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
I make a habit of carrying a camera with me just about everywhere I go, especially when heading out on short errands. I love finding new photographic gems in my hometown of Gig Harbor, Washington.
Last week, I headed down to the Post Office to ship some books and took a quick side trip to photograph the Gig Harbor waterfront with my Nikon D750 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. A couple days prior to that, I took a one-hour break from writing to walk across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge with my D750 and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. In both cases, I decided to create panoramas of the scenes before me.
I’ve been shooting more panoramas lately because I really enjoy the entire process from capture to print. I also love being able to capture the atmosphere of the scene in a way most people don’t normally see. On the technical side, I thoroughly enjoy the discipline it takes to create a good-looking pano. There are a lot of settings and techniques that have to be executed well in order to produce an image that works.
– Exposure control for the darkest and brightest areas of the scene
– Depth of field
– White balance
– Panning technique
– Dealing with subjects that are moving
– Overlap percentage for individual frames
– Lens choice
– Distortion control
– Developing the images in software (Lightroom CC) so all images work together in the final panorama
– Stitching the images together in Lightroom CC or Photoshop CC
– Post-processing the panorama to fix problem areas
– Final presentation and printing
Some panoramas work really well and others are just, well, boring. Sometimes, you don’t know until you’ve gone through all the work and have the final image on your computer screen. In the case of the two images I’ve shown here, I like the image of the boats from downtown Gig Harbor, but don’t really care for the Narrows Bridge image. I think the reason why the Narrows Bridge shot falls flat for me is the clouds lack texture and form. I’ll need to go back on another day when the sky is more dramatic.
Because of my love of panoramas, I have decided to teach a panorama workshop on when I travel to The Woodlands, Texas in April. My partner in crime, Rick Hulbert (http://www.rickhulbertphotography.com), and I are running a series of four different workshops from April 4th – 9th, including one on panorama photography. These workshops are open for all camera users (Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, etc.) and all skill levels.
While in The Woodlands, we are joining The Woodlands Camera Club to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. After their party, we’ll run workshops and photo walks on a variety of topics like autofocus for action, urban and street photography, studio lighting, HDR photography, and more.
You should join us! More information here:
Taking pictures on a bright sunny day presents all kinds of challenges for our photography. One of the biggest issues we find is with white areas because they tend to blowout and lose detail from the bright reflected sun. Shooting images in RAW format will allow you recover some of the lost highlights in software as long as you don’t over expose the scene too much.
I work with a lot of photographers who are afraid of shooting RAW because of the perceived extra workload required to process them in software. I understand this fear, especially for people who have never spent much time working with photographs on their computers. The prospect of learning a program like Lightroom CC from the ground up can be especially daunting.
If your photos are important to you, then I want to encourage you to spend time to learn a RAW processing program like Lightroom CC. This software package and others like it are very capable and aren’t too big to learn as long as you are willing to invest a few hours of your precious time.
One of the most useful tools in Lightroom is the highlight slider. You’ll find this slider in the Develop module and it is designed to help recover highlight detail from over-exposed areas in an image. Take a look at this example photograph of boats at a marina (below). I photographed this a couple weeks ago in my hometown of Gig Harbor Washington on a sunny morning.
The scene appealed to me because of the calm water that produced fascinating reflections of the boats. The second thing I noticed about this scene was a man eating breakfast on the back of his boat while enjoying the morning sun. Using my Nikon D800 and a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I set the camera for matrix metering and took the shot.
When I returned to my computer and downloaded my images, I saw right away that the white areas of the boats appeared to be blown out. In other words, there was limited detail on the white paint because of the brightness of the direct sun. Since I always shoot my images in RAW format, I knew that I would be able to push back some detail into those bright white areas by moving Lightroom’s highlight slider downwards.
The highlight slider is a very advanced tool and does an excellent job with recovering delicate highlight detail. In general, you should feel comfortable moving the slider down to the minimum position (-100) without causing too much visual degradation of the picture. In previous versions of Lightroom, you had to be very careful with the highlights slider because you never knew what would happen to those highlight areas. In some cases, the areas we just turn muddy and you would lose texture in the image. With the new highlight slider in Lightroom 5, 6 and CC, you should feel comfortable moving the slider to just about any position from zero to -100 on the slider scale. There are some photos where adjusting the slider to -80 or -90 doesn’t look good, but you’ll be able quickly see where the photo starts to break down and then you can re-adjust the slider appropriately. My general approach is to move the slider to where it recovers all detail, then back it off just a tiny bit to retain the realism in the image.
For this picture of the boats, I did a few things in order to push detail back into the highlights. The first thing was to move the exposure slider down by -0.30. This reduced the overall brightness of the photograph, including highlights, midtones, and shadows. My next step was to adjust the highlight slider down to the point where I was able to push detail back into the white areas of the boats. In this case it was about -70 on the scale.
My next adjustment was to increase the shadow slider to bring back information in the dark areas of the scene that I lost when moving the exposure down. Finally, I increased clarity and vibrance to add a little bit of punch to the image.
When comparing the before and after of the image, the adjustments I made were subtle, yet significant. If I was going to make a print of this image, the unedited version would have been terrible because the bright areas of the scene would have no detail and the image would end up looking flat. By recovering the highlights, I was able to salvage the shot.
Creating artistic photos of my home town of Gig Harbor, Washington is one of my favorite things to do. I love capturing the rich heritage of my town and finding different ways to represent its local icons.
One of the more important families in the history of Gig Harbor was the Skansie family. They were boat builders in the early 1900’s and produced over 100 commercial fishing vessels and ferries. Their original netshed still stands along the waterfront. A few years ago, the Gig Harbor Historical Society was able to secure funding to refurbish the Skansie Netshed and open it to the public. Their work helped beautify and preserve this classic building.
For this image, I waited for a day with puffy clouds in the sky, then took my Nikon D800 down to the waterfront with a single lens, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. I kept my kit light and decided to leave my tripod at home. I shot a few compositions of the building, then decided the best look for the given light was a tight crop with no other distracting elements such as buildings or boats. The D800 has an incredible dynamic range, so I exposed a single image to hold detail in the clouds. In Lightroom, I pulled out a bit of shadow detail then sent the file to Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert it to black and white. After the conversion, I brought it back to Lightroom to do the final crop.
Here’s some more information from the Harbor History Museum’s blog:
For more information on the remaining 17 netsheds in Gig Harbor, follow this link:
Here’s the next blog post in our Gig Harbor Photo Guide series sponsored by Gig Harbor Living Local Magazine. For this entry, I talk about one of the Russell Foundation Building, one of the most beautiful structures in downtown Gig Harbor. It is known all throughout the region as being one of the first LEED certified buildings in the Northwest. Check out the article for tips on photographing the landscaping, architecture and the great view over Gig Harbor Bay. The blog post also provides driving directions and details about the best time of day for photography.
Article Link: Russell Foundation Building Photo Guide
Last week, my wife and I were downtown in Gig Harbor, WA at a party and the group was trying hard to enjoy one of our first quasi-good days of the year. Trouble is, those pesky clouds kept getting in the way of the sun. The sun would peek out from the clouds and we would all shuttle outside to bask in the rays. As soon as the sun hid from view, everyone shuttled back indoors to the warmth of the beach house.
Here’s a pic of the front yard and the empty adirondack chairs around the fire pit. I think the image perfectly conveys life in the Northwest. We love our beautiful scenery and great beaches but chilly weather keeps us away.
Since the contrast was pretty extreme, I shot a five-frame exposure bracket in the Nikon D800 then merged the images together in Nik HDR Efex Pro. Converted the image to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
As a photographer, I often use anything and everything as inspiration for my creativity. My camera is almost always over my shoulder, so I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting compositions. Not too long ago, I was out to dinner with my family and found a simple composition of table salt, pepper, and hot sauce. I set my Nikon D800 down on the table, turned on live view, and snapped a couple pics at f2.8 in order to create a narrow depth of field.
I like the look and I like the simplicity. Photos like this might not win the top prize in a photo contest, but they keep my mind thinking and engaged. My encouragement to you is to do the same. Take your own photo of hot sauce and salt to see where it takes your creative mind.
Here are a couple of other shots from the same evening with my family.
Here’s a nice shot from Gig Harbor, WA yesterday morning. I was running a private workshop with a photographer from Reno, NV and we were photographing the bay during blue hour. I set my camera for Fluorescent WB, ISO 200, f/8 and a 30 second exposure. Beautiful!
Last night, I went out to a local waterfront park with my family for a Sunday evening picnic. We were eating our sandwiches and skipping rocks when I spotted a pod of Orca about a mile away. I always have a camera with me, and this time around I had the Nikon D800 with a 24-70mm lens. Photographing a killer whale a mile away with a 24-70mm lens is an exercise in absurdity. However, I snapped a shot anyways just to see what I’d get. I figured that the D800 might have enough pixels to barely resolve the whales that were tiny dots in the distance.
So, how’d the D800 do? See for yourself…
A big thank you to Lighthouse Christian School and Ms. Frohlich’s 1st grade class for inviting me to present photos from my Tanzanian photography adventures.
The kids from Ms. Frohlich’s class sent me a bunch of thank you letters and they were very sweet. One of them read, “Thank you Mr. Hagen, from. Nathan. you HAD the best sho I sen yet! The anaml i Liked the best is the cheetah and leopard.” My favorite letter read, “I rily like your fotows I esPeshily liked the anemels.”
I am grateful for the school’s eagerness to see these images and it sure was fun to hear the oohs and ahhs from all the kids. Showing them the wonders of our incredible planet was joyful and I can’t wait to do it again.
I encourage all of the photographers reading this blog share your photos with others as often as possible. If you don’t share your imagery, then your beautiful pictures stay locked up in our disk drives for no one else to enjoy. Your craft and vision needs to see the light of day, so get out there and show it off.