A 'premium-class' update to Tamron's budget-priced 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di lens.Tamron's SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens was released in time for the company's 60th anniversary. The 'SP' label denotes 'professional' build quality, while other welcome additions include an Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) AF drive motor and Vibration Compensation (VC) stabilisation plus Full Time Manual focusing when the lens is in AF mode. . . [more]
Tamron's SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens was released in time for the company's 60th anniversary. The ‘SP' label denotes ‘professional' build quality, while other welcome additions include an Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) AF drive motor and Vibration Compensation (VC) stabilisation plus Full Time Manual focusing when the lens is in AF mode.
Interestingly, this lens was the winner in the Zoom Lens category in this year's EISA (European Imaging and Sound Association) Awards, which are decided by a panel of editors and technical editors from Europe's leading photographic and hi-fi magazines. This is the fifth consecutive year in which a Tamron lens has taken out an EISA Award.
The new lens is designed for cameras with 36 x 24mm sensors but is also usable on cameras with smaller, APS-C sized sensors. On the Nikon D3100 body we used for our tests it covers a focal length range equivalent to 105-450mm in 35mm format. When fitted to a Canon DSLR the equivalent range would be 112-480mm.
Tamron's SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens, shown in side view without the supplied lens hood. (Source: Tamron.)
The optical design consists of 17 elements in 12 groups with one XLD (Extra Low Dispersion) lens and one LD (Low Dispersion) lens. Tamron has used a new BBAR antireflection multi-coating to reduce ghosting and flare and included VC (Vibration Compensation) image stabilisation that claims to enable use of shutter speeds up to four f-stops slower than possible with an unstabilised lens.
Build quality is excellent for the price tag. Most of the barrel is made from high-quality black polycarbonate and the lens has a solid stainless steel mount plus the characteristic gold ring between the focusing and zoom rings. A generous, petal-shaped lens hood is provided, along with front and rear caps. This lens accepts 62 mm diameter filters.
Internal focusing enables angle-critical attachments to be used without requiring re-adjustment when focusing or zooming. It also maintains a consistent weight balance at all focal length settings.
The minimum focusing distance is 1.5 metres across the entire zoom range. This provides a maximum magnification of 1:4 with the 300mm setting, which is adequate for shooting close-ups of flowers and similar-sized objects. The long working distance makes this lens suitable for photographing moving subjects, such as insects, arachnids and small reptiles or mammals.
The review lens was a tad heavy for the Nikon D3100 body we used for our tests. However, this didn't make it difficult to use and, aside from a slight front heaviness, the overall balance of camera plus lens was relatively comfortable. Overall, we feel it would be better matched to a slightly heavier camera body.
Attaching the lens to the camera body was straightforward and the solid metal mounting plate fitted very snugly. The petal-shaped lens hood, which is almost 95 mm long, attaches to the front of the lens via a bayonet fitting. It was straightforward to fit and remove and reverses neatly over the lens barrel when the lens isn't being used.
At the 70mm position, the lens protrudes 150 mm from the camera body. Zooming in to the 300mm position extends the inner barrel by 50 mm, making the lens approximately 200 mm long at full zoom extension.
The zoom ring is 60 mm wide and located towards the front of the lens barrel. It carries a 42 mm wide ridged, rubber band that is comfortable and secure to grip. Five focal length markings (70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm and 300mm) are stamped in white on its trailing edge. No zoom lock is provided - and none appears necessary as we found no slippage when the lens was carried pointing downwards.
The focusing ring is an 18 mm wide band located immediately behind the characteristic gold ring that lies between the focusing and zoom rings. It carries a more thickly ridges rubber coating. A distance scale is recessed into the lens barrel behind the focusing ring with five markings in metres and feet, ranging from 1.5 metres to infinity.
Two slider switches are located on the main barrel close to the camera body. The upper slider allows users to switch between auto and manual focusing, while the lower switches the VC stabilisation on and off. All focusing movements are internal - and, thanks to the USD, fast and very quiet.
The AF system on the review lens was very responsive and consistently accurate provided light levels were reasonably high. Not unexpectedly, the D3100's limitations in low light levels caused focusing speeds and accuracy to decline noticeably (although not quite as much as with the 18-55mm kit lens, which is slightly faster).
The stabilisation system appeared to be very effective, enabling us to hand-hold the lens at 120mm focal length and use a shutter speed as slow as 1/10 second with more than 60% of shots acceptably sharp. It was also almost silent in operation.
Because we lack sufficient space in our test set-up to cover the entire focal length range of this lens, we were only able to run Imatest testing on the 70mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm settings. These tests showed the review lens to be an above-average performer, particularly when stopped down to between f/5 and f/7.1.
Best performance was with the 100mm focal length setting. Diffraction began to reduce resolution from about f/11 on with most focal length settings. The graph below plots resolution performance based on JPEG test shots taken with the lens on the Nikon D3100 body.
Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between negligible and low throughout the focal length range, as shown in the graph below. (The red line marks the border between negligible and low CA.) No coloured fringing was detected in test shots.
Rectilinear distortion was very well controlled and neither barrel distortion nor pincushioning was sufficient to affect the reproduction of vertical or horizontal lines in test shots. Vignetting was barely detectable at wide apertures across the focal length range of the review lens.
Although backlit subjects were mostly handled well, veiling flare was quite obvious in some test shots taken with the 300mm focal length when the sun was low in the sky. However, at the 70mm focal length setting flare was negligible, even when the sun was just out of the frame.
Bokeh wasn't quite as smooth as we'd like and we found some instances of outlining with backlit subjects, particularly with the 300mm focal length setting. Outlining was negligible when subjects were lit from the front but detailed backgrounds were quite chunky-looking in shots taken with the widest apertures.
Buy this lens if:
- You want a general-purpose, medium-zoom lens for a non-entry-level DSLR.
- You want high resolution at all focal lengths, along with reasonably good flatness of field.
- You'd like effective built-in image stabilisation.
- You'd like a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit polarisers and graduated filters.
Don't buy this lens if:
- You need true macro capabilities.
- You want a lens for a lighter camera body.
Vignetting at 70mm; f/4, ISO 100, 1/1250 second.
Vignetting at 300mm; f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/320 second.
70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/11.
70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/11.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/11.
Stabilisation test; both shots taken at ISO 100 with 120mm focal length, aperture of f/10 and 1/10 second shutter speed. The shot on the right has the VC stabiliser switched on.
Contre-jour lighting with the 70mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/8.
Veiling flare with the 300mm focal length, photographed from the same position as the shot above; ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
125mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/5.6.
Crop from a 100% enlargement of the above image showing the absence of visible coloured fringing.
Close-up with the 300mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
473: Backlit close-up with the 300mm focal length showing outlining; ISO 400, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
390: Bokeh with front-lit subject; 300mm focal length, 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 200.
385: 300mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/14.
Picture angle: 34 degrees 21 minutes to 8 degrees 15 minutes
Minimum aperture: f/32 to f/45
Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups (includes one XLD element and one LD element)
Lens mounts: Nikon (as tested); Canon and Sony mounts will be available
Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
Focus drive: USD (ultrasonic motor)
Stabilisation: Vibration Compensation (VC)
Minimum focus: 1.5 metres
Maximum magnification: 1:4 (at f = 300mm: MFD 1.5m)
Filter size: 62 mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 81.5 x 142.7 mm
Weight: 765 grams
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