Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD £557
20th Nov 2011 | 19:46
Tamron's feature-rich new 70-300mm telephoto lens aims to go top of the class
Unlike the somewhat basic affair that is the Tamron AF 70-300mm Macro, the new Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD has all the latest bells and whistles, or at least their high-tech, optical equivalents.
Proudly sporting Tamron's Super Performance (SP) badge, the lens is available in Canon, Nikon and Sony fit options, although Vibration Correction is omitted on the Sony version, due to these cameras having built-in sensor-shift stabilisation. We'd have preferred VC to be included on the Sony version, to give a choice of stabilisation methods, as with the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG OS.
Unlike Tamron Di II lenses, which are specifically designed for APS-C cameras, this Digitally Integrated (Di) lens is full-frame compatible, although will usually find its home on an APS-C camera.
For Nikon and Sony camera users, the effective zoom range will be 105-450mm, and 112-480mm on a Canon body.
Based on 17 elements in 12 groups, the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD features both a Low Dispersion (LD) and Extra Low Dispersion (XLD) element to boost image quality and reduce chromatic aberrations, also known as colour fringing.
The nine-blade diaphragm stops down to f/32-45 as you go through the zoom range, whereas the largest available apertures range from f/4-5.6
Advanced features include ring-type ultrasonic autofocus. Like the similar system fitted in the Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, it's fast, ultra-quiet and comes complete with full-time manual override in single or 'one-shot' autofocus mode.
Because the focus ring doesn't rotate during autofocus, Tamron has positioned it at the rear of the lens within easy reach, and there's a good focus distance scale positioned beneath a viewing window.
The internal focusing mechanism also means that the front element neither extends nor rotates throughout the focus range, which is a bonus when using rotation-specific filters such as a circular polariser or graduated neutral density filter.
The other standout feature is Tamron's Vibration Correction (VC) system - an optical stabiliser that offers 4-stop performance in fending off camera-shake.
Build quality, handling and performance
Build quality and handling
Build quality is a cut above most Tamron lenses, and the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD feels robust, sturdy and well finished. It's no lightweight at 765g and is actually one of the heaviest lenses in its class.
This is no bad thing because, along with the VR system, it helps to combat camera shake at long telephoto zoom settings, especially when panning. The lens is quite chunky too, measuring 82 x 143mm and extending in length to 280mm at its longest zoom setting, with the petal-shaped hood fitted.
The only slight letdown in handling is that the zoom ring of our review sample was slightly lacking in smoothness. However, the focus ring was silky smooth, both in manual focus mode and when using manual override in autofocus mode.
Things start off well at the 70mm end of the zoom range and good optical performance is maintained up to a focal length of around 250mm. At the maximum 300mm telephoto setting, however, sharpness takes a nosedive, and you really need to reduce the aperture from its maximum setting of f/5.6 to f/8 to get decent results. In fact, at 300mm, the lens is only really sharp between f/8 and f/16.
At least using the lens 'wide open' isn't as critical as it might be, due to the highly effective 4-stop stabiliser. Distortions and chromatic aberrations are well controlled, and the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD lens is notably better than Tamron's older 70-300mm Macro lens in these respects.
The ring-type Ultrasonic Drive (USD) autofocus is also massively quicker and much better suited to sports and wildlife photography.
Taken at 300mm, f/5.6
The first Tamron lens to feature ring-type, ultrasonic focus, the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD is a major step up from the company's older, non-stabilised 70-300mm Macro lens. Build quality is vastly superior, and Vibration Correction works extremely well. Sure, you lose the 0.5x macro facility offered by the older lens, but in every other respect, the VC USD is a much better choice.
Ring-type ultrasonic autofocus and Vibration Correction are well implemented and work very well.
The lack of sharpness when shooting at 300mm with an aperture of f/5.6 is disappointing.
The only disappointment with the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD is a lack of sharpness at the longest telephoto zoom setting, at anything outside an aperture range of f/8-16.