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Tamron SP 70-200MM F/2.8 DI VC USD

Weight: 52oz
Filter Size: 77mm

Concise review: Near the optical performance of Nikon's 70-200 f/2.8 VR II, better optically than the VR 1 but worse handling than either. Rings turn in the right direction for Nikon users. Best deal of the three.

At $1,500 this lens is a competitor to Nikon's older used 70-200mm f/2.8 VR1 and the new Nikkor 70-200mm f/4, all three of which live around the same price. Tamron claims it as the smallest and lightest in class, but this is just marketing fluff, it's basically the same size and weight as the f/2.8 Nikkors. Nikon's flagship "AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II" has a name to match Tamrons but a hefty price tag; at $900 more than the Tamron the Nikkor comes in at an impressive $2,400, about $44 an ounce. The f/4 Nikon version is a similar price and substantially lighter, but at f/4 it's just not the lens event and wedding shooters are looking for. I leave Sigma's lens out because the rings turn in the wrong direction for Nikon users.

The Tamron 70-200mm uses 77mm filter threads, the standard for professional grade lenses. This is great, I love standardized filter sizes. For some odd reason the stable mate for this lens, the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 USD VC uses 82mm filter rings. So this Tamron matches better with the 77mm threaded Nikkor 24-70mm.

As an owner of the original Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 I can say that without a doubt the new Tamron is considerably better optically, sharper in the frame center wide open with more contrast and better in the corners at all apertures, which is no surprise. AF speed and accuracy is better on the Tamron, it's quite impressive. Handling on the other hand, is far superior on the Nikon. It had AF lock buttons and a focus limiter switch, but I never used those things. On the Nikkor the thinner lens barrel fits better in hand and the zoom ring is in the rear, with a nice large focusing ring up front. With a hand on the zoom ring the Nikkor balances well while shooting, and it's easy to use two fingers to adjust the focus ring at any time, which like the Tamron can be turned at any time. On the Tamron the zoom ring is up front, ahead of the balance point when mounted to the Nikon D600. I have a feeling it would balance better on a D3 or D4. The zoom ring is a bit stiff in action. The focusing ring is in the rear, and I find it easy to bump and throw off while shooting. It has a long focus throw, but feels rough in the process. Thankfully the Tamron's AF is fast and sure, I find myself needing the focus ring far less than the old Nikon.

Like all the current 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses it stays a constant length while zoomed, and the front element doesn't move while focusing or zooming.

Being quite a bit newer than the original Nikon 70-200, it's no surprise the VR aka VC on the Tamron is considerably improved. Focus breathing is not nearly as bad as the VRII but it's well documented that at infinity the Tamron falls short of 200mm, somewhere around 185mm. Color temperture is certainly a bit warmer than both the Nikon counterparts.  

How sharp? Let's take a standard wedding day shot.

Nikon D600, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 165mm 1/2000 f2.8 ISO 100

100% unsharpened crop holds amazing detail wide open on the 24mp sensor.

Nikon D600, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 165mm 1/2000 f2.8 ISO 100

Ok just how big is it? Like all the 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, it makes even the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 look small.

Sans hood.

  Build: 8/10                    - Solid, although it feels more plasticy than its Nikon counterparts, the six year warranty is great.
  Handling: 7/10              - Doesn't balance well with smaller FX cameras, I'd like to see the zoom and focusing ring reversed.
  Performance: 8/10       - Not quite 200mm at the long end, but great optical performance.
  Value: 7/10                    - You get a lot more bang for the buck out of this than the newest Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8.

  Overall: 8/10                - If you need it, you need it, and this is the best value in its class.

Practicality for kayaking: 4/10  -
Big, heavy and pretty expensive. Not the kind of lens you're going to throw in the back of your boat. Outside of kayaking, this lens has great bang for the buck performance, and only you can decide of the superior handling of the Nikkor 70-200mm VR II is worth the extra $900.

 I'll take a (two) last word(s) here to say how happy I am no one but Canon is stuck on using white plastic in the construction, because these lenses already stick out like a sore thumb. It's nice to blend in a least a little bit. Second word, part of my reason for choosing the Tamron over the Nikon is the warranty. Nikon service is slow and often takes several trys, as well as prohibitively expensive.

Unlike most recent Nikon lenses, the Tamron comes with a real tripod foot...