GEAR REVIEW - TAMRON SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD
The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 VC was another industry first for the manufacturer, when it announced the introduction of a professional, mid-range, wide-aperture zoom with stabilized optics back in Feburary of 2012. It was met with much anticipation and enthusiasm by both photographers and videographers alike, because of the Vibration Control system.
Since that time, only Nikon has sought to add an optical stabilisation system to match, with Canon, Sigma and Tokina yet to cater to this demand in the market on their 24-70mm versions. Nikon's latest offering also retails at 3 times the price of the Tamron (£2000 vs £680), so it's not hard to see why it's been such a popular lens with both professionals and amateur enthusiasts alike.
While £680 is still a lot of money for most people to spend on new glass, Tamron certainly packs a lot into the bargain. The 24-70mm is comprised of 17 elements in 12 groups, an 82mm front filter, with a rounded 9 blade aperture, delivering crisp images. The f/2.8 maximum f-stop allows for increased shutter speed in low light situations, together with the Vibration Control system which offers 4 stops equilavent of motion blur compensation. This essentially means that if you were shooting at 1/25 sec, the VC gives you the equivalent hand holding shutter speed of 1/400th sec. It can mean the difference between a useable image, or one to curse at and delete, once downloaded and viewed on the computer. Of course, the Vibration Control only applies to motion blur introduced by your movements, not those of your subject. For that, you will still require the appropriate shutter speed to freeze the action.
The Vibration Control system is most impressive, both in terms of it's performance and the fact it is virtually inaudible. When I first received the lens, I thought it was faulty, due to the fact I couldn't hear the VC. This was due to being used to Nikon's VR system on my 105mm Micro-Nikkor, which sort of "clunks" into operation. Of the two, I would definitely say the Tamron has the edge in the optical stabilization technology department.
The Ultrasonic Silent Drive motor in the lens is just that. When comparing it to my AF-D, screw-driven Nikkor lenses, the difference in noise is quite staggering. While near-silent focusing lenses aren't necessarily essential to have, it does make the likelihood of successful candid photographs higher. If you're trying to get a shot of a child lost in their own little world, the less distractions the better. Focus speed is virtually instantaneous and always seems to lock on accurately too.
Image quality is obviously a primary concern when buying a new lens and overall, the Tamron doesn't disappoint. Although edge-to-edge sharpness is signficantly better at the wider end of the zoom range, at 70mm f/2.8, it is still good in the centre of the frame. Sharpness does fall off quite rapidly though by about the "thirds" of the image. This does improve quite substantially when stopped down to f/4 and beyond.
The sweet spot is around the f/8 region when using full zoom. For some portraiture, that probably isn't where you want to be but, after extensive testing, I can honestly say I'm more than happy with results. I use the lens more for three-quarter and full body shots. If I want a blisteringly sharp headshot with a shallow depth of field, then I tend to use the 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor anyway, as the focal length gives better facial compression.
Bokeh wise, the Tamron certainly isn't the prettiest out there. For those who love, soft, creamy, out-of-focus highlights, the Tamron will fall a little bit short compared to other lenses. The bokeh definitely has more definition at wider focal lengths and an "onion" quality to it, which is more pronouced at 70mm. A direct comparison to my 50mm f/1.4 both wide open and at f/2.8, shows the difference in the smoothness is quite noticeable when pixel peeping. Bokeh isn't something everyone worries about and to be honest, I wouldn't say it's particularly bad, just not as good as some other lenses out there. One thing shooting the bokeh images for this review did reveal, is I really need to clean my sensor! Click on the images below to reveal expanded versions.
Tamron SP 24-70mm @ 50mm f/2.8
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-D @ f/2.8
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-D @ f/1.4
Build quality is a somewhat lesser but, still important concern when purchasing new glass. Like most modern lenses, metal is very often substituted with composite plastics and that is the case with the Tamron. That being said, the body is still fairly robust and will stand up well to normal useage and minor knocks/scrapes. Drop it, and it will most likely break. Drop an old metal bodied Nikkor, and you'll probably knacker it too, so really, it doesn't make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. The mount is still metal and features a rubber weather seal, which give it longevity and aids in dust prevention.
The zoom grip offers good contact even with wet/sweaty fingers and is well geared. The resistance is ideally balanced between quick and precise zooming. A zoom lock is also featured on the lens to prevent creep, when walking around. I've never experienced zoom creep with this lens and if anything find the lock a bit pointless and somewhat of an annoyance, if I accidentally engage it and subsequently attempt to adjust the focal length. Nit-picking I know but, it's one of the few negatives I can highlight with the lens.
Instant manual focus is available via the focus ring, should you require it and the Vibration Control and autofocus systems can be disengaged on the body of the lens. The only reason you'd require to do the former, is if tripod mounted. I performed some tests to satisfy my own curiosity a few months back and can confirm that leaving the VC on when on a tripod, signficantly reduces image quality, as the lens attempts to correct micro-jitters which just aren't there.
In summation, I think the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD offers excellent bang for buck, in terms of image quality, performance and features, especially at the price point. The only other lens to offer optical stabilization is the Nikkor which is priced specifically for professionals, at £2000.
Yes, £680 is still a considerable amount of money to spend on a new lens, resulting in a few nights sleeping on the sofa when your signficant other finds out how much you spent. However it's certainly within reach financially of amateur enthusiasts who want to step up from their kit lenses, to something with around 2 stops of improved low light performance, in terms of maximum aperture.
While some photographers argue that stabilization isn't required on a lens of this focal range, I completely disagree. The inclusion of the Vibration Control is vital for me. Due to an essential tremor in my hands, I have to shoot at a considerably higher shutter speeds than most photographers. The Tamron has allowed me to get clean images I would otherwise have deleted due to blur. So it's definitely somewhat of a game-changer personally.
Build quality is more than acceptable and in-line with typical modern manufacturing standards. Focus speed and accuracy are both great and the optical performance delivered is very pleasing. If I were to give it a score I would probably award it 9/10, knocking half a point off for both the bokeh and the edge to edge sharpness across the frame, wide open at full zoom. Apart from that, it's a real beauty of a lens, which won't disappoint.