I recently added the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD to my kit. Ever since I switched from Nikon to Sony two years ago, I have used two lenses on the long focal range end. I have used the superb Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM for occasions when I have not had a long trek, and a 40 year-old Minolta MD 75-150 f/4 with an E-mount adapter for when I've been on longer treks. The Sony weighs in at 1395g and the Minolta with adapter at a tiny 560g. The difference is 835g, which represents a weight saving comparable to a full day of food. To me this is a huge deal. In spring to autumn, I typically carry around 21 kg of weight on my back, with 5kg of camera gear and around 16 kg of camping equipment, clothes and food for a week in the wild. So adding 835g to bring the Sony on the long treks has not been an option for me. I have never been completely satisfied with the handling of the Minolta (although image quality is excellent), as it is a push-pull manual focus zoom, which makes getting focus and framing just right very difficult. It also has serious issues with flaring when shooting against the light (which is forgivable since it is a legacy lens without coatings).
Until recently, the options that I have considered were the brilliant Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM at 1480g and the nimbler Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G at 840g. The former hasn't been an option due to weight and the latter due to having a slower f-stop at f/4, so I have stuck to my trusted yet inconvenient old legacy Minolta for the times that weight have been an issue - i.e. all treks. In May 2020, in comes Tamron and releases a lens that - at least on paper - fixed all my issues with weight and slow f-stop. I waited with my purchase to see some reviews regarding image quality. With stellar performance being widely reported, I pulled the trigger and ordered it about a month ago. It arrived in time for a trip to Fulufjället National Park that I made a few weeks ago. All photographs in this post are made with the lens (except the photograph directly below).
Let me first just say this, the lens is superb. I am not going to go into the optical performance as there are plenty of excellent reviews out there on this topic. For me this is just never going to be something that I will think about as the lens delivers excellent performance. What is innovative with this lens is the design. By constructing this lens with a focal length of 70-180mm, rather than the traditional 70-200mm, Tamron has been able to make it a bright f/2.8, in the size and weight of a f/4 lens! This is a big innovation for nature photographers, who - like me - often trek for days to location and carry necessary equipment to survive in the wild. I can imagine that the weight savings is important to a whole range of other type of photographers that are looking to lighten the load for every day carry too.
During my trip to Fulufjället National Park I trekked all day every day and I was well pleased to have replaced my old Minolta with the Tamron. The handling of this lens addressed all the issues that I had had with the Minolta, i.e. it has smooth zoom operation, superbly fast and accurate autofocus, great control on flaring, and given the large aperture, I was able to use it with great results for both portraits and wildlife too. It weighs in at an incredible 810g - this to me is a feat of engineering.
Now, let's look at potential downsides. First, it is 20mm shorter than the traditional pro level focal range of 70-200mm, but this didn't bother me as most of my photographs are at around 70-150mm for landscapes, which is the lens' primary usage for me. Also, I'd say that 20mm more or less on the long end is negligible for most users. It is not stabilised, but the Sony a7rIII that I use has in-body image stabilisation, so this is a non-issue for me (and over 90% of my shots are from a tripod with the stabilisation turned off anyway). Finally, it (currently) doesn't allow for use with a tele-converter, which is something that I would only use for wildlife photography, and for me this is not the intended use case for this lens.
All in all, this lens doesn't have any downsides to me but a lot of upsides. In my view, the Tamron 70-180mm F/2.8 is the lens that I have been waiting for to complete the long end of my Sony E mount trekking kit. Light, sharp, reasonably priced, large aperture, and incredibly easy to work with. I am smitten, and I foresee years of use from this innovative lens.
See you on the trails,