I've bought expensive lenses I've barely used and a couple of value lenses that have become workhorses. This one, however, may be the best example of images taken per dollar spent.
I don't like the phrase "bang for your buck," but if that makes more sense to you, that is what I'm talking about here. I should also qualify that by "images taken per dollar spent," I mean "deliverable images." That is, if I take a burst of 50 shots of a moving car or of a posing model, I'm not counting 50 shots. So, the less pithy question is this: which lens has yielded the most amount of keepers for the least amount of dollars spent on it? They don't have to all be portfolio shots, though for me, I'm gauging it by whether I would or did deliver the image to a client. I just want to avoid accidental stat padding with a cheap walk-around lens taking the award, which would contain no useful information.
I could work this out exactly with a few sums and a bit of investigative work, but I already know my top three as the gap between each place is large.
This article is going to be about the number one slot, but I'll quickly discuss the other. I wrote an entire article on the 100mm macro as I accidentally bought it on eBay not long after buying my first camera, mistaking it as a great deal on the more modern USM version from this century. I paid about $250 for it secondhand (obviously), and it ended up being one of the most important purchases I ever made, helping me learn proper macro photography and doubling up as an early portrait lens.
Third place, Lord of the Red Rings, and a lens I claimed I would never sell (a claim I still uphold) was one of the most expensive lenses I had bought at the time, though I got a good deal. I fell in love with it, and it has been taken with me on pretty much every shoot I've been on since it arrived at my door all those years ago.
So, on to my most efficient lens purchase and why I think it's an incredible investment. This is in no way endorsed by Tamron — I'm not sure I've even ever dealt with them professionally — and I bought the lens with my own dinero.
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8
I have owned this lens for about 18 months. When the Sony a7 III became my primary body, I knew I needed a wide-angle zoom for portraiture and some commercial work, but I begrudged paying nearly three times the price for Sony's 24-70mm f/2.8 GM. But, expecting that I may have had to, I looked at what was around and compared specs. A brand new Tamron 28-75mm came in a close second to the Sony, and while it fell behind in a few areas, it excelled in two areas by some margin: minimum focus distance and weight.
Minimum focus distance has always been important to me. In my commercial work, I often photograph details, and in portraits, sometimes, I like to get a more intimate shot via physical distance from the subject. Sony's lens allowed a frankly unacceptable minimum focus distance of 38 cm, while Tamron managed to halve it at 19 cm. That's no close race.
The next major difference was weight. Don't get me wrong, I actually quite like heavier gear for many of my shooting projects. However, for environmental portraits for companies and other jobs in which I am on my feet, photographing for eight hours per day with a lot of moving around, heavy lenses start to lose their mystique to me. The Sony 24-70mm weighs in at 886 g, while the Tamron 28-75mm at 550 g — another substantial difference.
So, at about a third of the price, allowing me to get twice as close, and nearly 40% lighter than Sony's mid-range zoom lens, the Tamron was an easy purchase. What it became, however, was a prolific one.
Becoming a Workhorse
This isn't a review, so I won't dwell on the Tamron's shortcomings — of which there are a few — but I did have initial reservations about build quality. It does feel cheap, partially because of one of the three reasons I bought it (lightness) and partially because of an obviously plastic barrel. But from its first outing to its most recent, it has never let me down. The sharpness, as you can see in the above image, is more than enough for any activity. The 28-75mm focal range is a gnat's fart away from being the tried-and-true 24-70mm staple of most photographers' camera bags. The f/2.8 widest aperture, which is damn near a requirement for this sort of lens, is there and without much of a penalty for using it. In a nutshell, this lens delivered more than I had expected.
For me, a good lens presents itself much like a good washing machine does: it has an answer for whatever you ask of it (so long as you ask the right questions) and well enough that you turn to it without forethought. The Tamron's "look" isn't unique, and it isn't one of the lenses that will curl your toes in delight like my beloved 135mm f/2 or the Fujifilm GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR, but it should not be expected to. It is rather a tool in the purely utilitarian sense and a good one. In my 18 months of ownership, I have taken well over 10,000 images with this lens alone, and my photography clientele and assignments seldom return the same number of files as the wildlife and wedding 'togs. I only take around 15,000-20,000 images per year, which may sound a lot to some, but I promise you it is a pittance.
So, this workhorse became my most efficient lens not just by virtue of number of images taken, but of value too. So much so, that in the year and a half in my possession, it has already become my most efficient lens of all time, or thereabouts. I have used this lens for headshots, beauty, commercial fashion, product, environmental portraiture, magazine editorials, landscapes, and just about everything else I ever point my camera at.
What Lens Has the Best Return on Investment for You?
To summarize, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 has been a fantastic tool that was superbly priced. It's not a lens I grab when I'm looking to take a risk and try to capture something iconic, but instead a lens that I reach for in a great many scenarios. In an article earlier this week, I referred to it as the best all-rounder I've ever owned, and that's true, as exemplified by the vast spanning of genres I use it for and its unparalleled ROI.
So, what's your best investment?