* Great Price for all the professional features
* Image Quality on par with Canon L series
* Location of zoom and focus ring
I was lucky to get myself a copy of this one-shot wonder on Amazon. After I received it, I did some quick test. Since we are still under house arrest because of taking care of our newborn, I have yet to test this lens in the field to the fullest extent. The Tamron is a full frame lens and on a 1.6 cropped sensor, the focal length is converted 112-480mm. This lens is my second Tamron in my bag. My first Tamron lens was the SP 17-50mm F2.8. The 17-50mm lands a special spot in my heart not only because its stunning image quality along with a great pricing, but it's also my first professional lens and I have done tons of portfolio work with it. As of today, this lens is still my main workhorse and all the images you see here were taken with it.
What's in the box? It comes with the usual stuff that one would expect, front, rear cap, user's manual, etc. FYI, just like many third party brand, all Tamron lenses come with a lens hood. This one is no exception, it comes with large flower petal lens hood. No lens pouch included and no warranty card either. Tamron has moved from traditional mail-in warranty registration to online registration.
My initial response when I took it out of box - this is a sturdy, solid, well constructed lens inside a plastic barrel. Some may be disappointed because its plastic look and feel. But for me, I find this lens is made with quality material and the plastic finish does not bother me at all. No weather seal protection which I don't expect to see one at this price range. If you expected this lens to be light because of the plastic finish. Wrong! This lens weights 765g. How heavy is 765g? It is equivalent to 2 cans of 12oz soda. It is about the same as the Canon 70-200mm f4L IS and 130g more than its main competitor, the Canon 70-300mm IS. It is a great balance with my Canon 40D but a bit front heavy on my Rebel XT. Based on the weight, I believe Tamron's target audience for this lens is for photographers using professional or semi-professional bodies.
The barrel of the lens protruding out when changing the focal length. The front element does not rotate so this is a plus for the polarizer filter users. The rubber zoom ring is wide and handling is great. There is no zoom creep - the lens barrel does not sliding back and forth when the camera is tilted. The focusing ring is smaller than that of the zoom ring and it is less dampened than the zoom ring. A distance scale window is located near the lens mount. There are two switches on the lens, AF/MF and VC (vibration compensation). The location of the switch is on the left side near the lens mount and they can be easily accessed with your fingers without moving your hand away from the camera. Ergonomically, it meets my expectation except for the location of the zoom and focusing ring which will be discussed later.
USD and HD Video shooting
This lens is the first lens featuring Tamron's version of ultra sonic motor, USD (ultrasonic silent drive). Something worth mentioning is that Sony owns 11% of Tamron. Because of this, I was suspecting the USD is based on the same platform as Sony's SSM (Super Sonic Motor) technology. Per Tamron EU, they claimed the USD is "Tamron's very own ultrasonic auto-focus drive mechanism." Regardless who owns the technology, the focusing speed is amazing - silent and quick just like Canon's USM. How does it compare to Canon's USM? Honestly, I can't tell the differences after I did some side by side comparison.
If you are familiar with Tamron's past lens design pattern, you will notice that the focus path is reduced on the lenses with conventional focusing motor. The purpose is to increasing the focusing speed where the focusing ring only rotates 30 - 50 degrees. The increase of speed does come with a disadvantage which is that manual focusing becomes more difficult. On my Tamron 17-50mm, I don't even bother with using the manual focusing. When the focusing speed is increased by the implementation of the new USD, Tamron increases the focus path and now you can turn the focusing ring ~ 180 degree. This allows photographers to fine tune the focusing. I believe this is also a plus for shooting HD video with DSLR where photographer can smoothly switching the focus from one point of interest to another.
Now the image quality from this lens. The main competitor here is the Canon 70-300mm IS. However, by the time writing his review, I no longer have the Canon with me. So I will compare it against one of sharpest consumer zoom lenses ever made, the Canon 70-200mm F4 IS. Both images were obtained with the same setting - 70mm, F4, 0.8 sec and ISO100 on tripod with IS off. Both images were taken with a Canon 40D.
As you can see the Canon produce images with higher center sharpness and overall contrast. But the Tamron holds its ground pretty well. The IQ of from center of the image produced by the Canon is slightly better than that of the Tamron. When it comes to the corners, to my surprise, the Tamron starts to catch up with its competitor. Although the differences between the two are insignificant. The Canon is a $1200 lens, 3 times more than that of the Tamron. I will let you be the judge. see [...] for the sample images
Vibration compensation (VC)
This is the 4th Tamron lens that features the VC. Although the company just joins the market of optical image stabilization, it provides a stunning 4-stop stabilization. To activate the VC, just simply switch the VC from off to on. Unlike Canon IS, it does not have a mode 1 or mode 2 for panning. The VC has its own way to detects vertical or horizontal movement and makes proper adjustment for stabilizing images when shooting panning. Like Canon's IS, user's must turn off VC when using the lens on a tripod. Below are a few images taken with the Tamron. The slowest shutter speed I can get to with the VC is 1/30 second @ 300mm for a sharp image.
After a using this lens from a short trip to the local park. my biggest disappointment is the location of the zoom ring and focus ring. By comparing the Tamron and the Canon, you will notice that the Canon zoom ring is closer to the lens mount. Why is this important? It is important when you reverse-store your lens hood, you can still zoom the lens and leave the focus in AF, which leaves you a fully functional lens. The Tamron has a gigantic flower hood. Once I reversed it, it will cover the entire zoom ring and you can't zoom the lens at all. This means to zoom the lens, I have to either leave the hood in the forward position all the time or have it removed all the time.
Tamron 70-300mm SPii USD VC Di on Canon 40D
Lens hood blocking the zoom ring
The location of the focusing ring is at a bad location. If you look closely at the Canon L series lenses, you will notice that the focusing ring is always in front of the zoom ring. It is close to the lens mount and it makes balancing the camera difficult when manual focusing since both hands are too close to the camera and leaves the heavy front part of the lens without any support.
Friends asked me, what do I plan to do with this lens? Besides using it for travel, this will be my primary lens to replace the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS for my studio work. Because of its narrow view angle, I am able to place my light extremely close to my subject to create the dramatic lighting that I like. This lens comes with all the features that I will need for my work. The VC will reduce blur and provide more sharp photos. The USD provides a fast and silent focus to ensure a moment is well captured. The full time manual not only makes this lens the best in its class but also a powerful tools when it comes to fine-tuning focus without changing metering.
I used to use the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS for my studio work and its 1500g of weight shows little mercy on my shoulder and neck after hours of shooting. In addition, the 2.8 is way overkill for a control environment shoot where I usually work between f5.6 to f11 @ 1/250s. The Tamron has everything I need and nothing I don't. Not to mentioned the price is only $399 (with Tamron $50 rebate, ends 12/31). I can now leave the 70-200mm for shooting weddings and events.
The draw back of this lens is the location of the focusing and zoom rings. The focusing ring location is no ideal for shooting with manual focus. The zoom ring will be blocked by the lens hood when it is stored in reverse position. For this price, I am not complaining, at least not for my studio work where I rarely use lens hood. I can see this becoming a problem when using in the field where I have to remove my lens hood first in order to zoom. A few seconds wasted may lose a chance to capture something amazing.
How does this lens affect Tamron as a company? This lens is not only a milestone in the history of the company, but also a gateway to the next level of lens manufacturing. For the longest time, the company mainly focus in the consumer market due to the lack of optical image stabilization and ultrasonic focus motor. With the recent development of USD and VC, I can see these being implemented into their fast lenses like the 70-200mm and 28-75mm - the two key lenses for professional photography. A 28-75mm f2.8 with VC USD would be a nice addition to the full-frame collection, where Canon has yet stabilized their 24-70mm 2.8L. Bottom line is, great products along with competitive price and a 6-year warranty will attract many semi-professional and pros to switch or use it as their backup.