Tamron 35-150mm f/2.0-2.8 Di III VXD review

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.

Tamron 35-150mm on Sony A7RIV body

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 Tamron is 155mm long and 90mm in diameter

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. 

35mm is not a bad wide end for practical reasons

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.

The range

The statue of Sir Alec Douglas Home at The Hirsel estate, Coldstream, is a rare example of a life-size bronze standing on a soap box height plinth. The versatility of the 35-150mm range and the fast aperture is demonstrated here – above, 35mm and f/9 for the depth of field; below, both at 150mm and f/2.8 from different distances, showing the bokeh pattern.
At 150mm, from a distance…
At 150mm again, from closer in. Both at f/2.8.
Zooming out to 35mm and closing in a bit shows how different a perspective on a figure can be achieved. For test, taken at f/2 full aperture.
Still at 35mm, moving in close and keeping the aperture wide open at f/2. This can be a versatile lens.

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.

At 150mm with no Adobe lens profile correction, showing vignetting and pincushion distortion at ƒ2.8.
The same raw file with Adobe Camera Raw profile corrections applied. In-camera JPEG corrections do much the same.
Here we have 35mm and f/2 uncorrected.
This is the same raw f/2 file with profile correction applied.

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.

Here’s what detail enlarged from the 150mm f/2.8 shot looks like.
Here’s 35mm f/2 detail. Sadly The Border Hotel’s delapidated facade will soon be a thing of the past, as it’s been a great test target for several years. The letters of the name fell off one by one but no-one was killed…

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.

I regularly walk round with the 70-180mm Tamron f/2.8 on the camera and the 17-28mm and 28-75mm in a small shoulder pouch. All three of those go into the little Vanguard Sydney II 22 bag with the A7RIV. But just the body and this one 35-150mm lens could fit.

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.

The USB socket

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.

More statuary, this time at The Haining, a publicly owned mansion with a loch and grounds entirely free to walk round – not even a parking charge – in Selkirk, Scottish Border. This one is at 150mm and f/2.8.
Here’s a more likely aperture to use if you had real people in a random group – f/11. But note how obtrusive the background has become.

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.

Bokeh Airey discs, f/2.8 and 150mm.
Zooming back to 107mm still at f/2.8.
82mm and f/2.8 – a 10 x 8 shape crop from something like a party or wedding shot with lights would lose the cat’s eye shapes at the ends of the frame.
At 60mm and f/2.5 the chatoyance only affects the extreme corners. Sure, I write elliptically. What less would you expect?

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.

Sony Animal Eye-AF at 150mm and f/2.8. It’s got that bit more depth of field than a 200mm f/2 or something extreme. However, it’s hardly unique to this lens. Every 70-200mm f/2.8 pot-boiler zoom ever made for an SLR or DSLR or mirrorless can do 150mm f/2.8 much the same. They just can’t do 35mm f/2.

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).

Lock for zoom (not really much needed) and one of the three lens function buttons which occupy the remaining cardinal points.

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.

You are advised to get a good USB-C cable to make use of the software to program the lens’s functions (mostly of interest to movie makers who can set the buttons to initiate point-to-point focus transitions).

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.

– David Kilpatrick

For further information, visit:

https://www.tamron.co.uk

Tamron’s super value 70-300mm USD on the A7RII

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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).

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

SONY DSC

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.

rhododerndron-300mm-6p3

Purple rhody at f/6.3 and 300mm – not too bad overall!

colourmatch-300mm-f6p3-300mm

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.

300mm-iso3200-30th-wideopen-SSI

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…

saltire-300mm

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.

300mm-detail

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

If you’d like to check availability or order the lens, here are my affiliate links (may help pay for the site, don’t cost you anything):

Wex Photographic, UK – £239

B&H, USA & World – $449 ($100 rebate to June 30th)

Amazon UK – £239 at time of publication

hireacamera.com invest in Alpha and NEX gear!

The UK’s top camera and lens hire company, hireacamera.com, has invested in a whole new stock of Sony Alpha and NEX gear right up to the 500mm G – their A77s come with 16-50mm SSMs… here, Guy Thatcher explains their enthusiasm for Sony, filmed at the PhotoVision Roadshow in Edinburgh on Tuesday March 27th.

It’s a 1080p HD video shot on the NEX-7 by David Kilpatrick with no accessories apart from the Tamron 18-200mm DiIII VC zoom, which at one point displays a preference for focusing on the better lit, more contrasty background.

Tamron 18-200mm VC for NEX

Tamron’s has announced a high-power zoom for Sony’s NEX-series – the 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di III VC (Model B011).

The image-stabilised lens has exactly the same nominal specifications as Sony’s own zoom. The angle of view is 27-300mm when converted to 35mm format.

It weighs 460g, uses 62mm filters, and has VC (Vibration Compensation). The metallic lens barrel exterior is available in two colors: black and silver. A newly constructed stepping motor allows contrast-detection AF during video shooting. Direct Manual Focus (DMF) allows the user to make fine manual adjustments in the AF focus.

Di III (Digitally integrated design): A new designation Tamron gives to lenses engineered specifically for mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras with no internal mirror box or pentaprism, adopting an optical design that matches the characteristics of the digital camera.

The result of this development is a lens that is compact and lightweight, featuring a 62mm filter diameter and weighing only 460g. The lens is available in silver and in black.

Tamron’s VC mechanism employs a three-coil system, electromagnetically moving the VC group via three steel balls. The VC lens elements are held in place only by contact with the steel balls, achieving smooth movement with little friction. This provides a stable viewfinder image with excellent tracking performance that eliminates the blur from handheld shots for cleaner, crisper shots.

Tamron’s earlier VC unit has a moving magnet system with heavy magnets in the vibration-compensating lens. However, the new VC mechanism adopts a lightweight moving coil system that reduces the load on the drive system. This allows the drive to be operated with smaller coils and magnets, reducing the weight and size for the entire VC unit. In addition, improvements to software and other elements of the VC mechanism used in the 18-200mm Di III VC have made the mechanism even quieter.

Specifications 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di lll VC (Model B011)

  • Focal length: 18-200mm
  • Maximum aperture: F/3.5-6.3
  • Angle of view3: (diagonal) 76˚ 10´-8˚ 03´
  • (Horizontal) 66˚ 16´-6˚ 43´
  • (Vertical) 46˚ 51´-4˚ 27´
  • Lens construction: 17 elements in 13 groups
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.5m (throughout zoom range)
  • Maximum magnification ratio: 1:3.7 (at f=200mm: MFD 0.5m)
  • Filter size: φ62mm
  • Length4: 96.7mm
  • Entire Length5: 102.0mm
  • Diameter: φ68mm
  • Weight: 460 g
  • No. of diaphragm blades: 7
  • Minimum aperture: F/22 – 40
  • Standard accessories: Flower-shaped lens hood (included)
  • Compatible mounts: Sony E-mount

The angle of view of the lens when used for video on the Sony digital HD video camera recorder NEX-VG10 is 32.4 – 360mm when converted to the 35mm format.

Due to an inherent characteristic of this TAMRON lens, the resulting image in the LCD monitor may be displayed in a “pumping” manner in the continuous operation of the focus search function when using the Sports Action mode on Scene Selection. The actual images captured will NOT be affected by this circumstance. In other Shoot Modes (P, A, S, M), when the focus mode is set to Continuous AF (AF-C), the same condition may also arise. The actual images captured will also NOT be affected by this circumstance.

As an alternative to the above settings, you can change the focus mode to Single-shot AF (AF-S) or Direct Manual Focus (DMF).

This lens was developed, manufactured and will be sold based on the specifications for the E-mount that was disclosed by Sony Corporation under Tamron’s license agreement with Sony Corporation

Price: The suggested retail price is yet to be announced. Availability: Early 2012. Exact date to be announced.

Tamron 18-270mm – a hero, but no VC…

After using Sigma’s 18-250mm optically stabilised zoom on Alpha bodies for a year and more, the first thing which strikes about the Tamron 18-270mm for Sony mount is the lack of the VC (Vibration Control) stabiliser found on the same lens made for Canon or Nikon.

Tamron’s lenses come without a case, but with a custom fit petal lens hood, front and rear caps. Design is clean with a Nikon-like sleeve grip and Canon-ish gold ring. The PiezoDrive focusing is similar to Nikon AF-S/Silent Wave or Canon USM, or Sony SSM, but not identical and on Sony models it can contrast-detect autofocus reliably. Sigma’s HSM hunts.

With Sigma facing patent claims by Nikon – that parts of their OS technology infringe on Nikon VR – Tamron VC is a mature system not so far challenged in the same way. It is also a very solid kind of stabilisation, free from swimming effects, and in this respect closely matches Sigma’s approach. Both are generally more comfortable than Canon’s IS which often seems to attach the image by a bungee cord to the viewfinder screen.

For video work, in-lens stabilisation is generally better than in-body as long as there is a good stable view which does not tend to float free when you pan slowly. For long lens work in general – over 200mm – in-lens stabilisation provides a view which is easier to aim and compose. We had already checked the lens out on Canon, with its smaller sensor area missing off the extreme corners (and therefore doing the lens favoured compared to other brands) but to compare with Sigma’s lens, needed to look at it in Sony mount.

The lack of VC in the Sony version of this lens is regrettable. There is no corresponding reduction in retail price.

Against this the Tamron has a longer zoom range, and it’s much smaller and lighter than the Sigma, taking regular 62mm filters not the unusual and large 72mm size. It also offers Piezo Drive focusing, which almost as quiet as SSM yet as fast as SAM. Small adjustments make a sort of faint clicking sound and focus travel is unusually fast, but a range of freehand refocusing tests using the Tamron showed that it is just as reliable in locking on to difficult targets as any other lens. Usually fast focusing means lots of overshooting or hunting, but not on the Alpha 580 used for this test.

Although the size and weight difference between this and the Sigma doesn’t look all that extreme when photographed in the studio, the heft in your hand (volume) is much less for the Tamron. It does not really seem any bigger than the Tamron/Sony 18-250mm design or the earlier 18-200mm.

The design of the lens follows these, with the LOCK switch for holding the lens at 18mm when walking round positioned for the right hand to operate, a long way from the AF/M switch (which should be used instead of the body switch for changing to manual focus).

This is a better design than the Sigma which clusters the AF/M, OS on/off and Lock controls together on the left hand side. Even after a year of use, both Shirley and I regularly turn the lens OS off, or turn AF off, instead of operating the Lock. All three controls move in the same way and are intended for the same fingers. Tamron’s location of Lock on the right hand side is ergonomically better.

However, both lenses fail to do the one simple thing which would improve such zooms – make the Lock control operate at ALL focal lengths not just 18mm. The Tamron is firm as we test it, so was the Sigma when new, but our Sigma can not now be used to pan with a plane or bird flying overhead unless one hand is used to keep the zoom from collapsing to 18mm immediately the lens is aimed upwards. To do the studio shot, the Sigma had to be taped to keep the zoom extended. Otherwise, it can’t even sit on a table set to 250mm.

You can’t see the sticky tape stopping the year-old Sigma zoom from deflating itself to 18mm every time when placed in the studio for this shot. The new Tamron is still young and firm. But we need locks which work at ALL settings.

It can not be difficult to devise a zoom lock which works at intermediate settings and it would transform the functionality of lenses like this.

Apart from ergonomics, there is no significant difference in build quality. Sigma feels more solid but heavier in action, Sigma’s exterior finish is difficult to clean and collects marks and dust easily. Tamron feels more plastic in build but has a high quality metal bayonet just like its rival.

Performance

Just studying the lens coatings shows why the Tamron can be more contrasty and less prone to flare in some light – especially if you fit a cheap filter to the Sigma and get contrast-eroding reflection for that front element.

The Tamron lens has visibly higher detail contrast than the Sigma, and in the centre of its field produces a very sharp image. The edge of the image lets it down, however, rather badly. The detail is soft at longer focal lengths unless stopped well down (ƒ/11 or so) and red-green chromatic fringes are serious enough to spoil JPEGs. They are not even very well corrected by using Adobe Lens Profile to process from raw (there is no Sony profile but Nikon, using similar sensors, can be selected).

This is a Sony Alpha 55 ISO 400shot, deliberately off centred in composition, with the Tamron set to f/9 (a good compromise between diffraction and stop-down sharpness) and 270mm.

The focus point is away from the centre of the image, and the lens displays good contrast and sharpness, but even here there is a slightly dirty look to the detail and chromatic fringes hit the white edge. This is NOT by the way anything to do with the Alpha 55 translucent mirror!

Here’s the edge of the shot at 270mm and f/9. I feel it would be almost unfair to Tamron to publish some of the worst results I got wide open. This is a defocused distance, of course, but this is also real-life imaging. This is why we did not switch from the bulky, heavy Sigma to the neater, lighter travel-friendly Tamron.

At full aperture and 270mm the performance is markedly inferior to the Sigma at 250mm wide open. The lens has better multicoating but poor field flatness, which creates the softening to the edges and corners.

The Tamron at 18mm has pretty strong barrel distortion which, when corrected using a lens profile in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, lost some of the wide-angle coverage.

At wide to medium focal lengths, the difference is less marked and the Tamron is more equal the Sigma or other ‘best’ superzooms. But this is a lens bought for its extra reach at 270mm; given the performance, it’s not all that much use unless your subject is centred and surrounded by out of focus background.

Tamron at 270mm.

Sigma 250mm view – at near-infinity, the Tamron is longer the Sigma but not quite as much as 270mm would indicate.

Another issue is that of focal length, above and below examples. If the Sigma is a true 250mm (which it is not, all such zooms are shorter than their stated figures) then the Tamron is actually 265mm not 270mm at infinity.

This is unscientific, but the baby owl did not move and both lenses were placed in turn against the wire of its enclosure ensuring the same shooting distance to within a centimetre or so (with lens hoods removed). Tamron at 270mm.

By this distance, the Sigma at 250mm really is no different in focal length than the Tamron at 270mm, due to internal focusing differences. And it focuses closer than the Tamron for a larger maximum subject scale.

Although the close focus is good, at 49cm and 1:3.8 scale it’s not as good as the Sigma with 45cm and 1:3.4 scale – the true focal length at closer distances also seems to be shorter than the Sigma, though this is hard to evaluate.

As for bokeh, that’s not why you buy these lenses:

How many stumps? Wiry would be a fair bokeh description at medium apertures and longer focal lengths (270mm again, above, at f/9).

The Tamron PZD focus does work on the LA-EA1 Alpha adaptor for NEX; it’s not fast, but can lock autofocus perfectly even in difficult light. The Sigma can not do this at all and is not AF-compatible with the NEX adaptor. But… manually focused, the Sigma has OS. Vital!

Most telling is the weight difference when mounted on a light body like the A55. The Tamron is a far better match even if not as ‘good’ a lens – 970g for A55+Tamron, 1400g for A580+Sigma. Check prices, and work out your priorities.

– David & Shirley Kilpatrick


Zeiss, Cosina, Sigma and Tamron – NEX E-mount future

Sony Corporation announced today it will disclose the basic specifications of its “E-mount” for interchangeable single lens cameras, without fee, to manufacturers of lenses and mount adaptors, starting April 1st, 2011. This was previously confirmed at the photokina press conference – now they have revealed that Carl Zeiss AG, Cosina, Sigma and Tamron will all be working on the E-mount system as independent lens makers.

“This opens the way for manufacturers of various lenses and mount adaptors to effectively develop products conforming to “E-mount” specifications”, say Sony.

The NEX E-mount revealed – ten contacts, three flanges and a mere 18mm of register distance…

“Users of the Sony’s NEX-3, NEX-5, NEX-VG10 and other E-mount compatible Sony digital imaging products to be launched in the future will now be able to use interchangeable lenses from both Sony and various other manufactures, while they will also be able to attach non-Sony lenses to their Sony digital imaging products via a mount adapter. Sony believes the growth of digital imaging products employing the “E-mount” will further increase the enjoyment of photography and video shooting among an even wider range of users.

“These basic specifications will be disclosed to manufactures of lenses and mount adaptors following a predefined process of approval and the signing a license agreement with Sony.

“As of today, the decision to disclose basic specifications of the E-mount has been endorsed by the following companies.”

(there follow these manufacturer statements)

Carl Zeiss AG
As an independent lens provider, Carl Zeiss welcomes the disclosure of the E-mount specifications by Sony. It helps manufacturer’s product development, benefits customers and therefore assists in establishing E-mount as a new, healthy and strong system on the market.

Cosina Co., Ltd.
Cosina Co., Ltd is excited by the potential of Sony’s E-mount which enables to a large-size image sensor to be incorporated in a compact, interchangeable lens camera. We have high expectations for the E-mount with its aims to create a new photography culture, and express its assent to Sony’s decision to provide information related to E-mount.

Sigma Corporation
Sigma Corporation fully supports Sony’s decision to disclose basic E-mount specifications. We believe this move will spur the further growth and diversification of camera system across the industry, provide photo enthusiasts with a wealth of choice and enrich in their photographic lifestyles.

Tamron Co., Ltd.
Tamron Co., Ltd endorses Sony’s decision to disclose basic E-mount specifications. We aim to offer our customers new solutions and unprecedented photo-shooting enjoyment through the manufacture and sale of E-mount lenses.

Editorial comment: at the photokina conference, the wording used seemed to imply that independent E-mount camera bodies were also a possibility. Of the makers above, three already have a history of making rangefinder or compact style large sensor bodies – Zeiss (to date, film only); Cosina (digital, in the form of the Epson Leica mount bodies with 6 megapixel Sony sensors) and Sigma (the DP-1 and 2 series have fixed lenses, but would be a natural candidate for conversion to E-mount form). If this was to be the case, in a future announcement, the E-mount would be established as an alternative to the Micro FourThirds system with a capacity to use sensors in formats between 2X and 1.5X with existing lenses, and possibly up to full frame in a secondary configuration with a different range of lenses (backwardly compatible with smaller sensors).

Is this the same Sony people rant about being protective and exploiting their customers? No. It is Sony listening to their customers. It’s Alpha becoming the 21st century equivalent of Leica.

Tamron grey importers get €2m fine

TAMRON Europe GmbH, Cologne, Germany attains drastic 2 Mio € penalty verdict against Ruitenberg / Crown in the Netherlands for dealing with illegal imports (press release)

On June 30th 2010 the district court in Utrecht/Netherlands (file reference number 262876/HA ZA 09-458) rendered a verdict against Mr. H.P. Ruitenberg and 4 respective entities of the so-called Crown group in favour of Tamron Europe, Cologne, Germany.

After an extremely harsh and meticulous prosecution Tamron Europe`s lawyers succeeded in providing evidence that Mr Ruitenberg and several of his respective Crown companies violated the trademark rights of Tamron by dealing with illegally imported merchandise, which was not imported into the EU by or on behalf of Tamron. The court could be successfully convinced of the damaging impact to Tamron Europe`s business resulting from the illegal trade.

The verdict includes a penalty of €2,000,000 for non-compliance with an earlier verdict that Tamron obtained in its favour. Tamron Europe urgently suggests all retailers in Europe to purchase Tamron merchandise solely from unsuspicious and fully reliable sources, as the company will not hesitate to take similar drastic legal action against any kind of trade with illegally imported Tamron products.

Tamron's new 60mm f/2 1:1 macro

Tamron Co., Ltd (Mr. Morio Ono, President), a comprehensive manufacturer of optical products with its head office in Saitama City, has announced the development of the SP AF60mm F/2.0 Di II LD (IF) MACRO 1:1 (Model G005), a life-size macro lens designed exclusively for digital SLR cameras with APS-C size image sensors* that offers a fast maximum aperture of F/2.0. (Text here is directly from their press announcement).
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Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5

Tamron’s new ultra wide angle zoom for APS-C/DX is getting a bit of a blasting from reviewers. Now, when I see this happen, I get curious. Lens testing is often badly designed for such zooms, involving test chart targets at distances which are extremely close and result in very bad figures caused mainly by a strong curvature of field (dished, ‘cap’ shape relative to the camera) when gets worse in effect the closer you focus.

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