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A longer telephoto zoom for the rest of us
It has a desirable focal range and a very tempting price tag, but can the Sony 75-300 f/4.5-5.6 Macro deliver good enough quality?
Several Sony DSLRs are now available in kits that include this lens, and at a stand-alone price of only $250, the Sony 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is a very tempting add-on that will give you something you can only get with a DSLR, which is a dramatically more varied choice of focal lengths. But come on, can you really expect great optics at this price? I took this lens into the field to discover the answer.
Look and Feel
At 16.25 pounds, the lens is moderately weighty, although its finish is fairly basic and plasticy, with a wide, ribbed twist-to-zoom ring and a plastic focus ring with ribbed indents. There was a bit more resistance than typical when zooming, but there was no zoom creep, so that’s a trade-off. When focusing manually, the focus ring was a bit noisy, making an odd, zipping sound as I moved it.
The 55mm filter ring will accommodate standard (and therefore relatively low-cost) filters, and I recommend immediately getting a UV to protect the front element.
In use, I found the focus to be somewhat “searchy” compared to the 18-55mm Sony kit lens, as it spent several moments seeking focus on lower-contrast and even moderate-contrast subjects, even in bright daylight. Conspicuously, there is no AF on/off switch on the lens, and I did notice that lenses that had built-in AF switches focused more decisively.
75mm shows sharp results. (Yes, I also photographed a boring flat image quality reference target; my technical conclusions are based on those images; I included these because, hey, I like autumn leaves!)
Center sharpness was good at 300mm, and bokeh was pleasing, but watch for fringing at the edges.
Image quality was what I expected from a lens at this price point. In the middle apertures, images were quite sharp, especially in the center “sweet spot,” and the results were as dramatic at 300mm, as one would expect. There was very slight sharpness fall-off toward the corners, and slight fringing that might be noticeable when making larger prints. At 8x10 or smaller, I don’t think it will be a problem. At the smaller and larger apertures, sharpness fell off at the corners somewhat more, and there was pronounced blue/red fringing. Fringing and sharpness fall-off were better controlled in the middle apertures.
At 135mm and 75mm, image quality improves, with excellent sharpness in the center and very good sharpness at the edges, although the fringing is an issue at the extreme apertures and a moderate issue in the middle aperture settings.
Vignetting is noticeable at 300mm, but is barely noticeable by 150mm and 75mm. There was slight barrel distortion at 75mm and very slight pincussion distortion at 300mm. Flare was fairly well controlled at 75mm, more pronounced at 300mm.
Nice, bokeh! Thanks to the rounded aperture ring leafs, spectral background highlights are rendered a natural round shape, as you can see in this example, which was shot at f/8. This is one of this lens’s strong points. Magnification is 1:4, which is not quite, but close to, Macro.
The 75-300mm lens is a good starter lens and is fine for casual picture-taking, vacation shots and family photos. It can be especially good for portraits. But as you develop a more critical eye, you will probably be bothered by the fringing, and may grow impatient with the pokey focus speed. At that point, you might want to consider upgrading tot the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, with its higher-quality glass and faster Super Sonic Wave Motor, or go whole hog and buy the Sony 70-100mm f/2.8 G-series zoom, which is a big, pricey, high-quality slab of pro glass.