Do the Extra 20mm Really Matter? The Tamron 70-180mm F2.8 Review

The Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 Di III VXD zoom lens is an affordable alternative to traditional 70-200 zooms for Sony E Mount cameras.

The Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 is a weather-resistant telephoto zoom lens designed to be an affordable, compact, and lightweight alternative to Sony’s own 70-200mm f2.8 G Master lens. It joins the Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 and the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 to complete the third-party lens manufacturer’s “Holy Trinity” zoom lens lineup for Sony E mount. The 70-180mm features many of the same design elements found in Tamron’s other E mount offerings. These include moisture-resistant construction, accurate and quiet VXD linear focusing motor, and the same 67mm front filter thread.

When first announced, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 was lauded for its small footprint and highly competitive price point. (The Tamron retails for $1,200 while the Sony will set you back more than double at $2,600.) However, many voiced concerns that the Tamron’s maximum zoom distance is 20mm shorter than Sony’s native offerings. We’ve got a direct comparison between the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 and the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G Master coming in a separate article, but for now, let’s focus on the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8. Although much of NYC has been shut down for the past couple of months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to test the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 while observing safety guidelines.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Affordably priced
  • Small footprint
  • Lightweight
  • Robust weather sealing
  • Good image quality overall

Cons

  • Lacks image stabilization
  • Inconsistent autofocus performance
  • Limited manual controls
  • Noticeable vignetting and distortion, particularly toward the long end

Gear Used

We tested the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 Di III VXD zoom lens with the Sony A7R III, the Sony A7R IV, and various camera backpacks.

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 Di III VXD zoom lens taken from Tamron’s official product page.

ModelA056
Focal Length70-180mm
Maximum Aperturef2.8
Angle of View
(diagonal)
34°21′-13°42′ (for full-frame mirrorless format)
Optical Construction19 elements in 14 groups
Minimum Object DistanceAF: 0.85m /33.5 in (Full zoom range)
(MF: 0.27m /10.6 in (Wide), 0.85m /33.5 in (Tele))*
Maximum Magnification RatioAF: 1:4.6, MF: 1:2 (Wide) / 1:4.6 (Tele)*
Filter SizeΦ 67mm
Maximum DiameterΦ 81mm
Length149mm (5.9 in)
Weight810g (28.6 oz)
Aperture Blades9 (circular diaphragm)
Minimum Aperturef22
Standard AccessoryFlower-shaped hood, Lens caps
Compatible MountsSony E-mount

Ergonomics

The Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 follows the same understated design language we’ve seen across the company’s lineup of Sony E mount lenses. The only controls you’ll find on the lens are the zoom ring and the manual focus ring. The Tamron is not an internally zooming lens, so the inner lens barrel begins to protrude as you zoom toward the maximum focal range. The zoom ring can be locked to prevent the inner lens barrel from accidentally extending. Unlike on the Sony 70-200 f2.8 G Master, you’re not going to find a Manual/Auto Focus toggle switch or an Autofocusing Distance Range switch.

Like the other lenses in Tamron’s Sony E Mount lens lineup, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 features a 67mm filter thread. Photographers who own other Tamron E mount lenses can save some money by using the same filters across all these lenses.

Build Quality

Don’t let the plasticky exterior fool you. Like the other Sony E mount lenses that Tamron’s introduced recently, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 is weather-sealed. You don’t have to worry about photographing in inclement weather as long as you’re mounting this lens to a weather-sealed E mount camera body.

The Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 weighs roughly half (28.6oz) of what the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G Master does (52.21oz sans tripod collar). Despite its lighter weight, the Tamron feels very well built. It doesn’t have quite the same tank-like construction as the G Master, however. Accident-prone photographers will want to take a bit more care when handling the Tamron.

Both the Zoom ring and the Manual Focus rings have a good amount of resistance when turning. The only annoyance we encountered during our time with the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 was with the included front lens cap. It frequently became dislodged while being transported within camera bags, exposing the front lens element.

Ease of Use

Shooting with the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 is a standard affair. Simply mount the lens onto your Sony E mount camera body and you’re good to go. The only manual controls on the lens are the Zoom ring and the Manual Focus ring. Aperture control is done via your camera body. Both the Zoom ring and the Manual Focus ring provide just enough resistance when turning. This allows you to fine-tune your focal range quickly and to accurately dial in focus when shooting in manual mode.

We wish Tamron would’ve included an Auto/Manual Focus toggle and an Autofocusing Distance Range toggle. This would’ve allowed us to switch between focusing modes easily rather than having to dive into the camera menus. This minor complaint aside, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 operates like any other zoom lens on the market.

Autofocus

Overall, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8’s autofocus felt responsive. You’ll find the most success with this lens when shooting in well-lit situations. At the time of testing, New York was in the middle of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, so most people had masks on. Understandably, this threw off the AF performance a bit (although it can be argued that this is more of an issue with Sony’s AF algorithms than with the lens). Aside from the inconsistent subject detection with mask wearers, both Face Detection AF and Eye Detection AF worked reasonably well on the Tamron.

We did notice some issues with autofocus performance when shooting with the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 under low light/low contrast scenarios. Under these conditions, the lens was prone to hunting and back focusing, sometimes missing focus completely. This is a potential deal-breaker for event shooters or photographers who frequently shoot in low light conditions.

Image Quality

Images created with the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 are pleasing and generally sharp, but be prepared to do a bit of work in post. Vignetting and pincushion distortion are noticeable, especially as you extend the lens toward the long end. Both can be corrected in post, but that means more time sitting at your computer moving sliders around. We’re hoping lens profiles will take care of this automatically when they become available for Capture One Pro 20.

Bokeh

Thanks to a nine-bladed circular aperture design, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 produces bokeh that is pleasant overall. Haloing and onion rings are an issue with the Tamron though. It’s not quite as buttery smooth when compared against the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G Master. The Sony produces even smoother bokeh thanks to its 11-bladed circular aperture design.

Chromatic Aberration

By and large, the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 did a great job mitigating chromatic aberrations. Flaring and purple fringing only become minor issues when photographing backlit subjects or under extremely high contrast scenarios. Unless you’re shooting directly into the sun or a strong backlight, you’re not going to have to worry about flare. When it does appear, it almost lends the lens a vintage quality that can be used creatively. As for the purple fringing, you can easily correct it in post.

As we’d mentioned earlier, pincushion distortion becomes very apparent as you’re zooming the Tamron towards the long end. Objects appear undistorted up to around 100mm. As you’re zooming from 100mm to 180mm, you’ll really start to notice the pincushioning effect. Take a look at the following examples:

Here’s another example of the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8’s pincushion distortion. Thankfully, it can be corrected in Capture One 20 with minimal effort.

Color Rendition

Colors rendered by the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 are vibrant and saturated but lean towards the warmer side straight-out-of-camera. This is preferred by some photographers, lending a more organic tone to images. Those seeking more color-accurate images will want to shoot using custom white balances.

Sharpness

Subjects in focus appear tack sharp, although slight corner softness is noticeable when shooting the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 wide open. For the sharpest results across the frame, stop the lens down by a stop or two. Do note that the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 is not internally stabilized. To ensure the sharpest results, pair the lens with an image stabilized camera body and shoot at shutter speeds equal to or greater than the focal length.

Extra Image Samples

Here are some additional sample images using the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 Di III VXD zoom lens on the Sony A7R III and the Sony A7R IV. These images were processed using Capture One Pro 20, ranging from color grading, cropping, levels adjustment, and/or perspective correction. As a matter of ethics, none of the sample images in this review have been retouched so that you can judge the quality of the images produced using this lens for yourself.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Affordability
  • Good overall image quality
  • Sturdy construction
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Versatile focal range (you don’t really miss the extra 20mm on the long end)

Dislikes

  • Lack of image stabilization
  • Pronounced pincushion distortion
  • Autofocus quirks

The Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 is the company’s latest efforts in creating affordable, lightweight, and compact alternatives for Sony E mount shooters. In order to achieve this goal, Tamron had to forgo the 180mm-200mm zoom range as well as image stabilization. Obviously, the Tamron won’t punch in as far as Sony’s native 70-200mm lenses. During real-world tests, however, we found the missing zoom range to be negligible. Photographers shooting with high-resolution bodies such as the Sony A7R III or Sony A7R IV can easily crop in tighter in post. Doing so on lower resolution bodies may be more problematic though.

Overall, image quality produced by the Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 is good. Despite being lighter weight thanks to it’s plastic exterior, the Tamron features excellent weather sealing. It’s obviously won’t stand up to the same level of physical abuse as the G Master. Unless you plan on juggling the Tamron or using it as a bludgeoning weapon, take the weight savings and don’t worry too much about it. Autofocus performance is one area that the Tamron could do with some improvements. While it performed well during well-lit situations, low light/low contrast autofocusing performance was inconsistent and error-prone. Combined with its lack of stabilization, this could be a deal-breaker for photographers who shoot a lot of low light work. Hopefully, this is something that can be improved via firmware updates. Until lens profiles become available in Capture One, be prepared to do some distortion correction in post as well.

Despite these shortcomings, the value offered by Tamron’s 70-180mm f2.8 is undeniable. The Tamron costs less than half of what Sony’s 70-200mm f2.8 G Master goes for, and it’s also slightly cheaper than Sony’s 70-200mm f4 as well. It should be noted that both of Sony’s native offerings are stabilized, something that the Tamron lacks. All things considered, the Tamron 70-170mm f2.8 is a compelling telephoto zoom option for Sony E mount shooters on a budget.

The Tamron 70-180mm f2.8 Di III VXD telephoto zoom lens for Sony Full Frame E Mount earns four out of five stars. At $1,200, it’s an excellent value. It performs reliably overall, albeit with some autofocusing quirks and minor distortion. It’s available now from Amazon.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.