Tamron 70-180mm lens for Sony E-mount

May 2020

I have been waiting so long for this lens, and Tamron couldn’t have chosen a better time to release it. I was able to get this lens at my local camera shop (yay for local small businesses!) when it was completely sold out at all the online retailers just from pre-sales. My state is still under stay-at-home orders, but when businesses can reopen, I will start by photographing outdoor sessions with this lens, enabling me to keep a safe distance from families.

Being distanced is so very different from how I normally photograph families, where I’m running around playing with the children and giving high fives, but that’s everyone’s new normal now, right?

In case you missed it, here’s a link to my post where I explain why I switched from a Canon DSLR to a Sony full-frame mirrorless.

Skip the technical details and go straight to the samples.

Lenses

When I switched from a Canon DSLR to a Sony mirrorless, I knew I was limiting my lens choice. That is a significant factor to consider. Canon has a huge product line of lenses, while the Sony full frame mirrorless line is still building. I had to decide whether the current lineup at that time was adequate for my needs. I did this by trying out various lenses from one of my favorite equipment rental stores, Borrow Lenses. One of the lenses I finally landed on was the Tamron 28-70mm lens (product links are to my favorite online store, and I get no benefits from you clicking on them).

First, a little about the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens

This lens has been amazing for almost all of my portrait photography including school photography. Although I love primes, working with children individually and in groups required the ability to change focal length on the fly. The wide angle is perfect for my class photos, while 75mm gives a beautifully shallow depth of field for individual portraits. For in-home photography, I often can’t go higher than 75mm due to lack of space, so I was very content with this lens. The alternative to this lens is the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens.

There have been many articles with many more in-depth tests and samples comparing these two lenses, and the three factors that ended up being key for me were image quality, price, and weight. Many photographers either can’t tell the difference between the image quality of the two lenses or prefer the Tamron images. Also, at the time of this writing, the Sony lens is 2.5 times more than the Tamron. The Sony does have more features, but I have not been missing them.

Sure, the cost savings is huge, but one of the biggest factors for me was actually weight. One of the ways Tamron reduced the weight was to start at 28mm instead of 24mm. Of course I’d like 24mm, but it’s not as important as the weight for me. When I am photographing a family, my camera is in my hands for 1-2 hours. When I’m photographing a school, I may be holding a camera 4-5 hours at a time. With the Tamron weighing about 2/3 of the Sony, I’m going to choose the lighter one.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 lens

So knowing all these things about the 28-75mm Tamron, I was happy to hear Tamron had a longer lens in production. After the release date kept getting pushed further back, I thought perhaps I’d need to fall back on my Canon with telephoto for upcoming sessions – thankfully it debuted just in time.

True to form, this Tamron is less than half the cost of the Sony comparable, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens. Again, the weight is an even greater factor for me since these longer lenses weigh more than the wider zooms. And again, the Tamron weighs considerable less than the Sony. With those two known factors, my confidence high from the 28-75 lens, and needing the lens asap for my outdoor, socially distanced sessions, I purchased the lens.

My third factor is image quality, and that’s what this post is about, to show some of the images I’ve taken to test it out. I usually wait until a significant number of users have tested and reviewed products, but without time to spare, I hope this helps some others in their decision making.

Do I miss that last 20mm of focal length?

Again, Tamron sacrificed some focal range partly to reduce the weight of the lens. Did I feel like I needed 200mm instead of 180mm? No, after my tests, I can’t imagine needing that last 20mm. And if losing that is what helps the lens be more compact and lighter, it’s worth it. Now, if I photographed different subjects or genres, it might be a bigger deal, but that’s also debatable. I mean, if you really need telephoto, you’re going to go for 300mm and up.

Do I need built in image stabilization?

One spec that the Sony has that the Tamron does not is image stabilization. I was a bit concerned by this, considering how long the lens is. A very general rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at least twice as fast as your focal length. So, at the 180mm end, I should be using at least 1/400s shutter speed. I took some hand-held photos at night in my living room and was pleasantly surprised to see that the images were sharp even at 1/125s. That’s credit to the camera’s built in image stabilization, which Tamron is solely relying on. It seems they made the right choice.

However I remembered, during a shoot, I am running around and rarely able to stand stock still, hold my breath, and brace myself. Nonetheless, I also remembered I am photographing children and almost never go below 1/400s (it’s amazing how much a toddler can move even with his feet planted in the same place). So, if you’re photographing like me, are fairly steady, and shutter speed is usually determined by motion blur and not camera shake, I don’t think you’ll miss the in-lens image stabilization that Sony offers.

A day at the park

My daughter obliged me again by visiting Claude Moore Park one evening to test out the lens. I’m in love. Well, of course with my beautiful daughter, but also with the lens. The images required very little editing – the colors, the bokeh and the focusing of the lens paired with the Sony A73 is just wonderful. I’ve included the focal length and exposure setting for each of the images below. The day was partly cloudy but we managed to find some pockets of setting sun.

portrait of girl at park
180mm, 1/400 sec at f/2.8, ISO 500

portrait of girl in park
115mm, 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600

portrait of girl at park
107mm, 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 640

portrait of girl at park
180mm, 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 500

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes. The image I took is not even at the full telephoto end, but see how far apart we are.

photo of photographer distanced from subject using Tamron zoom lens
portrait of girl in park
120mm, 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 640

I selected this photo to show how the lens handled the setting sun filtered behind trees.

For another behind the scenes sample, here is a deer we spied on our way home. It was getting dark, so I had to lower my shutter speed and crank my ISO. Of course, the deer knew to freeze :).

photo of deer from afar
180mm, 1/200 sec at f/2.8, ISO 2000. I didn’t even straighten my photo so you could see the actual full image.

deer closeup
Same image, at 1:1

photographer photographing deer

A Day at the Creek

I also had a chance to take some socially distanced samples of a little friend at Goose Creek near the Potomac River. This was midday on a very cloudy day.

boy playing on rocks by creek
130mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 100

boy playing on rocks by creek
105mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 160

boy playing on rocks by creek
113mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 125

closeup of boy's eyes
Let’s see this image zoomed in on the eyes. This is at 300%! Although the entire image has had some sharpening applied, those lashes haven’t been treated separately.

boy playing on rocks by creek
180mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 200

boy playing on rocks by creek
70mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 125

boy peeking from behind tree
180mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 1600

boy sitting on bench
97mm, 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 160

I hope this helped you if you’re considering this lens. There are a lot of people comparing the nuts and bolts specs, but this is a quick review for family photography. Also, as you can see, I’m a fan of shooting wide open. As I restart family sessions and have to stop down my apertures for group shots, I’ll be sure to post more examples. And if the big online camera shops are still backordered, try contacting your local camera shop. I had my lens in hand within 20 minutes of contacting them.

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