Tamron SP70-300 Di VC USD: The Nikonians Review
For most photographers, a telephoto lens is like a specialized tool; you don’t often have need for it, but when you do, you want it to work right the first time. Tamron’s latest telephoto zoom, the SP 70-300 f4-5.6 Di VC USD, is exactly that – a very useful lens that gets you the shot you want when you need it.
Editor's Note: The Samples Gallery is now available.
Tamron is no newcomer to the market. As a third-party manufacturer of still camera and video lenses, the company has been making optical products since 1950. The new 70-300 VC USD reflects their long history and experience in its’ build, handling and performance.
Some of you are probably thinking; “What, another mid-range telephoto zoom?” This isn't just another "me-too" product, it's got some really compelling features, and performance that will surprise you. Let’s quickly walk through the basics:
Ultrasonic Drive (USD) - this is Tamron’s first lens to use a coreless drive motor. Much like Nikon’s Silent Wave motor, the lens is not dependent upon the camera’s internal shaft drive to move the optical elements. Instead, Ultrasonic Drive pulls battery power from the camera and uses a ring motor to silently and swiftly arrive at the desired focus. It’s perfect for fast moving action but discreet enough in events requiring a low noise profile.
Vibration Compensation (VC) – this is Tamron’s fourth lens to feature a form of image stabilization. This is an extremely useful feature when you’re talking about a telephoto lens. Longer focal lengths require sufficiently higher shutter speeds to avoid hand shake effects. Vibration Compensation is rated to give up to four stops of hand-holding, allowing us to shoot in progressively lower light and/or lower ISO at lower shutter speeds, or forgo traditional supports like tripods and still be able to get blur-free photos.*
*If your subject is moving at a pace faster than the shutter speed can freeze the action, it will still be blurred.
Optical Formula – the new lens features an LD (Low Dispersion) and an XLD (Extra Low Dispersion) optical element that helps prevent chromatic aberration (the so-called “purple fringing” effect). The optical formula of 12 groups in 17 elements is considerably more complex compared to Tamron’s previous implementations – the AF 70-300 Macro and the AF 75-300 Macro LD both had 9 groups in 12 elements, and only a single LD element each.
Di Type – Tamron applies a multi-coating to optimize the lens’ use with more reflective Digital SLR sensors, although it is fully compatible with film cameras as well.
The build is quite modern and reassuring. Although it is mostly composed of light-weight materials and a metal mount, the lens is hefty at 1.7 lbs/0.7 kg and feels solid. There is no creak or give whatsoever, and when extended to its full length at 300mm, the lens barrel does not flop or bend. Tamron also includes a deep bayonet-mounted flower-petal hood that is reversible for easy storage. The hood’s length is great as it increases the efficiency of glare reduction. A proprietary rear cap and a pinch front cap round out the package. The pinch cap is very convenient, and is easily mounted and removed even with the hood in place. The filter size is a common and relatively inexpensive 062mm, which is great for photographers on a tight budget. The lens has the normal seals against dust and dirt, but is not waterproof.
As previously noted, this is not a constant aperture zoom, so the maximum aperture at each focal length is as follows:
•70mm - f4.0
•100mm - f4.2
•135mm - f4.5
•200mm - f5.3
•300mm – f5.6
The lens has no dedicated aperture ring. Like its modern peers, the mechanical linkage of aperture is now electronically controlled through the lens mount interface, allowing the photographer to set the opening via control dials on the camera body.
There are two ring controls – a very large zoom ring dominates the front two-thirds of the barrel length, while a narrower but easily handed focus ring is placed closer to the mount. The focus ring adequately allows clearance even for larger hands, so you won’t feel cramped while trying to manually focus. A display window on the top closest to the lens mount end shows focus distance in feet and meters. The rings are mechanically sound – both turned with a crisp reassurance, but were tight enough that with some practice, you could move the zoom ring by “feel” to a given focal length and know it would stay there. It takes about a quarter turn to cycle through the whole zoom range. Because of the full-time AF manual override, the focus ring turns freely in either direction and does not hit a stop or detent. Those of us who have struggled with “switchology errors” on lenses will be pleased to see the simplified setup Tamron has created – there’s just two switches, both on the left side; one turns VC ON or OFF and the other switches AF ON or OFF. That’s it. For folks who like to delve into the technical details, it sounds suspiciously like Tamron’s implementation is too simplified, but be reassured, it’s not. We’ll get into that later in this review.