Review: Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens

By Doug Gimesy | June 14, 2022

As a professional conservation and wildlife photojournalist, there are five things that really matter to me when choosing lenses. Weather sealing, autofocus (fast, accurate and quiet), solid image quality, weight and size.

So when I heard rumors about the next Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM OSS II, I have to admit I was excited – it seemed to tick all those boxes – so I pre-ordered one. After spending a few weeks using it, I can honestly say it didn’t disappoint.

Image: Sony

To build

At 120mm long (at 24mm) and weighing just 695g, the Mark II is 16mm (12%) shorter and 191g (21%) lighter than its predecessor, making it currently the World’s lightest and smallest full-frame AF 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Since the Mark I, weather sealing (think dust and moisture resistance) has been improved. Like all new G Master lenses, the front element has a fluorine coating to help repel water droplets and oil (eg fingerprints) and make cleaning easier.

The reversible lens hood has also seen an upgrade, as Sony has added a sliding filter window at the bottom. Fortunately, this means you can now easily adjust a circular polarizing filter or variable ND filter without having to remove the lens hood – something landscape photographers and videographers will particularly appreciate.

Image: Sony
Image: Sony

Like its predecessor, it still has an 82mm filter thread and there’s no optical stabilization, but if that’s an issue the lighter weight will make it easier to hold if your camera doesn’t have stabilization. image in the body (IBIS) .

Internally

Internally, there’s a new optical design of 20 elements in 15 groups (up from 18/13 respectively), and this includes two XA (extreme aspherical) elements to help improve resolution, along with two ED (extra-low dispersion ) and two Super ED Elements – to help remove chromatic and spherical impacts. Some items now also have the new Sony ‘Nano AR Coating II’ which they claim helps further minimize flare and ghosting, although I couldn’t test this.

Sony A7 IV, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm.  1/30s @ f2.8, ISO 125.
Sony A7 IV, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm. 1/30s @ f2.8, ISO 125.

Autofocus mechanisms have been updated with XD Linear Motors meaning faster, more precise and near-silent operation and the aperture mechanism is now an 11-blade unit (instead of 9) , helping to deliver smoother bokeh when open, as well as more potential diffraction peaks (22 vs. 18) when closed.

Sony says the minimum focus at 24mm is 21cm (compared to 38cm on the Mark I) and 30cm at 70mm, but I found I could get much closer. At 24mm I could focus 6cm from the front element and at 70mm I could focus at 11cm. With this capability, would it be silly to call it a “semi-macro lens with great wide-angle capability”? Maybe not!

Sony A7 IV, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm.  1/1600s @ f4, ISO 125.
Sony A7 IV, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm. 1/1600s @ f4, ISO 125.
Externally

There are now four toggle switches (instead of 2 on the Mark I). First, and as with the previous model, there is a switch to control AF/MF. This model, however, lost the “zoom lock” switch designed to prevent it from extending when transporting, and replaced it with a “zoom smoothness switch”. This has two settings, smooth and tight.

When set to “tight” the zoom capability is dampened, so the barrel will not unexpectedly extend during transport or when used at an angle. When set to “smooth” it moves much more freely.

So is it better? Well I think so because first with the old zoom lock you committed to locking it at 24mm but now you can pretty much “lock” it at any length – something that will be ideal for landscape or those pull up/down. But second, you can still zoom in if you want when set to “tight”.

Sony A1, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 49mm.  1/320s @ f3.2, ISO 500.
Sony A1, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 49mm. 1/320s @ f3.2, ISO 500.

For videographers in particular, the new lens also features an ‘iris click’ (on/off) switch and an ‘iris lock’ switch, all to work with the new dedicated aperture ring. As with the new 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II, the addition of this aperture ring now allows the photographer to control the aperture diaphragm directly from the lens itself, and by using these switches the ability disabling (by the ‘iris click’ toggle) the aperture click switch stops.

This means that for videographers, they can now silently and smoothly change their aperture while shooting. No audible skips or clicks. The addition of the ‘iris lock’ toggle also means that, as the name suggests, the shooter can lock the aperture, helping to prevent accidental shifting when handling. Together, all of these features are fantastic additions for cinematographers.

Sony A1, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 63mm.  1/640s @ f3.2, ISO 2500.
Sony A1, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 63mm. 1/640s @ f3.2, ISO 2500.

Finally, there are now two customizable focus hold buttons (instead of one).

Image quality

I used the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM OSS II with the Sony A7 IV and Alpha 1, and unsurprisingly the results were truly excellent.

Wide open (f/2.8) from 24mm to 70mm, image quality was very sharp, and I didn’t notice any barrel distortion, CA, or unexpected or really bothersome vignetting. Sure, pulling it down a stop or two might have made a slight difference in sharpness, but nothing that jumped out with normal use.

Sony A7 IV, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm.  1/400s @ f4.5, ISO 200.
Wild Deserts field ecologist Tom Hunt examines a frog holding eastern water he collected from a pool of water that had formed after unseasonal rains in the Sturt Desert (NSW) ). Sony A7 IV, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm. 1/400s @ f4.5, ISO 200.

And I know that might sound weird to a lot of photographers, but I kind of liked that it didn’t improve much because I always wonder “why buy a professional f/2.8 lens only to have then need to stop it to get the quality I want?’ And speaking of f/2.8 and wide aperture shooting, the bokeh was nice and now able to focus much closer, I really enjoyed playing up close with a very shallow DOF – something which I wouldn’t normally consider doing in such a focal range.

Focus/zoom

This new lens has Linear Response MF, which means the focus ring responds directly and linearly to subtle control when focusing manually, and I found that to work well.

With a floating focus mechanism driven by four of Sony’s extremely dynamic (XD) linear motors, when using autofocus, Sony claims these motors improve the lens’ autofocus tracking performance , and was told it could be up to twice as good. How much better is it and is it, I couldn’t really tell in the field as it wasn’t rotating in between, but what I can say is that the autofocus was super quiet and, above all, extremely fast.

For cinematographers, there’s still some focus breathing when zooming in, but Sony claims to have further minimized this while reducing focus and axial shift. And for those with compatible Alpha series cameras (e.g. A7 IV, Alpha 1), the good news is that this lens can be used with their built-in focus breath compensation, which will help further minimize more that.

Sony A1, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm.  1/200s @ f20, ISO 320.
Sony A1, FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens at 24mm. 1/200s @ f20, ISO 320.

And speaking of zoom and cinematography, as mentioned earlier, when set to ‘tight’ you can still zoom, but that added resistance might give some filmmakers better fluidity when zooming. That said, I found what I’ll call a point of ‘soft growl’ (i.e. not smooth and silky) when set to ‘tight’ and zoomed between 25mm and 35 mm, but maybe it will wear out and settle.

The notes

HANDLING ★★★★ 1/2

At this price point, you’d expect premium build quality and the Sony doesn’t disappoint. Excellent weather sealing, good zoom torque, responsive manual focus, fast auto focus, light and small. A pleasure to hold and an ideal travel lens. I would have easily given it 5 stars if not for that very subtle “growl point” when zoomed to “tight”

IMAGE QUALITY ★★★★ 1/2

Sure, it’s not a prime lens, it has a bit of distortion when wide, and Lightroom doesn’t have the profile to correct perfectly, but it does have awesome detail wide open and towards the edges at all focal lengths, offers excellent CA handling, vignetting, has nice bokeh when open.

CHARACTERISTICS ★★★★1/2

I’m probably asking too much, but I would have liked to see a DMF ability on this lens as well. But with faster and quieter autofocus, a dedicated aperture ring (with the ability to disable clicks), improved minimum focus distance, better lens hood, two zoom torques, and a Fluor coated front element, this lens has the characteristics of most professional filmmakers and many photographers will want in the field.

QUALITY/PRICE RATIO ★★★★1/2

At RRP$3299, and only about RRP$300 more than its (still available) predecessor, this lens really is good value for money and Sony has produced a vastly superior lens for a not-so-crazy price increase.

Wrap

After a few weeks and a few thousand images taken with the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM OSS Mark II, it’s easy to sum up by saying that this lens is better in every way than the Mark I; weight, size, autofocus speed, sharpness, and all this with additional features. If you’re paying an RRP of $3299, that’s only about $330 more than the Mark I’s RRP (which will still be available) and given that, the choice is a no-brainer.

The decision, however, becomes more difficult when you see that the Mark I is now stored, and some places severely. I’ve seen discounts of $800 and when you find them the difference now becomes $1200 and then the decision becomes a matter of: i) you have the money and ii) how important are the upgrades level and new features.

I think if you’re a cinematographer, again, it’s going to be a simple decision. If you’re a photographer and you have the Mark I, it’s much more difficult. But if this is your first foray into a Sony 24mm-70mm lens, I’d say live a bit and get the best lens you can get today.

Stewart C. Hartline