Tamron's 28-200mm f / 2.8-5.6 super zoom exceeds expectations

"This super zoom is small and light and is perfect for casual photography."

  • Compact, light

  • Bright aperture of 1: 2.8 (at the wide end)

  • Generally fast auto focus

  • First class fit and workmanship

  • Strong vignetting

  • Bad edge sharpness

I'm not a fan of super zooms. These "do-everything" lenses usually make everything bad, and my expectations for the Tamron 28-200mm f / 2.8-5.6, a full-frame lens for Sony e-mount cameras, were also low. At $ 729, it's a relatively affordable multi-purpose lens, and here I thought the story would end.

I was wrong.

I mostly shoot with prime numbers – fixed focal length lenses that don't zoom at all. Prime numbers are sharp, bright and compact (not always) and can be optimized as such due to their single focal length. In contrast, the more zoom range you put in a lens, the softer, darker, and bigger.

But the Tamron 28-200mm surprised me. It's light and compact for a 7x zoom, but also brighter than most others and at the wide end achieves an impressive aperture of 1: 2.8, 2/3 better than most other similar lenses.

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However, my expectations of sharpness remained conservative. When I mounted the lens on a 61-megapixel Sony A7R IV that was intended for this Lensrentals test, I knew intuitively that it couldn't tap the potential of this camera – and I was right.

The thing is, it didn't have to. While it is easy to question why someone would invest in an expensive full-frame camera just to equip it with cheap glass, there are indeed many reasons why we take pictures, and for most of us it is not the biggest Capturing detail is the most important.

Daven Mathies | Digital trends

The Tamron 28-200mm is not a professional lens, but it doesn't have to be. It's the perfect "Uncle Bob" lens you can use as a wedding guest, much to the annoyance of the professional photographer who was hired to document the event. But I really mean that. This is a lens for the way most people take pictures most of the time, and it's excellent in this role. Even the professional wedding photographer mentioned above may want to take the lens out on her days off.

design

With a length of only 4.6 inches (compressed at 28 mm) and a weight of only about 20 ounces, you don't feel overwhelmed with the Tamron 28-200 mm. I carried it and the Sony A7R IV in hand on a three-hour hike and never felt tired. I didn't even have a camera strap.

This is the greatest strength of the Tamron. Full-frame cameras, including mirrorless ones, can rise to unwieldy sizes in combination with some lenses, and it's impressive to include so much zoom in such a mobile package.

Daven Mathies | Digital trends

The lens is also moisture resistant, which I appreciated when taking photos near the base of a waterfall.

About half of the outer lens barrel is dedicated to the zoom ring, which is wrapped with a non-slip rubber that feels good in the hand. The zoom action is very fluid and gives the lens a first-class feeling that is not often associated with the super zoom category. The focus-by-wire ring is a little weaker, but I doubt that a lot of people will use manual focus anyway.

A zoom lock is the only switch on the lens that can keep it at 28mm when not in use to prevent the lens from creeping. Even if you forget to use it, there is enough resistance in the zoom, so this shouldn't be a problem with normal use. I had to shake the lens quite violently for the zoom tube to move at all.

Daven Mathies | Digital trends

Visually, we look at 18 elements in 14 groups, and Tamron lists "a number of specialized elements" to improve sharpness. I take that as a huge grain of salt because it really doesn't do an outstanding job in terms of image quality, but more on that later.

The aperture range is 1: 2.8 to 1:16 at the wide end and 1: 5.6 to 1:32 at the telephoto end. At 70 mm, the maximum aperture is 1: 4, a point that is brighter at the same focal length than at Sony 24-240mm f / 3.5-6.3. This is another real benefit of the Tamron compared to other superzooms, as this extra light-gathering capacity can help reduce ISO sensitivity or shutter speed, reduce noise, or avoid motion blur.

Auto focus and image quality

The 28-200mm uses Tamron's RXD autofocus motor (Rapid Extra-Silent Stepping Drive). In practice, I found that the lens was focused quickly and accurately most of the time, although it occasionally stayed behind when my subject moved towards me. In fairness, most of my tests were done while hiking through a fairly dark forest. Even though it was in the middle of the day, I often took pictures at ISO 3,200 or higher, so I didn't work with a ton of light. The focus performance would probably be even better in brighter conditions.

In terms of image quality, the 28-200 mm fall behind here. On the plus side, the f / 2.8 aperture provides good depth of field at the wide end, and the way the lens renders defocused areas is actually pretty good relative to super zooms. The tele-compression at 200 mm ensures a decent portrait even if the aperture is only 1: 5.6. Subjectively, I don't hate it, but it's nothing exciting either.

Daven Mathies | Digital trends

However, it is not all good news. The lens falls short in several ways. The vignetting is intense, and as it decreases at the telephoto end, the overall light transmission also decreases. Images at 1: 5.6 at 200 mm appear to be about 1/3 darker than 1: 5.6 at 70 mm. Thankfully, the transmission across the zoom range is essentially the same for smaller apertures.

There is also strange behavior when it comes to details. At the wide end, the sharpness drops significantly from the center to the edges of the frame, but the edges improve noticeably when you stop at 1: 5.6. However, the center doesn't seem to get much sharper. At the telephoto end, I noticed that the details in the entire image are of course more uniform, but I didn't notice any advantage when I switched off the lens. F / 5.6 and f / 11 looked equally sharp – or not equally sharp.

Part of it probably has something to do with the camera. With 61 megapixels, the A7R IV is diffraction limited somewhere by 1: 5.6. Even if the lens sharpens at 1:11, chances are that I just can't see it. The A7R IV is an incredibly unforgiving sensor, and I'm not surprised that the Tamron 28-200mm never looks particularly good when you look closely.

However, this is a lens designed for occasional real world use. If you don't want to make large prints, you probably won't be dissatisfied with the quality. If lens corrections are enabled in the camera, you probably won't even notice many of its shortcomings. The ability to take a variety of shots with reliable autofocus from such a light package is a significant benefit for the average customer who easily outweighs the incomplete optical performance.

Our opinion

One day, opticians will find a way to build a super zoom lens that doesn't affect image quality. Today is not this day. If you're looking for a lens that shows what your Sony full-frame camera can do, it isn't.

But in this case that's fine.

The Tamron 28-200mm f / 2.8-5.6 doesn't try to be the only lens that can do it all. If your expensive Sony G Master lenses get you through the week, this Tamron is what you get out of the weekend. It is the lens that you take with you for an international flight or pack it in your hand luggage (if this is allowed again). It's the lens you choose when you stop worrying about megapixels, curvature, and bokeh and instead want to focus on creating memories.

And that's exactly what most of us are about to take pictures.

Is there a better alternative?

Sony makes a 24-240mm f / 3.5-6.3 that is not much more expensive at $ 1,050 and offers more range than the Tamron, but at the expense of a slower aperture. It's also bigger and heavier, at 27.6 ounces, which makes it less suitable for activities like hiking.

What strikes me most about the Sony lens is the larger angle – the difference between 24 mm and 28 mm is bigger than you might think, but I personally don't find the additional 40 mm at the telephoto end so useful. In my opinion, it is not worth it for most people to do without 2/3 light stops and to give your camera bag more volume.

How long it will take?

The solid build quality should give this lens a good durability and, like most lenses, last for many years. However, if you consider it the first lens, you can quickly grow beyond its limits.

You should buy it

Yes, if you want a flexible, walk-in lens for a mirrorless Sony camera. Don't expect optical size, but the Tamron 28-200mm is perfect if you need a portable solution with a lens for any casual photography.

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