Tamron 70–300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC: Kit Lens Companion

Tamron 70–300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC

Tamron 70–300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC

Shridhar Kunte tests the full frame Tamron 70–300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC. Interestingly, he finds out that it complements the regular kit lens forcropped sensor bodies too.

The 70–300mm lens has always been favoured by both amateurs and professionals alike. Professionals who do not need a constant f/2.8 aperture favour a full frame lens like this due to its lightweight nature, while amateurs enjoy the extra reach and quality that they get at an affordable price. To give a different alternative to the proprietary lenses of Nikon and Canon, Tamron has introduced their own version of the 70–300mm.

As compared to similar lenses from other third party manufacturers, this Tamron lens is rather feature packed. It is the third lens from the company to be optically stabilised. The proprietary Vibration Compensation mechanism reduces shake by using a three-coil system,whereby three driving coils activate the shake-compensating VC lens group electromagnetically via three steel balls. The lens is equipped with Tamron’s first ever ultrasonic autofocus motor, called USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive). Theoretically, such a technology helps attain faster AF speeds with lesser mechanical noise. The lens allows you to fine tune the autofocus without pressing any switch. All you need to do is adjust the thick focusing ring, and you can make precise adjustments on the fly. The lens is built around 17 elements in 12groups. It has an advanced optical design that features an LD (Low Dispersion) and an XLD (Extra Low Dispersion) lens element made from specialised materials. This enhances light transmission and thus aims to prevent chromatic aberration.

I used the lens on two contrasting camerabodies—the chunky full frame D700, and the tiny entry-level D3100. The 70–300mm lens balanced perfectly on both bodies, and was enjoyable to use on field. The lens uses internal focusing technology. This means that the front element does not rotate, thus allowing the use of a circular polariser. The body is made of very high quality plastic and has a metal mount. The broad rubberised zoom ring offers some stiff resistance while operating. But this is understandable as it will prevent any accidental changes in focal length while the lens is pointed downwards. The focusing ring is one-third the width of the zoom ring, and it is thick and welll ubricated. Do note that Nikon users will need to adapt as Tamron lenses need you to rotate clockwise to focus on closer subjects. However, this is not really a problem as it is only a matter of  getting used to. The lens operates smoothly. The focus distance scale is clearly marked. I was pleased to note that the switches for AF/MFand VC are easy to access.

The AF speed is faster than most of the Tamron lenses without any kind of mechanical noise and the focus accuracy is good. That said, it still cannot compete with proprietary lenses in terms of autofocus performance. In low light, AF tends to hunt a bit, especially at the telephoto end. Also, if you lose focus, the lens keeps hunting and gets confused—you may actually need to zoom out to focus properly. Optically, the 70–300mm lens is very impressive. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled—there is only a slight hint of it in some shooting conditions. Control over flare is absolutely superb, even when shooting at the telephoto end at the widest aperture. At focal length of 70mm, the images are distortion free, but there is a small amount of barrel distortion from 135mm till the end of the zoom range. Images produced with this lens are very sharp. I found that the lens gives best results at f/11, but the centre sharpness is very good even at the widest aperture, when completely zoomed in. At 300mm, the corner sharpness levels decrease a little but the performance is still very respectable for a lens of this price. The lens exhibits pleasing bokeh that is nearly circular, thus making it a decent low-cost alternative for portrait shooters as well. While Tamron claims that the lens offers a four-stop advantage, our tests revealed that the lens produces sharp results only up till three shutterspeeds slower than usual. Also, when the VC is activated, there is a peculiar mechanical sound that is quite audible. Moreover, if you pay close attention to the image in the camera’s viewfinder, you will notice a slight jerk whenever you change the framing, which shows that the VC mechanism tends to work a little more than necessary.

This Tamron 70–300mm lens is optically brilliant, and a great accompaniment to a regular kit lens. However, in terms of AF speed, it cannot compete with similar lenses from Nikon or Canon. Moreover, its MRP of Rs. 32,000 is even higher than that of the Nikkor 70–300mm lens! Considering that most users would buy a third-party lens as a more economical alternative, the Tamron lens is surely overpriced.

Final Features
Vibration reduction, internal focus

Slower AF speed than competing lenses

Build Quality
Plastic barrel with metal lens mount

Wide rubberised zoom grip

Warranty & Support
Limited service facilities

Value for Money: 3/5 Stars

Tags: Shridhar Kunte, December 2010, Tamron 70–300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC, Tamron