I get lots of email and comments from readers asking about what lens to buy—how to parse through all of the confusing hype around this fundamental issue. Many readers are on a budget and ask whether they really must buy the ‘name brand’ glass, or will an after-market lens work?
With that in mind, my friends over at Bennett’s Camera in New Orleans let me check out the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 lens for a few days of shooting and evaluation. This article is the result. The lens is available in lens mounts for Canon, Nikon Pentax and Sony. Since I’m a Canon shooter, I decided to put the lens through its paces and also do a bit of comparison against my trusty Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens.
As with all of my equipment reviews, this won’t be a ‘scientific’ evaluation, but rather an ‘out in the field’ test and impression from someone who shoots for a living. I’ll let you know what I really think of this piece of glass and whether you should consider it when making a purchase for this type of zoom.
First, the lens is a big, heavy piece of glass—it’s almost as heavy as my Canon version. The lens bayoneted onto my Canon EOS Mark IV smoothly. It also takes the same 77mm filters that the Canon uses. A nice feature is the bayonet lens hood that comes with the lens. (This is something you’d have to buy anyway if it wasn’t.) A soft case is also included, although I suspect if you have a decent camera bag you won’t be using this item.
OUT IN THE FIELD
The zoom function on the barrel feels smooth, no bumps or catches as I rack it from 70mm to 200mm. One thing that’s definitely superior is the close-focus capability on this Tamron lens—3.12 ft. compared to 4.6 ft. on the Canon.
The switch to manual focus is also easy: simply pull the front focusing barrel back towards the camera and you’re in manual focus mode.
THE AUTOFOCUS ISSUE
Let’s cut right to the chase: the BIG difference between this lens, priced at about $750, and the Canon version, costing $1450, is in the autofocus: there’s simply no comparison. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of autofocusing a modern professional telephoto lens like my Canon 70-200, you’ve experienced the almost-instantaneous and silent operation of its autofocus motors: you point your camera at something, hit the autofocus and zip!—it’s there. You hear almost nothing as the lens racks into perfect focus. They accomplish this with something they call an ‘Ultrasonic Motor’ technology—all of the zooming and focusing happens internally, and very, very quickly and quietly.
The Tamron reminds me of an older-generation focusing method: even though it is an internal-focusing lens, you can literally hear the elements cranking and grinding into focus. It’s not terribly slow, it’s simply that if you’ve experienced the other lens, this will seem interminable. 10 years ago, all autofocus lenses sounded and worked this way. But it’s no longer an up-to-date focusing solution. If you plan on using your camera/lens for sports, wildlife photography or anything else that requires lightning-fast autofocus, you’ll need to think long and hard before deciding to go the Tamron route.
That said, if you are a wedding or portrait or landscape shooter or just about anyone who isn’t planning on using the lens for a lot of action-based shooting, then this may work just fine for you.
So it’s really a question of your priorities and plans. You pay big bucks for the latest focusing solutions in the current generation of Canon or Nikon professional 70-200mm lenses. If that’s not part of what you need for your photography, this lens represents an excellent value.
One other quick note: I found that the Tamron would not couple with my Canon 1.4x teleconverter. The Canon allows this hookup, which effectively turns the 70-200 into a 98-280mm lens (you lose 1 stop of light when you do this). For whatever reason, the connection between the Tamron and the extender does not work. I didn’t get to check this issue out on any of the other camera mounts that Tamron makes for this lens, so be careful and check this if it’s important to you.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog