Four years after the Tamron 70-200 VC came out, the new G2 is finally hitting the store shelves. When the price of $1,299 was announced, it took many people by surprise. I remember reading through various photography sites and Facebook posts when the lens was first announced, and most people were hoping for a price point around $1,600-$1,700. With the G1 being sold at $1,499 (Instant Rebate of $300 just kicked in dropping it down to $1,199), and the Canon and Nikon offerings being $1,949/$2,799 respectively -- a price of $1,600 seemed like a good deal. Then Tamron announced the price - $1,299, and many social media and photography pages were shocked.
How could Tamron release a new and improved lens that was less than the old version? Were there any sacrifices that were made to image quality, build quality, or anything else? Luckily Tamron sent us a Nikon mount production version shortly before it officially went on sale to test out and to show to potential customers.
At first look, the Tamron follows the design language of their recent SP lenses - a semi-matt finish, with a gold(ish) ring around the base. The build quality is solid, the lens has a nice feel, and balances well on a FX body. One thing to note is that the lens shell is metal , while other manufacturers are making theirs of polycarbonate and magnesium alloy. Just like the previous 70-200, the zoom ring is towards the front end of the lens, and the focusing ring is towards the base. The zoom ring has very short throw compared to the Nikon 70-200 VR II and E/FL lenses, allowing users to go from 70mm to 200mm in less than a quarter turn - similar to the Canon 70-200 IS II. The switches - while it may be a minor thing - feel very solid and easy to flip back and forth, even with gloves on (something I can’t say about my old Nikon 70-200). I constantly travel with a tripod, and one of my favorite features is the arca-swiss tripod foot - which fit perfectly into the Induro and Acratech ballheads I tested it with. Another perk of not having to attach a tripod plate to the lens is that it is much more comfortable to hold.
It may not be the lightest 70-200 out there, but it’s far from heavy. The previous Tamron was one of the shortest of the bunch, and the G2 is only a hair longer. I wish it had a click-stop on the tripod collar like the new Nikon E/FL, making it faster to switch between vertical and horizontal without having to line up the dots - but at this price-point, it’s not a deal breaker.
Performance and Features
The most common question I’ve gotten about this lens is in regards to focus breathing.
Does it suffer from focus breathing? Short answer - yes. Is it a big deal, or even a deal breaker? For most, no.
Yes, the lens is not a “true 200mm” at MOD (Minimum Object Distance), but a large chunk of lenses on the market suffer from focus breathing, even from Canon and Nikon. What you have to keep in mind is that this lens has the shortest MOD out of all of the 70-200’s at 0.95m. The Nikon E/FL is 1.1m, and the Canon IS II is 1.2m. To me, the focus breathing is not that important and I’m sure most people won’t care (or notice) that much in real world usage. Having used the Nikon VR II for many years, the Tamron G2 blows it away. If you’re trying to fill the frame with something small, you may notice the focus breathing, but if you’re trying to get a typical headshot, it likely won’t be a big deal. Below are some sample images taken of a yard stick using the various 70-200’s at close focus to show just how similar or different they are:
*Image Stablization was off from previous tests. Image sharpness may have been affected. Images were cropped vertically to fit, no horizontal crop applied.
As you can see, the new Nikon is the “tightest” with a width of about 15.5cm and the 7 year old Canon IS II coming in 2nd at 16.5cm. The Tamron G2 had a width of 21cm. Are those extra 5-6cm important? To some yes, to others not at all.
Below is another image comparing close-focus at 200mm between the 2 Nikon 70-200's and the Tamron using a standard sized ballhead:
When the Nikon 70-200 2.8E FL first came out, one of my favorite improvements was the VR performance. At an advertised 4 stops, I was able to shoot at 1/30th of a second hand-held at 200mm and get sharp shots. Tamron’s website states the lens has 5 stops when set to VC 3 (stabilization activates on half-press, but does not stabilize until the shutter release is fully pressed). I was consistently able to get sharp images down to 1/25th of a second at 200mm. Pushing down to 1/10th was possible, but the amount of keeper images was closer to 50% for me - with somewhat shaky hands.
1/30th sec | f/2.8 | 145mm | ISO 400
1/25th sec | f/2.8 | 200mm| ISO 400
Autofocus Speed and Accuracy
Another big question people were asking was how well the autofocus worked. The previous Tamron wasn’t exactly slow, but would occasionally hunt or miss focus in lower light situations. I took the G2 with a Nikon D810 (no micro-AF adjustments done) and took some shots in downtown Cleveland after sunset. The focusing speed and accuracy are noticeably improved. I’d easily put it on par with the Nikon 70-200 VR II, and potentially comparable to the E/FL, though I haven’t used it enough to say for certain. It also held its own while shooting at a skate park, as well as tracking a steelhead jumping and flopping around after being hooked.
Anytime we get a new camera or lens in, we like to go out and shoot with it and get real-world samples. I was never a fan of shooting charts, but decided to do a few quick shots on a 13”x19” print out. The tests were far from scientific, so if you’re a fan of zooming in on a test chart to check for extreme corner sharpness, you’ll have to wait a bit for those sites to post their results - but you can get a general idea with the images posted. Cameras/Lenses were set up on a tripod at close focusing distance. As you can see, the Nikon VR II and the Sigma couldn't fill the frame with just the test chart. Another note - the Sigma, Nikon VR II, and Canon had to be moved back about an inch or two when zoomed in to 200mm before I got focus confirmation, while the Tamron G2 and Nikon E/FL locked on after zooming in without any adjustment.
All sample shots below were taken with the Tamron 70-200 2.8 G2 and a Nikon D810.
The Big Question: Spend $1,299 and get the Tamron, or spend $650-1,500 more and get the Canon/Nikon?
If you’re anything but a full time pro, the Tamron seems like a no-brainer. It holds its own against the Canon and Nikon, and the focus breathing likely won’t be an issue for most. If you’re a professional, the choice is still a tough one. 3rd party lens makers like Tamron and Sigma have improved drastically over the last several years. The new Tamron is compatible with the TAP-in console, allowing owners to customize the AF as well as update the firmware without having to send the lens in. With a 6 year warranty, and a 3 business day repair turnaround, you don’t have to worry about your lens being gone for several weeks if something fails.
In the short time that the lens has been on the market, it has flown off the shelves here, and there is still a waiting list. Currently the Nikon mount is drastically outselling the Canon mount, and it’s easy to see why. The $2,800 price tag of the new Nikon puts it out of consideration for most shooters. There have been recent rumors floating around that Sigma is going to be announcing a 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport later in 2017, and it will be interesting to see how it stacks up against the Tamron G2.
You can also check out our video review of the Tamron 70-200 G2 below:
Click the links below to purchase/pre-order your own Tamron 70-200 G2.