The World’s Smallest, Lightest 15X Zoom for APS-C DSLRs
Tamron lowers size and weight and ups the ante on what may be the ideal travel photography lens.
In 2010 the original Tamron 18-270mm VC (still in the line, now with a $150 rebate) upped the ante for all-in-one, ultra-zoom lenses for APS-C-format DSLRs by adding Tamron’s proprietary VC image stabilization system to its 15X focal-length flagship. Now they're at it again with a new smaller, lighter version.
This amazing 28-419mm 35mm-equivalent zoom has been taken to a new level of compactness, portability, and performance by incorporating two new systems developed by the company’s in-house R&D techies: PZD Drive and the latest version of VC. Tamron has also tweaked the optical formula, which now incorporates 16 elements (instead of 18 elements) in 13 groups.
The result is the new Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD. This lens is 3-1/2 ounces lighter, 0.18 inches shorter, and 0.22 inches slimmer than its predecessor, and accepts 62mm filters instead of 72mm. That may not sound like much of a difference, but the new lens is astonishingly compact for its focal-length range, and it balances noticeably better on compact DSLRs like the Nikon D3100, Canon EOS Rebel T3i, or our test camera, the Canon T2i. Its compact ergonomic form also makes it a good choice for use with heavier medium-tier DSLRs.
Coffee shop barista: Very good definition (see eyeglass frame) and shallow depth of field showing good bokeh in background details contribute to nice pictorial effect in this image shot at 50mm (80mm equivalent). Exposure: f/5.6 and 1/100 sec at ISO 1600.
Drive, He Said
Piezo Drive (PZD) is an exclusive Tamron innovation that’s based on the standing wave principle. It uses high-frequency voltage to turn a ceramic piezoelectric element with a swiveling motion. This turns a micro-rotor to focus the lens swiftly, silently, and—it is claimed—with far greater precision.
The new lens also incorporates the latest version of Tamron’s Vibration Compensation (VC) system of in-lens image stabilization. This compensates for camera shake in three planes—a big plus in achieving sharp handheld images when shooting at long focal lengths and in low light. The upgraded VC employs a new, Lightweight Moving Coil that reduces the load on the drive system, enhancing responsiveness in counteracting camera shake, and also reducing size and weight. Tamron claims that all these enhancements not only make the lens lighter and more compact, but also provide quicker, quieter, more accurate auto-focusing.
Kid at the deli counter: Superb definition across the frame (see prices and product labels) demonstrates excellent image quality at the 50mm (80mm equivalent) focal length. Exposure 1/1000 sec and f/5.6 in P mode at ISO 1600.
Keeping the good stuff
Signature features that have made version 1 of this versatile lens popular have been retained. Its handling and balance are beyond reproach. Zooming action, via the nicely textured, easy-to grasp 1-3/8-inch-wide zoom ring, is smooth and well damped, requiring only moderate effort—quite an achievement considering the complex multi-cam mechanism required to cover the 15X range. As with most zoom lenses, manual-focusing action is very smooth but under-damped.
AF performance is exemplary—swift, reliable and very accurate in all but the dimmest light and with very low contrast subjects. I believe the latter is due primarily to the limitations of the camera’s AF system, rather than any lens deficiencies, though the moderate aperture of the lens (f/6.3 at 270mm) may be a contributing factor at long telephoto settings.
The AF system is definitely quieter than average, but whether it is appreciably quieter than its non-PZD predecessor (as claimed) is in the ear of the beholder. Lets just say that it sounds different and it’s definitely quiet enough for discreet shooting.
Like its predecessor, the new lens provides macro focusing down to 19.3 inches at all focal lengths (a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.8X at 270mm!) and it incorporates three hybrid aspheric elements, two LD (low dispersion) elements plus proprietary multi-coating on all surfaces, internal and external.
Industrial abstract: Composition of rust and graffiti was taken on an old iron bridge at Kingston, NY. Excellent detail (see rust spots, bolt, and rivet) shows excellent performance of lens at 50mm (80mm equivalent) focal length setting. Exposure: f/5.0 and 1/2700 sec at ISO 400 in A mode.
The proof of course is in the pictures, and as you can see this lens delivers excellent image quality throughout—crisp, with very good color fidelity, and outstanding definition from corner to corner at all focal lengths, apertures, and shooting distances. There was no noticeable decrease in definition when shooting at the closest (near macro)focusing distances or at the longest focal lengths—perhaps the toughest challenges when designing extended range ultra-zooms.
Linear distortion was likewise minimal, even at the 18mm wide-angle setting. I was especially impressed with the lens’s flare–free performance and excellent contrast when shooting backlit subjects or in high-contrast situations. While I do not have any hard comparison data, based on my shooting experience the upgraded VC system works very well, delivering a 3+ stop advantage in shooting at slow shutter speeds and/or at long focal lengths of. The bottom line: The compact PZD’s real world optical performance is tad better than that of its illustrious (and still available) predecessor.
Grandma with wine: Informal portrait taken in restaurant shows excellent definition at point of focus (wine glass). Overall sharpness demonstrates effectiveness of Tamron VC image stabilization. Exposure: 1/60 sec and f/6.3 at 169mm (270mm equivalent) and ISO 1600. P mode.
Compact long-zoom holy grail?
Has Tamron finally achieved the holy grail of the perfect universal zoom lens for APS-C-format DSLRs with the 18-270mm Tamron PZD? In my opinion, they’ve come pretty darn close, so long as you include compactness and lightweight construction as key requirements.
If you really need a fast, long telephoto, 270mm f/6.3 may not cut it. But when you consider the spectacular ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 performance of today’s remarkable DSLRs, an 18-270mm (27-419mm equivalent) f/3.5-6.3 won’t put much of a crimp in your style when shooting vacation, nature, travel, sports, and family pictures. It is likewise no substitute for the popular 24-70mm f/2.8s and 70-200mm f/2.8’s used by many pros and serious shooters when it comes to creating pictorial effects with limited depth of field, though you can get nice soft backgrounds when shooting close-ups with the lens wide open at f/5.6 and f/6.3 in the 200-270mm range.
Some users of this lens have cited “zoom creep” as a nit worth picking, but I never experienced it on my test sample which definitely stayed put even when I didn’t lock the zoom ring at the (minimum barrel length) 18mm setting by sliding the zoom lock tab.
Portrait of white-haired man: Good definition (see eyes) considering that this handheld close-up was shot at a very slow shutter speed at a telephoto setting. Exposure: 1/12 sec and f/5.6 at 85mm (136mm equivalent) demonstrates effectiveness of Tamron’s VC system. ISO 1600.
Conclusion and recommendation
If you shoot with a consumer DSLR and a super-flexible, ultra-compact lightweight zoom that covers a remarkable 15X zoom ratio and has built-in image stabilization is high on your wish list, take a close look at Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD. No, it won't do everything, but it will do an awful lot and do it remarkably well.
This lens is a real ace in the hole when you want to travel light but want to be prepared for just about anything. That’s true whether you’re a pro or enthusiast user of a middle-tier DSLRs like the Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 7D or a newbie who’s just acquired an entry-level DSLR. If there is such a thing as a broad-spectrum-lens, this is it. At approximately $649.00, it’s hardly the least expensive zoom you can buy, but because of its unique capabilities it represents a very good investment in expanding your picture-taking experience.
Surprise party: Excellent definition at point of focus for a handheld grab shot (see purple ribbon) Exposure: 1/60 sec and f/4.0 at 20mm (32mm equivalent) wide-angle setting and ISO 400.