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When I review lenses I take a look at who they are built for. I realize not every DPS reader wants to lug around a 5lb lens worth a couple month’s rent. While I love my main lens, it’s not for everyone and I’d be a fool to tell you you should buy it if you just want a portrait lens.
With that mentality in mind, I took a look at the Tamron 18-270mm after they sent me a review copy. Was it going to become my new pro lens of choice? No, and that’s not who it is built for.
Who it is built for, in my opinion, is anyone who loves to travel but doesn’t want to carry a quiver full of lenses for most occasions (read: heavy bag). Any zoom lens is a compromise as compared to a prime, or fixed focal length, lens and the limits of optics are a fierce field in the photography industry. An industry that didn’t see a competent 18-200mm lens until a couple of decades ago, is now seeing the limits pushed further with this 15X zoom entry.
Length:96.4mm (3.8 inches)
Weight: 450g (15.4oz)
Filter Size: 62mm
Minimum Focus Distance: .49m (19.3 inches)
Current street price: $600 (Amazon currently have it for $585 via the links above and below)
To test this lens, I took it with me on a couple of trips. First was a six week combination photo tour and personal trip to Nepal, Bhutan and India. Next followed three weeks in Peru. If this isn’t travel testing a lens, I don’t know what is. If you are looking for benchmark laboratory results, I suggest you check out DXO Mark. They have great stats for the tech-minded folks who want clean-room results. I tested this lens in dirty, hot, high altitude and often wet conditions and I am not an optic specialist. Just someone who relies on optics to make a living.
Let me state for the record that the Tamron 18-270mm is not perfect. It’s a zoom lens after all, and as I mentioned, all zoom lenses compromise. This lens is meant to cover a very wide range and is built for DX or APS-C sensor cameras (or crop-sensor camera…or a number of other terms, just not full sensor frame cameras). I include many test shots below and each links to a full sized copy you may download and pixel peep if that helps you. I performed very little editing on each image, just the basics from knowing how my camera presents images, so you can get an idea of what’s possible. I also included some less than stellar shots to show the lens’ limits.
In the hand, the lens feels solid but light. It is not made from all glass and that helps the weight, which comes in at just one pound. This is common in lenses of this range and you have to spend nearly twice as much before finding a lens that has more heft and solid elements. Controls on the lens are simple and I appreciate the zoom lock the lens will drop forward without the lock if carried with the lens pointing at the ground. The zoom has a smooth feel from 18mm until about 50mm and then there is a bit more resistance in the control ring. It’s not as smooth from 50mm-270mm as it could be, but it is not a hindrance. When in manual focus mode, the focus ring is light and easy to move and care must be taken not to bump it, it’s that easy to use. The last control on the lens is the Vibration Control (VC) switch and that is simply “On” or “Off”
Tamron claims the VC is good for up to four stops of vibration reduction and it’s my guess that is in a test lab with certain acceptable parameters. In real life, I found the VC helped by about the standard stop to two stops. I pushed the lens in a couple of case to four stops and it simply did not perform in creating sharp images, such as knowing I had a good shot at 1/100 and 50mm without VC and then taking the shutter speed down to 1/6 to see what would happen. Hand holding at 1/6 is tough by any standards and I was calm and steady as I could be, but the results were not satisfactory. However, when I dropped to 1/25th (being one stop under the rule-of-thumb 1/focal length slowest speed) the results were in line with other lens’ ability to reduce vibration blur. So in that regard, while my test didn’t show four stops of VC, I think it may be in the wording on Tamron’s part how they define the starting point. In my book, this lens performed as well as others for its ability to reduce lens shake with VC on. It is a useful feature.
In the field the lens returned above average results for the price range and zoom ability. It’s hard to find a comparable lens to test it against. So I used the standard criteria of, “Would I suggest this lens to a friend?” In that regard, yes, yes I would suggest it to a friend who is thinking of traveling and isn’t looking to sell 24”x36” prints to art galleries. I liked the image quality even though it was not stellar because not everyone is looking for professional level results. If they did, we’d all have $3000 lenses and $8000 bodies. Take a look at the images below and tell me what you think. As this lens pushes 15x zoom, there is some noticeable distortion, especially at the edges (as expected), but it is well within the acceptable range for me. This distortion is least noticeable in the middle range of the zoom.
This lens fits a niche. That niche is people who love to travel or who want only one lens for taking shots of their kids, be they near or far. The aperture is about standard for other lenses close to this range (I’d love to see the top end brought down to f/5.6 instead of f/6.3). The focus isn’t lightning fast as high-end L lenses but it is solid, accurate and the casual tourist will enjoy it. It makes micro adjustments easily once it is locked on and subjects move. I didn’t find it to hunt during any of my tests except for in the lowest of lighting conditions when every lens hunts.
The bottom line for me with a lens like this; would I suggest it to my parents if they were, “…going on a trip and we don’t want to mess around with a bunch of different lenses. We just want something that works well for scenic shots but also can zoom in for details”? Yes, I would. The lens is well suited for the vacationing family who doesn’t want to take up room or weight with a professional lens but still wants versatility in their equipment. Just don’t expect the VC to help you by four stops, stick with the 1/focal length rule and you’ll do fine.
Below are a number of examples taken while on the road. Clicking an image will bring up a full size image which may be a large file. Actually, it WILL be a large file. Don’t forget to check out DXO Mark for more laboratory data. All images shot with a Canon 7D and are handheld unless noted.