Sony SAL75300 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Zoom Lens
A lightweight tele-zoom lens with an excellent price/performance ratio.Sony’s SAL75300 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens partners the 18-70mm kit lens in some twin-lens kits. Compatible with both APS-C and 35mm ‘full frame’ Alphas, on the A55 body we used for our tests it provided focal lengths equivalent to 112.5-450mm in 35mm format. This range is useful for portraiture and shots of wildlife and also handy for close-ups of flowers and other small objects, where the lens will focus down to 1.5 metres. . . [more]
Essentially, this lens appears to be a re-design of a 13-year old Minolta lens, so it’s not digitally optimised. There’s no stabilisation built-in as it’s designed for a camera with body-integrated stabilisation. On the plus side, it’s less than a third of the price of the G-series SAL70300G f/4.5-5.6, which is larger but not faster. It’s also about two thirds of the weight of the more expensive lens.
Side view of the SAL75300 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens without lens hood and end caps. (Source: Sony.)
The optical design of the SAL75300 comprises 13 elements in 10 groups. Unlike the G-series lens, no exotic glasses are included and the seven-bladed iris diaphragm closes to a circular aperture. Focusing is driven by a standard micro-motor (rather than the SSM ultrasonic motor in the G-series model) and is fairly noisy.
Build quality is very good for the price tag and above average for a kit lens. Unlike the 18-55mm lens, this lens has a metal mounting plate and its finish is slightly superior to the shorter lens. However, there’s no distance scale and no AF/MF switch, which implies this lens is designed primarily for autofocusing. This lens is supplied with front and end caps plus a cylindrical lens hood that attaches via a bayonet mounting.
Both the focusing and zoom mechanisms are simple, which means the front element rotates during focusing. The amount of rotation is slightly greater during focusing than with zooming but both are enough to require slight re-adjustment of angle-critical attachments.
The lens barrel contains two inner moving cylinders. The focusing ring sits at the front of the inner barrel and carries a 12 mm wide ridged, hard plastic grip moulding. It can be moved through roughly one quarter of a turn, which extends the innermost barrel by about 13 mm.
The innermost barrel is extended by turning the zoom ring, which also moves through about one quarter of a turn as you change the focal length from 75mm to 300mm. A 38mm wide, finely-ridged, rubber grip is located 25 mm back from the leading edge of this ring.
Five focal length settings (75mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm) are engraved close to the trailing edge. As you change the focal length, the maximum and minimum apertures change from f/4.5 to f/5.6 and as shown in the table below.
|Focal length||Max. aperture||Min. aperture|
There are no sliders for switching between auto and manual focusing. Although the original Minolta lens included focusing scales in metres and feet plus a focus lock button, these are missing on the SAL75300.
Neither is there a zoom lock to prevent unwanted barrel extension when the lens is carried pointing downwards. It appears to be unnecessary as we found no instances of this occurring while we were using this lens.
The SAL75300 is a very comfortable match for the α55 body and feels nicely balanced when fitted. Its light weight makes it an ideal partner for lighter camera bodies. The focusing and zoom rings are comfortably textured and it’s easy to feel which one is which due to tangibly different claddings.
Both auto and manual focusing are fairly noisy because of the gear-driven focusing mechanism. In addition, manual focusing is only available when the camera is in MF mode. Under optimal conditions (bright, contrasty lighting) it takes roughly one second for the AF mechanism to range between close focusing and infinity focus – or vice versa.
The minimum focusing distance of 1.5 metres limits usage of this lens for close-ups and makes it unusable for true macro photography. However, because this limit applies at the 300mm focal length, it was possible to use the lens for close-ups of flowers, insects and small animals – provided they weren’t too small.
Focus hunting was very common with close-up subjects where contrast was low and the AF system was often unable to distinguish between the subject and its background – even when spot AF was used. To counteract this problem, we swapped to manual focusing, adjusted the focus ring to its closest position and then moved the camera until the image was sharp.
When shooting with this technique, we relied mainly on the LCD monitor, rather than the EVF, largely because the adjustable monitor was more comfortable for low-angle shots of flowers. However, the EVF was certainly usable – and often preferable in bright conditions and with subjects at eye level.
On the α55 body, the review lens turned in a creditable performance in our Imatest tests, which evaluated JPEG files. Edge softening was apparent at lens apertures down to about f/10, where differences between centre and edge resolution were reduced. The best performance at all focal length settings was between f/6.3 and f/10. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Imatest also showed lateral chromatic aberration to be mainly low, edging into the ‘moderate’ band at the maximum aperture for the 75mm focal length. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Some purple/green fringing was found in shots of high-contrast subjects taken in bright lighting with the longest focal length settings. Red/cyan fringing was more common with the 75mm focal length. However, for most shots, this problem was seldom apparent. The illustrations below provide examples from both ends of the focal length range.
A sample image captured with the 75mm focal length.
A crop from a 100% enlargement of the above image showing coloured fringing (plus softening) near the edge of the frame.
A sample image captured with the 300mm focal length.
A crop from a 100% enlargement of the above image showing coloured fringing near the edge of the frame.
Only slight vignetting was found at the widest apertures across the focal length range, with the 300mm focal length producing a little more corner darkening than the other focal lengths. Examples are shown below.
Vignetting at 75mm.
Vignetting at 100mm.
Vignetting at 135mm.
Vignetting at 200mm.
Vignetting at 300mm.
Rectilinear distortion was also minimal, with only slight barrel distortion at 75mm and barely measurable pincushioning at 300mm. Backlit subjects were generally handled very well, with little loss of contrast due to veiling flare in most shots. Bokeh was a bit chunky and not outstandingly beautiful.
Buy this lens if:
– You want an affordable and versatile tele-zoom lens for a Sony DSLR body.
Don’t buy this lens if:
– You’d like a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit polarisers and graduated filters.
– You require high resolution at all focal lengths, along with good flatness of field.
Based on JPEG files from the α55 camera.
75mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/9; ISO 100.
300mm focal length, 1/200 second at f/9; ISO 100.
Flare; 300mm focal length, 1/250 second at f/7.1; ISO 250.
Portrait in dim lighting; 160mm focal length, 1/10 second at f/5.6; ISO 800.
250mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/14; ISO 200.
300mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/6.3; ISO 400.
180mm focal length, 1/400 second at f/10; ISO 100.
300mm focal length, 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.
300mm focal length, 1/640 second at f/9; ISO 100.
210mm focal length, 1/50 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.
300mm focal length, 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.
300mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/5.6; ISO 400.
Picture angle: 21 degrees to 5 degrees 20 minutes
Minimum aperture: f/32-38
Lens construction: 13 elements in 10 groups
Lens mounts: Sony Alpha
Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: Micro-motor
Minimum focus: 1.5 metres
Maximum magnification: Approx. 1:4 (0.25x)
Filter size: 55 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 71 x 122 mm
Weight: Approx. 460 grams
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Handling: 8.5
- Image quality: 8.5
- Versatility: 8.8
- OVERALL: 9.0