Support me by shopping at B&H!
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 VC Thomas, August 2012
 

Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD review

The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD is a new 2.9x zoom that was announced April 2012 and is the first ever stabilized large-aperture standard-zoom compatible with full-frame DSLRs. With its gold-ring, constant f2.8 aperture, and a price-tag of around 1000 EUR it is in direct/fierce competition to Nikon's own professional AF-S 24-70/2.8G Nikkor or Canon's EF 24-70mm 2.8 II L USM. This makes it a very interesting lens that is indeed one-of-a-kind.

You could of course also use the Tamron 24-70mm on a APS-C/DX body where it gives you an equivalent 36-105mm coverage plus future-proofing should you upgrade to a full-frame/FX-body in the future. Complement this lens with any APS-C/DX 10-24mm wide-angle zoom and you can seamlessly cover a 7x zoom-range from ultra-wide-angle to short tele with only two lenses.

The Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC is available in Nikon, Canon-, and Sony-mount, although the latter does not offer vibration control (VC) as Sony-bodies sport body-based image-stabilization; that said the Sony-variant without VC is no cheaper than the optically stabilized versions for the other two mounts. In this review I'll put Tamron's SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD zoom to the test on a Nikon D800 to see whether the lens is a good match for the highest resolution 36 Megapixel DSLR.

   
   


Facts from the catalog

As usual I'll have a look at the technical data first. I've rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it's better than average or even state of the art, a [0] if it's standard or just average, and [-] if there's a disadvantage.

   
 
   
   

Size (diam. x length): 88 x 109 mm (3.5 x 4.3 in). It's a little thicker (+5mm) but substantially shorter (-24mm) than Nikon's AF-S 24-70/2.8G and thus looks less conspicuous - when zoomed-out to 24mm. But zooming in adds another 30mm to the length of the lens and at 70mm it is not much shorter than Nikon's. [0]

Weight: 825g (29oz) vs. 900g of the Nikon 24-70/2.8G or 805g of the Canon. Together with a full frame body you'll be schlepping 1.7kg around. [0]

Optics: 17 elements in 12 groups. Twelve groups have 24 air/glass-surfaces that produce a lot of opportunities for flares and ghosts. We'll see how this works out in praxis. The cross-section shows a lot of special elements: four aspherical and two low-dispersion and 2 extra-refractive elements. [+]

Closest focus distance/max. magnification: 0.38 m (15 in.) / 1:5. In my test I was able to go down to 1:4.6. This is not bad for capturing nature close-up - see one of my images from the gallery. [+]

Filter-thread: 82mm = as big as what Canon's needs, Nikon's lens works with the more standard 77mm. [0]

IS: Yes = helps a lot, Nikon and Canon are no match in this respect. [+]

AF: USD (ultra sonic drive), does work on D60/3x00/5x00-Nikons or similar drive-less bodies from Canon, and there's manual-focus override by simply turning the focus ring [+]

Covers full frame/FX or smaller = very good [+]

Price: around 1000 EUR new (incl. 19% VAT) = reasonable. The alternatives from Nikon, Sony and Canon are 50-100% more expensive. [+]

Lens-shade is included and reversible for transport, the front lens-cap is of the pincer-type and the rear lens-cap can be mounted in each the the three possible orientations (unlike Sigma's). But there's no lens pouch. [0]

Distance information is relayed to the camera, so the Nikon body can do all the advanced exposure-related stuff with this lens. But this is true for all alternatives too. [+]

Aperture ring = no, just like all competitors. [0]

Sealing: yes! A rubber grommet at the lens-mount, like with the Nikon or Canon. [+]

The score in the "features-department" is 0[-]/5[0]/8[+]. All-in-all the lens ticks all important boxes. And the missing lens-pouch and the larger than usual filter thread are easily compensated for by the relatively low price.

 

Motivation:

A stabilized 2.9x zoom with a focal range of 24-70mm may be your best choice for a full-frame/FX-body when you want to be prepared for many standard situations but want a larger maximum aperture and better image quality than you would expect from kit-zooms. It is arguably the best zoom range and focal ratio for wedding and portrait photographers.

At 24mm shortest focal length it lets you capture a crowd in tighter spaces or shoot architecture. And the 70mm on the long end gives you some reach and working distance for classic portraits and street-photography although you may find it too short on a full-frame/FX-body in some situations. It has a one stop larger aperture than kit-zooms and its image stabilization should add another 2-4 stops over a non-stabilized alternative. That gives you quite an advantage of hand-holding power under dim or fading light. Be aware though that image-stabilization is no advantage for fast-moving subjects like children or sports. In the latter shooting situations you should crank-up the ISO to get faster shutter-times.

Alternatives:

- The Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED: Not stabilized and at 1500 EUR it's 50% more expensive. This pro-lens from Nikon claims better performance. But only a direct shootout can tell.
- From Sigma there's the AF 24-70mm f2.8 EX DG HSM. It's the cheapest alternative at around 750EUR. Non-stabilized like all the others and 15mm shorter than the Tamron with the focus ring in front and the zoom-ring near the camera. Tests showed it to have pretty poor border/corner-performance wide open.
- For Canon users there's the Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8 II L USM at around 2200 EUR. The most expensive lens of the group, but still not stabilized.
- And Sony users have the Sony AF 24-70mm 2.8 (what, no fancy acronyms?), at around 1800 EUR it's the second most expensive lens. Stabilization is granted through the body-based image-stabilization of Sony DSLRs.

Testing: Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration

With lenses offering an aperture of f2.8 or larger I test for longitudinal CA (loCA, a.k.a. "axial color" or "bokeh CA"). The Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC shows very little loCA. The left side shows almost no magenta coloration and on the right the greenish hue is also very subtle. The alternating colorations of the vertical marks are a sign of color-moire only and have nothing to do with loCAs.

 
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC Longitudinal Chromatic Aberration (loCA)
100% crop, 70mm, f2.8, left=closer, right=farther away

 

Sharpness and contrast

Let's have a look at the theoretical performance (MTF-charts) at the wide and the long end first:

 
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC MTF
at 24mm, f2.8
  at 70mm, f2.8

   

These charts show the lens-performance at the largest aperture f2.8. Higher values are better and the closer the dotted and the continuous lines of each color are together the less astigmatism (= resolution depends on the orientation of the test-pattern) the lens has. The x-axis displays the distance from the optical axis (=center of the sensor) in mm. I'll show you the real-life performance at 4 mm (center), 13 mm (APS-C/DX-corner), and 20 mm (full-frame/FX-corner) on a D800.

From the charts the new lens should perform on a pretty high level, especially in the DX image-circle (dotted line at 14mm). Contrast should be very high too and astigmatism looks like it should be nothing to worry about. So on paper Tamron's latest design looks like a winner. Let's see how this theoretical performance translates into real life results in the sharpness test based on Siemens-stars.

What follows are near-center results (first column) followed by DX-corner results and FX-corner results on a D800. The D800 results from the DX-corner should be a very good approximation for performance on a 16MP DX sensor (like the D7000), because the pixel-pitch of both sensors are the same. But differences in the AA-filter and micro-lens-design of a D800 and a D7000 might yield different end-results.

Processing was done in Lightroom 4.1 from RAW at camera standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, with no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment. White-balance was adjusted to a neutral white and I did some exposure compensation to make the brightness match. CA-removal is ON.

All shots in the following section plus the landscape-shots were all done with a second copy of this lens. The first copy was decentered and showed a weak performance on the left side so I got a new copy for testing from Tamron Germany. Unfortunately that second copy did not stop down much between f2.8 and f4.0. So f4.0 was effectively only f3.2 and I had to stop down another 2/3 of a stop for each test-shot to compensate for this defect.

The following are all 100% crops!

Let's have a look at the performance at 24mm first:

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
24mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
24mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
24mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
24mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
24mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
24mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
24mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
24mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
24mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
24mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
24mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
24mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
24mm, f11, 100 ISO
24mm, f11, 100 ISO
24mm, f11, 100 ISO

These 100% crops directly from a 36MP D800 sensor show that this lens performs excellent in the center with diffraction setting in at f11. The performance in the DX-corner is also very good even wide open but suffers visibly from distortions. Towards the FX-corner there's a clear drop in performance with some astigmatism and haloing. Even stopping down to f8 brings the FX-corner only up to good levels. Interestingly distortions are lower in the FX-corner than at the DX-corner.

 

Performance at 35mm:

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
35mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
35mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
35mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
35mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
35mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
35mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
35mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
35mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
35mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
35mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
35mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
35mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
35mm, f11, 100 ISO
35mm, f11, 100 ISO
35mm, f11, 100 ISO

Center performance continues to excel. And remember: the star-targets and the concentric circles on the left are already 4-5 mm off center, defining a broader sweet-spot of 8-10 mm diameter than a simply dead-center target could measure. The DX-corner is a bit soft wide open and profits from stopping down to f5.6 or f8. The FX-corner is disappointing wide open with prominent astigmatism even at f8.

 

Let's move on to 50mm:

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
50mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
50mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
50mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
50mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
50mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
50mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
50mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
50mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
50mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
50mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
50mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
50mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
50mm, f11, 100 ISO
50mm, f11, 100 ISO
50mm, f11, 100 ISO

The performance is similar to 35mm with the center less contrasty wide open and the DX-corner becoming a tad softer. But the aberrations in the FX-corner react more positively now to stopping down: f8 already produces good results with less prominent astigmatism than at 35mm. Pincushion-distortions are now clearly visible in the FX-corner.

 

Performance at 70mm:

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from center
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from DX-corner
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800
100% crop from FX-corner
   
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
70mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
70mm, f5.6, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
70mm, f8.0, 100 ISO
         
   
70mm, f11, 100 ISO
70mm, f11, 100 ISO
70mm, f11, 100 ISO

Don't worry about the shadow in the lower left corner of the FX-corner crop: it's just that - a shadow on the test-target. At 70mm the performance wide open is more even across the frame than before. Stopping down to f4.0 or f5.6 gives good to very good results and stopping further down to f11 increases the image quality in the FX-corner even further although center performance is taking a hit from diffraction.

 

Performance at large distances

The Siemens-star test-targets are shot at a distance of 40x focal length (i.e. at 2m for 50mm f.l.). But performance of lenses also depends on the shooting distance. Therefore I do another series of test-shots of a landscape dubbed the "Unremarkables" where you can measure distances in km, not meter. In the morning, when the weather is clear and the sun is up I use this scene to show you how the lenses perform, when almost everything is at infinity. I set White Balance to a standard daylight value to make them comparable across lenses shot at the same day and also try to make exposure comparable. There's no tinkering with vignette-control so you see it here as it is produced by the lens. Focus was acquired at the largest aperture in contrast-based AF and not changed for other apertures, VC was off.

You can click on each image to access the large original. Please respect our copyright and only use those images for personal use.

The main image shows the complete scene at maximum aperture to give you an impression of the angle of view and to judge vignetting). This is followed by one row of 100% crops at different apertures each from the middle and the right (FX-)border. Let's start with 24mm focal length where you can clearly see some vignetting:

Unremarkables at 24mm: Infinity shots with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC on a D800
24mm, f2.8, 100 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
24mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, center
 
24mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, center
  24mm, f8, 100 ISO, center
 
   
24mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, border
 
24mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, border
  24mm, f8, 100 ISO, border

The infinity-shot at 24mm confirms the lens's performance from the synthetic test-target. You can also see that diffraction is already softening the center performance at f8 over f4.0. Border performance is not too bad wide open but stopping down to f8 clearly helps.

Same story at 35mm, albeit with less vignetting and a softer border performance:

Unremarkables at 35mm: Infinity shots with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC on a D800
35mm, f2.8, 100 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
35mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, center
 
35mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, center
  35mm, f8, 100 ISO, center
 
   
35mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, border
 
35mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, border
  35mm, f8, 100 ISO, border

50mm focal length seems to be a sweet spot for corner-performance. Stop down to f4 and you get pretty good results, it also benefits the overall contrast:

Unremarkables at 50mm: Infinity shots with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC on a D800
50mm, f2.8, 100 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
50mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, center
 
50mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, center
  50mm, f8, 100 ISO, center
 
   
50mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, corner
 
50mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, corner
  50mm, f8, 100 ISO, corner

At 70mm you should stop down to f4 for improved overall contrast and f8 for better corner definition:

Unremarkables @70mm: Infinity shots with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC on a D800
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO; Below: 100% crops from the main image at different apertures
 
   
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, center
 
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, center
  70mm, f8, 100 ISO, center
 
   
70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO, border
 
70mm, f4.0, 100 ISO, border
  70mm, f8, 100 ISO, border

 

 

 

 
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC with Nikon D800 in contra-light
Shot at 70mm, f22, 100 ISO
 

Flare/ghosting

Shooting normal or wide-angle lenses always runs the risk of catching a strong light-source like the sun shining directly into the lens. This could produce strange colorful ghosts-images or reduce contrast considerably through flare and glare.

As the results depend on many factors including the aperture, focal length, and the angle the light hitting the lens the effect is not easy to reproduce faithfully. So I did a series of shots under conditions that provoke glare and ghosting. The image shows one of the shots from this series where the effects show pretty clearly.

It was easy to produce these effects but more so on the long end than on the short. Below 50mm every second shot was free from the problem and the blacks mostly stayed very black, so glare did not generally reduce the overall contrast.

As it should be easier to avoid strong light shining into the lens at 50-70mm this result is not bad.

 

Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC sample images gallery

The following images were taken with the Tamron 24-70/2.8 VC on a D800. Each image was recorded in RAW and converted with Lightroom 4.1 at Adobe or Camera Standard settings. Noise-reduction is set to 0, sharpening to 70/0.5/36/10, no extra tone, color, or saturation-adjustment was used. You can click on each image to access the large original. Please respect our copyright and only use those images for personal use.

The first shot should give you an impression of the bokeh that this lens can produce wide open. The 50% crops are from the background, the sharpest point, and the foreground in the overall image and demonstrates the rendering of out-of-focus elements.

Flowers: bokeh shot with Tamron AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 VC at 70mm f2.8 on a D800
 
Main image and all 50% crops: 70mm, f2.8, 100 ISO

An aperture of f2.8 is not really optimal for good bokeh, but it is a better starting-point to throw background and/or foreground subjects out-of-focus than with many kit-lenses that offer only f4.5 or worse at 70mm. What little bokeh the Tamron shows is quite soft in the foreground but shows signs of outlining and nervousness in the background.

The second image shows an architecture-shot at 70mm. Contrast against the bright sky is very good but the details of the church lack a bit crispness and definition.

Church: architecture shot with Tamron 24-70/2.8 VC at 70mm f4.0 on a D800
 
Main image and all 100% crops: 70mm, f4.0, 1/400 sec, 100 ISO, VC=ON

Next shot is a close-up at 70mm f4.8. It was captured with the first copy of this lens that showed some decentering on the left side but that part of the image is out-of-focus anyway. It shows that you can capture quite some detail of small subjects at a decent quality. Stop down further if you need even more definition.

Catch of the Day: close-up shot with Tamron 24-70/2.8 VC at 70mm f4.8 on a D800
Main image and all 100% crops: f4.8, 1/80 sec, 110 ISO, VC=ON
 
   
f4.8, 110 ISO
 
f4.8, 110 ISO
  f4.8, 110 ISO

The last example in the image gallery is a portrait shot at 48mm almost fully wide open. It was also shot with the first/decentered copy of the lens. In this image the decentering affected the lower third to halve of the image.

Blacksmith: Portrait shot with Tamron 24-70/2.8 VC at 48mm f3.2 on a D800
 
Main image and all 100% crops: 48mm, f3.2, 1/250 sec, 100 ISO, VC=ON

Definition of details and facial hair is good, stopping down another notch would have improved center performance to excellent.

For more examples check out all my high-resolution Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 sample images.

 

Focus, build quality, and image stabilization

Focus accuracy and repeatability is critical to consistently produce sharp shots. Repeatability (the accuracy of focus on the same subject after repeated focus-acquisition) of this lens is excellent with no outliers over a series of 20 shots. And there is almost no performance variation whether the lens focuses coming from infinity or from minimum focus distance. The lens focuses fast: around 0.5 sec from infinity to 0.38m, which is very good.

The focus ring has practically no slack/play between its movement and the focus-action, which makes accurate focus wide open at the long end easy. The focus ring is very small but movement is pretty smooth and AF-operation is quiet on the outside. But if you record video with the built-in microphone every focus-movement produces an audible "clack". Zoom-action is relatively stiff, still the lens does suffer a little from zoom-creep. But the single zoom barrel extends only 30mm and creep can be stopped via the zoom-lock. It does not wobble in the fully extended position and shaking the lens does not produce any suspicious sounds. In general the impression of build quality is that of a better lens - albeit not pro-level: A high quality plastic construction combined with a weather sealed metal lens-mount, and nine rounded aperture blades.

VC-operation is very quiet and could not be heard even when recording video/audio with the built-in microphone. To test the effectiveness of the image stabilization I produced multiple series of over 40 test-shots each hand-held at 70mm with VC=ON at 1/15 sec and with VC=OFF at 1/60 sec. Rating the sharpness of those images at 100% magnification on a scale from 0 to 5 the sample of images with VC=ON was clearly skewed to better ratings than the sample with VC=OFF, although that sample had the benefit of a 4x faster shutter-speed. So VR on this lens gives you an advantage of at least two stops. But there is a caveat: the first of the test-series showed results that were clearly worse than 2 stops stabilization. I got the impression that the VC needs a short time to "lock-on". If you give it the time to stabilize you get good results, if you press the shutter too fast that might result in less effective image stabilization.

Now, let me wrap things up in my Tamron 24-70mm verdict.

 
If you found this report useful, please support me by shopping below!
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

/ How we test / Best Cameras / Advertising / Camera reviews / Supporting Camera Labs