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Review: Tamron 18-270mm f3.5-6.3 Superzoom Lens

by Sander-Martijn on 09/22/2011

When Tamron announced that they had won the EISA award for European Zoom Lens of the Year 2011 – 2012 for their 18-270mm superzoom (Nikon Mount, Canon Mount), I figured it was time to give this superzoom a review and see what all the excitement was about. My first question was what does 18-270mm even look like?

Editor’s Note: This lens was tested on a Nikon D300

Field of View

Tamron 18-70mm at 18mm f/22

Tamron 18-70mm at 18mm f/22

Tamron 18-270mm at 270mm f/18

Tamron 18-270mm at 270mm f/18

Ergonomics

When I first took the lens out of the box I was surprised at how small and light it is. At 3.8 in. and weighing only 15.9 oz that makes it only slightly longer and significantly lighter than their 28-75mm f/2.8 (3.6 in, 18.0 oz.). To compare with the competition, neither Nikon nor Canon make a lens that falls in this range, but their closest equivalents are significantly larger and heavier. The most similar lens I could find was the Sigma 18-260mm which is 4 in. and 22.24 oz, a pretty big difference.

So what’s the tradeoff for having such an enormous zoom in such a small package? I’m sure there are a lot of technical details that could answer that question more specifically, but the main aspect that affects us as photographers is that it’s not a very fast lens—with a maximum aperture of f3.5-6.3. Other features of this lens are a minimum aperture of f22-40, Vibration Reduction (which Tamron calls Vibration Compensation, or VC) and an Ultrasonic Silent Drive for fast and quiet autofocus,

The lens retails on Amazon for $629.

Here are 2 images showing the Tamron 28-75mm lens side by side with the 18-270mm. You can see here that they’re about the same size when collapsed but the 270mm extends much further when zoomed in:

28-75mm (L) with 18-270mm

28-75mm (L) with 18-270mm

28-75mm (L) with 18-270mm extended

28-75mm (L) with 18-270mm extended

This lens feels just as sturdy and well made as other quality lenses I’ve used. The zoom is firm but smooth just as with other quality lenses. Manual focus seemed a little to easy with virtually no resistance, but generally the build of this lens is so close to their higher end 28-70mm f/2.8 that I had to look at the numbers on the lens to check which one I had on my body several times. Despite its price, it does not feel like a budget lens.

 Performance

Taking it out into the field, what I found was that it holds true to their claims. Focusing is fast, quiet and accurate and it’s really remarkable how it expands your field of view. The image below was taken at 270mm from a high bridge. While the focus isn’t as crisp as I’d like, it’s quite good and could be improved with some sharpening applied. It’s certainly more accurate than if you took the same shot at 75mm and cropped down.

tamron18-270 at 270mm from a high bridge

tamron18-270 at 270mm from a high bridge

My main criticism is that barrel distortion is quite apparent at 18mm but this is to be expected – you will always experience at least some barrel distortion wider than 28mm on an APS-C sensor or 35mm on a full frame sensor – that’s why zoom lenses that start at 28mm are so common now, while before digital zooms commonly started at 35mm. However, I was surprised to discover at least some distortion throughout the range – in fact in my tests I couldn’t find a sweet spot where I couldn’t see distortion.

Barrel distortion at 18mm

Barrel distortion at 18mm

Barrel Distortion also at 270mm and other lengths

Barrel Distortion also at 270mm and other lengths

The photo below was taken at 70mm which should be around the best performing areas of the lens. I assure you these bars were straight:

tamron18-270 70mm f/5.6 bent bars

Tamron18-270 70mm f/5.6, notice the bent bars

For many subjects this won’t be noticeable and I had to use photos with prominent vertical lines on the outer limits of the photo to demonstrate this. In the photos below the distortion is noticeable in the wide shot but acceptable in the others without correction:

tamron18-270 at 18mm - washington square park

Tamron18-270 at 18mm - Washington Square Park

tamron18-270 at 270mm in washington squre park

Tamron18-270 at 270mm in Washington Square Park

tamron18-270 at 27mm in washington square park - subtle but acceptable distortion

Tamron18-270 at 27mm in Washington Square Park - subtle but acceptable distortion

In any case barrel distortion is  easily fixed – in fact Lightroom 3 already has a profile for this lens and can apply the correction during import. However I hold to it being my biggest criticism. I fixed the image below with one click in LR3 using their built-in profile. I still see some distortion so if I were going to use this lens long-term I would probably fine tune the profile a bit and save that. I left all the other images in this article as they were out of camera to give you a clear idea of how images from this lens look before edits.

Barrel distortion fixed in one click using Lightroom 3

Barrel distortion fixed in one click using Lightroom 3

 Who Is This Lens Designed For?

This lens is an ideal walk-around lens and I believe that was the intended audience. It’s great for this purpose especially if you’re shy about photographing people you don’t know and want to be a little more discreet about it. It would also be really good for nature photographers, allowing them to quickly take a spanning landscape followed by a closeup of a hawk flying above, for example. I can also see this being used by a concert photographer in situations where mobility is limited, although without a fast aperture you will be using this in brightly lit concerts or with additional lighting such as a speedlight. I was able to get a crowd shot, a stage shot and a closeup of the musician’s face without taking a step. Not many lenses can boast that level of flexibility.

Overall though this is not a lens designed for a professional. It’s not marketed or priced that way. It is really designed for someone that travels a lot, enjoys street photography for fun and generally wants a higher quality and greater range than a kit lens would provide.

Tamron 18-270mm at 18mm

Tamron 18-270mm at 18mm

Tamron 18-270mm at 60mm

Tamron 18-270mm at 60mm

Tamron 18-270mm at 270mm

Tamron 18-270mm at 270mm

Will I Buy This Lens?

Five years ago, when I was doing a lot of street photography and was usually sporting the Tamron 28-105mm f/2.8 I would have been thrilled to own this lens. However, I don’t do much street photography any more and as a commercial photographer this lens wouldn’t see much use. Whether you should buy it or not really depends on the kinds of things you shoot. I believe that if you are considering a superzoom at all, the Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 is a very attractive option. Just remember to set up the lens profile in Lightroom or whatever program you use to manage your images. Buy it for Nikon Mount or Canon Mount.

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