Lens Review: Sony 400 f2.8 Versus Sony 600 f4

This is a blog I have been meaning to write for some time now, directly comparing the Sony 400 f2.8 to the Sony 600 f4. This is not a quality comparison as both lenses are class-leading. It is however a comparison that will make a difficult decision much easier.

The question I will be answering is simple. Which one of the two lenses is the best for you and your requirements? More on that below.

DISCLAIMER: Although I feature two Sony telephoto lenses here, this comparison will be incredibly helpful to anyone looking for direction on which telephoto lens in this focal group is best for them, regardless of the brand.


We are fortunate as wildlife photographers to enjoy a vast array of lenses to get us the images we most want. Each brand supports its customers with fantastic options that with each new version become lighter, faster, and more effective.

There are however a few lenses today that jump to mind that just stand out head & shoulders above the rest for their optical precision, performance under trying circumstances, and ability to deal with any conditions thrown at it.

In wildlife photography and in my opinion, these two focal lengths are the 400mm f2.8, and the 600mm f4.

Please keep in mind, that this is not a debate and I am not saying these two lenses are the best for wildlife photography. There are high-quality zoom lenses that perform exceptionally well & will get the job done. Traditionally however there are few lenses that have really stood the test of time and are still being manufactured for new mirrorless camera bodies. These two focal lengths, the 400mm and the 600mm, will have you covered for many different eventualities and seem to always be the go-to lenses for professionals in both sport & wildlife.

Below I will talk through all the considerations you should keep in mind when looking for the best fixed-telephoto lens to accompany you on your next adventure. I’ll also talk about the potential shortfalls of each, and challenges that may arise in various situations and different locations.

Direct Comparison

A quick glance at the chart above will give you a good idea of some key differences between the two Sony lenses in question. What is remarkable is that there is a very small difference in the weight of the two lenses. Only 145 grams separate the 400mm from the 600mm. That is incredible considering the 600mm lens is 90mm longer.

A big practical difference is the minimum focal distance. The 400mm can get you 1.8 meters closer to your subject of choice. It has a minimal focal distance of 2.7 meters, versus the 4.5 meters of the 600 f4. This might not seem like something to consider at first but often times you’ll find yourself in a bird hide in close proximity to your feathered friends, or on the back of a game viewer with a leopard right next to the vehicle. You’ll soon discover just how far away 4.7 meters can be. Is it a deal-breaker? No! You will discover why when we read further below.

The 600 f4 is also a little longer than the 400 f2,8. It comes in a 9cm longer, to be precise. It makes handling the lens a little more challenging, especially in confined spaces. You do however quickly grow used to it and fortunately, the lens is incredibly well balanced and almost feels lighter in hand compared to the more compact 400 f2.8.

Since there’s hardly a difference in weight, it is good to consider the other factors when thinking about the lens that works best for your requirements – the Sony 400 f2.8 or the Sony 600 f4. It’s certainly not that one lens is better than the other bases on these specifications, merely good information to have on hand when making a decision and when purchasing a lens in this price range.

Comparison 1 – Focal Lenght:

Now we get to the juicy parts of the blog. Why choose one or the other, and what would their functions really be. Does 200mm of extra focal length or perhaps, the lack thereof, make such a big difference in my images and the final results? Well, we are going to dive head-first into this kind of question below as we unpack the two lenses and their various benefits, challenges, and photographic results.

First up I would like to talk about the most obvious question. Which is better for you and your needs – a focal length of 400mm, or a focal length of 600mm.

This question right here, along with the aperture range, will be the biggest question you likely have. When you buy a telephoto lens you have to give the purchase more consideration. It is not like a zoom lens that allows you the freedom and versatility to adjust. You have either 400mm, or 600mm. Nothing less, and unless using teleconverters, nothing more. We will get to teleconverters a little later.

I believe the easiest way to make this decision, is to consider where you’ll be spending most of your time as a wildlife photographer. Here are a few questions you could ask yourself when thinking about this dilemma.

  • Where will you spend most of your time? Will it be back home in your local National Parks? Will it be on the open plains of East Africa? Will it be within the stunning woodlands and bushlands of Southern Africa? I ask this because it will ultimately decide which lens will be best suited for your needs. Photography in places like the Serengeti and the Masai Mara are often in environments that are very open, grassland-type settings. You are also often bound to the roads and not allowed tp pursue wildlife once they leave the road, and therefore sometimes photograph from longer distances and at times, even reach for the teleconverters. In Southern Africa, off-roading is often allowed and the type of terrain would mean in general, you find yourself much closer to wildlife than in the grasslands further North. The same applies to parks back home or any other destinations you may visit on a regular basis. How far are you from the animals? Can you leave the road to follow them? How often would you need to reach for your teleconverters? Good questions, right? Your answer will lead you either to the versatile 400mm lens, able to allow you closer and to capture a little more environment. Or, the 600mm may be best suited for getting you closer, or for someone that often finds they need to dig out their teleconverters for more reach.
  • The subject matter is also important to consider. If you love bird photography and love getting up close, there’s little need to read any further. That said, by all means, please do, ha ha. But for you, the 600mm stands out as an obvious choice. It’s also incredibly sharp when paired with the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters, allowing you to get up close without disturbing your subject. If you are a wildlife kind of photographer, perhaps it’s worth considering the 400mm. It’s fantastic for animals and allows you to easily use teleconverters should you need a little more range.
  • Your style of photography should also be a factor. Think about it. Many photographers out there love including a little more of the surrounding habitat or environment, showing their subject within that natural beauty. The 400mm lens is great for this purpose but in my experience, the 600mm is not. You often find yourself very tight on your subject when using the 600mm, especially for large mammals. Although for many this is perfect, allowing you to capture detail and strong portraits. For others, it may be a little too much and you’d prefer a little distance. The 400mm is great for this purpose.
  • If you are after a versatile lens, a lens that almost does it all, then the 400mm would be better suited to your needs. It’s incredibly sharp, even when used with both teleconverters. It performs exceptionally well in low light. When coupled with a high-resolution camera like the Sony 600 f4 or Sony A7R4, you have the ability to crop in even closer while maintaining image quality and resolution. Don’t get me wrong, the 600mm is an incredible lens and one I use very often, but if you think it may be too much lens at times and you would rather opt for something more versatile without a loss in quality, the 400mm should be the first lens you think about.

I hope this answers your question about the focal length, and which one will work a little better for your type of photography and photographic requirements.

Now, let’s look at some images to demonstrate what I am talking about. I am fortunate to have used both of these lenses extensively and I believe I speak about the topic backed by in-the-field experience.


These images were all taken with the Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens, at a focal length of 400mm.

Here’s what you can take away from this.

  • Although the lens is capable of intimate close-ups and portraits (as you will soon see), I find that it captures stunning images of animals within their environments. You are able to get just enough distance between you & the subject without going too far out of your way.
  • At times I can include multiple subjects, a great feature and something that, at times can be challenging with the 600f4.

If it’s the versatility that you are after, then this lens, the 400 f2.8, is hard to beat. At 400mm you are still able to step back and include the scenery. Should the animal move closer to you, you are still in the game and you have that great minimum focal distance of 2.7 meters in your pocket.

Now, allow me to throw a little spanner in the works here for you.

The 600 f4 can also be used to beautifully capture animals within their environments, given the right circumstances. Yes, you will need to be a little further away from your subject, but it is possible.

  • If you choose the locations well, especially open terrain, you can separate yourself from your subject and increase the distance between. This will allow you to get great shots of the environment and subject. I will however add that you do need to give a good distance between you & your subject in order to achieve this. I find destinations like East Africa work best for these types of images.
  • A possible drawback of this is that you feel a little disconnected from your subject due to the distances.

Have a look at the gallery below for some examples of animals in their environments, all shot with the Sony 600 f4 GM lens.


So, as you can see, it remains possible to achieve some great photographs using the longer telephoto lens in the form of the 600 f4, to get wider shots of your subjects. I will however add that it is a little more challenging due to the distance you sometimes need to create. You may find yourself in a group of people and unable to keep repositioning the car to get the shots that you want, or perhaps you can’t move at all due to being bound to the road or due to a possible obstacle.

These lenses are not built to shoot wide. Let’s be honest. But, I personally love the depth-of-field impression they add to the images. It tells a great story and it looks beautiful. You can achieve the same wider shots with some of the zoom telephoto lenses, but I sometimes feel like they just don’t provide the same mood.

Alright, what about getting closer to the subjects?

One of the first challenges you’ll face as a newcomer to fixed (can’t zoom) focal lenses like the 400mm and the 600mm, is exactly that. You are unable to zoom in or out to get more of the animal in the frame, or at times, less. You learn to deal with this and I find it challenges me creatively to think out of the box, to create unique compositions that suit the frame. You learn to compose because you are forced to. What you see through your viewfinder, is what you get to work with.

It is understandable that the 400 f2.8 will allow you to get a little more of your subject in the frame. It’s got that wider focal length and it’s very handy in places that are scenically pleasing. Perhaps you want to have a wider scene instead of getting in too tight.

Below I’ll share some images that demonstrate the point. You’ll see that I often get it right, I often get most of the animal in frame along with just enough of the surrounding habitat.

All of these images were captured using the Sony 400 f2.8 GM, at a focal length of 400mm (no teleconverters). It gives you a good idea of composition and what the 400mm focal length often allows for. I love composing like this, allowing for just enough environment to shine through in order to give the viewer a sense of place.

It’s important to note here that the added benefit here is the f2.8 aperture. For these shots, it’s great to have the ability to blur out the background should you wish. Although I don’t often shoot at f2.8, when you need to you will have it on hand. This is fantastic as you can place the emphasis on the subject by “getting rid of” any distractions, and you can also keep shooting in very low light.

Now, the 600 f4 also has this ability too. Ultimately it is about where you place yourself and how far you are from your chosen subject. You have to give more thought about the location and the terrain. It will be tough to get wider photo’s in Southern Africa due to the denser vegetation, but in East Africa the 600 f4 shines beautifully. But, more often than not you will find yourself a little closer than with the 400 f2.8 and the results will likely be similar to mine below.

All of these images below were taken using the Sony 600 f4 GM lens at a focal length of 600mm, no teleconverters were involved.

The 600 f4 is incredibly capable and as you can see allows you to really capture your subject and even a little of the surrounding habitat. You need to be in the right location for it though, as I previously mentioned.

Now, we have spoken about including more of the environment, shooting a little wider, and which of these lenses are best suited for the task. You can make up your own mind to some extent, and I hope that the information I shared was of value and use to you. There’s no one lens better than the other here. It is your job to make sure that you are going to buy the lens that best fits your style of photography and the locations you most frequently visit.

Alternatively, you just buy both and choose the best one for the upcoming safari, ha ha.

Let’s look at some example images of tighter shots like portraits and detail. Both of these lenses are incredibly sharp, regardless of brand. They are precision-built to deliver exceptional results in challenging circumstances. That is something that will very quickly become clear to you the more you use your lens out in the field.

Let’s start this focal length discussion with the Sony 600 f4 GM lens. Below I will show you a few example images of images that were captured with the intent of including less surrounding content, with the focus on the subject mainly.

This right here is an area of photography on mammals in particular, where the 600 f4 truly excells. It is incredibly sharp as you will see further below, and will get you close to the action and leave you with details, intimate portraits of the highest quality and caliber. You have to be careful because your focus area is incredibly shallow. Rather shoot at apertures of f5.6 to f9 to increase the focus. If the light is lower by all means, stop down to f4 but do be aware of the focus distance. It can catch you by surprise and leave you with images that simply have too little detail.

But, for close-ups of nature, the 600 f4 and in particular the Sony 600 f4 GM lens, is just about untouchable.

Well, that is except for the 400 f2.8. You see, this lens is another incredible lens for close-up work. It is sharp, just about as sharp as a lens can be, and will leave you with close-up images rich in detail and texture.

How then do you choose between the two? Well, again, the most important consideration would be how close you can get to your subjects. The 400mm will leave you falling short if you constantly use it in East Africa where off-roading is often not allowed and you find yourself further from your subject than what you perhaps would like to be. The 600mm on the other hand, well, in Southern Africa, you might just be a little bit too close. So it boils down to what works for you & where you mostly shoot.

Let’s look at some example images taken with the Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens, images that capture the portrait qualities of our wildlife subjects.

Alright, now to the untrained eye it might be a little difficult to notice the differences between these two sets of images. Let me explain.

  • You need to be closer to the subject to get these kinds of images with the 400 f2.8. All of the images shown above taken with the Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens, were taken in Southern Africa. Here, you can get closer to your subject since you are allowed in many of the wild reserves to leave the road. You will find it tough to get this close with the 400 f2.8 in East Africa or other destinations where you can’t get closer physically.
  • You’ll notice that the 400 f2.8 at close range to the subject produces a smoother background or bokeh. Look closely and study the two sets of images again. To me, it is clear that the 600 f4 produces more detail in the background. The 400 leaves you with buttery smooth backdrops allowing your subjects to really stand out. This is not to say the 600 f4 does not produce the same effect. The 600 f4 is ideal for this when you just can’t get close enough.
  • I personally find that the 400 f.2.8 allows you a little more creative control over the aperture or depth of field. It almost produces studio-like images out in the field!

So, can you see it now? Can you spot the differences in the mood and feel of the images between these two super lenses? Again, one is not better than the other. I am fortunate enough to own both the Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens and also the Sony 600 f4 GM lens. This allows me to choose which will work best for the region I will be visiting. Should you not have this luxury it is important to give it some good thought, work out where you’ll mostly visit, and purchase accordingly.


Should you, or should you not use teleconverters in wildlife & bird photography? That is a question I get asked very often. I find that there are still many professional photographers that shy away from teleconverters. I personally do not. I find that when you couple a teleconverter, either the 1.4x or the 2x, on the new mirrorless cameras bodies with the great new lenses designed for mirrorless, you don’t encounter the same issues as in the past.

In days gone by you had all sorts of challenges. You would lose focus points with teleconverters making tracking your subjects more difficult. You would even at times lose autofocus altogether, leaving you to resort to manual focus. You also lost autofocus performance, especially when you couple your lenses with the 2x teleconverter.
A challenge on the older camera bodies and many current DSLR’s, is that noise becomes an issue. When you put a 1.4x teleconverter on a 600 f4, your lowest aperture changes from f4 to f5.6. And, if you exchange that for a 2x teleconverter your aperture shoots up to f8. In order to shoot action in low light your ISO now needs to compensate for the higher f-stop value leaving you with ISO’s that are too high for comfort. Today however the mirrorless camera bodies like the Sony A1 and the Sony A9ii are incredible in terms of ISO performance and even when taking shots at ISO 8000 and higher, there’s little to fuss about. This allows you to shoot in confidence with your teleconverters attached whenever the need arises.

Now, what would some of the images look like that were taken on teleconverters?

Let’s start with the Sony 400 f2.8 GM lens.

Below I will share a selection of images captured using the Sony 1.4x teleconverter as well as the 2x teleconverter. For what it is worth, the images are pure in terms of optical performance and quality. Perfectly sharp, beautiful colour reproduction and image quality.

Sony 400 f2.8 + 1.4x Teleconverter


Sony 400 f2.8 + 2x Teleconverter


As you can see from the results I show here, you should have no fear when using both of these teleconverters with the 400 f2.8 lens you own or are looking to buy.

I will share more tips below on getting the best results from your teleconverters but before that, let’s look at images captured using the Sony 600 f4 GM lens and teleconverters. Once again, the images shown below are of incredible quality. You would never tell that some of them were shot at 1200mm and an aperture of f8!

Sony 600 f4 GM + 1.4x Teleconverter


Sony 600 f4 GM + 2x Teleconverter


Something you will notice in these comparisons is that the shots captured with the 600 f4 either feature more birds or are often in open country similar in nature to the grassy plains of East Africa. The shots taken with the 400 f2.8 are a little different. It’s still great for birds and gets you up to 800mm f5.6, but it still remains a fantastic setup for more intimate portraits.

How to get the best results using a teleconverter:

  • Use a professional camera body like the Sony A1. This will help get rid of any possible autofocus issues and will leave you with very little (if any) loss in image quality.
  • Try to use teleconverters when you still have a good amount of light around you. The darker it gets, the more your camera will struggle when a teleconverter is attached. Remember, you lose light due to the minimum aperture of your lens increasing.
  • You will be shooting at longer focal distances and therefore you need to be aware of stability. Make sure there’s no movement and that you are holding your lens securely, either on a beanbag or on a support structure like a tripod.
  • Try to not shoot across open areas like grasslands during the hottest time of day. The more focal length you have, the worse heat haze appears in your photos. You will find it very difficult to get a sharp image when there’s a lot of heat haze and you have teleconverters in use.
  • If you struggle with sharpness, try to increase your aperture range ever so slightly. This could give you a broader focus area and perhaps a sharper final image.
  • Be careful of dust entering your inner camera when you unmount the lens to attach a teleconverter. Do so quickly to minimize dust on your sensor. New cameras like the Sony A1 have an anti-dust function that allows your shutter to stay closed when you change lenses in order to keep dust out.
  • I would not suggest using teleconverters on entry-level lenses. This would include some popular zoom lenses on the market right now. The loss in quality will be visible and you may find yourself frustrated, especially in low light conditions. Teleconverters work best on fixed focal lenses.

I hope that you now feel more confident about using teleconverters on your 400mm f2.8 or your 600mm f4. In today’s world, there’s absolutely no reason to fear them. They can get you closer to your subject and leave you with incredible images, especially of birds in action.

The Sharpness Test:

As cameras get better and better, with higher resolution and faster speeds, more and more gets asked of the lenses we use. Lenses and cameras get built alongside one another so that premium performance can be delivered to the user on the other side. With cameras like the Sony A1 firing away at 30 frames per second and over 50 million pixels of resolution, you need incredible glass to keep up with it.

The stunning thing about lenses like the 400mm f2.8 and 600mm f4, is that they are designed to deliver the very best images at their respective focal lengths. Nothing is spared or left on the table. When you trip the shutter you just know that you are going to see some amazing content coming your way.

Below I’ve compiled 3 images per lens, just to show you how incredibly sharps these lenses are and that very little if any, separates these two stunning telephoto lenses.

Have a look below.

Sony 400 f2.8 GM, taken with the Sony A1

1/320, ISO 4000, f5
400mm, 1/320, ISO 4000, f5
1/2000, ISO 1250, f5.6
560mm, 1/2000, ISO 1250, f5.6

Sony 600 f4 GM, taken with the Sony A1

600mm, 1/1600, ISO 500, f4
600mm, 1/1600, ISO 320, f4.5

Now, if this does not impress you then very little will. I am always taken aback by the image quality and sharpness these lenses can produce.

Here are some tips that can help you get sharper images with your 400mm or 600mm telephoto lenses.

  • Even though the lenses can shoot at apertures of f2.8 to f4, try stay away from that if you can. I get it, we all love the bokeh and it sure does help separate your subject from the foreground and background, but it also removes a lot of much-needed detail from your photographs. You see, your focus area becomes so narrow, at times only a few millimeters across, that you lose out on beautiful detail in the fur, eyes, nose, and more. There are times when f2.8 works beautifully, no doubt. But, if you are after sharper images give this a try. I find that I love the f5.6 to f8 aperture range on both of my lenses.
  • When using a teleconverter, give yourself some extra focus area by increasing the aperture range.
  • When an animal moves closer to you than when you started photographing it, remember to adapt your aperture accordingly. For example, a leopard walking down the road towards you. At thirty meters an aperture of f2.8 looked great but as it comes closer you want to end up at around f8 or so, just to allow for a larger field of focus.
  • To help you get better, cleaner backgrounds, always be aware of your composition. By getting lower you create incredible bokeh, and you can then afford to shoot at higher apertures to gain more detail in the image.

Although sharp images are sought after, the story within the image will always be the hero and will be why people stop and stare at your work. You can have the sharpest image in the world yet lack a strong story all together. But, with these lenses and today’s mirrorless technology, it becomes really difficult to get it wrong. They make for such a fantastic combo and you will be amazed at what your 400 f2.8 and 600 f4 can produce.


I can talk on and on about why I love both of these lenses so much. They are formidable creations in capable hands and will give you tens of thousands of “keepers”.

Why go the route of buying a lens like this?

  • The quality can’t be compared to anything else. I their respective focal ranges, they are built to be the best. Period.
  • The lenses are built to withstand professional use & abuse, to be exposed to all sorts of elements and situations. It will get wet, it’ll face heat, snow, rain and dust. It may even be dropped from time to time. These lenses are built with purpose and built strong.
  • The Sony 400 f2.8 GM & Sony 600 f4 GM lenses both of dual linear focusing motors within the lens, driven by magnets. This makes the lenses faster than any competitor when achieving focus. There’s absolutely zero “searching” for your subject, something that often happens with less expensive zoom lenses. These lenses focus fast, and they focus precisely.
  • The front lens elements are coated in order to avoid any glare or flare-ups when shooting directly into the sun.
  • The lenses produce crystal clear images, rich in contrast and detail.
  • Both of these lenses pair up extremely well with teleconverters, as demonstrated.

I am sure there are a few more reasons to invest into a lens like this, if you’ve not yet already done so.

I want to thank you for reading along with me and I truly hope that you enjoyed this comparison with me. Leave a comment below with your thoughts and I will happily respond and get back to you.

Until next, all my best.

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