Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD (A009) Lens


    Photo Review 8.8
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    Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD (A009) Lens

      In summary

      Buy this lens:

       - As a fast zoom lens for subjects that require longer focal lengths.
       - If you want high resolution for much of the aperture range at all focal lengths.
       - For fast and quiet autofocusing and smooth zooming which recording movies.
       
      Don’t buy this lens:
       - As a copying lens. 
       - For macro shots in low light levels.
       - If you can't handle the almost 1.5 kg weight.

      Full review

      Tamron has updated its popular 70-200mm zoom lens with the addition of VC (Vibration Compensation) image stabilisation and an USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) autofocusing mechanism. The new lens has been released first with a Canon mount (which we review here), but Nikon and Sony mounts will follow, the latter without VC as Sony DSLR bodies have built-in image stabilisation.

       

      The new Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, shown without its lens hood but with the detachable tripod collar. (Source: Tamron.)

      The previous lens, which was released in 2008, was well enough built but it lacked stabilisation and relied on a conventional micro-motor for autofocusing. It also had a rather clunky focus-clutch system. Both have been replaced in the new lens by a new ultrasonic drive, which is faster and quieter.

      Like its predecessor, the new lens can be used with both full frame and APS-C cameras.  Tamron claims it is the smallest in its class. It has similar moisture-resistant construction to the 90mm macro lens, which we have just reviewed (INSERT LINK) and has a circular aperture diaphragm for attractive bokeh.

      The table below compares key features of the old and new lenses.

       

      SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD  (Model A009)

      SP AF70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD [IF] MACRO (Model A001)

      Launch date

      November 2012

      April 2008

      Lens construction

      23 elements in 17 groups (incl. 4 LD and 1 XLD elements)

      18 elements in 13 groups (incl. 3 LD elements)

      Diaphragm blades

      9 (rounded aperture)

      9

      Stabilisation

      Yes

      No

      Closest focus

      1.3 metres

      95 cm (across the zoom range)

      Max. Magnification ratio

      1:8 (at 200mm)

      1:3.1 (at 200mm)

      Minimum aperture

      f/32

      Filter size

      77 mm

      Focus drive

       

      Micro-motor

      Max. diameter

      85.8 mm

      89.5 mm

      Overall length

      196.7 mm

      194.3 mm

      Weight

      1283 grams (without tripod mount)

      1150 grams (without tripod collar)

      Compatible mounts

      Canon, Nikon, Sony

      Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony

      Design, Build and Ergonomics
      Superficially, the new lens looks a lot like its predecessor, right down to the removable tripod mount. But its optical design is more complex, involving  23 elements in 17 groups. It has almost double the number of exotic glass elements, with one special XLD (Extra Low Dispersion) and four LD (Low Dispersion) elements to correct common aberrations and deliver high contrast and high resolution throughout the zoom range.

      Multi-layer coatings have been applied to minimise flare and ghosting and produce images with excellent contrast and rich colours.  Nine diaphragm blades close to a circular aperture, which retains its shape up to  two stops down from its fully open state.  

      There's no escaping the fact that this is a large and relatively heavy lens. Although it's slimmer than its predecessor, it's also slightly longer and more than 100 grams heavier, which makes it a better match for a larger 'full frame' camera body, such as the EOS 5D Mark II we used for our tests. (It was out of balance on the smaller EOS 1100D body.)

      Build quality is up to Tamron's high standard for its SP lenses. Most of the barrel is made from high-quality rigid black polycarbonate plastic, with a rigid, chromed mounting plate that fits firmly to the camera body. There is absolutely no slack in either the lens mount or the moving components and both rings move positively and smoothly.

      The front element is approximately 70 mm in diameter and locate immediately behind the filter thread at the front of the lens barrel. Just behind it is the bayonet mounting for the petal-shaped lens hood, which adds about 90 mm to the overall length of the lens. The characteristic gold band bearing the lens  name is located 16 mm back from the hood mount.

      Behind it is the zoom ring, which is 42 mm wide and mostly covered by a deeply-ridged rubber grip band. Focal length indicators for 70mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm positions are stamped on the trailing edge of the zoom ring and line up against a white line on the main lens barrel. Click stops are provided at each end of the zoom range, which is covered by rotating the zoom ring through roughly 30 degrees.

      The focusing ring lies immediately aft of this mark. It's approximately 15 mm wide and has a 13 mm wide, deeply-ridged rubber grip band. Just behind it and inset into the lens barrel is a distance scale with markings in feet and metres, which moves in concert with the focusing ring.

      Two sliders are situated on the left hand side of the lens barrel just behind the distance scale. The top one is the AF/MF switch, while the lower one switches the VC stabilisation on and off. The lens supports full-time manual focus over-ride, which means users can fine tune focus without having to switch out of AF mode.

      The barrel narrows slightly behind the adjustment sliders, with an indented strip to house the removable tripod collar. The collar itself has a large, knurled knob for tightening and releasing its grip. It's used when the camera's orientation is changed between horizontal and vertical.

      Both focusing and zoom are carried out by moving internal elements, so the lens doesn't extend and the 77mm filter ring doesn't rotate with either action. The minimum focusing distance of 1.3 metres is greater than the 95 cm distance provided by the previous lens, but not untypical of fast tele zoom lenses.

      The lens is supplied with front and end caps plus a large lens hood, that is made from similar plastic to the lens barrel. No carrying pouch was included in the box we received.

      Performance
       Autofocusing was fast and generally accurate for subjects more than about two metres from the camera, However, with closer subjects we encountered a number of occasions when the lens hunted briefly while finding focus.

      Hunting was most likely to occur in subdued lighting as well as with strongly backlit subjects. This is disappointing as the closest focus for the new lens is 35 cm further from the subject than the older lens provides, but about 10 cm closer than the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 APO EX DG OS lens we reviewed in December 2010 (which has similar specifications).  

      This lens can't be used as a copying lens because edge softening  becomes quite visible in images taken within two metres of the camera, particularly at longer focal lengths.  However, its bokeh was generally attractive and it will work well as a movie lens, thanks to the very quiet focusing motor and smooth and controllable zooming capabilities.

      As we found with the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 APO EX DG OS lens, resolution at the widest apertures was a little disappointing and edge softening was revealed by our Imatest testing across the aperture and focal length ranges. Like the Sigma lens, it wasn't severe enough to affect most test shots and enhanced the bokeh in some close-ups.

      Imatest revealed a distinct resolution 'sweet spot' between about f/4 and f/7.1. Best performance was at f/5.6 with the 70mm focal length, where the resolution of the lens came very close to meeting expectations for the camera's sensor. Diffraction reduced resolution from around f/8, producing a steep loss of resolution between f/11 and f/22. The graph below shows the result of our tests conducted with the lens on the EOS 5D Mark II body.

       Lateral chromatic aberration remained in the 'low' band for all focal length and aperture settings. In the graph below showing the results of our tests, the red line marks the boundary between ‘negligible' and ‘low' CA, while the green line separates 'low' and 'moderate CA.
       
       

       Rectilinear distortion was barely detectable across the zoom range and easily corrected in camera or with editing software. For most photographers, this problem wouldn't be an issue with subjects for which this lens would typically be used.

      When photographs were taken with the camera's peripheral illumination correction function disabled, vignetting was obvious at f/2.8 for all focal lengths, particularly when the lens was used on the EOS 5D Mark II body. It had been largely resolved by f/4 and stopping down to f/5.6 produces even illumination across the field of view at all focal lengths.

      Very little vignetting was visible in shots taken with the lens on the EOS 1100D body because the smaller sensor uses less of the imaging circle, eliminating the darkened edges. In-camera corrections for both distortion and vignetting are available in most DSLRs and both aberrations are easily corrected in editing software, including some raw file converters.  Consequently, neither can be considered a major issue for owners of recent DSLR cameras.

      The generous lens hood made it difficult to force this lens to flare unless the sun was in the image frame. All the backlit shots we took were much less flare-affected than we anticipated.

      The image stabiliser enabled us to shoot hand-held with the 200mm focal length at shutter speeds down to 1/30 second and obtain more than 70% of sharp pictures for non-moving subjects. shutter speeds as slow as 1/10 seconds could be used with the 70mm focal length.

      Conclusion
       With the SP AF70-200mm Di LD (IF) MACRO (Model A001) selling for just over $1000 in Australia and the average selling price of the new lens around $1500, you might wonder whether the advantages of the VC stabilisation and USM focusing motor are worth paying extra for, particularly when the older lens supports closer focusing (and a higher magnification ratio). The answer depends on the types of subjects you photograph and, particularly, whether you shoot movies (where stabilisation and quiet shooting can make huge differences.

      Tamron's pricing is similar to Sigma's for a lens with similar specifications and both lenses are significantly cheaper than similar lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sony. The RRP may come as a shock to potential buyers who expect third-party lenses to be substantially cheaper than lenses from camera manufacturers. But we feel it is fair, given the build quality and overall performance of this lens.
       
      Buy this lens:
       - As a fast zoom lens for subjects that require longer focal lengths.
       - If you want high resolution for much of the aperture range at all focal lengths.
       - For fast and quiet autofocusing and smooth zooming which recording movies.
       
      Don’t buy this lens:
       - As a copying lens.
       - For macro shots in low light levels.
       - If you can't handle the almost 1.5 kg weight.
       

      SPECS

       Picture angle: 34 degrees 21 minutes to 12 degrees 21 minutes with 'full frame' DSLRs; 22 degrees, 33 minutes to seven degrees 59 minutes with APS-C DSLRs
       Minimum aperture: f/32
       Lens construction: 23 elements in 17 groups (includes one XDL and four LD elements)
       Lens mounts: Canon, Nikon, Sony
       Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded aperture)
       Focus drive: Ultrasonic motor
       Stabilisation: VC stabilisation; up to four f-stops compensation
       Minimum focus: 1.3 metres
       Maximum magnification: 1:8 at 200mm position
       Filter size:  77 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): 85.8 x 188.3 mm
       Weight: 1470 grams (with detachable tripod mount)

      RRP: AU$1699; US$1499
       Distributor: Maxwell International Australia; 1300 882 517; www.maxwell.com.au

       

      TESTS

       Based on JPEG files taken with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

       

       

      SAMPLES

      The image samples below were taken with the lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II body.
       
       

      Vignetting at f/2.8 at 70mm focal length.
       
       

      Vignetting at f/2.8 at 200mm focal length.
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 70mm.
       
       

      Rectilinear distortion at 200mm.
       
       

      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.
       
       

      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/8.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.6.
       
       

      Bokeh at 200mm with 200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/2.8.
       
       

      The same subject photographed with f/11 aperture; 200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second.
       
       

      Stabilisation test; 70mm focal length, ISO 3200, 1/10 second at f/3.5.
       
       

      Stabilisation test; 200mm focal length, ISO 3200, 1/30 second at f/4.
       
       

      177mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/8.
       
       

      Strong backlighting at 74mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/6.3.
       
       

      Strong backlighting at 200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/4.5.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/4.5.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
       
       

      150mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/8.
       
       The image samples below were taken with the lens on a Canon EOS 1100D body.
       
       

      70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/7.1.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.
       
       

      200mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
       

      Rating

      RRP AU$1699; US$1499

      • Build: 8.8
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • Versatility: 8.0

       

      BUY

        No