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Tamron 70-300/4-5.6 Di VC USD Lens Review

by Shun Cheung, September 2010 (updated June 2011)


The Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC is a new telephoto zoom that covers a convenient and popular telephoto range. In Tamron terminology, Di means the lens is optimized for digital cameras and VC is vibration compensation, similar to Canon’s image stabilization (IS) and Nikon’s vibration reduction (VR).

This lens can cover the full 24×36mm film frame (FX format in Nikon terminology) so that it can be used on APS-C crop sensor as well as full-frame DSLRs. It is available in three different mounts:

I tested the Nikon version on two Nikon digital SLR bodies, both 12MP, the D700 ( FX format) and D300 (APS-C, Nikon DX format). For comparison purposes, I also used three other Nikon lenses that I own:

Auto Focus

The Tamron 70-300mm lens has the higher-end AF motor so that one can manually override AF in real time; there is no need to switch off AF first before one can manually focus this lens. Under bright sunlight, AF speed is quite reasonable. However, under dim light, due to its f/5.6 maximum aperture on the long end, AF tends to hunt a bit. Overall, I am quite happy with the AF speed and accuracy.

Sharpness

I ran a number of comparisons at 300mm among the Tamron zoom, Nikon’s 300mm f/2.8 AF-S, and Nikon’s new 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S VR zoom. The 300mm f/2.8 is among the sharpest lenses I own and when it is stopped down to f/5.6, it is simply super. Of course the Tamron zoom is not quite at that level, but it comes surprisingly close. The Nikon 28-300 super zoom is still respectable on the FX-format D700, but on the DX D300 with denser pixels, it looks a little soft. Overall, I would say sharpness is the greatest strength for this Tamron zoom.

There is a small amount of barrel distortion on the long end of this zoom lens, i.e. at 300mm. The distortion is still noticeable at 135mm, but at the minimum 70mm, this lens is essentially distortion free.

The Tamron zoom exhibits a small amount of chromatic aberration as there is a clear color band in any light-to-dark transition. In comparison, chromatic aberration is much better controlled on Nikon’s 300mm f/2.8.

Concerning vignetting, I captured images of a uniform blue sky with the zoom wide open at 70mm as well as 300mm. There is a bit of darkening in the corners but that is not something I would be concerned about.

Vibration Compensation

My estimate is that VC on the Tamron 70-300mm can provide somewhere between 2 to 4 stops of vibration reduction. If I hand hold the lens at 300mm, typically I can get a reasonably sharp image at 1/60 sec with a still subject. In other words, a 2 to 3 stop gain is usually achievable. When engaged, Tamron’s VC make a noticeable “click” sound and if you pay close attention to the image in the camera’s viewfinder, it will make a sharp jump before settling down, which indicates that the VC elements are making some quick movement inside. In contrast, Nikon’s VR is smoother and quieter.

Lens Construction

The lens comes with a HA005 lens hood that is made in the Philippines. It is a modern “petal” style hood that is very deep. While it does a good job preventing stray light from entering the front end of the lens, should have you a polarizer on the lens, it is difficult to rotate the filter when the hood is on.

Speaking of polarizers, the front of this lens does not rotate when you focus. Therefore, it is unnecessary to re-adjust the rotation of the polarizer after focusing. This lens has a front element that is very close to the very front of the lens; therefore, I think it is fairly easy to scratch the front element such that a clear protection filter is probably a good idea.

Construction-wise, it is fairly typical consumer grade with a plastic barrel, but the lens mount is metal. Unlike a lot of new Nikon lenses, the Tamron has no rubber ring around the mount to seal moisture out between camera and lens. The focus ring is a little too loose. Rotation of the zoom ring is slightly rough as the lens needs to physically extend quite a bit when it zooms from 70mm to 300mm. Overall, I would say the build quality is acceptable; it is not an area of concern, but the feel is quite different from those higher-end lenses that cost a lot more; that should be expected.

Handling

The Tamron 70-300 has two rings, for zooming and focusing. The zoom ring rotates in the same direction as the zoom rings on Nikon zoom lenses. (That is, if you have a zoom lens mounted on your camera and you are looking through the viewfinder, you rotate the zoom ring clockwise to increase the focal length). However, the focus ring rotates in the opposite direction. On the Tamron, you rotate clockwise to focus closer; on a Nikon lens, you rotate counterclockwise to focus closer. To me, it is not an issue, especially since I use auto focus most of the time. However, it annoys some people.

Conclusion

The Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC is surprisingly good optically. It is merely a little bit less sharp compared to my Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AF-S, stopped down to f/5.6. The Tamron does have more chromatic aberration, i.e. color fringing in light-to-dark transitions. Construction wise it is very typical consumer grade with mostly plastic components, but the lens mount is metal; I consider that adequate.

Similar to all other 70-300mm lenses, the long end is on the slow side at f/5.6. It is not an issue under bright sunlight, but at dawn and dusk as well as indoors, it is frequently necessary to turn up the ISO. In other words, this lens is good for outdoor telephoto photography such as family, children sports, and casual wildlife photography. For those who are interested in a telephoto zoom on a budget, the new Tamron 70-300mm is an excellent choice.

Lens Specifications

  • Focal Length 70-300mm
  • Maximum Aperture: f/4-5.6
  • Optical Construction: 17 elements in 12 groups
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 1.5m/4.9ft
  • Filter Diameter: 62mm
  • Weight: 772g/27.5oz without lens cap and hood
  • Length: 142.7mm/5.6 inches, 195mm/7.7 inches when zoomed to 300mm
  • Made in China

The maximum aperture varies along with the focal length in the following manner:

Focal Length Maximum Aperture
70mm f/4.0
100mm f/4.2
135mm f/4.5
200mm f/5.3
300mm f/5.6

Text and photos © 2011 Shun Cheung.

Article revised June 2011.

Readers' Comments


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Shun Cheung , October 15, 2010; 11:30 A.M.

I have additional images of this lens and images captured with this lens in the following folder: http://photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=982385

Michael Khalsa , December 07, 2010; 06:21 P.M.

I am using this on a canon 550D and very happy with it. It has amazing IQ even on the high end and the VR works very well. The images seem to pop and record the subtlies very well. I use it quite a bit on the 300mm end at f/5.6, but stop down some when the light is good. I feel it has opened up new photographic vistas for me.

The focus motor is quiet and it finds focus quickly, even in dusk. However the VR motor, while it works well is noisy.If you are in a place that needs silence, then consider turning it off, otherwise you get use to it.

The exceptional quality of the VR is really one of the selling points of this lens, and while many say they can do without it, it limits the ease in which you can use the lens for fun walk abouts.

It is much better than the canon 55-250 IS which i also have (came with the camera in a combo deal). The canon has good IS , but the IQ just does not compare and it is softer away from center with stronger aberations, where as at least in my copy the tamron stays sharp. Keep in mind that i am using a crop camera and a FF might have more softness on the edges for the tamron.

I do not really use the canon 55-250 because i was too aware of its limitations, where as i have no hesitation on using the tamron and am getting some great photos.

While i do not have a lot of experience in using the large L glass primes and zooms, i have looked at quite a few online examples and reviews, as well as examing pics through cheaper zooms, and i would guess that you have to go to L glass to get better, perhaps the 200mm f4 or 2.8 zooms, but these are much more expensive, and they do not reach 300mm like this lens does.

It is heavy, but not overly so. I personally find that the weight makes the camera very stable and is still quite manageable handheld, where as heavier glass requires a tripod for comfort. (I do not own larger lens but have put them on my camera temporarily). I have a battery grip on the 550d and without it the camera would not be balanced with the lens.

As for the build, except for the VR noise, it seems well built. People go on about the plastic, but these are high quality plastics and they do make it lighter. There is a good quality about it, however i do not know if in 20 years the plastic makes a difference or not. For $450, i would much rather have quality optics than a metal outside.

I live in the mountains and photograph various rock formations, plays of light, birds, animals, etc. I am not sure how this lens would work for sports. I am going to take it with me to NZ to photograph by son-in-law surfing - i am aware that something larger and bigger is meant to be better (and it is always nice to have a million dollars), but hey, with this i can step into the water a bit (closer) hand held and i think it would be fine for waves breaking not to far out.

I think this lens is really going to help tamron in their reputation. Perhaps in a few years time i will get a large L lens, but in the interim this is a gift and i do not feel like i am suffering in the interim at all.

Another plus is that in the future when i get a 5D, i can use it for that as well, however i have no idea if the edges will hold up or not on FF, but for crop they look great.

I am considering getting a 1.4X converter in the future, and while i now this will make it slower, the VR is so good i am guessing that this will compensate to make it still usable.

Thank you Tamron, and also thanks to Shun Cheung for his detailed review and the reviews on amazon as well, as they helped me in the decision to purchase this lens.

Anurag Agnihotri , December 30, 2010; 01:47 A.M.

Hi Shun,

How is the size compared to 70-300 Nikon/Canons? How does it feel in the hand, heavy? Is it a huge lens?

regards,

Shun Cheung , December 30, 2010; 06:08 A.M.

I never had the Tamron 70-300 and Nikon 70-300 with me at the same time, but I would say they are about the same size (you can look up the official length and weight specifications to compare). The Tamron is not heavy for this type of lenses due to its many plastic components.

Elliotte Harold , January 20, 2011; 08:01 A.M.

Has anyone done a comparison of this lens to the new Canon 70-300L? So far I haven't been able to find anyone whose shot with both of these.

Bob Atkins , February 01, 2011; 02:28 A.M.

The Canon 70-300L hasn't been released yet and when it does hit the stores it will be $1600, so the two lenses aren't really comparable. The Canon will certainly have better build quality and weathersealing and I'd have to hope it will be better optically too at that price. I've handled one but I wasn't allowed to shoot with it as it was a pre-production prototype.

I have shot with the Tamron 70-300 VC and I was quite impressed with it.

 

Alex Tamayo , February 07, 2011; 05:32 A.M.

I really wanted this lens because:

  1. I needed a second lens to extend the reach of my Tamron 17-50  f/2.8
  2. I'm impressed with the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8

Sadly the two copies that I tried in the Photoworld Asia 2011 exhibit here in the Philippines were lemons. The 2 lenses that I tried underexposed and 1 of them had a defective VC. These were brand new items.

 

Image Attachment: fileXk4M36.jpg

John Newland , March 09, 2011; 06:05 A.M.

I just purchased this lens after growing tired of carrying my Nikon 70-200 II, and I have to say that it is a gem. I used to own the Nikon 70-300 VR, and I tried it again in the store against the Tamron. I hate to say this, being a Nikon guy through and through, but the Tamron just beat the daylights out of it, especially at 200-300mm. I could not get over the sharpness of it wide open at 300mm. Obviously it can't match the speed or sheer resolving power of the 70-200 VR II, but it's not a 2.8, so how could it? Given the price of this lens, I have to say this is one of those rare purchases that makes me feel as though I've gotten a true bargain. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Jan Kyster , August 15, 2011; 12:45 P.M.

Thanks for the review! Decided to get the lense partly based on your comments and received it today!

However I'm deeply worried about a warning note in the manual saying: "When set on AF mode, interfering with focusing ring may cause serious damage to the lens mechanism."

Can this really be true? It seems to be fairly easy by mistake to turn the focus ring due to it's position...

Piper Karie , September 08, 2011; 11:52 P.M.

I just received this lens from B&H today.  I have taken several inside images with it and I can honestly say this has better IQ than the Canon 100-400L that I had calibrated for my 7D.  It also has better color and is easier to use.  It has some heft and since I came from Sony to Canon I tell you that it's as good as the Sony 70-300G that I had and it was no slouch.  I have yet, to try it outside. I have the flu.

Also, this has full time manual focus and non rotating front element for those that have not read up on the specs. I have owned/used the Canon 70-300IS USM and this lens beats that lens in build, IQ and IS.  I personally like the build as I do a lot of high altitude/hiking work and I have the Canon 70-200L f4 IS for durability/weather seal.

I have used the Canon's 70-300mm L IS and for 1K more it's not worth it unless you need the build/weather seal and you get an incredibly sharp copy of the Canon.

I was completely unprepared to be surprised by this lens as I own four L lenses and two other incredibly sharp Canon's.

And for those of you concerned about the "plastic build", I have seen the Canon 100-400L disassembled and the lens housing is plastic, as is the focus ring and push/pull assembly.  The only major exterior metal part of the 100-400L is the housing base where the IS/AF controls are attached. The Canon 24-105L and 17-40L are both plastic, so the only thing that is missing from the Tamron 70-300VC, which the 100-400L also lacks, is weather seal.

I have not seen the 70-200 f/4 IS disassembled yet, but I would bet there are some plastic components there as well.

The zoom is not as smooth brand new as the Sony 70-300G, but the focus ring is as smooth as any of my other lenses. The IS is excellent, but not as subtle in the view finder as the 70-200L IS.  I'm not saying this is an L lens, but optically, so far... it is. 

I'll try to update this after I feel up to testing it outside.

Piper Karie , September 28, 2011; 01:15 P.M.

Update on my 70-300VC:

The color and Bokeh are truly amazing on my copy.  I have had it out and about, finally, and it is a true performer.

I will say that my copy is front focusing a bit, but I was able to tweek it with the 7D calibration and it is near perfect.

I will be using this for work, so I am sending it in to Tamron to have them calibrate it for me, then I'll tune it up in the 7D when it returns.

Right out of the box, it still beats the 100-400L even at 400mm on the Canon.

This is truly a low cost gem and I'm excited to have it in my bag of tricks.

People keep comparing this with the Canon 70-300 IS, but this is in a much better class. The glass in mine is definitely L grade.  I'll check it against my 70-200 IS L, which is a truly sharp lens, after Tamron calibrates it.

Yoav Givon , January 24, 2012; 10:35 A.M.

Just got my Tamron 70-300 VC today , run  some tests , looks great but I am able to sharpen the output using Canon editing software .
Now come the silly question of today .. (Pardon but I a am a novice)

Being able to sharpen the picture means That the lens IS NOT well calibrated for my body (Canon 60d) OR  this will always be the case no matter how sharp the picture will be optically wise .

 

Yoav Givon , January 24, 2012; 10:35 A.M.

Just got my Tamron 70-300 VC today , run  some tests , looks great but I am able to sharpen the output using Canon editing software .
Now come the silly question of today .. (Pardon but I a am a novice)

Being able to sharpen the picture means that the lens IS NOT well calibrated for my body (Canon 60d) OR  this will always be the case no matter how sharp the picture will be optically wise .

 

OSCAR ARGOTA JR , July 15, 2014; 09:44 P.M.

Has anyone tried this tamron on low light conditions, say inside an auditorium or church and zoom at 300mm.  i am using the canon 18-200mm IS F3.5-5.6, at 200mm F is at 5.6, but can't get a sharp photo.  I am frustrated that I am considering buying this Tamron but how sure am I that Tamron will deliver when used at 300mm in a low lit condition.

Thanks for your advises.

Shun Cheung , July 15, 2014; 11:06 P.M.

For low-light situations, such as indoors, I would get a 70-200mmm/f2.8 lens, IS for Canon or VR for Nikon. There is no way around it; you need a faster aperture to compensate for dim light. Auto focus will also be faster and more accurate at f2.8 (or faster).

OSCAR ARGOTA JR , July 16, 2014; 08:28 P.M.

Ok thanks for the advise. will be looking at 70-200mm f2.8 with IS. By the way my equipment is a 7D.  

 


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