What's your starting point ?

When it comes to long telephoto lens it's important to keep in mind that there must be a need for you to get one of those (pretty expensive) lenses.

Back in 2012, I started to discover photography with my first DSLR(ish), a Sony A58 camera body.

I remember as it was my first camera body and as I was seeing this as a hobby, I didn't want to put too much on the table at first.
The shortlist was either the Nikon D3300 or the Sony A58.

The main reasons why I bought the Sony A58 were that it had a better resolution with 20 mpx, it embedded IBIS, had an AF motor to have AF with non-AF-motorized Minolta A-mount lenses, had an EVF to be able to benefit of wysiwyg, and was able to shoot continuously at 5fps with AF and AE. All of this for around 350€.
That was a good starter for a photography journey.

Back in these days I was pretty involved into motorsport track days, and was running my own car in some events in France and Belgium.
For this reason I almost instantly bought a Minolta 70-210 f4 for this nice Sony 20mpx crop sensor.

Quickly I noticed that 200mm wasn't cut it most of the time, as I was pretty far from the track.
And it obviously lead me to shop for a longer lens.
There wasn't much of budget options for the mount back then, and Sony lenses were the most expensive ones.

This is where the trap is closing onto you as a hobbyist.
I needed a longer focal length at a bargain price as it was a hobby.
Lucky me I found a brand new copy of Tamron 70-300mm USD for my camera at around 150€, bringing me to a new level in AF responsiveness.
As of image quality the Minolta 70-20/4 is always on par with the Tamron no questions asked.

So let's sum this up, my starting point:

  • A crop sensor of 20mpx
  • A full frame lens of 200mm giving 300mm field of view in FF
  • Nice post crop capabilities
  • 5 FPS continuous shooting with AF and AE

And despite this my use case needed a longer lens
In the end the 300mm sometimes would cut it, sometimes wouldn't.

What did I do ?
As you can imagine I coupled the Tamron 70-300mm with another budget longer lens: the Minolta reflex 500 F8 AF.
The unique reflex telephoto lens capable of AFing

Here are the pros and cons of this Minolta 500mm F8 reflex AF (also existing rebranded as a Sony):

Light, discreet, very compact lens.
Capable of AF-ing.
Equivalent field of view of 750mm FF
Pretty slow AF
AF-ing only with center focus point
750mm is quite long and limits the use cases.

All of this indicates that the format of the sensor, being crop or full frame, and the subject one wanna shoot has a direct impact to the final focal length to choose.

if you add to this the budget, the equation becomes even more complicated to solve.

So what are the options in the Sony ecosystem?

To answer this question I will have a look according to the budget.

Telephoto lenses up to 500€ for Sony - what to expect ?

Most of Sony hobbyist are relying on the native E or FE lenses, that we'll cover in a minute, but this first introduction is to think out of the box.

At launch of the first Sony A7 in 2010, Sony proposed 2 adapters for using A-mount lenses on the full frame E-mount camera.

So let's sum this up, my starting point:

  • - The LAEA-3 to work with ultra sonic AF motor lenses.
  • - The LAEA-4 to work with ultra sonic AF motor lenses and non-motorized AF lenses.

As a sony A7 mark 1 owner and sony A-mount owner, I must say that the LAEA-3 on the first generation of A7 is a failure.
Unless you shoot still life or landscape in AF (why not?) it's not conceivable to use it in day to day situations.

As a sony A7 mark 1 owner and sony A-mount owner, I must say that the LAEA-3 on the first generation of A7 is a failure.
Unless you shoot still life or landscape in AF (why not?) it's not conceivable to use it in day to day situations.
From revision 3 of A7 it's a flawless experience.

So as I explained in the first part, it's possible to get bang for bucks, and incredible deals up to 300mm or even 400mm.

For 200mm, my best options would beetween 60€ and 300€

  • - Minolta 70-210 F4: A full frame lens with great IQ but a bit slow at AFing
  • - Sony DT 55-200 SAM: A crop sensor lens embedding its own AFing motor
  • - Sony DT 55-300 SAM: A crop sensor lens embedding its own AFing motor
  • - Minolta 80-200 F2.8 HS - a fast AF-ing lens with great IQ and build construction. It doesn't embed any AF motor and rely on the one in the adapter.

It's pretty easy to find the Sony 55-200, 55-300 and Minolta 70-210/4 on the second hand market, and the prices are very low.

Concerning the Minolta, I would advise to do a proper check if the lens is well centered.
For standard use, it's a lens that will give gorgeous results especially for portraits and macro.
For sports shooting, the AF won't be blazing fast, but fast enough to track your subject.

Concerning the 55-200mm and 55-300mm as their name mention it, they are DT lens so for crop sensor.
They are SAM lenses so embed AF motor which helps to operate more silently and getting better AF-ing speed.

Finding the Minolta 80-200/2.8 HS will be a bit harder especially if you are low in budget
But the IQ and quick AF capabilities are worth it.

For 300mm, my best options would be between 110€ and 400€

  • Tamron 70-300 USD: A full frame lens with great IQ up to 200mm and providing ultra sonic motor for silent and fast focusing
  • Sony 70-300 ssm v1: The first version of this Sony lens
  • Minolta 300mm F4. This lens is just sharp. But as older Minolta lenses it suffers of purple/green fringing.

Despite the fact that the Tamron has an F4 aperture at 70mm and the Sony is F4.5, those 2 lenses are reognized as the same one on Sony cameras.
The Tamron can now be found in pristine conditions as low as 90€ for anyone patient for the offers.

A few years back, I wouldn't have put the Sony lens in this shortlist.
It's nice to be able to get good copies of it at a low price now.
I bought one of it in automn for around 150€.
The external aspect of it has lots of wear and some camo foam, so I guess it was used by a wildlife shooter.
My first test of this lens let me speechless especially in macro type shots.
At 300mm I find it to be sharper than the Tamron, but it's well known that the Tamron isn't the sharpest lens passed the 260-ish mm.

Now comes the real difficulties. Could it be possible to break the 300mm bar for less than 500€.
The short answer is yes, but complicated.

First off, there won't be much options to do that.As aforementionned, you'd be served by the Minolta or Sony 500 F8 reflex and the Sony 70-400 ssm version 1.

Just before summer I found a pristine copy of the Sony ssm version 1 70-400mm. This lens is in a league of its own when it comes to get sharp images at 400mm (or 600mm equivalent FF when shooting with crop sensor).
As a owner of both the 500mm reflex and the Sony, I don't hesitate to lean towards the Sony 70-400. Its ssm AF motor system that combines silence and speed is no match except for the v2 version of this very same lens.
The image quality on all the range of focal length is great.
And the build quality, except for the hood is superb with nce weather and dust sealing.

The truth is as it exists a v2 of this lens, the prices second hand for this v1 lens can be attractive but owners who had paid the high price years back to have one will be hard to convince to part off of it at a low price.

The v2 can be traded between 800€ up to 1400€ easily. But passed a certain point, it's useless to by those A-mount lenses because it exists their E or FE mount sibblings.
So as much as I understand owners who want to sell but not for a low price, I want to pass them this message:
You'll just end-up keeping your A-mount lens, because the money is way more cleverly invested when put into the E-mount version from a certain budget.
Indeed buying second hand doesn't provide any warranty if the lens had any problem at anytime.

Telephoto lenses between 500€ and 1300€ for Sony - what to expect ?

This is the point where I consider that budget is not really a limiting factor.
Furthermore, 500€ is also the upper limit I'd advise anyone to throw at an A-mount lens, whatever the lens. Anything above that needs reconsidering in the native E or FE Sony mount ecsystem.

Anyway for anyone who wants absolutely a Sony lens or the longest possible focal length, there are some solutions out there coming from the Sony legacy A-mount.

Those solutions are as follows:

  • The best in class remains the aforementioned Sony G ssm v2 70-400mm: blazing fast and silent AF, IQ at 400mm fantastic wide open, new coatings.
  • Next in the line, is one lens I lurked during years without encountering it anywhere. So I'll call it the unicorn myth:
    The Tamron G1 150-600mm F5-6.3: Awesome range of zooming. Unfortunately not so sharp passed 450mm.
  • Finally we can find an interesting Minolta 300mm F2.8. It has the same properties as its F4 version.

For Sony native E mount full frame it's possible to get the 70-200 F4.
This lens has lots of good and not so good reviews.
I'm sure that in the point of view of I, the lens is delivering but it's lagging in its build construction.

Tamron is providing a lot of solutions on the Sony ecosystem and 2 of them were certainly unexpected: the 50-400mm nd the 150-500mm.

The nice part is that it's giving lots of reach and wide. The down side is the aperture being pretty slow with F4.5 or worse F5 on the wide end and F6.3 or worse 6.7 at the tele-end.
In this regard the older Sony 70-400 F4-5.6 is better.
Reading it like that F4 vs F4.5 and F5.6 vs F6.3 doesn't seem to be relevant but keep in mind we want those lenses to shoot sports or wild life at the tele-end most of the time.
So if the aperture is larger, it will help to keep shooting longer at the end of the day when the last sun rays are coming throw.

Still those lenses are existing options brand new and guaranteed from Tamron and entering the pre-defined budget.

On the Sony side we'll find 2 lenses in the defined budget:

  • For full frame, the equivalent of the A-mount 70-300mm with the Sony 70-300mm G OSS.
    The aperture are the same as the A-mount version, so the only difference will merely be the presence of optical stabilization on the FE lens.
  • For APS-C, the 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS was a long time awaited lens from Sony E-mount APS-C shooters. Finally it's a bit of a deception expect for the aspect of weight and bulk, but IQ wise it's a deceiving lens let alone its slow-ish aertures.
    If ou could find a copy at around 500€ go for it but anything more and you'd be better off with a FF lens.

Telephoto lenses for Sony - what about the flagships ?

Obviously here we're talking about the Sony FE OSS 100-400mm and 200-600mm

Let's talk about this 100-400 G OSS first.

I must say that I was a bit surprised that Sony came with this lens starting at 100mm at F4.5.
When we take into account that its older version from the legacy A-mount is starting at 70mm.
The 100mm start is the attempt for Sony to make this lens shorter, but it's a fail because even with less wide focal length, the length of the lens is 205mm when its older sibbling is 196mm.
It is clear that the presence of OSS is the real reason why Sony couldn't go with 70mm: that would have added more weight and Sonyn didn't want this lens to be heavier than its older father.

Still this less wide focal length can or not be a problem in the field.
I did a portrait shot in a zoo on a bridge. And without the 70mm I wouldn't be able to take the shot.
So it's really depending of the situation.

Regarding the aperture of F4.5 at 100mm, it's good.
The older 70-400mm ffm is sliding to F4.5 at 90mm. So very comparable and no improvement there.
Where the lens is shining now is in operations.
The AF is even faster and the IQ is a hair better at 400mm.

Something I'm always worried with the 70-400mm and not with the 300mm and lower focal range, is the transport.
It's not a good idea to transport this kind of lens already monted to the camera in a bag.
And in the meantime, I'm very reluctant to install this kind of lens afterwards once arrived to the location to shoot.
Which leads me to the next lens in the line: The Sony 200-600mm OSS G.

the Sony 200-600 G OSS

This lens is 318mm length and 2.1kgs. Outch that's bulky...And it's an F5.6 to F6.3: outch that's not fast...
So let's try to thnk this through.

If we use the Sony 200-600 G OSS on a FF body, we have 200mm on the wide end and 600mm at the tele-end.
And if we use the Sony 100-400 G OSS on a crop sensor we get 200mm on the wide end and 600mm on the tele-end.
All of this without the weight and bulk of the 200-600mm and still keeping an awesome IQ.

Since this lens was released I was wondering "What for ?" if we have nowadays Sony sensor of 60+mpx able to be used directly cropped at 26mpx. That's just so overkill allready.

I admit that the Tamron 150-600mm is no match in IQ and AF speed to the Sony 200-600mm but at least it gives the same aperture with a wider end for almos half of the price...

Let's wrap this up !


Image Quality



Budget lenses up to 500€

Minolta 70-20 F4 standard to slow / loud Sharp/nice Yes Yes
Sony DT 55-200 SAM standard / almost silent soft to sharp No Yes
Sony DT 55-200 SAM standard / almost silent soft to sharp No Yes
Minolta 80-200/2.8 HS APO fast / loud sharp / nice yes Yes
Tamron 70-300 USD F4-5.6 fast / silent sharp to soft / nice yes Yes
Sony 70-300 F4.5-5.6 ssm G v1 fast / silent sharp / nice yes Yes
Sony 70-400 F4-5.6 ssm G fast / silent sharp / nice yes Yes
Minolta 300 F4 HS APO fast / loud sharp / nice yes Yes
Sony/Minolta 500 F8 reflex AF slow / loudy relatively sharp/busy bokeh yes Yes

Budget lenses between 500€ and 1300€

Sony 70-400 F4.5-5.6 ssm G v2 fast / silent sharp / nice yes Yes
Tamron 150-600 USD F5-6.3 fast / silent sharp to soft / nice yes Yes
Minolta 300mm F2.8 HS fast / loud sharp / nice yes Yes
Tamron 50-400 F4.5-6.3 fast to slow / silent sharp to soft / nice yes Yes
Tamron 150-500 F5-6.7 fast to slow / silent sharp to soft / nice yes Yes
Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS fast / silent sharp to soft / nice no Yes

Flagship sony lenses

Sony 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS fast / silent sharp / nice yes Yes
Sony 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS fast / silent sharp / nice yes Yes