Every camera manufacturer offers a low-budget telephoto zoom option, and Sony is no exception.
The Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 is a low-cost, mega-zoom lens that is often included in Sony a6000 camera bundles. Even when I bought my first camera, a Canon many years ago, it came with a similar lens (just Canon branded, obviously).
Everything considered, these ultra-budget superzoom lenses certainly have some major flaws, but they also have their place. In this review, I’d like to deep dive into Sony’s budget superzoom and talk about exactly why I think it still has a place in the market, even in 2023.
Let’s dive in.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Usually decent image quality
- Optical image stabilization
- A budget way for new photographers to get into telephoto
Size & Weight
As with all superzoom lenses, the Sony 55-210mm is definitely on the larger side.
Measuring a length of roughly 4.25in (10.8cm) in length and weighing about 12oz (345g), it’s certainly a little bigger than most other APS-C lenses.
When mounted on my a6k, it feels a bit front-heavy and awkward. However, that’s really to be expected from any lens this large.
Is the lens well-built?
Despite the lens being rather large, it’s not particularly heavy given its size. This is due to the fact that Sony certainly saved some of the weight here by cutting down on the build quality.
I won’t say the lens feels flimsy by any means, but it certainly isn’t up to par with more expensive Sony offerings, and even gets overshadowed by most third-party lenses.
Forget about any sort of metal construction, this baby is entirely plastic.
Though admittedly, it’s not super cheap plastic, but more of a polycarbonate “hard/durable” type of plastic.
Remember, we’re talking about a lens that was originally made for the NEX lineup of cameras (the predecessors to the legendary a6000 lineup). Not to generalize, but NEX lenses tended to feel pretty crappy and cheap.
Wait, you might be asking, is this thing weather sealed? Why is there a “weather sealing” header?
Well, not to disappoint, but that’s just how I structure most of my lens reviews. Trust me, this thing doesn’t offer any sort of sealing.
Built to last?
Either way, despite feeling cheap, I’d still say the lens is built to last.
Other NEX lenses, despite feeling less than stellar in the hand, have held up quite well over the years.
Ergonomically, the lens actually feels pretty decent to actually handle.
The focus ring is tiny and feels clunky to use, but the zoom ring is huge and has a nice, ribbed grip allowing for pretty smooth and comfortable operation.
Overall, for a superzoom, it’s fairly comfortable to shoot with, even when trekking through the woods in search of skittish deer.
As for aesthetics, it’s an old zoom lens, so it’s not winning any beauty contests.
Still, it’s got a relatively simple and minimalist design, featuring two rings and some engraved text for the focal range scale. It’s very functional, if not beautiful.
It does also come in silver though, so that’s pretty neat.
Alrighty, next up we’ll be talking about sharpness. I’m generally not very scientific in my “sharpness tests”, so don’t expect anything very complicated. As a zoom, however, there’s a lot of the focal range to cover.
So, at 55mm, images are actually pretty sharp from edge-to-edge, even wide open at F4.5.
Stopping down, at this focal range, delivers increasingly better results (until you hit diffraction at F16). Honestly, pretty respectable, I must admit.
About halfway through the zoom range (around 120mm), quality drops off substantially. Wide open (F5.6 in this case) shows pretty lackluster performance, with mushy corners and just an overall look of bleh.
Stop down a little though, and images start to look pretty good, matching the performance at 55mm.
Zooming all the way to 210mm is when things really start to fall apart. Centers are fairly decent wide open (F6.3) but corners are a blurry mess.
Stopping down evens the frame out a bit, but performance at this focal length is just really poor.
So yeah, the Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 suffers from pretty poor performance when zoomed all the way in, but is fairly respectable when on the lower end of the zoom range.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
Despite being as soft as it is, the Sony 55-210mm doesn’t suffer from much else in terms of optical flaws (besides flare…). Let’s look at distortion, vignette, CA, and flare resistance.
To start, the lens handles distortion fairly well.
At the wider ends of the focal range, you’ll run into a minor bit of barrel distortion, but it’s easily fixed in post-processing.
We see similar performance when it comes to vignetting.
Wide open, you might see a little bit of darkening around the corners, but stopping down (or clicking one button in post-processing) remedies it. A non-issue.
Same with chromatic aberration.
Even in more extreme tests (branches against a sunlit sky), CA is fairly minor and is, once again, easily fixed in post-processing.
Alright, here’s where the lens struggles: flare resistance.
Shooting into sunlight (or even artificial light sources), causes heavy contrast loss and ghosting.
Don’t shoot into the sun with this thing, trust me.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, the Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 shows rather iffy optical performance. Sharpness at the wider end of the zoom is totally fine, but as you zoom images tend to soften up real quick.
It does, however, render some beautiful bokeh. Although not quite comparable to the Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 (thanks to the higher focal length) or a dedicated prime lens, this lens still renders pretty creamy bokeh with excellent subject isolation.
Focusing & Other Notes
Alrighty, now that we’ve gotten the fun part (image quality) out of the way, let’s focus on focusing (see what I did there?).
As you might expect from the rest of this review, the autofocus on the Sony 55-210mm is pretty much just alright.
When in good light (daytime), I didn’t really have any issues with hunting, but the lens was just incredibly slow. Like, seriously just slow.
Once again, this lens is pretty much a decade old, so I’m not entirely surprised. Still, it would be nice to have faster focus on a lens that’s primarily going to be used for wildlife and whatnot.
For those who like to manual focus, this lens also works similarly to many other modern lenses.
Manual focus is done entirely through focus-by-wire, meaning the focusing system is controlled by a “computer” of sorts that’s linked to the focusing ring.
As a result, it just feels sluggish and fairly inaccurate. Some modern AF lenses nail the manual focus experience, but this one certainly doesn’t.
Optical Image Stabilization
On a more positive note, however, the lens does offer optical image stabilization.
Telephoto lenses often suffer from camera shake (especially for photographers like me with shaky hands), so it’s really nice to see OSS built in to offset that.
My Final Thoughts
Alright, before I round out my reviews I generally like to give a few alternatives to consider.
Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3
The first alternative would be the fabulous Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3.
That lens is absolutely spectacular and will blow this one away in literally every single possible regard except for one aspect: price.
Feel free to read my review on it.
Tamron 18-300mm F3.5-6.3
Besides that, the Tamron 18-300mm F3.5-5.6 is another strong superzoom competitor.
In that Tamron, you get an unmatched focal range, strong optical performance, and much faster autofocus (it’s a lot newer).
Once again, however, the Tamron is much more expensive.
And price, in my opinion, is the most appealing factor of the Sony 55-210mm. Let me explain why…
Great for Learning
Personally, I think the Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 serves a very specific purpose, and that’s to allow a very low barrier to entry for any photographer looking to get into a tighter focal length.
Way back in the day, when I used Canon’s version of this lens, even as a new photographer, I realized it took awful pictures, but it was a super cheap way to get out into the woods and start playing around with wildlife photography.
In the end, I never got super into it, but it sure was fun creeping through the trees trying to photograph skittish deer and I learned a lot about photography.
When it comes down to it, if you’re looking for an ultra-budget lens to have some fun with, I think this lens is a great option.
Sharpness is lackluster, build quality is iffy, and autofocus is slow, but every other competing lens is five times more expensive, so the Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 is a great way to dabble in wildlife (or any other long focal length type stuff) on a budget.
If you’re a newbie photographer who wants to dabble in wildlife, sports, etc., this lens is a great low-cost opportunity to get your feet wet.
I’ll include purchase links below if you want to check it out. Thanks for reading! 🙂
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