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
Over the last few weeks my daughter has been watching all of the Harry Potter movies since she finally finished up all seven of the Harry Potter books. I watched the movie series with her and was inspired by the very dark visuals they used, especially in the last few films. I knew that I wanted to try this same visual approach on a few of my landscape photographs, so set about looking for an appropriate image to try it on.
A few years ago I was down in Utah photographing in Kodachrome Basin State Park. We just finished up a week of photography at Zion and Bryce National Parks, and were ending our trip shooting some lesser known areas.
The morning of this shot, I had just completed photographing a very large panorama of a mesa at Kodachrome, and decided to try and find something a little bit more obscure off the beaten path. I spotted this arresting spire and looked around the ground for an interesting element that might provide a visual anchor for the foreground. After a short search, I found these two weathered tree branches resting on the ground and pointed up towards the spire. I found it quite interesting that the branches formed the same general shape as the spire, so I worked my composition increase the feeling of repetition.
For this image I used a Nikon D7000 and a 10-24mm wide angle lens that I was testing out from Tamron Corporation. Since the foreground was in deep shadow and the spire was in the sun, I use a three frame bracketed exposure sequence, which I then converted to an HDR in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. I used one of the black and white presets in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to give it the dark and heavy look I was after. My next step was to open the image in Adobe Lightroom 5 to fix the dust spots and add a graduated filter to the top portion of the image.
I’m happy with the dark look I achieved for the spire and use it again for more of my photographs. There are at least two lessons here for those of you reading article:
1. You can use just about anything as your inspiration for creating images. In my case, I used the dark cinematography from the Harry Potter movies to form a mental image of a certain aesthetic.
2. As digital photographers, we need to recognize that achieving our vision begins with the camera but doesn’t until we have processed the image in software. I know a lot of people are reticent to spend time post processing images, but as you can see in this case, postprocessing is essential.
What will be your inspiration for your next great image?
I receive more questions every week about lenses than just about any other topic. I sympathize with all the questions because I struggle with making the same choices that you do. Should I buy the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 or should I get the Sigma 24-70 mm f2.8 or the Nikon 24-85mm f2.8 – 4 or the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8? The cost of the Nikon lenses are always significantly higher than the TamronSigmaTokina lenses.
So what are you paying for when you buy the Nikon lens? In one word … Quality. In fact, Quality with a capital Q.
I currently own lenses from Nikon, Tokina and Tamron. In the past, I’ve owned lenses from Sigma, Vivitar and some other random brands that I’ve forgotten. Most of these lenses are the “professional” lenses from the manufacturers and are large aperture zooms or primes. In just about every case, I’ve found that the Nikon lenses have performed flawlessly. In all the years I’ve owned Nikon lenses, I haven’t had one single lens break down for any reason. I could attribute that to simple luck or to Nikon’s consistent quality.
On the other hand, at least 50% of the lenses I’ve purchased from the third party lens manufacturers have failed in some way or another. My Tamron lens hood cracked under light duty wear and tear. Another Tamron’s internal focus gears “skip” every once in a while. My Vivitar fell apart in my hands.
My Tokina lenses have all performed very well and have been a bright spot in my lens choices from third party manufacturers.
From a sharpness standpoint, all of the lenses I have purchased have been pretty sharp. In fact, many of the photos I sell or use in my books were taken with Tokina, Tamron and Sigma lenses. I haven’t run into any major issues with poor optical quality from these manufacturers. Therefore, I sometimes put up with a little bit of structural integrity problems because I paid a lower price for the third party lens.
When it all comes down to it in the end though, buying a Nikon professional lens will almost always be the better choice than buying a third party lens. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. This holds true in spades for lenses!
Here’s a link to a company who rents lenses to the public (thanks for the link Chuck!). They have an interesting commentary on Sigma lenses that I think you’ll enjoy reading.