I finally got myself a 70-200 2.8. The lens that so many people swear by. You see I have never really needed one, when I’m shooting most of the time it’s around the 80-85mm range and my weapon of choice for that is either a 50mm or a 85mm depending on the body. When I’m not shooting portraits I’m usually shooting wide with my Tamron 10-24mm.
Anyway I got my hands on a Tamron 70-200 f2.8 Di LD[IF] Macro lens. Before unboxing it I checked out the various reviews. I’m always interested in seeing what other people have to say about it, even though I’m more than happy to make up my own mind. I found a mixed bag of positive and negative reviews, most people love the image quality especially for the price however they seem to complain about 1) the auto focus and 2) the pump-action from AF to MF.
The lens arrived just in time, a day before the Perth RAAF Airshow, which I thought would be the perfect testing ground for the MF to AF pump-action switch and the auto focus.
A little about the lens
Before I get into my experiences let’s talk a little about the lens and it’s features. First up it’s the cheapest 70-200 2.8 on the marketing coming in under the $1k mark. It is also the lightest weighting 1.15kg. If you’ve ever picked up any 70-200 2.8 you’ll know they are quite a heavy class of lens.
One of the main reasons this is the lightest and cheapest of in the 70-200 2.8 family is because it has now Vibration compensation or image stabilisation. This will either make it or break it for you, to me I don’t really require image stabilisation however at 200mm shooting a smallish subject it could come in handy.
In the box you get the lens, tripod collar mount, lens hood and a lens bag that looks like a wine cooler, but comes in handy when storing the lens in the top part of my Photosport 200 AW bag.
The lens is marketed as a Macro lens but it doesn’t provide a complete 1:1 result however it does have the highest magnification out of all of them at 0.32x, which is 1:3.1 and a minimum focusing distance of 0.95cm throughout the zoom range. It’s not to crash hot for tiny lady bugs, which i was shooting in the back yard, I had to do a bit of cropping however slightly larger objects came up quite well.
It has 18 elements in 13 groups, 9 diaphragm blades and it comes with a 77mm filter diameter, which is quite a standard sized filter diameter.
Issue 1: The Autofocus
As I said above, most of the complaints about the lens was with the auto focus. First up yes it is noisy. it definitely is quite like the USM or HSM of the Canon or Sigma. However it wasn’t much more than your average kit lens, so really not worth jumping up and down about.
I was testing the auto focus on F18’s doing around 1000km per hour at the airshow and I have to say that it didn’t miss to many. Occasionally I would hunt but nothing to drastic. From what I was reading in other reviews, I expected I would have to move out of manual mode and into some like shutter priority or aperture priority as I would be to busy fighting with the auto focus to make those adjustments, well that wasn’t the case. When I found that the lens couldn’t find the subject, in most cases could have been me was I was shooting with 1 focus point and might not have had it locked on the subject, I quickly switched it to MF and to locate it, then back to AF to lock on. Did it work? Yes. Did I end up thinking the lenses auto focus was useless? No. To be honest I really didn’t find it to hard to use. However it is slower than the other 70-200’s on the market.
To further my testing I switched to continuous focus, rapid fire and all focus points and shot away tracking the planes as they flew past at an amazing rate. So far out of quite a few hundred photos I shot on the day with the Tamron I have found 4 photos that are out of focus. I don’t find that to bad.
Issue 2: Pump action
shotgun MF to AF switch
It’s an unusual way of switching from AF to MF but I have to say it works pretty well. I always find I search for the little switch on the side of lenses and sometimes end up having to take my eye of the view finder to find it. The pump-action worked so well, no need to search for it, just snap it into place.
I did notice that it needs to snap into what seems to be like two gear cogs together or two pieces from a puzzle. So sometimes I needed to rotate it just a little to get into manual focus. Again really not a major deal, and I was shooting F18 fighter gets a 1000km per hour.
To me the pump-action work really well, not perfect with it sometimes needing a minor adjustment but nothing to complain about.
Overall image quality
The image quality of this lens has never really been a problem. Most people who I spoken to or the reviews that I have read praise the Tamron 70-200 2.8 for it’s excellent quality especially when you consider the price. As a comparison this lens is about one-third of the cost of the Canon 70-200 f2.8 USM II L.
First of all slow shutter speeds you will get out of focus shots, remember the golden rule. Your shutter speed shouldn’t be lower than your focal length. So for instance if you are shooting at 200mm your shutter speed shouldn’t be slower than 1/200.
From the few test I have done I can’t see any problems with the image quality. It’s sharp where it should be and the bokeh is nice a creamy.
Image quality is not an issue with this lens, there is nothing to really report on that front.
My overall thoughts and impressions
I love it. For me the vibration compensation isn’t something I usually look at when I look at lenses. I don’t shoot handheld video and in most cases I have fairly decent light or a tripod. However this could be an issue for you depending on what you shoot, but with modern DSLR’s higher ISO’s are available and you can probably get by.
For me it was more about the 2.8 then the vibration compensation, however if you are wanting a telephoto zoom lens with vibration compensation, don’t require f2.8 and are happy to have a variable 4-5.6 aperture check out the Tamron AF70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD which has much quieter faster auto focus and Vibration Compensation. Tamron have also just registered a patent for a 70-200 2.8 with VC but that won’t come through for another year or so.
Unfortunately I can’t tell you which 70-200 f2.8 will suite your needs. You may require faster/quieter auto focus or vibration compensation. It also will depend on your budget, in third-party lenses you have two options. The Tamron or the Sigma. The Sigma if you need vibration compensation and a faster auto focus, however the sigma is often plagued by build quality issues and lower image quality or the Tamron if you covet better image and build quality. For me it’s always image quality. I can combat camera shake and slow auto focus, but there isn’t much I can do about poor image quality.