Eric L. Woods

Lens Review: Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD

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Mission distraction continues. Added sample images below.

I have great expectations for this lens. What is that based on? I have been a fan of Tamron zoom lenses for quite a while now.

The DSLR 28-75mm f/2.8, the DSLR 70-200mm f/2.8, the Sony mount 28-75mm f/2.8, and most recently the Sony mount 17-28mm f/2.8. So now after some back and forth we have the Sony mount 70-180mm f/2.8.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD

Size

What first struck me was the size of the box. The box is shorter than the G Master lens alone I traded towards the 70-180mm and the 17-28mm. Much lighter too. Then I got the lens out of the box. It is small compared to the G Master as many have stated. But that is not the lens comparison that came to mind. It just so happens that one of the lenses I traded recently was the Rokinon/Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE. Not a bad lens. Excellent as a matter of fact. But I never used it because it was large and heavy for a prime lens. I have decided to move away from large and heavy lenses for mirrorless cameras. For me large prime lenses defeat the main advantage of small mirrorless cameras. So I traded it. Well the first thing I noticed about the Tamron 70-180mm was how close in size it was to a fast aperture prime lens. I will say it again. A tele constant aperture f/2.8 zoom is nearly the same size as a 35mm prime. Look at this table below of data taken from B&H.

Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FETamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III
Minimum Focus Distance11.81″ / 30 cm10.63″ / 27 cm
Maximum Magnification0.17x0.5x
Macro Reproduction RatioNot Applicable1:2
Optical Design11 Elements in 9 Groups19 Elements in 14 Groups
Diaphragm Blades9, Rounded9, Rounded
Focus TypeAutofocusAutofocus
Image StabilizationNoneNo
Filter Size67 mm (Front)67 mm (Front)
Dimensions (ø x L)2.99 x 4.53″ / 75.9 x 115 mm3.19 x 5.87″ / 81 x 149 mm
Weight1.42 lb / 645 g1.78 lb / 810 g

The diameter is nearly identical and it just over an inch longer. They even share the same filter size. But now let’s look at some other specs in that chart.

Minimum Focus Distance

A 70-180mm lens with a closer minimum focus distance (10.63″ / 27 cm) than a 35mm prime. What is particularly impressive is that it maintains this minimum focus distance across the focal range. For comparisons sake the Minimum Focus Distance on the Sony G Master 70-200mm is 3.15′ / 96 cm. Less than 11″ compared to over 3″. Below are shots as close as I could focus at 70mm and 180mm.

Close Focus at 70mm - AF
70mm
Close Focus at 180mm - AF
180mm

Maximum Magnification and Macro Reproduction Ratio

The Tamron has much greater maximum magnification. This leads to a Macro Reproduction Ratio of 1:2. Again. From a 70-180mm f/2.8 constant aperture zoom that is scarcely larger than a Sony dedicated macro 90mm f/2.8 that costs nearly as much. Sure we are talking 1:2 instead of 1:1 but that is more than fine for my purposes all things considered. There is a caveat however. 1:2 is achieved using MF at 70mm. But since I always use manual focus when shooting macro this is a non-issue. Sample below.

1:2 Close Focus at 70mm - MF
MF at 70mm

Bonus round is APS-C. The extra crop brings things even closer using manual focus at 70mm or 105mm full frame equivalent.

APS-C 1:2 Close Focus at 70mm - MF
APS-C MF at 70mm (105mm equivalent)

I got the lens out into the wild and it is a winner. But before I discuss that let me get the perceived negatives of mine and the internets and some positives out of the way first.

DOWN SIDES

180mm vs. 200mm

Non-issue. Without a 200mm lens at the ready to compare it to side by side this was not noticed. I adjusted.

No image stabilization.

I did not notice. While I am certain lens stabilization would be better if the lens was as large and heavy as the Sony, IBIS with a lighter lens seemed to work just fine. One handed shooting is possible which I would not have attempted with the Sony.

Extends on zoom

Plastic build

No switches

All three are non-issues in actual use that I would easily trade for the smaller size, lower weight, and lower price.

UP SIDES

Price

This is the obvious one. At less that half or around $1400 less than the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master it is every bit the optical match in my opinion. Some have shown that the Tamron has better AF speed and accuracy also (Manny Ortiz Comparison).

It is $300 less than the lower spec’d Sony 70-200mm f/4 G. I had that lens. It is a fine lens, but the Tamron cleans its clock in my opinion.

Smaller size, lower weight, and lower price.

Pretty straightforward. Great for portability and storage.

Warranty

Tamron lenses have a 6 year warranty. That is pretty awesome.

Autofocus

So far every bit a match for the Sony. As mentioned above in the price section I have seen that it is better than the G Master. Not surprising since many years have passed since the G Master came out. No complaints here.

Bokeh

Down two blades from the Sony at 9 it puts up an excellent performance nonetheless.

Weather resistant

I do not tend to shoot in inclement weather, but nice to have in case I get caught in the rain.

Firmware

Firmware is a big deal. Years ago I bought a Fuji X-Pro1 long after its release largely because Fuji fixed a lot of early AF issues with aggressive firmware updates. But a large reason why my friend Anthony and I both traded our X-T100s was because of the poor AF. We had hoped they would address this with a firmware upgrade as they had done with the X-Pro1 (and they may yet) but they seem to have released the X-T200 instead. Tamron quickly acknowledged and then addressed an IBIS issue that arose at the wider end of the 70-180mm with some older Sony cameras. It would have been fine with an A7III, but this issue impacted the A7II. But this became an issue when I had to send my A7III out for repair. Had thought I may have to turn off IBIS on the A7II until the A7III returned because I thought the firmware would take a while. But Tamron released the firmware before the lens arrived at my local camera shop. So not only was it addressed. It was addressed quickly. And I saw no AF issues with the A7II. And as another perk firmware updates are done through the camera so no additional hardware is required like Rokinon/Tamron. Well done Tamron.

Better suited to smaller APS-C bodies

As shown above with close up shot this lens works just fine on APS-C. Add in the smaller size and smaller weight and it is much better suited than the larger G Master. Perhaps owing to that smaller size and weight a lack of lens stabilization and IBIS with the a6100 did not seem that big of a deal.

Image Quality/Sharpness/Colors

So far every bit a match for the Sony. Right on par with the excellent performance of the previous Tamron lenses I have used.

Lastly I leave you with all that really maters. Sample images. Took a couple of my kids with me today so we could get out of the house and this lens was perfect. A great tele zoom and the additional features like 1:2 macro are great to have in a small and light package. This first shot was taken one handed at arms length through a vehicle window. Easy with such a small and light lens.

One Handed at Arm's Length - Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD

And this was all not at the optimal camera settings. Had set the ISO at 800 the day before and did not realize it until the end of the day. Would have usually used 100 or 200 but I am perfectly happy with the results. And this was shot with the, still very good, six year old A7II. While AF was great I am looking forward to using this lens with the even better focusing A7III when it returns. It is good to know that this is a viable lens on older Sony bodies also.

Conclusion?

If you do not need the tank like build, physical switches, or in lens stabilization of the Sony G Master I highly recommend this lens. Well done Tamron. Ongoing gallery here.

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