The other unusual statement about the lens is that the zoom and focus design minimises breathing (desirable) and axial shift – well, I’ve not seen a zoom with axial shift, image wandering off centre when you zoom or focus, since the days of pioneering 1970s consumer glassware. Especially not a non-stabilised zoom, like this. Stabilisation has been the main reason any lens shifts off axis.
The lens weighs 488g which is great, takes 72mm filters which is not great but matches some other Sony lenses, and the size as you can see from the images here is convenient though not a single PR image sent to me shows it with a lens hood which could have some impact on bag/pocket ability. One thing’s for sure, if the dual linear motor focusing is as good as claimed, f/4 will not be a big loss over f/2.8 and carrying one lens in place of two will make this a winner for travel, landscape and urban shooting. It’s due to be in UK stores from March 3rd.
The companion for Sigma’s highly regarded 28-70mm f/2.8 compact zoom adds an unbroken range down to 16mm while retaining a small c. 77x100mm size, 72mm filter fit, and 450g weight. It is announced today and will be available to buy from June 17th for £749.99 (UK SRP) or $899 (US retail before tax).
The full-frame Sigma 16-28mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary offers a promise of exceptional optical quality with a faster constant maximum aperture in barrel size similar to existing f/4 16-35mm designs. Special attention has been given to field curvature correction for edge-to-edge sharpness, important in wide-angle views – this is enabled through the use of a built-in lens profile, correcting distortion and vignetting in-camera or during raw image processing.
It uses five FLD (fluorite-like glass) elements and four aspherics to minimise chromatic and off-axis aberrations. The lens has an inner zoom mechanism that keeps overall length and the centre of balance constant, improving performance when zooming during a gimbal take. The 72mm filter thread is larger than the 67mm of the similarly light and small 28-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary.. At just 100.6mm long (L-mount version) and 450g it’s appealing for outdoor, social, street and travel photographers who want a lightweight outfit for day-long use.
The lens is constructed using aluminium and thermally stable polycarbonate, performing well in temperatures from the arctic to the equator, and has a dust and splash resistant mount. AF uses a proven stepper motor compatible with high-speed AF, DMF and AF or MF modes with an MF switch on the side. It focuses down to 25cm with a maximum image scale of 1:5.6, 0.17X and has a nine-blade rounded aperture. On the L-mount version only, linear and non-linear focus ring behaviour can be set using the USB Dock UD-11.
The lens is supplied with front and rear caps and a bayonet mounted petal lens hood. Sigma WR or WR Ceramic,WR UV and WR Circular Polarising 72mm filters are optional extras.
The first magazine test of the new Tamron reached Cameracraft readers in our March/April edition. Now that other magazines are reviewing the lens, it’s time to release David Kilpatrick’s practical user report on-line.
IT’S THE MIDDLE of a dark winter and the new Tamron super-fast ‘group to portrait’ zoom has been doing the rounds of dealers, and we get the chance to use the lens for a good test period starting in January just as the days are getting longer. It’s 3pm and it looks like 4pm with heavy cloud. A quick exposure check says why this lens will be a priority purchase, in a hurry, for wedding photographers. Fortunately the days get brighter and longer during the time trying out this versatile lens.
So many weddings have been postponed due to earlier Covid venue restrictions. To get 1/125s shutter speed, which is very much needed to ensure expressions and fairly small movements are not motion-blurred, it was ISO 2500 at f/2.8 on the day the lens arrived. Between this and the end of useful daylight that changes rapidly to ISO 6400 and beyond, and eventually to 1/30s. Any sensible wedding photographer would now be digging out the f/1.4 lenses, firing up the battery flash kit and hoping the indoor setting works well.
However, there’s a zoom now for Sony full frame users which can cover most weddings or outdoor portrait sessions on its own, replacing a fast 35mm and 50mm and most of the range of a 70-200mm f/2.8.
The new Tamron 35-150mm manages to hold its widest aperture of f/2 from 35mm to just short of 40mm, and doesn’t drop to f/2.8 until 80mm.
f/2 35 to 39mm
f/2.2 40 to 59mm
f/2.5 60 to 79mm
f/2.8 80 to 150mm
This is good, as so many zooms with a fast minimum focal length lose a third or half a stop with a mere nudge of the ring – those 17-35mm f/2.8-4 lenses made for SLRs were often f/3.2 at 18mm! With studio flash you might set f/2 and start work at the short end of the zoom, but with so many systems studio or location now being TTL and high-speed sync of one kind of another this probably doesn’t matter. Set the lens to f/2.8 or any smaller aperture, and it acts as a constant aperture zoom
How about the chosen focal length range? I’d argue that 28-135mm, with similar aperture benefits, is more useful because there’s a chance of never needing to change lenses. There’s a quick way to check what matches 35mm for groups, using just the long side of a landscape frame. It’s almost the same as the 36mm dimension of the sensor, with an angle of 55° covered horizontally. If you’ve got an APS-C sensor it matches 23mm, on MFT 17mm, on Fujifilm GF and other popular 50MP medium format models it’s 44mm, on the biggest like Hasselblad HD6-100C it’s 53mm.
This angle of view works well because many rooms have Golden Ratio dimensions, not unlike an A4 page. Stand near one end of a 5 x 7m room, put a group at a comfortable distance away from the opposite wall, and you’ll cover it well with some of the side walls visible. In a square room, you can just take in the opposite wall with no sides visible. The working distance gives scope for bounced flash, there’s no distortion of body or face width towards the ends of a group even if it’s tightly composed.
In fact having the wide-angle end limited to 35mm may improve your group photography and weddings in particular by making you keep that little bit of extra distance.
However, the real world sometimes throws difficult spaces and camera distances at you. This new Tamron is not an all-in-one outfit. It’s almost essential to have a 24mm, or a zoom such as Tamron’s 17-28mm or Sony’s 16-35mm.
Tamron 35-150mm performance
The optical performance of the 35-150mm is well above expectations for an f/2-2.8 design. It’s better than any past attempt at ƒ2.8 on a similar range, and this is down to mirrorless versus SLR body thickness. You can use it wide open at any focal length and be sure of sharpness in the plane of focus, and that is pretty flat corner to corner despite considerable pincushion distortion growing from 50mm to 150mm. The built-in and Adobe lens profiles are essential but not identical – while in-camera JPEGs are very well balanced across the frame, the default Adobe vignetting correction is much too strong.
Without correction this lens loses between one and two stops of light in the outer field when used wide open, with a central zone of around 20mm diameter representing the nominal aperture. The lens profiles boost the gain to compensate and if you set the Sony A7RIV to its ISO invariant optimum of 400, faces at the extreme ends of a group may be recorded as if ISO 1600 was used. For the best results, shoot raw and don’t underexpose (no need to follow the expose to the right mythology though). If you use the Adobe Lens Profile, adjust the vignetting to minus 60 for full aperture shots if you want to remove the effect. If you stop down to ƒ5.6 it’s pretty much gone anyway.
There’s a strong case for just letting the wide aperture vignetting be – don’t correct it at all. Many pictures will look better, including landscapes, portraits and most street shots. The distortion correction, on the other hand, is worth leaving turned on. Because the lens has pincushion rather than barrel distortion over most of its range, the corners don’t get stretched, it’s the centre of the image which is expanded slightly. As this is the sharpest area the correction tends, if anything, to even out the finest detail rendering over the frame unlike barrel distortion correction which degrades the corners visibly in many cases.
When Sony’s 90mm G macro was constantly being called the best lens ever, I tried three examples and all fell short of the standard expected. Just for interest I set the Tamron 35-150mm to 90mm (actually reported 91…) and shot a series from wide open to smaller apertures, on the same architectural distance subject I’d used for the Sony. Despite being on 60MP not 42MP the Tamron zoom was clearly much sharper across the frame than the Sony.
But – it’s a fast superzoom. Plenty of expert voices on Facebook will assure you it can not possibly be as good as a modest range zoom or an acclaimed macro prime. Don’t take their word for it, try the lens. And now we need to look at the downside of such an ambitious superzoom – it’s a large and heavy lens, it uses an unusual internal and extending hybrid zoom design, and it doesn’t focus into the semi-macro range like most other Tamron and competing lenses now do.
My first step was to replace my slim camera strap with an extra wide heavy duty neoprene Optek – the springy shock-damping handled almost 1.9kg of combined camera and lens round my neck well enough. Often I hold my camera in my right hand ready to lift to the eye and shoot, and don’t let the weight hang on a strap. It was like having a 70-200mm f/2.8 to handle and many users are happy with that all day. I’m not that keen on the 82mm filter thread, but that’s what it has to be.
The lens hood has a single bayonet release button set in its rim, and you need to get it the right way up to fit. It’s very secure once on.
Then you come to the advanced aspects – this is a very fast focusing near-silent voice coil drive (VXD) design, and has three control buttons plus zoom lock, AF/MF and a three-position Custom function switch. With the aid of USB connected software (no dock needed) the lens can be customised for aspects like focus barrel direction/speed and even function (change to control ƒ-stop), and two preset focus points via the buttons.
The zoom ring is placed near the body with the focus ring being the main much deeper front barrel. This is the opposite to existing Tamron zooms and takes some getting used to, but it’s practical with the size and weight of the lens.
With minimum focusing of 85cm at 150mm to 33cm at 35mm, the subject scale is 1:5.9 and 1:5.7 respectively – that’s a field around 9.5 x 14cm, so not in the wedding ring shot class but fine for flowers, hands and many other close-ups. The 9-blade aperture creates a very attractive smooth defocus and if there are lights or candles in the background this lens gives full aperture bokeh discs, not clipped ellipses, at focal lengths from 35 (f/2) to 60mm (f/2.5) and with only a hint of cat’s eye shape at the extremes of the shot at 80mm (ƒ2.8). Longer than this and you’ll see some degree of this effect though using an APS-C or smaller crop cuts out the more visibly ellipsoid highlight bubbles. Depending on the light source you’ll see some ‘orange peel’ texture which is typical of zooms using moulded aspherical elements – there are many ways to remove this from finished edits. There are no ‘onion ring’ effects which are much harder to remove and occur with lenses using older aspherical moulding methods.
As for real cat’s eyes, the lens behaves perfectly with Sony’s animal and human face detection and eye AF and even managed to keep up with the most impossible close range movement of chickens – fine for eye sharp focus if not for the shutter speed.
This lens has a USB-C connection (no cover, it’s a waterproof port) and the Tamron Lens Utility, on 64-bit PC or Mac, can customise functions. After thinking the utility was not working (on three different systems) because it said Lens Not Connected when it was, I found you ignore this and click on the Start button for the functions you want to modify – like changing the 1, 2 and 3 positions of the Custom switch to alter the behaviour of the focus ring (direction, linearity, use as aperture ring) or lens buttons (AF/MF, A-B Focus, Preset Focus, Assign Function from Camera, or Clear Settings).
All three lens buttons do the same, which might be missing some useful tricks such as two focus points assigned to different buttons. A-B focus and Preset distance have selectable focus speeds, and are strictly Movie functions (you have to press the Record button in Movie mode to program the distances, then use the lens buttons to activate the focus change during filming). The lens is fairly silent in focusing but an external microphone is desirable. It has almost no focus breathing regardless of the focal length set, though use at full aperture will produce some shifts as the bokeh expands and contracts – the real angle of view remains very constant from close-up to infinity.
This lens costs £1,599 so you need to know you need it to invest. It hardly came off the camera in six weeks partly because of the convenience of not having to change lenses, and just carrying the camera and this one lens.
The new 20mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary lens for full frame E and L mounts from Sigma will sell for under £650 in the UK from February 25th. It extends their compact, metal barrel prime ‘I’ series range which includes f/2 models in 24mm, 35mm and 65mm focal lengths.
It also offers a filter-friendly alternative to the very large and heavy 20mm f/1.4 Art lens. It uses 62mm filters, weighs 370g and is just 72.4mm long (much the same as the 24mm f/2). It has a magnetic lens cap and all metal construction, including the bayonet lens hood. A second plastic clip-in lens cap is also supplied. The design with a physical aperture ring is similar to Sigma’s high-end ciné lenses.
It uses three high-precision glass-molded aspherical lens elements, one SLD element, and one FLD element. Suppression of sagittal coma flare makes the 20mm f/2 ideal for night sky with stars near the extreme corners of the field.
Other specifications include:
Lens construction: 11 groups, 13 elements
Angle of view: 94.5
9 rounded diaphragm blades
Minimum aperture: f/22
Minimum focusing distance: 22cm
Maximum magnification ratio: 1:6.7
Inner focus system
Compatible with high-speed autofocus
Compatible with Lens Aberration Correction
Support DMF and AF+MF
Nano Porous Coating
Super Multi-Layer Coating
Focus Mode Switch
Petal-type lens hood (LH656-03)
Magnetic metal lens cap (LCF62-01M)
Mount with dust and splash resistant structure
Support for switching between linear and non-linear focus ring settings (for L-Mount only)
Compatible with SIGMA USB DOCK UD-11 (sold separately / for L-Mount only)
Designed to minimise flare and ghosting
Every lens checked using proprietary MTF measuring system
Cameracraft January/February started the A7RIII test report, and March/April 2018 continued it. Both are free to read here. In the second issue you’ll also find the review of the 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens. In the first issue, Gary Friedman looks at the RX10 series and one-inch sensor quality as well – and David tests the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.2 Aspherical FE manual focus lens, Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DN DC, and Samyang 35mm f/2.8 AF FE.
There’s a dismissive and rather superior position some camera club buffs take – ‘why not zoom with your feet?’. It is well worth ignoring. The focal length of your lens, whether your use a zoom or a range of fixed focal length lenses, decides the exact relationship of elements in the picture including one component you just can’t ‘zoom with your feet’, the sky. The depth of blue above the horizon, the scale of clouds, can only be changed by using a different focal length.
Here is the cover of the May/June 2017 Cameracraft magazine, and in a very rare lapse of judgment I used one of my own photographs. I had never photographed this church before despite driving past it on the A7 Scotland to England road through the ‘debateable lands’ for the last 28 years. A quick left turn down a farm estate road led to St Andrews church of Kirkandrews, an 18th-century gem with the unusual feature of being built on a north-south alignment instead of east-west. This put the late March afternoon sun on to the south door and sundial.
Now this is a typical deliberately uncorrected 24mm steep angle shot, and I also have very straight versions taken from further away on the 24-70mm CZ f/4 lens and A7RII. but they are all at between 24 and 32mm with the church smaller and composition using the churchyard and walls. That’s because the sky simply looks best with a wide angle.
Despite some bad press, I’ve found the 24-70mm to be an excellent lens. You can get good deals and Amazon UK is showing discounts up to 19% – check our affiliate link which helps photoclubalpha cover its costs if you buy.
When we pulled up here, there was a car on the other side of the church spoiling the view I had seen from the road, spotting a dramatic old dead tree. We chatted to a lady who was looking after the churchyard and gardens, a lifelong commitment. She said it was a pity the church was locked as the interior was worth seeing – and left taking her car which had been prominently in my planned shot. So, we parked the car in the field further away, and I returned to the area of the tree.
I knew what I was looking for, and at first walked to a spot and composed this at 30mm. But by moving round and just looking at the possible camera positions (and heights above ground) I could see the relative scale of the church and tree could be changed by finding the best angle of view and perspective. This is what using your feet AND a zoom helps you do, and ‘zooming with your feet’ most certainly does not if all you have is a fixed lens. A 35mm or 28mm would have been fine here, but I knew how much clearance I wanted between the church bell tower and the branch, how large or not I wanted the fallen branches to be (and I do not ‘garden’ subjects like this which are someone else’s property).
This shot at 26mm was able to give me more sky. It’s also one which I could straighten for converging verticals (it has space to do that) using Photoshop/Camera Raw‘s excellent tools for this. To the right, there was an ugly wooden barrier to keep livestock off a sapling. Below, you can see why this was not a good addition to any composition. Earlier on there was that white car between it and the church, which had departed.
From this position, I was generally happy with the scale of the tree and church and their relative weights in a vertical composition, but felt it needed to be a little tighter.
This framing at 35mm kept all parts of the tree clear of the church, placed them neatly and avoided any strong foreground of fallen wood.
This example moved me closer to the tree, at 24mm again, giving the most attractive sky and clouds. But I felt the broken main trunk of the tree was slightly too strong and the ratio between the tree and church just missed the mark. Such small differences do count. Normally I don’t show anyone the ‘ringaround’ compositions, only the final shot. In what is essentially a landscape scene, it’s not always that important. In commercial work, including portraits, wedding or fashion you need to realise that a centimetre or two difference in where you place your lens can distinguish good photography from ordinary. This, and the timing of your shot, also marks out the best press photography.
Precision viewpoint is where both your feet and zooming come in. By moving much closer to the tree, and using it as a solid closure to the left hand side of the image, the small forked branch could be positioned to frame the church and no slightly more ugly broken branch ends would be shown. The closer viewpoint was controlled to within an inch or two side to side and vertically, by crouching slightly to get the lens in exactly the position I wanted.
This also kept the church centred and therefore without converging verticals. I was already seeing this as a black and white conversion, and possibly a cover image, with the space necessary for typical cover lines and logo. This was the picture I did use for the cover.
However, from the same viewpoint zooming to 41mm allowed a different crop with a larger scale to the church.
You can see how I have moved to my left just a small amount, and also stepped back a couple of paces to change the relationship between the forked branch and the church. This is the control you gain from a lens like the 24-70mm – and why you should zoom PLUS your feet, not zoom WITH your feet. Above all, you should walk round and look, even without the camera, studying the interplay between foreground, background, middle distance and the sky.
For my first three years of using the Sony full-frame mirrorless system I have been without a 24-70mm, using a range of primes and the 28-70mm instead. Although I had used excellent work from the 24-70mm f/4 in our magazines, from other photographers, there were so many bad reports about it. But 24mm has always been a critical focal length for me, so I had to buy it when a good deal came up (a refurb from Sony, which allows me to recover the 20% VAT which I can’t claim on regular secondhand items). Well, it’s not perfect because at 24mm the focus field is very curved (cap-shaped) to the extent that detail at the edge of the frame is focused on around 45cm when the centre is set to 45m. This can lead to the idea it’s soft. In fact, this curvature improves the sharpness of the tree trunk and the distant church at f/11 – 42 megapixels can be demanding. But if this was a portrait, with a distant scene beyond, it would have the reverse effect and make the outer field seem less sharp.
Affiliate links to help photoclubalpha if you order the 24-70mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar f/4 FE – B&H Photographic, Amazon, and WEX.
Sony has announced two new lenses for E-mount mirrorless cameras.
The FE 100mm F2.8[i] STF GM OSS is the first Smooth Transition Focus prime since the acclaimed A-mount 135mm and is designed for the best possible bokeh without any trace of aperture-related artefacts. The compact, lightweight FE 85mm F1.8 portrait prime lens may put an end to sales of Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM lenses mounted on FE adaptors… but at £550 and not stabilised it’s just over the typical cost of that combo, which also enables the use of other Canon lenses and of course the use of the Canon glass on native bodies.
It’s a slightly disappointing lens as the 80cm close focus is no improvement over the 85mm G-Master f/1.4, and much less useful than the 85mm A-mount SAM f/2.8 which focuses to 60cm. With the 85mm such a popular choice for portraits, food photography and creative close-ups (short of the macro range) this is a missed opportunity even it is also very much an industry standard. In contrast to this the 100mm STF has an excellent close focus of 57cm and the same close-up ability as zooms like the classic ‘Beercan’ 70-210mm f/4 by Minolta, the magic ‘quarter life size’ which covers the area of a 6 x 4″ postcard print when used on full frame.
Sony also introduced a new flash HVL-F45RM with radio-controlled wireless communication ideal for off-camera multi flash TTL work with Sony’s line-up of α7 full-frame cameras. This flashgun uses the Sony Quick-Navi visual system for its rear panel – so they did learn something from the success of this in the old A700!
A specially designed mid-telephoto, full-frame prime lens, the new 100mm STF is built to produce truly unique, magnificent and beautiful bokeh while maintaining the exceptional standard of resolution that is showcased throughout Sony’s entire line-up of flagship G Master series lenses, making it a powerful photographic tool for any portrait, fashion, nature or wedding photographer.
These impressive defocus capabilities are made possible by the lens’ advanced optical structure, as it features a newly designed 11-bladed aperture and a unique optical apodization lens element. Similar to a neutral density filter that increases in density towards the edges, the apodization element creates beautiful transitions of in-focus to out-of-focus areas within an image, making for exceptionally soft, smooth bokeh that adds depth and dimensionality. This allows the subjects to stand out against beautifully defocused elements in both the foreground and background, producing an image that is naturally pleasing to the eye. The design of the lens also ensures that vignetting is kept to an absolute minimum, ensuring optimum image quality.
David Kilpatrick writes: The STF function is available from full aperture (an effective T=5.6 despite the f/2.8 physical aperture) over a one-stop adjustment range to T=8. This is less than the f/4.5 to f/8 (T) range of the original STF design and indicates that a more powerful apodisation element (radial/circular graded element created by using neutral density in a double concave glass) or apodisation filter (a cheaper method using a conventional radial graduated ND filter inside the lens near the aperture position). This should actually mean that f/5.6 looks smoother than f/4.5 could have. Confusing, but true. You can the depth of field of a more-or-less f/8 lens with the bokeh of an f/4.
Additionally, the new 100mm lens supports both contrast AF and focal-plane phase detection AF[ii], and has a high-precision, quiet direct drive SSM (Super Sonic Motor) system that ensures exceptionally fast and accurate AF performance. The SEL100F28GM also offers up to 0.25x close-up capabilities with a built-in macro switching ring, built-in Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilisation, a customisable focus hold button, AF/MF switch, aperture ring and is also dust and moisture resistant.[iii]
The new SEL85F18mid-telephoto prime lens offers an extremely versatile, lightweight and compact telephoto prime lens solution for a variety of Sony camera owners ranging from working professionals to emerging enthusiasts that have stepped up to an APS-C or full-frame camera for the first time. With its wide f/1.8 aperture, it can produce impressive, exceptionally sharp portraits with soft background defocus that take advantage of its 85mm focal length and wide f/1.8 maximum aperture.
The new prime lens features a 9-bladed circular aperture mechanism that ensures smooth, natural looking bokeh, and a double linear motor system to allow for fast, precise and quiet focusing. It also has a focus hold button that can be customised and assigned together with functions in the camera body like the popular Eye-AF feature. There is a smooth, responsive focus ring and AF/MF switch and the lens is also dust and moisture resistant.iii
Sony’s new HVL-F45RM flash enhances the radio-controlled lighting system capabilities of their growing system, offering a compact professional shooting solution when combined with the currently available wireless remote controller FA-WRC1M and receiver FA-WRR1.
The new flash, which is designed to complement the compact bodies of Sony’s E-mount camera line-up including full-frame α7 models, produces a maximum lighting output as expansive as GN45[iv]. This ensures sufficient illumination even when shooting with bounce lighting or high-speed-sync (HSS) flash. The radio capabilities of the HVL-F45RM allow it to be used as a transmitter or a receiver at up to 30m (approx. 98 feet[v]), making it an ideal fit for creative lighting with multiple flashes. Additionally, unlike optical flash systems, radio-control flashes do not require a direct line-of-sight between components to function properly, while also minimising any impact that bright sunlight has on signal transmission and control.
The HVL-F45RM flash has an impressive battery life of up to 210 bursts, and can tilt up to 150o vertically, a complete 360o horizontally and up to 8o downward to maximise versatility. Usability has been maximised with a new large, bright and highly visible LCD display, an LED light, dust and moisture resistant design3 and a revamped menu system that mimics those of Sony’s newest camera systems.
Sony has just announced yet another 50mm, and this time it’s different – a truly affordable 50mm 1:1 macro, only $500 US. We reckon this will become the most popular standard 50mm lens by far, even more so than the budget 50mm f/1.8. Now you can photograph your food properly at last!
It certainly looks neat and the specifications are good.
It features one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass to reduce lateral CA (colour fringes) as the image scale increases. The optical and mechanical construction of the lens is claimed to have less glare and ghosting. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant.
Examples shot with the new lens can be found at www.alphauniverse.com, Sony’s new corporate pseudo-community site. We have to say the bokeh looks funky, not good, and this lens probably lacks the classical drawing of the more traditionally designed (and more expensive) SAL 50mm f/2.8 Macro A-mount.
The 6.25″ (16cm) minimum focusing distance is a clue why. The effect of the 7-blade circular aperture design can be studied in the Sony photo examples. It has a focus-mode switch, focus-range limiter and focus-hold button (the mode switch is valuable as you may not want AF for macro shots most of the time, and the focus limiter is similarly good for controlling frantic hunting and missing – all three switches/controls are important on the mirrorless bodies).
The lens is 7cm long, weighs 235g and during focusing it extends in length by only 26mm, not the 50mm required for a typical Tessar-type lens of this focal length. This, and the minimum focusing distance (should be at least 20cm for a 50mm macro at 1:1) indicate that the design relies heavily on internal/rear focusing groups, much like the 30mm f/2.8 DT SAM macro for A-mount. We would reckon the true focal length of the lens at 1:1, which can not be more than 40mm with a 16cm close focus, may be around 35mm as 1:1 is achieved with 76mm of overall focus extension.
The distance from the subject to this lens front rim at 1:1 is only 3.5cm which many will find a little too close for insects and even for plants, as the shadow of the lens and photographer may interfere. Even the SAL 50mm is not perfect, reaching 1:1 at 20cm from the focal plane with a 48mm dual barrel extension and 53mm front element focus travel (the extra 3mm is down to floating element correction which slightly changes the focal length). This places the lens rim 7cm from the subject, twice the working distance relative to this new SEL FE design.
Look – you don’t read Photoclubalpha to get sales blurb. You come here to find stuff out which you won’t read anywhere else and may not previously have been aware of. It may be difficult. But it will help!
B&H (worldwide, US-based, dollar pricing) has 4% ‘reward’ off many lenses but you won’t get it on the latest models like the 70-300mm FE G OSS for example. Prices are still attractive even with the current dollar/£ exchange rate.
The UK cashbacks, we can confirm, work very reliably and quickly. We’ve bought two or three items under this system, just make sure you get your receipt and also photograph or record serial numbers. The new system does check for scammers who order a lens, send in the claim and then try to return it for a refund to the dealer, which is good news as it limits the benefits of the promo to genuine buyers and means Sony doesn’t end up footing the bill for fraud and passing it on in higher prices or limits to future promotions.
If you want to get a 70-300mm which works on the Sony A7RII, the A7 series body with the best on-sensor phase detection/contrast detection mix, your first choice should be the new Sony FE 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G OSS. But that demands a wallet opened with £1,150 (UK SRP) in it. In return you get a rare specification mix including focusing down to under one metre and almost a one-third life size image scale, without needing any special macro range.
For those who own either an LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 Sony adaptor, there’s a choice of A-mount lenses. The older Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SSM G will work OK, but the current SSM II version is tuned for the on-sensor focusing system. Both work on the LA-EA3 with its SLT-mirror free design, and focus to a decent 1.2m. The low-cost Sony body-drive AF f/4.5-5.6 75-300mm will only AF on the LA-EA4 and is probably best ruled out.
The same goes for Tamron’s body-drive focus Di Macro, about the lowest cost such lens you can buy, and Sigma’s standard and non-APO Macro designs. For the LA-EA4 only, the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO Macro DG is actually worth buying as a good example can usually out-resolve any other lens of this range, but it’s slow and clunky. It focuses to under 1m and half life size scale but like the Tamron Di Macro does this using a separate close-up range you have to switch in to, only usable between 200mm and 300mm zoom setting.
This leaves two 70-300mm independent lenses with in-lens focus motors. The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 OS DG is again very good optically (a fair match for the Sony G original) but it doesn’t use an HSM focus motor. Instead it has a motor more like a Sony SAM drive. As a result, it will only focus quickly on the LA-EA4. It can’t handle on-sensor PDAF.
The Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di USD can. It has an Ultrasonic Silent Drive, and this is very close in design to the Sony G SSM. Because the lens dates from 2009, most test reports have been based on DSLRs and not many Sony A7 system owners have bothered to consider it. At the current price in the UK – even the official SRP is only £275 but normally discount to a pre-VAT price of under £200, or if you like, $280 – it’s an unprecedented bargain for an advanced lens using low and extra-low dispersion elements.
You should not be surprised at its size, because it’s almost identical to the Sony G. Same weight (within 5g), same 62mm filter thread, same rear internal focus with plastic window for the scale, same forward zoom ring and single barrel extension. It has one more element, being a 17/12 design rather than 16/11 like the Sony, and it lacks the control buttons and focus range limiter controls. It’s also a quarter to a third of the price.
For me its major shortcoming is the 1.5m close focus, just too far away (nearly fell down stairs trying to get far enough away to focus when testing it, I’m just not used to lenses which force you back this way).
What counts I guess is the optical performance, and here the Tamron still does not let you down despite being a seven-year-old design. Like the Sigma OS, it is a step above any of the previous 70-300mms including Nikon’s VR and the Canon IS design and when I tested it back in 2009 it matched the Sony G SSM even wide open at 300m. What it did not do was focus accurately on my DSLR bodies, needing AF calibration adjustment on the A900 and missing the mark on the A700 and A580. It was fine on the A55.
The lens coating is pretty effective and the lens front rim, like Sony’s G, has no lettering to reflect off filters. It also has an effectively black-out inner baffle and zoom mechanism. Combined with the super-deep lens hood (very much like the monster you get with the Sony G) the result is a flare-free optic you can use in almost any light.
The rear mount is a high quality metal A-mount as expected, and on my LA-EA3 the whole assembly was firm and felt unstressed.
Tamron kindly sent me a lens to update my earlier testing when this design was new. I wanted to see one thing – did the USD drive allow PDAF on the A7RII with the LA-EA3? If it did, this bargain price but advanced lens would be a possible 300mm range solution (and also, though I can’t test this, on the A7II and A7SII – I’m pretty sure it will not play well with pure contrast detection on the A7R, as on my A7 it will focus at all focal lengths and in low light but can take several seconds of hunting and fine tuning in small steps).
Fitted to the A7RII+LA-EA3 I found it snaps into focus really fast, able to use either wide area or centre AF with much the same speed as native E-mount lenses, and activating the ‘green square’ focus point display. It was very poor using moveable Spot AF (unusable in low light), and the Zone AF option is greyed out. So, it can’t access all areas, but for regular shooting it’s good.
At focal lengths over 150mm, it can be spooked by starting completely out of focus. However, once the lens is not extremely defocused it acquires and tracks rapidly. The full time manual focus over-ride can help set it up before you use AF. In very low light with low contrast targets, at 200-300mm, even prefocusing manually may not prevent a long searching process or AF failure. However, in normal daylight with regular 3D subject matter it’s useable.
Since owners report that even Sony’s own lenses encounter similar issues – the 90mm f/2.8 G OSS Macro is known for hunting and taking time to lock on – it’s an issue more to do with the way the on-sensor focus works than anything else. It’s also much better than, for example, the Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L used on the Sigma MC-11 or Commlite adaptors. That just gives up towards 300mm.
The Tamron has variable bokeh qualities. Foreground bokeh can be untidy and contours just beyond the plane of focus can be harsh. Totally defocused detail in both foreground and background can look very smooth. It has a nine-blade circular aperture, just like the Sony G A-mount, and I’d say overall image look was uncannily similar. The exact look depends on the focal length, working distance, aperture and placing of the foreground and background detail.
Purple rhody at f/6.3 and 300mm – not too bad overall!
Matching person in the distance – again, not bad, with a pleasant three-dimensional look. Maybe I should do a version in black and white…
As for this lens not having VC (Tamron’s OS/OSS) I can only say it doesn’t need it when Sony’s 5-axis sensor stabilisation does so well. Here you can see 1/30s wide open at 300mm indoors at ISO 3200. Note also what CA or fringe occurs. It’s pretty good.
As for handling 42 megapixels, which didn’t exist when the Tamron was designed, there doesn’t seem to be a serious problem. Here’s a quick shot of Scotland’s relationship with the USA and Europe…
And here, frozen by 1/500s shutter speed at the realistic aperture of f/7.1 and ISO of 200, is a detail at 100% size. I’m generally happy with a 70-300mm lens if you can see the weave and the stitching on our town hall flags at 300m, 2/3rds of a stop down from full aperture, reproduced on a 1.5m wide print.
I’ll test the lens further and add a gallery of images and any other comments, but I think that this is the only non-Sony lens of this range which really works well with the LA-EA3 (and of course, extremely well too with the LA-EA4 given AF calibration).
The only slight incompatibility is that the camera/adaptor gives the lens the identity of the Sony 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G SSM, this is what appears in the EXIF. This also means that the camera will invoke an auto profile for the Sony lens, and handle the focusing as if this was the Sony lens. It also loads the built-in profile for the SSM G lens in Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw. This seems to work just fine. Without the profile enabled, the flag shot for example shows a stop or more of vignetting which is a relative weakness of the design – exactly as it is with the Sony. The new FE G lens with its 72mm front element as opposed to the 62mm of the Sony G, Sigma OS and Tamron SP designs can be expected to have much less full aperture vignetting.
Please note that this report refers specifically to the A7RII as a host body – as stated, it’s not useful on the A7 and I also found it’s not good enough to use on the A6000 with LA-EA3 (fine with LA-EA2 or LA-EA4). It will eventually focus but with too much hunting and missing.
– David Kilpatrick
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