The Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD is the first third party E-Mount autofocus zoom lens. I am excited about this lens because it defines a milestone for the E-Mount system: until now, we only had a choice between Sony’s budget line, Samyang and the other (super-)expensive Sony/Zeiss options. The three classic third party manufacturers (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) have been very tentative in their commitment to the E-mount system, and this lens is the first one that really changes this situation. The specs of the lens look spectacular on the paper, so let’s find out about its performance in the field.
In this review I will check the performance of my own copy.
- Sample Images
- Specifications / Version History
- Handling / Build Quality
- Manual Focus
- Flare Performance
- Chromatic Aberrations
- Rolling Review – First thoughts
- Sample Images
- Further Reading
Specifications / Version History
As a Sony shooter, you currently have five native options when it comes to standard zoom lenses:
- Sony Zeiss FE 4/24-70 ZA OSS
- Sony FE 4/24-105 G OSS
- Sony FE 2.8/24-70 GM
- Sony FE 3.5-5.6/28-70 OSS
- Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD
All options are aimed at different groups. The Sony FE 3.5-5.6/28-70 is okay as a kit lens and also usable for the documentation of daily life, but I wouldn’t recommend it for serious photography. The performance of the Sony/Zeiss FE 4/24-70 doesn’t justify the price tag in our opinion. The Sony 2.8/24-70 GM and the Sony 4/24-105 G OSS are amongst the best standard zoom lenses on the market and are excellent choices with little downsides except for size and price.
So where does the new Tamron 2.8/28-75 find its niche? It is as thin as (and just a bit longer than) the 4/24-70 but as fast as the bulky 2.8/24-70. This is even more exciting when the price is taken into consideration: It costs just $800 MSRP, so $400 less than the slower Sony 4/24-70 ZA and almost a third of the Sony 2.8/24-70 GM ($2.199).
The 28mm starting focal length is probably the key to understanding the combination of small size and fast aperture, especially compared to other the 24-XX options on the market. On the boards, this is one of the most discussed topics. 4mm on the short end are significant and noticeable but it really depends on the intended use case. I see this as a big disadvantage if that lens is the only travel/ landscape lens. On the other hand, it makes a useful combination with an UWA lens. If you plan to use it as a documentation lens, (weddings, family life) the 28mm focal length is not a limitation at all. The 5mm on the long end are not really significant, and hard to notice when the lenses are not compared side by side.
Prior to its release, Tamron claimed their new lens rivals the 2.8/24-70 GM lens. I think they didn’t do themselves a favor with that. Of course both lenses can be used for exactly the same thing but the lenses are not in the same class. More on that later.
The Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di IIII RXD has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 73 mm
- Field of view: 75° to 32° (diagonally)
- Length: 117.8 mm
- Weight: 550 g
- Filter Diameter: 67 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (rounded)
- Elements/Groups: 15/12
- Closest Focusing Distance: 0.19m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:2.9 (28mm), 1:4 (75mm)
- Mount: Sony FE
You may also have a look at Tamrons’s official page.
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Handling / Build Quality
The lens ships well packed but without any additional accessories except for the lens hood.
The build quality is comparable to the Sony 3.5-5.6/28-70 OSS, maybe even a tad below that. That means that the lens is well assembled and without play in the focus/zoom rings but without the fancy and sturdy impression of the other available FE-lenses. The lens barrel is made of plastic and the focus and zoom rings are rubberized. The lens mount is made of metal and has a rubber gasket:
I was surprised that the joint between both halfs of the lens is on the top side of the lens and easily visible (picture below). That looks and feels cheap.
The lens hood is made of cheap feeling plastic, quite small and has a sharp burr on the frontside. At least it locks safely, athough it lacks a release button.
It takes about 90° turning the zoom ring from 28 to 75 mm:
The zoom ring is pretty stiff and has a high level of fricton which contributes to the perception of budget build quality. The good side effect is that the lens is free of zoom creep.
Unfortunately the lens lacks the focus hold button that the recent Sony lenses are featuring.
The most annoying thing about the handling is that the focus and the zoom ring are in the wrong order, at least for my taste. Fortunately, they feel quite different, so I got used to that quite fast. The manual focus ring is quite narrow but still useable.
Apart from those negatives, I prefer the size and weight of the lens greatly over the size and weight of the Sony 2.8/24-70 GM. The lens is much easier to handle and also much less conspicuous if you don’t want to attract too much attention.
The lens’ focussing is quick and quiet but not totally silent. The AF performance feels quite good, even in lower light. I don’t think that it is among the fastest FE lenses, but it is among the faster ones.
Manual focusing is comparable with the Zeiss Batis lenses which feels okay, at least with the 3rd generation Sony cameras.
This lens doesn’t have a linear transmission/coupling of the focusing ring. This makes manual focusing less direct than the recent Sony lenses.
Of course, this is a focus-by-wire lens. Therefore, the lens has no hard infinity stop and does not feature a distance scale on the lens.
At the short end the vignetting is very strong (3.1 EV) and strikes in pretty abrupt. It improves to 1.6 EV at f/8.
At the long end, the lens shows the same behavior. It shows tremendous vignetting of 3.3 EV that strikes in pretty abrupt and improves to 1EV at f/8.
The lens relies on auto correction in terms of vignetting. This is probably a tribute to the small lens diameter and causes noise towards the corners when the correction is activated.
- f/2.8: Very good sharpness in the center and midframe, corners are quite a bit behind the rest of the frame
- f/4 & f/5.6 : center and midframe are excellent, corners improve
- f/8: Image is sharp across the frame, corners are very good now
- f/2.8: Very good sharpness in the center, and good sharpness in the midframe. Corners are very soft
- f/4: Excellent center and midframe, corners still soft
- Corners improve until f/11 but still not perfectly sharp.
- f/2.8 & f4: Excellent sharpness in the center, midframe quite sharp, corners mushy
- f/5.6: corners get slightly sharper, midframe is excellent
- f/11 : corners are ok now, but not really good. This affects only outer 10% of the image, the rest is very sharp.
- f/2.8: Center and midframe are quite sharp. Slightly reduced sharpness and contrast, probably due to spherical aberrations. Corners are not very sharp
- f/4: corners sharpen up, center and midframe are excellent
- f/11: Best setting for corner sharpness. Corners are useably good but not very good there
The central performance of the lens is always very good or excellent (only slightly degraded at 75mm) and the same applies to the midframe of the image, at least with a little stopping down. The corner performance at 28mm is very good stopped down. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for the other focal lengths. The outer 5-10% of the image circle are always a bit mushy and best at f/11 which is at least useable for landscapes. Remember that the corners are already stopped down to f/8 wide open because of the extreme vignetting of more than 3EV. Field curvature is also not the issue here, focusing on the corners didn’t improve my results.
The good news is that the excellent midframe performance remains over 90% of the image circle, so this won’t be a very big issue in many real world scenarios.
I think the performance is quite in line with what could have been expected for a fast but very small and cheap standard zoom lens. It is a good performance apart from the extreme corners which looks like a fair penalty for the small dimensions.
The Tamron 2.8/28-75 has very nice close focus capabilities with 1:2.9 magnification at 28mm and 1:4 magnification at 75mm.
Generally there is quite a lot of field curvature at close up distances so the sharp area is very small, especially wide open. There are also some chromatic aberrations in the corners at close distances. This is not an issue for insects, flowers and general macro work but I wouldn’t recommend it for reproduction work.
The good thing is that the sharpness on the focused area is quite usuable wide open and very good stopped down.
Wide open, the (very small) sharp area is contrasty and quite sharp. At f/5.6, the image crisps up quite a lot. Keep in mind that the front lens almost hits the subject at the minimum focus distance and that shading of the lens can become problematic here. Look at the full image below, it is visible there:
Wide open, there is a loss of contrast due to spherical aberrations (same behavior as on infinity). Sharpness is useable but I would recommend to stop down if possible because things look much better at f/5.6.
The bokeh of the Tamron 2.8/28-75 is rather complex to describe. It can draw almost all varieties of good and bad bokeh that are possible. Lets start with the good. The close up bokeh is generally smooth, especially around the close focusing distance. Surprisingly, the quality of the bokeh is the best at 28mm.
Let’s take a deeper look on the complex aspects of the bokeh. All of these phenomenons are distance and focal length dependant. This lens uses an aspherical element. I was expecting to find onion ring structures in the highlights and I found them. Interestingly, very little images are plagued by that and onion rings can be generally more pronounced on other lenses like the Sony FE 1.8/55 ZA. The crop below shows that. Thanks to 9 rounded aperture blades, the shape of the bokeh balls remains almost round until the edges at macro distances, even at f/8. There is also bright outlining visible, but this isn’t too pronounced at that distance. Overall nothing that worries me too much, but that needs to be mentioned here.
If you look a little further than the usual macro distance (that bike below is around 40cm long), the outlining gets much stronger. Onion rings are barely visible now. There is also quite a lot of contrast in the bokeh (and the image overall, nice pop here!). Generally, the bokeh looks a little distorted and more “wild”. The light circles get cut off at the outer part of the image due to mechanical vignetting. The bokeh in that image is far from perfect but it looks quite interesting.
In another example with brighter background lights, things look much worse. Some highlights look very blurred and distorted and the outlining becomes terribly obvious for very bright light sources. I don’t like the bokeh here at all, it is very distracting. Lovers of the famous Trioplan could like it though.
At environmental portrait distances where the background melts together with the transition zone, things look even a bit worse. The background has a lot of contrast and shows wild and blurred structures which are mixed with bad outlining. This also looks a bit like the bokeh of many legacy lenses.
Around 50mm the bokeh can look like the bokeh of a mirror lens:
The following crop shows the outlining and the cut off bokeh highlights at 75mm:
Bokeh is a very subjective thing. I prefer smooth and clean bokeh that is not sterile. The Sony 1.4/85 GM is a good example for that, the Sony FE 2.8/24-70 GM renders also much smoother bokeh. The perceived subject isolation can also suffer a bit from very structured bokeh.
On the other hand, I read many complaints about sterile rendering and I see many people using lenses like the Trioplan or other lenses for their “character”. These people could like the bokeh of the Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD, it definitely drags some attention on it.
The Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD can flare heavily at all focal lengths and in many different ways. It is a pity that the ghostings can be huge and ruin a shot. Flare performance is very critical when the lens is pointed at the low sun but less critical when the sun is outside of the frame or higher on the sky. Ghostings are more of an issue than veiling flare. Zoom lenses are generally more critical in terms of flare resistance and this lens is no exception. Like with other lenses, playing around with the position of the light source can help to reduce the flares. Compare the shot below with the shot in the first sample image selection.
I don’t like the decision to use the older BBAR coatings for this lens. Tamrons high end lenses use different coatings which are called eBAND. I guess this decision kept the cost down but I would choose a premium for better coatings if I had the choice. I can only guess how this would have affected the flare performance but an improvement would have been useful in this case for sure.
Correction of LoCA is very good, almost perfect.
I can’t find any LaCA in my images. There is an integrated lens profile and it does a very good job.
Rolling Review – First thoughts
The Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD is the first Tamron lens for mirrorless full frame cameras. The specs of the lens look spectacular and this holds true for the real lens. It is a f2.8 standard zoom lens that handles like the usual f4 counterparts.
The optical performance that I can judge so far is in line with what I expected from such an extreme design. It looks a bit like it is a lens with a slightly smaller image circle than usual because of the high Vignetting and the lower sharpness at the extreme corners of the frame. Stopping down helps a bit and 90% of the frame look excellent anyways.The lens has very useful macro features which helps a lot for documentation and travel work. The flare resistance can be critical when the (low) sun is in the frame. The bokeh has many facettes. Generally, it is very distance dependant – the closer the focus the better the bokeh. On the longer distances, bokeh is harsh and sometimes distracting. It is very handy that the images are almost entirely free of chromatic aberrations.
In terms of build quality, the lens feels and handles like the Sony kit lens which is not bad but nothing to write home about either. Regarding handling, I don’t really like high (plasticky) friction of the zoom ring and furthermore the positioning of the zoom ring on the front of the lens barrel. The AF is quite fast but not the fastest and quiet but not silent.
So far, The lens performs in line with my expectations. This is especially true with the price and the spectacular dimensions in mind.
I think that people should not make the mistake to compare it to the Sony FE 2.8/24-70 GM. Except for the fact that both lenses can serve the same purpose and have close enough specs, this lens is aimed at a totally differently customer and should be understood like that. The GM is a real pro lens with amazing build quality and much more rounded performance but also with much greater weight and size.
For me, the Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD has one task – be an uncomplicated, bright and handy zoom lens. So far, it fulfills that task quite well and I am happy with the crisp and vivid results. I am in the lucky position to have other lenses for wide angle, landscape and portrait photography so that the Tamron is mainly covering the event, everyday and holiday tasks. It is very well suited for that and it is a very realistic option for these tasks regarding the very fair pricing.
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