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Here's a brief look at the Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 telephoto zoom lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Lens

SAL-75300  Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 

Box contents

Front and rear caps, hood, and users manual.

Cost

$250 retail, hundreds available on eBay for much less.

Build quality

Good

Additional information

Don't confuse this lens with the 70-300 G SSM, which is a big upgrade optically and mechanically-but costs more money.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

13 elements in 10 groups

Angle of view

32°-8° full frame, 21°-5° APS-C.

Aperture

7 blades, circular

Full frame and APS-C

Yes, full frame and APS-C.   APS-C equivalent, 112.5-450mm

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

59"  (1.5m)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

49.5"  (1.26m)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

Yes

Focus ring turns in AF?

Yes

Filter size

55mm

Filter ring rotates?

Yes

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

0.25x

Min. F/stop

F/32-40, listed wrong on Sony's site, and users manual.

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

2.8" x 4.8"   71mm x 122mm 

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

7.5"  (191mm)                                                      

Weight bare (my scale)

16.1oz  (457g)  17oz (481g) with caps


Requisite product shots.

Aug08/75300box.jpg
Box and lens
Aug08/75300ft.jpg
Front element.
Aug08/75300sdex.jpg
Side view, fully extended
Aug08/75300bk.jpg
Backside mount.
Aug08/70300comp.jpg
Compared to the much better and more expensive Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM lens.
2012/s75300mmmtf.jpg
Sony X-ray view and MTF chart

 
 
The Sony A700 and A900 were used for this review.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of my review methods and terminology, go here.
 
The Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 is the least expensive full frame compatible telephoto zoom lens Sony has to offer.  Sony has a similar lens, called the 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G, which is much better, and much more expensive than this one.  I'll be making some comparisons occasionally between the two, so don't get 'em mixed up. 
 
The lens is Sony matte black, with a black rubber ribbed non-slip grip area on the zoom ring.  The focus ring is just plastic.  It says "China" so I'm assuming it's made there, you never really know.  There is no distance scale, and the focus ring turns in AF, the front element turns also, so watch your grads and polarizers.  Fit and finish are pretty good, and the zoom action is smooth and doesn't seem to want to creep out while you walk, but it will if you hike or run.  You have the focal length marks coming at 75mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm, they match up with the EXIF data thankfully.  Sony literature indicates this lens has no fancy elements inside, like "ED" or whatever.  That's why it's cheap.

Auto-focusing is a little slow at the long end, but seems mostly accurate.  Manual focusing works surprisingly well, with about 1/3 turn from Close-in to infinity.  This lens is noisy when focusing, because the focus drive motor is in the camera body, and it couples with a screw to turn the focusing mechanism, like most Sony lenses.  That's just the way it is.  It doesn't have the high-tech silent focusing motor built in the lens like it's more expensive brother, the 70-300mm G SSM.  

  
Aperture/focal length guide below.

  
Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6

Maximum aperture

          F/4.5

       F/5

        F/5.6

Range

70mm - 85mm

90mm - 110mm

120mm - 300mm


Lens flare/ghosting.  Average to below average control, not nearly as good as the Sony 70-300mm G.  Check out the goofy shots below.  There are colored blobs when the sun is in the image.  See photos below.  The supplied hood doesn't work in this application, and only works so-so when the sun in near, or outside the edge of the frame.  You normally don't need to shoot into the sun with a telephoto lens, unless taking pictures of the (rising or setting) sun, in which case if it's dead center, there's no problem.  The hood replacement cost is $25.

Color fringing.  Strong near the end of the zoom looking at white roof tops against dark A/C units enlarged on my computer screen.  Less at 70mm.  Much worse control than the Sony 70-300mm G, see comparisons below.  I see some color fringing at the center sometimes, stopping down will help, but if it's near the image edge, stopping down doesn't help. 
 
Bokeh.  Very smooth over the full range, much the same as the Sony 70-300mm G.
 
Color.  The same as the rest of Sony lenses. 
 
Close-up filter use is limited to 75mm or slightly longer with a +4.  
 
Filter size is 55mm.  Other Sony lenses with this size are: 50mm F/2.8 macro, 100mm F/2.8 macro, 35mm F/1.4, 50mm F/1.4, 18-70mm kit lens and the 55-200mm zoom.
 
Filter use.  There's some slight additional vignetting when using a regular filter at 75mm, F/4.5 on a full frame camera, none on APS-C. 
 
Distortion is pincushion, and it's very mild from 75mm to 300mm.  If you like looking at your pictures with a grid overlay you might see it on the outer portions with straight lines.  It's not a problem for me and you don't see it in regular pictures.  Distortion performance is nearly the same as the Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G.  Look below for examples.
 
Distortion examples 
 

Aug08/75300pincl.jpg
75mm, straight to very mild pincushion.

Aug08/75300pinfa.jpg
300mm, mild pincushion.

 

Random samples below.

 

Sun in shot, 70mm @ F/5.6

Sun in shot, 300mm @  F/5.6

october08/75300ffsunoff.jpg

october08/75300ffsunofftel.jpg

Bokeh, 70mm @ F/4.5

Bokeh, 70mm @ F/5.6

August09/s75300bokw45.jpg

August09/s75300bokw56.jpg

Bokeh, 300mm @ F/5.6

Bokeh, 300mm @ F/8

August09/s75300bokt56.jpg

August09/s75300bokt80.jpg

 
Ghosting at 75mm is strong when the sun is in the image, look for a string of blobs heading for the sun.  At 300mm, there is a persistent red blob in the image, depending on how hard the angle is.  When the sun is in the center of the frame, there's no problem. 
 
Lower samples show bokeh, which looks harsh at the wide end at all apertures, at the long end, things smooth out some at F/8.  
 
Below are color fringing examples for each lens.  100% crops.
 

Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM at 300mm F/5.6

2008/70300mca.jpg

Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 at 300mm F/5.6

2008/75300mca.jpg

 
The color fringing is strong at the long end.  These are 100% crops from the corners of the image, the centers are usually good.  The more expensive 70-300mm (top image) controls lateral color fringing much better.  This kind of color fringing doesn't get better by stopping down.
 
Light fall-off.

As you can see, light fall-off or corner shading is mild at F/4.5 and 70mm, what little there is blends nicely towards the middle so I wouldn't worry yourself sick about this.  One stop down and it's clear, same goes for the 300mm shots.  This lens performed about equally in light fall-off as the Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6.  

           75mm F/4.5 

             75mm F/8

Aug08/7545c.JPG
Aug08/7580c.JPG

           300mm F/5.6 

             300mm F/8

Aug08/30056c.JPG
Aug08/30080c.JPG


Center sharpness.

Below are fruitless crops from the centers at 75mm.

           75mm F/4.5

              75mm F/5.6

Aug08/75mm45ctr.jpg
Aug08/75mm56ctr.jpg

 

Now the 300mm center crops. 

 

           300mm F/5.6

              300mm F/8

Aug08/30056ctr.jpg
Aug08/30080ctr.jpg

 
The 70mm crops show very little improvement by stopping down, that's good.  Out towards 300mm, stopping down helps much, but there's no improvement past F/8 for long telephoto shots through loads of atmosphere.  This changes for close macro shooting though, see below.  
 
Below, check out the maximum magnification stamp crops.
 

 F/5.6

2008/9675300mc56.jpg

F/11

2008/9475300mc11.jpg


Obvious here is the difference in sharpness between F/5.6 and F/11.  The F/8 shot is not too bad, but doesn't show as good as F/11.  Note: while shooting the macro, I had to bracket my focusing, as I found out the sharpest shots came when the image in the viewfinder looked soft---odd.  This would be tough to do in the field.   
 
Let's check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the sample and click the picture to see a 100% cropped portion of the full image, (283kb file).  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1"x 3/4" or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a horrendously long 49.5" (1.26m), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  Sometimes distance can be a good thing!

The macro is pretty sharp and detailed with 0.25x magnification.  It isn't as sharp as the 70-300mm G shot though.
 

Aug08/75300194gdmaca3.jpg
As close as you can get macro, at F/11.

 

On to the full frame section below.

 

Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.

 

Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I'm only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don't show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

 

Light fall-off 

 

         75mm F/4.5

          75mm F/5.6

october08/75300ffvigf45w.jpg

october08/75300ffvigf56w.jpg

         300mm F/5.6

          300mm F/8

october08/75300ffvigf56tel.jpg
october08/75300ffvigf8tel.jpg

 

Light fall-off is worse than the APS-C crops shown earlier.  At 75mm, F/4.5 shows heavy, but isn't all that noticeable in real shots, see image below.  It lessens as you stop down until F/11.  At 300mm, there isn't much to worry about.  Very similar results to the Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SSM.

 

Full image from A900 below.

 

october08/75300ffover.jpg

 

This full scene shows how the light fall-off from 75mm, F/4.5 isn't so noticeable in real shots as opposed to the gray crops above. 

 

75mm corner samples next.

 

         F/4.5

          F/5.6, from center

october08/75300ffcnw45.jpg

october08/75300ffctrw80.jpg

 

The 75mm corners look fairly sharp with decent contrast at F/4.5, and don't need to be stopped down.  Good performance here, there isn't much difference in these crops and that of the much more expensive Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G lens, though the centers are very different.  The right shot shows the center at F/5.6 for comparison.  The exposure differences are from light fall-off.  

 

300mm corners below.

 

         F/5.6

          F/8, from center

october08/75300ffcntel56.jpg

october08/75300ffctr80tel.jpg

 

The 300mm corners don't change any as you stop down.  I threw in a center crop (right) at F/8 to show what I'm talking about.  You'll also notice the sometimes harsh color fringing in the corner crops, and also noticeable sometimes in the centers, though just barely.  The exposure differences are from light fall-off.

 

Distortion next.

 

october08/75300ffdisw.jpg
Pincushion distortion @75mm on A900
october08/75300ffdistel.jpg
Pincushion distortion @ 300mm on A900

 

There is very light pincushion distortion at 75mm, and moderate to strong pincushion at 300mm.  The results above are nearly the same as the APS-C crops shown earlier.  Good to very good distortion control.

 

 

 
Conclusion.
 
Final thoughts on the 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 telephoto zoom lens: this lens is pretty sharp wide open, at 75mm up to 100mm or so.  Near, and at the long end, you'll need to stop down to F/8 to make everything nice and sharp.  If you like shooting stamps up close, use F/11.  There are no issues with soft corners at any focal length.  Color fringing can be strong, but I went out of my way to make things look bad in this review, it won't look like that in most pictures, but it does stand out occasionally.  Use Photo imaging software to get rid of it.   Light fall-off and distortion are very well controlled, so no problems here. 
 
On a side note; the Sony 75-300mm is sharper at 200mm than the Sony 55-200mm is at 200mm.  Additionally, the 55-200mm is smaller, lighter, and has a sharper macro than the 75-300mm-that's odd.  If portability is very important, and you won't be upgrading to a full frame camera, I'd get the 55-200mm.  Also check out my review of the Minolta AF 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 big beercan, which is built much better than the Sony version, but performs about the same.

The differences between the Sony 75-300mm F/4.5-5.6 and the Sony 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 G SSM.  The 70-300mm G has better control of; color fringing, flare and ghosting, nicer color and contrast, (barely), is sharper wide open and has a sharper close macro shot.  It also has more accurate (especially at the long end) and potentially quicker focusing with the SSM and is better built than the 75-300mm.  The 70-300mm is $750 more.  If you're a casual type weekend photographer, you can get similar results with the much less expensive 75-300mm, though you will need to stop it down to F/8-11 on the long end.   
 
Full frame users;  This lens works very well on a full frame body, you'll encounter more light fall-off, but that's about the only difference between the APS-C crops shown earlier. 
 
If money is a concern, I'd highly recommend the Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 USD, (over the Sony 70-300mm G too), it's better overall, and not much more expensive.