Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
Independent lens maker Tamron has firmly placed its foot in the professional camp with their latest fast standard zoom. Craig Fleming takes it on set
Traditionally a lens test would consist of me shooting various items at every aperture, focal length and focusing distance. On top of that I should include a shot of a lens chart showing pin cushion and barrel distortion effects. However, for this test I’ve done away with tradition and opted instead just to use it, to get a feel for it and to see how it performs in the real world over the course of a few weeks in my professional life.
Since the advent of digital I’ve always gone for Canon’s ‘L’ series lenses, signified by the red ring around the end of the barrel they are the mark of quality that I believe you need to get the best out of modern sensors. To be honest I would never have looked at an independent marque for my lens choices, so when Adam called me and asked if I’d like to give the Tamron a try I agreed, not reluctantly but certainly with no particular expectations.
I’ve owned a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 before and I absolutely loved it. However, an incident with the floor meant I was forced into buying their 24-105 f/4 L as a replacement. That lens, and the one it replaced, are both excellent performers, but if truth be told my heart still remains with that broken 24-70mm... Would the Tamron live up to my high expectations? Let’s see.
Let’s start with all those initials in the title. Firstly, the SP stands for Super Performance signifying the range of Tamron’s lenses that this belongs. Di means Digital Integrated design; simply put, optimized for digital cameras. VC refers to Vibration Compensation, exactly the same as VR on a Nikon or IS on a Canon, so hopefully it will perform admirably at the slow shutter speeds I often find myself using in low light. Finally, USD is the term given to the focusing mechanism; the Ultrasonic Silent Drive is indeed quiet and fairly fast. So that’s the spec explained from a marketing angle, none of them will mean anything if the results look like I’m shooting through a jam jar.
Out of the box
My initial thoughts were good ones. The lens itself is quite a bulky optic weighing in at 825 grams, with a massive 82mm filter thread. For me that bulk is a good thing; it balances perfectly with my 5D Mark II with battery grip and I do find it easier to hand hold a weighty camera than a lighter one. The zoom and focusing ring both have a good feel to them with no looseness at all in operation. The only minor niggle at this point was the fact that they were in opposite places to my Canon standard zoom, although I soon got to grips with that.
My first run out with the Tamron and I’m using it with a 5D Mark III, so it’s a good test to start with. When shooting fashion portraits I always prefer to shoot wide open with minimal depth-of-field. With an f/2.8 optic at 70mm shooting fairly close that can mean a DOF plane that’s literally millimeters. This out of focus effect in the background I feel gives my images that editorial look that I crave. The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 has a 9 blade aperture diaphragm meaning the iris is almost circular in operation, which in turn ensures this lens will give you beautiful out of focus highlights in your images – bokeh - so that’s certainly a tick in the box for the Tamron. Having used my 24-105mm f/4L for the last 18 months I’d almost forgotten how significant that difference is between a f/4 and a f/2.8 lens; not wanting to take anything away from my Canon, it is an excellent lens, but that extra stop can add so much more.
Moving my model into the harsh morning sunlight of Sheffield, I’m eager to see how the Tamron performs in high contrast conditions. Metering from the highlights of his face means I can retain good detail in the skin whilst the shadows plunge into darkness, giving me a nice high fashion feel. As this is a working lens test I have added selective blur and grain to the images afterwards in keeping with my signature style, but in this instance I’ve hardly had to tweak the contrast - yet again I can find no fault in the Tamron.
You may think shooting in favourable conditions is not exactly putting the lens through its paces. So for the Tamron’s next little adventure I’ve taken it, and my model, for the day deep into the damp woodlands of the Peak District. In this example I’m shooting at f/20, with a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds and, obviously, on a tripod. Sharpness is good from the foreground all the way back with the only exception being a wet shivering model and not the fault of the lens. Don’t worry she was given a stern telling off for shivering during a lens test.
Removing my 5D Mark II from the tripod I’m interested to see how the Vibration Compensation (VC) system works. I’ve often written how I’m happy to hand hold at speeds as low as 1/25sec with my Canon IS lens, and in this example I’ve had to push that to the limits shooting handheld at 1/20sec. I wouldn’t recommend handholding at such low speeds, but if I do I tend to shoot plenty of frames maximising my chances of getting a useable image. My hit rate on this shoot was high, although I am a confident hand holder, but 1/20sec is proof that the Tamron system works well.
Time to get the new Tamron into the studio now; it’s here that I can really begin to see the quality of the optics. With the image of the two girls I’m shooting at f/11; we’re often advised that lenses reach their maximum performance at mid range, so apertures between f/8 and f/11. You probably won’t see this in print but the girl on the right is wearing a headpiece with a small clock in the middle, and that clock tells me it’s 24-minutes-past-two. Need I say more? Well, yes, I certainly could but this lens really does speak for itself. As I said at the beginning of the piece, I’ve never really gone for non-marque lenses, especially since digital came along, but I have a owned a few and ironically the best non-marque lens I ever owned was also a Tamron, namely the 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens, a lens which stands equal amongst the higher priced Canon and Nikon equivalents in my opinion.
Anyone who writes a lens review for a magazine runs the risk of appearing biased – pressure from editors due to advertisers etc., but, in all honesty, there is very little reason to not consider this lens in real life, everyday operation. I am sure that you’ll read online reviews stating that there is some small technical misnomer, a reviewer who has placed this lens on a test bench and fired off frames on a chart that looks like it would confuse an optician and say that it is 2.3 per cent less sharp than the equivalent Canon or Nikon! But I have used this lens to submit images to clients and to make money from on live assignments, and it works perfectly.
The quoted price of the Tamron on Jessops’ website is £1099.99, and £995.00 on the WEX’s (so it’s worth shopping around); the Canon option alone is more than twice that price – is that ‘2.3 per cent’ actually noticeable in real life? If it is, which I seriously doubt, is it worth another grand, or would you prefer to buy a second lens that could earn you money instead? If you’re looking for a pro spec standard zoom, you really must take a serious look at this lens.
Groups-Elements: 12 - 17
Angle of view: 84-34
Diaphragm Blades: 9
Minimum Aperture: f/22
Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
Minimum Object Distance [m]: 0.38
Maximum Magnification Ratio: 1:5
Filter size [mm]: 82
Weight [g]: 825
Diameter x Length [mm]: 88.2mm x 116.9mm
Fit: Canon, Nikon, Sony (non-CSC)
Download our high-res images below to get a close look at the lens's potential.
Model 2, image 1
Model 2, image 2
Model 3, image 1
Model 3, image 2
Model 3, image 3
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