Aug 16, 2013

Thanda and the new Tamron (SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD)

EOS 7D; Tamron 70-200mm @200mm; 1/350th; f/2.8; ISO 200
In June I decided to buy the new Tamron 70-200 f/2.8. Clearly I had agonised over the decision for months. As alway when buying more equipment, the key governing factors can be broken down into three categories. First is always budget. Second is need, and third is performance. It is a three-way seesaw.

EOS 7D; Sigma 18-50mm @40mm; 1/90th; f/11; ISO 100
Budget is self explanatory so I'll move right onto need. As photographers we are a very needy group of people. The manufacturers love us. We are so easy to hook into upgrading, expanding and spending. Need is not the same as want. I want a EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM. Can I continue to work as a professional photographer without one? Of course! When you have sorted out your budget, buying a new lens is all about balancing the budget against what serves you and your photography best. As an aspiring sports photographer, a 10-20mm lens might not be your best choice if you lack a lens with a bit of reach. Would the 10-20mm be nice? Yes! Would you probably get some decent sports images to expand your portfolio. For sure! But a longer focal length, given your aspirations and dominant type of photography will probably prove to be a better investment.

Thirdly, you have to balance the performance of the lens against your type of photography and shooting conditions. If you are even a little bit aspiring, lens performance and quality are important. Personally I do a very mixed bag of work from journalism and editorial type shoots to fine art and commercial photography. A relatively generous share of work is under poor lighting conditions. I do a lot of theater and performance shooting and other work in poorly lit galleries and in-doors. So fast lenses are important as is quick and responsive autofocus. IS/VR/VC/OC (image stabilization/ vibration reduction/ vibration compensation/ optical stabilizer) is also a must and (budget aside) you would be silly now days to consider anything less.

So it was with some concern that I read reviews on the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 that suggested that the lens' focus was a bit slower than its twice the price canon counter part. From what I read quality was on a par, even better some people suggested. For some 'commentors' the slower responsive time was unnoticeable or negligible. Nobody, from what I read, came out particularly strongly against the lens' supposed slowness. I am a canon user and was spoilt back in the day when canon cleaned up the competition gamboling faster focus against changing their lens mount. So I gamboled a little too. I reasoned that the 'less responsive' tamron, when compared to the canon would be negligible. If the argument is merely a matter of hundreths of a second then it is marketing hoo haa and would bring little to bear to the detriment of my photography.

So I got the Tamron. And was I right? The answer is no. Having used the Canon 70-200 f2.8 II and now the Tamron I can tell you that the Tamron's slugishness is indeed noticeable. Not all the time, but in bad light, which is when I do quite a bit of photography (and when you need the rapid responsiveness the most) the Tamron takes a bit. In good light it is, in my opinion, on a par, but with strong back light the lens hunts far more readily than I am used to with the Canon version.

So what is the verdict? Do I regret buying the lens? Absolutely not. Do I wish it was a little quicker and a little more responsive? Yes I do. Will I still be able to work professionally and capture quality images that my clients love? Absolutely. I am a HUGE believer in working within your means. Too many photographers are too quick to blame their equipment (or lack thereof). Students of mine constantly claim to not be able to shoot sport or theater because they don't have an image stabilized lens. So I see red and remind them that the dawn of sport and theater photography did not begin when manufacturers brought in IS/VR/VC/OC or the like.

Below are some images taken during a recent wildlife and landscape photography workshop conducted in the Thanda private nature reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. Thanks to team 'Girl Power' for their enthusiasm, eagerness and humour.

Team Thanda- June 2013, 'Girl Power'. Light painting with fill-in flash and torchlight. Canon EOS 7D; Sigma 18-50mm @ 18mm; 30 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200

EOS 7D; Tamron 70-200mm @200mm; 1/350th; f/4.5; ISO 100

A particular highlight of this photo workshop was meeting up with two, otherwise shy male Nyala antelope. Normally the males are solitary and retire in thick bush. During territorial disputes males engage in the most beautiful high-heeled, circular dance, heads lilted, fur fluffed and horns ready. EOS 7D; Tamron 70-200mm @152mm; 1/180th; f/2.8; ISO 800

EOS 7D; Tamron 70-200mm @152mm; 1/1000th; f/4.5; ISO 400

EOS 7D; Sigma 18-50mm @20mm; 1/45th; f/4; ISO 100


  1. Have you found any difference in the focusing speed since you upgraded the 7Ds firmware?

  2. With the firmware upgrade there is certainly some improvement for sure. This said, apples and apples are still apples. The Tamron is still slightly sluggish when compared directly against the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 II. Upgrading my firmware did narrow the gap though.

  3. How is the sharpness when at 100% viewing I'm also thinking of getting

  4. How is the sharpness when at 100% viewing I'm also thinking of getting