Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 VC USD G2

Tamron 70-200 F/2.8 G2

In landscape photography, a 70-200 lens is the basis for me. From my point of view this is the most versatile focal range that I use most often when photographing mountains. When Tamron released the SP 70-200 F/2.8 G2, the reviews I read were so positive that I decided to check it out, even though I already owned the very good Nikkor 70-200 F/2.8 VR II. At the moment I am the ambassador of the Tamron brand, so probably turned our to be not so bad 😊 What’s more, it’s good enough that I decided to share with you my impressions of using the lens in the form of a short review. This article is not sponsored in any way, the company does not give the ambassadors the lenses on its own, nor does it pay for reviews (Hello? We need to talk #tamron #objectoram #focusnordic 😉).

In this review you will not find information about how many optical elements were used to build the lens, the type of glass they were made of, in which factory they were designed etc. It doesn’t matter to me. If you want, you can find all technical parameters HERE. I will not write about eBand, XLD, BARR, LD and other technologies. It is important to me how much they allow you to create good photographs. I will focus only on practical issues and the use of equipment specifically in landscape photography.

In the text I will refer to a direct competitor – Nikkor 70-200 F/2.8 VR II, which I used for several years and which I managed to get to know really well.

MENU

BUILD QUALITY

old vs new

USE IN DIFFICULT WEATHER CONDITIONS

First of all, the lens is weather sealed. Gaskets are used on the contacts and connectors to prevent water droplets and dust particles from entering the lens. There are a total of 9 – this number indicates that Tamron has taken the matter seriously 😊 In practice, it looks like this:

weather sealing
This does not mean, of course, that it can be used for underwater photography without a suitable housing, but sometimes I photographed with it in heavy rain, near the waterfalls, with water covering the entire lens and it worked flawlessly every time. In addition, the front element is covered with a fluorine coating, thanks to which water flows down the glass, it makes it easier to clean and less susceptible to dirt, moisture or fingerprints. With a good cloth, cleaning the lens takes a second (I recommend LEE Filters Cleaning Cloth – the filters are rubbish but the cloths are world class 😉). In February, I tested the lens for a month in the Bieszczady Mountains in snow, rain and temperatures down to -15 degrees. Information on the effectiveness of seals and fluorine coatings is not just marketing gibberish 😊 It works.

AUTOFOCUS

Autofocus is another topic that I take a little carelessly. I’ve always preferred image quality at the expense of AF speed – both in body and lenses. In landscape photography, the speed of autofocus is practically irrelevant. It is different with  AF accuracy. Fortunately, there is nothing to complain about here. I tested the Tamron 70-200 with Nikons D500, D810, D850 and Z 7. It hit with very high regularity. The sharpness of individual frames taken with standard focusing (phase detection) did not differ significantly from sharpening using live view (contrast detection). During short tests it was good already at F/2.8, but in the long run landscape photography practically does not use such apertures, so the lens was most accurately checked at F/6.3-F/11. It did great.
 
However, if you had any doubts, Tamron released the TAP-in Console, which can help you independently calibrate a given lens unit with a specific body that you have. Calibration can be done simultaneously at multiple focal lengths, so there is no risk that after adjusting 70mm, the 200mm sharpening will diverge.
 

It is also worth mentioning that with the change of the distributor to Focus Nordic, Tamron brought to Poland specialist equipment enabling full diagnostics and repair of lenses. If you have problems with calibration or need to repair your gear, you can send the equipment to Warsaw on Żytnia to Proclub (yes, where they repair Canon).

IMAGE STABILIZATION

Tamron has been known for years for investing in stabilization in its lenses and this can be seen in the case of 70-200 G2.

We have 3 stabilization modes to choose from (VC = vibration compensation):

  • VC Mode 1: stabilization visible in the viewfinder (but not the most effective)
  • VC Mode 2: useful for panning (stabilization does not compensate horizontal lens movement)
  • VC Mode 3: stabilization not visible in the viewfinder, but most effective

The effectiveness of stabilization can be seen in the following video:

I must admit that stabilization was something that convinced me to leave the Nikkor 70-200 VR II in the closet. I can’t say that Nikon has poor stabilization, but comparing to Tamron it seems non-existent. The manufacturer declares an efficiency of 5 EV at VC Mode 3. Usually, such declarations have as much to do with reality as Volkswagen CO2 emissions measurements, but in this case it turned out that making sharp photos in difficult conditions has become child’s play. To make it easier to imagine – thanks to stabilization, I could achieve a similar result to 1/200 sec with stabilization off when the exposure time was 1/6 sec. WOW! In many cases I found myself leaving my tripod in a bag when shooting sunset/sunrise. Of course, the stable hand while shooting is also important – then you can let VC do the rest.  The lens is very well balanced which definitely helps and together with the stabilization it make the final results exceed my expectations.

It is worth mentioning that when connecting the lens to a body with built-in stabilization (to avoid blurry photos caused by incompatibility of stabilization systems), it is best to turn off VC or stabilization in the body. While testing the lens with Nikon Z 7 it turned out that the set works great and the stabilization turns off automatically after attaching the lens, which is a very convenient solution. You don’t have to remember everything 😊 Initially, the G2 lenses were not fully compatible with Nikon mirrorless cameras, but thanks to the firmware update (to be done using the Tap-In Console yourself), they work great together. I had the impression that the need to refine the software made Z 7 and Tamron work better together than e.g. Z 7 with other third party lenses that did not require updating.

After half a year of testing, I have the impression that with Tamron I could take less photos on one battery than I was able to take with Nikon’s 70-200. This may be associated with a more advanced stabilization system than in Nikkor. In the G2 series, Tamron introduced a new dual-processor AF control system what can be relevant here. Well, if we put a minimally decreased battery life and photo quality at stake, the choice is still easy in my opinion.

IMAGE QUALITY

I intentionally do not post here detailed resolution tests using test tables or programs such as Reikan Focal. I have seen various tests many times, numerically proving the superiority of one lens over another, while in practice the results were different. What is the value of a test in which pictures when the final images used are selected from 100? What is the meaning of numbers when equipment fails? I tested the Tamron 70-200 G2 for about half a year and I can definitely say it is sharp. How sharp? At the end of the review you will find several photos taken with this lens. For now, I must say that it is sharper than the Nikkor 70-200 VR II. Optically, the difference in favor of Tamron is not great, but by adding stabilization, Nikkor begins to loose the distance. I am writing here about a lens which is much more expensive than the G2.

How is the focus distributed at particular focal lengths? Strangely enough, the results are very similar for 70, 135 and 200mm. This shows that the lens has been very well made. I have the impression that the best quality can be obtained at 135mm, but the differences are difficult to assess on the first sight. By default, the best quality should be obtained for F/5.6-F/11 apertures, i.e. exactly those used mostly in landscape photography. It is worth mentioning from the chronicle’s duty that for F/2.8, the images look a bit softer, but still good, from F/4 to F/16 we get a sharp picture. Above F/16 the resolution decreases due to diffraction. Interestingly, the sharpness is also very good at the edges of the frame. I expected a much larger decrease in image quality at the corners. It turned out  Tamron is much better than Nikkor outside the center of the frame.

In the tested lens, as in the Nikkor 70-200 F/2.8 VR II you can observe focus breathing, i.e. changing the field of view of the lens during focusing. This is quite a typical ailment of lenses with internal focusing. In short – it happens that a given focal length e.g. 150mm does not always offer the same field of view as in the case of other lenses – it is usually smaller. Focus breathing also results in a slight reduction in the potential reproduction scale. You can read more about this phenomenon e.g. here.

Bokeh – quality of background blur, is another thing that doesn’t matter to me in landscape photography. It looks okay and that’s it 😊

In the era of lens profiles offered with image editing software such as Lightroom or Capture One, vignetting also has marginal significance. Other optical defects such as chromatic aberration or distortion are also corrected almost automatically and this is also not a topic that concerns me.

The lens is doing great when it comes to coma. Better than both the Nikkor 70-200 F / 2.8 VR II and the newer 70-200 F / 2.8 FL ED VR, currently worth around $2,500.

SUMMARY

Collecting all the pros and cons, I must admit that Tamron did a really great job. In its price category 70-200 F/2.8 G2 beats the competition, including the more expensive Nikkor 70-200 F/2.8 VR II. Apart from minor slip-ups, such as the location of the zoom ring under the diaphragm, it performs very well in the other categories. The best stabilization on the market, very good optical quality, accurate AF and resistance to bad weather conditions made it permanently found in my backpack. I recommend it with full conviction!

PHOTOGRAPHS

Finally, here are some photographs taken with Tamron in the Bieszczady and Tatra Mountains during the Light Guides photo workshops I run.  If you have any questions about the lens and its practical application in landscape photography, write in the comments or feel free to contact me by email.

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