Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD Macro Review - Photo Jottings

Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD Macro Review

Box and contents
The Sony A700 and A900 were used for this review.  The APS-C section is first, followed by the full frame differences.  Sharpness crops for both sensors are located on this page.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go hereCheck out the differences between this lens and three other similar lenses.
Review posted 3/3/11
The Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) macro telephoto zoom lens is made in Japan and features a constant fast aperture of F/2.8 with a typical Tamron build quality, meaning the fit and finish are nice, with a metal mount, but there is plenty of plastic to run your hand over, including the zoom ring, focusing ring, and most of the forward barrel section.  It looks like metal is used in the first section from the mount area.
This lens was designed for a full frame camera.  If you have an APS-C camera, the equivalent capture area will be 105mm-300mm.  If you want to know what the ridiculously long name of this lens means, look no further.  The “SP” means “super performance,” and “AF” means auto focus (duh), Di means it’s made for full frame use, “LD” stands for “low dispersion” glass to correct for chromatic aberrations, also known as color fringing, “IF” stands for “internal focus,” which means the lens doesn’t extend in length when focused, and finally, “Macro” means it can focus quite closely, down to almost a third life size in this case.
The Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 (Tamron info) has almost no “frills” to list.  Missing are some focus hold buttons and a focus limiter switch, which would help with the overall slow focusing of this lens, but you can’t have everything for a bargain basement price.  However, you do get a focus distance window, and a removable tripod collar, which places the securing knob in the same place as your left hand if you’re hand holding the lens with the collar in the factory set position, see the last product shot below.  The tripod collar is secured with a small machine screw.  In the image below, it looks like the threads are stripped, but they’re not.  It is possible to over-tighten the knob and strip the threads, and that would probably result in catastrophic failure, meaning you’ll be picking up the lens (and camera) in pieces after it falls out of the collar and off the tripod.  There are no emergency “grab” tabs like Sony uses on their 70-200mm collar.  I will mention there are plenty of threads that make contact with the deep nut inside the knob, so don’t worry about this issue, I simply wanted to make people aware of it.
The zoom action is just right for one or two finger rotation, and it seems to stay put with normal use.  Focal length index marks come at 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm, and the EXIF data matches those lengths.  The zoom movement is internal, meaning the lens doesn’t change length when zooming.
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, petal shaped plastic hood with ridges on the inside, black padded softcase with strap, and owner’s manual with warranty card.
Focusing.  The very large focusing ring is near the front part of the lens, and does not turn during auto-focusing when the lens is set to AF.  If you pull the focus ring back all the way, which sets the lens to MF, (the blue “M” letter as seen in the product shot below), the focus ring will turn during auto-focusing, and if you want to override the AF at this point, the settings to use are; lens at MF, camera on AF, and with select (pro) Sony camera bodies, hit the AF/MF thumb button to turn the AF off as desired, then you can safely turn the focus ring.  With Sony consumer grade cameras, turn the AF/MF swith to MF, or try DMF, (direct manual focus).  Don’t turn the ring when the system is engaged, or you’ll probably tear the gears up.  Also, focusing is done internally, so there is no lens length change.
Focusing is fairly accurate, but slow.  I’m talking about the same performance as a Tamron 18-250mm lens at 250mm, which wants to “hunt” and focus in “steps” sometimes.  It uses the old slot/screw shaft drive system, which is ok, but a little noisy by today’s standards, and not all that fast.  Going from close focus to infinity takes just 1/4 turn of the ring, that’s pretty quick, and makes it more difficult to get the exact focus when used manually.  Note; this lens has a focusing hard stop at the infinity mark, but that’s misleading, the lens will focus correctly at infinity well in front of the mark in most weather, but it’s probably set up to focus in extreme temperature conditions, so that hard stop may provide the correct focus distance depending on the lens’ temperature.
Requisite product shots.
Side view
Backside showing baffle
Front element
AF/MF by sliding focus ring front and back
Removeable tripod collar
X-ray view


General information and specifications.


A001S Tamron SP AF70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro
Box contents
Front and rear caps, users manual, hood and padded soft case.
Build quality
Additional information
Has autofocus to manual focus switch, which is operated by pushing or pulling the focus ring front to back.
Specifications below
Optical configuration
18 elements in 13 groups
Angle of view
34°-12° full frame, 23°-8° APS-C, measured on the diagonal.
9 blades, curved
Full frame and APS-C
Yes, full frame and APS-C.   APS-C equivalent, 105-300mm
Depth of field and focus scales?
Focus distance window, and focal length index marks at 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, and 200mm.
Minimum focus, image plane to subject
37.1″  (943mm)
Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject
27.5″  (698mm)
Hard stop at infinity focus?
Yes, but not accurate in all conditions
Length changes when focusing?
Focus ring turns in AF?
Filter size
Filter ring rotates?
Distance encoder?
Max magnification
0.32x, or 1:3.1
Min. F/stop
Sony teleconverter compatible?
Length changes when zooming?
Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)
3.5″ x 7.7″   90mm x 196mm.   widest at front, just behind the hood mount.
Maximum  extended length (my measurements)
7.7″  (196mm)
Weight bare (my scale)
2lbs 9oz  (1154g) bare,  2lbs 15oz (1324g) with tripod collar, and 3lbs 3oz (1437g) with caps, collar and hood.
Optical qualities summary.
Lens flare/ghosting.  Average control for a telephoto zoom.  I see multi-color ghosts if the sun is at the edge, or inside the image at all focal lengths.  The ghosts change shape and intensity with different apertures.  Look below for examples.  Veiling glare seems a little strong as you zoom out, so prepare to block the sun or other super-bright light source with your hand to keep the contrast up in your shots.  The hood should be used on this lens, but will not block the sun out on all occasions, that’s why you should use your hand as extra protection.  Yes I know the lens is heavy and hard to hand hold for very long, but just look for ghosting and glare in the viewfinder and be ready.
Color fringing (CA).  There are moderate amounts of lateral color fringing (along the sides) at 70mm, diminishing greatly as you zoom out.  Very good control of axial color fringing, which goes away as you stop down the aperture.
Bokeh.  Smooth looking at most zoom settings and apertures, but takes on a lentil shape at F/2.8, and almost results in a “swirling” look.  At long distances can be a bit busy.  Look below for sample crops.
Color.   Similar to Sony and Minolta lenses.
Close up filter.  N/A
Coma.  No problems.
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off problems on APS-C cameras or full frame.
Filter size is 77mm.  This is the standard size for most Minolta and Sony pro lenses.  Other Sony lenses that use 77mm filters are; CZ 24-70mm F/2.8, 70-200mm F/2.8 G, CZ 135mm F/1.8, 11-18mm F/4.5-5.6, CZ 16-35mm F/2.8, and the 70-400mm G.
Distortion.  You’ll notice moderate barrel distortion at the short end, becoming flat around 100mm, then very light pincushion distortion at 135mm to 200mm.  Of course, full frame coverage shows a little more distortion.  Check out the cropped samples below.  At minimum focusing distances and zoomed near 70mm, the distortion is flat instead of moderate barrel, even with full frame coverage.
Image samples from APS-C camera below.
70mm, mild to moderate barrel distortion.
Flat at 100mm.
200mm, mild pincushion distortion.
Bokeh quality.
           70mm F/2.8
             70mm F/4
           200mm F/2.8 
             200mm F/4


I see a pretty smooth bokeh at all apertures, although when the lens is wide open, the out-of-focus highlights become lentil shaped just off center, and look funny, see the images below.



Real bokeh shots below.


200mm, F/2.8
200mm, F/4


The top F/2.8 image illustrates what I’ve been referring to, that is, when highlight blur is just off center, it takes on a lentil shape, and can cause a “swirling” look, especially noticeable on full frame cameras.  One stop down and this issue goes away.  You have to have the right background and de-focus for this to show up, so it’s not something that should cause concern.  See the study on Bokeh here.


Light fall-off.
Check out the full re-sized images below.  Light fall-off or corner shading is very light, and causes no problems using an APS-C camera.
           70mm F/2.8
             70mm F/4
           200mm F/2.8 
             200mm F/4

Let’s check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the 100% cropped portion (617kb) of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2MP camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87″x 1.0″ or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case the distance was 27.5″ (698mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.
This lens has a reproduction size of 0.32x which is quite large for a telephoto zoom, and produced a sharp shot of the postage stamp, although contrast is just a little low.  The sharpest apertures are F/5.6-8, and noticeable softening occurs at F/4, with F/2.8 being very soft; that’s typical for shooting close-up with a wide aperture though.  I see a tiny bit of color fringing along the black letters and numbers.  As a side note; the “1996” on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
As close as you can get. F/5.6. Click for larger image.






Full frame results using the Sony A900.


Check out the differences when using a full frame camera below.  I’m only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don’t show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.


Light fall-off


           70mm F/2.8
             70mm F/4
           200mm F/2.8 
             200mm F/4


Light fall-off is stronger with full frame coverage.  I see moderate levels around 200mm with a wide open aperture.  Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off, although close focusing at 200mm will show a little more than at infinity.


Ghosting with full frame coverage.


70mm F/8
70mm F/8 sun in corner
200mm F/4
200mm F/8, sun out of shot
200mm F/5.6, blow out!
200mm F/5.6, hand used to block sun 


I see some multi-colored blobs when the sun or super bright light are near, or inside the image.  Flare problems exist more so at long zoom lengths, and can blow out almost the entire image, but using your hand to block the sun can help eliminate some of this, but not all, see the last row and the red blob on the lower left corner.   All samples above show the entire image, and are not cropped.


Full image from A900 below illustrating light fall-off.




This boring full image shows the light fall-off from 200mm, F/2.8.  It’s slightly noticeable, but in a scene like this just stop down the aperture a little instead of using F/2.8, ISO 200 with a shutter speed of 1/4000sec as I did here.


Full frame distortion.


Moderate barrel distortion @70mm on A900
Almost flat @100mm on A900
Moderate pincushion distortion @ 200mm on A900


There is moderate barrel distortion at 70mm, although it has a simple curve and is easy to fix with distortion correction tools.  Around 100mm-135mm there is almost no distortion.  As you zoom to 200mm you’ll find moderate pincushion distortion, also with a fairly simple curve.


Test crops are located here.



The Tamron SP AF70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) macro lens is a low cost alternative to the more expensive Sony model, also tested here.  Is it worth it?  It all depends on what’s important to you.


Build quality is not great like the Sony, and the slot/screw drive focusing system is slow, but pretty accurate.  Unfortunately, there are no focus hold or focus limiter buttons to help out, that’s the down side.  On the up side, the lens performs very well optically, with relatively low distortion, good control of both axial and lateral color fringing, although color fringing is noticeable along the sides at the short end to about 135mm.


The Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 is slightly soft wide open at all zoom lengths, although F/2.8 results become more soft as you near 200mm.  However, by stopping down to F/4 the centers and mid-sections look quite sharp and are totally usable at all focal lengths.  The full frame mid-sections and corners need about an extra stop to sharpen up and match APS-C results in most cases, but that’s very predictable and normal.  My verdict; good image quality from F/3.5-11, and very good image quality from F/4-8.


Use thoughts; Wedding photography; it should work fine (before the booze), if you’re wanting to take pictures at a football game from the cheap seats in daylight or with good stadium lighting, the Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 will perform well.  If you’re near the sidelines trying to catch the action close by, or shooting events like high-energy rock concerts, I’d probably go for the more expensive Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G, which has faster focusing along with a focus limiter and focus hold buttons.  Bottom line; the Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 is well worth the price if you don’t need fast focusing.

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