A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Home > Equipment > Sony 70-300 G SSM vs Tamron 70-300 SP USD Review

Featured Equipment Deals

Latest Equipment Articles

Choosing a Mobile Photo Printer Read More

Choosing a Mobile Photo Printer

In today's mobile, digital world, we carry hundreds or even thousands of pictures around on our smartphones and tablets. Tom Persinger looks at 4 different mobile photo printer options for getting...

Latest Learning Articles

Advanced Printing with Lightroom (Video Tutorial) Read More

Advanced Printing with Lightroom (Video Tutorial)

Building upon last week's Basic Printing with Lightroom video tutorial, this advanced printing tutorial will teach you to print contact sheets, print multiple images at a time, use Lightroom's present...


Sony 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G SSM vs Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 SP USD Review

by Vincent Sanchez, May 2012


70-300 Shootout!

A very commonly asked question for Sony shooters since the introduction of the Tamron 70-300 SP USD is “is it worth it to get the Sony 70-300G at twice the price, or is the Tamron lens adequate?”. In this article, I’ll examine the strengths and weaknesses of each lens, including build, image quality, focus motors, and overall feature package. Then I’ll compare the two and try to provide an answer to the above question. Let’s get started with the Sony 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G SSM.

Sony 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G SSM

The Sony 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G SSM, or 70-300G for short, is one of several G (professional) lenses in Sony’s catalog. It is an A-mount lens, compatible with all current and discontinued Sony and Minolta SLRS, DSLRs and DSLTs supporting the Super Sonic wave Motor, or SSM. The 70-300G is the cheapest G lens in the line-up, with a price of $899 (as of April 1, 2012).

Build Quality

The low price requires some compromises in lens construction, including the liberal use of polycarbonate as opposed to the aluminum construction of the other G glass. The lens doesn’t feel rickety or have any unexpected creaks or rattles. The zoom ring is well damped and very smooth. It turns evenly throughout it’s rotation, and has no creep. The focus ring, on the other hand, turns smoothly until it reaches either infinity or minimum focus. At those points it becomes rather tight and difficult to turn. I feel that for a lens with FTMF, the focus ring should turn smoothly, with the same resistance, even after the focus stops are reached. The lens also includes a focus hold button on the left of the barrel, and a 2 setting, electronic focus limiter (full, or infinity-3m). Overall, the lens is very nice with a good finish and well constructed feel. The position of the focus & zoom rings, backwards compared to the more common configuration, works well from an ergonomic standpoint for a lens of this size. The lens hood is nice and deep, preventing flare in all but the most extreme lighting situations. The lens comes standard with a storage pouch lined with felt, takes 62mm filters, and has a stainless steel mount with 8 contacts.

Image Quality

The image quality of the G lens is exceptional. The copy I have is sharp wide open, and razor sharp between f/8 and f/10. Sample photos of my informal ‘cereal box test’ are at the end of the article. In the real world, the 70-300G produces images with rich, contrasty color, very little, if any, distortion, excellent flare control, and great detail. Flower stamens are sharp even at 12x magnification, down to the pixel level. This is on par with what I would expect at this price point, and for one of Sony’s G series. Overall, the image quality of this lens is amazing. It’s sharp wide open and tack sharp stopped down. It’s far better than either the Sony or Minolta 75-300 consumer lens. Minolta’s G lenses were known amongst their users for being some of the best lenses on the market, and the G series under Sony is just as awesome.

Focus Motor – SSM

The SuperSonic wave Motor, or SSM, is everything Sony says it is. It’s accurate, fast, buttery smooth, and deadly silent. The motor itself makes no sound; the only noise during focussing comes from the sound of the internal elements moving. It also provides the lens with full time manual focus (FTMF), allowing the photographer to correct focus with a twist of the focus ring, even after autofocus has locked a confirmation. The SSM motor is also super responsive, with negligible lag after half-pressing the shutter release.

Overall Impression

My overall impression of the 70-300 G SSM is a positive one. The build quality sags a bit in order to get the cost below $1000, but the optical & mechanical aspects are truly that of a pro caliber lens. I know that if I was to buy this lens, I would certainly end up buying other G series lenses for their awesome image quality, if nothing else.

Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 SP USD

Introduced in 2011, the Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 SP USD is a pro level competitor to the vastly more expensive Sony lens. At half the cost ($449, BHphotovideo.com, April 1st) it seems like a no-brainer, but is it really a suitable replacement for pro photographers?

Build Quality

At this price point, compromises in build are to be expected. However, the Tamron feels very nice both mounted on the camera and held in the hand. Like the 70-300G, there’s plenty of polycarbonate, but there’s absolutely no rattles, creaks, or any other indication that the build is flaky. The zoom and focus rings are laid out “reverse” of the common configuration, but that’s actually a nice ergonomic improvement on a lens of this size. The zoom ring is tight and well damped, with no play. It’s actually just a tad too tight for my taste, though that definitely helps to prevent zoom creep. Smoothness could be improved on my copy. The focus ring is very smooth, well damped, with no play. Because this lens features Tamron’s USD motor, it is equipped with full-time manual focus (FTMF). The focus ring doesn’t turn in autofocus, but it does have a very long throw when being used to manually focus, which is useful for precisely dialing in focus. The large size of my hands keeps me from having to reposition my grip while turning the focus ring, but I can see it being a bit of a problem for someone with smaller hands than mine. The rear of the barrel has an AF/MF button, but since the lens has FTMF, I’ve never bothered to switch it from AF. Finally, the lens takes 62mm filters, comes with a deep, rigid lens hood, and has a stainless steel mount with 8 contacts.

Image Quality

The SP lens produces great images. It’s a little lacking wide open, but sharpens up nicely around f/8 or f/11. In the field, the lens produces great results. Images are contrasty, detailed, and very sharp. Performance could be improved wide open, but for $450, compromises are to be expected in order to keep the price low. The lens still performs quite well overall, and is deserving of it’s SP status. As an owner of three other SP series lenses, including the lauded 70-200 f/2.8, I can confidently say the image quality is superior to standard lenses, but it is below that of my 70-200 f/2.8 LD SP lens. (Which should be expected for a $450 lens versus a $700 one)

As with the G lens, cereal box test results are available at the end of the article.

Focus Motor – USD

The 70-300 SP is Tamron’s first lens to feature their Ultrasonic Silent Drive motor, or USD. Like Sony’s own SSM and Sigma’s HSM, USD promises to provide quiet, smooth, fast, and accurate autofocus. But does it deliver? The short answer to that question is yes. The USD motor on my copy of the lens is very smooth, very accurate, and quick to lock focus. It’s highly responsive with very little lag after pressing the shutter release halfway. It could, however, do with a bit more refinement in the noise area. It sometimes emits a quiet but noticeable buzzing while focusing, that, while not noticeable in the majority of situations, could be a bother in a very quiet shooting location, like a wedding or concert. That said, the USD motor is certainly impressive considering it’s Tamron’s first revision of the motor, and their SP line will surely benefit from it’s inclusion. It would certainly be a welcome addition on the 70-200 f/2.8 LD SP.

Overall Impression

The Tamron 70-300 SP is definitely an excellent lens. It’s more than good enough to give a photographer pause when considering other 70-300 options. At such a low price point for a lens of this caliber, it will almost certainly eat away at sales of the 70-300 G. The build is quite good for a lens at this price point, and the optics are very competitive as well. I’d recommend any photographer looking for a lens in this range consider this lens, for any available mount.

Direct Comparison

Now that the major features of each lens have been dissected, a direct comparison between the two is in order.

Build

The Sony lens has a few extra features, like it’s focus hold button and limiter, that the Tamron doesn’t have. That said, the build on the 70-300 SP feels just a bit more solid than the G lens. The zoom ring could do with a bit of smoothing out, but the focus ring is much smoother than the one on the G lens. Personally, I prefer the finish of the Tamron lens to that of the Sony…especially the rubber on the zoom/focus rings. The wider ribs are much easier to clean than the narrow ribs on the Sony. It’s also important to note here that the 70-300 SP has about ⅓ more light gathering power than the Sony. The maximum aperture at 70mm on the Tamron is f/4, while the Sony opens up to only f/4.5.

Image Quality

The image quality of the 70-300 G is superior to the 70-300 SP, plain and simple. It provides more resolution and detail at all apertures, and especially wide open. That said, between f/8 and f/11, there really isn’t THAT much difference between the two, and it becomes hard to justify the price of the G versus that of the SP. Unless you’re going to be shooting wide open for a majority of the time or need the absolute maximum in image quality, the SP is a viable replacement for Sony’s G offering. It’s also important to note that while the image quality of the SP is behind that of the G, the SP does offer an aperture of f/4, while the G only opens to f/4.5. As stated before though, results at f/4 are only usable, and will require some computer work, while the G results at f/4.5 are already plenty sharp.

Focus Motor

Simply put, the SSM unit in the G lens far outclasses the USD unit in the Tamron. It’s more responsive, smoother, quieter, faster, and just all around better. For a shooter needing the absolute best in focus speed and accuracy, the G lens is the way to go. That said, the USD motor is no slouch. As I said earlier, it’s pretty impressive for Tamron’s first revision in their first lens to incorporate it. For those who do photography as a hobby, it’s more than adequate.

 

Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 SP USD

Sony 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G SSM

Build

X

 

Image Quality

 

X

Focus Motor

 

X

Conclusion

This article has been very interesting to write. As an owner of the 70-300 SP, I have been impressed by it’s overall quality, both mechanically and optically. After using the 70-300 G, though, I can see where there is still plenty of room for improvement. So, if you’re looking at both of these lenses, which should you get? If you have the money lying around, go for the G lens. If you can afford the best, get the best. If you’re like me, though, and you have a limited budget, it’s important to consider your shooting environment. The SP lens is just about as good as the G in good light, stopped down to f/8 – f/11. Build quality is nearly equivalent, with an edge to the SP. So if you’re shooting birds in flight against a clear sky for example, it’s not going to matter as much which you choose, and you could easily get away with using the Tamron. As the conditions get more challenging though, the cards are definitely in favor of the 70-300 G, especially when you need to open the aperture wider than f/8. With the G, you can do so confidently, knowing you’re still going to capture excellent images, while with the SP, you’re going to get good shots, but will have to work in post to really get the optimum quality; the G will provide images much closer to that optimal point from the start, which means less work later.

“Cereal Box Test” Images

The following are 0.3MP crops of the side of a cereal box, showing the nutrition facts text. All will be labeled accordingly.



Sony 70-300G

Tamron 70-300 SP

70mm, f/4.5

70mm, f/8

135mm, f/5.6

135mm f/8

300mm, f/5.6

300mm, f/8

Samples

Where to Buy

Sony 70-300 G SSM
Price as low as $898.00 from 2 retailers
$898.00
$998.00

Sony 70-300 f/4-5.6 G SSM, (compare prices). From the Sony website: This superb 70-300mm zoom lens is an excellent choice for a wide range of medium to long-distance telephoto applications. (35mm equivalent when used with APS-C format cameras: 105-450mm.) Sony’s G-Series lenses are designed for maximum descriptive power, maintaining excellent peripheral light characteristics and maximizing contrast even at the edges of the frame.




Tamron 70-300 PS USD
Price as low as $449.00 from 2 retailers
$449.00
$449.00


Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SP Di for Sony, (compare prices) (review).From the Tamron website: The Tamron SP designation is reserved for lenses developed with special emphasis on extraordinary photographic performance. Engineers are free to innovate in an uncommon atmosphere where optical performance comes before price, resulting in lenses that satisfy the demands of discerning photographers. Fast becoming a benchmark for this category, the SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC is an ideal choice for a two-zoom system complimenting a wide-to-moderate-tele zoom perfectly. Delivering class-leading sharpness, brilliant color and striking contrast, discriminative APS-C and full-frame digital SLR photographers alike are quick to laud its performance.


Text and photos © 2012 Vincent Sanchez.

Article created May 2012

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Ken Zirkel , May 24, 2012; 12:24 P.M.

OK, now can you compare it (the Tamron) to the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM?

Eric Arnold , May 24, 2012; 04:23 P.M.

i also own the 70-300 SP in nikon mount. nikon doesnt offer a "pro" version of the 70-300, and there the cost savings are less of an issue, since both lenses sell for about the same price.

i havent directly compared the SP to the OEM version, but consensus seems to be that the Tamron is sharper with better implementation of stabilization and slightly worse build quality. i personally find the center quality wide open completely acceptable, though it does get sharper at f/8, with not much more difference at f/11. the lens is also surprisingly sharp at the long end, with less fall-off than perhaps would be expected.

if i owned a Sony system, i'm not sure i would buy the G lens at that price point, unless i already owned every other lens imaginable. in my own experience, the slow variable aperture of 70-300 lenses prevent them from being truly useful "go-to glass" for demanding professional applications, though as consumer zooms they can be versatile for a range of casual situations. i just dont know that a 70-300 consumer zoom that's 5.6 on the long end is worth more than $500. it might be more worth it to prospective buyers to put the differential toward a 70-200, a TC, and/or a telephoto prime lens.

as far as the review, i have to question why the author didnt shoot the exact same shot at various focal lengths with two different lenses. had he done so,it would have allowed viewers to draw their own conclusions about optical quality. instead, we get two different parts of the cereal boxes shot with the two lenses at various focal lengths and apertures, which means that we can't do a direct optical comparison. maybe if it's not too much trouble, the author can reshoot the cereal box test to make it more useful to prospective buyers.

 

Eric Arnold , May 24, 2012; 04:29 P.M.

it's also unclear why the author didnt shoot the same shot at the same setting with both lenses in the "real-world" examples such as the flower pic. doing so would have allowed for direct comparison of the lenses.

 

 

Philip Partridge , May 25, 2012; 02:29 A.M.

This is an important focal length range for me, I have used the Nikon 70-300VR, the Sony 70-300G I have had for a year or two, I also have a Contax 100-300mm (superb) and a Minolta 200 APO. Raw performance goes to the Minolta with the Contax very close to it (at 200mm), the Sony is visibly a little weaker also at 200mm. The 70-300G is stronger than the Nikon by some margin, however.

I recommend the Sony G lens for its overall usability, short end, all aperture and close range performance. It's nicely balanced, has truly excellent AF and is a good handhold with Sony's IBIS system. Now the really good news is its performance on high Mp APS-C cameras, I have seen excellent work on the A77 with it. I like lenses like this one, good allrounders with no real flaws. Colour is exceptional also, so I suggest users pony up the extra few hundred over the usual suspects (Sigma, Tamron, etc) knowing resale will let them recoup their hard earned at a later date.

At half the weight, this one is also a much better deal then the much vaunted 70-400G monster. You can view close focus Imatest results of the 70-300G at photozone: http://www.photozone.de/sonyalphaff/569-sony70300f4556gff

They only moaned about the price, always a good sign. Note the drop-off at the long end and the evenness of performance at the short end, even on full frame. 

Vincent Sanchez , May 26, 2012; 04:35 P.M.

To answer the questions regarding the cereal box test:

 

I took the photos using each lenses MFD. The Tamron has a longer MFD than the Sony, and I shot the Sony first, not realizing I'd have to shift my rig backward to use the Tamron. While the text may be different, the crops are from the same portion of the frame from each lens, about 3/4" below center. The exact text, in my opinion, is fairly irrelevant, because the lens will perform the same regardless of the text captured. The point was to use a high contrast, black and white surface, in order to search for fringing, chromatic aberration, and any softness. Maybe i failed to achieve what I was trying to show, but I think that you CAN make a direct comparison. Perhaps I'm wrong. 

 

Regarding the sample images, I'm not happy with the quantity of sample images I provided, honestly. At the time that I was putting the review together, I was also preparing for finals and working on 4 computer programming projects. Not an excuse really, but I do have many more sample images that I plan on processing and submitting. 

 

I hope that the article was at least somewhat helpful :)

Thanks for the feedback. Always appreciated :)

Ilkka Nissila , June 04, 2012; 06:53 A.M.

When comparing lenses, it is important to use the same distance and FOV, as well as the same aperture and the exact same subject. The performance of many zoom lenses often depends on distance to subject so you're doing a bit of an apples to oranges comparison here. If you can shoot the text from a longer distance and match the FOV rather than nominal focal length then we could be more certain the differences are what one would encounter in real use. (I believe your word that the results are indicative but in future tests, it is more convincing to shoot and compare the exact same thing.)

 

Regarding the usefulness and cost-effectiveness / value of a high-quality 70-300/4-5.6, I believe there are many potential users and applications for such lenses, however the somewhat bad reputation of this category of lenses is due to cheap implementations which are invariably soft at the long end wide open, which is arguably the most important setting of such a lens.  I think many beginning photography enthusiasts are put off long-lens photography because of the discouraging results from the many poor implementations of the slow long zoom. As a Nikon user I find the manufacturer's lineup lacking in this area. The Nikon 70-300 VR is soft at 300mm, especially at f/5.6, although at its short end it is quite decent.  The 80-400 Nikon has old-style AF and the reviews on current sensors are not that encouraging (e.g. photozone).

 

My application for a slow, long zoom is outdoor concerts during daylight. I can position myself close to the stage but still the distances can be such that 300mm or 400mm reach is needed for a close-up. In the event I'm talking about, accredited press shooters also need to use very long lenses (they often have 300/2.8's, 200-400/4 or 500/4 even, and 70-200's with TCs) although they are slightly closer to the stage. I can accept a bit of cropping of some of the shots (i.e. 25% of the image area) if the lens is truly sharp, so a 300mm may be adequate though 400mm would be ideal. 400mm obviously comes with the penalty of increased weight and is less easy to hand-hold over a longer period of active shooting especially if the stabilization is not the latest technology. The 70 to 200mm range is good for capturing groups of performers but as photography of three songs only is typically allowed, having a zoom that covers the entire range (70-300 or -400) is more practical than switching between prime and zoom (300mm or 400mm prime and 70-200), or taking TCs on and off (which is quite time-consuming). I have tried the 70-200+TC approach and find the quality with 1.4X TC acceptable, but cropping from that 280mm image, the quality gets below my threshold of acceptability quite quickly.  That zoom, although excellent on its own, can not be stretched that far, so a very sharp 70-300, or a 80-400/100-400 with high performance at the long end would be perfect. Now, one might then ask why do I not use a 300/2.8 or 200-400/4 if the reach is so important? It's simple: if monopod use is prohibited from where I stand, I cannot hand hold such lenses pointed up towards the stage for more than a few minutes without back pain. Also they're phenomenally expensive considering that I would not need them often.  If I am to weather a nine hour concert standing with my camera, a more hand-holdable, but still long and sharp lens would be good to have. I am quite sure that many people who travel and backpack to do nature photography also appreciate such lenses as with a tripod one can not approach animals as easily as close as one can with a hand-holdable, but still long rig, and obviously when you have a lot of camping related gear, a heavy supertele may be out of the question.

 

It's nice that Sony offers these high-quality long zooms for its users. I hope they win some market share once the word gets out.

Scott Kennelly , June 04, 2012; 09:08 P.M.

I think Sony definitely IS winning market share. With the amazing new A65 and A77 cameras, a good line of lenses, and more good lenses all the time, Sony is catching up and even surpassing the big two competitors in the digital SLR marketplace. Value in a digital camera has to go to the A65. Speed and features has to go to the A77, unless you're ready to pay thousands of dollars more. Sony seems competitive with their lenses too, when it comes to price, but not quite in their variety. Sony surely needs to make more lenses, but they are gradually catching up, and before long (a couple of years maybe), I think that Sony will be competing neck to neck with Canon and Nikon. They already have a big network of professional service for their video cameras. With stores all over the country, professional level service, and a great line of equipment, I think we will see more and more professionals making the switch to Sony in the next few years. Canon and Nikon had better wake up and smell the coffee burning.

Eric Arnold , June 10, 2012; 11:04 P.M.

@Vincent, ok, but if you reshot the photos as Ilkka and myself suggested, it would be that much more accurate of a comparison. i appreciate the time and effort you put into doing the review, just making a suggestion as to how it could be more helpful.

 

@Scott, you do realize this is a review of a Sony lens, not Sony bodies, right? as such, the 70-300 SSM is a "soccer dad lens." the cost-effectiveness is debatable. for that price, i wish they had included a metal body...  it would be much more appealing if it was a constant f/4. the 5.6 on the long end makes it challenging in anything other than bright sunlight for that application. which is why i prefer the 50-150 on DX and the 70-200 on FX.

 

@Ilkka, even though i have a tammy 70-300, i almost never use it for outdoor concert photography. it's an aperture thing. the stage can have harsh shadows, especially if there's an overhang. when i've shot in that situation, i almost never stop down lower than f/4.

Doug Settle , June 29, 2012; 02:21 A.M.

I have a Tamron 28-270 Lens and I like it. This review is helpfull as I would like to get a longer (more accuate) lens.

I share some of the other posters concerns that the author did not shoot the same image and same text anyway with both lenses. I feel an accurate comparison would be better made in doing that.

Aside from that Thank You for the review. It is helpfull.


Add a comment



Notify me of comments