NOTE: Sample pictures are from my diorama pal, Ernie – he’s from a planet called “FarFour” and I used him for sample pics because it has been raining cats and dogs for a week here and it was just easier to make sample images with him than to try to go outside.
I have a long history of using third-party lenses. I used a Sigma lens to make my most famous image, “Cranes in the Fire Mist.” I use Sigma cinema lenses when I have a crew. But the Sigma lenses are generally larger and heavier than I am able to carry and use these days so I am also using Tamron lenses. I also have history with Tamron. I was using Tamron lenses with my Canon 1D MK II when I switched to Micro Four Thirds full time.
Now five years later and working under new rules because I am no longer an Olympus Visionary, I am testing lots and lots of cameras and lenses so I can both write about them and help students who need help with different lenses, including those for Sony – especially since Sony cameras are so popular right now.
I have tested most of the newer Sony lenses and they are much better than some of the older Sony lenses that I looked at. BUT – they are super expensive and quite heavy. And frankly, I think there is a better solution that will work for most Sony FF users. That solution is Tamron.
The three lenses I am talking about are the Tamron 17-28 | 28-75 | 70-180 i.e., the trinity zooms covering everything from 17mm to 180mm with a fast fixed aperture and all three together cost slightly more than just the one Sony 70-200 G Master.
Here are the specific models I am talking about:
Tamron 17-28mm F/2.8 Di III RXD (Model A046) Retail Price at B&H $899
Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III VXD G2 (Model A063) Retail Price at B&H $899
Tamron 70-180mm F/2.8 Di III VXD (Model A056) Retail Price at B&H $1199
All three of these lenses have a six-year warranty (USA). All three have moisture-resistant construction, fluorine coatings, BBAR coatings, all three can receive firmware updates, all are built specifically for mirrorless cameras, all come with lens hood (and the 24-70/2.8 has a hood locking mechanism,) all three are fast f/2.8 lenses with fixed apertures throughout the zoom range. These are pro-caliber specs and all three lenses are capable of producing professional results – in the right hands anyway.
All three of these lenses are super sharp. They all handle exceptionally well. They all are designed to exclusively work with the Sony cameras and they all work well on the Sony A7C body – which is my Sony FF test body. They are all well-built.
Now here’s one of the things that makes me super excited about these three lenses. Combined – all three weigh 3.902 pounds!!!!!!! Compare that to the Sony lenses covering the same range and the weight is 5.756 pounds. Every ounce I don’t have to carry with me into the field is a big advantage. The Tamron lenses are also physically smaller so they pack up in a bag better, are easier to handle and don’t get in the way. Depending on your age (I am old) this may or may not be important to you. But us older guys, well our knees are bent and our shoulders worn out so the lighter the gear the better. That alone would be enough to sell me on the Tamrons. But wait – there’s more – lots more…
We need to talk price. The Tamron trinity comes to a USA retail price of $2997. The Sony trinity comes to a USA retail price of $6994! That’s a whole lot of green backs.
The Tamron lenses may be available at a slightly cheaper price than retail since many Tamron dealers have a little wiggle room. I actually bought all three of these lenses for this test and I actually paid $2699. A savings of almost $300 off retail. Compare that to Sony (which typically holds its dealers strictly to MAP / MSRP pricing) and there is a HUGE difference.
Those of you who know me, know that I am typically not a budget-minded guy. I tend to go top-of-the-line with most everything. But I do have one hard and fast rule that applies to my purchasing decisions. Since the Sony trinity costs $4295 more than the Tamron trinity, I expect there to be $4295 worth of difference. In other words, if it costs nearly three times as much, it needs to be three times better. And in this case, that just isn’t happening. NOT EVEN CLOSE. NOT AT ALL! I am sure that the Sony GM lenses might edge out the Tamron in certain areas, but not by that much and in some cases, I think the Tamron has the edge. So if it isn’t three times better, I am not buying it.
Part of this equation is what is important to you as a photographer. We all have different needs. In the areas that matter to me, i.e., handling, size, weight, sharpness, build-quality, moisture resistance, autofocus speed and accuracy, contrast, color reproduction, and compatibility with my camera body, the Sony might score a 10 out of 10 and the Tamron an 9.1 out of 10. That doesn’t justify $4295 difference in my book.
And in keeping with the theme of sounding off against camera shaming, I am simply saying ENOUGH. You do NOT need to feel bad about buying the Tamron glass for your Sony FF camera. I don’t understand why people feel the need to impress others with their camera/lens choices. It’s the picture that counts. And just because someone stepped up and dropped enough money to get the Sony glass, doesn’t mean they are using it to make better pictures.
So that’s enough about that. My rationale here is simple. The Tamron is as good as or nearly as good as the Sony glass at a fraction of the cost and it also takes up less space and weighs significantly less in my bag. Case closed.
I do want to briefly mention a few things about each of these lenses and then I’ll close with some general thoughts on Tamron as a company.
Let’s start with the Tamron 17-28mm F/2.8 Di III RXD. This lightweight little gem is a real joy to use. It focuses very quickly and more importantly, accurately. The zoom ring is nice and smooth. Close focusing distance is an amazing 7.5″ it handles fringing and chromatic aberrations throughout the entire zoom range and focuses silently. It has a nine-blade diaphragm and very decent bokeh.
The 17-28 does a very good job of resisting flare and glare – especially given its wide focal length. Some people will miss the 1mm difference between the Sony lens which is 16mm at the wide end v. the 17mm at the wide end of the Tamron lens but I am not in that camp. It doesn’t bother me. It might bother you so, I mention it here.
What is most noteworthy to me is just how sharp this lens is – even wide open. As you might expect at this price point, it softens a bit in the corners, especially when focusing at the MOD. But I don’t think that’s a big deal. In some cases, I think it might be a tad sharper than the bigger, heavier and more expensive Sony GM. It does have manual-focus override, which works by simply turning the focus ring. The focus ring has a variable gearing that allows for very precise manual focus when turned slowly but like all three of these lenses, it’s focus by wire so it’s probably not going to be as popular with video shooters as stills shooters. It is also a slightly limited zoom range but if you pair it with the Tamron 28-75 you have that covered.
Next up let’s look at the Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III VXD G2 – NOTE! There is another version of this lens that doesn’t have the G2 in the name. That is the old lens and I’d avoid that one, even though it is heavily discounted – especially used. The G2 version is much improved and worth the extra dollars. Also don’t let someone con you into thinking you’re getting the newest version lens if you aren’t. Look for the full name – Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III VXD G2!
The first thing I want to say about this lens is that on the shorter end, I see another case where optically, the Tamron may surpass the Sony GM. It evens out as you zoom in.
Also, Tamron added a focus set button plus USB-C port to make the lens highly configurable via computer and their new Lens Utility (“TLU”).
It’s like the 17-28 in that flare and chromatic aberration are well controlled and the lens is sharp – even wide open. One thing I’d mention that I find kind of shocking in a zoom lens covering this range at this price point. There is almost no longitudinal color aberrations or coma. None. It’s pretty amazing. It seems to over-perform in almost every area except one. It has a remarkable close focusing distance of 7.1″. But it’s not as sharp close in. If you get close and stop down to f/8 it is nearly perfect. Or you can just move out a bit and it’s a rock star. Just keep that in mind.
Otherwise it’s like the 17-28 when it comes to AF and manual focus. One difference is that this lens comes with Tamron’s VXD-Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive which leads to even quicker and more accurate autofocus than the 17-28. Again, it’s focus by wire and exhibits a little breathing so it wouldn’t be a video shooter’s first choice, but it will work in a pinch. It’s other standout qualities (already mention) override that flaw in my opinion.
Last in this trinity is the Tamron 70-180mm F/2.8 Di III VXD. It too has the Tamron’s VXD-Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same story as the other two. I think the bokeh is best on this lens. It has one disadvantage compared to the Sony and that is it doesn’t work with teleconverters. I would only use teleconverters on much longer focal lengths anyway (400mm and above) so it doesn’t factor in for me in any way, but it might for you so I wanted to mention it.
This lens does not have stabilization but combined with the camera’s built-in Steady Shot I see a a noticeable advantage The Steady Shot works due to the lens’ excellent handling and portability. The lens is very well-balanced due to its size and weight, so the at 180mm, the stabilization from the camera does very well with this lens attached.
I’d say there are only two other “flaws” in this lens. One is that it suffers when stopped down past f/11. I rarely stop down that much and in fact tend to work closer to wide open. I also noticed that when extended to 180mm this is the best of the three at close-up shots. The other “flaw” is that Tamron doesn’t offer a lens collar for it. My assumption is that because it’s so lightweight, they just didn’t think it necessary. Still, I would prefer it if one were available.
The theme here is simple. Lightweight, small, inexpensive, super sharp, great MOD, good to great in every other major category and at a FRACTION of the cost of the comparable Sony GM lenses. If you’re just rich and don’t care what you do with your money, you might go ahead and opt for the Sony lenses. In some cases you’ll be better off, depending on how you use them. But then again, in some cases you might be worse off, again – depending on how you use them. They are all close in performance in my opinion and if I were to do a series of test shots – side-by-side, you’d be hard-pressed to tell me which came from the much more expensive GM lenses. There’s very little to be disappointed about either way. And that includes the Tamron lenses. These are budget lenses so they don’t come in a fancy box or even with a lens pouch, but where it counts, they punch above their weight. Every time.
There are of course intangibles involved in buying a lens and my experiences may differ from yours. My personal tastes may differ from yours. But my main point is these are all a safe bet and I am VERY happy with the results I get from all of them. There’s not a reason in the world to think that it’s a mistake buying the Tamrons over the Sonys. It’s just down to budget, use case and personal taste. For my money, the Tamron trinity cannot be beat.
My recommendation ratings go from HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (The best of the best) to RECOMMENDED (Not quite perfect but darn good) to ACCEPTABLE (Something that performs as promised but may be too expensive or have other problems that make it sort of a MEH recommendation) to NOT RECOMMENDED (Self-explanatory.)
I rate all three of these lenses as HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
I’ve included some general information below that influenced my decision along with a lexicon of Tamron abbreviations which you may find helpful.
SPECIAL TAMRON QUALITIES
Tamron really does step up when it comes to making great glass. They work hard to make the best products they can at the budget price point.
Tamron has been around since 1950. Many years ago, I was treated to a tour of their lens factory. The factory meets or exceeds the highest ISO certifications and I remember being very impressed with the level of dedication I saw from the people I met. At the time, Tamron was the only third-party lens company that was certified with international standards ISO 9001 for quality and ISO 14001 for environmental management. Again – attention to detail. Back then, (and this is years ago) Tamron was letting me use some of their lenses on a long-term loan which is how I got the tour. I have never been and am not now a Tamron ambassador. They do not sponsor me or anything I am involved with, so all of my comments are based on my simple admiration for the Tamron line.
As you may have guessed – first and foremost I appreciate the smaller size of their lenses.
Compact and light-weight designs. While this is of course relative, compared with other full-frame lenses, the Tamron trinity I describe here is remarkable in that its performance exceeds what you would expect from lenses that are so small and light.
Next up – filter size.
Constant filter thread. It’s the small details that help make a product excellent and here, once again Tamron shines. All three of these lenses use the same filter size, i.e. 67mm which is both readily available and less expensive than larger filters you’d need to buy for lenses in this focal range made by Tamron’s competitors. You can buy one set of filters and they’ll work on any or all of these lenses. And all the lens caps are interchangeable too. Makes it simple.
Special software/firmware updates.
Tamron Lens Utility™ – this is dedicated software that can customize functions and update the firmware of TAMRON lenses equipped with a Connector Port (USB Type-C) using a computer. Personalizing lens settings to match your shooting style allows you to be more creative and makes photography more fun. (Here’s a short promo video on the updater utility from Tamron.) Only one of the lenses I mention here can take advantage of this feature but it’s cool nonetheless.
MOD is Tamron’s way of describing the minimum object distance between a lens and the subject of a photograph. Tamron prides itself on making lenses with the shortest MOD possible, which means shallower depth-of-field, yielding a pleasing effect to the images that come from such a setup.
Like most camera or lens companies, Tamron loves acronyms and abbreviations and frankly they can be quite confusing. So I am going to help save you some time by giving you a lexicon of Tamron lens abbreviations: (If I’ve missed any please let me know so I can round out the list.)
In alphabetical order no less.
AD—Anomalous dispersion. Lens element that provides color correction, which reduces chromatic aberrations.
ADH—Combination of anomalous dispersion and aspherical lens. The hybrid nature of this special lens shape and element helps reduce and remove chromatic and aspherical aberrations.
AF—Lens that can auto-focus.
A/M—Lens that can auto-focus and can also manual-focus.
AF/MF—Lens that has a manual override, allowing users to focus without physically switching modes.
ASL—Aspherical lens element that removes aspherical aberrations.
BBAR Coating- A coating that effectively reduces ghosting and flare.
BIM—Built-in motor. Lens that has a motor within it, allowing auto-focus to work, even if your camera doesn’t have the capacity.
Di—Digitally integrated. Lenses that are specifically designed for full-frame cameras. They also work with APS-C sensor cameras.
Di-II—Digitally integrated II. Lenses that are specifically designed for use with APS-C/crop sensor cameras.
Di-III—Digitally integrated III. Lenses that are specifically designed for use with mirrorless cameras.
eBAND—Extended bandwidth & angular-dependency coating. This special lens coating reduces ghosting and flaring, improving image quality.
FEC—Filter effect control. A filter rotate ring allows the user to rotate a filter while the lens hood is attached. These are best used with CPL filters.
FTM—Full-time manual focus. This lens has both manual and auto-focus, allowing you to switch between them quickly by using the focus ring.
Still life photo of a Tamron lens highlighting Tamron lens abbreviations
HID—High index/high dispersion glass. This is Tamron’s way of saying ‘better lenses’.
IF—Internal focusing system. This is a feature that prevents you from turning the focus ring while in auto-focus mode.
LAH—Low dispersion + aspherical lens. This hybrid lens element reduces aspherical and chromatic aberrations.
LD—Low dispersion. This lens is built to remove chromatic aberrations.
MOD-Minimum Object Distance – the distance between a lens and a subject where the lens can achieve the closest focus.
Moisture Resistant—These lenses are weather sealed.
PZD—PieZo drive. This is a very efficient AF motor.
RD—Rounded diaphragm. A rounded diaphragm gives bokeh a circular shape rather than hexagonal.
RXD-Rapid eXtra-silent stepping Drive. A stepping motor unit that enables it to deliver high-speed, high-precision operation.
SP—Super Performance. These are very expensive professional lenses.
USD—Ultrasonic silent drive. This is a silent motor for auto-focusing.
VC—Vibration compensation. This is the stabilization, allowing you to handhold the camera while reducing camera shake. It also allows you to use slower shutter speeds.
XLD—Extra-low dispersion. This is the improved version of low dispersion.
XR—Extra refractive index glass. This creates smaller and lighter lenses.
VXD-Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive. This helps to enable high speed, high precision auto-focusing.
ZL—Zoom lock. This is a lens has a lock on the zoom, to stop it from creeping, or accidentally moving.