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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 were so positive that I decided to check it out, even though I already owned a very good Nikkor 70-200 F/2.8 VR II. Now I am the ambassador of the Tamron brand, so I suppose it was worth ‘checking out’ :) It works so good 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 neither provides the lenses to ambassadors, nor pays for reviews (Hello? We need to talk #tamron #objectoram #focusnordic ;) ).

In this review you won’t find the following information: 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 the technical parameters HERE. I won’t write about eBand, XLD, BARR, LD and other technologies. The only important thing to me is whether they allow 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 be referring 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.

Build quality and features

Mountain photography requires equipment reliability in all weather conditions. Rain, snow, temperatures reaching -20C degrees – this is my office where I work every day. First of all, the equipment which I use must be indestructible. Considering how Tamron lenses had been made 10 years ago, the guys (and girls) from Tamron did a really good job. There were times when you could watch 3 pieces of the same lens in the store and none of them was good. Quality control has improved significantly and now when I was comparing two 70-200 G2’s, they both looked and performed identically. Apart from the very good repeatability of individual pieces, the built quality is also surprisingly good. The body is slim and streamlined. The used materials are of very high quality. Metal and plastic elements seem to be very solid. They fit well, the lens makes a very good first impression, giving hope that it not only looks tight, but actually is. But more on that later.

Weight

The lens weighs quite a lot. The manufacturer claims 1485g – I didn’t check, I take his word for it. In comparison with other 70-200 F / 2.8s, however, this is the standard. There are lighter versions available on the market – 70-210 F/4 Tamron or Nikon 70-200 F/4 – and if the maximum aperture had been the only difference, I definitely would have chosen one of them long time ago. In landscape photography, F/2.8 is completely unnecessary. Unfortunately for my back, optical quality is an absolute priority for me and F/2.8 lenses are not only sharper than F/4, but also able to reproduce the smallest details much better. If some brand built an optically superior 70-200 lens of 3kg weight – I would definitely buy it. From a marketing point of view, however, this would not make any sense, especially in the era of mirrorless cameras’ growing popularity and increased pressure to decrease the weight of equipment.

Design

When writing about the quality of workmanship, it is also worth mentioning the design. Admittedly, a nice lens is not necessarily a good lens, but in terms of the G2 appearance it is a huge step forward in comparison with the previous versions. How does the G2 compare to the old lenses?

old vs new
Can you see the difference? It looks like Fiat Multipla compared to Maserati. Both start with ‘M’, but it’s the only similarity ;)
 

It seems that the company has finally hired a design specialist – in my opinion, the lens looks just beautiful. Maybe the reason of increased price tag in comparison with the older lenses or G1 are the new jobs in this department? Yes, I have to mention the financial aspect. Unfortunately, the times when the Tamron’s were twice cheaper than Nikon’s are gone, but the difference in price is still noticeable in favour of the Tamron.

Ergonomics

The ergonomics of G2’s are at the highest level. The lens is very well balanced and very comfortable to use in the field. The buttons are reasonably arranged for intuitive operation. The most important ones – VC (stabilisation) on/off, VC modes, AF switch are located close to each other, while the switch limiting the minimum AF range is located a bit further. It is worth emphasising here that all the switches can be easily felt under the finger. Unimportant detail? If you’ve ever photographed in winter conditions at -20 degrees Celsius, you can imagine that handling them while wearing gloves can be difficult. It is designed much better in comparison with the Nikon counterpart.

Something that distinguishes this lens is a tripod mount. Most 70-200 lenses allow you to screw in a tripod plate and then attach the lens to the tripod head, balancing the center of gravity. Tamron took it a step further. The tripod foot is profiled for the Arca Swiss standard, which allows the lens to be attached to a tripod without additional plates. Simple and brilliant. Each additional plate can potentially reduce the stability of the body & lens kit. Especially with longer focal lengths around 200mm or more. We don’t have that problem here. Bravo!

Unfortunately, not everything is thought out perfectly. The zoom ring is placed closer to the front element while the focus ring closer to the rear end of the lens. What’s wrong with that? When the lens hood is attached upside down, it covers the entire zoom ring – making it unable to be used. Imagine a situation in which you have a fraction of a second to take a photo: you take the lens out of your backpack. Try to change the focal length. Wrestle with a lens hood. Finally manage to unscrew it. Throw it to the ground in a hurry. Fail to capture the photo. The hood falls into the abyss. Damn. And now… imagine the same situation in winter, while wearing thick gloves.

On the other hand, you can leave the hood at home. But what if you shoot against the sun? Flares guaranteed. Carrying in your bag the lens with the hood attached to the front is also out of the question – the lens suddenly becomes 50% longer. It all could’ve been fixed by swapping the focal length and focus rings (how often do you use the latter?). The rings themselves have an adequate resistance – neither too loose nor too tight, which is perfect in my opinion.

The lens has a standard thread for the use of screw-on filters and also allows drop-in systems, such as NiSi, LEE and others. The filter diameter is 77mm – probably the most popular on the market today. The mount is the same as in other brands of lenses. It is worth mentioning the sun visor again, which is also standard – it’s a pity, because you could cut a small window in it allowing you to rotate the polarizing filter (there is DIY potential).

Usage 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 using it in heavy rain or 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, making it easier to clean and less susceptible to dirt, moisture or fingerprints. With a good cloth, cleaning the lens takes just 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 really 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. The same thing can’t be said about AF accuracy. Fortunately, there is nothing to complain 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) didn’t differ significantly from sharpening using live view (contrast detection). During short tests it was already fine at F/2.8, but in landscape photography we practically don’t use such apertures, so the lens was most accurately checked at F/6.3-F/11. It did great.

However, if you still have 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 the change of the distributor to Focus Nordic resulted in Tamron bringing to Poland the specialised 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, that’s where they also repair Canon).

Image stabilization

Investing in the lenses’ stabilization quality is something that Tamron has been known for years and it is also apparent 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 in comparison with 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 and with the addition of stabilization – the final result exceeds 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 think about 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 didn’t 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 have something to do with a more advanced stabilization system than the one in Nikkor. In the G2 series, Tamron introduced a new dual-processor AF control system, what can also be relevant here. Nevertheless, the choice between a minimally decreased battery life and photo quality is still easy in my opinion.

Image quality

I intentionally don’t 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 the photos are taken using 1 piece of lens chosen out of 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 favour of Tamron is not that great, but by adding stabilization Nikkor begins to lag behind. I am writing here about the 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 at 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. I feel obliged to mention that for F/2.8 the images look a bit softer, but still good, and 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 in the corners. It turned out that 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 characteristic of lenses with internal focusing. In short – it happens that a given focal length, e.g. 150mm, doesn’t always offer the same field of view as 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 it is also a topic that does not require further analysis.

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

Considering all 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 other categories. The best stabilization on the market, very good optical quality, accurate AF and resistance to bad weather conditions made it the one which was permanently present in my backpack. I can recommend it with full conviction!

Sample photographs

Finally, here are some photographs taken with Tamron in the Bieszczady and Tatra Mountains during the Light Guides photo workshops which 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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