Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro Lens Review

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro Lens Review

The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens delivers sharp images from a great focal length range and a wide/fast aperture in an economical package. The autofocus system is the clear downside to this lens.

Overall, and especially for the price, I'm very pleased with the image quality of the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens. On the wide end (70mm), this lens is sharp wide open (f/2.8) across the entire 35mm frame. Stopping down only makes a small improvement in sharpness - reduced vignetting is the primary difference seen. By 100mm, the center is still sharp wide open, but corner softness is setting in due to a slightly curved plane of sharp focus. Stopping down to f/5.6 results in excellent image quality across the frame.

The weak spot for this lens is 135mm - especially in my first purchased-retail-new copy of the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens which exhibited a very soft right side. This was due mostly to a curved plane of sharp focus but the left side was far sharper than the right side (examples showing the right side of this lens are shown in the ISO 12233 test results for lens sample #2). Here is a closer look at the problem that was most apparent at 135mm f/2.8.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens bad right side example

 
In the mouseover example above, the left block is from the top left of the frame, the center block is from the center and the right block is from the top right. The bottom corner image quality was very similar to the top. As you can see, the center and left side fall into focus at nearly the same focus distance setting - as we want them to. But, when the right side is brought into focus using Live View and manual focusing, the center (especially) and left side become blurry. I questioned my test setup when I first saw these results, but careful laser-aligned retesting delivered the same results. A Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III was the test camera.

Both sides of my second also-purchased-retail-new copy of the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens perform similarly throughout the focal length range - as I would expect. A curved plane of sharp focus continues to be an issue at 135mm, but results from the second copy of this lens are considerably better. When in focus, 135mm corners are not bad - showing only a little softness. Stop down to f/5.6, or even better, f/8, and you have a very sharp image of even a flat surface across a full 35mm frame.

With a much flatter plane of sharp focus, 200mm performs much better than 135mm on paper. Though slightly soft wide open, the Tamron 70-200 snaps into sharpness in the center of the frame at f/4. Corners at 200mm look very nice at f/5.6.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is well controlled. Some is noticeable in the full frame corners the ends of the focal length range - most noticeable at 200mm and then at 70mm. Full frame vignetting ranges from minor at 70mm to somewhat strong at 200mm. Even 1.6x body users will likely notice some frame-darkening at 200mm. Bokeh seems very nice, thanks in part to a rounded 9-blade aperture. Color and contrast are good as well.

Flare ranges from well-controlled at 70mm to strong at 200mm. Moderate barrel distortion at 70mm slowly transitions to pincushion distortion at 135mm and becomes moderate at 200mm. You can gauge the amount of distortion using ISO 12233 tool. Select the Canon EF 200mm f/2 L IS USM Lens as the compare-to lens. Then scroll through the Tamron's focal lengths and view the chart detail size diffence between the lenses using the mouseover feature. Barrel distortion will make the details in the top image appear larger, pincushion will have the opposite effect.

Of course, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens' very good image quality will only be seen in a properly-focused picture. Unfortunately, AF accuracy is the biggest problem area for this lens. Both Tamron 70-200mm lenses I've had appeared to be properly autofocus-calibrated, but neither autofocused consistently accurately. My percentage of properly-focused shots is highest at 70mm and lowest at 200mm. The accuracy percentage was low enough to raise my red flag for critical shooting situations. The accuracy percentage was even lower in low light situations. An indoor available light event and portraits in the shade are examples of situations that delivered especially low AF hit rates for me. Narrowing/stopping down the aperture increases DOF (Depth of Field) and therefore increases the keeper rate from this lens. But this of course negates a definite attraction of this lens - the constant max f/2.8 aperture.

A noisy Micro Motor powers AF in the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens. AF speed is reasonable.

The Tamron's black color is stealthier than the white of Canon's 70-200mm L Lenses, but the sound of the Tamron autofocusing may give you away even faster than the white lens color when shooting in a quiet environment.

And if you need to use manual focus, you might get even more attention. The Tamron 70-200 uses a push-pull clutch system to switch between AF and MF. Going into MF mode can be done quietly (makes a "chunk" sound if you do not shift slowly - which is hard to do because the gears frequently do not align well), but going back to AF mode makes a loud "snap". FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is not available, but a benefit of this push/pull switching system is that the focus ring does not turn during AF. There is no additional AF/MF switch. The system is functional, but not nearly as elegant as Canon's Ring USM system or Sigma's HSM system. It also does not cost as much.

This is an internally focusing lens (does not extend) and the front element does not rotate.

You can see the push/pull AF/MF action in the product image mouseover feature below.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens Product Image

@ 70mm | @ 200mm (MF)    With Hood: @ 70mm | @ 200mm (MF) | Rotated

 
While it does not feel as polished as Canon or Sigma's equivalent lenses, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens's build quality is not bad. The focus and zoom rings function smoothly with very little play in them. Canon users will notice that the zoom ring turns in the opposite direction from Canon's zoom lenses. The included removable 6.2 oz (175g) tripod ring is not smooth (it is possible that lots of use could improve this trait) and the thumbscrew has a lot of turns in it between tight and moveable. It is possible that tight is not necessary for this ring to be locked, but I like the feedback that tight gives me.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens24.9 oz(705g)3 x 6.8"(76 x 172mm)67mm1999
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens26.8 oz(760g)3 x 6.8"(76 x 172mm)67mm2006
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens46.2 oz(1310g)3.3 x 7.6"(85 x 194mm)77mm1995
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens52.6 oz(1490g)3.5 x 7.8"(88.8 x 199mm)77mm2010
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens51.9 oz(1470g)3.4 x 7.8"(86 x 197mm)77mm2001
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens48.4 oz(1370g)3.4 x 7.2"(86 x 184mm)77mm2007
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens46.6 oz(1320g)3.5 x 7.6"(90 x 194mm)77mm2008

 
The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens is similar in size and weight to the other comparable lenses. It shares the common 77mm filter threads.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens47.2"(1200mm).21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens47.2"(1200mm).21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens59.1"(1500mm).13x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens47.2"(1200mm).21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens55.1"(1400mm).17x
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II Macro Lens39.4"(1000mm).29x
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens37.4"(950mm).32x

 
While not what I would consider a true "macro" lens, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens delivers a best-in-class .32x MM (Maximum Magnification) - a much higher number than the Canon equivalents deliver. Unfortunately, I have not found the image quality at near minimum focus distances to be very good. Sharpness drops - especially toward the corners (even at f/11) and color fringing becomes much stronger.

This lens is compatible with the Tamron SP Pro Teleconverters - and performs especially nicely with the Tamron 1.4x SP AF Pro Teleconverter.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens Padded Drawstring Pouch

The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens ships in a nylon padded drawstring pouch with a handle as seen above. Both caps are included as always. I've always been a fan of Tamron's center-pinch lens caps - you can easily install/remove the front cap inside even the relatively large Tamron HA001 Lens Hood included with this lens. Of course, you can still side-pinch them if that is your thing. Unfortunately, the rear cap fits in only 1 position (Canon's fits in 3) - A replacement Canon rear cap would be a cheap but nice improvement. The hood installs easily and smoothly. Like Sigma, Tamron uses molded, ribbed plastic for the inside of their hood (Canon lines their hoods with flocking material). The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens is or will be available in Canon (reviewed), Nikon, Pentax and Sony mounts.

My obligatory standard notice: You should know that there are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Tamron reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF routines, the possibility exists that a new body might not support an older third party lens. Though not common, this has happened. Sometimes a lens can be rechipped to be made compatible, sometimes not. Second and again unusual, there is the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers pointing blame at each other. However, Tamron USA's 6-year warranty is far superior to Canon's standard 1 year warranty. The risk is probably low, but you should figure this into your purchase decision.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens Mounted on a Canon EOS 40D

The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens is shown mounted on a Canon EOS 40D DSLR in the above picture.

The 70-200mm focal length range is probably within the most frequently chosen for a second lens. The wide end (70mm) is going to be too long for most people for their primary general purpose lens, but this range is really useful for many other shots. Here is what the 70-200mm focal length range looks like from a full-frame body perspective.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens Focal Length Comparison

 

Because of the inconsistent AF accuracy, I'm withholding recommendation of this lens for time-critical work. If you can shoot, check the results and reshoot if necessary (as many times as necessary), this lens can deliver very nice results for a relatively small cost. I would be very uncomfortable if I had to use this lens for a wedding - or adding the slow AF speed factor, for action sports - or for any other important shot that I couldn't reshoot. In shooting my own pictures with this lens, I found myself overshooting to make sure I got the shot I wanted. When AF was on, results were very nice. As I said before, stopping down the aperture increased the keeper rate nicely.

If your tolerance level for OOF (Out of Focus) shots is higher than your budget, this might be the right lens for you.

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