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Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Review

by Bob Atkins, February 2011 (updated May 2011)


The AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD ASPHERICAL (IF) MACRO PZD (to give it its full title) is Tamron’s widest focal range zoom (15x) and a surprisingly small lens (3.9" long and only 15.9 oz) for such a wide range zoom. It’s approximately the same size as the Canon EF-S 17-85/3.5-5.6 IS USM). It features Tamron’s VC (vibration compensation) image stabilization system and it uses both LD (low dispersion) and aspherical elements to maximize image quality. The “MACRO” designation shouldn’t be taken too seriously though. The lens is fairly close focusing (19") but maximum magnification is 0.26x (1/4 life size) and it doesn’t use any special optical corrections when close focused.

The “Di II” designation indicates that it is designed for use on crop sensor DSLRs. Although it can be physically mounted on a full frame DSLR, the image circle is not designed to cover the whole frame and so results in strong vignetting out near the edges of a full 35mm frame.

Construction quality seems pretty good. The lens appears to be all plastic but it seems quite solid and there’s little barrel wobble, even when fully extended. There’s a wide rubberized ring for zoom control and a narrower ring for focus just in front of it. The focus ring spins during autofocus, so you need to keep your fingers away from it. There is a distance scale and to go from infinity to close focus requires only turning the focus ring by about 45 degrees, so manual focus action is fairly fast (but precise manual focus may be difficult).

The autofocus motor is Tamron’s new “Piezo Drive” (PZD) which seems to be a system somewhat similar to Canon’s micro USM. It uses a small piezoelectric (ultrasonic) motor which drives the focusing mechanism via a gear system. This type of motor is small. lightweight and quiet, but it’s not as fast or versatile as a ring type ultrasonic motor (Canon’s USM, Tamron’s USD). It does not allow for full time manual focus. To use this lens in manual focus mode, the AF.MF switch on the barrel must be moved to the MF position.

Note that there is an earlier version of this lens which doesn’t use a PZD motor. The new lens is 24% shorter and 18% lighter and uses a different optical design.

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the Tamron 18-270 VC PZD lens available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

The 18-270 PZD will also be available in a version for Sony DSLRs. This version will not have image stabilization built into the lens since Sony DSLRs have an sensor shift stabilization built into the camera bodies.

Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Specifications

Model B008
Focal Length 18-270mm
Maximum Aperture F/3.5-6.3
Minimum Aperture F/22-40
Angle of View (diagonal) 75° 33’ – 5° 55’
Lens Construction 16 elements in 13 groups
Diaphragm Blades 7
Filter Size 62mm
Minimum Focus Distance 0.49m (19.3in)
Max. Magnification Ratio 1 : 3.8 (at f=270mm : MFD 0.49m)
Length 88mm  (3.5 in)
Diameter 74.4mm (2.9 in)
Weight 450g (15.9 oz)
Standard Accessorise Flower shaped lens hood
Compatible Mounts Canon, Nikon, Sony

Zoom Range

The Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD has a 15x zoom range from 18mm to 270mm, but it’s important to remember that these focal lengths are measured with the lens focused at infinity. Just about every close focusing, internal focus, super wide-range zoom changes in focal length when close focused. I guess it’s one way in which such lenses can be small but yet have a small minimum focus distance.

For example the Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD will focus as close as 0.49m (19.3") when set to 270mm. In comparison the Tamron 70-300/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens only focus down to 1.5m (4.9ft). However despite the much closer focusing ability, the 18-270 yields a maximum magnification at 270mm of 1:3.8 (0.26x), while the 70-300 yields almost the same magnification of 1:4 (0.25x) at 300mm, despite being three times further away from the subject.

I made some approximate measurements of focal length at various focusing distances. These were made by comparing magnification of the 18-270 at the marked 270mm focal length setting and the 70-300 at 300mm and assuming that the 70-300 doesn’t significantly change focal length. On that basis I found the following effective focal lengths as a function of distance:

  • Infinity – 268mm
  • 50ft – 235mm
  • 20ft – 196mm
  • 10ft – 166mm
  • 5ft – 130mm

[Note that the 70-300 may itself change focal length slightly when close focused, so these numbers should be look at as relative, not absolute measurements]

Now this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this type of lens. It’s very common and happens with lenses made by all manufacturers. It’s not a defect and I don’t think there’s any real intent to deliberately deceive the buyer, but it’s not commonly something the lens manufacturers talk about. This results in forum postings from some surprised users along the lines of “My 300mm lens is only 175mm. What’s wrong?” The answer is that nothing is wrong. At close focus distances that the way that small, internal focus, wide-range zooms work.

That fact that most users never notice the effect is an indication that it isn’t that big a deal for most people. What matters to most is that they can adjust the zoom to get the framing they want and that, of course, is still the case – unless you are zoomed out all the way. It’s just that the magnification at the 270mm long end of the zoom range at closer focus distances will be somewhat lower than it would be if you were using a 270mm prime lens or a larger zoom with a less extreme range and longer minimum focus distance.

For another example of a wide-range zoom that changes focal length, see my review of the Sigma 50-500 OS 10x zoom (http://photo.net/equipment/sigma/50-500os/).

Focal lengths (at infinity focus) are marked at 18, 35, 50, 70, 100, 200 and 270mm. Zoom creep was observed with the lens pointed vertically upwards and the zoom set to 150mm or less. In that situation the zoom setting quickly changes to about 24mm. Similarly with the lens pointing downwards and the zoom set over 24mm, the zoom will quickly creep to around 150mm. When set at the extreme focal lengths (18mm or 270mm), the zoom action is stiff enough to prevent any creep. I should add that I only tested one lens. Other samples may be different, though I have seen a number of user reports which commented on the same issue. There is a zoom lock at 18mm which locks the lens in its shortest position and prevents it from accidentally extending while it’s being carried

Aperture

The maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 at 18mm to f/6.3 at 270mm. Technically, according to Canon, f/6.3 should be too slow for autofocus on a Canon EOS APS-C body like the EOS 60D and 7D, but in fact the lens had no trouble with AF on either body. F/6.3 is quite normal for the long end of telephoto zooms made by 3rd party lens makers. They all play some “tricks” on the camera body to convince it to autofocus. Canon lenses have a hard limit at f/5.6, beyond which the body will not even attempt focus.

This table shows the maximum aperture in different focal length ranges (according to an EOS 60D set to show aperture in 1/3 stop steps).

18-24mm f3.5
25-33mm f4
34-45mm f4.5
46-69mm f5.0
70-168mm f5.6
169-270mm f6.3

Distortion

As might be expected from a wide range zoom, there is some distortion, especially at the focal length extremes. At 18mm I measured about 4% barrel distortion which quickly changes over to pincushion distortion as the lens is zoomed out. At 100mm I measured 2.3% pincushion distortion and at 270mm I measured 1.7% pincushion distortion. Minimum distortion is around the 35mm focal length setting.

These levels of distortion would be noticeable on subjects expected to be rectangular (e.g. architecture, posters, doorways), though distortion is one of the easier aberrations to digitally correct. It’s a price you pay for such an extreme zoom range in such a small lens.

Vignetting

Vignetting (dark corners) is most evident wide open (f/3.5) at 18mm where I measured the extreme corners about 1.5 EV darker then the center of the image. Things improve as the lens is zoomed out to 50mm where vignetting is lowest, about 0.5EV wide open, and then vignetting gets stronger again as the lens is zoomed out to 270mm where I measured about 1.25EV at full aperture (f/6.3). Stopping down can help a little, especially at the telephoto end of the range, but at 18mm the corners of the image are noticeably darker (by about 0.7 EV) even at f11. Luckily vignetting is fairly easy to correct digitally. It would most likely to be noticed shooting landscapes at 18mm, where darkened sky in the upper image corners might be an issue.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is worst at the focal length extremes and lowest around 50mm. It’s particularly noticeable in the image corners at 18mm and 270mm.

Image Quality

At the telephoto end of the focal length range and in the center of the frame, image quality is good even at full aperture (f/6.3). It sharpens up a little when stopped down, but I wouldn’t be hesitant to use this lens wide open if my main subject was in the center part of the frame. There’s more of a problem at the edges and corners of the frame, where corner sharpness is lower and is also compromised by fairly noticeable chromatic aberration.

To test performance at 270mm I took some shots of the moon with the Tamron 18-270 and compared them with similar shots taken with the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC for Canon, (compare prices) (review), also set to 270mm. The 70-300vc has full frame coverage, but is significantly larger than the 18-270vc and of course it has a much smaller zoom range (4.3x vs. 15x). However, it is cheaper and as you can see, quite a lot better in the corners of a crop sensor image. This is as expected. To get the higher image quality in the corners you have to be prepared to carry around a larger lens with a more restricted zoom and and so swap it off the camera if you want to shoot wideangle shots.

At 18mm center image quality is reasonably good, comparable to lenses like the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, (compare prices), however in the corners the image is noticeably soft and shows noticeable chromatic aberration. Stopping down may help a little, but doesn’t significantly improve the image quality in the corners.

In the mid range image quality is again pretty good in the center of the frame and holds up a little better in the corners. Again, the image is comparable to that from the Canon 17-85/3.5-5.6 IS USM in the center of the frame and in the corners, but the Tamron shows lower levels of chromatic aberration.

Image Stabilization

The Tamron VC (vibration control) system is very similar to that of Canon’s IS (image stabilization). Both use gyro sensors to measure lens movement and both move a group of elements to compensate. In informal testing I’d estimate the effectiveness of the Tamron VC system on the 18-270mm zoom at somewhere around 3 stops at 270mm. Visually (through the viewfinder) the action seems a little less smooth than that of Canon’s lenses, but in testing it seemed equally effective at minimizing image blur.

Conclusion

If you want just one small, light lens that will do everything most photographers want to do, from shooting landscapes to travel photography, portraits, sports and wildlife, the Tamron 18-270 is a good choice. It’s pretty sharp in the center of the field, AF is accurate (if not blazingly fast), the VC image stabilization works well and it’s very compact. It’s also available in a Nikon mount and there is a non-stabilized version for Sony DSLRs.

The price you pay for the size and versatility comes in two varieties. First, it’s not an inexpensive lens, and second you have to put up with some optical consequences such as distortion, close focus focal length reduction and less than perfect corner image quality. None of these are probably serious enough to put off those users who value convenience over pure optical quality, and that’s the market at which this lens is aimed, and in which it should sell quite well.

If you hate changing lenses and want something small and light, yet very versatile and capable, the Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD should certainly be high on your list of possible choices.

Where to Buy

Photo.net’s partners have the Tamron 18-270 Di II VC PZD lens available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

Image Samples

Canon EOS 60D + Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 VC @ 76mm f/6.3. In this focal length range image quality is excellent. Distortion is fairly low, there’s no visible chromatic aberration and vignetting is slight (especially when stopped down a stop). Overall a high quality image.
Canon EOS 60D + Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 VC @ 18mm f/3.5. Although testing shows that distortion is high (around 4% barrrel) and there is vignetting in the image corners (1.7EV), you wouldn’t immediately see either problem in this shot unless you really looked for it. Yes, the upper corners of the image are a little dark, but not to the extent that it’s a serious problem.
Canon EOS 60D + Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 VC @ 18mm and 270mm. Just an example showing the extreme, 15x, zoom range of this lens, an indication of its versatility and usefulness for a wide range of subjects.
Canon EOS 60D + Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 VC @ 42mm, 1/250s, f/4.5, ISO 400. This shot taken in the “normal” focal length range shows good sharpness and contrast across the whole APS-C frame, even wide open at f4.5. Distortion and chromatic aberration are both well controlled at this focal length.

Text and photos © 2011 Bob Atkins.

Article revised May 2011.

Readers' Comments


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Stephen Rosenbach , March 16, 2011; 01:04 P.M.

I bought one of these in June 2009.

When I first looked at some of the results at 100% in Photoshop, I was almost ready to send it back. But then it occurred to me to look at a 13"x19" print, and the results were more than enough to satisfy me!

Bottom line is - if you're a dedicated pixel-peeper, this lens may disappoint you, but in fact, considering the super zoom range and the one-lens convenience, it's a very good buy. I'm quite happy with it. 

Steve Barry , March 16, 2011; 02:05 P.M.

I have been a user of DxO Optics Pro as part of my digital workflow for some time.  I have a number of Canon "L" lenses supported by the software and a recent acquisition was of the the less-fine 18-55mm Canon zoom.  When run thru the DxO corrections I am very satisfied by the resulting sharpness and corrections to geometric distortion and chromatic aberration.  I am very interested to see when DxO will support this new version of the Tamron 18-270 and want to look at the results after processing - it may be a viable light travel kit lens for those long trips where taking the really nice lenses is impractical.

Mark Drutz , March 16, 2011; 05:05 P.M.

I've had mine about two months. I pretty much agree with this review. The only thing I will add, and this goes for all superzooms, is that having a range of 18-270 can be more than just a convenience. I do a lot of shooting on the street and in parks where being able to go between 18 and 270mm without changing lenses has saved me a lot of missed shots. I've been doing this for 40+ years, and before superzooms, I would miss shots that I don't miss now.

 

Stephan, above, must have the older 18-270 since he got his in 2009 and the PZD version has only been out for a few months.

Bob Atkins , March 17, 2011; 06:20 P.M.

Just following up on Steve's comment, Canon's DPP won't apply automatic corrections for most 3rd party lenses including the Tamron 18-270. It won't even let you manually apply the corrections.

Interestingly enough, it seems to recognize the Tamron 70-300 VC though and thinks it's the Canon 70-300. The auto corrections aren't bad, but you can get better results with a manual tweak.

There are ways to make DPP think 3rd party lenses are Canon lenses, but you have to go in and edit selective bits of the EXIF data. It may be possible to make it think the Tamron 18-270 VC is actually something like the Canon 18-200. Obviously using a RAW converter and editor with native support for 3rd party lenses is a lot more convenient.

I wish Canon would enable manual correction for all lenses. It would be easy to do, but I guess you can't really blame them for only supporting their own lenses.

 

Carolyn Yapchanyk , March 24, 2011; 08:55 A.M.

´╗┐Like mentioned above, this lens offers great convenience.  I read one review, somewhere, that the photos weren't sharp.  What is your opinion?  I am a casual photographer, mainly taking pics of my children and their various sporting activities.  I'd love the convenience that this lens offers to get both close up and distance shots, but if the photos aren't sharp, then it wouldn't be worth it.' I read the review, but don't have enough photo knowledge to understand a good part of it, and what it means to my picture taking.

Thanks, Carolyn

James Heinrich , May 17, 2011; 09:35 P.M.

Thanks for the review.

The last paragraph of the the Zoom Range section (just above the "Aperture" heading) contains two references to 300mm that should be 270mm.

Bob Atkins , May 19, 2011; 12:41 P.M.

James - Opps. Thanks. I found three places were I'd accidentally typed "300mm" rather than "270mm". Thanks for catching the typos. They have been corrected.

 

Carolyn - While the 18-270 isn't as sharp as a prime (single focal length) would be, it's still more than sharp enough for most photographers who aren't making prints larger than 8x10. The versatility of this lens (wide focal length range and small size) does require some optical compromises, but I would not generally describe the images as "soft", except in the corners of the image. The central region of the images, where your main subject is normally placed is quite sharp, but the sharpness does fall off at the edges and corners of the image, especially when shooting wide open at the shortest and longest focal lenghts.

Mike Hogan , July 17, 2011; 07:47 A.M.

Bob, I am thinking about selling my Canon 70-200mm f/4 is usm and getting this Tamron. I am sold on the portability and zoom. Will I be sold on the picture quality and reliability? I will be using a 7D and T1i. Thanks...Mike

Mark Silverstein , September 07, 2011; 01:04 A.M.

A few comments om my experience with the Tamron

Thanks for a very useful review,

I am using this lens with my Canon 60D. A couple of points to consider. First, unlike the IS systems on Canon lenses The VC must be switched off when using a tripod. It will actually blur the image if left on!. Second there is great variability between samples. The first two I looked at were very loose and exhibited significant zoom creep through much of its range. . The one I ultimately purchased has almost no creep after two months. 

Regarding sharpness, I found that at 200mm and above the images were noticeably less sharp than on the Canon 18-200mm. (Obviously, the Canon can only be compared to the 200mm focal length).  In fact as a general rule the Canon seemed to be sharper with more detail at most telephoto focal  lengths. If you stop down the Tamron to F8 to  F11, it seems to sharpens up the images significantly. Somewhat past 150mm the maximum aperture become 6.3. I wonder whether the cameras AF may be struggling with that a bit resulting in the sharpness issue.   

With regard to chromatic aberration, the Tamrom seems to do a much better job than the Canon based on over one thousand photos taken with both lenses. While CA is very evident on many shots with the Canon, it was obvious only on a few of the photos taken with the Tamron. Even when blowing up the images on my HD moiiitor to a ridiculous size, CA was fairly well controlled on the Tamron. The Canon was, alas, quite a different storty.  

For most people the barrel distortion will not be terribly profound unless you spend your time taking pictures of brick walls.   

Fredi Markovitz , October 16, 2011; 01:34 P.M.

Hello, Great Review

I  looked in this review and comments in March 2011 and purchased Tamron 18-270 VC PZD on last June. I own Canon 450D and 18-55IS. I like the quality of 18-55IS but looked for 1 all zoom lense not so expensive, of course it will be not so professional as L lenses, decision was betwenn Canon 18-200 and this 18-270.

I'm not so happy wirth the lens : I made photos at a zoo with animals and birds in normal day light and shadow in AV mode, I found that in ISO 100-200 it needs slow shutter speed while moving to Auto ISO the shutter speed is faster but it uses ISO 400~800.  I didn't had such thing with 18-55IS. Also there were some very not sharp images and blares even with VC stabilize.

On Tamron's official site how to use it they shaw pictures with high ISO http://www.tamron.co.jp/en/lineup/b008/howto/

At tamron's link

Is it normal high ISO in daylight ?

How is it with Canon 18-200 ?

Image Attachment: fileuTnj5c.jpg

David WongDavidW , June 29, 2012; 05:55 A.M.

I know they also has this Tamron AF18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD AF Lens for Nikon too, what is the different?, I like price is cheaper $400 vs $550, and with macro. And sigma also just announce the 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM, but no price yet. How is the overall quality and workmanship bewteen sigma and tamron.

I want this type of lens for travel and macro for flowers.

I am not in a hurry, should I wait?
thanks. 

Mark Silverstein , June 29, 2012; 09:01 P.M.

The cheaper lens you're referring to at $400 is an older version and does not have the PZD focusing motor. It is also bigger and heavier with a 72mm filter thread, rather then a 62mm filter thread on the newer PZD model. The older version is still available for Canon and Nikon mounts and sells for around $399. The functionality of the newer PZD version is identical for both Canon and Nikon mounts, and currently sells for around $550 including the manufacturers $100 rebate which is only available for a limited time. Hope this helps.  

Claudia Romero , July 20, 2012; 04:11 A.M.


Chromatic aberration on Tamron 18-270

Hi,

I bought my Tamron 18-270  5 days ago... I had researched quite a bit regarding pros and cons, but wasn't expecting what I am experiencing...

1) Looking trough the view finder, I constantly get a "grainy" texture", as though I were looking though a "non-glare glass",  the best I can do to describe the texture and lack of neatness/sharpness in the viewfinder... I am attaching an image which I took with a 2nd camera, positioned on the viewfinder of my canon 7D + Tamron 18-270  to simulate an eye... Trying to portray what it is I am dealing with...(Not the depth of field, that I am perfectly aware of, but the "grainyness")...  Has anyone experienced or heard of this?  Is this what youget with this lense?  Or should I insist on an exchange?

2) Chromatic aberation is considerable... much more present than with other more "unexpensive" lenses such as Tamron 70-300mm...

 

I will appreciate any input or suggestions! 

Thank you,

Claudia

This is the image, as seen through the view finer, not the actual photo... the outcome doesn´t show this grainyness.

Mark Silverstein , August 01, 2012; 12:07 P.M.

Hmm. I assume you have other lenses that don't perform this way on your body. I wonder if the auto focus is not working, or is turned off. Or if the vibration control (VC) is malfunctioning. Can you focus it with the manual focus ring or the VC turned off? One last thought did you adjust your cameras diopter adjustment for the viewfinder? 

If none of that works, the lens may be defective. Can you return or replace it? If not, luckily there is a 6 year warranty.  

Mark Silverstein , August 01, 2012; 12:22 P.M.

Rereading your note again, and realizing that the only issue is through the viewfinder, I am guessing its your camera's diopter adjustment. Assuming you're not familiar with it, its the little wheel just to the right of the viewfinder. The 7D also has a lens Micro Adjust feature, but I'm not familiar enough with it to let you know if it could cause this problem or could fix it.

With regard to the CA, while it can be an issue on such a complex lens, my own experience is that it much less CA  at the wide end then Canon's offering, the 18-200mm. CA shows up mostly on high contrast outdoor images on bright days on objects with a bright sky in the background. Under varying lighting conditions you may see more or less CA. It can mostly be corrected in post processing. Generally CA on this lens is not terrible. Perhaps you used the lens in a few unfortunate situations that highlighted it at its worst.

George Trakakis , December 29, 2012; 12:13 P.M.

Congratulations for this review! It really helped me buy this lens, and I don't regreτ it. It's a fantastic lens for everyday use!

I have a (maybe stupid) question and I would like your help guys: I had never before a lens with vibration control, since I used to shoot with Olympus E-510 and it had in-built image Stabilization system. So, now (using Canon), when I shoot with Tamron and VC is on, when I half-press the release button, I see a little movement of my view through the lens, and after I take the shot. This is normal, right? This is the Vibration Control, isn't it? I know that maybe this is a silly question, but I have no experience of this function and I just need to know that this is normal and not a problem! Of course pictures have no problem!

Thanks a lot!

Mark Silverstein , December 29, 2012; 12:55 P.M.

"I see a little movement of my view through the lens, and after I take the shot. This is normal, right? This is the Vibration Control, isn't it?"

Yes it's completely normal and is a result of the VC working. All stabilized lenses will show a slight movement through the viewfinder while locking in, but I've noticed the movement of the Tamron 18-270 seems to be significantly more obvious than any of my other lenses, which are all Canon. Additionally, you will probably discover that the VC makes a fairly noticeable whirring sound when operating. While it is significantly louder than any of my Canon stabilized lenses, it too is normal for this lens.

Keep in mind that all super zooms are a compromise regarding image quality. They tend to have more distortion, more chromatic aberration, more vignetting. They also tend to have somewhat less sharpness at the image edges when shooting with a wide aperture than good prime lenses or zooms with a smaller focal range. The Tamron is better than some super zooms in a few areas, and not quite as good in a few others. As I said...a compromise. But, with a super zoom mounted you'll won't miss a shot because you have the wrong lens mounted and you won't have to carry and change to additional lens.  Their advantages also include their compactness, their weight and size. 

Hope I could help. Enjoy the lens.

George Trakakis , December 29, 2012; 02:08 P.M.

Dear Mark,

Thank you so much for your detailed and quick response, I appreciate it! You took away my little concern about this movement!

I wish you the best for 2013, and, of course, many many beautiful shots!

Best regards,

George

Mark Silverstein , December 29, 2012; 03:05 P.M.

Thanks George. The same to you. I'm glad I was able to alleviate your concerns about the VC so you can just go about using it rather than worrying about it.  

By the way I just reread Bob's review for the first time in over a year and realize that his findings almost coincide 100% with my own experiences with this lens. I did find that at 270 mm images viewed at a 100% crop can also be a little soft in the middle with a wide open aperture and even when stopped down a bit.  Fine detail is a bit obscured in that situation.  But under normal use it would probably rarely be noticed. One final important note, if you mount the camera on a tripod, remember to turn VC off. If you leave it on images will definitely be softer 

I've moved on to other lenses in the past year and gave the Tamron to my son for use on his Canon T3i.  He couldn't  be happier. Its a terrific walk around lens.  Enjoy!  


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