But then the challenge is how to carry two bodies with both easily accessible for shooting while on the trail. I love chest carrying my camera in a LowePro Topload Zoom 50AW. But what to do with the second camera - not really sure...

    1. nordic_ 68,
      Good stuff!
      1. "The distant pony on a ridgeline" is another example of wildlife shots that "repurpose" your mission and require lenses with a longer reach. Of course, they are also much bigger and heavier lenses too. One could carry a superzoom point and shoot camera that would also serve as a backup.
      With the file size of an A7RII one can zoom by cropping and still get a good photograph.
      2. "The upcoming Batis 25/2" It seems like it continues to be "upcoming" but never arriving unless you pay above suggested retail. I might consider the new 21mm Zeiss Loxia as a prime but it would mean a loss of flexibility
      over the fine 16-35. I wouldn't carry both in the backcountry.
      3. I have a padded carry case for the A7R with a cap and no lens. It is only a backup. The minute you add a lens, It complicates the carry method. I carry the A7R in an add-on top pouch on top of my pack (My pack is a Kifraru modular pack). This pouch contains spare lenses also. I try to keep my pack weight at no more than 30 lbs including food and water. Before you hit the trail the most important question you ask yourself is, " Why am I headed out there?" I prefer a belt carry camera bag since I carry a gps and filter water bottle attached to my front pack straps. the chest carry method also adds weight.

  13. Dale I wanted to comment on what you said last August, but bit my tongue at the time. You said "...he and Adams did a lot of "post photograph processing" to create some of the rich color you see that do not really exist in the Sierras. I guess it sells more photographs...". But that really isn't correct. While it's true that most photogs who choose to market their work use artistic license - it's also true that the camera doesn't present you with an image that represents what you saw and felt. I get that manufacturers spend a lot of time making their out-of-camera jpegs really nice. But when you view a scene with your naked eye, you're able to discern a higher dynamic range of bright light and shadow. And the brain is able to ignore color casts when disfavorable, while your emotions tend to magnify color casts that are compelling. You see more detail, warmth and movement with your naked eye. There's nothing wrong with post processing to tease all that stuff out of the raw file (because it's all captured there waiting for your interpretation). An acquaintance recently shot some great images in northern Arizona's red rock country. But the intense red light coming off those red rocks put a cast over adjacent green leaves and yellow flower petals in the image. The camera sees and records all those things - but the photog must remove the color cast from the leaves and petals if they're to be represented to the viewer in the actual 'true' colors that were perceived there by the naked eye. Well, that's one good example. I'll stop rambling...

    1. nordic_68,
      Once again, wonderful comments. Actually, I find that my photographs can actually show more than my eyes saw at the time I took the photograph including telephone lines, signs and support cables! Dead trees also insist on jumping into the middle of a photograph.
      As for added color "pop", it always looks artificial to me and when I see a landscape shot that has been manipulated, it is obvious and seems to diminish what is really there when I am familiar with the subject (having been there). That is my personal preference however. I'm sure I "color" what I see in my photographs unconsciously with my emotions and memories. Some photographs required a great deal of physical effort and suffering on the trail to get to that special location.
      I suppose none of us are purists in the long run. The act of framing a shot itself is selective and manipulative. I use filters and crop images. I even "massaged" the color of a Bristlecone Pine shot. Having said this however, I know my own photographs and can pick them out from 100s of photographs others have taken of the same iconic images like the tunnel view and Half Dome in Yosemite. There are plenty of photographs of the same images that I like better than mine. I am still learning photography and still learning to be more patient.

  14. Hey Dale - a question on the subject of small/light portability goals while hiking. In the comments above, we've referred to the S/Z 16-35, and the Batis 2/25. Of course both look great, but some day when I finally commit funds to a native wide angle, I'll also reach that point where I want to carry a 2nd body in order to eliminate lens swaps while walking in nature - for convenience, and also to eliminate the possibility of sensor dust (i've had problems before). So anyway, I can't help thinking about the size and weight of the second lens/body. And that gets me thinking about smaller alternatives - like a Sony a6000 body (APS crop) and Sony 10-18 f/4 wide zoom (15-27mm full frame equiv). Have you considered that a crop body allows significantly smaller and lighter lenses for the extremes - both long tele and ultra wide zoom? I actually tried an a6000 a year ago on pre-christmas discount, and was really impressed with its performance and 24MP resolution. At the time, I decided that with a normal prime lens, it was redundant with my a7 and 55/1.8 and so I sold it and broke even. But now that I'm thinking about ultra wide zooms and portability, the a6000 platform again pops into my mind as perhaps the only reasonable compromise. Your thoughts?

  15. Hi nordic_68,
    Yes, I have considered the a6000 paired with the full frame lenses as a backup. But...there is not much difference in weight and size between an A7R and an a6000. With an A7 or A7R, the photo quality is better too. I don't need to go down below 16mm in the mountains so the 10-18 seems a bit too wide for me. Also the cropped full frame 70-200mm lens is about as long as the APS-C long telephoto for the a6000. Since I have the Canon 70-200, I could also get a multiplier but I have the 100-400mm Canon lens if I want more reach. The number one question I continue to ask myself is why am I out there? Because there is a difficulty factor, I may only get to most mountain locations once. While I am there, I want the best shot possible based on today's technology. I am there as a photographer first. When push comes to shove, as I get older yet, I will probably consider hiring someone with mules to haul my gear and I will go into the mountains with a day pack. My priorities have shifted from trail running with a point and shoot to backpacking with better photographic equipment and covering far less miles in a day. I do understand your concern about lens swapping and dust though.