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Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS

12oz 49mm Filters

   I borrowed this lens for a few weeks thanks to Joe Riess. The short story is that after a few weeks, I didn't value it enough to buy one. Read on if you want know why.
   Compared to competitors 55-200mm lenses this offering from Sony is of course, slightly different. Its maximum aperture at the long end is f/6.3 while Nikon and Canon offer f/5.6. Third party 18-xxx zooms are normally the only place we see apertures this slow.. Considering Nikon's 50-200mm is the same exact weight, but has more elements, this loss of light is a bit disappointing.
Then again this zoom is slimmer than the others, but there is no way that it's going to fit in a pocket attached to any NEX camera body. There is a price to be paid for the exterior metal finish, which feels nice but honestly doesn't seem to be any tougher since a lot of the innards are plastic. The price of shelf appeal. Speaking of which, the shelf appeal will cost you $100 more than a similar Nikon and $150 more than Canon. 

Testing it on the water of course,  Joe Riess on the Trinity River

Sony NEX-5N, Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 @ 177mm 1/1000 f9 ISO 200

A 100% crop with no sharpening applied.

Pushing the lens to its extreme, George Williams, Trinity River.

Sony NEX-5N, Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 @ 210mm 1/1000 f/6.3 ISO 400

100% crop with no sharpening.

  The first image in broad daylight is pretty much what you'd expect for a zoom of this range stopped down one stop. It's nice and sharp to the edge of the frame. It's worth noting that to stop down just one aperture in bright daylight I had to push the ISO one stop. In the next a little cloud cover came in, forcing me shooting wide open and at ISO 400. F/5.6 is slow for a zoom, and this one is just a little bit slower. Sharpness is obviously not as good in the second image, but still holding up pretty well all the way to the corner wide open. Better than Sony's other offerings like the 16mm and 18-55mm.

Sony NEX-5N, Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 @ 147mm 1/500 f/5.6 ISO 400

   Using the Sony 55-210 on the NEX-5N I experienced some serious issues with focusing. It's very slow but works decently well in AF-S mode. Switching to continuous AF, it's useless. Instead of constantly making small adjustments, the lens will focus for a second then do a full near-far focus rack before locking focus again. This is a slow focus rack, slower than even the Sigma 18-200mm on the lowly Nikon D50. During two days of shooting I missed many shots due to this issue. Near the end of my time with the lens I updated the firmware on the NEX-5N, and the speed increased dramatically but it would still rack the focus fairly often. This is a massive problem with the NEX-5N body because there is no way to release AF from the shutter button and dedicate another solely to AF. I have briefly used the lens on a NEX-7 and didn't run into the same issue with focus racking, but it was not long enough to really test it out.

The final straw. Scott Ligare on the Upper Middle Cosumnes.

Sony NEX-5N, Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 @ 202mm 1/1000 f/6.3 ISO 1600

100% unsharpened crop.

     This much color fringing I'd expect to see on fast telephoto that was designed before computers were part of the equation.

  Build: 7/10                  -  Nice metal outer body but plastic innards.
  Handling: 6/10            -  Not a lot to talk about as far as handling, zoom operation is smooth enough but I don't like the manual focus "by the wire" feel.
  Performance: 5/10      -  Mostly sharp, with color fringing issues and slow aperture, but some AF issues.
  Value: 5/10                -   At $350 it's more expensive than the competition while offering a better build but slower aperture
  Overall: 6/10               - It can be a good performer but isn't stunning

Practicality for kayaking: 5/10   - Fix the AF issues (or perhaps use a NEX-7) and this is a decent light weight telephoto for the NEX series.

   For kayaking I get better optical performance from my sub $100 Nikon 75-150mm Series E. What the Sony 55-210mm has to offer; optical stabilization, has no merit in kayaking. The benefit of auto-focus was offset by hunting issues on the NEX-5N. This lens has a major drawback of older lenses (color fringing) without the benefit of unique character. If the focus performance I saw on the NEX-7 holds true, this lens would be much more useful for kayaking.

2014 Update

I decided to try this lens again with the fast auto-focusing Sony A6000 and find it to be a whole new lens. It's a pleasure to use, decently sharp, small and compact. The AF performance is right there with a consumer to enthusiast grade SLR.

Sony A6000, Sony 55-210 OSS @ 210mm 1/250 f/8 ISO 100

100% unsharpened crop. Really not bad when you consider how small and light this package is for a full frame 315mm equivalent.

Ian Janoska, Canyon Creek of the South Yuba.

Sony A6000, Sony 55-210 OSS @ 199mm 1/1000 f/7.1 ISO 200

100% unsharpened

In summary, on the A6000 I'd say the practicality for kayaking is 8/10. Great to use as long as there is enough light. OSS works well for non moving subjects.

Kurt Munger