Yesterday Tamron announced the development of a new lens, but what caught my attention more than specs and the PR-speak that comes with a product launch was the way the new lens looked... strikingly like what Sigma is going for. I’m excited and happy to see Tamron pushing with a new design, but they have a lot to prove with the change and, arguably, a lot to lose if it doesn’t stack up.
The new Tamron lens is sleek, smooth and sports that classy black and white design that we’ve come to love about Zeiss lenses or Sigma’s updated line. Speaking of Sigma, just about a year ago they surprised us all with the release of the shockingly amazing 35mm f/1.4. Sigma had been struggling with unhappy professional shooters who weren’t getting the performance out of Sigma glass that they wanted. In response, Sigma redesigned themselves. They dropped the red logo and went instead with flat white. They smoothed out their lens design and gave us a design that, as I said back then and still believe now, looked simply fantastic.
Tamron redesigned, but who was the inspiration? Their new lens next to the Sigma 120-300mm.
But most importantly, Sigma pushed the envelope with their lens quality. Not just of the initial build, but in their commitment to consistency. They wanted to assuage the feeling that quality control was a major problem, and in my experience (and the experience of a large number of photographers I’ve spoken to), they have upheld that commitment.
So what changed at Sigma to drastically alter everything like this? Leadership. The company is now run by Kazuto Yamaki, the son of the former president. It wasn’t just a shiny gloss on the exterior of the same product, Yamaki had a completely different vision for the company than his father, and totally overhauled the company to match that vision. It was not an easy task, and it’s why Sigma has been slow to release new lenses. They’re committed to making them perfect, not making them quickly.
Sigma proved that they were capable of excellence, and showed that a redesign meant more than just making a pretty-looking product. They proved a third party lens manufacturer could indeed compete with glass being produced by Nikon and Canon. What does that mean for Tamron? It means they have a lot to live up to. It means that they can’t just make it pretty, they have to make it impeccable inside and out because we as consumers know it can be done, and won't accept anything less.
When approached about the new design, what it meant and where it was going to take the company, Tamron representatives did not respond to inquiries.
So what if it’s just an aesthetic improvement? Won’t that be enough? I don’t believe so. This turn in design makes me believe they’ve noticed a dip in sales, likely due to the success of Sigma. They don’t want to lose more. They want to compete, and I think many photographers are happy to give them another shot at it, just as we were with Sigma. But if Tamron doesn’t come out of the gate with a lens that not only looks the part, but also plays the part, photographers will be a lot less willing to give them the benefit of the doubt the next time.