Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 lens review

Today’s post is a review of the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 for Sony Alpha / Minolta Maxxum.

compared to:
* Minolta 70-210 f/4 (Beercan)
* Sigma 50-500
* Tamron 17-50
positive:
* Excellent value.
* Incredible IQ across all focal lengths and apertures.
* Big, deep lens hood.
* Pretty good MF ability.
* Tripod collar is removable while lens is attached to the camera body.
negative:
* Body isn’t made entirely out of metal.
* No SSM focusing.
* AF/MF switchover, while better than some, is not as good as Minolta’s clutch system.
* Focus ring spins if you AF with the body and the lens is set to manual mode.

The budget-oriented competitor to the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 has arrived.

* BUILD QUALITY AND FEEL*

The adage of “you get what you pay for” rings true, at least in the case of this lens. The body is, unfortunately not made entirely of metal. Only the lens mount to the area before the zoom ring is metal. The rest of the body is polycarbonate, most likely the same stuff used in the 17-50 and other SP series lenses. It feels fine enough in the hand, but a partial plastic body is probably one of the sacrifices made in the name of cost.

The lens hood is large and reverses for easy storage. Made from the same plastic as the 17-50’s hood, with the same ribbing on the inside to avoid reflections. It is kind of tough to unlock it when mounted, but this is something that will probably go away in time.

The tripod collar is removable when the lens is attached to the body, a very useful feature. Unfortunately it lacks a lens strap post. The lens turns smoothly from portrait to landscape when the collar is loosened thanks to its teflon coating.

As always Tamron’s lens caps (at least, the front ones) are excellent and are probably the equal of the Sony/Minolta center pinch caps. The rear cap is the same generic Tamron cap and does not open up the iris when attached. The lens uses 77mm filter threads, standard for this type of lens.

Interestingly enough, the a-mount version has a square baffle on the lens mount. The Pentax version has it too. But not the Canon/Nikon ones. I wonder if it affects anything.

The lens includes a soft case, as most lenses in this price range do.

* FOCUS AND ZOOM FEEL*

Zooming feels all right. Not as smooth as the beercan, unfortunately. It does have a little resistance to it, which I’m not sure is due to the lens being new or inherent to the design. Overall, zooming is OK and feels fine, really. Not too different from the 17-50.

Focusing is a different story. Before performance, I’ll talk handling. In AF mode, the focus ring on the lens will not move. This is much like the Bigma, in that it uses some kind of clutch mechanism that activates manual focus by pulling the ring towards the camera body. However, it differs from the Bigma’s implementation in actual use. You can have the lens set to MF mode when the body is set to AF (unlike the bigma) – the focus ring will then turn during AF, much like old Minolta lenses or the 17-50. The Bigma would not let you AF when the lens was set to MF – the camera motor would simply spin and not focus the lens. Tamron’s implementation of MF in this lens is OK, but it’s not as good as Minolta’s D-series clutch method, where the focus ring simply won’t move unless you move it, no matter what mode you are in. This at least lets you use DMF or the af/mf button.

Manual focus action feels good, but not great. This lens could really use a supersonic motor design.

Autofocus performance is good. It takes 8.5 turns on the AF screw to go from minimum to infinity. In a dimly lit concert hall, it focused surely on the a700. It’s not a speed demon of a lens, but certainly faster than any other telephoto lens of mine. The sound is similar to the 17-50. They probably use similar focus train parts in each. Again, a “get what you pay for” situation, but when all other 70-200 options on the market except yours have SSM focusing… Tamron needs to get their act in gear. None of their lenses have SSM motors and this needs to change.

I have not noticed any backfocus/front focus issues on my a700. Your mileage may vary. If you have issues of that nature, either 1. buy an a900 or a future body with lens correction or 2. send it to Tamron for Service.

The focus action is internal, meaning no rotating front element. Polarizer use is good, except a window on the hood like the Sony 70-200 to adjust the polarizer would have been very useful instead of having to stick my finger in there to adjust it.

* IMAGE QUALITY *

This lens has exceeded all of my expectations as far as IQ goes. I knew it would be good, but it’s definitely a top notch optic. It’s been sharp all the way through. There seems to be some minor chromatic aberrations at the corners at f/2.8 near the long end, but these go away quickly as you stop down and can be corrected for fairly easily in Lightroom. They’re nothing like the beercan’s.

Flare doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in my usage. The giant lens shade helps, of course. I’ve seen flare failures online and I believe these are more edge cases designed to make the lens fail. In either case it performs much better than the beercan.

VIgnetting doesn’t seem to be much of an issue on APS-C. There might be a slight amount wide open.

The lens does report focus distance info to the body and seems to work well with ADI flash.

The minimum focus distance (.95m) and magnification factor (.32) both beat out the Sony in spec terms, but I have not really tried macro-ish shots with it. Of course, the Sony used to be the class leader in these stats until recently, I’m sure a redesigned G will beat it.

Background blur performance… it’s good. However, objects in front of the focus plane will demonstrate some longitudinal chromatic aberration. This is par for the course for these telezoom lenses, though, and it doesn’t look objectionable unless you’re specifically looking for it in certain conditions (e.g. white pieces of paper with stuff written on them). Unfortunately, those scenarios do happen more than we would think they do. The aperture appears to be circular when examining it through the lens.

* VERDICT *

Overall, a solid value of a lens. It gets the job done and delivers where it counts – image quality. This is a great lens for a well-heeled amateur or freelancer who wants the performance of a higher end f/2.8 but can’t afford the other options on the market.

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