Now everyone can get the shake out with stabilized lenses.
The Anti-movement movement is finally in full throttle as independent lens makers have embraced image stabilization. It took them a few years to catch up to Canon and Nikon, but now Sigma, Tamron, and (soon) Tokina, are producing a torrent of favorably priced, image-stabilized zooms -- with more on the way. Who benefits? Every photographer who wants sharp pictures in low light and who is living on a budget. Ring a bell?
The technology goes by different names. Tamron calls it Vibration Compensation (VC); Sigma, Optical Stabilizer (OS). Whatever you call it, it's similar from maker to maker: Extremely sensitive lens barrel gyro sensors detect the tiny lens movements that result from a photographer's shaking hands. An internal lens element then shifts to compensate for those movements. The result: Sharper pictures in situations that otherwise would have shown the blurring effect of camera shake. With these lenses, you generally get up to 3 extra stops of handholdability, depending on the focal length and weight of the lens and how steady you are " to begin with.
Sigma started the flood last spring, stunning the photo world by simultaneously introducing three ambitious new optically stabilized lenses spanning a wide range from 18mm out to a supertele 500mm. Two -- the 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and the 150-500mm f/5-6.3 -- are full-frame format. These extra-long zooms reach out to the equivalent of 620mm and 750mm, respectively, on most DSLRs. Well-built and pro-caliber, these OS lenses clearly play for pro sports and wildlife shooters, who previously had to turn to Canon and Nikon for in-lens stabilization in a super long tele. (These new Sigmas are available in most lensmounts, but versions for Pentax and Sony DSLRs lack the OS, as those bodies provide sensor-based shake control.) And more OS lenses from Sigma are on the way.
Equally exciting, Tamron recently announced its latest superzoom, a 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 digital-only optic that boasts the longest zoom range of any such lens (15X), and built-in stabilization.
Meanwhile Tokina, the third major independent lens maker, so far without a stabilized offering, is making its move. Sources within Tokina confirm that the company is developing several vibration-controlled mid-to-long tele zooms. (We're guessing an f/2.8 for pros and a more favorably priced f/4-5.6 for the rest of us.) Release dates haven't been set as we go to press, but formal announcements are expected sometime after this fall's Photokina trade show in Germany.
While the latest generation of shake-reducing lenses from the independent lens makers share certain characteristics, many of these zooms also bring something new to the table. The pages that follow showcase the highlights of four that we've tested in the Pop Photo Lab; the not-yet-out Tamron 18-270mm is at right. (All descriptions are from our own tests and observations, except for that 18-270mm, whose specs were provided by Tamron.)
This summer, Tamron announced that it's extending its Vibration Compensation technology to APS-sensored DSLRs by coming out with an 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC digital-only zoom -- the broadest zoom range of any current DSLR optic.
TAMRON 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) Macro
• STREET PRICE: n.a. • FORMAT: Digital-only. • 35MM EQUIVALENT: Approx. 28-419mm. • CLOSE-FOCUS DISTANCE: 19.3 in. • MAX. MAGNIFICATION RATIO: 1:3.5. • FILTER SIZE: 72mm. • LENGTH: 3.8 in. (at 18mm). • WEIGHT: 1.21 lb. • MOUNTS: Canon, Nikon. • COMMENTS: This will be the first digital-only lens in its class with a huge 15X zoom range, making it more useful in more situations. It also uses a unique tri-axial system that Tamron says controls not only vertical and horizontal shake (like other stabilized lenses), but also diagonal movement. This lens should be ready for testing as you read this, and we will run a full test report as soon as we can. • COMPETITIVE SET: Nikon's 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR is the only lens we've tested that delivers 4 extra stops of sharpness, but it doesn't deliver the 15X range of the Tamron. Neither does Sigma's 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OS, though its Excellent SQF performance and total lack of vignetting at two of four tested focal lengths is hard to beat optically.