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Last month I got a hold of a Tamron 24-70mm lens to try out. Whenever opportunities to try out gear like that come along I try to jump on them. Mainly because being out in front of audiences throughout the year, I hear so many thoughts/rumors/misnomers and old wives tales about photography that I’m never quite sure what’s true unless I try it myself. In this case, you hear so many things about Nikon/Canon lenses being better than their counterparts from other manufacturers, so I thought this was a great way to put it to the test.

Why I Wanted To Try This Specific Lens
I wanted to try the Tamron 24-70mm lens because I don’t own a Nikon 24-70mm. I’ve been thinking about purchasing one, but they’re damn expensive. Having just bought a D800 recently, I was ready to give my wallet a rest. When the opportunity to try out the lens before my trip to Death Valley came up, I thought this would be the perfect chance to put it up against it’s Nikon counterpart. And I knew my friend would have a Nikon 24-70mm with him, so I’d be able to test them out side by side.

Why The Comparison, And What To Compare?
So why the comparison? Why not just buy the Nikon? The $600 price difference is a good place to start. I wanted to see how this lens stacked up against the Nikon version. Another reason I wanted to compare them was sharpness. Sharpness is probably the number one thing people care about when it comes to a lens. Probably even more than price in some cases. I think most people will find a way to spend the extra money on a lens if you know it’s sharper than another one. The last thing I wanted to test out was auto focus. I use auto focus a lot, and I wanted to make sure that the auto-focus was accurate and quick.

The Test (2 lenses and then some)
Ok, let’s talk a little about my testing situation. It was far from technically perfect, but for me it was the exact situation I would use the lens. I set my D800 on a tripod and put the Nikon 24-70 on first. I focussed on a specific area, set the focal length at 24mm and took a photo using 2 aperture settings (f/8 and f/22). Then I set it at 70mm and did the same thing.

Next, I very quickly changed lenses to the Tamron 24-70 and took the same photos (while focussing on the same area). I even tried out the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 prime lens and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens just to see they’d be any different.

The Results
The results kinda surprised me. I figured I’d see at least some difference in the photos. Maybe along the edges when I was shooting wide at 24mm. But I didn’t. Honestly, I could barely see a difference. Not in sharpness, color, quality or any other visible part about the photo.

That said, I did notice one thing. The area I had focussed on with the Nikon was picked up quickly with the auto-focus. When I switched to the Tamron, it didn’t pick it up as quickly. I left the focus point in the same exact place, but the auto-focus seemed to search for a few seconds. Eventually, after holding the shutter halfway down to focus another time or two, it did lock on to the same area and all was good. For landscapes and outdoors that doesn’t bother me too much. Time usually isn’t critical in those cases. But if you’re shooting events, people, wildlife or anything where those few seconds make a difference, then it could be something to consider and test out before you buy.

Another Shoot
The previous test covers just about everything I’d want to do with the lens. I don’t shoot a ton of portraits and the portraits I do shoot, I’m usually outdoors using my 70-200 lens. But once in a while I need to do some studio work and the 24-70mm lens is a great lens for the studio. So I used the Tamron in the studio a couple of weeks ago and the lens totally nailed it. The eyes were tack sharp. I mean, it’s as sharp as any other lens I’ve ever shot, so no problems there. You can see some photos below. I included a zoomed in photo of her eye which is one areas we’re most concerned with. You can see that the unsharpened version is still really sharp. After I ran some Unsharp Mask on it in Photoshop, it looks awesome. In fact, it’s actually hard to see below, with the fade between not-sharpened and the sharpened version. But when it’s in Photoshop and you turn the layer on and off, you can definitely tell the difference.

Something else worth noting is that I did have the modeling light off on the strobe I was using. The Tamron, again, took a few attempts to find focus. But as soon as I turned the modeling light on, it found it immediately. Now, I wasn’t able to test the Nikon after this, so I don’t know how it would have performed, but again, it’s just something to keep in mind.

NOTE: The Tamron lens has their vibration reduction feature on it, while the Nikon doesn’t, so that’s not something I could compare head-to-head.

Does This Mean I’m Selling My Nikon Lenses?
So does this all mean that I’m selling my Nikon lenses? Nope. You’ll pry my 70-200mm lens out of my cold dead hands before I ever give it up 🙂 That lens is magic. It sounds silly, but it is. And I’ve never heard more good press on a lens as I have the Nikon 85mm f/1.4. I don’t use it quite as much, but there’s way too many people out there (that I trust) calling the 85mm one of the best lenses Nikon has made. But, to me at least, I’ve never heard anyone as passionate about the 24-70mm, which is why I figured that would be a great place to start a comparison. And if I do decide to go with a 24-70mm, and add one to my kit, then I’d definitely keep the Tamron lens over the Nikon and save $600. The auto-focus thing I mentioned earlier wouldn’t bother me for the type of shooting I do, but it’s definitely something to consider if you shoot more time critical subjects.

So what lens should you buy?
I would say to do your research, but nothing will confuse you more than online reviews and forum posts. You’ll find some one that feels a certain strong away about something, no matter what the topic is or what gear you’re looking at. Trust me, I’ve seen it. One forum post will say that a certain lens is the best thing to come along since sliced bread. The next forum post will of course be the snarky and useless “buy the best lens that you can afford” comment (come on… you know you all hate forums that have people like that on it) ;). And then the next comment will come along and discredit the previous post, call his mother a few choice words (because that’s what they do on forums), and tell you that the lens they love is the ONLY lens to buy. It’s an endless circle of searching that’ll leave you more confused then when you started.

So here’s my recommendation. Try it out. Hopefully you can go the easy route and you have a friend with a certain lens that you’re looking for that you can try out. If not, just about every camera store out there has a great return policy. I just check B&H Photo’s return policy and it’s 30 days if you’re unhappy with the product (and you have the original box, manual, etc…). It even says items with “shutter counts” are returnable if they show less than 200 exposures. I’m not sure if lenses have shutter counts, but it should certainly take you less than 200 photos to figure out if you like it or not. There’s no substitute for trying it out though and I recommend that route in just about everything out there (gear, lenses, plug-ins, software, you name it).

Disclaimer: Full disclosure. Tamron provided me the lens to try out. Tamron is a sponsor of the company I work for, and a sponsor of the seminars I teach. Hopefully by now, you know my writing style and teaching well enough to know that this in no way affects my review and thoughts here. I shouldn’t have to say it… but… well, I’m just sayin’ 😉

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good one!

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