On Trial: Tam­ron 70-210mm F4.0 Di Vc Usd

Tam­ron remixes the ‘bread-and­but­ter’ tele­zoom to cre­ate a lens that com­bines both af­ford­abil­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity in equal mea­sures.

Camera - - CONTENTS - Paul Bur­rows Re­poRt by

Tam­ron’s f2.8-speed 70-200mm be­yond your bud­get? How about the new f4.0 70-210mm? That one stop of lens speed makes a lot of dif­fer­ence to the bot­tom line – as well as the size and weight – yet is hardly an is­sue in this era of high-sen­si­tiv­ity D-SLRs.

For a long time the per­ceived wis­dom when buy­ing a new ac­ces­sory lens was to go for the fastest max­i­mum aper­ture you could af­ford. This made a lot of sense when the fastest colour films were rated at ISO 1600, but were re­ally still much too grainy and flat for many, mak­ing ISO 800 the re­al­is­tic limit. Many pho­tog­ra­phers never ven­tured be­yond ISO 400 so large aper­tures were very handy in low­light sit­u­a­tions, es­pe­cially when shoot­ing hand-held.

To­day, ISO 800 is a stan­dard sen­si­tiv­ity set­ting for some pho­tog­ra­phers and, ir­re­spec­tive of sen­sor size, you can gen­er­ally range up to ISO 6400 with­out too many im­age qual­ity com­pro­mises. The best full-35mm sen­sor cam­eras are now per­form­ing ac­cept­ably well a ISO 12,800, 25,600 and even be­yond. So, while there are still other good rea­sons for us­ing a faster lens, see­ing in the dark isn’t one of them, and los­ing a stop or so of lens speed brings other ben­e­fits. For starters, the lens can be both smaller and lighter plus, per­haps even more im­por­tant for some, less ex­pen­sive. Large-di­am­e­ter lens el­e­ments are still very ex­pen­sive to make no mat­ter what process is used. So Tam­ron’s new f4.0-speed 70-210mm tele­zoom has quite a few at­trac­tions, es­pe­cially if its 70-200mm f2.8 G2 model is a bit be­yond your bud­get.

Let’s do a quick com­par­i­son be­tween these two lenses to see what a dif­fer­ence just one stop can make – the f4.0 lens is yours for $1299 ver­sus $2199 (so that’s a solid $900 saved). The f4.0 lens weighs in at just 850 grams ver­sus 1.49 ki­los for the 70-200mm f2.8 which is 191.3 mil­lime­tres in length ver­sus 174.0 mm. You’ll save a bit on fil­ter costs too, as the f4.0 has a 67 mm di­am­e­ter screwthread fit­ting ver­sus 77 mm for the f2.8 lens. Of course, we’re not sug­gest­ing the 70-200mm f2.8 lens isn’t worth aspir­ing to be­cause it’s an ex­cep­tional per­former, but if you can’t af­ford it or, per­haps more per­ti­nently, jus­tify spend­ing that amount of money, don’t de­spair be­cause there’s a very work­able al­ter­na­tive now at hand. And, into the bar­gain, there’s an ex­tra 10mm of tele­photo ‘power’ too, which gives an ex­act 3.0x zoom fac­tor.

in the hanD

The mo­ment you lift the Tam­ron 70-210mm f4.0 Di VC USD zoom you’ll no­tice the weight.

It’s not so much that it’s very light, but that it’s not quite the lump of lens you were ex­pect­ing. This bodes well for hand-held shoot­ing – es­pe­cially as there’s an op­ti­cal im­age sta­biliser in there as well – al­though a tri­pod-mount­ing col­lar is avail­able as a cost-ex­tra ac­ces­sory which is also the case with Tam­ron’s 100-400mm. While you’re al­most cer­tainly go­ing to need it with the longer tele­zoom, it’s prob­a­bly worth liv­ing with the 70-210mm f4.0 for a lit­tle while to see whether it’s likely to be quite so es­sen­tial here too.

What’s also im­me­di­ately no­tice­able is that, de­spite the light­weight de­sign and price tag, the 70-210mm f4.0 is still a very well-made lens. Not sur­pris­ingly, the bar­rel tubes are poly­car­bon­ate (the mount is stain­less steel), but the fit and fin­ish is very good with flush-fit­ting col­lars for fo­cus­ing and zoom which makes for a very clean ap­pear­ance. Bet­ter still, you get full weather seal­ing with a flu­o­rine coat­ing on the ex­posed sur­face of the front el­e­ment to help re­pel mois­ture and dirt. The ex­ter­nal man­i­fes­ta­tion of the weather pro­tec­tion is a beefy rub­ber gas­ket around the lens mount

You also get in­ter­nal fo­cus­ing and in­ter­nal zoom­ing so, no mat­ter what the set­tings, the bar­rel length al­ways stays the same and the front el­e­ment doesn’t ro­tate - which makes a big dif­fer­ence when us­ing ori­en­ta­tion-sen­si­tive fil­ters (such as a po­lariser or ND grads). It also makes for bet­ter bal­anced hand-held shoot­ing as the lens’s cen­tre-of-grav­ity never changes. Handy too, if you’re shoot­ing through wire fenc­ing.

As on the 70-200mm f2.8 model, the zoom­ing col­lar is lo­cated ahead of the fo­cus­ing con­trol which is also the same ar­range­ment now used on Nikon’s lat­est f2.8 lens, but the op­po­site of its f4.0 model and also Canon’s. The good news for Nikon D-SLRs own­ers, how­ever, is that the zoom col­lar ro­tates clock­wise which is the same as any Nikkor zoom. And the range from 70mm to 210mm is fully tra­versed in a quick 90-de­gree twist. The fo­cus­ing col­lar is me­chan­i­cal (i.e. not fly-by-wire) so it has quite a pos­i­tive feel and al­lows for fairly pre­cise ad­just­ment, al­though it will con­tinue to ro­tate past in­fin­ity – or the min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance – so you have to keep an eye on the fo­cus­ing scale.

What you don’t get is a fo­cus lim­iter which can be a great time saver when you’re only work­ing within a known dis­tance range.

Tak­ing Con­Trol

There are just two switches on the lens bar­rel – one for AF/MF switch­ing and one for ac­ti­vat­ing the op­ti­cal im­age sta­biliser (which Tam­ron calls ‘Vi­bra­tion Com­pen­sa­tion’). There’s no zoom lock be­cause you don’t need it with this type of zoom­ing mech­a­nism. Tam­ron says the sta­biliser is ef­fec­tive for up to four stops of cor­rec­tion for cam­era shake. Aut­o­fo­cus­ing is per­formed via an ul­tra­son­i­cally-pulsed ring-type drive (‘USD’ in Tam­ron par­lance) with a min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance of 95 cen­time­tres. At 210mm, this de­liv­ers a max­i­mum mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ra­tio of 1:3.1 so, al­though it can’t re­ally be con­sid­ered a macro, this lens still has rea­son­ably use­ful close-up ca­pa­bil­i­ties, even when shoot­ing fairly small ob­jects. Thanks to the ring-type mo­tor, a full-time aut­o­fo­cus over­ride is avail­able by sim­ply turn­ing the man­ual fo­cus col­lar.

Dual high-per­for­mance mi­cro­pro­ces­sors separately han­dle the num­ber-crunch­ing for the aut­o­fo­cus­ing and the im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion which has ben­e­fits in terms of the speeds of both. The 70-210mm f4.0 is com­pat­i­ble with Tam­ron’s op­tional ‘Tap-in Con­sole’ USB dock which en­ables firmware up­grades, but also al­lows for ad­just­ment of the im­age sta­biliser (the op­er­at­ing mode can be changed) and also the re­spon­sive­ness of the full­time man­ual fo­cus­ing over­ride. Ob­vi­ously though, this ex­tra con­trol also in­volves an ex­tra cost, but it’s worth think­ing about, es­pe­cially if you’re reg­u­larly shoot­ing cer­tain types of sports.

The zoom’s op­ti­cal con­struc­tion com­prises 20 el­e­ments in 14 groups with three of these el­e­ments made from glass with ex­tra-low dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics to cor­rect to cor­rect for both ax­ial and lat­eral chro­matic aber­ra­tions. The di­aphragm has nine blades which gives a more rounded aper­ture and hence smoother out-of-fo­cus ef­fects. On both the Canon and Nikon mount ver­sions, the di­aphragm is elec­tro­mag­net­i­cally con­trolled which en­sures bet­ter frame-toframe ex­po­sure uni­for­mity with con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing.

Per­for­manCe

We’ve al­ready seen that, me­chan­i­cally, the Tam­ron 70-210mm f4.0 per­forms well for a tele­zoom lens that is so af­ford­able, and it’s pretty well the same story in op­ti­cal terms too.

You can’t ex­pect ev­ery­thing for this sort of money so let’s get the main gripes out of the way first. Cen­tre sharp­ness is good across the fo­cal range, but there’s a fairly marked fall-off to­wards the cor­ners when shoot­ing at 210mm and es­pe­cially at the clos­est fo­cus­ing dis­tances which is a bit of a pity. Stop­ping down to be­tween f8.0 and f16 def­i­nitely helps, but the cor­ners still look a bit soft no mat­ter what. Other­wise, the uni­for­mity of cen­tre-to-cor­ner sharp­ness is very good – even when us­ing f4.0 – and cer­tainly with close-up fo­cus­ing be­tween 70mm and 150mm. Op­ti­mum sharp­ness is de­liv­ered be­tween f5.6 and f16. Of course, the cor­ner sharp­ness is a whole lot bet­ter if you’re us­ing an ‘APS-C’ for­mat D-SLR which turns the Tam­ron into a 105-315mm (with a fo­cal length mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 1.5x)… and still in a very man­age­able pack­age.

You still get full weather seal­ing with a flu­o­rine coat­ing on the ex­posed sur­face of the front el­e­ment to help re­pel mois­ture and dirt.

Slight fo­cus ‘breath­ing’ also oc­curs which re­sults in a small change in the fo­cal length (and so also the an­gle-ofview and mag­ni­fi­ca­tion) as the fo­cus­ing dis­tance is ad­justed. The di­rec­tion of the shift varies ac­cord­ing to a lens’s op­ti­cal de­sign and here the fo­cal length in­creases as the fo­cus­ing dis­tance gets shorter (and so de­creases as it gets longer). Not sur­pris­ingly, it’s most no­tice­able at the 210mm fo­cal length, but hap­pens to some ex­tent right across the fo­cal range. Most zoom lenses do it (and even some primes) and it’s not so much of an is­sue with stills pho­tog­ra­phy, but can be an­noy­ing when shoot­ing video.

Some bright­ness fall-off or vi­gnetting is ev­i­dent when shoot­ing at any fo­cal length with the widest aper­ture, but it’s markedly re­duced at f5.6 and com­pletely gone by f8.0. Dis­tor­tion is min­i­mal with very slight bar­rel-type bend­ing at 70mm which be­comes slight pin­cush­ion-bend­ing by 210mm, but it’s rarely go­ing to be no­tice­able. Com­mend­ably, this lens is ex­cep­tion­ally well cor­rected for chro­matic aber­ra­tions which, con­se­quently, are ex­tremely hard to spot any­where in the frame. Flare can be an is­sue with strong side light­ing, but the sup­plied lens hood pro­vides ef­fec­tive shad­ing.

We used the lens on a num­ber of Nikon D-SLR bod­ies, both ‘DX’ (i.e. ‘APS-C’) and FX (full-35mm) for­mat, and the aut­o­fo­cus­ing was fast and re­li­able ev­ery time. The AF pro­cess­ing and drive are cer­tainly re­spon­sive enough to main­tain the sub­ject track­ing speeds we’d ex­pect with Nikon’s own prod­ucts. The im­age sta­biliser op­er­a­tion is also fast enough to min­imise the jumpi­ness which can other­wise make viewfind­ing a bit dis­con­cert­ing. Just as well, re­ally, be­cause with­out the Tap-in Con­sole, there’s only the one stan­dard IS mode. The USB dock of­fers the ad­di­tional two modes that are avail­able on the 70-200mm f2.8 G2 lens (i.e. for pan­ning – with the lens de­tect­ing the ori­en­ta­tion – and for en­gag­ing IS only for the ex­po­sure rather than also when viewfind­ing).

The Ver­dicT

Add the op­tional tri­pod col­lar and USB dock and the price of the Tam­ron 70210mm f4.0 starts to creep up, but many po­ten­tial users may not need either. We tested the 100-400mm en­tirely hand-held even in very low light predawn con­di­tions, re­ly­ing on very high ISO set­tings in­stead and, be­ing faster, the 70-210mm can easily be flown this way too. And, of course, you can buy either ac­ces­sory later on.

What you get straight out of the box is a very well-made lens that de­liv­ers the very ver­sa­tile 70-210mm fo­cal range in a pack­age that’s both com­fort­able and ef­fi­cient to use. The weath­er­proof­ing, op­ti­cal im­age sta­biliser and pretty good close-up fo­cus­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties fur­ther add to the lens’s all-round use­abil­ity. Over­all, the per­for­mance is solid too, in­clud­ing the aut­o­fo­cus­ing (as per our ex­pe­ri­ence with Nikon D-SLR bod­ies) and the level of cor­rec­tion for both dis­tor­tion and aber­ra­tions. Af­ford­abil­ity is again the main at­trac­tion, but as we’ve seen with a num­ber of re­cent new lenses from Tam­ron, it doesn’t come at the cost of too many com­pro­mises.

Tri­pod mount­ing col­lar is op­tional, but given this lens’s ex­cel­lent hand-hold­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics, many po­ten­tial users may not of­ten need to re­sort to us­ing a tri­pod. As with the 100-400mm’s op­tional col­lar, the mount­ing plate is an Arca-Swiss type (BTW, the two com­po­nents aren’t the same).

Ex­ter­nal de­sign sports a smart matte black fin­ish. ‘VC’ ini­tials in the model name in­di­cate op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion is in­side (plus, in­ci­den­tally, in­ter­nal zoom­ing and fo­cus­ing).

Ex­posed sur­face of the front el­e­ment has a flu­o­rine coat­ing to help bet­ter re­pel mois­ture and dirt.

Weather seal­ing mea­sures in­clude a sub­stan­tial rub­ber gas­ket around the lens mount.

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