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

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

The 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens completes Tamron's trinity of f/2.8 Di III zoom lenses covering the most-needed focal length range. The Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens and 70-180 combined fully cover the popular 17-180mm focal length range. In this case, that range is fully covered by very compact high-performing lenses.

Practically since DSLRs came into existence, I've had a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in my kit. That this focal length range and aperture combination is incredibly useful means I often choose a 70-200 lens for my needs. Downsides to this lens class have been the relatively large size and heavy weight, making long term carry somewhat laborious.

"To achieve this diminutive size while maintaining the high performance of the F/2.8 aperture, Tamron selected the focal length of 180mm at the telephoto end and employed an innovative zoom mechanism." [Tamron USA]

Tamron stopped short of the full to-200mm focal length range, but they provided a considerably smaller and lighter lens that, in keeping with the other Tamron Di III lenses to date, delivers outstanding image quality at a very attractive price. You are going to want this lens.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Angle View

Focal Length Range

I've already shared that I think this focal length range is extremely useful. I am so accustomed to typing 70-200mm for similar lenses that I'll apologize in advance if you find that typo remaining somewhere in this review (just email the edit request to me).

How big is the 180mm vs. 200mm difference? At 180mm, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens frames our image quality test target (it measures 47.25 x 31.5", 1200 x 800mm) at 20.24' (6.17m) vs. the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens at 200mm doing the same at 22.50' (6.86m). That means moving 2.26' (0.69m) or about 10% closer to the subject to gain the same subject framing. The other difference is the strength of the background blur that is created with the longer focal length able to create a slightly stronger blur. Once you read this review, I doubt you will care about these differences.

Let's dive into some specific uses that are popular.

At the top of the list of my favorite uses for a 70-180mm lens is portrait photography. If you are taking pictures of people, this lens has your name on it. Containing a superset of the classic 85-135mm portrait focal length range, a 70-180mm lens is ideal for capturing pleasing perspectives of people. This lens invites subject framing ranging from full-body portraits at 70mm to tight headshots at 180mm. These mid-telephoto focal lengths naturally push the focus distances far enough away to avoid perspective distortion, including noses appearing too large relative to the rest of the face and ears, yet not so far that communication with the subject becomes difficult.

"Portrait photography" is a broad designation that covers a wide range of potential still and video uses at a wide variety of potential venues, including both indoors (home, church, school, etc.) and outdoors (yard, beach, park, parade, playground, etc.). Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups (if enough working distance is available). Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, speakers, kids' events, families, small groups, senior adults, graduating seniors, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 70-180mm focal lengths. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with the focal length range provided by this lens. It is not hard to use this lens exclusively for portrait shoots.

That portrait photography can be revenue-producing helps justify the acquisition cost of this lens (you cannot buy stock photos of most people), and you likely noticed the paid applications in the just-shared list of portrait uses.

People are also frequently photographed participating in sporting and other action scenarios using this focal length range. While the 180mm focal length may be modestly too wide for large field sports photography, it works very well for closer action such as that found at track and field meets and on the basketball court. Basketball is typically played indoors, and with the f/2.8 aperture (more on this soon), indoor action sports are within this lens' capabilities.

The longer focal lengths aided strongly by the wide f/2.8 aperture enable the background of 70-180mm images to be diffusely-blurred. That attribute is especially great for portraits captured where the background cannot be adequately controlled, including at sporting events and performances captured from a seat in the audience.

While portrait photography generally refers to photographing people, some of us also refer to certain types of wildlife photos as portraits. These images typically include the animal at least nearly filling the frame, and for that task, this focal length range often falls short of the need. Unless the wildlife subject is very large or very close, the longest focal length in this lens will usually be found too short for this task (without cropping). If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive (zoo) wildlife, the 70-180mm focal length range may be perfect. This focal length range is great for photographing pets, including dogs and cats.

When mentioning landscape photography, many immediately think of wide-angle lenses. However, telephoto focal lengths are an essential part of a landscape kit. Telephoto focal lengths can create excellent landscape images, especially when there is a distant subject to be emphasized, rendered significant in the frame, such as a mountain. It is so easy to take excellent telephoto landscape images that it feels (slightly) like cheating.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Flower Sample Picture

Another great use of telephoto lenses for landscape photography is to focus on closer details, allowing a strong background blur to isolate those within the image.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Lily Sample Picture

This focal length range is especially great for capturing clouds and sunsets/sunrises, allowing the frame to be filled with color from an even a modest show in the sky.

Cityscapes are essentially landscape images with cities in them, and this focal length range is often a great choice for more-distant city views. Street photography, usually done in cities, is another excellent use for the 70-180mm range.

A 70-180mm lens is a great studio lens, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications. A significant percentage of the product images on this site were captured within this focal length range, and this range works well for more substantial products, including vehicles.

Here is an example of what this focal length range looks like:

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Focal Length Range Example

APS-C sensor format cameras utilize a smaller portion of the image circle, and that means a scene is framed more tightly, with 1.5x being the angle of view multiplier for Sony's lineup. When mounted on an APS-C imaging sensor format camera body, this lens provides an angle of view similar to a 105-270mm lens on a full-frame body. The uses for this angle of view are similar, with more working distance required for the longer focal lengths. Individual circumstances will determine if the narrower angle of view range is an advantage or disadvantage.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Front View

Max Aperture

This lens has a very wide f/2.8 max aperture, and that this fixed max aperture is available over the entire focal length range is a significant asset. What are the advantages of a wide aperture? More light reaches the imaging sensor, allowing action (both subject and camera) to be stopped in lower light levels via a faster shutter speed and use of lower, less-noisy ISO settings. Also, a wide aperture permits creation of a shallower, better-subject-isolating depth of field.

While those photographing landscapes with this lens may not find the wide f/2.8 aperture mandatory, those capturing portraits or photographing low light events, including sporting events, will appreciate the faster shutter speeds and lower ISO settings made possible by the additional light reaching their imaging sensors. Even with the improvements we've seen in DSLR cameras' high ISO performance, f/2.8 remains the narrowest aperture I want to use when photographing many indoor activities. In addition to stopping action in low light, the wide aperture invites handholding the camera in much lower light levels.

I often talk about the compositional advantages of a clean border, and one way to achieve such is to blur the background, and this lens has that feature. Zoom to 180mm, open the aperture wide to f/2.8, move in close to your subject, and watch the distracting background melt away.

The two images below illustrate the maximum background blur this lens can create.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Maximum Blur Example

The extra light a wide aperture provides to a camera's AF system is very advantageous to that function.

What are the disadvantages of a wide aperture? Increased size and weight accompany this attribute. The other wide aperture disadvantage one can count on is increased price over similar focal length range lenses with narrower apertures. Usually, the advantages outweigh those disadvantages, and the penalties imposed by this lens are minor.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Top View with Hood

Image Stabilization

The Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD is not an image stabilized lens, but "... image stabilization features of the host camera body are utilized for shake-free shooting." [Tamron USA website] While this lens is not stabilized, Sony generally takes care of that omission with Steady Shot or IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization).

On a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder, IBIS results in an unstabilized view, meaning that stabilization was not helpful for composition or for providing a still subject to the camera's AF system. With EVFs being prevalent in Sony's lineup, the viewfinder image is directly from the imaging sensor, which is stabilized. Therefore, the viewfinder image is very obviously stabilized, and sensor-based AF takes advantage of the stabilized view for improved accuracy.

With no IS switch on the lens, the camera menu is used to enable or disable IBIS, slowing some workflows, such as when going from tripod to handheld.

Image stabilization is especially helpful with telephoto focal lengths, and these lenses usually have stabilization built in. Thus, I was anxious to determine how well IBIS worked with such a lens.

Testing under ideal conditions (indoors on a concrete floor), at 70mm, a substantial percentage of 1/6-second handheld-captured images were sharp, and the rate of sharp images at 0.2-seconds was decent. An occasional sharp image was made with exposures as long as 0.4-seconds. At 180mm, most of the 1/25-second-captured images were sharp, and the sharp image rate was reasonable at 1/20-captured-second. While a sharp 1/8-second-captured image was sharp, the keeper rate dropped significantly beyond 1/20-second.

Those numbers are reasonable and considerably better than I could have achieved without assistance.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens on Tripod

Image Quality

Tamron's other two f/2.8 Di III Sony-mount lenses produce very impressively sharp images at their widest aperture, and we should not be surprised to see this one live up to that established level of expectation.

In the center of the frame with a wide-open f/2.8 aperture, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens turns in very sharp results throughout the entire focal length range. Improving image sharpness is almost universally obtainable by stopping a lens down one or two stops from wide open, and this lens is razor sharp by f/4.

Image quality typically degrades as the image circle's radius is traversed, meaning that corners are seldom rendered as crisply as the center of the frame. With the 180mm end being an exception, this lens produces very sharp corners at f/2.8, and the corners improve to remarkable status by f/8. At 180mm, deep corners (only) are slightly soft, improving to very good by f/8.

Below you will find sets of 100% resolution center of the frame crops captured in uncompressed RAW format using a Sony a7R III. The images were processed in Capture One using the Natural Clarity method with the sharpening amount set to only "30" on a 0-1000 scale. Note that even modestly-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the actual characteristics of a lens.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

70mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0
100mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0
135mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0
180mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0   f/2.8 | f/4.0

These results should put a smile on your face. Be sure to find details in the plane of sharp focus to base your opinions.

In some lens designs, the plane of sharp focus can move forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected. This effect is called focus shift (residual spherical aberration or RSA), it is seldom (never?) desired, and this does show some focus shift when manually-focused at f/2.8 and then stopped down. Especially noticeable at the wide end of the focal length range, stopping down to f/4 and f/5.6 results in nearly all of the depth of field increase falling behind the plane of sharpest focus at f/2.8. This effect is less-pronounced at 180mm.

Next, we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. The lens was manually focused near the corner of the frame to capture these images.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

70mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6
100mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6
180mm: f/2.8 | f/4.0 | f/5.6

The extreme corner image quality this lens is producing is outstanding except for the wide-open 180mm results. Even these results are very good until the extreme corner, and stopping down improves these corners.

Corner sharpness does not always matter. When shooting at wide apertures, the corners are most often out of focus and not intended to be sharp. For portraits, a blurred background is often desired, and the corners are often not in focus. Videos captured at standard wide-aspect ratios also avoid the use of corners. When photographing certain subjects, including landscapes and architecture, sharp corners are often strongly desired. In those cases, a narrow aperture such f/8 or f/11 is commonly used to create enough depth of field for in-focus corner details, and this lens performs impressively for these purposes.

When used on a camera that utilizes a lens's entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings, and the amount of shading is the consideration. At 70mm through 100mm, at f/2.8, this lens shows a very mild about-1.6-stops of shading in the full-frame corners. Wide-open corner shading increases to about-2-stops at 135mm and 2.5-stops at 180mm, a noticeable but not comparatively bad amount. At f/4, the shading densities range from about-0.7-stops through about-1.4-stops. At f/5.6, the shading decreases to about-0.4 through 1-stop. Shading continuously decreases in the longer focal length range as the aperture narrows with a seldom-noticeable about-0.4 stops remaining at f/16 throughout the focal length range.

APS-C format cameras using lenses projecting a full-frame-sized image circle avoid most vignetting problems. In this case, the about-0.5-stops of shading showing at 180mm f/2.8 will seldom be visible.

One-stop of shading is the amount often used as the visibility number, though subject details provide a widely-varying amount of vignetting discernibility. Vignetting is correctable during post-processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty, or it can be embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye to the center of the frame. Study the pattern showing in our vignetting test tool to determine how your images will be affected.

The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the most significant amount as this is where the most significant difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.

With the right lens profile and software, lateral CA is often easily correctable (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide. However, it is always better not to have the problem in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a set of worst-case examples. These are 100% crops from the extreme top left corner of high-resolution a7R III frames showing diagonal black and white lines.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

There should be only black and white colors in these images, and the additional colors are showing the presence of lateral CA. In the 70-135mm range, a minor amount of lateral CA is present. The effect is more substantial at 180mm, but this amount is still relatively low for a max focal length extent on a zoom lens.

A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to observe. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing. The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused, and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.

In the examples below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights. Created by the neutrally-colored subjects, fringing color differences were introduced by the lens.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

In the example above, look at the fringing colors in out of focus areas with specular highlights in the foreground showing different colors than those in the background. Again, we are seeing very good performance from this lens. There is some color difference at 70mm, but it is not strong.

Flare and ghosting are caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and sometimes-interesting artifacts. Tamron uses BBAR-G2 (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection Generation 2) Coating applied to individual lens elements to reduce internal reflections, flare, and ghosting, which results in improved contrast, especially in strong lighting conditions. Our standard flare testing uses the sun in the corner of the frame, a brutal test for telephoto lenses. At f/2.8, this lens shows minor flare effects. At f/16, the effects become moderate at the wide end and strong at the long end.

Flare effects can be embraced or avoided, or removal can be attempted. Removal is sometimes very challenging, and in some cases, flare effects can be quite destructive to image quality.

Two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point, instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma), or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Coma clears as the aperture is narrowed. Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Remember that lateral CA is another aberration apparent in the corners.

The images below are 100% crops taken from the top-right corner of Sony a7R III frames.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Coma Example

These results do not show pin-point perfect stars, but they are not bad from a relative standpoint.

Let's next look at this lens's geometric distortion profile. At 70mm, the lines in our grid test chart remain very nicely parallel to the edges of the frame. As the focal length increases, pincushion distortion gradually builds until becoming moderately strong at 180mm, with the corners appearing pulled outward.

Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available, and distortion can easily be removed using these. Still, distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level as some portion of the image must be stretched, or the overall dimensions reduced.

As seen earlier in the review, the amount of blur a lens can produce is easy to show, and telephoto lenses are advantaged in this regard. Assessing the quality is more challenging due in part to the infinite number of variables present in all available scenes. Here are some f/11 (for aperture blade interaction) examples.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Bokeh Example

The first set of examples are 100% crops showing defocused highlights being rendered with nice roundness, though the shapes are not so smoothly-filled. The second set of examples are full images reduced in size, and these appear nice in quality.

Except for a small number of specialty lenses, the wide aperture bokeh in the corner of the frame does not produce round defocused highlights with these effects taking on a cat's eye shape due to a form of mechanical vignetting. If you look through a tube at an angle, similar to the light reaching the corner of the frame, the shape is not round. That is the shape seen here.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Cat's Eye Bokeh Example

As the aperture narrows, the entrance pupil size is reduced, and the mechanical vignetting absolves with the shapes becoming rounder.

With a 9-blade count aperture, point light sources captured with a narrow aperture setting and showing a sunstar effect will have 18 points. In general, the more a lens is stopped down, the larger and better-shaped the sunstars tend to be, with wide aperture lenses usually having an advantage in this regard.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Sunstar Effect Example

These f/16 sunstars have a nice shape and are reasonable in size.

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

The Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens design, illustrated above, features six low dispersion elements, including both XLD (eXtra Low Dispersion) and LD (Low Dispersion) elements for reduced color fringing and chromatic aberrations, improving clarity and color accuracy. The three aspherical elements, including both glass-molded and hybrid types, are designed to reduce spherical aberrations and distortion.

Overall, this lens turns in outstanding optical performance.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Extended Top View with Hood

Focusing

"For enhanced AF drive efficiency, Tamron has newly developed the VXD (Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive), a linear motor focus mechanism that delivers excellent quietness and agile performance, thereby producing the highest level of autofocusing speed and precision in Tamron’s history. Additionally, a floating system is used to achieve excellent optical performance at all shooting distances. By simultaneously operating two VXD units via electronic control, the system produces clear and sharp images ..." [Tamron USA website]

Tamron claims this system delivers "The highest levels of autofocus speed and precision in Tamron’s 70 year history." "While operating faster than ever before, the drive also maintains positional accuracy down to 0.005mm (0.0002 in), less than one-tenth the width of a human hair! This provides unprecedented fast and precise AF performance." [Tamron USA website]

The Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens focuses very accurately and very quickly, though the Sony a7R III and a7R IV's defocus and then focus behavior in single-shot focusing mode slows down the realized lock time. Switch to continuous focus mode, and this lens's fast focus speed can be fully appreciated. Starting AF with the lens in a strongly-defocused state will result in a slower AF experience as the camera searches for the proper distance. Low light levels always challenge AF performance, but this lens on a Sony a7R IV focuses on a subject with reasonable contrast in very dark conditions.

This lens focuses internally with only subtle clicks and faint buzzing being heard with an ear next to the lens in a quiet environment. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in Sony's DMF (Direct Manual Focus) mode with the shutter release half-pressed, or the AF-ON button is pressed.

Normal is for the scene to change size in the frame (sometimes significantly) as focus is pulled from one extent to the other, referred to as focus breathing, a change in focal length resulting from a change in focus distance. Focus breathing negatively impacts photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques, videographers pulling focus, and anyone very-critically framing while adjusting focus. This lens shows a moderate change in subject size as full extent focus adjustments are made. This effect (at f/22) is illustrated below.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Focus Magnification Example

70mm: Far | Close   180mm: Far | Close

A focus distance window is not provided on the lens, but a focus distance meter shows in the lower portion of the camera's electronic viewfinder during manual focusing.

As illustrated in the 100% crops below, the reviewed lens exhibits near parfocal-like characteristics. When focused at 180mm, accurate focus is retained throughout most of the zoom range without re-focusing. The 70mm focal length result shows a slight focus blur.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Parfocal Example

Test this attribute on your lens before relying on it.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Side View

The non-rubberized ribbed focus ring is modest in size and raised just enough above the smooth lens barrel to be tactilely easy to locate. This ring is very smooth and has an ideal amount of resistance with no play. When turned slowly, one with ADHD is severely challenged to measure the 6 full turns plus 90° (2,250°) of rotation this lens provides, allowing fine, precise focusing adjustments Turn the ring quickly, and about 360° of rotation imparts a full-extent change.

This lens design places the focus ring behind the zoom ring. While this design is seldom (never?) my preference, it is a perfect design for making the focus ring easy to use, especially when using the lens handheld where the focus ring is at the fingertips of the hand balancing the lens.

"A unique capability of the 70-180mm F/2.8 is shooting in the close-up range down to 0.27m (10.6 in) at the 70mm wide-angle end in manual focus (MF). While this mode makes it difficult to focus around the image periphery, ..." [Tamron USA website]

You likely gleaned from those lines that this lens focuses closer in MF mode than in AF mode. The difference is not dramatic at 180mm, but at the 70mm minimum AF distance, the focus distance scale at minimum AF distance is only at about the 2/3 position, showing the dramatic amount of shorter focus distance remaining.

ModelMFDMM
Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens27.6"(700mm)0.23x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens37.8"(960mm)0.25x
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens39.4"(1000mm)0.13x
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens10.6"(270mm)0.50x
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens37.4"(950mm)0.16x

At 70mm minimum manual focus distance, a subject measuring approximately 2.7 x 1.8" (69 x 46mm) fills the frame of a full-frame camera. At 180mm, a subject measuring about 5.0 x 3.3" (127 x 85mm) does the same. The following samples illustrate this lens's maximum magnification capabilities. The long edge of the largest stamp measures 1.5" (38mm).

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Maximum Magnification Example

The minimum focus distance is measured from the imaging sensor plane with the balance of the camera, lens, and lens hood length taking their space out of the number to create the working distance. At 70mm, the working distance with the hood installed is a mere 1.8" (47mm). Expect the lens hood to strongly shade the subject at this distance, and even with hood removed, the still-close 3.6" (92mm) working distance may impact subject lighting.

Tamron warned that the periphery of the image would not be in focus at the 70mm minimum focus distance, and they are correct. Even in the greatly-reduced size of the f/11-captured 70mm image shared above, the periphery of the image is obviously blurry. Special-purpose lenses are available to create such an effect, so this look is not without usefulness. However, do not expect corner-to-corner sharp images at this magnification.

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and greater magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide some improvement, but these will primarily be useful at the longer focal lengths where there is physically room for improvement. Tamron and Sony do not manufacture extension tubes at review time, but third-party Sony-mount extension tubes are available.

This lens is not compatible with Tamron teleconverters.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Front View on Camera

Build Quality & Features

Though it is larger, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens shares many design traits with its f/2.8 Di III RXD siblings. Here is the review-time complete trinity of these lenses:

Tamron f/2.8 Di III Lens Family

Here is a closer look at the 70-180:

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Product Images

MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

The light weight polycarbonate exterior design are not going to provide reassurance of a rugged design like a cold metal lens does, but this lens still feels like a high-quality product. Tight tolerances on moving parts add some assurance that this lens has been carefully designed and that modern construction methods were utilized. The lens has a great smooth shape, and the matte/satin black finish, along with the engraved white lettering and modern, attractive font style, is aesthetically pleasing.

Unlike most 70-200mm lenses available at review time, this lens features an extending design, increasing in length by up to 1.14" (28.9mm). The rubberized focus ring is substantial in size, and covering a large percentage of the lens barrel, this ring is easy to find. The zoom ring logically turns in the same direction as Sony's zoom lenses, increasing focal length while being rotated clockwise (same as Nikon, opposite of Canon).

The zoom ring is positioned in front of the focus ring, and as usual for similar designs, the zoom ring is forward of the balance point. The left hand rests under the focus ring during comfortable use, and the right hand is called on to help support the camera when the left hand is positioned for comfortable zoom ring use.

This lens has exactly 0 buttons and one switch, the zoom lock switch. The AF/MF button is one I miss the most. Having a menu option required for this commonly-used feature sometimes slows the workflow. Positive is that the lack of switches should mean increased reliability and decreased opportunity for dirt and moisture penetration.

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

This lens features a "Moisture-Resistant Construction," including a mount gasket.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Weather Sealing

The front lens element features protective water- and oil-repelling fluorine coating. Even an oily fingerprint easily wipes away, and this feature will especially be appreciated when the lens gets dirty in the field.

I often complain about the lack of finger space Sony provided between the lens and grip in their review-time-current mirrorless cameras, including the a7R IV. While the first joint on my right hand's middle finger still impacts the lens body, becoming red and slightly sore when holding this lens in shooting position for relatively long periods, the relatively narrow lens body means that the pressure is not as bad as with some lenses.

From a size and weight perspective, this lens is practically in a class of its own.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens37.8(1070)3.5 x 5.7(89.9 x 146.0)772019
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens52.2(1480)3.5 x 7.8(88.8 x 199.0)772018
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens63.5(1800)3.7 x 8.0(94.2 x 202.9)822018
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens52.2(1480)3.5 x 7.9(88.0 x 200.0)772016
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens29.7(840)3.1 x 6.9(80.0 x 175.0)722014
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens28.6(810)3.2 x 5.9(81.0 x 149.0)672020
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens52.9(1500)3.5 x 7.6(87.9 x 193.0)772017

For many more comparisons, review the complete Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

If I was going to spend a lot of time with an f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens in my hand, this is the one I would want.

Here is a visual comparison:

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens to other lenses.

A kit of Tamron Di III lenses multiplies the difference between the Sony near-equivalents. Those moving to mirrorless lenses to gain the small size and lighter weight should take notice.

The medium-sized 67mm filter threads mean that filters for this lens are not too expensive. Also positive is that this is a common filter size, increasing the potential for filter sharing. With many lenses in the Tamron Di III lineup using 67mm filters, filter sharing is an especially valuable feature, helping to keep the kit compact and affordable.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Angle View with Hood

Great is that Tamron always includes the lens hood in the box with this lens model getting the HA056 lens hood (logically adding an "H" for hood to the front of the lens's model number "A056"). This strong, attractive, semi-rigid plastic hood is relatively large, providing protection from impact and flare-inducing bright lights. The hood bayonet-mounts and though lacking a release button, is not difficult to install or remove. When rever, the narrow diameter hood stays compact. Use the hood, and reversed does not count.

Consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution. Most lens caps provided today work very well, but Tamron's lens caps have long been excellent.

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

Price, Value, Wrap Up

While not a cheap lens, the 70-180 VXD is comparatively inexpensive. To state it concisely, the value of this lens is exceptional, just like Tamron's previously introduced 17-28mm and 28-75mm f/2.8 zoom lens counterparts.

What does "Di III" mean? Tamron's Di III lenses are designed for use on mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens is compatible with all Sony E-mount cameras, including both full-frame and APS-C sensor format models.

At this point in a review, I always provide a disclaimer regarding potential compatibility issues with third-party lenses. Sony has worked closely with third-party lens manufacturers, reducing the risk of purchasing such lenses. That the firmware for this lens can easily be updated through compatible cameras further reduces risk.

Tamron USA provides a significant 6-year limited warranty, and Tamron Europe's limited warranty is an also-long five years. Those warranty durations should help alleviate any build quality concerns.

The reviewed Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens was online-retail sourced.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Side View with Hood

Alternatives to the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens

The obvious best lens comparison choice for the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens is the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens.

In the image quality comparison, we see the Tamron lens noticeably besting the Sony lens. The Tamron lens has less barrel distortion at the wide end but more pincushion distortion at the long end.

Looking at the specs and measurements, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens vs. Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens comparison shows the Tamron lens is considerably smaller and impressively lighter: 28.6 oz vs. 52.2 oz (810g vs. 1480g). With the 23.6 oz (669g) lighter weight, the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens (14.8 oz, 420g) or the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Lens (19.4 oz, 550g) can be added to the kit and still not match the Sony single lens's weight.

The Sony lens has 11 aperture blades vs. 9, has OSS, and has an array of switches available. The Tamron lens has narrower filter threads (67mm vs. 77mm) and focuses closer with a higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.25x), though its full magnification image quality is compromised. The Sony GM lens is constructed for professional use, but the Tamron lens has a longer warranty.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, there is a difference between the 180mm and 200mm focal lengths. It is up to you to determine if this difference matters. The Sony lens's compatibility with teleconverters makes a significant difference.

Very significant is the price disparity — greater than even the weight difference. You get a case with the Sony lens.

The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens makes an interesting comparison with the Tamron lens.

In the image quality comparison, the Tamron lens shows itself sharper at f/2.8 than the contender is at f/4. At f/4, the wider-aperture Tamron lens shows less vignetting, though stopped down, you will not care which lens you are using in this regard. The Sony lens has modestly less geometric distortion.

Looking at the specs and measurements, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens vs. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens comparison shows the two lenses, despite the significant full-stop aperture opening difference, having similar weights and the Tamron lens having smaller dimensions, including at full extension. The Tamron lens has slightly narrower filter threads (67mm vs. 72mm) and focuses closer with a higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.13x), though its full magnification image quality is compromised. The Sony lens has OSS and has an array of switches available.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, there is a difference between the 180mm and 200mm focal lengths. It is up to you to determine if this difference matters. The Sony lens's compatibility with teleconverters is a significant difference.

The Sony lens has a noticeably higher price than the Tamron lens, but you do get a case with the Sony lens.

Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Top View

Summary

The lens comparisons just shared create that awkward feeling. Something is not adding up — and this is not the first time Tamron has created this equation. The comparisons, along with the rest of the review, show the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens delivering image quality comparable to or surpassing the best-in-class lenses. Still, this lens is far smaller, much lighter, and significantly lower priced than the premier lens options. This scenario begs for some hidden catch, but ... I've not yet found such.

The Tamron's light weight does not exude rugged build quality confidence, but it seems nicely built with tight tolerances, and a very long warranty indicates that Tamron expects the lens to withstand years of normal use. Also, this lens performs very well. Using the most extreme minimum focus distance results in poor periphery image quality at 70mm, but using longer focus distances simply brings this lens in line with the rest of the class in this regard, leaving, minimally, it not disadvantaged.

"The greatest feature of the series is the excellent portability." [Tamron Japan & Tamron USA] While portability is indeed an excellent feature, challenging that aspect for the "greatest feature" is the image quality for the price. The Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens delivers jaw-dropping image quality for an amazingly low price. Factor in the compact, lightweight, modern lens design and the spirit of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras is encompassed and exceeded. This lens is a very compelling choice for a huge range of general-purpose needs.

Tamron's first two f/2.8 Di III zoom lenses set the expectations bar high, and I'm not at all surprised that this third lens has cleared that bar and joined the best-seller list with the other two. It will likely remain on that list for a long time.

As I've been saying in the other recent Sony-mount Tamron lens reviews, I rarely suggest buying a camera brand specifically to enable the use of a lens from a different manufacturer. The Tamron 70-180 VXD is another lens that encourages this scenario. One can justify selecting a Sony camera to enable the use of the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens. This high-performing lens is an outstanding value.

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My Recommended Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered, and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my purchases. Get your Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens now from:

B&H Photo
Adorama
Amazon.com
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