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Among pros, image-stabilized 70–200mm f/2.8 full-frame zooms have become must-own glass. They’re in Canon ($2,499, street), Nikon ($2,397), Sigma ($1,399), and now Tamron’s catalogs ($1,499), and we see them at weddings, sporting events, in portrait studios, and in backpacks. Tamron’s version includes four elements of low-dispersion and one of extra low-dispersion glass. Another boast: Its Vibration Control has been redesigned for better performance.

Not for the faint of wrist, this 3.32 pounder is actually several ounces lighter and about a quarter-inch shorter than the competition. Its nonrotating front ring is nice for lens-mounted filters; the 130-degree manual focus turn is just about perfect (although at a little over a half inch, the MF ring is small); the build is robust, with rubber cowling at the lens mount. There’s no depth-of-field scale, though. (The comparable Sigma has two.)

In the field, we were bowled over by the near-silent USD focusing motor. On our Canon EOS 5D Mark III, AF was rapid, silent, and sure. On our optical test bench, the lens produced Excellent-range SQF numbers for sharpness and contrast at 70mm and 135mm. Like most zooms in this category, though, it dipped to Very Good at 200mm. (Only the Nikon held onto top sharpness at 200mm.)

In our DxO Analyzer 4.1 tests, distortion control proved best in its class: it produced only Slight distortion at 70mm and 200mm (0.11% barrel and 0.18% pincushion, respectively) and Imperceptible (0.09%) pincushioning at 135mm.

In our tests, three users averaged about 3.5 stops of additional handheld sharpness. Tempted by the nonstabilized version? It is a half-pound lighter, costs half as much, offers much more subject magnification, and takes sharper images at 200mm. But you’d miss out on a whole lot of handheld shooting. For us, money aside, it’s a no-brainer.

70–200mm (68.68–196.11mm tested), f/2.8 (f/2.70 tested), 23 elements in 17 groups. Focus ring turns 130 degrees. Zoom ring turns 70 degrees. Focal length marked at 70-, 100-, 135-, and 200mm.
Diagonal view angle: 34–12 degrees.
Weight: 3.32 lbs. Filter size: 77mm.
Mounts: Canon AF, Nikon AF, Sony AF.
Included: Lenshood, tripod collar.
Street price: $1,499.
Website: tamron-usa.com

Distortion: At 70mm, 0.11% (Slight) barrel. At 135mm, 0.09% (Imperceptible) pincushion. At 200mm, 0.18% (Slight) pincushion.
Light falloff: Gone by f/4 at three tested focal lengths.
Close-focus distance: 45.83 inches.
Maximum magnification ratio: At 70mm, 1:13.50. At 135mm, 1:8.36. At 200mm, 1:6.75.
Image Stabilization: Average of 3.5 stops for three unique users.

The focus in this photo is on the purple ball ornament to the left of this frame. The light was coming from a large window to the right of the scene. We’ll have to test it in the lab, of course, but right out of the box it seemed pretty sharp. Popular Photography

Back at Photokina, Tamron announced their intentions to release a new 70-200mm F/2.8 VC lens and they’ve made good on that promise. I spent some time shooting with the new lens on a fresh-out-of-the-box Canon EOS 6D. All of the images were shot in JPEG mode with standard image settings. Click the links for full-resolution images, but make sure you’re on WiFi, as the files are up to 10 MB.

Tech specs Aperture: F/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec. Focal Length: 200mm ISO: 1600

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A group of pidgeons sitting on some power lines in the late afternoon. Popular Photography

Sadly, the birds didn’t feel like doing any flying during the 15 minutes or so I had to photograph them for a hardcore speed test, but the focusing is very quiet, which is a plus.

Tech specs Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec. Focal Length: 129mm ** **ISO: 200

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A rusted piece of metal and a mailbox shot in the shade. Popular Photography

You can get a sense of the fine detail capabilities in the intricate rust areas.

Tech specs Aperture: F/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec. Focal Length: 177mm ISO: 200

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An aging gas tank shot in late afternoon in direct sun. Popular Photography

Shot wide open to prevent the cluttered background from becoming too distracting.

Tech specs Aperture: F/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec Focal Length: 200 ISO: 200

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A collection of old barrels shot in late afternoon. Popular Photography

The lettering on the barrels is impressively sharp.

Tech specs Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec. Focal Length: 200 ISO: 200

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A group of plants blowing in the late afternoon wind. Popular Photography

The focus is on the plants to the left of the center of the frame.

Tech specs Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/640th Focal Length: 200 ISO: 200

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A piece of heavy machinery. Popular Photography

Tech specs Aperture: F/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/2000 sec Focal Length: 200mm ISO: 200

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A basketball backboard shot at F/8 for maximum sharpness and to give the VC a little bit of a test. Popular Photography

We’ll have a full report on the vibration compensation in our lab test.

Tech specs Aperture: F/8 Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec. Focal Length: 200mm ISO: 200

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A fire hydrant shot with strong backlight. Popular Photography

Note that the flare was kept to a minimum and the nice circular bokeh on the specular highlight in the background.

Tech specs Aperture: F/4 Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec Focal Length: 200 ISO: 100

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A portrait shot with the sun directly at the subject’s back. Popular Photography

In this one, you can clearly see the flare happening, but I actually find it kind of appealing. The loss of contrast is a bit much, though. This was shot without the included lens hood.

Tech specs Aperture: F/4 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec Focal Length: 117mm ISO: 100

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Zoomed all the way in on a tree in direct sunlight. Popular Photography

Click the next slide to see it zoomed all the way out. The 1/80 sec. shutter speed seemed just fine thanks to the VC

Tech specs Aperture: F/8 Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec. Focal Length: 200mm ISO: 100

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Zoomed all the way out, it seems like the focal range is a bit shorter than I’d expect a 70-200mm lens to be. Popular Photography

We’ll have to test it for sure in our lab, but it didn’t have that 70-200mm feel I’m used to. Looks like the folks over at Lensrentals found the same thing.

Tech specs Aperture: F/8 Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec. Focal Length: 70mm ISO: 100

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