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Here's a brief look at the Sony NEX 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3 zoom lens.  Scroll down for the main review.

Lens

Box contents

Hood, front and rear caps and a user's manual. 

Cost

$350 retail as of 2/12

Build quality

Good to very good.

Additional information

Introduced in late 2011.  Has built-in optical image stabilization, and a quiet focus motor inside.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

13 elements in 9 groups

Angle of view

28.2°-7.8° APS-C

Aperture

7 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

APS-C only, and will only mount on E body cameras.  With crop factor of 1.5x the coverage equals 82-315mm in 135 film format.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Nothing.

Min. focus distance, image plane to subject @ max reproduction ratio

About 38.25"  (972mm)

Min. focus distance, end of lens barrel to subject @ max. reproduction ratio

About 31.5"  (800mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

No

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

49mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes
 

Max magnification

0.225x, or 1:4.4

Min. F/stop

F/22-32

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

Yes

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

2.52" x 4.25"   64mm x 108mm.  

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

6.0"  (152mm)                                             

Weight bare (my scale)

12.2oz  (345g) 


Requisite product shots.

2012/s55210box.jpg
Box and contents
2012/s55210sd3.jpg
Side shot
2012/s55210bk.jpg
Backside mount.
2012/s55210sdex3.jpg
Fully extended
2012/nex55210.jpg
X-ray view and MTF chart

 
 
 
The Sony NEX-7 was used for this review. 
 
For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
Check out the image sharpness crops at the bottom of the page.
 

The Sony NEX 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3 (Made in Thailand) is the first telephoto zoom lens made for the NEX system, and was introduced in late 2011.  Like all NEX lenses so far, it's build solidly, has a relatively smooth zoom and manual focus action, along with a nearly silent auto-focus motor which is great for keeping focus noise out of movies.  You'll also notice the 'OSS' or optical SteadyShot built into the lens.  In-lens image stabilization is important as NEX camera bodies do not have sensor shift stabilization like the DSLRs and SLTs have.  During my use, the OSS system worked very well in controlling camera shake, and Sony claims it has a 4 stop advantage over a non-stabilized lens of the same length.  The specs for this lens says there are two aspherical, and two 'ED' elements used in the construction of the lens, see last photo above.

 

Fit and finish seem pretty good.  The lens appears to be clad in mostly plastic, with a single plastic extension tube, however, it does have a metal mount.  Focus and zoom rings have a black rubber ribbed design.  So far, the only color available is silver, which of course matches other Sony NEX lenses of the same color.

 
The zoom action is smooth and damped properly in my opinion, and holds its position well, so there is no zoom creep during normal use.  There is no zoom lock feature on this lens, so you're SOL if you do encounter zoom creep.  Focal length index marks come at 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, and 210mm.  The EXIF data doesn't always match those lengths exactly, there may be a 1 or 2mm difference, this is no big deal, I'm just pointing it out. 
 
In the box: the lens, front and rear caps, a plastic solid type hood, and owner's manual.  
 
Focusing.  This lens auto-focuses almost silently, which is typical of the NEX focusing motor design.  Focusing seems quite accurate at all focal lengths, and reasonable quick in good light.  The front filter ring doesn't turn when focusing, so your polarizers and grads will work great.  


Lens flare/ghosting.  Good ghosting control when there are no super bright light sources inside the frame, but sun flare is strong, , see examples below.

Color fringing (CA).  About average, to above average control at 55-90mm, and excellent control from about 100-210mm.  Some NEX cameras will automatically eliminate color fringing, but this lens really doesn't require correction at any focal length.     
 
Bokeh.  Quite 'busy' at all focal lengths.  Look below for sample crops.
 
Color.   Same as other Sony lenses. 
 
Close up filter.  Tried a Hoya +4, doesn't work well, produces too much veiling haze.   
 
Coma.  None.
 
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off when the aperture is fully open at either end of the zoom.
 
Filter size is 49mm.  Other Sony lenses that use 49mm filters; NEX 16mm F/2.8, NEX 18-55 F/3.5-5.6, NEX CZ 24/1.8, 30mm F/2.8 macro, 50mm F/1.8 SAM, and 28mm F/2.8.
 
Distortion.  You'll notice minor to moderate pincushion distortion at all focal lengths, check out the cropped samples below.
 
Distortion examples directly below.
 

2012/s55210dis55.jpg
55mm, minor to moderate pincushion distortion
2012/s55210dis100.jpg
100mm, moderate pincushion distortion
2012/s55210dis210.jpg
210mm, minor to moderate pincushion distortion.

 
Distortion is minor to moderate pincushion at all focal lengths, but the signature is fairly simple and easy to fix with distortion sliders.  Select NEX cameras will automatically fix this. 
 
 
Light fall-off.
 

           55mm F/4.5

             55mm F/5.6

2012/s55210vig55f45.jpg
2012/s55210vig55f56.jpg

           210mm F/6.3

             210mm F/8

2012/s55210vig210f63.jpg
2012/s55210vig210f80.jpg

 

Light fall-off is a little strong at all focal lengths when the aperture is fully open, but this isn't very noticeable in real pictures.  Some NEX cameras will automatically remove the dark corners; it's called 'shading' in the settings menu under lens comps.

 

 

Aperture/focal length guide.

 

Maximum aperture

       F/4.5

       F/5

       F/5.6

       F/6.3

Range

55-67mm

68-89mm

90-155mm

155-210mm

 
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.
  
 
Bokeh crops next.
 

           55mm F/4.5

             55mm F/5.6

2012/s55210bokf4555.jpg
2012/s55210bokf5655.jpg

           210mm F/6.3

             210mm F/8

2012/s55210bokf63210.jpg
2012/s55210bokf80210.jpg

 

Bokeh is 'busy' at the short end at all apertures, but smooths out when stopped down a little at the long end.  Crops are from the center of the image, about 20' to 30' (6m-10m) behind the focus point.

 

 
Flare and ghosting.
 

           55mm F/8  sun just out of shot

             210mm F/8 sun in shot

2012/s55210gst552.jpg
2012/s55210gst210.jpg

 

Flare can be severe when the sun is near the image, and it doesn't have to be inside the frame to mess things up.  The included hood will generally eliminate this problem.  I see green ghosts when the sun or strong reflections are in the picture, the hood will not help here.

 

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

Check out the 100% cropped portion of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the NEX-7 24mp camera, so don't compare it to others that were taken with 12-16mp cameras.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a long 31.5" (800mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
This lens has decent reproduction size of 0.225x, (1:4.4) and it produced a pretty sharp close focus shot at F/8.  Contrast is good, but not great.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
 

2012/s55210mac999.jpg
As close as you can get. F/8. click for larger image

 

 

Now for the conclusion.

 

The Sony NEX 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3 OSS lens is relatively inexpensive, and provides image stabilization, super quiet focusing, and a useful zoom range.  Considering the price point of this lens, the optical performance is generally strong throughout the focal range, especially at the long end, which is probably where most people will be using it if they have the standard kit zoom available too.

 

Pluses for the Sony NEX 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3; low distortion, optical SteadyShot works well, fairly quick and accurate focusing, very low color fringing, and sharpness is optimized at F/5.6-8, so you don't need to stop down hard to get sharp results.  Also, as mentioned above, optical performance is very good over the entire frame at longer focal lengths, that's somewhat unusual in a less-expensive kit-type lens.

 

Negatives; no real negatives other than the flare issue mentioned above, but; the lens seems fairly large on a small NEX camera, and the whole purpose of the mirrorless NEX system is small size right? 

 

If you have a travel zoom, like the Tamron NEX 18-200mm or the Sony NEX 18-200mm, and find yourself using it mostly at the long end, the Sony 55-210mm would be a much better choice if sharpness is your major concern.

 

 

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

 

55mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/4.5

2012/s55210ctr55f45.jpg
2012/s55210mid55f45.jpg
2012/s55210corn55f45.jpg

F/5.6

2012/s55210ctr55f56.jpg
2012/s55210mid55f56.jpg
2012/s55210corn55f56.jpg

F/8

2012/s55210ctr55f80.jpg
2012/s55210mid55f80.jpg
2012/s55210corn55f80.jpg

F/11

2012/s55210ctr55f11.jpg
2012/s55210mid55f11.jpg
2012/s55210corn55f11.jpg

 

100mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/5.6

2012/s55210ctr100f56.jpg
2012/s55210mid100f56.jpg

2012/s55210corn100f56.jpg

F/8

2012/s55210ctr100f80.jpg
2012/s55210mid100f80.jpg
2012/s55210corn100f80.jpg

F/11

2012/s55210ctr100f11.jpg
2012/s55210mid100f11.jpg
2012/s55210corn100f11.jpg

 

210mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/6.3

2012/s55210ctr210f63.jpg
2012/s55210mid210f63.jpg
2012/s55210corn210f63.jpg

F/8

2012/s55210ctr210f80.jpg
2012/s55210mid210f80.jpg
2012/s55210corn210f80.jpg

F/11

2012/s55210ctr210f11.jpg
2012/s55210mid210f11.jpg
2012/s55210corn210f11.jpg

 

At the short end, the centers and mid-sections are sharp at all apertures, although the corners remain a little soft even stopped down.  Moving to 100mm, I see basically the same thing, mid-sections good, corners a little soft.  At the long end, I see a pretty sharp frame all the way from the center to the extreme corners, that's pretty good performance for this type of lens.  Maximum sharpness seems to be F/5.6 at the short end, and F/8 at the long end; F/11 is good at all focal lengths, but slightly soft when compared to F/8.

 

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 NEX 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3 OSS.

 

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