The first Pro F2.8 level lens that I ever bought isn’t what anybody might think.  Most people start out with a 50mm F1.8 lens since they are cheap and that would have been logical.  I am a firm believer that anybody and everybody should have a 50mm lens in their bag, but that’s just a personal opinion.  It’s a great walk around and practice lens because it’s fast and you can’t always get too close to something.  It makes you think.  I however chose my first ‘Big Boy’ lens to be my Nikon 70-200VR.  I remember when it came out, I used my college financial aide money to buy it instead of paying my rent (which I figured I had a job for right?).  $1600 is what I paid for it.  Hard to believe that now considering the new one is $2400.  I remember when I sold it to buy the new one, I was sort of shocked that I almost got what I paid out of it.  Funny times huh.  That being said $1600 is a whole heck of a lot more affordable than $2500 and not everybody can go that extra mile to get the Nikon VR2 model 70-200.  That’s where brands like Sigma (see my last Sigma lens review here) Tokina, or Tamron come in.  For a long time I considered them to be nothing but low cost alternatives; like I said in my Sigma 35mm F1.4 review.  The Sigma 35F1.4 has changed my opinion of Sigma completely.  When Derek over at Roberts suggested that next I take a look at Tamron’s new 70-200F2.8 VC because their 24-70F2.8VC (which he owns) is a Diamond in the Rough I decided I couldn’t really refuse despite my previous experiences with 3rd party lenses.

(Image Courtesy Tamron’s website)

Derek’s experience with the Tamron lens has been fantastic.  He actually sold his Nikon 24-70F2.8 in order to buy it which is a heck of a statement.  I’m not sure I’m to that point with my old 28-70F2.8D, but you never know what will happen if I break it.  I digress though as Derek was blown away by the sharpness of the 24-70 Tamron and said that the VC in that lens is pretty incredible.  I played with it for about 10 minutes one afternoon and found the VC very effective even down to 1/8th of a second.  When I got the Tamron 70-200 I was sort of apprehensive, but that quickly passed.  Would this $1500 lens stack up to what I would expect out of this kind of lens?  yes and no.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1000ISO,  Tamron 70-200F2.8VC@157mm.  1/13th@F2.8)

That’s our Cat Cortana.  I wouldn’t be any kind of gear reviewer without a photo of a Cat in the review would I?  No, the day I brought the lens home she was sitting there so still that I couldn’t not make a few photos of her.  She really won’t come within 10′ of us unless we have food or are on the sofa playing xbox.  Pretty sure she thinks we are going to eat her or something.  I’ve never been able to pick her up, and the one time I tried she stained the shirt I was wearing.  Yet at the same time she’ll rub against my feet while I’m at the computer (as long as I don’t try to pet her).  Weird cat.  Either way, she was sitting still so I snapped a picture.  1/13th of a second in Florescent mixed with daylight in the background.  1/13th of a second hand held in ambient light at the longer end of a 70-200 is pretty fantastic.  Under strobes it’s one thing, but straight ambient it’s pretty good.  Honestly it’s really a testament to Tamron’s Vibration Control.  Look at this video I shot very quickly in my office at the star.

No my hands aren’t that shaky normally.  I started to record and let the video run for about 5 minutes with my arms not resting on anything.  I wanted to make sure they were tired towards the end so you could really see the VC in action.  Had I rested my arms on something the video wouldn’t have been very shaky even with the VC off.  That being said, the VC inside this Tamron lens is SOLID.  I didn’t cut the video at all, only the text is changing when the VC is turned on and off; I never stopped recording, nor did I cut the film between.  This lens would be an incredible lens for video.  The VC is strong enough you can *almost* walk with the camera during recording and have smooth video.  Almost.  Honestly I think this Vibration Control (VC) is better than the VR in my Nikon 70-200VR2.  Not bad for a lens that’s almost $1000 less right?  Well it’s not all gold and Rainbows unfortunately.  One of the things that really bugs me about the Tamron? Really the biggest thing that actually bothers me?  The Zoom and Focus rings are opposite any other version 70-200 I’ve ever used.  The focus ring is on the body end of the lens, and the zoom ring on the lens hood end if that makes sense.  This may not seem like a big deal, and for most people it’s not.  For me however I tend to use my HiTech Graduated Neutral Density filters on location quite a bit, and if my hands are full I just put the lens hood on backwards (in storage position on the lens) and mount my filter holder to the front.  With this lens I can’t do this because the lens hood covers the zoom ring which more often than not I’m still using to frame my shot.  Not the end of the world, but when you’re shooting something for a newspaper and you don’t have a lot of extra hands or pockets the size of a 44 ounce soda to put a lens hood; it gets to be a big deal….  That all being said lets go back to the positives.  Lets talk about sharpness…

The Tamron lens is sharp.  The shot above looks every so slightly soft but that’s because I shot a photo of a cat at 1/13th.  A cat is more fun to look at than a test grid full of lines right?  If you’re looking for sharpness you’ll find it with the Tamron which is fantastic at F2.8 for a lens that is only $1500.  At F2.8 sharpness the Tamron is easily equivalent to the Nikon or Canon Counterparts.  That being said the only thing I really wasn’t impressed with was the Auto Focus Speed.  Not to say the lens is slow because it isn’t.  I would only classify it as “Fast enough”.  The first time I put a Canon 70-200F2.8 IS2 on a 1D Mark IV I said “wow! that’s fast!”.  The first time I used my Nikon 70-200VR2 on my D4 I said the same thing.  This Tamron never gave me that feeling.  You could say that I was used to the speed of the others by this point, but no.  When I put my Nikon 70-200 on my D4 after using the Tamron my brain said almost the same thing that I did the first time.  That means that the Tamron lens is reasonably fast, but not quite up to speed of the Canon or Nikon.  That would be the one area I consider the Tamron to come up short.  Let me remind you that the Tamron is NOT SLOW; it’s just not as fast as it’s Nikon or Canon Counterparts which to me feel almost instant.  It was very accurate though, most of the shots that I took in every day shooting scenario’s in varying qualities of light were in focus.  The shot below as an example is a shot of Terry Lee; an Indianapolis Auto Dealer.  We needed photos of him working with a customer for our upcoming Auto Guide.  I decided to shoot it ambient and take advantage of the large windows that most car dealerships have to offer and I wasn’t displeased with the performance of the Tamron one bit for the hour I spent at the dealership.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1600ISO, Tamron 70-200F2.8VC@129mm.  1/100th@F2.8)

The Tamron is really a fantastic lens for the $1500, or better put, a thousand dollars less than the Canon or Nikon versions.  If you’ve never owned a 70-200 and you’re ready to take the next step this is a very solid lens to do it with that won’t force you to sell a kidney to get it.  I shot a few frames on my Canon 1D Mark II of moving traffic and the lens performed admirably when it came to tracking.  I am not including any of these in here because frankly they aren’t anything special other than to see if the lens could focus on stuff that moved.  (Which it did about as well as I’d expect; well but not perfect).   If Shannon ever takes a much more vested interest in photography to the point where a 70-200F2.8 lens of her own is needed; this lens would be easily in the running due to sharpness and cost to benefit ratio.  Without any doubts.  Lots of people should consider this against Nikon’s similarly priced 70-200F4VR as having that extra stop of light is a lot more valuable than most people realize.  Of course you should also know that I’ve not seen nor touched the Nikon 70-200F4 to know how sharp or fast it is in real life.

(Canon 5D Mark II, 320ISO, Tamron 70-200F2.8VC@200mm.  1/30th@F2.8)

Honestly, as a full time professional I’m going to stick with my Nikon and Canon glass on this one.  Not because I already own the glass already either.  They are much more expensive, but I feel as though in this case they are worth it to someone that makes photos almost every day with them.  If you’re a college student or someone that’s considering taking photography full time this is probably going to be a great lens for you to test the waters of your photography with as it’ll save you a lot of money in the long run.  While the Tamron 70-200F2.8VC performs very admirably in comparison to the much more expensive competition the full time pro’s will still see a difference.  In a way though that’s a big victory for Tamron because years ago anybody and everybody could tell the difference; and now it’s limited to what seems like will be just a few.  If you’re looking to play with one of these Tamron’s, or just want to buy one don’t forget to do it at Roberts Camera.  If you go there in person you can even play with the toys before you buy.  Playing with what you want to buy ahead of time is really the only way to buy camera gear.  More Soon.