For those photographers looking for a light and compact telephoto zoom for the Sony system, wait no longer. The Tamron model is here and made to impress.
When I finally got my hands on the new Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD made specifically for mirrorless cameras, the Sony system particularly, I was admittedly a bit disappointed that I wasn’t traveling out west. The fact of the matter is that for my style of landscape photography, I prefer telephoto lenses west of the Mississippi and wide-angle lenses east of the Mississippi. As strange and seemingly random as that may sound, that’s just what I’ve preferred up to this point. As such, I was admittedly pretty skeptical about the usefulness and utility of this lens here in Ohio. I was, however, pleasantly surprised in taking it out for a medium-long hike in the snow.
Compared with the only other lens in its class, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS, the Tamron is nearly half the weight (coming in at 810 g compared with 1,480 g of the Sony) and a whole two inches shorter (5.87 inches for the Tamron compared to 7.87 inches for the Sony). Further, the Tamron rings up at exactly half the price of its Sony counterpart. The only other such zoom for the Sony system is the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS, which is not only slower, but also heavier, bigger, and more expensive. Boasting these kinds of impressive figures, the Tamron is setting a pretty high bar to be compared with.
As noted in the lead paragraph, my first experience with this lens was in taking it out on a hike in the snow here in Ohio. I was skeptical of using a telephoto lens here in the relatively flat geography of the Midwest because personally, I prefer for my landscapes to loom large in photographs, which is perfect for the west, where the mountains are enormous but far away, compared to Ohio, where changes in elevation are mostly subtle and up close. I was also concerned that I would find the lens too bulky and it would drag me down after a few miles. The experience I ended up having, however, was eye-opening, to say the least. Having the widest focal length of 70mm was just enough to be perfect for subjects somewhat close, and on the 180mm side, I was able to photograph subjects too far away for me to reach because of natural obstacles.
The lens, while bigger than most wide angle and average focal length primes, it was definitely not “too big,” and I kept it on my camera for several miles of medium intensity hiking with absolutely no trouble. The lens feels really well balanced on the camera and has a lovely amount of resistance in changing the focal length — just enough to not make it change when it’s not wanted but not enough to notice any real resistance.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of using this lens: the focusing was extremely impressive. Even as it started getting into dusk and lighting conditions were suboptimal in several instances, focusing was precise and confident. Of all the photos that I took, nearly all were focused on the desired subject. In those select instances where I didn’t achieve focus on the desired subject, the lens focused on branches in front of what I was aiming for. It was a real learning experience to pay more attention to what’s in the frame. That said, the branches in front of my subject were spectacularly in focus!
I don’t know that there’s a single person out there that could convince me that this Tamron is not impressively sharp. I was genuinely surprised as to just how sharp a zoom lens could be. Admittedly, this is likely due to my preference for shooting primes. Truth be told, the sharpness of the lens was on par with good primes and came with the convenience of several focal lengths in one! Even wide open, this lens had good contrast and rendered images beautifully. I didn’t notice any discernable distortion, which came in handy when shooting a lot of trees. Though I didn’t shoot this lens wide open, but about half the time, I didn’t notice any obnoxious vignetting. With all this said, the mild distortion and vignetting when shooting wide open were easily corrected in LR.
70-180mm Versus 70-200mm
I expect that there will be some pushback against the idea of a telephoto lens in this class being 70-180mm instead of being 70-200mm. And why not, right? You’re missing the extra 20mm, right? Wrong. In fact, this is nonsense for a couple reasons, and I will happily explain why. First off, 20mm for a telephoto lens doesn’t really mean that much. In fact, when you start getting beyond 100mm lenses, the difference in the viewing angle of lenses is attenuated. Take, for example, a 30mm lens, which has a viewing angle of 71.6 degrees, and a 50mm, which has a viewing angle of 46.8 degrees. That’s a difference of 24.8 degrees — a pretty stark difference. Conversely, the viewing angle of 180mm lens is 13.7 degrees compared with 12.4 degrees for a 200mm lens, resulting in a difference of only 1.3 degrees between the two lenses. That is virtually nothing, relatively speaking.
The second argument I could see in favor of requiring the 200mm maximum focal length over the 180mm comes from the shortened depth of field. This too is bunk. There is virtually no difference in the DoF between a 180mm f/2.8 lens and a 200mm f/2.8 lens. For exhibit B, I present a graph depicting the relationship between distance to the subject and depth of field for both a 180mm f/2.8 lens and a 200mm f/2.8 lens. If you look really hard, you can see only a slight difference at the end of the graph (at a distance of 50 feet). Let’s take for example a distance of 20 feet to your subject; the depth of field for a 180mm f/2.8 lens is 7.12 inches and 7.09 inches for a 200 f/2.8 lens. With less than a half an inch difference in DoF between the two, a difference between the two is virtually nonexistent. Not to mention, if someone were truly pursuing the shallowest of shallow DoF, they would be shooting only the fastest primes. Both of these minimal differences in range are a more than acceptable trade-off for the compact size and weight of this lens.
This lens has seriously made me reconsider my feelings about zoom lenses. The sharpness is very impressive, and the light and compact qualities make it an attractive option for someone looking for a lens to travel with or carry in their kit. I would highly suggest this lens for any Sony shooter looking for a telephoto lens.