The Sony 100-400GM Review, for Landscapes!

September 15, 2018

Hey guys! Back with another review. Now this one is somewhat interesting because us landscape photographers normally do not use the ‘big’ zoom lenses a lot. Main reason for this is because they’re on the heavy side. We prefer to use the 70-200 or, in my case, the 70-300. I used the 70-300 a lot over the 70-200 in the past mainly because it gave me that extra bit of range to get those close up landscapes that I sometimes really love. But the game changed when Sony released the 100-400 GM lens. I initially was not planning on using this lens at all because the weight difference between the 70-300 is significant with 1400 grams for the 100-400 and 850 grams for the 70-300. That’s half a kilo difference. Well, a few months later I can say I am addicted to the 100-400 and I just have to deal with carrying that extra half of a kilo because wow! This lens is sharp! It is worth noting though, that this lens is lighter than the 70-200 f/2.8 that comes in at almost 1.5kg. When using the 70-300 I wasn’t a big fan of the long end at 300mm. The sharpness of this lens at the long end is alright, but not spectacular. Now, the sharpness of the 100-400 at 400mm is just amazing. I can’t get enough of shooting with this lens. I am using the lens for a couple of months now. Took it to Kyrgyzstan, Iceland and did a bunch of shots in my own country, the Netherlands. So with that intro, here’s my review. 


NOTE: To see all images in one gallery in a bigger size, scroll down to the bottom of this review.

 

Let’s quickly dive into the specs of this lens first. It has 22 lens elements in 16 groups and 9 aperture blades. The front element has a fluorine coasting that works against dust and water. The lens diameter is 77mm. Outside we can find a bunch of rings and switches: a butter smooth focus ring and a sturdier zoom ring. You can actually control how sturdy the zoom will be with an extra ring that moves from ‘tight’ to ‘smooth’. In the field I noticed that I always used the tightest setting here, and even then it was sometimes not tight enough. Not really that big of a deal, but It would be nice to make the zoom even tighter or add a lock switch to lock the zoom. There are 4 switches on the outside: the AF/MF switch, focus distance switch, The steady shot ON/OFF switch and the MODE switch in which you can control the steady shot function (mode 1 = general, mode 2 = panning. Then there are 3 focus hold buttons on the switch that you can also customise in the camera menu. 

 

It has a Direct Drive SSM focus motor for fast and accurate autofocus. Although normally I don’t use that much AF in landscape photography, a good autofocus on a lens with this zoom range is definitely a must. And I have to say that after having used it for a couple of months, the autofocus never lets me down.

 

According to Sony this lens looks weather-sealed. I have used the lens in rainy conditions, around waterfalls and didn’t had any issues. I also used the lens a lot in extremely dusty conditions mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I shot a lot out of driving cars where dust was everywhere. Again, no issues so far with this lens. 

 

Horses in a valley in Kyrgyzstan. Sony A7RIII, Sony 100-400 GM, 100mm, f/16, 1/50s, ISO 100, hand held)

 

I love to use telezoom lenses hand-held and the 100-400 is no exception. In the beginning it was a bit heavy with its 1400grams because I normally always use the 70-200 or 70-300. As mentioned, these are half a kilo lighter so the 100-400 took some time to get used to. Not much time though as after a few months of use it feels very comfortable and I can hold it very steady. Shooting at 400mm hand held is no problem. The steady shot does a nice job here. If you don’t want to use the lens hand held there’s a little tripod stance that you can attach to the lens. It works nice and fast and I usually have it detached, although it’s always in my bag for if I would need it. 

 

 

Green Kyrgyz hills with sun light hitting it from the side. Sony A7RIII, Sony 100-400 GM, 300mm, f/8, 1/400s, ISO 100, hand held)

 

Now, how useful is a 100-400 for landscapes you might ask? I can say: very! The 400mm is just a joy to use and you can easily crop as this lens is very sharp on the long end (more on that soon). But this lens is also great for macro. It has a minimum focus distance of 3.22 feet (that’s less than a meter) which is quite close and you can easily shoot macro with this lens. The bokeh is also much smoother than that of the 70-300. It’s very pleasant to look at 

 

An eagle flying above the peaks of Ala-Archa National Park near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This was shot at 400mm!

 

And then the sharpness. The sharpness of this lens is one of the sharpest I have seen in a lens with this zoom range. The 400mm is just super sharp and I don’t have to worry about losing sharpness on the long end. It’s sharp at 100mm all the way up to 400mm, from corner to corner. I just can’t say a lot more about it. Even wide open there is not much losses of sharpness.  

 

I love shooting mountain peaks with this lens. The detail at 400mm is incredible. Here’s a shot of the Yeltsin Peak in Kyrgyzstan at 400mm, f/9 with the Sony A7RIII, hand held. 

 

100% crop of a part of snow on the mountain from the above image. You can see all the little cracks on the glacier. 

 

A little church in Iceland overlooking a small town called Vik. Shot at 400mm, f/7.1 hand held. 

 

100% crop of the roof of the church. All the little detail of the roof is still in tact. 

 

The bokeh of this lens is very smooth. Here’s a shot at 230mm with the lens at f/5.6 (wide open at that zoom). The background is nice and smooth. Better than the 70-300. 

 

 

Here’s another example of foreground bokeh at f/7.1 (not wide open) You can see the bokeh balls shape here. What you see here is stones on the beach reflecting the sunlight, very close up to the camera. 

 

 

Sony A7RIII, Sony 100-400 GM, 200mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 100, hand held)

 

Macro

 

This lens is a joy to use for macro because of it’s close focus distance at less than 1 meter (98cm). Here are some examples:

 

These were shot in a geothermal area in Iceland: 

 

152mm, f/11, 1/100s, ISO200, Hand held 

 

240mm, f/8, 1/200s, ISO200, Hand held 

 

152mm, f/11, 1/100s, ISO200, Hand held 

 

247mm, f/8, 1/200s, ISO200, Hand held 

 

162mm, f/10, 1/100s, ISO100, Hand held

 

And here’s a shot of a tiny little flower just getting autumn colours, taken at minimum focus distance: 

224mm, f/14, 1/125s, ISO200, Hand held

 

 

Getting up close to objects and playing with toning/black and white can deliver some great abstracts: 

 

 

Abstract of an Iceland Horse. 244mm, f/8, 1/40s, ISO200, Hand held 

 

Basalt rock textures, 100mm, f/7.1, 1/160s, ISO160, Hand held 

 

Black & White underexposed image of dropping water from a waterfall. 400mm, f/6,3 1/640s, ISO250, Hand held 

 

 

Reflecting ice piece floating in water next to a glacier. Actually looks like a space invader! 400mm, f5.6, 1/800s, ISO100, Hand Held.

 

 

A lens like this offers tons of possibilities for landscapes. I love trying to isolate subjects in the distance. 

 

 

A shepherd going down a mountain in the distance to beat the incoming storm. 271mm, f/8, 1/100s, ISO100, Hand held. 

 

An Icelandic waterfall close up, 166mm, 1/6s, f/16, ISO 50, tripod. 

 

A small church against a dramatic backdrop almost looks like its engulfed in a huge wave. The compression works really well here. 150mm, f/10, 1/1400s, ISO100, Hand held. 

 

Minimalistic approach to a small tree on a foggy morning in the Netherlands. 183mm, f/9, 1/80s, f9, ISO200, hand held. 

 

Person standing in front of a huge glacier in Kyrgyzstan. 130mm, f/11, 1/250s, ISO100, hand held. 

 

Seagul flying in front of a huge waterfall, 400mm f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO500, hand held. 

 

Horses against the base of a huge mountain in Kyrgyzstan, 224mm, f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO100, hand held. 

 

Rainbow coming off of a waterfall in Iceland, 105mm, f/10, 1/500s, ISO100 hand held.

 

This is just a small overview of the possibilities with this lens.

 

In short:

 

good:

 

  • The 100-400 GM has amazing sharpness at all apertures over the entire zoom range

  • It’s not too heavy but still heavier than a 70-200 f/4 or 70-300 but it’s lighter than the 70-200GM. I’d pick this lens for landscapes over that one any day.

  • Bokeh is nice and smooth

  • Close focus distance of