Every camera manufacturer offers a low budget telephoto zoom, and Sony is no exception.
Looking back, I realize now that these ultra-budget superzoom lenses definitely have some major flaws, but they also have their place. In this review, I’d like to give my thoughts on Sony’s budget telephoto zoom. Let’s dive into it.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Somewhat lackluster image quality
- Optical image stabilization
- A budget way for new photographers to get into telephoto
Size & Weight
Coming in at 12oz (345g) and measuring 4.25 inches (10.8cm) in length, the Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 is definitely a bit on the bigger end, but for a zoom it’s fairly average, especially with this focal range.
Is the lens well built?
Speaking of feeling awkward, Sony definitely 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, or even some lenses from third-parties.
There really isn’t much more to say in terms of build quality. This lens was made for the original NEX, and that lens line-up generally tended to just feel a little cheap.
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.
Aesthetics & Ergonomics
As for ergonomics, 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.
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.
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 solid performance.
That is, however, where the positives stop. 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 awful performance when zoomed all the way in, but is fairly respectable when on the lower end of the zoom range.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
As for optical quirks and flaws, the lens really only substantially struggles from flare issues. Shooting into bright sunlight will cause heavy contrast loss and ghosting, destroying the already lackluster images that this lens puts out.
Besides that though, this lens doesn’t suffer from vignette, chromatic aberrations, or any significant distortion.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, the Sony 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 shows rather lackluster optical performance. Sharpness at the wider end of the zoom is totally fine, but as you zoom images tend to fall apart.
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), this lens still renders pretty creamy bokeh with excellent subject isolation.
Focusing & Other Notes
Up next, let’s talk about focusing. The autofocus on this lens is also rather lackluster. I didn’t have many issues with hunting (in good light), but it was just incredibly slow.
Even though focus was usually accurate, you’d expect a telephoto lens to have quicker focus as it’ll generally be used to photograph fast moving wildlife or people.
Still though, this is an old lens (NEX line) and it’s low-cost, so it’s hard to complain too much. Just don’t expect stellar autofocus performance.
For those who like to manual focus, this lens also works similarly to many other modern lenses.
Manual focus is focus-by-wire, meaning its electronically controlled. It feels sluggish and inaccurate.
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.
The only direct competitor would be the Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3. That lens is absolutely exceptional and will blow this one away in every possible regard except for one aspect: price.
And price, in my opinion, is the most appealing factor of the Sony 55-210mm…
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.
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 poor, 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 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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