Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD SP AF
Lab Test Results
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March 30, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
In August of 2010 Tamron released an updated version of its 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens, with a few notable improvements. The first and most obvious is the addition of Vibration Control (VC) technology, to reduce the effect of camera shake and provide sharper images. The lens appears to be completely redesigned, with 4 additional lens elements and a new autofocus system.
The lens was designed to fit full-frame film and digital SLR cameras, and on APS-C digital cameras, provides an equivalent field of view of 112-480mm (Canon) or 105-450mm (Nikon and others). This lens isn't a "constant" lens, in that as you increase the focal length, both the maximum and minimum aperture sizes decrease. The following table reflects the change in apertures as you zoom the lens:
The lens ships with a petal-shaped lens hood, takes 62mm filters, and is available now for approximately $450 in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts.
With the lens mounted on the sub-frame Canon 7D, the lens produced some exceptionally sharp images, more towards the ''wider'' end of 70mm than when zoomed in fully to 300mm. At 70mm and ƒ/4, the lens is quite sharp, with some light corner softness in the top right and bottom left corners; stopping down to ƒ/5.6 provides almost tack-sharp results (some very slight softness remains in those corners), but at ƒ/8 it's essentially tack-sharp. Diffraction limiting sets in at ƒ/11, but it's still quite sharp, until ƒ/22 where we begin to note some generalized softness across the frame.
The mid-range of the lens (100-135mm) provides similarly good performance; again, very good at ƒ/5.6, and almost tack-sharp at ƒ/8. At 200mm the lens begins to show signs of weakness, with a bit of a soft center at its widest aperture of ƒ/5. You have to stop down to ƒ/8 to get past this, to what amounts to actually quite decent sharpness; it doesn't get any better at ƒ/11. Performance isn't any better at 300mm; ƒ/8 and ƒ/11 are the best settings here, where they provide adequately sharp images.
The 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 VC USD stops down to quite small apertures, in this case, ƒ/32-ƒ/45, all of which will provide quite soft images, with the exception of ƒ/32 at 70mm, which provides only slightly soft images.
Mounted on the full-frame Canon 1Ds Mark III, the lens doesn't betray any secrets - it's just a little bit softer at wide apertures. Otherwise it's mostly the same story as above - stop down to ƒ/8 to get maximum sharpness, and don't expect anything overly sharp at 200mm or 300mm.
The Tamron 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 VC USD offers good but not great CA tolerance, with some light magenta-green fringing appearing in areas of high contrast in corner areas. CA is more noticeable as the lens is stopped down, offering the best performance at 135mm and 200mm.
Corner shading is virtually non-existent when the lens is mounted on the sub-frame 7D. On the 1Ds Mark III however, it's a different story: you have to stop down significantly to get images which don't show some kind of light falloff in the corners. At its worst, you're looking at extreme corners which are almost a full stop darker than the center - you see this at 100mm and 135mm when used wide open. To remove the impact of corner shading you need to stop down to at least ƒ/8.
There's some distortion present in images shot with the Tamron 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6, but no more than other lenses in this category. At 70mm, the distortion is almost negligible - just a slight amount of barrel in the corners. From 135mm and on, there's significant pincushion distortion in the corners. As usual, this distortion is much more significant when the lens is used on full-frame cameras such as the 1Ds Mark III.
Tamron has employed a new focusing system with this lens, the Ultrasonic Silent Drive. The lens focuses very quickly - it takes about one second to go through its focusing range - and it does so nearly silently. The new system allows for full-time manual focusing, allowing the user to adjust autofocus results by simply turning the focusing ring. Focusing operations do not rotate the front element, making life that much easier for polarizer users.
Unfortunately, the new lens design no longer offers the 0.5x magnification of the previous design. The new lens offers an adequate 0.25x magnification at 300mm, with a minimum focusing distance of around five feet.
Build Quality and Handling
The Tamron 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 VC USD looks attractive with its matte black finish and polycarbonate construction; it is a new breed of telephoto zoom lens from Tamron, and not just an incremental upgrade from its previous incarnation. The lens is significantly larger and heavier for a start, adding an inch to its basic length and 12 ounces to its weight. No doubt this is a result of adding four new lens elements in three groups, as well as the whole Vibration Control (VC) system and the new USD focusing system.
Despite all these changes it's still light enough to use comfortably without a tripod. The lens features a metal body mount and a smaller filter ring size (62mm instead of 67mm) composed of plastic threads. On the Canon and Nikon mounts, there are two control switches on the barrel: one to enable or disable autofocus, and one to enable or disable Vibration Control. On the Sony mount Vibration Control is not available, because Sony cameras include image stabilization in the body. The lens features a focusing scale in feet and meters (in a recessed and windowed scale) but does not feature an infrared index or a depth-of-field scale.
The zoom ring is the larger of the two, rubber with long segmented ribs, measuring about two inches wide. The ring takes about ninety degrees to go from 70mm to 300mm, and does not show any signs of zoom creep. It's nicely cammed and takes only two fingers' worth of force to move it through its zoom range; doing so extends the length of the lens, adding about two inches to its overall length.
The focusing ring is about 3/4'' wide, also rubber with ribs. The focusing ring ends at soft stops at the close-focus and infinity focus points, and will focus past infinity.
The HA005 lens hood is quite long - about 3 3/4'' deep - a petal-shaped hood that attaches via a bayonet mount and can be reversed for storage. The interior of the hood is ribbed to reduce the impact of flare.
Our image stabilization test is almost finished for this lens, which advertises four stops of improvement.
Each of the lens manufacturers produces a lens in this range, so let's see how they all stack up against each other.
Tamron AF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 ~$160
The first point of comparison is between the old and new. Apart from a bit of a price hike, the old lens matches the new for sharpness, and in some cases, betters it. However the new lens offers improved CA tolerance, and less corner shading, as well as the obvious benefits of USD focusing and Vibration Control.
Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM ~$600
It doesn't seem fair to match the new Tamron against Canon's latest L-glass, so we'll match it against this perennial favorite. This is a lens where Canon got it right - it meets and exceeds the sharpness performance of the Tamron, shows less CA, and less corner shading as well. Distortion is a bit more noticeable on the Canon; both lenses feature USM style focusing and image stabilization.
(It should be noted that our test sample of the Canon 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L is actually on par with the Tamron in terms of performance.)
Nikon 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR ~$550
One of Nikon's better lenses, the Nikon offers superior sharpness, but poorer CA performance, when compared to the Tamron. We haven't had an opportunity yet to test this lens on a full-frame body. Otherwise, both lenses feature USM style focusing and image stabilization.
Sony 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G ~$850
We haven't yet tested Sony's direct competition - it doesn't offer image stabilization because Sony dSLR cameras offer in-body stabilization instead. It does offer SSM focusing.
Sigma 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 DG OS ~$350
Sigma has also decided to offer image stabilization in its 70-300mm range - we haven't tested this model yet. The previous model (tested here) offered adequate results for sharpness, good results for CA, and significant corner shading and distortion when mounted on a full-frame body.
Tamron has seemed to pay attention to what other manufacturers are offering and has created a new design for this lens. Instead of a lens which offered dual roles as a telephoto zoom lens and a capable macro lens, Tamron has chosen to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter, and has created an solid performer in this category as a result.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD SP AF
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Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD SP AF User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by jwphoto (3 reviews)Sharp, light, accurate autofocus , inexpensivenoise, distortion
A surprising good lens, did read many reviews in order to choose between nikon 70-300 and this one , in the end the Tamron was best in most of the reviews. So bought one. (nikon was $ 713 that's $ 300 more !) This lens is sharp , even wide open at 300 mm, In my case It 's autofocus is better on Full-frame ( D600) then on APC (D7100) sharpness is also better on FF . It is almost as good as my nikon 70-200 2.8 on sharpness , has a bit more CA and vign. but is much easier to carry. VC is working very good, I tend to like it better than nikon's VR....reviewed December 28th, 2014 (purchased for $414)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by aeikme (1 reviews)Good build quality, well damped zoom ring, image stabilization (VC) is extremely good.I dont find any cons.
I bought this lens 2 days ago and I am in love with it already! Sadly, the price I paid is high and the reason is that I am living in Oslo, Norway (the rest you should understand :) I am amazed by the results this lens produce. The image quality is good all the away I would say. Of course, the image gets a little soft at 300mm but within the acceptable range. The VC (vibration compensation) on this lens is exceptional! when you half press the shutter button, you can actually see the image freeze in the viewfinder. You do hear whizzing sounds from the lens when the VC is in action but come on, that doesnt really matter! Over all, its a must buy lens.reviewed May 26th, 2014 (purchased for $500)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by rrwilliams64 (9 reviews)VC very effective, great IQCA, can be a load to carry all day
Best tele-zoom for the $, IMO. Well built, image quality is superb. I preferred the images from the Tammy over the Nikon 70-300 VR.reviewed September 30th, 2013 (purchased for $265)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Martijnsx (1 reviews)Sharp at 300mm wide open, focus accuracy, very cheap!!None so far
I have had quite some lenses. With my canon 550d and 5d mark III i had the 50mm prime, the 70-300 IS, the 70-300 IS L, the 70-200 4.0 L and the 70-200 2.8 II (twice). Now i switched to Nikon and i have the 35mm prime and the 18-105 kit lens.reviewed June 22nd, 2013 (purchased for $460)
I can tell you this, the tamron 70-300 is sharp! It is sharp at 300 mm, it is sharp wide open (@300mm) and focus accuracy is almost 100%. I feel it is on the same level or better than the canon 70-300 L with respect to sharpness. Both canons where less sharp at 300mm wide open. The tamron is better. Where this lens stands out is focus accuracy. It may be due to my nikon d7100 body but focus is spot on any time. Only my first version of the canon 70-200 2.8 II L had better Sharpness and color.
Strange thing is this lens is € 350 euro including a free polarise filter. It is a bargain.
I am very critical on focus performance and sharpness and switched most of my purchases for better copies within couple of days afterpurchase. This one stays for sure. My 35mm prime does not give the same focus accuracy.
Overall i am impressed. I think tamron improved the production quility of this lens lately.
I purchased my copy in holland.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Gromit (8 reviews)Focus speed, solid build, great IQ, 5 yr warranty (UK)Stiff zoom ring...that's it!
I bought this lens a few months ago, and tried to do a lot of homework before visiting my photographic dealer, discounting several lenses which didn't reach the starting grid. I then short-listed 2 Canons - 70-200 F4L USM (non-IS) and the much-loved 70-300 IS USM. The salesman threw in the Tamron as a wild card and I'm seriously glad he did.reviewed June 22nd, 2013 (purchased for $460)
We spent 2 hours in the store making detailed comparisons using my MacBook (with 2 other guys in the shop offering very valued, experienced but un-biased opinion) including making crops of each image. On all settings, the Tamron edged out the Canon 70-300 fairly easily, and the Canon was excellent to start with! Against the 70-200 F4L, the Tamron loses slightly when wide open, but once stopped down to F5.6/8 the differences were extremely hard to find, with the Tamron only losing <very> marginally at the corners. In several of the images I took, we really couldn't tell any difference between the Tamron and the Canon L - it even came to the point that we couldn't remember which images were from which lens, they were that close.
Downsides? It's slightly soft at 300mm/F5.6-8 but as I very rarely go there it's a non-issue. The zoom ring is also stiff at the moment, hoping this eases off over time. It's also a big lens - and I have large hands. I'm also not a big fan of the zoom ring being at the front of the lens and that it turns opposite way to my other lens (Canon 17-40 F4L) which feels odd at the moment. Not a deal-breaker though.
Doesn't feel special like the L lens either, but of course not much does and it would be cruel to expect a 300GBP lens to do so
For one 1/3 the price of the Canon 70-200 IS (L) the Tamron is surely a great buy and very highly recommended.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by d5100_Nikon (3 reviews)Sharp, quietNot always focusing accurately
Much much better than the Nikon 55-300mm I returned. I can get fairly sharp pics with this lens at 300mm. Very happy with that! There are some things to be aware of - you need lots of light to use a faster shutter speed, and other things that are less important. I totally recommend this lens!reviewed June 28th, 2012 (purchased for $360)
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Milo2041 (3 reviews)ExcellentSize
I have owned many zoon lenses and this is one of the best I have used. So far the results are stellar and pretty close to the results from using Canon L4.0 70-200 IS Lens.reviewed February 1st, 2012 (purchased for $389)
It is a large lens but is compensated by results
9 out of 10 points and recommended by jonasjschreiber (2 reviews)Build Quality, Sharpness, Features, PriceReally cannot think of anything within reason
Excellent lens which pairs well with my Sony A33. With all the features (USM focusing, full time manual override, Internal Focusing, Focal Length Window, Build Quality) at the price I paid ($409 - $50 mail in rebate-- which was back in my hands less than 10 days after I sent it in) I cannot imagine anything better. The images are sharp, the lens feels GREAT in the hands, and I can tell it is quality. I don't have any fear about issues like I would with Sigma lenses and Sony SLT bodies, and I cannot see the benefit of a lens like the Sony 70-300G 4.5-5.6 over this lens, even at $300 more. Great lens, if you are on Sony system, get it!reviewed December 14th, 2011 (purchased for $359)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by hjanssen (2 reviews)light, sharp, quick afeasy to operate the two switches(AF and VC) unitenditly
I bought this lens to replace a 70-200 and 80-400 for holidays on a D700 and I was very much surprised by the sharpness, quick AF and tha ability to AF in dark curcomstances. I took pics at a house concert and the combination never refused to focus and it was really dark there. I think lens sensetive to back light as a 70-200.reviewed October 31st, 2011 (purchased for $400)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by CYI_DEAL (2 reviews)Excellent VC, QUALITY BUILD, FANTASTIC IQ...GREAT PRICE AND WARRANTYNONE!
I had a very hard time picking this lens vs the Nikon 70-300mm VR . I was researching the web reviews for weeks to see what lens was a better bang for my buck. I also went down to my local camera shop to compare the both in person. I really wasn't to impressed with the Nikon VR system compared to the Tamron VC. The VC locks on like a guided missle! The performance of the Tamrom wide open was just great. I ended up picking up a new Tamron 70-300mm VC USD via eBay for a smoking great price $370 with a $50 rebate and 6yr warranty! I paired it with my Nikon D7000 and it's a marriage made in heaven! I have no remorse at all buying this great lens. It's the best bang and quality for the money hands down!reviewed September 11th, 2011 (purchased for $320)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by grule (7 reviews)Build, image stabilization, focus
I replaced a Canon70-300 IS with this Tamron, and it is a good upgrade. They are very comparable optically, with the Tamron having a slight edge, especially under 200mm. At 200mm and longer, they are essentially equal.reviewed August 12th, 2011 (purchased for $400)
But the tamron is a newer design, is cheaper, better build, has ring AF and full-time manual focus.
The Tamron is slightly larger as well. But it aslo feels more substantial and better built-the canon has a loose, plastic feel, while the Tamron is rock-solid.
A worthy addition for anyone needing 300mm and unable to justify spending 3X for the Canon "L" 70-300.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by scott bynum (1 reviews)very good AF, very good contrast and color, 6yr. warrantynone at this time
I use this zoom on a Canon 50d & the pictures come out very nice ! Any tests, reviews in any magazine says this lens on a crop sensor Dslr is best in class ! From 70mm to 200mm excellent & at 300mm very good. I'm getting 3 to 4 F/stops of VC stabilization which is awesome ! The only downside and it is a very, very small downside is when the VC engages, you look thru the view finder and the image jumps in a snap. But I'm getting use to it. That is the only downside or I would have rated it perfect 10. Either Canon or Nikon mount you have, this will be a very good lens to have in your bag ! The best 70 to 300 zoom for the money !reviewed July 16th, 2011 (purchased for $349)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by jaflor (2 reviews)Good picturesHeavy
I wen to Zoo (la Paz Bolivia) and the pictures are perfect. AF works good and fast.reviewed June 19th, 2011 (purchased for $500)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by pinkfloyd71 (1 reviews)Very sharp even at 300mm. Very good VC and speed AFno
Good build, super VC, very nice sharp,excellent pricereviewed April 23rd, 2011
5 out of 10 points and not recommended by DH (3 reviews)Affordable, nice IQnot sharp between 200-300, very inconsistent focus accuracy
The Tamron 70-300 performs very impressively well for it's price point. But between 200-300mm the performance is not good at all and does not match up to the competition.reviewed April 20th, 2011 (purchased for $389)
And it is my opinion that my Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC Lens has a very inconsistent focus accuracy.Making pictures is good when its focus right, but a sharp lens does not deliver sharp subjects if not focused accurately.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Noesje (1 reviews)Sharpslow
sharp from 70-200, decrease a lttle from 200-300, buat still very good and its affordable.reviewed April 7th, 2011 (purchased for $500)
I use it on Nikon D300s.
It struggle a little to focus in low light, but hey, it's not f2.8 lens. But in daylight it rocks!
VC is very very good.
Overall it's very good
9 out of 10 points and recommended by dadgummit (6 reviews)Good build, Sharp, Excellent VC, Excellent price
I just received this lens for Christmas and I could not be happier. I am using it on a Canon 50D and have about 100 shots on it all snapshots in the back yard and inside the house. I took a shot of the angel at the top of the tree hand held at 300mm with only the light from the tree (no flash) and it came out very sharp with excellent detail. I then went outside and took some pictures of a humming bird on the power lines and once again was amazed at how sharp it was.reviewed January 10th, 2011 (purchased for $400)
The build quality is about the same as or a little better than the EFS 17-55 f2.8.
For the price I honestly think you can do no better. useful focal range, 6-year warranty, sharp, comes with petal shaped hood.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by KirkL (2 reviews)Versatility combined with high IQ for its classHeavy enough that it could use a tripod ring
I purchased a Nikon D7000 together with a Tamron 70-300mm VC six weeks ago and am having a ball with the combination. Images are sharp through out the focal length range if you stop down: f/5 at 70mm, f/7.1 at 200mm and f/9 at 300mm for best results. AF is fast and the effectiveness of the Vibration Compensation when used with stationary subjects has to be seen to be believed. Minor quibbles: VC does not work nearly as well when panning moving subjects, the small switches are easy to accidentally flip, the lens is a bit heavy for its class, and there is no tripod ring. I like this Nikon/Tamron pairing so much that I have put together a system around it, adding:reviewed December 27th, 2010 (purchased for $350)
1.) A Manfrotto Long Lens Support so that it can be safely mounted on a tripod. A bit of extra rubber had to be taped to the V shaped rest in order to properly support the lens and the supplied strap would not work with the Tamron in place, but otherwise this accessory provides a solid foundation to shoot from. And….
2.) A Kenko 1.4x teleconverter (a Nikon TC will not work). Images with the lens racked out to 300mm are sharp when the aperture is stopped down to f/10 and show little distortion, CAs, or loss of contrast. AF still functions, but takes a full second before it can lock on, so manual focus is easier to use. And....
3.) A Sunsniper Pro Strap so that I can wear the D7000/Tamron at my side while hiking or shooting at outdoor festivals.
This lens cost just $350 when purchased with a new camera after rebate, but a price in the neighborhood of twice that would be reasonable for the quality it delivers.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by claus (5 reviews)sharp already wide open and at all focal lenghts, very good VRcolor rendition on the cooler side
I had the Nikon AFS 70-300 VR for abt. 2 years. Since I got the Tamron lens I sold the Nikon lens because the Tamron is overall a tiny little bit better (especially at the 200...300mm range) than the Nikkor.reviewed December 22nd, 2010
This is my first non-Nikon lens (I own 19 Nikon lenses) and I'm quite happy with it.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by mannypr (3 reviews)Accurate autofocus Efective VC, sharp , priceA bit heavy
This lens has low distortion , it's sharp wide open from 70-300mm edge to edge . Was going to buy the nikon version but bought this one instead and after using it for two weeks I have absolutely no remorse for going for it. VC is uncanny in the way it grabs whatever your focusing on and holds it . Its' new focusing motor USD is fast and more important accurate . Colors are very nice although a bit cool . It's almost silent with a very slight wirl sound when it's focusing. Highly recommended.reviewed November 6th, 2010 (purchased for $450)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by pc998 (6 reviews)Very sharp even at 300mm. Good AF speed and color. VC is extremely effective.USD is not silence enough but not an issue
It has absolute focus accuracy with D700 using 51-pt auto area or single focus point.reviewed September 24th, 2010 (purchased for $479)
While the USD focus speed is fast (but not the fastest), we can still hear the focus noise. In contrast, Canon USM is near silence. The VC is extremely powerful. It seems to me that the stabilization effect is even better than Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR.
For many other 70-300 zoom lenses over the market, the resolution drops starting 200mm and onward. However, this SP lens has excellent performance across the whole zoom range even wide open. Corner sharpness is almost the same as the center. For instance, the performance at 300mm is particularly good and looks even better than its 70mm. I think the XLD (similar to fluorite) is really powerful.
In general, this is the highest quality Tamron SP zoom I have ever used. It outperforms the Nikkor 70-300 VR much.