Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Review | The Superzoom Reimagined
In the past, a “superzoom” was a terrible compromise that no serious photographer would consider due to terrible image quality, a slow aperture, or both.
That is no longer the case, especially with the new Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD, a full-frame mirrorless lens for the Sony E-mount. It is incredibly sharp, and has a fast aperture throughout most of its “super” zoom range. Sounds too good to be true? We thought so too!
At nearly $730, it certainly needs to be impressive. Indeed, we had many questions when we began this review: is the resolution good enough to do justice to a Sony A7R IV? Is the autofocus fast enough to do justice to a Sony A9 II? Is it built durably enough to survive your next (in 2022?) epic adventure to Iceland or Patagonia?
If the lens was more expensive, you might be inclined to just believe me if I said yes to all of those questions, but, just in case you’re looking for actual proof that, indeed, this lens is that good, …read on!
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 28mm to 200mm (75° 23′ to 12° 21′)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E-mount (FE full-frame and APS-C compatible)
- APERTURE MAXIMUM & MINIMUM: f/2.8-5.6, F/16-32
- STABILIZATION: No, In-body IBIS only
- AUTOFOCUS: RXD Stepper motor
- MANUAL FOCUS: Fully electronic
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 18 elements in 14 groups, Fluorine Coating
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal & plastic, fully weather-sealed
- MAGNIFICATION & CLOSE FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.32x (7.5″ / 19.05 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 67mm filter threads, small one-piece plastic hood
- SIZE: 2.91 x 4.6 in (74 x 116.8 mm)
- WEIGHT: 1.27 lb (575.5 g)
- PRICE: $729 (B&H)
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Review | Who Should Buy It?
What good is a full-frame super-zoom lens in the first place? Ideally, a superzoom is your one lens that does everything. You might own other lenses, but when you’re “keeping it simple”, whether it’s a family vacation or a serious (but minimalistic) landscape adventure, …you grab the superzoom.
Indeed, that’s the one factor that connects all of the types of photography that a superzoom could be useful for–situations when your primary focus is not actually photography itself, or in the case of a full-frame setup, whenever you’re doing serious photography, but space and/or weight are a major concern.
From family vacations or being a guest at a wedding, to going on a very long hike or for a cityscape helicopter ride, it doesn’t matter how serious about photography you are, sometimes it’s just very practical to bring one single lens, and leave it mounted on your (one) camera the whole time.
The problem is, usually, the more serious about photography you are, the more you’re not interested in making any compromises. Some photographers just seem to be terrified of “missing out” because they didn’t bring their biggest, best lens(es) everywhere.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how the Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 might be useful in some of the popular genres of photography
Portrait & Wedding Photography
If you’re doing paid work, or if you’re interested in portraits & weddings at all, then you might want to opt for two or three of Tamron’s full-frame mirrorless zooms that offer a constant f/2.8 aperture. However, there will still be plenty of more casual scenarios where having a single, lightweight lens might be a nice thing to have.
Personally, as a wedding photographer of 16 years, I remember the early years when, as a guest at a wedding, I still brought a bag full of “pro” zooms and primes, because I was totally obsessed with photography. I also remember the times when I just kept it simple, and only brought one or two primes, or a single zoom. Honestly? I got better photos (again, as a GUEST at the wedding) when I kept it simple and just brought one lens.
The bottom line is, in all types of casual portrait or event photography, a 28-200mm lens that hits f/2.8 on the wide end is a very attractive idea. Especially on full-frame, you can still get very pleasing shallow depth, and very beautiful results overall.
Candid & Street Photography
All types of casual photographers will love having a superzoom that allows them to capture wide-angle and telephoto images without changing lenses. Whether your goal is to be incognito or just be ready for anything, the 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 is a perfect choice. At 28mm, having f/2.8 is perfect for blurring the background just enough to make for flattering candid portraits of 3-4 people, and when zooming in towards 200mm, the telephoto focal lengths inherently create significantly more background blur anyways.
Action Sports, Races, Air Shows, Etc
Many types of high-speed action photography, especially as a spectator, can definitely benefit from being able to go back and forth between wide-angle and telephoto shots in an instant. Whether you’re photographing your friend finishing a marathon, or you’re attending an air show, nothing beats having a single lens to cover everything!
Unfortunately, wildlife photographers are the most likely to find themselves working in low-light conditions,s where both f/5.6 and 200mm just aren’t going to cut it. Honestly? I’d rather have the similarly lightweight and affordable Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, which I can throw into “Super 35” mode (APS-C/1.5x crop) on a Sony A7R IV, and still get the equivalent of a ~270mm focal length with ~26 megapixels of resolution.
Landscape photographers are an interesting group when it comes to whether or not they will “tolerate” a superzoom. On the one hand, landscape photography is mostly done at f/8 or f/11, apertures where the Tamron 28-200mm is incredibly sharp. On the other hand, most landscape photographers will probably feel like 28mm is nowhere near wide enough for the popular style these days.
Honestly? As a landscape photographer who does a lot of hiking and backpacking, the weight of all my gear really does matter to me. I’m not about to lug around two or three massive, heavy lenses that hit f/2.8 just because they’re sharp at f/11! However, I do like to have a full zoom range at my disposal. Does that mean the Tamron 28-200mm is out of the question?
No, in fact, quite the opposite–when I pair the Tamron 28-200mm with a dedicated wide-angle zoom like the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8, I’ve got the perfect adventure landscape photography kit! Why is a two-lens kit perfect? Because even if the Tamron went to 24mm, I would still want another lens that goes even wider.
In fact, if you’re really obsessed with not just landscapes but also nightscape photography, and you actually do almost all your shooting at ultra-wide focal lengths, then you might consider the Tamron 28-200mm to be perfect for “covering the bases” at longer focal lengths, while you mainly use something extremely exotic such as the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DN, or the new Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 GM.
Nightscape & Astrophotographers
[EDITED NOV 2020, see “Cons” below…]
If you’re into both landscape AND nightscape photography, then one of the most frustrating things about all of the lightweight and superzoom options out there is this: they have a slow f/4 constant aperture, or an f/4-5.6 aperture. Only a select few go down to f/3.5, and virtually zero superzoom lenses go down to f/2.8 on the wide end.
Considering this, I was delighted when Tamron announced their 28-200mm; going to f/2.8 on the wide end seemed too good to be true! Would it even be sharp wide-open, and usable? Most superzooms have to be stopped down 2-3 stops before they get “professionally sharp”.
The Tamron did not disappoint! Even at 28mm and f/2.8, the images are amazing, and things like coma & astigmatism are almost as good as a professional f/2.8 zoom, or even a prime lens!
Then again, most nightscape photos happen at 24mm or wider focal lengths, so, maybe you should only consider this lens to be a compliment to your Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8, or even a 14-24mm or 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. You could always switch to that wide-angle zoom for all your nightscapes, of course, but it is still going to be very convenient to be able to use this lens as a second or 3rd (or 4th!) lens on a hiking adventure where every single lens you decide to bring needs to be as versatile as possible…
NOTE: There is a bizarre, significant issue with it when working in extremely, extremely dark conditions, and it could be a show-stopper that forces you to consider a different lens, however, THERE IS A FIRMWARE UPDATE, which should fix the issue!
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Review | Pros & Cons
The pros and cons are pretty straightforward for anyone who is familiar with Tamron’s full-frame mirrorless lineup: This lens is very sharp, and offers a surprisingly fast aperture, both of which are made even more impressive by the compactness and price tag of the package.
On the other hand, just like with Tamron’s other E-mount full-frame (FE) lenses, the Tamron 28-200mm is a bit no-frills in other respects, offering enough physical build quality to survive the elements, (it’s weather-sealed, but still made of more cheap-feeling plastics compared to, say, a Sony GM lens) …plus it lacks other features like a physical AF/MF switch, a customizable Focus Hold button, or optical stabilization for those longer focal lengths…
Tamron 28-200mm Pros
- Incredible image quality for a “superzoom”
- Fastest aperture range of any superzoom
- Most portable, lightweight of any zoom to offering such fast apertures
- Impressive value for the performance
- Impressive autofocus speed & reliability in most lighting conditions
Tamron 28-200mm Cons
- Besides sharpness, other image quality aspects are less-than-perfect
- Build quality not “GM” status
- No-frills physical design
- No VC (OSS) which is useful at longer focal lengths
- Odd thermal noise problem at long shutter speeds & high ISOs (firmware update fixes this?)
Here’s the synopsis about the Tamron 28-200mm’s image quality: It’s very sharp, even in the corners, at all focal lengths and all apertures. It’s not perfect, but even on a 61-megapixel A7R IV, it is truly impressive.
In terms of sharpness, here’s the interpretation of the above sample crop images: It’s almost perfectly sharp in the central parts of the image, at literally all focal lengths in the zoom range, even with the aperture wide-open.
Only when you look at the extreme edges and corners, can you see some softness wide-open. It’s not very bad to begin with, and by stopping down just one stop, almost the entire image frame gets razor sharp; the extreme corners, (and this is only at 28mm) require stopping down a bit more to get sharp. Unfortunately, on a 61-megapixel camera diffraction is a killer even by f/11, but it’s safe to say that the lens is “acceptably sharp” even in its worst test scenario, that is the extreme corners at 28mm.
Aside from sharpness, virtually everything else about the lens’ image quality is pretty good too. The bokeh, colors, and overall “pop” are all beautiful. There’s also not very much vignetting, distortion, or flare “dots”. There’s a noticeable amount of chromatic aberration, fringing, and coma/astigmatism, mostly noticeable at 28mm.
Oh, and sunstars look kinda neat, as far as modern mirrorless lenses are concerned, and close-up focusing/sharpness is decent, too!
Last but not least, here’s one thing that very few zoom lenses can claim, let alone superzooms: Near-zero focus breathing! I discovered this accidentally, when I was doing a focus stacked landscape image:
Unfortunately, for those who are wondering, the 28-200mm is not parfocal. It’s close, but not quite. You could easily get away with it for Instagram or Youtube resolution imagery, but not full-resolution 40-60 megapixel images.
Design & Durability
When you first see and hold the Tamron 28-200mm, its size and weight tricks you into thinking it’s just another cheap, breakable “kit” lens. It is most definitely not!
Despite the outward appearance of the physical build quality, (the surfaces of which seem to be much more prone to showing faint scratches,) …the actual construction of the lens is quite durable. It’s even fully weather-sealed, with not just a gasket at the mount, but actual gaskets throughout the moving parts of the lens.
Although it lacks “frills” such as an AF/MF switch or a customizable “Focus Hold” button, the minimalistic design is probably going to feel welcome to those who want a simplified user experience. The lens has a zoom lock switch, so it doesn’t creep from 28mm to 200mm, and the hood is a nice fit; it’s compact enough that you won’t feel inclined to leave it at home, yet substantial enough to protect the lens from impacts to the front element.
Would I call it as well-made and impervious to the elements as a Sony GM lens? No, indeed not, but it’s still a very well-made lens; if you’re going to break it or damage it, it’ll probably be due to your own recklessness, not a failure of the lens itself.
The zoom ring and focus ring are both very smooth, with only a single “crank” from just two fingers required to traverse the entire zoom range.
Tamron’s RXD autofocus motors do a great job; they’re virtually silent and are very fast and accurate. It also helps that this lens has a faster aperture than almost all other superzooms; the ability to offer relatively fast apertures from 28mm to 70mm, allows the sensor-based autofocus to be just a little bit more reliable in low light.
Having said that, from 150mm to 200mm, when the aperture is at f/5.6, in high-action or extremely dim light, you will start to see more hit-or-miss results from the 28-200mm’s autofocus. Of course, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 has very impressive autofocus at 180mm, if you do lots of low-light, telephoto photography.)
All in all, here’s what you’re getting: nearly flagship f/2.8 zoom autofocus performance, in a superzoom that covers almost two entire pro zoom ranges.
Manual Focus Performance
Manual focus with the Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 is nice and smooth, both in terms of the physical focus ring itself, and the electronic sensitivity/precision. I generally still dislike electronically-controlled manual focusing, but Tamron’s manual focus precision is right up there with Sony GM.
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Nightscape / Long Exposure Noise Pattern
Nov. 2020 NOTE: there is a firmware update that should reduce/eliminate this issue. CLICK HERE!
One of the things I was most excited about with this lens was the fact that this was the first modern full-frame superzoom to offer f/2.8 for a substantial portion of its zoom range. This meant that I could potentially use it as my only travel lens on both landscape AND nightscape photography adventures.
So, naturally, one of the first things I did with this lens was, take it on a hike into the mountains, and shoot a 30-second exposure at ISO 12800. Unfortunately, I was shocked to see that the resulting image, captured at 28mm, had a huge purple blob of noise covering the right side of the image.
I tested the lens on three or four different Sony bodies and got the same result. Then, I tested those Sony bodies with a variety of other lenses and got clean results without any purple thermal noise. Something inside the lens is creating noise on the sensor.
Looking inside the lens, I noticed that there was a substantial amount of physical movement of the rear elements when zooming in towards 200mm, so I did one more test, zooming from 28mm to 200mm in ~10mm increments. Sure enough, the thermal noise slowly disappeared and was virtually nonexistent from 100mm to 200mm.
Thus, I can only conclude that some of the electronics inside the lens are not shielded well enough, and at 28mm when they are closest to the camera body’s image sensor, they create a noise pattern that will be visible on the right edge of your images.
Although this issue has apparently been resolved via a firmware update, (click here) …here is the original info that gathered about the problem, in case you encounter it:
- The issue is most visible at 28mm, 30 sec, and ISO 12800 or higher.
- Compressed RAW (ARW) versus Uncompressed does NOT have an effect.
- Long Exposure NR being on or off does NOT have an effect.
- Going from 28mm to ~35mm (f/3.2) shifts the problem to the very edge of the frame.
- In a 30-sec exposure, going from ISO 12800 to ISO 6400 significantly reduces the problem.
- Similarly, going from ISO 6400 to ISO 3200 almost completely hides the problem, but only at 30-sec or shorter shutter speeds.
- Shooting a 60-sec exposure at ISO 6400, or a 120-sec exposure at ISO 3200, etc, creates an identical noise pattern as a 30-sec exposure at ISO 12800.
So, here is what we can learn from that information: Under relatively bright, “easy” nightscape conditions, where you might not be exposing any faster than 30 sec and/or lower than ISO 3200, you won’t have much trouble. So, for a scene with a decently bright crescent moon, and especially a half or full moon, there should be no problem.
Beyond that, any long exposures past 30 sec may reveal the issue, depending on the combination of ISO and shutter speed and its proximity on the exposure triangle to 30 sec @ ISO 12800.
On the darkest of nights, when you’ve got nothing but starlight and are looking to work at ISO 6400 or 12800, and 30 sec or longer, and IF you notice this issue, be sure to reach out to Tamron and see if they can help you resolve the issue. (Updating the firmware yourself will require an additional accessory USB console.)
Alternately, if you’ve got the latest firmware but are still seeing the issue, please let us know!
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Review | Value Compared To The Competition
Remember, there aren’t many full-frame super-zoom lenses available for the Sony E-mount, period. So, already, competition for this Tamron is truly scarce.
At its price tag of about $730, it’s a good value not only because it’s the first lens of its kind, but also, it’s actually a very good lens! No other full-frame super-zoom for mirrorless offers f/2.8 at the wide end, or such a fast overall aperture range. Even considering DSLR adapted lenses, it’s one of the best choices for the Sony E-mount, period.
If you’re wondering, Canon and Nikon both have new full-frame mirrorless superzooms too, and both of them zoom out to 24mm instead of 28mm which is nice. However, they also both have slower apertures, f/4-6.3. The Canon, impressively, is a very sharp 10X zoom, a 24-240mm. (Just in case you haven’t bought a full-frame camera yet, and are wondering which system to invest in based on their superzoom options…)
Sony also has an FE 24-240mm superzoom, by the way, with an aperture of f/ 3.5-6.3. Unfortunately, it’s just not as impressive in terms of image quality, which is a bummer since it costs over $1,000. (We weren’t able to do a direct comparison, but have seen enough sample images to be certain.)
So, here’s the real bottom line. When comparing the Tamron 28-200mm against anything else, you should focus on these three questions…
- Do you like 28mm and f/2.8, or do you prefer/need 24mm and f/4?
- Alternately, would you be willing to give up on the idea of “one lens for everything”, …and add the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 to your kit?
- Do you like native, compact, simple lenses, or are you okay with adapters and more complex setups?
The only thing I can think of that might cause you to hesitate is, of course, if you really do want a superzoom that goes to 24mm. There might not be a good alternative right now, but who knows, there could be one on the way. Or, you could just consider the Sony 24-105mm f/4 G, which is a very respectable lens, although it only zooms to 105mm, it doesn’t even really qualify as a “superzoom”.
Should you buy a superzoom even if you own professional lenses?
Over the last 15 years, I’ve lost count of how many parents I’ve seen lugging around a full-frame DSLR and a 24-70mm f/2.8 AND a 70-200mm f/2.8 at Disneyland, or on a family day hike in a National Park, and everywhere in between. (We’ve all seen the “uncle bob” at a wedding, with is 1DX or 5D and 24-70mm f/2.8 that he uses for casual snapshots!)
On the one hand, who am I to judge them? If lugging around a massive, heavy zoom (or two, or three) is your idea of fun, then go right ahead!
On the other hand, I have talked to innumerable photographers who have expressed a strong dislike towards such heavy gear. It is clear to me that even though they love great image quality, they’d still jump at an opportunity to carry around something lighter, and leave the big heavy stuff at home.
With that said, here are two numbers that clearly demonstrate the incredible difference a full-frame mirrorless superzoom can make, compared to the most common “no compromises” kit I’ve seen in the last decade:
- Canon 5D mkIV + Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II + Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L III = 3085g
- Sony A7R IV + Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 = 1240g
I don’t care how in-shape you are, or how quickly you can change lenses, ~4 lbs (1800g) is a big difference!
That’s why a lens like the Tamron 28-200 is so attractive. Simply put, if you’re okay with 28mm instead of 24mm, and if you’re okay with shooting at f/5.6 instead of f/2.8 at 200mm, …then you can enjoy the benefits of an incredibly lightweight, compact, and affordable lens.
Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Review | Conclusion
That about wraps up our verdict about this lens! If you like the idea of 28mm and f/2.8 more than you like the idea of 24mm and f/4, then get this lens right away. If you like the idea of no-compromise optics that offer incredible sharpness throughout an entire zoom range, in a highly portable package, then definitely consider the Tamron 28-200!
Even if you have more to spend, or if you know you’d rather have 24mm, it’s not like there’s a truly incredible alternative out there waiting for you. You’ll have to wait (probably a year or more?) to see a Sony or other third-party lens that offers such good image quality as this Tamron, and hits 24mm.
Of course, if you’re really into low-light work, whether it’s portraits and weddings, or indoor action sports, or nightscape and astrophotography, then you should be considering the Tamron holy trinity, the 17-28mm, 28-75mm, and 70-180mm f/2.8’s. They’re all incredibly lightweight and compact, and they’re all incredibly sharp too.
We highly recommend the Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 to anyone who is looking for a great all-around lens that delivers much more than your average superzoom!
Check Pricing & Availability
The Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD is currently available for the Sony E (FE full-frame) mount for $729. (B&H) If you travel to exotic destinations a lot, we highly recommend a 67mm Circular Polarizing filter ($66) since, conveniently, it’s the same size as ALL of Tamron’s other full-frame zoom lenses! A circular polarizer is critical to enhancing blue skies and cutting through reflections on water and wet surfaces.