I received my Nikon D850 24 hours ago and can comfortably state that this is the best all-around camera Nikon has ever produced. It excelled at every single situation I threw at it. Nikon makes other cameras that specialize at specific aspects like frame rate (D5/D500), high ISO performance (D5). But nothing combines all the features (resolution, dynamic range, high ISO performance, frame rate, autofocus, buffer depth, ergonomics, image quality) like the D850.
During the last 24 hours, I’ve put it through a pretty good representative sample of outdoor photography situations including:
– Macro (focus stacking)
– High dynamic range panoramas
– Black and white conversions
– Architecture at sunset
– Night football at ISO 25,600
– Cross country meet
Here are photos with captions to show some background information and exposure details.
Here’s all you need to know about the new Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 DI VC G2 lens: It is an excellent lens for a very attractive price.
Seriously, I have never used a Tamron lens this good in my entire career. I’ve owned three Tamrons over the years and have always been disappointed with something about them. My previous Tamron lenses suffered from low image quality, build quality, feel, function, flare, chromatic aberration, color fidelity, or a mix of each. This new 70-200mm G2 lens from Tamron is truly excellent, and that’s coming from a long-time Nikon die-hard.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz about this lens in the photo media, so I felt I had to try it out myself. I purchased my own copy from Adorama.com and have been using it for the last two weeks at school track meets and in my hometown of Gig Harbor, Washington.
The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 is available in Nikon and Canon mounts. For this review, I tested a Nikon mount version and used it predominately on my Nikon D500. It is a full-frame lens and works seamlessly with full-frame and cropped-frame cameras. My Nikon version is fully compatible with cameras like the D5, D750, D810, D7500, D7200, D610, D5600 and so on.
One of the biggest things going for this lens is its relatively low price. At $1,299 it is less than half the cost of the $2,800 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. For this price differential, you can buy the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 and the new Nikon 200-500mm lens ($1,400) while still having enough money left over for $100 of Starbuck’s lattes. That’s at least a week of coffee for us Washingtonians!
On my Nikon D500, the autofocus performance of the Tamron is truly superb. It is snappy and accurate and among the best-performing autofocus lenses I own. The silent wave motor is truly silent and effortlessly tracks moving subjects, no matter how fast they are moving.
I took the lens to two track meets and shot over 3,500 photos of athletes in motion. Of those images, I estimate only about 150 to 200 shots to be unusable. Half of the unusable shots were my fault for mistakenly twisting the focus ring rather than the zoom ring while shooting.
This AF “hit” performance is a big improvement over all previous Tamron lenses I’ve used and matches up with any of my pro Nikon f/2.8 lenses. Really, I was very impressed.
I just finished writing my new book; Nikon Autofocus System 2nd Edition and I wish I had this lens during the writing process. I definitely would have given Tamron a shout out in my lens section of the book as a high performing 3rd party lens.
Vibration Compensation (Image Stabilization) Performance
The VC (vibration compensation) mechanism on this lens is excellent. I’ve found that mode 3 works the best for my hand-held sports and action work, as it is designed to be the most aggressive.
There are three vibration compensation modes:
Mode 1 – This is a basic mode that tries to strike a balance between finder-image stability and vibration compensation performance. This mode isn’t as aggressive as Mode 3, but is a good all-around VC mode for when you want to “see” the VC effect through the viewfinder.
Mode 2 – Panning mode. Use when panning left or right with moving subjects.
Mode 3 – Prioritizes vibration compensation performance, compensating only at the moment the shutter is released. This is the most aggressive setting and Tamron claims it compensates up to 5 stops. I haven’t fully tested it to see if their claims are true, but I have found this mode to be “best” during my testing. When I have more time, I’ll try to hand-hold some 200mm shots at 1/15 second or 1/8 second shutter speeds to see if it is truly possible.
Minimum Focus Distance
The lens focuses down to 3.1 feet (0.95 meter), so at 200mm, it has a 1:6 reproduction ratio. This is definitely sufficient, but doesn’t focus as close as the Nikon (1:4.8) or Canon (1:5) models. If I were using this lens to do macro work, then I’ll add an extension tube to improve its close-focusing capability.
Handling and Ergonomics
Handling is very good and the lens feels solid. The zoom ring is at the front of the lens, so depending on what previous lens you were using, you’ll have to get used to holding the lens at the front of the barrel.
My first two days using the lens was a bit frustrating because I would rotate the focus ring by habit, thinking I was rotating the zoom ring. Not a big deal, but some of you Nikon and Canon shooters will have to spend time learning new muscle memory.
Tripod Foot & Lens Collar
A very nice touch is the tripod foot on the lens collar. It is designed with the Arca Swiss plate architecture built in. That means if you are using a RRS or Kirk or Arca Swiss quick release system, you won’t need to purchase an additional plate.
The lens collar is solid and stable. It is designed so you can quickly and easily remove it from the lens barrel for more comfortable hand-holding.
What Needs Improvement?
Lens barrel switches
I regularly and inadvertently toggle the lens barrel switches on/off while taking the lens in and out of my camera bag. There are four lens barrel switches:
– VC (image stabilization) mode: 1 – 2 – 3.
– VC on/off
– Focus distance limit: Full or infinity to 3m
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had all four switches turn on or off as I brought the camera out of the bag to take shots. Sometimes it is the AF/MF switch, which turns off autofocus. Just yesterday I accidently turned off the focus distance limit switch. I was shooting a close up of a crab on the beach and couldn’t figure out why the lens wouldn’t focus closer than about 10 feet. I pulled the camera away from my eye, and quickly diagnosed the problem … SWITCH!!!
The switches on Nikon lenses are much lower-profile and therefore don’t get inadvertently moved while using the lens in the real world.
The lens caps work “fine”, but they are a bit clunky. The front cap works better than the rear. My problem with the rear cap is that it doesn’t mount/dismount as easily or quickly as the Nikon OEM caps.
The Tamron rear lens cap works with my Nikon lenses, but it doesn’t easily snap into place like I’m used to with the Nikon cap. The solution is easy though; I’ve decided to use only Nikon lens caps! I have enough of them, so I’ll be using the Nikon caps from now on.
Overall, I give this lens two big thumbs up. I have decided to keep the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 in my camera bag as my primary pro 70-200 lens. I’ll work around the minor issues I detailed above because the cost of the lens is so much lower than the cost of the Nikon. Auto focus performance is among the best I’ve seen and the resulting images are top notch.
Tamron has come a long way and if this lens is any indication of their commitment to excellence, I’d say Nikon and Canon better keep upping their game!
Additional Sample Photographs
In celebration of our new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, I have another photography tip for sports and wildlife photographers.
If you have ever photographed your children playing sports, then you’ve no doubt come across the scenario where another player on the field gets in the way of your shot. Typically, what happens is that you are tracking focus on your daughter when another player crosses between you and your daughter. This of course causes the camera’s autofocus to jump to the other kid, resulting in a missed shot.
Nikon and Canon have a solution for this in the menu systems on most of their higher-end cameras. The Nikon menu item is called Focus Tracking with Lock-on and can be found in custom settings menu a3 or a4. The Canon menu item is called AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity and can be found in menu AF 1 on cameras like the EOS-1D X and 5D Mark III/5Dr.
The purpose of these menus is to help the camera better track focus on subjects that are moving through busy or cluttered environments. These menus let you adjust the amount of time the camera waits to refocus on a new object that passes between the main subject and your camera.
Let’s say you’re photographing a team sport, and your intention is to photograph a specific player such as your daughter. The first step is to set your focus servo to AF-C (Nikon) or AI servo (Canon) so you can track movement.
Now, suppose your daughter is running on the field and you’re doing your best to track her as she moves. At some point during the game, another player is bound to run between your camera and your daughter. This presents a dilemma for your camera’s AF system. Should it immediately jump to the new player, or should it let that player pass while maintaining focus on your daughter?
In this example since you’re trying to photograph your daughter, you want the camera to let the other player pass by while maintaining your intended focus distance on your daughter. To accomplish this, set the menu item to a long delay, which allows temporary objects to pass by, thereby keeping focus on the original subject.
With the long setting, the autofocus system waits approximately 1.5 seconds. In other words, if the interfering player stands between you and your daughter for less than 1.5 seconds, the autofocus system will keep the focus distance on your daughter’s position. If the interfering player stands between your daughter and the camera for more than 1.5 seconds, the autofocus system will refocus on the new player.
Most higher end Nikon cameras have up to six settings for this menu item while the Canon cameras have 5 settings. In my experience, photographers either need to set menu item for a long delay (1.5 seconds) or they wanted to set for no delay. The available settings are as follows:
5 (long): About a 1.5-second delay
3 (normal): About a 1-second delay
1 (short): About a 0.5 second delay
Off: No delay; the camera refocuses instantly if another subject comes between you and the main subject
Another example of when to use this setting is when you photograph a lion on the Serengeti Plane of Tanzania. Suppose you are tracking a lion as it walks through tall grass. You’re doing your best to keep the autofocus point on the Lions eye when it saunters behind a tuft of grass. In this situation, you don’t want the autofocus system to jump to the tuft of grass; you want it to stay focused on the lion. Again, set the menu to long delay to tell the camera to ignore the grass as it passes by the autofocus system while you track the lion.
I encourage you to try these settings on your own to see what works for you.
Want to learn more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.
Nikon has just posted a new web page dedicated to D4s Tips. Their tips include:
– Basic AF Settings for Sports Photography
– Recommended Settings by Event (Winter Sports)
– Soccer Shots: Autofocus
– The AF-S NIKKOR 400 mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
– AF Fine-Tuning
– Soccer Shots: White Balance
Here’s the link: Nikon NPS D4s Tips
Also, check out our setup guide for the Nikon D4s here: Nikon D4s Setup Guide
As most of the photo world knows, the Nikon D800 and D800E cameras are best suited to landscape and nature photography. They aren’t necessarily the best cameras for sports and action because of their slower frame rate of 4 FPS. That said, I wanted to try the D800 in a few sports and action scenarios to see how well it held up under pressure.
I found that the AF tracking is very good and the camera had absolutely no problems keeping runners in focus throughout their movement. For a few years now, I’ve used Dynamic 21-pt focus for most of my Nikon cameras and continue to be happy with this setting on the D800. Below is a 19-shot sequence of a baseball player running from 2nd base through third base and on his way home (below). I shot it with a D800 and a 70-200mm f2.8 at ISO 2200. On the seventh frame, you’ll see another player running through the image, but the D800 did a great job of keeping the AF tracking on the first runner. In fact, all 19 shots are in great focus. I’m impressed.
The slower frame rate of the D800 means that you need to time your shots more carefully than a camera like the Nikon D4. The D4 shoots at 10 FPS so you can really just “spray and pray”. The D800 requires more timing and finesse to capture the shot a the peak of action. Even so, I found that shooting at 4FPS was workable for the most part. For example, I went to a local track meet and photographed kids running the hurdles and the long jump. In both situations, the resulting images were in focus. Here’s a shot sequence from the Nikon D800 of a student competing in the long jump (below).
Here’s one final shot of three girls competing in the 100 meter sprint (below). Again, the camera exhibited great focus tracking and the resulting images had very good detail. My focus point was trained on the middle runner and the camera did a perfect job of keeping her sharp, even with the clutter of people, cones, and a fence behind.
So, what’s the final verdict? The D800 autofocus system is excellent and tracks fast-moving action very well. The file size and overall resolution is excellent, so you can crop your images while still having great detail. The downside of using the D800 for sports/action is the slow frame rate. I know I missed some “peak of action” shots because of the 4 FPS limitation. You can get around this by setting the camera for a 1.2x crop factor, but even then, you only get to 5 FPS. If sports and action are your main subject, then you should be shooting something like the Nikon D4 for its blazingly fast frame rate of 10 FPS.
I’ve posted PDF versions of our famous setup guides for the Nikon D800/D800E and the Nikon D4 cameras. The guides show my personal recommendations for setting up menus, buttons and dials in four configurations: Travel/Landscape, Portrait/Wedding, Sports/Action, and Point and Shoot.
The guides are free to download and print out for your own use. If you are interested, you can order laminated copies from us for $6.50. Order instructions are on the setup guide web page.
Here are the direct links:
We also have setup guides for most of the other popular Nikon dSLR cameras including the D7000, D700, D300, D300s, D3s, D3, D3X, etc. Click this link to go to our Nikon camera setup guide page. Scroll down to the bottom for the camera setup guides.
Follow the link below to download the new Nikon D7000 Setup Guide. This PDF shows how I recommend setting up the custom settings menus, shooting menus and autofocus system for four different shooting scenarios.
We also have setup guides for many of the other popular Nikon dSLR cameras posted at this link: