Review – Tamron 70-300mm lens

Recently I bought a Canon EOS 450D from Jessops. They were running a bundle deal, and it came with a Canon 18-55mm lens and a Tamron 70-300mm lens.

The long zoom was quite an important aspect to me, since I had upgraded from a Fuji S9600, with a huge range in focal lengths.

I’ve now owned the camera for a couple of weeks and I’ve had a chance to play with it a bit. Of course a fortnight isn’t nearly enough time to fully understand everything about a complicated device such as a DSLR, but I’ve tried a few things with it.

This review in particular is about the Tamron lens.

Obviously you don’t expect wonders from the cheapest lens in its class, but I am still quite disappointed. The S9600 was a jack of all trades (and master of none) and showed weaknesses at both ends of its range of focal lengths. That said, the whole camera cost around £200 and can now be bought for significantly less than £200. I think that represents fantastic value for money. During my 23-month ownership of it, I’ve taken about 10,000 photos. On average, that’s more than one every two hours!

Given that the Tamron lens on its own costs almost as much as the entire Fuji camera, I had hoped for significantly better images. Never mind.

At the shorter focal lengths, it’s OK. Nothing to write home about, but it’s fine. I took these self portraits at a focal length of 70mm and they seem OK.

But when you start to zoom in, the problems get worse. Some of this should have been obvious from reading the box – its largest aperture at 300mm is f/5.6, which is pretty slow. To make matters worse, there is no image stabilisation. You can’t complain about this – it says it on the box and if you want a fast lens, you have to pay more for it.

But I wasn’t at all pleased with the optical quality at 300mm. Take, for example, this photo of some distant horses. The first photo is the full image, and the second one has been cropped to show detail. Neither photo has had any other editing.

Horses in Hartshill
Horses in Hartshill

The first thing you might see is that the focus is very soft. It wasn’t camera shake because the sun was out and I used a tripod. The autofocus just seems to struggle at long focal lengths.

But then look at the chromatic aberration around the white horses. It makes the image look pretty terrible.

I also tried taking some photos of the moon last night, also at 300mm. As before with the horses, it couldn’t autofocus properly. The low light conditions made it much worse and the image was so blurry that there was no definiton on the surface of the moon.

I flipped the lens into manual focus mode where I was able to hugely improve the focussing. Unfortunately it seems in manual focus, as you approach infinite focus, the moon becomes sharper, but for the last little bit of the travel the lens goes beyond infinite focus and makes a garbage image. Not good at all.

In the end, this is the best I could manage. Here I used manual focus, spot metering and I’ve cropped the image afterwards.

The moon

It’s OK, but I’ve managed a better photo of the moon with my S9600.

I’m not sure if my lens in particular is faulty, or if these lenses are all equally bad. But I am very unimpressed with the results, even for a budget lens. Given how much more the 450D and this lens cost than the S9600, there is no excuse.

Tamron’s own website says:

Perfect 2nd lens for your DSLR kit

So they are certainly admitting that it shouldn’t be your primary lens. However I would also hesitate to say it’s “perfect” for anything.

My advice would be to avoid this lens, unless you’re on a particularly tight budget, or you don’t plan to use the higher end of the zoom range. Be prepared to switch off the autofocus, and focus manually if sharpness matters. Get a Canon telephoto lens if you can.

Update

I may have been a bit hasty in my critical review. As I said in my comment below, I had another go today at taking a few photos with the lens.

First here’s a chimney stack at full zoom, and a cropped version below.

Chimney stack at 300mm
Chimney stack at 300mm (crop)

As you can see, the focus is very sharp. There is a little aberration, but that’s expected from a cheap lens.

This photo of the seagull was also taken at full zoom. The autofocus can be pretty slow going from one end of the focus to the other, but if you focus on a similar object first, it’s much faster. In this case, fast enough to get a lock on a swooping seagull.

Seagull

Yes, it’s not perfect – but it’s acceptable for the price. I’m going to keep this lens and see what I can achieve with it 🙂

6 Comments

  1. Stu
    March 23, 2010
    Reply

    Lenses do sometimes have a problem where they focus just in front of, or just behind the intended point on auto. It would be worth doing a bit of research and see if you have a bad one, or if they’re all like it… Tamron may accept it back if it’s a wild one.

    I think that infinity focus is rarely right on the end stop of the ring. It’s usually just back a little bit. All of my L lenses are like that, anyway – about 5mm back from the end stop on the distance indicator.

    But… as you have shown, softness and chromatic aberration are not good.

    I briefly used a very long Sigma (150-500mm f5-6.3) and found it to be excellent. Costs around £700 but results are sharp with good colour.

  2. Jonathan
    March 23, 2010
    Reply

    Thanks for the tips, Stu. I’ll read some reviews and see if I’ve just got a duffer.

    Other things I didn’t mention in the review – autofocus is sloooow and makes a lot of noise. I’m thinking of exchanging it for a Canon 75-300mm USM lens. They are said to be faster and quieter.

  3. Jonathan
    March 26, 2010
    Reply

    Hmm, well maybe I was a bit harsh on the Tamron lens at first. Today I took some more test pictures from my balcony, including a picture of a distant TV aerial (which came out pin-sharp) and some photos of some birds in flight. These were all focussed properly.

    So I think I just had bad luck with the horses. It seems that sometimes the autofocus, as Stu mentioned, doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s worth checking that the area you wanted is in focus, and be prepared to make it autofocus a couple of times.

    Clearly, it’s not the best lens in the world, and I’d still recommend people to buy Canon lenses where possible. But I don’t think this lens is quite as awful as I first said, and probably pretty good value given that I paid £99.99 for it, when bought with a bundle.

  4. Jonathan
    September 30, 2010
    Reply

    @Chris

    Thanks for your feedback. Your shots have certainly turned out well, so I think I was either unlucky, or hasty, with my original criticism. I’ve now owned the Tamron lens for quite a few months, and I enjoy using it. When it’s focussed properly it does produce a good image – it’s just a case of being patient and probably using a tripod.

    My biggest gripe to date is that the autofocus is incredibly slow, and makes capturing moving subjects quite difficult. I guess this isn’t a problem in the case of the moon 🙂

  5. Robert Woodhall
    December 19, 2010
    Reply

    Many thanks Jonathan on your feedback on the70 300, I also had a Fuji S9600 for 2 years and loved it, I sold it and got a Nikon D5000, and I also have a Tameron 70mm 300mm,
    I am not really happy with it for the same reasons you give softness and chromatic aberration , I thought it may be my lens and or worse my camera, but you have the same issues, but for £125 I am not to upset, A good friend gave me one of his Nikon Lenses and you can see the quality in the shots, so you get what you pay for, I have had some stunning shots from it as long as the conditions are right, good light, or your using a trypod as I take a lot of bird shots.

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