Tamron has proven that its F2.8 Zooms are budget-friendly for Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras system. The 17-28mm provides wide-angle coverage, while the 28-75mm is there to cover the standard range. The 70-180mm f/2.8 Di II VXD ($1,199) is now available, a compact telezoom with a half the price of the FE 70 to 200mm F2.8 GM OSS. It's not without its limitations, but it is a great value for full frame photographers.
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While most zooms in this category cover 70-200mm, Tamron chose to limit the maximum focal length at 180mm. This lens is significantly smaller than a typical professional telezoom and is also lighter. It is easy to fit into your bag.
The 70-180mm measures 5.9 by 3.2 inches (HD) and weighs about 1.8 pounds. It extends by a few inches when zoomed in, but the extension is relatively modest. The FE 70-200mm features internal zoom, so it doesn't get longer as you change the focal length, but it's bigger all around, and heavier at 3.3 pounds.
Sony's lens has a tripod collar. It is an adjustable ring that wraps around the lens and includes a foot for attaching to a tripod. While it was a great feature to have when handheld using the Tamron 70-18mm F4 G OSS, I found it a bit heavy when mounting on a tripod.
Aesthetics are basic black, with Tamron's modest branding printed on the barrel in plain white typeface. Construction is mostly polycarbonate, with the expected metal mount. It's a sturdy plastic, not at all flimsy feeling, and Tamron reinforces the quality build with seals to prevent dust and splashes from getting inside. That's an important features for Sony owners, who have enjoyed weather protection in the full-frame mirrorless line since day one.
Tamron includes a fluorine coating for the front element. This makes it easy to wipe off fingerprints. The included lens hood will prevent any accidental touch to the front glass and reduce the possibility of lens flare.
There aren't any control switches on the barrel. You do get a mechanical lock, one that keeps the zoom set to its shortest 70mm position when engaged. The manual focus and zoom rings represent your other interactions. Each is covered in rubber and finished with raised ridges for better handling.
It is quite large, taking up about half of the barrel's length. The zoom ring is marked at the 70-100, 130, 135 and 180mm positions. It moves between its shortest and longest positions with slightly less rotation than 90 degrees.
The manual focus ring is much narrower, and sits further back. As is the case with most lenses for mirrorless systems, manual focus is done electronically, so turning the focus ring activates a motor, rather than directly adjusting the focus elements.
The ring is responsive and can be used with the in-camera focus tools, such as automatic frame magnification or focus peaking. Response ramps along with the speed you turn the ring—a quicker rotation makes broader adjustments, while slower turns are useful for making more precise adjustments. Autofocus works almost silently and frame breathing is very minimal.
When the lens is set to autofocus it can lock on to objects as close as 2.8 feet (85cm) from the image sensor. It's good enough for a 1:4.6 magnification—fine for close-up shots, like the one shown above, but not quite macro.
However, manual focus can be achieved closer. To get closer, you will need to adjust the focal length to 70mm and then change the manual focus setting on your camera (there is no button to do this). You can focus as close to 10.6 inches (27cm) and project objects at 1:1 life size, such as the image below.
As you're reliant on manual focus, it's something you'll want to use for static subjects and tripod work. When focused close-up, the best resolution is toward the center of the lens, and even when stopped down you'll net a noticeably shallow depth of field. It's an aspect that adds a bit of versatility to the lens, but not a substitute for a dedicated macro with proper autofocus.
There is no optical image stabilization. This is a common feature of f/2.8 Telezooms, regardless of whether they are designed for systems with excellent in-body image stability (IBIS).
When paired with the 60MP Sony a7R IV, I'm able to net consistently blur-free handheld shots at 1/80-second at the 180mm focal length. Results were a mixed bag at 1/50-second, and more blurry than crisp at 1/30-second.
Sony's 70 to 200mm option offers top-notch stabilization for telephoto focal length. Sigma does not sell an E-mount version of the stabilized 70-200mm Sports Lens in Sigma, however you can use it with a Sony Camera and the MC-11 adapter. This lens is great, however, it's not the best recommendation for Sony. There's an autofocus drop when you adapt a lens from another manufacturer.
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I also tested the optical performance with the 70-180mm and Sony's highest-resolution high-resolution sensor (Opens in new window).
The 70mm focal length f/2.8 gives the pair a resolution of approximately 4,200 lines, which we think is very high for an a7R IV sensor. The resolution improves at f/4 (4,525 lines) and F/5.6 (4,400 lines), which are both very good marks. It also maintains the same level of detail up to f/11. The resolution decreases at f/16 (4,000 lines), but this is not an issue.
We do notice a small drop in resolution when we zoom to 70mm. However, edges look good at f/2.8. These photos improve with f/4 and are sharp from the center to edges at f/5.6. Smaller settings can be used up until f/16. Avoid setting your lens at f/22, which can seriously reduce detail and cause a visible decrease in resolution of 2,770 lines.
Resolution ticks up at the midpoint, about 120mm. The lens delivers excellent results wide open (4,590 lines), and falls a little short of the best result we've seen from any lens on the a7R IV at f/4 by a small margin, notching better than 5,000 lines. This outstanding performance is maintained through f/8. Results are excellent at f/11 and f/16, and edges are as good as the center at every f-stop.
At 180mm there is a small decrease in resolution, but it's not a significant one. The score at f/2.8 is within the exceptional range (4,400 lines), and there are steady results from the center to the edge. The score settles at the top of the impressive range at f/4 (4 800 lines), and stays there until f/11. As expected, the score falls a bit at f/16 and shows soft results at 2,570 lines at f/22.
The lens does show some distortion and casts a darkened vignette at the periphery when used with in-camera corrections disabled. With them turned on, you'll enjoy JPGs that are free of distortion and evenly lit.
Raw processors are able to apply corrections. Adobe Lightroom Classic has an already-created profile that can be used to correct pincushion distortions at long focal lengths. The profile also corrects for the vignette. However, it is too aggressive to my eyes so I turned it down when processing images. Capture One does not yet provide a profile for this lens so manual corrections will be required.
I noted some chromatic aberrations, visible as green and red fringes, but only when working in the 1:2 close-up range. It's not a big issue, but you may need to spend some time editing shots to remove them when using the lens for macros. I didn't spot the issue when photographing subjects at distances supported by the autofocus system.
Tamron has added another lens to the Sony system with the 70-180mm F/2.8 Di IIIVXD. Engineers have achieved high optical quality with a compact, lightweight zoom, similar to its larger siblings the 17-28mm or 28-75mm. Build quality isn't sacrificed to get there either—you still enjoy dust and splash protection, as well as fluorine coating.
Images look great, even on a demanding, high-resolution camera body, and the f/2.8 aperture and telephoto focal range combine to net shots with smoothly defocused backgrounds. The big compromise is optical stabilization, an omission mitigated by camera-based IBIS systems.
The FE 70 to 200mm F2.8 GM OSS is a much more expensive lens. You get more stabilization, a little more zoom power and a tripod collar. It's not for amateurs or serious hobbyists, however, at $2,700.
That makes the Tamron 70-180mm a better choice for those who can live with a little bit less than the best. It's missing a few things you get with the FE 70-200mm F2.8, sure, but it still offers fast focus, crisp images, and a sturdy build for less than half what Sony's lens costs.
- Optics with high resolution
- Affinity bright f/2.8
- Protection against dust, fluorine, and splash
- Compact, lightweight, and very affordable
- Rely on intra-body stabilization
- Zoomed in, barrel extends
- Close-up Work: Autofocus not available