Alongside its massive Cyber-shot and Alpha empires, Sony has been quietly building a formidable, versatile video system using its E-mount mirrorless standard. The company makes a huge variety of tools for amateur and semi-pro videographers, from the VG30 APS-C and NEX-VG900 full-frame camcorders to the new Alpha A7S.
What the company has been short on is purpose-built cinema lenses to go with those cameras, but changing with the new Sony FE PZ 28–135mm f/4 G OSS (MSRP $2,499.99). The new lens reaffirms Sony's commitment to the ever-growing HD video market, and provides a relatively affordable do-it-all solution for run-and-gun shooting. We recently had a chance to play with this massive lens, when it was paired with the almost comically small A7S.
Look and Feel
This is a seriously big lens, and not just in comparison to the petite Alpha A7S. Sony's specs list it as having a 4-inch diameter and 6.5-inch length, and the numbers check out. But after spending some time with the lens, those dimensions sound like wishful thinking—it's a cannon in your hand.
Despite its reported weight of 42.9 ounces, the lens actually feels pretty light. Even on a small camera it felt well-balanced, though of course you'll need to support the barrel with your left hand if you're shooting freehand. The build is largely plastic, but doesn't feel cheap. The 28–135mm f/4 is also weather- and dust-sealed, so you can use it out in the elements without fear (assuming your camera is equally well-sealed).
The lens is absolutely cluttered with buttons, switches, and control rings, as any good cine lens should be. We particularly enjoyed the auto/manual focus clutch, which lets you easily switch back and forth between full manual focus and AF with manual override by flicking the focus ring forward or backward. The toggle has just the right level of resistance, and a rubberized texture that's easy to grip.
There are two other rings: one for zoom, as you'd expect, and a dedicated aperture (iris) ring that can be toggled from click-stop action to smooth rotation via a small switch on the right side of the lens. It's a nice touch that more demanding users will definitely appreciate.
On the left side, you'll find a switch to move between manual and servo zooming, as well as one to engage and disengage Optical SteadyShot (OSS) image stabilization. There's also a large power zoom lever for smooth, computer-assisted zoom control.
Depth of field markings are prominently displayed just behind the focus ring, and the zoom ring has a small lever/handle for more precise control. The iris ring does have an "A" setting if you just want to let the camera do the work, but most pros will probably never use it.
The lens also comes with a heavy-duty tripod foot that felt extremely snug and secure.
Through the Finder
A smooth operator
Without access to our full camera testing labs, we couldn't really put the FE PZ 28–135mm f/4 through its paces, but we did manage to gather some initial impressions from just playing around with it.
Our video expert Jeremy Stamas particularly enjoyed the silky-smooth focus feel, both in manual and auto modes. The focus ring has just the right amount of resistance and none of the notchiness or graininess that cheaper lenses can exhibit. In autofocus mode, it gained focus smoothly and came to a pleasingly slow stop—not too jerky.
Similarly, Jeremy noted that the zoom slowed down on either end of the zoom range, preventing abrupt, hard stops. It was not immediately clear to us if this is a setting that can be adjusted in the camera's firmware, or a hard-coded feature of the lens, but either way it was a nice effect.
The video itself looked remarkably sharp throughout the entire zoom range, with smooth bokeh from the 9-bladed iris. Of course, everything looks great through the A7S's OLED electronic viewfinder, so you'll have to wait for sample footage to judge ultimate sharpness for yourself. OSS image stabilization worked a treat, keeping both the A7S's viewfinder and video clips free of shakes and shimmies.
Sony claims the optical design of 18 elements in 12 groups (including several aspherical and ED elements) eliminates focus breathing and minimizes focus shift when zooming. In practice, those claims seemed to hold up, though our use case (zooming around a show floor) was hardly make-or-break.
There were a couple moments when we wished the lens had a slightly brighter aperture, but Sony would have had to either trim down the zoom range or bulk up the lens size to pull that off. Doing either would compromise the goal of creating a versatile, relatively inexpensive, relatively portable do-everything zoom. In most cases, 28–135mm f/4 will be a very happy medium.
A valuable addition to Sony's video arsenal
There's no denying that the Sony FE PZ 28–135mm f/4 G OSS is a serious piece of kit. It feels the part, has the specs to back it up, and features all the bits and bobs that working videographers demand from their gear.
It's an auspicious start for Sony in this category, and we're hoping it's just the first of many such lenses to come. The line between stills and video cameras is blurrier than ever, and having a robust ecosystem that supports both disciplines is essential to the health of any camera manufacturer.
We (especially Jeremy) can't wait to get our hands on one of these 28–135mm f/4 zooms at the Reviewed.com labs. Until then, keep checking back for the latest camera and lens news and reviews.