Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Overachiever: Tamron 70-300 VC Preview

When a top-of-the-line lens performs very well, it's easy to praise it.  But when a budget-priced lens shows great performance, it's harder to shower praise upon it because lens snobs who've invested thousands of dollars on their lenses would be so ready to heckle and criticize you.  After all, such an observation goes completely against conventional wisdom.  But in this blog we try to be as objective as possible.  This is just a preview but based on what I've seen, this is a kickass lens.  Hit the jump for samples.

The Tamron 70-300 VC has been out for a couple of years now (announced August 2010).  In fact, when it first came out, I chuckled at Tamron because Nikon had just released their budget-friendly 55-300 VR.  Why would anyone want a 70-300 lens from a third party when they could have a first-party lens with a wider range at the same or lower cost?

Fast forward to 2012.  The space shuttle landed in Los Angeles, and none of my lenses were long enough to capture this once-in-a-lifetime event.
2012092112-DSC_3603-Edit.jpg by mic_ty

Image above was from my Sigma 50-150 on the Nikon D90, cropped.  At the same time, our son was getting to an age where he would be involved in more sports, so I thought about getting a longer lens, but one that was not so bulky.  I had just sold my 70-200 VR I because it was too bulky to use on a day-to-day basis, and this time I wanted a lens that I would not hesitate to bring with me for everyday shots.

I checked out the Nikon 70-300 VR, a lens used by one of my favorite photographers, Bob Krist.  If it was good enough for National Geographic, it has to be good enough for anything.  I nearly purchased the 70-300 VR because there's a sizable rebate for it when you buy it with the Nikon D600.

But then as I researched the 70-300 VR, I read about comparisons to the Tamron 70-300 VC.  In the side-to-side comparisons I saw, the Tamron 70-300 VC was noticeably better.  I found a refurbished one with a good warranty and decided to get it instead of the Nikon 70-300 VR.

When I took my first shots with this lens, I was astonished.  The images appeared so striking in their sharpness.
One of my first shots with the Tamron 70-300 VC
As I took more shots, it seems to me that this impression of sharpness is from the lens' high acutance.  Check out this informative article from Cambridge in Colour, distinguishing between resolution and acutance.  Here is another article from LensRentals on the same topic (and about MTF charts).

The shot above had zero clarity and no additional sharpening but it looks like I bumped up the clarity setting in Lightroom.  That's what I mean by the Tamron 70-300 VC's high acutance.  Here are more shots I've taken with this lens, all of them SOOC except adjusted for white balance and in some cases exposure.  No additional sharpening or clarity.

How good is this lens, exactly?  You probably have heard about Nikon's new 70-200 f/4 VR lens.  In this post, Nasim Mansurov showed that it has better edge-to-edge sharpness than a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II, so the new lens is very good.  Nonetheless, professional photographer John G. Moore has both the 70-200 f/4 VR and the Tamron 70-300 VC and in his opinion, the 70-300 VC is better (just as sharp, with less chromatic aberration).

In our review for this lens, I will compare its performance to other lenses I have that have some overlapping focal lengths: Nikon 24-70 2.8G (at 70mm), Nikon 85 1.8G, Nikon 28-105.  It's not a practical test because the lenses have different functions but I'm curious how they compare.  I will also discuss the amazing image stabilization, and its other features.  In keeping with the practical perspective of our blog, I will post samples of shots where this kind of lens might be useful.

Nikon D600 Resource Page (see under "Lenses Tested")