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Full review of the Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM lens. 

Late2012/s55300box.jpg
Box and contents

 
 
The Sony A77 was used for this review.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
The usual center, mid-section and corner crops are located below the conclusion.
 
Don't forget to check out the full size samples from the A77 here.
 

 
Introduction.
 
Sony introduces a longer version of the popular 'kit' 55-200mm telephoto zoom, sporting a focal length of 55-300mm, or 82.5-450mm in 135 format.
 
The Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM has a good build quality, with a metal mount and high quality plastic for the body and extension barrel.  It feels solid and smooth in the hand, and is balanced well on larger cameras like the A65/77.  Appearance wise, it has a slightly speckled satin black finish, very similar to Sony camera bodies.  Outside features include a handy zoom lock, AF/MF switch on the left side to turn off the SAM, ribbed rubber manual focusing ring at the front, and a large zoom ring at the back with focal length marks at 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 200mm, and 300mm.  Inside, you will find one 'ED' element.  The lens is made in China.
 
Zooming is smooth, and damped appropriately in my opinion.  It does have a zoom lock, (locks only at 55mm) but you probably won't need it.  Zooming all the way out increases the length by 1.65" (42mm).
 
EXIF focal length data records correctly at all marks. 
 
Inside the box is the lens, front and rear caps, plastic solid hood, and owner's manual.  
 
Focusing.  This lens uses Sony's SAM system to provide focusing, although it doesn't seem to have the quieter SAM II focusing of recent lenses like the 18-135mm.  All focusing for the 55-300mm is done by way of extending and turning the front section of the lens, which means the filter ring turns, so your polarizing and graduated neutral density filters will need to be adjusted after you focus; this type of focusing is a real pain for people that like to use filters; it was very popular up until the 1980s; at which point people started demanding something better.  Sony designed this lens for cheap production like the 55-200mm, not speed and ease of use.  The focusing ring turns about 90° from close focus to infinity, which is almost too quick for accurate manual focusing.  Auto-focusing speed is relatively slow (typical with front focusing designs), however, accuracy is pretty good on my A77, however, your results may vary depending on the calibration of your particular lens and camera. 
 
To manually focus the lens, turn the AM/MF to MF, otherwise, you'll strip the gears out of the focusing system if you try to force it.
 
 

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Requisite product shots.

Late2012/s55300sd.jpg
Full focus extension
Late2012/s55300sdex.jpg
Side shot showing full zoom with extended focus.
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Metal mount
Late2012/s55300ft.jpg
Front element showing baffle inside
Late2012/55300mtf.jpg
Sony X-ray view and MTF chart

 
 
General information and specifications.

Lens

SAL-55300  Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM

Box contents

Front cap, rear cap, hood, and users manual.

Cost

Approximately $298 

Build quality

Good.

Additional information

Similar in design and performance to the Sony 75-300mm, and the 55-200mm.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

12 elements in 9 groups

Angle of view

29˚-5° APS-C 

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Made for APS-C cameras only, but will work on full frame using APS-C size capture.  Equivalent to 82.5-450mm in 135 format.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

About 54"  (1372mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

About 43.8"  (1113mm) 

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No, stops beyond infinity.

Length changes when focusing?

Yes

Focus ring turns in AF?

Yes

Filter size

62mm

Filter ring rotates?

Yes

Distance encoder?

Yes

Max magnification

1:3.7 or 0.27x

Min. F/stop

F/22-29 

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3.00" x 4.6"   76mm x 117mm (131mm long with focus extension)

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

6.14" (156mm).  171mm with focus extension.                                           

Weight bare (my scale)

16.05oz  (467g) bare

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Average control.  Small green/orange blobs show up at all focal lengths when super bright lights are in the image.
 
Light fall-off.  Minor amounts at the long end.

Color fringing (CA).  Lateral color fringing control is about average for a modern telephoto zoom.  I see magenta and cyan along the edges of the image, especially as you zoom to 300mm, however, all modern Sony cameras will correct this by default.  See uncorrected sample crops below the conclusion.  
 
Bokeh.  Poor at the wide end; not bad at the long end.  See examples below.
 
Color.   Same as other Sony lenses.
 
Close up filter.  N/A    
 
Coma.  None.
 
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off at any zoom length.
 
Filter size.  62mm.  Sharing this size in the Sony DT line-up are the Carl Zeiss 16-80mm, 16-105mm, 18-135mm, 18-200mm, 18-250mm, and the 70-300mm G.
 
Distortion.  Generally low across the zoom range.  You'll find the most (uncorrected) distortion around 100mm, which is moderate to strong pincushion.  See samples below.
 
 

Late2012/55raw.jpg
Mild to moderate barrel distortion at 55mm, uncorrected.
Late2012/55jpg.jpg
55mm, with lens comp distortion on.
Late2012/100raw.jpg
Moderate to strong pincushion distortion at 100mm, uncorrected.
Late2012/100jpg.jpg
100mm, with lens comp distortion on.
Late2012/300raw.jpg
Minor to moderate pincushion distortion at 300mm, uncorrected.
Late2012/300jpg.jpg
300mm, with lens comp distortion on.

 

There isn't a problem with distortion on this lens generally speaking, however, if you shoot RAW, you'll encounter the strongest distortion around 100mm.  At the long end, pincushion is surprisingly low for this type of lens.

 

 

Bokeh samples.

 

          55mm   F/4.5

            55mm   F/8

Late2012/55300bok5545.jpg
Late2012/55300bok5580.jpg

           300mm  F/5.6

             300mm  F/8

Late2012/55300bok30056.jpg
Late2012/55300bok30080.jpg

 

Bokeh looks a little 'busy' at shorter focal lengths, showing outlines and center dots, especially noticeable at smaller apertures.  At the long end highlight blur looks somewhat smooth.  Bokeh is the character of out of focus highlights, and not simply how far out of focus the background is.

 
 
Light fall-off samples.
 

          55mm   F/4.5

            55mm   F/5.6

Late2012/55300vig45w.jpg
Late2012/55300vig56w.jpg

           300mm  F/5.6

             300mm  F/8

Late2012/55300vig56l.jpg
Late2012/55300vig80l.jpg

 

Light fall-off is not a problem on this lens at any focal length, even with thick filters.  Towards the long end at the widest aperture you'll see some light fall-off, but the transition is so even that you won't notice this in your pictures unless you display them side-by-side as I've done here.  The images above are with lens shading turned off, if you turn that feature on, you won't notice any differences between the apertures.

 

 

 

Aperture/focal length guide.

 

Maximum aperture

       F/4.5

       F/5

       F/5.6

Range

55-135mm

140-210mm

230-300mm

 
Focal length numbers carry through between apertures, which is normal.  You may get slightly different numbers if you want to spend all day firing off shots and moving the zoom ring in tiny increments.

 
 
 
Let's check out the close focus capabilities of this lens.

The sample shot was taken with the Sony A77 24MP camera, so don't compare it with some others that were taken with the 12.2mp A700, or 16mp A580.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a very long 43.8" (1113mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
Reproduction size is average for a newer zoom lens (0.27x or 1:3.7), click for cropped image.  The stamp looks reasonably sharp, but contrast is mediocre at best.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.  
 

Late2012/55300mac568b.jpg
As close as you can get, F/8.

  
 
 
Conclusion. 
 

The Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM turned in a good review, especially for the price!  Is it a better value than the 75-300mm, or 55-200mm kit lens?  Read on!

 

On the plus side, contrast and resolution are quite good at the maximum apertures at all zoom lengths, but stopping down to F/8 adds a little more contrast to the image.  Distortion is generally well controlled, and is not a problem at all with in-camera lens corrections enabled.  Also, light fall-off is not an issue, even when shooting in RAW with no shading corrections.

 

One downer is the focusing method, which involves extending and turning the front section of the lens, which also slows down the AF speed.  As I mentioned in the introduction, this is awful for filter users because you have to fix the focus, then adjust your filters, then shoot; if you forget, you might ruin the image if a graduated ND filter is not aligned properly.  Both the 75-300mm and 55-200mm use extension focusing, but it would've been nice to make it internal, and increase the price point a little bit in my opinion, oh well, maybe most users don't use filters, so they won't care.

 

Bottom line: I'd definitely recommend the 55-300mm over the 75-300mm for APS-C users, and also the 55-200mm, as the cost difference is negligible.

 

Secret: The 55-300mm is almost as sharp in the centers and mid-sections as the expensive 70-400mm.  If you don't look at your images blown up to 100% on your computer, you won't notice the difference!


If you've enjoyed this review, and are thinking of purchasing this lens or any other stuff, please use my B&H photo affiliate links, I get a small portion of each sale, but it doesn't cost you a penny more.  It helps pay the rather high cost of running the website, thanks!

 

 

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Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

55mm.

 

Late2012/55300fsi55.jpg
Full resized image

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/4.5

Late2012/55300ctr45w.jpg
Late2012/55300mid45w.jpg
Late2012/55300corn45w.jpg

F/5.6

Late2012/55300ctr56w.jpg
Late2012/55300mid56w.jpg
Late2012/55300corn56w.jpg

F/8

Late2012/55300ctr80w.jpg
Late2012/55300mid80w.jpg
Late2012/55300corn80w.jpg

F/11

Late2012/55300ctr11w.jpg
Late2012/55300mid11w.jpg
Late2012/55300corn11w.jpg

 

I see sharp centers and mid-sections at the maximum aperture of F/4.5, with the corners sharpening up at F/8.  Very light color fringing is noticeable in the corner crops.

 

 

150mm.

 

Late2012/55300fsi150.jpg
Full resized image

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/5.6

Late2012/55300ctr56m.jpg
Late2012/55300mid56m.jpg

Late2012/55300corn56m.jpg

F/8

Late2012/55300ctr80m.jpg
Late2012/55300mid80m.jpg
Late2012/55300corn80m.jpg

F/11

Late2012/55300ctr11m.jpg
Late2012/55300mid11m.jpg
Late2012/55300corn11m.jpg

 

Contrast improves at F/8, and the whole image is pretty sharp.  Diffraction softens the image slightly at F/11.

 

 

300mm.

 

Late2012/55300fsi300.jpg
Full resized image

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/5.6

Late2012/55300ctr56L.jpg
Late2012/55300mid56L.jpg
Late2012/55300corn56L.jpg

F/8

Late2012/55300ctr80L.jpg
Late2012/55300mid80L.jpg
Late2012/55300corn80L.jpg

F/11

Late2012/55300ctr11L.jpg
Late2012/55300mid11L.jpg
Late2012/55300corn11L.jpg

 

At the long end through atmospheric haze, their doesn't seem to be much change throughout the image at F/5.6-8 except light fall-off in the corners is less at F/8.  I see quite a bit of color fringing in the mid-sections and corner crops here, especially magenta.  However, if you have your lens compensations turned on, this will not be an issue.  All samples were taken in RAW with the Sony A77.

 

That's it for the review, if you'd like to help out the site, please visit B&H Photo if you're thinking of purchasing the Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM.

 

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