Review: Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC Lens

I remember when I began my photography passion, obsession some 17 years ago. Even then I can recall wanting the newest and the best equipment. To me, at that time, equipment was more important than anything else. I have since learned that training and experience is vastly superior to camera bodies and lenses. However, when I was younger I equated expensive gear with great results.

My first big lens purchase was a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L lens. I soon realized prime lenses were sharper than any zoom, so I bought a few primes. I shot everything with prime lenses, unless I was on holiday and then I would bring my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. Which was a brilliant lens, but for me, didn’t produce sharp enough results for anything other than holiday snaps. That was sold and a few more Canon L primes were bought. When I entered the field of wedding and event photography I tried using prime lenses for an entire year and found myself struggling markedly. It was a case of trying to obtain the sharpest images possible while also obtaining the images my clients wanted on the day. Using primes for wedding and event photography just doesn’t work. Not with my style of shooting anyway.

Shot with my 1st Canon 24-70mm f2.8 in 2006 on Canon 1D Mark II N

So, knowing I needed to sacrifice quality for obtaining the right shots, I began looking for a zoom lens that covered a large range from semi-wide to semi-telephoto and my natural choices were with a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L version I or version II and the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens. I did what everyone does when looking for new equipment, I turned to the internet. I watched all the comparison videos and looked at all the major photography websites that did comparisons.

It was clear to me that the new Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens was the king of the mountain. The absolutely best mid-range zoom you could buy. But, like all things in photography, it wasn’t. This new chap, the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens was half the price and had vibration control, Image Stabilization to us Canon shooters.

In my younger days I wouldn’t have given the Tamron a second glance. I would have simply gone for the lens that was the most expensive and optically the best. Which, there is very little question, the Canon is. But, when you make your living as a professional photographer, suddenly the most expensive doesn’t sound that great. It lowers your profit margin and at some point you have to look at what the best gear is for you. I decided on the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens and I haven’t looked back.

Shot with the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC Lens - Razor Sharp Middle!

Be warned, this is not a comparison between the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens and the Tamron, that has been done numerous times. This is a review of the one I chose, why I chose it and what the results have been since. Nothing infuriates me more than seeing a comparison website giving us samples of wrist watches and car wheels as examples of what a lens or camera can do. So I aim in this review to show you real life results, captured on the job, a job I was paid to do.

Right, so let’s get into it; why should you buy this lens?

What I like about the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens:

1. It is one of the sharpest lenses I have ever used. I’m not comparing zooms and primes here. This lens is razor sharp in the middle.

2. The Vibration Control is at least as good as Canon’s Image Stabilization if not a bit better. I have handheld this in dimly lit churches at 1/10th of a second with nearly tack sharp results at 100%. Nobody can produce a tack sharp image at 1/10th of a second handheld regardless of what they say. But it was sharp enough to look sharp on the screen. Which is good enough for most purposes.

3. I like the weight of this lens and the feel of it. It feels just like an L lens.

4. It’s weather sealed and even with some of the expensive L primes that isn’t always the case… uh hmm… Canon 35mm f1.4 for instance.

5. The lens hood goes on tightly and stays there.

6. There is limited vignetting, even though I love a bit of vignetting, I know some don’t.

7. There is a lens lock. Not that I ever use it, but it’s there for when you’re walking around don’t want it zooming in and out on it’s own.

8. It has a 5 year warranty. Much longer than Canon’s. However, having owned Nikon previously, their 5 year warranty came in handy, I used it twice on one lens. Whereas I have never had an issue with any Canon L lens. That is neither here nor there, but just something to think about. Do they give a 5 year warranty because they know something will happen, or do they do it just to be nice and they’re charitable?

9. The focus seems very quick and I’ve not noticed any lag like some other reviewers have.

What I dislike about the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens:

1. The zoom rotates in the wrong direction for Canon. It rotates the zoom right to left instead of left to right like Canon’s lenses. Meaning, if you have all Canon lenses and you change to the Tamron mid-wedding, or you have the Tamron on another body you will inevitably try and zoom left to right and it won’t let you. It only takes a second, but in that split second you could miss a crucial shot.

2. I truly hate how soft this lens is at the corners at f2.8. It’s not just the corners that are affected, it’s anything outside the middle. You wouldn’t notice on most shots, but try taking a group shot that fills the frame and you’ll see Aunt Bessie on the side, outside the middle, totally soft. “Well, just use a smaller aperture” you might say. Fair enough, but sometimes, you’re just shooting too quickly and you forget, or in England especially, you just don’t have enough light to go f5.6 or f8 and when you get home and put them on the big screen, they’re just not sharp outside the middle.

3. Lens distortion at 24mm is appalling. Doing group shots I have to straighten the image out in PS and sometimes I just can’t get everything to line up correctly. So it constantly looks like the people are leaning to one side, but the building, or whatever is in the background is straight. It’s a weird effect and I find it off-putting.

4. All of those issues are minor, really. 10 years ago I would have thought this lens was the best lens in the world. It’s an incredible machine and I’ve taken some of my best photos with it. However, this lens lacks one major thing. An almost intangible thing, really. A certain je ne sais quoi that Canon L glass has that this does not. I cannot define it and I certainly cannot show you in any sample images. Let us just say that, even with the old Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L lens you felt like a National Geographic photographer. In fact, when I first purchased that lens back in 2006 and I went to Europe with it and took my first few shots, I said to myself, “Ah! That’s how National Geographic photographers get their shots.” All L glass has that je ne sais quoi. That certain something that you can’t explain and is wholly intangible. That being said, I still believe the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens is a real winner.

Distortion at 24mm. Look at the Chimney on the Right.

Distortion at 24mm with Softness at Edges

Who should buy it and who should save their pennies and buy the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens?

That is a difficult question and one that I can’t truly answer. If you don’t have the money buy the Tamron and you’ll most likely be very pleased with it. I have been this whole past year I’ve been shooting with it. Having not used the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II L lens personally I can’t really recommend it. I will be using it for my weddings and events next year though. Why? It is that je ne sais quoi again. I just miss L glass. Maybe I’m still the same as I was when I was younger. Maybe I am a slave to the newest, the latest and greatest. Or maybe Canon really do have something special in their L glass that nobody else has.

You will have to judge for yourself.

Finally, if you’ve liked this review and are purchasing this lens, please do so using the link below:

One comment

  • A nice honest article. I’m in the position of wanting a 24-70mm f2.8 and this is the kind of thing I like to read during my research. There are enough “spec” reviews out there to sink a fleet of ships. Good, reality reviews are what really help. Thank you.

    July 22, 2017

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