For news and event photography, I completely rely on a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I know the advantages of shooting with prime lenses, but for the flexibility required in these (and other) types of photography, a 24-70 is a dependable friend with a sufficiently wide f/2.8 maximum aperture to work interiors with mixed light, the versatility to go wide and cover a room or compose using background and foreground elements, and also to “zoom-in” for two-shots and even portraits. Fortunately, the major lens manufacturers have put a lot of time and thought into developing and improving this variety of lens, so when given the opportunity to try the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens, I did not hesitate.
I have used 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses from Nikon, Canon, and Sigma, and toward the end of this piece we can talk comparison, but let’s start with the look and feel of the new Tamron. Not unlike the Sigma Art series lenses, the Sony Vario-Sonnar T* and even the up-market Zeiss Milvus manual focus lenses, the new Tamron lens offers a stark (can I say “cool?”), all-black design with minimal white markings (including an engraved “Designed in Japan”), a focal-distance window, and three ideally placed, low-profile switches. The MF/AF switch and the VC (Vibration Control) switch are exactly where my left thumb rests while holding the lens to shoot, and the very welcomed focal distance lock button sits where my right forefinger is when manually focusing with the wide and easy-to-grip rubber ring. The ring focuses from wide angle to tele with a clockwise twist, and the lens physically extends when increasing focal length, like the Sigma, and the lower-tier Nikon and Canons. The action while zooming is smooth, but not as smooth as you would be accustomed to with the highest-quality lenses.
Setting aside this mildly labored movement of the zoom, the lens’s operational design—the control placements, focus, and zoom ring grips, its aluminum barrel and “can-of-soup” size and strength—are ideal. It is approximately the same size as the Canon and Sigma lenses and significantly smaller than its Nikon counterpart. The Ultrasonic Silent Drive AF system is very quiet—I can’t say completely silent because, when I hold the lens to my ear, I can hear a slight “sh-sh- sh-sh” but, because I don’t shoot with the camera to my ear, it is effectively silent, which is important, especially for wedding photographers, journalists, and video shooters. The AF drive itself adjusts with precision and accuracy when focusing and refocusing; I have no complaint about this fundamental aspect of the lens and compared to the high- and mid-tier 24-70s I have used, Tamron’s AF, driven by its new dual MPU, equals them all. The minimum focus distance is 1.25' at 24mm or 70mm, virtually the same as comparable lenses.
The optical design consists of two XR elements, three low-dispersion glass elements and four aspherical elements, which are coated with Tamron’s eBAND, BBAR, and fluorine coatings to minimize flare and aberrations. The VC image stabilization system offers five-stop compensation and this I put to a test in varying lighting conditions with a handful of settings that would normally benefit from the assistance of “shake reduction.” For example, when shooting in dim light with shutter speeds of 1/20 of a second, the difference in sharpness using the stabilization is obvious and very welcomed.
Additionally, the VC mode suits different styles of shooting, for general use, promoting a stabilized viewfinder image, as well as for panning movements.
An important feature that was called into use during my time with the Tamron was its moisture-resistant construction, and this should be an important consideration for any journalist, nature photographer, or even wedding photographer or generalist. Really, who wants to worry about a little rain compromising your photography?! The barrel and rings kept rain bouncing off the lens and the leak-proof seals at the base of the lens prevented water from dripping into the mount. A fluorine coating on the front element protects it from oil, moisture, and dust.
The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens is available for full-frame Canon EF and Nikon F cameras and the improvements in this lens make it a capable match for these two systems. The question is, if you are shooting with an upper-tier DSLR from either of these makers, will you be comfortable with a third-party lens, knowing that despite their excellent optical performance and build, you will still lack a bit of the responsiveness provided by the proprietary, OEM lens? My answer is: yes. Save yourself hundreds of dollars compared to the latest Nikon and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and enjoy this sturdy and compact, precise and pretty lens. If you are shooting weddings or news and cannot afford to miss a fraction of a second in autofocus time or if money is no object, then stick with proprietary, but I expect that I will be buying this Tamron lens myself. Durability should not be a concern and I’m confident in that regard, having owned a Tamron 24-70mm for seven years, used the heck out of it, and still count on it today.
One other factor to consider for Nikon shooters is size and weight—both available Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses are significantly longer than the Tamron, particularly the latest “E” version. The Tamron lens is also compatible with the company’s TAP-in Consoles for Nikon and Canon mount lenses, which ensures the lens’s firmware is kept up to date and permits configuring settings to suit specific shooting tasks.
Let us know your experiences with Tamron lenses and other third-party offerings, in the Comments section, below.