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Life in the Fast-Glass Lane with the Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday April 27, 2017

Freeze Frame

"Now I'm looking at a flashback Sunday
Zoom lens feeling just won't disappear
Doo-dloo-dloo
Close up, dark room, sweet talk in my ear

Doo-dloo-dloo
Her hot-spot love for me is strong
Doo-dloo-dloo
This freeze-frame moment can't be wrong..."
           
                           Peter Wolf , Seth Justman/J. Geil's Band        

In brief:  Street testing the very fast Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2 zoom lens.


I was photographing beach volleyball when I heard this bike roaring into the parking lot behind me and I barely had time to turn and aim but the Tamron lens locked focus instantly. The lens has extremely fast and sure focusing. Exposure was 1/320 second at f/4.5, ISO 250.

Snapshot:

Name:  Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2
Maximum aperture (constant): f/2.8
Minimum aperture:  f/22
Image stabilization: VC performance is 5 stops (VC mode 3); offers three modes optimized for different shooting situations
Minimum Object Distance: 0.95m (37.4 in)
Filter Size:  77mm
Length (front tip of the lens to the lens mount face):  193.8mm (7.6 in) Canon; 191.3mm (7.5 in) Nikon
Weight: 1,500g (52.9 oz) Canon; 1,485g (52.4 oz) Nikon
Standard Accessories:Lens hood, Lens caps, Lens pouch
Mounts: Nikon and Canon
Full Specifications: Here.


These are the very first action shots that I took with the Tamron and I learned quickly that photographing beach volleyball is a lot tougher than it looks! The 70-200mm focal length is a great range for this type of shot because it lets you quickly alternate between wider groups and close-up shots. Both shots were made at 1/320 second at f/11, ISO 250. Both shot handheld.

Freezing Frames with a Super-fast Zoom

It's been a long time since I've had sweet talk in my ear in the darkroom (though there were a few moments—and weren't those the days?), but with the passing of the great guitarist J. Geils on April 11th, it seemed like giving a nod to a song with so many photography references in it was a nice idea. In fact, coincidentally, it was about the same time (1981-82) that both the song "Freeze Frame" and my first very fast zoom with a constant maximum aperture (a Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8) both came into being.

There is no question that fast zoom lenses like the newTamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2 that feature a constant maximum aperture are a joy to own. Unlike most zoom lenses that lose lens speed as you zoom though the focal-length range, the aperture of these lenses is constant. Lenses of this type are not inexpensive and so before you plunk down the extra money to own one, you should ask yourself just how important is it for you to have that combination of fast lens speed and a constant maximum aperture. Here are a few things to consider:

The reality is that, in terms of low-light shooting, with ever-faster ISO speeds, the light-gathering ability may be less important than it was just a few years ago. Today, for example, I’ll often shoot concerts at an ISO of 6,400 or 12,800 when ISO 800 was considered the fastest noise-free ISO setting just a year or two ago. Still, there is no question that the lower the ISO you use, the better your image quality will be and fast lenses mean you can use lower ISO speeds.

The Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2

A faster maximum aperture also means better light gathering and faster auto focusing. With traditional optical finders (and this is not necessarily true with EVF finders that can boost the viewfinder brightness), having a faster lens also means having a brighter viewfinder and that can be a very important consideration if you frequently shoot indoors or in low-light situations. For shooting wildlife or sports or journalistic portraits in dim lighting, or for shooting landscapes in what my father used to call “half-light” (a cinema term he often used meaning very early and very late daylight), having a faster lens means that you can see and frame your subjects with far greater ease.

For all of those reasons, I think that if you are making an investment in a good medium telephoto zoom, then you owe it to yourself to give fast lenses like the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 serious consideration. I spent a few weeks shooting with this lens and here are some of my observations:


I tend to shoot nature shots like this with a prime lens when I can, but it was nice to be able to work at a distance with a fairly long zoom. I shot this tree at 200mm (300mm on an APS-C Nikon body) and avoided tromping through a swamp to get closer to it. The sharpness of the lens even full out is remarkable. Shot at 1/250 second at f/8, ISO 200. Shot handheld.

Price: As I said, fast zooms are not cheap, but one of the things that I think is going to make this lens very popular is the price because at around $1300 (current Amazon price) it’s a bargain compared to say, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, which is more than twice the price (also on Amazon). I believe it’s also about $500 cheaper than an equivalent Canon.

Solidly built lens. Everything about the lens is solid and robust and it just feels like a professional lens. This is not a delicate lens. It is also waterproof and dust resistant so it’s built to take rough environments and withstand most weather extremes.

Yes, it’s got very fast AF.  According to Tamron this lens uses an USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) ring-type motor, along with two high-performance microcomputers that together produce what I thought were very impressive focusing speeds. I was surprised by how fast I could turn, aim at a subject and lock focus. In the case of the couple on the motorcycle, for example, I had barely pointed the lens at them and the lens locked focus in single AF mode. The lens also has full manual override so that you can fine-tune focus without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.

Fantastic sharpness and zero distortion. In the past year I’ve tested a lot of lenses and shot with almost every type of zoom you can imagine and I would have to say that this lens equals or exceeds any of them in sharpness. Contrast and color were also near perfect. I was very impressed. Also, not only is the lens sharp in the center where you would expect it to be very sharp, but images are equally crisp at the extreme edges and out into the corners. Also, there is literally none of the optical distortion that you get with so many zoom lenses. While things like pincushion and barrel distortion that bend the straight lines (particularly at the edges of the frame) are more common with wide-range zooms (an 18-200mm lens, for instance), you still see those effects even in a comparatively short-range zoom like this one. Yet if you look at the shot of the factory below there is zero shape distortion of any type—none—and that is quite amazing.

Stabilization. Tamron claims that the lens provides five stops of image stabilization which is quite impressive. I’m a confirmed tripod and monopod shooter, but I intentionally shot almost all of my test photos handheld at speeds as low as 1/15 second and I really don’t recall a single frame showing any lack of sharpness due to camera shake. There is an on/off switch for the VC, as well as three vibration-reduction setting options on the lens. In position one, both the recorded image and the viewfinder image are stabilized and in the second position, which is meant for most panning-type situations (sports, etc.) the viewfinder image is not as stabilized. In the third position the viewfinder image is not stabilized at all but this is the highest level of stabilization for the final image (again, up to five stops).


I think that in terms of optical quality, the thing that impressed me most about the Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC G2 was the corner-to-corner resolution and the absolute total lack of any optical distortion. If you look closely at the various light poles and window frames and conduits in this old power factory you can see that every horizontal and vertical line is perfectly straight. That alone sold me on the quality of the lens. Shot at 1/800 second at f/9, ISO 400, handheld.

Conclusion

There is no question that this is one of the sharpest mid-range zooms that I’ve ever used. It is a very close match to (and perhaps the equal of) my Nikkor 80-200mm lens and that is a pretty big apple to be taking a bite out of. It’s not a lightweight lens and I’m not sure that I’d want to hold it all night at a Knick’s game, but it’s only a few ounces heavier than the Nikkor and so weight-wise it’s a draw. The focusing speed is very impressive at all focal lengths and even in very dim lighting I had no issues with it grabbing focus quickly.

I kind of wish that the focusing ring (which is in the center of the lens barrel) and the zoom ring (closest to the front element) were reversed. A lot of times I would be out walking and I’d see a shot and wanted to zoom quickly before I was really ready to shoot and because I had the lens shade reverse mounted on the lens for storage, I couldn’t access the zoom ring until I removed the lens shade. That’s just a personal thing, but it drove me nuts. Of course, you’re supposed to actually use the lens shade, so I can hardly blame Tamron for that!

Overall I’m super impressed by the lens. I’m more of a 70-300mm person myself because I like the extra reach, but so far no one that I know of is making that lens in an f/2.8 version. So, for now, I’d have to say that based on optical quality, weather proofing, focusing speed and price—this may just be the best bargain in the category. I would give it very serious consideration.

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