Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Review

The announcement of the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens raised more than a few eyebrows. For many years, photographers (including me) have been requesting a full frame compatible 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with optical image stabilization. Those wishes appeared to fall upon deaf ears until this lens was announced. Kudos to Tamron for listening to the customer!

Tamron 24-70mm VC USD Lens on Canon 1Ds Mark III

While the 24-70 VC was introduced to a pent-up demand, it takes more than a features list to make a lens great - and to fully realize the sales potential of an in-demand product. I was not concerned about the build quality of a Tamron lens, but the image quality and autofocus accuracy I anxiously awaited to evaluate.

The popular 24-70mm focal length range (FLR) leaves little to be desired. This range fully covers what I consider needed in a full frame general purpose lens and the 38.4-112mm full frame angle of view-equivalence experienced with an APS-C body also works well for many – especially for portraits and walk-around photography needs.

Here is a full frame example of this FLR angle of view coverage.

24-70mm Focal Length Range Example

Obviously, this lens can be used for landscape photography. As with any general purpose lens, the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens can also be used for a huge list of other tasks. With the wide-as-it-gets on a full frame lens max f/2.8 aperture available over the entire focal length range, stopping motion in low light is an added benefit from this lens. Creating a strong background blur with relatively close subjects is a bonus that comes with that wide aperture.

Here is a 70mm aperture comparison captured by a Canon 5D Mark III.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Aperture Comparison Example

Which of those samples most-draws your eye to focus on the closest bolt? That is what shallow depth of field can do for your images. Use this feature to draw your viewer's eye to your subject.

Add optical image stabilization to the wide f/2.8 aperture and you have an ultra-handholdable zoom lens useful for a wide range of low light and/or narrow aperture handheld uses. Vibration Control (VC) is Tamron's name for its optical lens stabilization feature. As indicated in the beginning of the review, this 4-stops-of-assistance-rated feature is a strong competitive advantage held over all other 24-70mm lenses available as of this review date. And this implementation of VC is very well done.

There is no viewfinder framing shift during stabilization startup and the image is very obviously stabilized in the viewfinder - which strongly aids in acquiring ideal subject framing in addition to keeping the final image sharp. The stabilization in this lens is one of the quietest I've used. With VC active, you will hear a light humming if your ear is very close to the lens, but loud clicks at stabilization startup and shutdown are not present.

At 24mm, the 24-70 VC delivers a very good sharp image rate at .8 seconds for about 4 1/3 stops of assistance. Even my 1 second exposures were sharp about 60% of the time.

At 70mm, this lens is delivering a very good sharpness percentage at the rated 4 stops of assistance – at about 1/5 second exposures. I can expect a 50% sharpness rate at 1/4 seconds and about 33% at .4 and .5 seconds. The near-linear diminishing rate of sharp images ends abruptly at .6 seconds with a 0% sharpness rate for me.

These stabilizer tests were conducted under ideal conditions (less than ideal conditions are hard to reproduce). You should expect to need shorter duration exposures in lesser conditions, but the amount of assistance may be similar since non-stabilized images will also need shorter exposures in less than ideal conditions.

I still hear photographers talking about stabilization not being important at 24mm. I'm sure it is not needed by some, but I find it incredibly useful for still subjects. I used my Going-To-The-Sun Road sign for the following with and with-out vibration control examples.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Image Stabilization Example

24mm:  IS On  |  IS Off      70mm  IS On  |  IS Off 

The 24mm samples were captured with 1.3 second exposures and the 70mm samples were captured at .5 seconds. Don't worry, I didn't steal the sign. The real signs were stolen with so much frequency that the Glacier National Park gift shops now sell them to, in part, prevent the theft of the real ones.

All is great so far, but I must now disclose the details of what was one of my more-problematic lens evaluations to date.

I mentioned that good image quality was one of the key attributes I was looking for. My first retail-purchased copy of this lens did not have it. After spending 10 hours or so completing image quality testing of my first copy of the 24-70 VC lens (on the ISO 12233 resolution chart), it became clear that the lens was not working properly at the longer focal lengths. Image quality was simply unacceptable at 70mm. Tamron confirmed that the results were not as they expected (and they wanted the lens back for analysis).

The second copy (again, retail-purchased) of this lens performed better optically, but it was still not perfect. The right side of the image, the portion of the image circle shown in the site's image quality tool, was softer than the left. This lens also had some AF problems. Multiple times we experienced unresponsive AF from this lens mounted to a Canon 1Ds Mark III. And the lens was not properly AF-calibrated for this Canon factory-calibrated camera.

I suspected that a decentering issue was causing the right-side softness problem and thought that this issue could be easily corrected by Tamron service. Tamron quickly returned the repaired lens, but ... it performed worse than before I sent it in.

Tamron sent me a shipping label and promptly performed another attempt at the repair. They may actually have replaced the lens as it was returned with a new serial number. We spent over a full week testing this lens model for the ISO 12233 chart image quality test alone, but persistence has paid off ... I think we have an as-good-as-it-gets copy in our hands now.

While this experience was troubling, this lens is now showing image quality up in the level I had hoped for.

Tamron 24-70mm VC USD Lens on Canon 1Ds Mark III - Top View

At f/2.8, this lens delivers very good sharpness in the center of the frame throughout the focal length range with 24mm centers being impressively sharp. Corners are not as sharp as the center and progress from very good at 24mm to moderately soft at 50mm with modest improvement seen at 70mm. APS-C format DSLR owners will, as usual, avoid the worst of the peripheral image softness, but will still notice some softness – especially at the longer half of the FLR.

At 24mm, only modest improvement in image sharpness is visible at f/4, but little is needed. More significant image quality improvement is seen over the rest of the focal length range at f/4 where this lens delivers remarkable image quality across the frame. Stopping down to f/5.6 results in a slight improvement in mid-FLR full frame corner sharpness, but this improvement is not so easily seen in real world images.

Full frame DSLR users are going to see a significant (3+ stops) of vignetting in the corners at 24mm f/2.8. Vignetting diminishes to about 2 stops in the mid FLR and increases again to about 2.5 stops at 70mm. Stopping down to f/4 and f/5.6 decreases vignetting by about 1 stop and 1.5 stops respectively. Even at f/11, about 1.2 stops of vignetting remains at 24mm.

The 24-70 VC's vignetting is pushed strongly toward the image circle periphery. Therefore, APS-C DSLR owners will see very little vignetting when using this lens.

A slight amount of CA is visible in image corners at the widest focal lengths and reappears by 70mm. The Tamron 24-70mm VC resists flare well for a lens in this class - even slightly better than the Canon 24-70 L II. But, you will still see the effects of flare if a bright light is included in the frame.

Like practically every other normal/standard zoom lens on the market, the 24-70 VC has barrel distortion at the wide end that transitions to pincushion distortion over much of the balance of the focal length range. The amount of barrel distortion is moderate – more than the Canon 24-70 L II, but less than the Sigma 24-70 HSM. The distortion type transition focal length is around 30mm where pincushion increases until becoming modest at 70mm. The amount of pincushion distortion is average.

Somewhat below average is the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens' bokeh (background blur quality). Click on the image below for a complete bokeh comparison (opens in new window) with two other 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses.

24-70mm Lens Bokeh Comparison

If you can't see the differences here, there is a good chance that you won't notice them in your images either. And the differences are harder to see in the wider focal length samples with less-enlarged background subjects. In the 70mm test results, I think you will notice the harsher blur quality that the Tamron lens produces.

The Tamron 24-70 VC features a rounded 9-blade diaphragm.

In the field, the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens delivers very great image quality. When it focuses accurately, of course. And, unfortunately, focus accuracy is occasionally an issue with this lens – especially when used at narrow apertures.

The 24-70 VC utilizes Tamron's nice Ultrasonic Drive (USD) AF which features internal focusing and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing. With FTM, the MF ring is always functional but does not turn during AF. USD in this lens is very quiet, making only some just-audible clicking sounds.

The 24-70 VC's focusing speed is moderately fast. This speed is similar to the Sigma 24-70 HSM, but is lagging behind the Canon 24-70 L II. This difference is noticeable.

As I indicated, I have not been overly impressed with the 24-70 VC's somewhat inconsistent AF accuracy. The percentage of out of focus shots is too high for my expectations. I'll show you an example. The following two images were taken seconds apart from the same (squatted) position. The full image shows that there should not have been any confusion about my desired focus subject.

Tamron 24-70 VC Lens One Shot AF Accuracy Example

AFMA does not help with inconsistent autofocus issues.

AI Servo AF with a moving subject is much more consistent - but results are consistently out of focus unfortunately. You may have noticed that sports and action did not show up in my list of good uses for this lens (earlier in this review). With a wide f/2.8 max aperture over the entire focal length range, this lens seems like a great choice for stopping action. But, this lens has not been able to accurately focus on subjects moving toward or away from the camera at even non-challenging speeds and distances. The in-motion-subject out-of-focus rate is quite high.

Positive is that filters attached to this lens do not rotate with focusing. Like most other zoom lenses, this is not a parfocal lens – you need to focus after selecting your focal length. Subjects change size in the frame a modest amount with focus adjustment.

The 24-70 VC's narrow manual focus ring is relatively smooth with no play and with a nice amount of resistance for the 100° full extents rotation. I dislike the rear-positioned placement for the ring as it is too easy to change focusing while recomposing after autofocusing.

With a 15.0" (380mm) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and a 0.20x MM (Maximum Magnification), the 24-70 VC is essentially equal to its Canon L II and Sigma HSM peers.

Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens13.8"(350mm)0.21x
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens11.0"(280mm)0.22x
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens11.0"(280mm)0.25x
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens13.8"(350mm)0.16x
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens15.0"(380mm)0.21x
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens15.0"(380mm)0.29x
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS USM Lens7.9"(200mm)0.70x
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.23x
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Lens15.0"(380mm)0.19x
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens15.0"(380mm)0.20x

This lens is not compatible with Tamron Teleconverters, but extension tubes will nicely increase MM by reducing MFD (at the expense of infinity focus capabilities).

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Product Images

Select View:  MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare >

The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens is a nicely-built lens. If you have used any of the other same-era Tamron lens, the 24-70 VC will look and feel familiar to you. The standard gold nameplate ring, the deeply-ribbed zoom ring, the zoom ring rotation direction (opposite of Canon, same as Nikon), the shallow switches, the lens mount to barrel taper, the semi-matte black finished plastic barrel, the included ribbed-interior lens hood – all are similar to the other Tamron lenses.

Normal for a standard zoom is lens extension at longer focal lengths. The 24-70 VC fits this norm with an also normal amount of max extension – 1.2” (30.5mm). A 24mm lock switch is provided. While gravity-zooming is not an issue with this lens, the switch will prevent this problem if it ever loosens up enough to self-zoom when being carried.

Fit and finish of this lens are good. There is very little play in the focus or zoom rings and both are reasonably smooth.

Along with a wide aperture zoom lens comes a size and weight that are noticeable. This weight attributes to the lens' solid feel.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens22.8 oz(645g)3.3 x 4.4"(83.5 x 110.6mm)77mm2006
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens28.4 oz(805g)3.5 x 4.4"(88.5 x 113mm)82mm2012
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.3 x 4.9"(83 x 124mm)77mm2002
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS USM Lens21.2 oz(600g)3.3 x 3.7"(83.4 x 93mm)77mm2012
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens23.7 oz(670g)3.3 x 4.2"(83.5 x 107mm)77mm2005
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Lens27.9 oz(790g)3.4 x 3.7"(86.6 x 94.7mm)82mm2011
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens29.1 oz(825g)3.5 x 4.3"(88.2 x 108.5mm)82mm2012

For many more comparisons, review the complete Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Now let's take a closer look at the flagship 24-70mm lenses for each of these three brands.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens and Similar 24-70mm Lenses

Positioned above from left to right in height order are the following lenses in their fully retracted positions:

Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Lens
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens

The same lenses are shown rearranged below (retaining height order) in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens and Similar 24-70mm Lenses in Extended Position

While comparing these lenses, I'll talk a bit about the advantages that each holds starting with an image quality comparison. The comparisons presented below were shot on a perfectly clear day.

Exposures in-camera were identical, but all images within a focal length were brightness-matched at a central near-white point in the frame (using DPP) to make these comparisons easier to use. Differences in brightness in the comparisons are typically caused by vignetting at the wider apertures (these samples were taken from the outer portion of the image circle).

Focus for these images was manually obtained from a point very low in the center of the frame for the 24mm images and center-left for the 70mm samples. Note that field curvature (lacking a flat plane of sharp focus) can cause issues with image quality - and focusing on a peripheral subject can help or hurt image quality at other points in the frame for certain lenses.

These Canon EOS 5D Mark III RAW images were processing in DPP with the Standard Picture Style and sharpness set down to "1" (very low). Crops were stacked and aligned in Photoshop and saved at a 70% jpg quality.

The 24mm samples are cropped from the far lower left corner of the frame. Note that, to reduce page load time (especially for mobile users), this comparison is being hosted on a separate page. Click on the image below to open this comparison in a new window/tab. Use Alt-Tab/Ctrl-Tab to toggle back and forth.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Image Quality Comparison at 24mm

Corner performance is a challenge for all lenses, but especially so at wide apertures, especially so for zooms and especially so for wider angle zooms. The Canon 24-70 L II is really impressive in this regard, but the Tamron is competing strongly even at f/2.8 – and the Sigma is not trailing by much. By f/4, distortion is the probably biggest differentiator between the Tamron, Sigma and Canon in this comparison – though the Canon continues to hold the acuity lead.

The following 70mm crops are taken from the extreme bottom center of the frame.

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens Image Quality Comparison at 70mm

The Sigma image quality performance deteriorates in the outer portion of the image circle as the focal length is increased. This fact is made clear in this comparison. It does not come close to the Tamron 24-70 VC and Canon L II until f/5.6 even in this mid-image circle comparison. The Tamron, on the other hand, essentially runs with the 24-70 L II from the f/2.8 start.

In the mid focal lengths at f/2.8, the Canon 24-70 L II has the image quality edge over the Tamron 24-70 VC, but the differences are not dramatic. At f/4, those differences become harder to see. The Canon has less barrel distortion at 24mm and has better bokeh. The Tamron has slightly less flare at the long end of the focal length range. The Tamron has more CA at 24mm, but less at 70mm.

The Canon's front-positioned MF ring is a better design. The Canon focuses considerably faster and more accurately. If you are photographing action, the Canon is the lens you need.

The two big advantages the Tamron 24-70mm VC has over the Canon 24-70 L II are Vibration Control and a substantially lower price tag.

But the Tamron is still not inexpensive. The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Lens is considerably less expensive still, but I highly recommend the Tamron over the Sigma for the Vibration Control and significantly better image quality at f/2.8. You are probably buying an f/2.8 lens to use at f/2.8 a considerable percentage of the time. The Sigma's image quality competes much more strongly by f/4 (and by f/5.6 at 70mm).

The Sigma has more CA at the focal length extremities and less flare at 70mm. The Sigma is a slightly smaller lens. If you plan to photograph action, you can also take the Sigma off of your list – you need the Canon.

Here is a larger comparison of similar lenses:

Canon, Tamron and Sigma 24-70mm Lenses

From left to right are:

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Lens
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.

Canon, Tamron and Sigma 24-70mm Lenses with Hoods

If you do not need an f/2.8 max aperture, the Canon 24-70 f/4 L IS and 24-105 L IS lenses are worth considering. The 24-105 costs less than the 24-70 VC and has a longer focal length range. The modestly more expensive 24-70 f/4 L IS has a very impressive MFD/MM capability (it is essentially a standard zoom lens and a macro lens in one) and it has less barrel distortion at 24mm. The two Canon lenses are better options for accurate AF with a moving subject while the Tamron delivers sharper image quality when accurately focused. The Tamron at f/2.8 is sharper than the two Canon's at f/4 in most comparisons. All are quite sharp at narrower apertures.

Tamron 24-70mm VC USD Lens on Canon 1Ds Mark III - Angled Top View

As is the norm for Tamron lenses, the hood is included in the box. Also normal is the size and shape of this hood relative to the other 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses. Like Sigma, Tamron uses a ribbed plastic interior (Canon uses flocking material).

No case is included with this lens.

Tamron 24-70mm VC USD Lens on Canon 1Ds Mark III - Front View

The large 82mm filter size is definitely the norm today with the Tamron, Canon and Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses sharing this size. Filters generally become more expensive with larger size.

The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens is available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon and Sony mounts. My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Tamron reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF routines, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Sometimes a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer, sometimes not. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Tamron USA's 6-year warranty is vastly better than Canon USA's standard 1 year warranty.

Tamron 24-70mm VC USD Lens on Canon 1Ds Mark III Close-UP

The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens is currently the only full frame-compatible lens available in the 24-70mm focal length range with both an f/2.8 max aperture and Vibration Control. This is a combination that MANY of us find very attractive. And while this lens is not inexpensive, it still represents a good value with extreme low light handheld capabilities with very good image quality.

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