Review Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD SP AF (N-FF)
In August 2010, the popular Tamron 70-300 mm Di VC was released. This lens is equipped with Tamron's VC (Vibration Compensation), a 3-axial image stabilization system. It is a fairly compact and lightweight telephoto zoom, which is suitable not only for cameras with an APS-C sensor, but also for use on cameras with a full frame sensor. According to Tamron, this attractively priced lens is a premium, state-of-the-art telephoto zoom lens, whose structure complies with the strict SP (Superior Performance) standards. We tested the Tamron 70-300 mm on a Nikon D800, a 36 megapixel camera with a full frame sensor. Soon we will also publish a review of the Tamron 70-300 mm VC on a camera with an APS-C sensor (Nikon D7100). In terms of zoom range the Tamron 70-300 mm is a perfect combination with a 24-70 mm or 24-105 mm zoom lens. A more than 4x zoom range really brings your subject to you, while you can remain at a relatively safe distance from your subject.
Review Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD SP AF + Nikon D800E
Qua zoombereik vormt de Tamron 70-300mm een perfecte combinatie met een 24-70mm of 24-105mm zoomlens. Een meer dan 4x zoombereik maakt dat je je onderwerp naar je toe kunt halen, terwijl je zelf nog op een relatief veilge afstand van je onderwerp kunt blijven.
Construction and autofocus
This lens is very well built and has a metal mount. On the lens are two on/off switches: for autofocus and image stabilization. The focus ring is two cm wide and covered with rubber. That feels good. The zoom ring is wider and covered with the same kind of rubber. What you encounter less and less today is a window on a lens in which you can see the distance that is in focus. With telephoto lenses, it can be really convenient. This is an lens that uses internal focusing (IF). The front lens therefore doesn't turn during focusing. This is useful when using a gradient filter or a polarizing filter.
We tested the image stabilization at a 70 mm focal length. At a shutter speed of 1/13 of a second, the images are just as sharp as at shorter shutter speeds. A shutter speed of 1/6 of a second delivers a less, but still pretty sharp picture. At slower shutter speeds, the sharpness – despite use of image stabilization – is too low for a usable shot (lucky breaks excepted). If you go by the maxim that hand-held sharp pictures can still be made at a shutter speed of 1/70, then the VC delivers about 3 stops. That is similar to other types of image stabilization, Image Stabilization or Vibration Compensation.
Vignetting is visible at maximum aperture, but is after 1 or 2 stops – depending on the focal length – gone. For a lens on a camera with a full frame sensor, these are not unusable values. Vignetting in many tele-shots is beautiful, because thereby the attention comes more to the center. With nature photography, the subject is often in the center, and then you don't even need to correct the vignetting. Software correction of vignetting is a piece of cake anyway.
Tamron 70-300mm distortion
The distortion develops quickly from barrel-shaped at the shortest focal length to pincushion for all focal lengths above 80 mm. Distortion at practically all focal lengths is more than 1%. That's visible to the naked eye in shots with a lot of straight lines, and is relatively high for a telephoto lens. Distortion can otherwise be corrected well with software. If you use the lens correction profiles in Lightroom or Photoshop, you can get rid of any distortion in all your shots with "1 click of a button".
Telephoto lenses on a camera with a full frame sensor generally deliver the most beautiful bokeh. The background blur of the Tamron SP 70-300 mm VC is not bad, but often a bit restless. Possible the modest light strength here is partly responsible. If there is a sharp contrast transition or a bright light source in the background, you can see a clear ring in the bokeh. With vignetting, the bokeh changes shape: from round in the center, to cat's eye-shaped at the edges.
The Tamron is, like many other telephoto zoom lenses, not sensitive to ghosts from backlighting. Only if there is a very bright light source shining directly into the lens, then there may be some small ghosts visible, as in the 100% image cut-out here. Also, the contrast in the immediate vicinity of the light source is a bit lower. This is a very good performance.
The resolution, expressed in lines/sensor height, is very good practically across the board. Only at the longest focal length is the sharpness lower, as illustrated in the 100% image cut-out below. At 300 mm, the image is woolly. That's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of for a lens in this price range. At all focal lengths the center sharpness is higher than the sharpness in the corners, but in practice, that will usually go unnoticed. Overall, the Tamron 70-300 mm lenses, in terms of sharpness, competes quite well with more expensive lenses from other brands. See our summary tables where you can compare lenses with each other on the basis of individual focal lengths (for cameras with smaller sensors, this is calculated as for a camera with full frame sensor).
When you click on the chart, you can see the graphs for resolution at the other focal lengths
The chromatic aberration is low at all focal length/aperture combinations. If you ever find lateral chromatic aberration in shots made with the Tamron 70-300 mm, then it will be at the longest focal length, where at very big magnifications maybe just in the corners you could find colored edges. Telephoto lenses are in theory sensitive to chromatic aberration. Therefore, the design often uses more expensive types of glass to combat chromatic aberration. That's true in this case as well. The Nikon D800E suppresses chromatic aberration in jpg files even more.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
High sharpness, low chromatic aberration, very little flaring
Effective built-in image stabilization
Visible vignetting and distortion
Separation efficiency in the corners and at 300 mm in the center lags a bit
bokeh somewhat less beautiful than you'd expect
The Tamron 70-300 mm is an attractively priced telephoto zoom with downright good performance on a camera with a full frame sensor. The lens is also very well built. With a maximum brightness of f/4-5.6, the lens is not very bright, but the effective image stabilization ensures that you can get good shots even in low-light by hand. In some tests on the internet, the slightly higher chromatic aberration of the Tamron 70-300 mm is named as a disadvantage. We, however, found no significant chromatic aberration. Vignetting and distortion are easy to correct with software, for example, with the lens correction profiles in Lightroom or Photoshop. There are many lenses for sale with a range of 70-200 mm or 70-300 mm. Should you be considering such a lens, then the Tamron 70-300 mm is a very good candidate.
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Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.