One of the most important lenses in my bag is my 70-200F2.8 lens. The 70-200 was in fact the first PRO grade lens that I ever purchased when I was getting started and I use it almost EVERY time I shoot something. I’ll never forget pulling the trigger on the lens. It was $1700 for a Nikon 80-200F2.8 and it was the most expensive lens I had ever purchased at the time. Since then I’ve always replaced it with the newest Nikon 70-200 available and it’s never disappointed me. There are now a few 70-200 options out there though and I’ll be absolutely honest I almost didn’t buy the newest Nikon 70-200F2.8E VR3 because of sheer cost. Lets face it, photography is expensive and almost $3,000 is a lot of money for a lens that I already have in good working order even if it’s one that I’ll use every day. That’s why there are lots of companies that have more affordable options for those needing a 70-200F2.8 in their bag. Sigma has absolutely been killing it with their new lenses over the last few years and I am greatly excited to their next offering, but they unfortunately haven’t yet produced their newest version of this highly anticipated lens. Sigma isn’t the only company out there with a horse in this race though. Enter Tamron. Tamron just announced for pre order their new 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2. This lens replaces their last iteration (hence the G2). I reviewed their last 70-200F2.8VC in 2008 and I reviewed that one as well and it was a beautiful lens overall. Unfortunately I didn’t deem it fast enough to shoot sports, which in reality is a lot of what quite a few photographers use them for. When I found out they would be sending me a lens to review, I knew that’s what I needed it to do since lets face it in this day in age a lot of lenses are well built and sharp but they also need to be fast.
First things first. Tamron is not paying me for this review. Neither is Roberts Camera whom the lens was shipped to and who helped arranging all the details in getting the lens to me. Tamron Shipped me a NIKON version of their new lens before they have become available to allow me to give my impression ahead of time to help give all of YOU an impression ahead of time. No money has changed hands, and the opinion I write here is my own. With that said, lets get to it.
So this new Tamron is a little smaller than the Newest Nikon 70-200F2.8E PL as you can see from the photo above. It’s constructed really well, the lens feels solid to your hand and it’s got a built in quick release plate as the tripod collar which is a nice touch. The switches are also really gratifying to flip, with a nice solid feeling click and the appropriate sound to match. There point is that there is no doubt when you flip the switch that it is flipped. It feels good, I could have sat there and flipped the switches back and forth over and over again because it felt so good but then I’d get even more strange looks from the folks at the tournament. The switches however were one of my two complaints about this lens despite how exciting I make them sound in the previous sentences. The last switch is for Stabilizer function control, and it’s a 3 stage switch instead of a 2 stage switch. I found it incredibly easy to blow past the center position of the switch when flipping it. In order to land on position 2, you had to be careful; at least more careful than I thought you should have to be but I would attribute that to the fact that this switch is only marginally larger than the others on the lens. Is this a make or break? no, if I’ve got time to piddle around with my stabilizer settings on my lens I’ve got time to be careful with the switch. Tamron claims 5 stops of stabilization when in mode 3. I didn’t test this as their last lens had a spectacular stabilizer and in limited usage this one seemed no different playing with it in the time that I had it. That and in all reality the stabilizing systems in the New Nikon, the latest Canon or even the Sigma are all pretty stellar. I was not going to rely on the VC to be what impresses me with this lens.
(The switches that I mentioned. Yes the image is technically upside down).
So how does the thing shoot. One thing I noticed years ago with Sigma and Tamron lenses, is that wide open they weren’t always good in either color and contrast. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. Usually when you buy a lens like this you want to be able to use it wide open at F2.8 otherwise a 70-300F4.5-5.6 should do you just fine. When spending a bunch of money on any lens you want the top of the line and you want great performance, nobody buys a lens specifically because it’s mediocre. (Except maybe the 60 year old 500 mirror lens I bought but that’s another story). That said, Tamron’s newest 70-200 has some incredible contrast and color wide open. For a lens that costs $1300 I’m blown away by how good the contrast and color are to the point I’d say it is going to be a much closer comparison to my Nikon 70-200F2.8E than I expected. I think the Nikon edges the Tamron out, but you’re looking at a $2800 lens vs a $1300 lens so I’d expect a little advantage to go to the Nikon. The reality of it is that Tamron has made the quality of this lens a huge accomplishment since you can get a little more than 2 of the Tamrons for the price of the Nikon. But lets not get too excited, the previous Tamron 70-200 had great color and contrast as well so lets see how she handles shooting something out in the wild.
(Nikon D5, 2000ISO, NEW Tamron SP 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2@200mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)
To put this lens through the paces I took it to a job with me. That job was the Women’s B1G TEN Championship here in Indianapolis where I would get to shoot some fast action in a reasonably challenging ambient light situation. I was shooting the tournament for both Michigan University and Northwestern University, who to my dismay were out by the 3rd day of play. With my previous experience with Tamron’s old lens, I opted to not jump in both feet with this lens, but to try her out first with one of the games that I was not assigned to. My plan was that if everything was good to go I’d shoot with it for my game later in the day. With a very click bait-y line here, you’ll never guess what happened.
(Nikon D5, 2000ISO, NEW Tamron SP 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2@70mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)
This NEW Tamron is absolutely capable of shooting sports. I shot most of the Indiana v Purdue game at the Tournament and also three quarters of the Maryland vs Minnesota games. I gave this lens every chance to succeed, attaching her to my Nikon D5 and shooting with ONLY this lens and camera combo, meaning I didn’t shoot with a second body or lens making sure I got total range coverage on the Tamron 70-200. The lens was flawless in it’s focus and tracking. I ran into zero problems as it came to the color, focus, or following the game action. Color me thrilled.
(Nikon D5, 2000ISO, NEW Tamron SP 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2@170mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)
So to recap here, and I feel like it’s important to do so, the NEW Tamron 70-200F2.8 Di VC USD G2 has a really great construction, great feel, great build and great color. The Autofocus was fantastic as you can see from the shots in the blog, and the sharpness to match. I said it above, and ill say it again; Color me impressed. So much so that when my assignment came around to shoot Michigan that evening I used the Tamron right? No.
(Nikon D5, 2000ISO, NEW Tamron SP 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2@82mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)
When I shoot basketball, I shoot vertically since the sport is played mostly vertical. Yes of Course I do crop afterwards occasionally and yes with the 70-200 I’ll shoot horizontal at the far end, but people are taller than they are wide so vertical is how it usually goes. Seems reasonable right? Shooting basketball I also usually use the tripod collar as a hand rest when I shoot vertically because it’s a better ergonomic position for my hand on the camera/lens and it avoids any unwanted side effects of shooting later. (things like cramps, or pains in the wrist or etc). Why does this matter? I’m getting there. With my Nikon 70-200F2.8E like the 70-200F2.8VR2 before it, I was able to rest the lens on my palm using the tripod collar and I was able to rotate the zoom ring on the lens with just my index or middle finger. I can hear you now, so are you saying that you can’t rotate the tripod collar to rest your and on? Yes you can totally do that with the Tamron. You can not however operate the zoom without using more than one finger. I understand that previously Tamron received a lot of complaints that the zoom ring was too loose on prior 70-200s, sometimes creeping focus unintentionally. That’s no good, but holy smokes this is too tight. With the Tamron I was required to use both index finger and thumb to turn the focus ring, and to use both of those I was no longer able to use my ergonomically preferred grip. Was it possible to rotate the zoom ring in the way I wanted? Yes sort of, but it required significant effort. To put this into perspective I normally shoot the long end of the court with my Nikon 200-400F4VR lens, and with this much larger lens I STILL can rotate the zoom ring with one finger while resting my hand on the tripod collar. The Tamron required so much effort in fact that I elected to NOT to shoot my game for Michigan that night because I continually had trouble with the change. Is/was the Tamron capable of shooting for me the way my Nikon would have for my assigned games? Would the autofocus and quality have been on par with what I needed to deliver? Absolutely, but it would have required a change in the way that I shoot just for this lens and I wasn’t willing to do that on a paying job.
(Nikon D5, 2000ISO, NEW Tamron SP 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2@200mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)
What does this say about the lens. Honestly the lens is really good. It’s outstandingly good. If you are needing an upgrade for your antique 80-200F2.8 screw drive or you are buying your first 70-200 ever than this is an excellent $1300 to spend; but at that point its not the same as spending $2k or $3k for a lens. $2k or $3k gets you that super silky smooth zoom ring operation that I mentioned previously among likely one or two other things that I hadn’t discovered due to my greatly unscientific testing done here. The punchline is though that there are a lot worse ways to spend $1300 and if I was stuck somewhere with no lenses and needed a 70-200 on a budget? The Tamron would be a tough one to pass up. As far as the zoom ring goes, it’s to each their own; It’s likely that it won’t bother any number of you. If you are thinking about buying one you should definitely go to a place like Roberts to play with one before you buy to see if it’s something that would bother you. I stopped into Roberts and took a look at the 70-200 they had in their display case (at the time of this writing they had just received their Canon versions) and it was as tight as the Sample I was sent. To me that’s a no go, but to you it could be perfect. For $1300 though, it’s definitely worth taking a look. More Soon.
(Nikon D5, 2000ISO, NEW Tamron SP 70-200F2.8 DI VC USD G2@130mm. 1/1000th@F2.8)