Unless you make a lot of money with your mid-range zoom lens, or are willing to spend what it takes to get the best, $1900 for the 2 pound is a hard price to justify. For that price, you get an ultra-sharp, ultra-fast, lens, but you don’t even get VR. I’ve enjoyed using Sigma’s version, the . It is much less expensive, but not as solidly built and also isn’t stabilized. Until now there hasn’t been a value-priced version of a 24-70 f/2.8 that could measure up to the Nikon. That’s why I was excited to work with the new , which not only featured a fast focus motor but unique among mid-range pro zooms, also has image stabilization….
The feels really solid and reassuring. Without dropping it to test, it’s hard to say if it is rugged as it looks – the Nikon version certainly is – but it seems like it would be. As a result it is only a couple ounces lighter and a tiny bit smaller than the Nikon – making it larger than the Sigma – but the heft feels great to hold and work with. The zoom ring also moves in the same direction as the Nikon, which is a nice plus for Nikon shooters. I used the Nikon mount version of the lens with a Nikon D4, a and a to put it through its paces.
The lens focuses quite quickly, with performance similar to that of the Nikon version. It also features fulltime manual override (the equivalent of Nikon’s M/A mode), a nice touch in a third party lens.
Features and Operation
Using the Tamron 24-70mm zoom lens is pretty straightforward. Like most modern lenses it has a manual focus (MF) / autofocus (AF) switch, although fulltime manual focus override is available even when the lens is set to AF (essentially the equivalent of Nikon’s M/A mode). There is a lens lock to keep the lens at 24mm and avoid any chance of lens creep if held vertically. Frankly, I didn’t have any problem with lens creep, so I didn’t actually find that I needed to use the lock. The final switch on the lens turns on the excellent image stabilizer, called VC for vibration compensation. The Tamron takes 82mm filters, which might be a bit of an annoyance if you’re used to having 77mm filters for your other lenses. The zoom ring is comfortable and easy to reach, while manual-zoomers may find the focus ring a little close to the camera body to use easily. Overall, the lens is a no-nonsense model that is great to operate and doesn’t feel like it compromises on build quality or operating considerations.
Without question the Tamron has image quality worthy of a pro zoom. It provides sharp images throughout its range, although perhaps with a bit more softness at 24mm. Detail resolution is excellent. In this image of a GT40 race car (untouched except to resize for the web), I’ve exploded out the section with the inspection sticker, which is readable.
Now there aren’t many times when I need to read the stickers off a car windshield, since I don’t work for CSI, but having a sharp lens does provide some fun options. I was standing outside at the car races when a stunt skydiver started to descend. All I had was the 24-70 on my full-frame . Not exactly a great combo for capturing action at a distance. I zoomed in “all the way” to 70mm and took this image – with the diver looking like a pinpoint. However, I was able to crop the image down and scale up the center to actually produce an image of the diver and read the inside of his chute:
The one knock on the Tamron 24-70 has been vignetting. At f/2.8 full-frame, it is indeed an issue, but once you get to f/4 or further, vignetting is essentially gone, as you can see from this full-frame image of classic race cars from the Monterey Historics (image is straight out of the camera except for resizing):
Vibration Compensation (VC, aka IS or VR)
Finally there is a pro spec (f/2.8, excellent IQ) general use zoom with image stabilization. Until now photographers have had to give up on stabilization to get an f/2.8 mid-range lens. Kudos to Tamron for breaking the mold with their Vibration Compensation (VC) equipped model. The VC works really well, and I was able to take sharp image down to 1/8s pretty easily. It only makes me wonder why Nikon, Canon and Sigma haven’t done the same thing. This one feature alone – along with a much more competitive price – is enough to seriously consider the Tamron as your everyday zoom lens if you need something that works with full-frame and want a true pro lens.
Which 24-70mm f/2.8 should you buy?
If you’re in the market for a no-compromise zoom, the good news is you have plenty of choices. For traditionalists with a large budget, you certainly will not go wrong with the model or the version. They’re both big, heavy and expensive though, so if you’re worried about any of that, you’ve got a couple other good options. The we’ve reviewed here gives us very little in quality and gains excellent vibration reduction and a major cost savings. Finally, if you don’t want to break the piggybank, the is the least expensive of the three, providing great value at a slight loss in build and image quality.