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 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.
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!
Hi Matt, well after months of deliberating and working with both the Nikon and Tamron on my D810 and D2x I have bought the Tamron. This is kind of strange for me as every lens cap in my bag Traditionally reads Nikon but both the copy of the Tamron that I tested and the one that I have bought produce excellent results (and I’m picky), the resolution on the D810 would surely show up any faults in the images. I agree that the focus is not as fast as with the Nikon but hey who’s holding a stopwatch when shooting. I have been reading your Tamron 15-30 review so like you I might just be selling off my other holy trinity lens and adding another non Nikon lens cap to my bag…. 70-200 vr though …. No way, that Nikon lens will go with me in my coffin. Thanks for the very objective and honest reviews.
Hope you will be able to do a similar comparison with the new Nikon 16-80 (2.8-4E) just coming out. Would be interested to know how it stacks up against the Tamron since I do a lot of sports and street photography where quick focus matters. Looks like the price is similar, even though the specs are slightly different. Really enjoy your blogs.
Hey Matt! I rented the Tamron 24-70 and found it to be a nice lens, but didn’t get all excited by it. Checked it out because of its VR and didn’t feel that it was as good as VR in the awesome new version Nikon 300mm VR lens. You might want to rent the Nikon 24-120 VR. I first rented it from LensPro and became impressed almost immediately. Color rendition is spot on. VR is amazing for me. As soon as I returned it, I got online and purchased it. Fearing that rental copies are pimped out to perfection and new copies aren’t as impressive, well, I was totally impressed by the one I got (refurbished at less cost than new). I love the slightly longer range. It hasn’t left my D750 since it arrived. John Greengo had offhandedly mentioned it in one of his lens reviews as “surprisingly good”. Check it out.
No matter how much I beg, I can’t get lens companies to loan me a lens to try out. My current attempt is to get Amtrak to give me a free trip through the Northwest in exchange for photos that they can use for PR purposes. Fingers crossed.
So, I played around with several samples of the Tamron lens, for my Canon 5D2. They were all horrible. The images came out as if they had suffered handshake. This surprised me since with f2.8 I can let more light in than the 24-105/4, yet the images came out as if there was camera shake. I tried with stabilisation switched on and off, no difference. Also the stabilisation sucks, because if I pan at a medium tracking speed, the stabilisation cannot keep up and starts to jump around in an uncontrolled manner. I ended up returning it and getting the now discontinued sigma 24-105, which is supposed to be superior to the canon version optically. Image wise I found the sigma lens outperformed both the canon 24-105 and the tamron 24-70, and the OS on the sigma was better than that of Canon and Tamron.
Matt, you said you tested vs the 14-24 and the 24 prime, but you didn’t say how those lenses compare at 24mm. I have the 14-24 and 24-70 form Nikon.
They’re all just about exactly the same. I couldn’t notice a difference in any of them really. Definitely not between the Nikon and Tamron 24-70. The 24mm prime is nice, but not really worth carrying around a fixed focal length lens for that price.
I find the 14-24 sharper at 24mm than the 24-70 (both Nikon), especially if shooting wide open. There is less distortion at 24mm with the 14-24 as well.
Very nice review Matt. The lens sounds like a real winner. I would love to rent the lens and see for myself.
I have never tried shooting with a Tamron. Currently, I shoot mainly with a Sigma 10 -20mm ultra-wide. And I really enjoy the lens. Honestly, I am finding that “off-brand” lenses do an very nice job. And the price is right 🙂
Yes, i agree, Sigma has some pretty nice leneses
Great review, Matt. I’ve been a Tamron fan for years now, and I have been eying the new 24-70 since it was released. You answered any questions that I had in your review….looks like this is on my short list. Tamron recently released a new version of their 70-200 f/2.8 lens with VC and a silent wave motor. Maybe you could compare that with the Nikon in a future blog? I have the non-VC version of that lens and I find it’s sharp as a tack. Thanks again!
Great idea! Thanks John!
Hey Matt, good blog today!
When I retired, the company gave me a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, no optical stabilization. I took it out and at 24-70mm at f2.8 everything was slightly fuzzy, but at and above f3.5 all was okay. Drove me crazy because I wanted to use the lens in very low light situations. Then I heard about Michael Taps Len Align system. I purchased it and re-aligned my lens and it is awesome! Sharp as a tack from 24-70mm at f2.8 at all f stop settings. I took it with me to Michigan last fall and used in the Ship Wreck Museum at White Fish Point and got some amazing shoots. So now I’m really please and excited about my Sigma 24-70mm Lens!
GReat comparison Matt – I had to go through the same thing not too long ago but instead of Tamron I went Sigma. The 24-70 2.8 macro Sigma came out with is hella sharp ( but a little soft wide ) and when I tested the Nikon against it I didn’t really even give it a second thought. From 3.5 up it dusts the Nikon. That said….I’ll never give up my 60 2.8 or 85 1.4…..those kick the arse.
Been waiting for this.Thanks.
Thanks for doing this review. I have the Tamron 24-70 IS and use it with my Canon 60D. I have found it to be a really great lens for me – and it’s nice to see a “real” photographer likes it too. And I agree with the magic of the 70-200, there’s just nothing else like it…
Great review. I have always enjoyed your down to earth writing style and your reviews are just as fun/educational.
Matt, Have you tried the Nikon 24-120? Its pretty good too. I am now using the f4 trinity for landscapes ( 16-35, 24-120 and 70-200). All these are lightweight with VR and make great travel lenses as well.
Hi. I personally haven’t tried it out yet. I’ve heard great things about the 24-120 though. I’ll have to give it a try soon.
Hi Matt, I have consistently noticed this with my Nikon D80, D7000, and now D800. I’ve used the Tokina 100mm macro, The Tamron 12-24mm and Sigma 24-70mm. With all those lenses the sharpness and colour met my needs but the hunting was constantly an issue and unlike you, I shoot mainly people. Since those experiments I now only use Nikon glass primarily because of the AF speed and accuracy.
Thanks for the review! I personally had a dilemma what to buy Nikon 24-70mm or this Tamron. I tried Nikon’s 24-70 for a while and to be honest I didn’t like it at all. Not in terms of sharpness but it is all about focusing. I had no chance to test this Tamron but luckily Nikon came out with Nikkor 24-85VR lens which is not that fast as previous two but as a landscape and cityscape photographer I don’t really care. And have to say this lens are absolutely brilliant! The sharpness, the focusing speed (even in low light), the color rendition are amazing, not to mention that this is the 600$ lens!
Thanks for the excellent review Matt, any reason why you didn’t include the 24-120 for this focal lenght range in your consideration?
Nope. I just didn’t have one to test out. Will try to get a hold of one though and see how it holds up.
Thanks, Matt. Nice, thorough review.