I’ve been writing about photography and camera gear for about ten years and in that time I’ve had the privilege of shooting with all sorts drool-worthy, piggy bank/ground-breaking cameras and lenses: the kind of gear I dreamed of one day owning as a kid.
But these days, what gets me most excited is not the gear with the highest price tag, most impressive specs or prettiest bokeh, but that which makes photography more accessible to the masses.
Tamron seems to be on a roll lately when it comes to conjuring up good glass with the budget-minded photographer in mind
Two years ago I chose Tamron’s 28-75mm F2.8 lenses for Sony E-mount ($800) as my gear of the year. And this time around I’m choosing Tamron’s 70-180mm F2.8 ($1200) for very similar reasons: It’s a well-priced, quality lens that answers the needs of customers. And Tamron seems to be on a roll lately when it comes to conjuring up good glass with the budget-focused photographer in mind.
|Belvedere was my muse during the early days of Covid. He still is.
ISO 100 | 1/2500 sec | F2.8 | 180mm | Shot on Sony a7R IV
Let’s be honest: most photographers out there are budget-minded, including myself. Which is why I take seriously any gear buying advice I give. Fortunately, lenses like this one make my job much less stressful. What follows is the nitty gritty of why I chose the Tamron 70-180mm F2.8 (and also why it may be the right lens for you!).
Up until recently, Sony shooters were in a tough spot when trying to choose a fast aperture zoom: go with the Sony FE 70-200 F4 ($1400), or smash the bank and grab the FE 70-200mm F2.8 ($2400) – the former is not quite as good as it should be (in my opinion), and the latter is quite pricey. But that all changed this past spring.
Up until recently, Sony shooters were in a tough spot when trying to choose a fast aperture zoom
It was May 2020, several weeks into the initial Covid-19 lockdown, when the recently announced Tamron 70-180mm F2.8 landed in our office and I eagerly collected it (masked up, of course). Many months of rainy Seattle weather were just finally giving way to long beautiful days of sunshine and perfect temperatures. Trapped in my apartment, I’d been getting my fix of feeling connected to the rest of the world by gazing off my balcony at the city around me. And I was eager to photographic something, anything!
There’s no in-lens image stabilization, but the Tamron still feels plenty stable thanks to Sony’s sensor-based IS.
I quickly ‘clicked’ with the lens when I got it home. Moving back and forth within my modest outdoor space, I set out to shoot an entire sample gallery filled with sunsets, flowers and puppy dogs – the kinds of things that make me happy. Right off the bat I found the lens snappy to focus and very nicely-built. Like Tamron’s 28-75mm F2.8, it’s weather-sealed, too: you’ll find gaskets around the lens mount, as well as internally.
Like spending time with an old friend, it’s fun, reliable and doesn’t impose
It’s also quite lightweight and compact, especially compared to other F2.8 full-frame zooms. This is in part because there’s no in-lens image stabilization, but also because it offers 20mm less reach than competitors. And while it is true that lens-based IS is more effective at telephoto lengths than sensor IS, I’ve found the lens plenty stable with IBIS-equipped Sony cameras even at 180mm.
But most importantly, this Tamron is optically impressive where it most counts: you’ll get sharp images at all focal lengths, even wide open. And lens coatings effectively control most instances of ghosting and flares, even when shooting into direct sunlight. Chromatic aberration is also well-controlled.
|At 70mm, the lens offers impressive close focus distances.
ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | F5.6 | 70mm | Shot on Sony a7R IV
What you won’t get from this lens is jaw-dropping sun stars or bokeh. On the other hand, it does offer excellent close-focus versatility. I’m an avid gardener and was pleased to find that at the wider end, the lens can focus as close as 0.27 m (0.9 ft), providing a 1:2 life-size reproduction, which is handy for macro-style work.
Tamron has once again hit the sweet spot in terms of price, design and features for Sony full-frame E-mount shooters
Ultimately, working with the 70-180mm felt like spending time with an old friend when I needed it most. Which is to say it’s fun, reliable and doesn’t impose, like a down-to-Earth pal who’s got your back. This lens may not be flashy, but it’s certainly no flake.
Tamron has once again hit the sweet spot in terms of price, design and features for Sony E-mount shooters (lucky ducks). And I applaud them. Cheers to more great glass for the masses! Now how about a version for Z and RF mounts next?