It took quite a few years for third-parties to get truly serious about the Sony E-mount, but now, Tamron in particular has led the charge with some amazing E-mount (FE full-frame) lenses that offer an incredible value versus the name-brand competition.

So, is the new Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD another home-run for those who have been waiting for an alternative to the traditionally expensive and heavy 70-200mm f/2.8 flagship name-brand lenses? Or, is it too much of a compromise in performance? Will this Tamron’s build quality stand up to abuse like the heavy-duty name-brands are legendary for doing, year after year?

Today, we’ll attempt to answer these questions as best we can! This review was produced entirely during the 2020 “quarantine” of COVID-19, since the wedding season has been effectively postponed until further notice. With that said, we’re confident that we can answer a lot of the burning questions you have about this lens, such as, how sharp is it, what’s the bokeh like, and how good is the autofocus!

If you’re looking for a quick verdict, here it is: FINALLY, this is the type of lens I’ve been wanting for years as a wedding photographer! I’ve never liked the heft of flagship 70-200mm’s, and I’ve always wanted an alternative that cuts just enough corners to be highly portable and very affordable but still delivers the goods in terms of sharp, beautiful images. This lens is definitely going on my list of top recommendations for wedding and portrait photographers who shoot Sony. (Also, I hope Tamron is working right now to figure out both the Nikon Z-mount and the Canon RF mount!)

To be totally honest and upfront, though: you’ll have to stay tuned for a long-term, working pro’s review of this new “trinity” of lenses, (the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, and Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8) …because they are indeed made more of plastic than the all-metal name-brand options, and to any full-time or part-time professional photographer, long-term durability is worth its weight in gold. So, while the long-term reports from the 28-75mm and 17-28mm so far have been very positive, we would be remiss if we didn’t report back after a few months of actual real-world work for this 70-180mm f/2.8, and the trio of lenses as a whole hard-working toolkit.

With that said, let’s dive into this review and check out the images!

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD | Specifications

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  • FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 70-180mm, (34° 21′ to 13° 42′)
  • LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E (APS-C, and FE full-frame mirrorless)
  • APERTURE & RANGE: f/2.8-f/22, nine-blade rounded aperture
  • STABILIZATION: None in-lens, available on most Sony E-mount bodies
  • AUTOFOCUS: Two VXD linear motors
  • MANUAL FOCUS: Electronically controlled, LCD display focus distance markings, no hyperfocal aides
  • OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 19 elements in 14 groups, 6 low-dispersion / XLD, 3 aspherical, BBAR-G2 coating,
  • MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: high-grade plastic & metal, moisture-resistant construction, fluorine anti-dust/oil coating, zoom lock at 70mm
  • MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 1:4.6 reproduction, 2.8 ft (85 cm) focus distance, @ 70mm & manual focus, 1:2 reproduction possible, 10.6 in (26.9 cm)
  • FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 67mm, 1-piece plastic hood
  • SIZE: 3.19 x 5.87 inches (81 x 149 mm)
  • WEIGHT: 1.78 lb (810 g)
  • PRICE: $1,199 (B&H, Adorama, Amazon)

Firmware Update (May 29th, 2020)

Although we did not experience any of the issues described in this firmware update, we thought they were significant enough to mention, and especially if you plan to use any of these cameras with the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, you should definitely visit the official Tamron page to get the update or read more about it.

Here’s what the FW update fixes:

1. A malfunction of the inner body image stabilizer occurs when used at about 70-85mm focal length and at more than 5.5m of object distance.
Applicable camera models: α7 II

2. When you use flashes, there is a delay from the time the shutter button is pressed to the time the shutter and the flash release.
Applicable camera models: α7, α7 II, α7R, α7R II, α7S, α7S II, α5000, α5100, α6000, α6300, α6500, NEX-3N, NEX-5R, NEX-5T, NEX-7, NEX-F3, NEX-6

For more details, visit this official Tamron page.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Review | Who Should Buy It?

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/1000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 180mm

Okay, let’s be honest: who doesn’t want an affordable, lightweight alternative to the extremely popular 70-200mm f/2.8’s? Until now, both DSLR and mirrorless 70-200mm f/2.8’s have all been very big and heavy, and most of them have been relatively expensive. Sure, third-party DSLR options like the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC G2 are relatively affordable, ($1,199, the exact same price as this 70-180mm f/2.8!) …but it weighs a whopping 3.28 lbs (1.49 kg).

I don’t care how much you work out, a weight savings of 1.5 lbs (680g) is going to be something that your wrists thank you profusely for after a long day of photography, if nothing else.

With that said, we could conclude right now that virtually every photographer who is even thinking about Sony’s E-mount system should consider this lens, especially if they were already considering a 70-200mm f/2.8, or maybe a 70-200mm f/4 instead for price/weight reasons. But, there are a few nuances to cover in terms of specific genres of photography, so let’s quickly go over them now…

Wedding Photographers

Hands-down, this could be your new favorite lens. Wedding photographers are, in essence, portrait photographers who also have to cram many more hours of photojournalism into a single day. For this type of photography, a 70-200mm f/2.8 is a workhorse, a bread-and-butter lens for many. However, in these long-day conditions, nothing causes hand/wrist fatigue like having to hoist a 3+ lb lens for 10-12+ hours.

Note, for example, in the image below- Canon’s new 70-200mm f/2.8 for mirrorless is indeed well-balanced, though it’s still a bit heavier than the Tamron. On the other hand, look at how forward the balance of a DSLR 70-200mm f/2.8 would be. (accounting for the longer flange distance, too) So, not only is a lens like the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III about 1.5 lbs heavier, but I’d estimate that at least 1 lb of that weight is actually beyond the very front of the Tamron.

That’s what makes the Tamron so hand-holdable, and most other 70-200’s require support from your left hand virtually 100% of the time. See below:

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Left To Right: Tamron 70-180mmm, Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 III L IS

The only drawback for weddings might be the slightly reduced “reach” on the long end, as 180mm instead of 200mm can feel like a big difference when you’re stuck in the back of a large church and can’t get any closer to the action. However, in my personal experience as a full-time wedding shooter, with today’s latest 24-40 megapixel cameras, it’s no big deal to bump the camera into APS-C mode (Super-35 mode for Sony users) and gain an extra 1.5x crop while still having plenty of megapixels for such action/candid shots that aren’t likely to be printed huge.

I haven’t shot a wedding yet with the Tamron 70-180mm, because there aren’t any weddings happening right now, period, but I have tons of experience using 70-200mm f/2.8’s in APS-C mode and enjoying that extra bit of reach when hitting APS-C mode. The only question is, might I miss the equivalent of 300mm, (200mm x 1.5) …when I’m “stuck at” 250mm? (180mm x 1.5) I think I could survive…

In short, whether you love 70-200mm as a bread-and-butter workhorse of a wedding lens, or especially if you actually prefer primes and just want a zoom to “cover the bases” from time to time, all Sony-shooting wedding photographers should consider this to be their #1 pick for telephoto f/2.8 work.

The only other potential long-term drawback might be the overall durability; wedding photographers can be particularly hard on their gear, and this Tamron feels like it is made of mostly plastic in the barrel construction. Although we obviously haven’t been able to put an entire season of weddings under our belt yet with this new lens, all of the previous Tamrons and their combinations of high-grade plastic and metal parts have been ever-improving in their overall long-term durability, so although we’ll still report back after a few months of heavy usage for this lens, we’re confident that it is likely to stand the test of time almost as well as the much heavier name-brand flagships.

Portrait Photographers

Portrait photographers often have a lot more flexibility in their working distance when it comes to needing zoom range, compared to wedding photographers, so the missing 200mm end is likely not going to be a big problem at all. Just take a couple steps closer to your subject, and the Tamron 70-180mm’s impressive close-focusing capability will give you all the close-up headshot image quality you need. Note, however, that the minimum focusing distance is variable, and you’ll actually get more magnification at 70mm, but you’ll have to get extremely close to your subjects, which we don’t recommend for portraits.

Concert, Stage & Theater Photographers

One category of photographers that we don’t cover very much in lens reviews is concert/stage/theater photography. To get a feel for what its’s like to photograph these genres, imagine you’re photographing a 2-4 hour long wedding ceremony, and you’re stuck in either the very back row, or the very front row, with very little possibility for moving except maybe side to side. Imagine that your light is ranging from darker than a catholic church, to nearly as bright as broad daylight, back and forth the whole time! Also, of course, imagine that all of your subjects are literally jumping and prancing around the stage!

In other words, you need an f/2.8 zoom with extremely reliable autofocus, and good image quality at wide-open apertures. The Tamron delivers the goods in this regard, and if you pair it with an impressive Sony body like the A9 or the A9 II, you’ll have one of the best concert/stage photography tools around.

Fashion & Editorial Photographers

Whether your high-end portraiture or commercial work requires extreme sharpness, smooth bokeh, perfect colors, or all of the above, you won’t be disappointed by the Tamron 70-180mm versus its 70-200mm competition. Especially by f/4 and f/5.6, the image quality overall is just superb.

Candid & Street Photographers

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 12800, 180mm

You’ll love the portability of this lens, especially if you use it without its hood for additional unobtrusiveness when you really want to be incognito or unintimidating. (We do recommend always using your hood, however, for impact and smudge protection, especially if your subjects are liable to try to lick your lens!)

More importantly, the autofocus for candid portraits and street photography, in any kind of light, is fantastic.

Action Sports Photographers

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/3200 sec, f/4, ISO 100, 180mm, APS-C crop
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100% crop, f/4, center, fine sharpening applied

Speaking of autofocus performance, action sports photographers will likely appreciate how snappy and reliable the Tamron AF performance is. Especially with any of the Sony bodies that offer the new Real-Time tracking AF system, you can trust this Tamron to stick like glue to your subjects, no matter how fast or erratic they are. Only at the highest speeds will you potentially get a bit snappier responsiveness from, say, the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, although even that lens is one of the older Sony GM options, and is likely due for a new replacement in the next year or two.

However, with only 180mm on the long end, this feels like the type of optic that you would pair with an even longer “big gun” telephoto lens, such as the Tamron 15-600mm, or the Sony 200-600mm, for those significantly more distant subjects.

Wildlife Photographers

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, 180mm, APS-C Crop

Wildlife photography is also an area where autofocus speed and reliability is very important, however, it’s also an area where absolute reach is very important! So, unless you frequently shoot very close-up wildlife subjects, 180mm will feel very restrictive for you.

To be fair, 70-200mm is already not very long of a focal range for wildlife photography, and you might be considering a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. Unfortunately, although we haven’t done any extensive testing yet, based on our initial results regarding overall sharpness, we’re not sure if the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 is the right choice for use with teleconverters.

Good news, though: the Tamron SP 150-600mm f//5-6.3 costs exactly the same, ($1,199), and is much better suited for very distant subjects, despite its slower aperture. (Remember, if you put a 2x teleconverter on an f/2.8 lens, you’re at f/5.6 anyway!)

Landscape Photographers

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm
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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, 180mm

Landscape photographers who spend a lot of their time at f/8 or f/11, and a lot of their time hiking long distances to get their photos, will likely love the portability and image quality of the Tamron 70-180mm. Until now, if you wanted a portable, ultra-sharp lens for your landscape photography, you’d have to settle for a 70-200mm f/4, which might not be optimal if you also shoot low-light subjects such as a little bit of casual wildlife or astrophotography.

While the 70-180mm isn’t a champion for wildlife or astro-landscapes, its versatility as a general landscape photography lens is still worth noting.

Nature & Macro Photographers

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/1000 sec, f/8, ISO 100, 180mm

For general outdoor photography, it all comes down to how much hiking etc. you might be doing, and what types of subjects you plan to photograph. Maybe you’re better off with a longer telephoto lens like the Tamron 150-600mm, or maybe you’re better off with a dedicated macro lens like the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8.

However, if you’d like a well-rounded lens that can perform decently well at almost anything, from macro to general nature and outdoor photography, (and do it at f/2.8) …then this is hands-down the only portable, affordable lens available. (More about this lens’ interesting macro capability in a minute!)

Nightscape & Astrophotographers

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 4 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 70mm
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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/13 sec, f/8, ISO 100, 180mm, 100% Crop

For those landscape photographers who also do a lot of astro-landscape work, and therefore would prefer f/2.8 zooms instead of f/4 zooms, Tamron has been hitting home runs with their Sony E-mount f/2.8 zooms. Pair this 70-180mm f/2.8 with, say, the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8, and you’ve got an incredible landscape + nightscape kit. You could add the 3rd piece of the Tamron trio to the equation, of course, and get the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, but personally, for landscapes and nightscapes, I usually prefer a good, sharp, 35mm or 50mm prime instead; the versatility of having f/1.4 or f/1.8 at my disposal is preferable.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Review | Pros

Alright, now that we’ve talked about the different types of photography and how they relate to this lens, let’s talk about its actual performance. Is it sharp? Is the bokeh any good? Let’s find out!

Image Quality

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV (61 megapixels) | 1/2500 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 180mm

Sharpness

When photographers talk about image quality, they usually want to talk about sharpness first and foremost, even though there are a dozen other ways to measure image quality. Still, let’s set the baseline for image quality with our sharpness tests for the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8.

tamron 70 180mm review sharpness test 70mm center

tamron 70 180mm review sharpness test 70mm corner

tamron 70 180mm review sharpness test 180mm center

tamron 70 180mm review sharpness test 180mm corner

Simply put, it’s very sharp. It’s not perfect at f/2.8, but it’s impressive, and for things like portrait or action photography, it’s a perfect balance of good detail and a soft transition to de-focus.

Whether you’re shooting 24, 42, or 61 megapixels, you can trust the Tamron to deliver impressive results. You will see a bit of an improvement when going from f/2.8 to f/4, but that’s really just going from “great” to “incredible”.

Bokeh

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/1000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 180mm
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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 180mm

As long as a portrait lens is decently sharp wide-open, the next important thing that people want to know about is bokeh. And rightly so, because quite honestly in portraiture and many other genres, nobody will notice slightly reduced corner sharpness, but they’ll definitely be turned off by “busy” or distracting bokeh.

Thankfully, the Tamron’s rounded 9-blade aperture does a great job of blurring even the nastiest types of bokeh, such as dead twigs and chainlink fences. This is no easy feat, and generally something you’d want to avoid as a portrait photographer anyways.

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/2000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 140mm

In other words, you can expect smooth, creamy bokeh, especially if you’re smart about choosing your backgrounds for your portraits and other candid moments.

Colors & Contrast

With all those fancy optical elements and coatings, the images better be clear, crisp, and vibrant! They certainly are.

Vignetting & Distortion

For such a compact lens, one might expect both distortion and vignetting to be significant. Thankfully, vignetting is not very bad even with the in-camera correction turned off, and with it turned on, it’s even more negligible.

The same goes for distortion- there’s a bit of barrel distortion when focusing rather close at 70mm, without the in-camera auto-correction turned on, however when set to “auto” there is virtually zero distortion.

Flare & Sunstars

Flare is beautiful wide-open at f/2.8, but has no unique characteristics either, as we’ve come to expect from so many modern lenses with so many high-quality optical coatings and glass elements.

Tamron 70 180mm review flare bokeh test
F/8 Flare worst-case scenario test example. (This is unlikely to appear in most types of photos)

Stopped down to f/8, and in extreme flare situations, you’ll see the worst possible flare: a few dots, one hourglass-shaped flare, and sometimes in extreme cases, the dreaded RGB criss-cross pattern may show up, although that may very well be a characteristic that depends on the sensor being used, actually.

Sunstars, also par for the course, are well defined at f/8-22, but not pin-points like the un-rounded aperture blades of yesteryear.

Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 @ 180mm, f/2.8, dead-center 100% crop
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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 @ 180mm, f/2.8, extreme corner 100% crop

In high-contrast scenes there is some ghosting at f/2.8, but it’s almost completely gone by f/4. There is no chromatic aberration to speak of, when using the in-camera aberration correction and Lightroom’s auto-correction.

Coma & Astigmatism, which matter a lot to astro-landscape photographers, is present at f/2.8, but it’s so well-balanced that instead of looking like “bird wings” in the image corners, it looks more like a 4-point sunstar instead, (or in the above case, a supernova, maybe?) …making it slightly less objectionable for all but the most discerning astrophotographers.

Macro & Close-Up Photography

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 @ 180mm, f/2.8, closest focusing distance (with autofocus)
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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, f/5.6, closest focusing distance (with manual focus)

This is where things get really interesting for the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD, where it has a few quirks and caveats that you might see as a benefit, or an annoyance. First, the lens can focus much closer at 70mm than it can at 180mm, allowing an impressive 1:2 reproduction (0.5x magnification) at 70mm, but not nearly as much at 180mm.

Secondly, however, at 70mm you must focus manually to get all the way to 1:2 reproduction, effectively making it a manual focus macro lens.

Third, at 70mm and such extremely close focusing distances, only the center of the image is sharp; the edges and corners are completely soft, even when stopping down. This usually isn’t a problem for most types of photography, in fact for most macro subjects it gives a beautiful, dreamy effect. However, it’s not a good idea for reproducing flat subjects, that’s for sure!

Design & Durability

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Okay, moving on from image quality to the other aspects of this lens review, let’s talk about durability and overall design.

As with all of Tamron’s other Sony E-mount full-frame lenses, the 70-180mm is a no-frills design. It has no AF/MF switch, no Sony Fn button, no optical stabilization, and generally minimalist plastic design and construction. There is a zoom lock at 70mm, which is nice, and the hood seems sturdy enough, though it doesn’t have an actual spring-loaded locking mechanism like the Sony flagship f/2.8 zooms have.

Having said that, this is part of how the lens gets to be so lightweight and portable, and I’m very thankful for this lightweight, minimalist design! To have added even just the Sony Fn button would have likely added to the cost and weight of the lens, and I honestly don’t miss it that dearly, although others might.

The only unknown is the long-term durability, and the capability of the weather-sealing, if we’re even calling it that. Tamron just called it “moisture-resistant construction”, which kind of hints that there are likely not as many actual rubber gaskets as a Sony GM lens would have, unfortunately.

Some photographers might complain that the 70-180mm extends when zooming, however, keep in mind that plenty of flagship, name-brand 24-70mm f/2.8’s also have moving barrels when zooming, and many of them are built rather indestructible, too. Personally, I’m happy to have a lens that isn’t as front-heavy as the Sony 70-200 GM, period.

Only time will tell, however, if the 70-180’s durability is anything like the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD that has already been around for more than two years now. If so, then it’ll likely be a solid workhorse of a lens that will last many years, and more than pay for itself.

The only other physical drawback is that, the surface finish of these lenses definitely shows wear almost immediately; personally it’s not something I mind at all, but for those who like their gear to look “mint” forever, you’ll have to really baby these Tamrons. Working pros, don’t worry, you’ll likely have many years of dependability,  and even if it lasts half as long as a Sony GM lens, you’ll have broken even. (And saved your wrists some pain in the meantime!)

Autofocus Performance

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Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 1/2500 sec, f/4, ISO 100, 180mm, APS-C Crop Mode

Autofocus of third-party lenses was always a huge deal-breaker for DSLR lenses, because the off-sensor, optical phase-detect autofocus systems just didn’t play nice for some reason. Not just Tamron, but all third parties had trouble getting truly reliable AF performance on Nikon and Canon DSLRs.

This is no longer the case with on-sensor hybrid AF with Tamron, thankfully! (Also, thankfully, it must be said that this is slowly proving to be the case with other third parties, too, as they begin to make more dedicated E-mount AF lenses.)

Simply put, when it comes to Sony’s E-mount, the great equalizer is the camera body, not the lens. Meaning, if you try to compare a Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM against this Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD, on the same camera, (say, a Sony a9 II or Sony A7R IV) ….you’ll barely see any difference in autofocus reliability.

On the other hand, though, you’d see a relatively significant difference in autofocus reliability if you put the Tamron on both a Sony A7R IV and an A7 III, with their significantly different AF systems.

Bottom line- On any Sony with Real-Time AF tracking, the Tamron is a champ, with the only AF inconsistency being chalked up to extremely terrible lighting conditions that would likely also cause a Sony GM lens to struggle, too.

Manual Focus Performance

Thanks to Tamron’s adherence to Sony’s official E-mount communication protocols, when manual focusing you get both a focus distance scale, and a meters/feet readout, which is nice. Manual focus precision is great, no complaints, aside from the usual critique of Sony’s electronically controlled manual focusing, which is not very good at remembering or reading out precise focus distances on a consistent basis.

Value

Plain and simple, at ~$1200 it’s hard to deny that there’s incredible value here. The Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM is nearly $2600, so that’s more than a 110% price hike. So, a working pro could buy two of the Tamrons and still come out ahead, if they were worried about the overall build quality, or they could simply save that $1400 for other gear, pay for a few years of gear insurance, or any number of other things.

And, not to be too shady, but the Tamron comes with a limited 6-year warranty, while the Sony GM lens has a limited 1-year warranty.

To be fair, it’s likely that the Sony’s metal construction and overall build quality could allow the GM lens to last 5-10 years, and we just can’t be sure yet whether the Tamron is up to the task of lasting even 5-6 years. So, keep that in mind.

Personally, the real value is in the weight savings. As a full-time wedding photographer, I’ve been waiting for a lens like this; it will be invaluable on those long 14+ hour wedding days when my wrist has 1.5 lbs less weight torquing on it. I’m absolutely sold, period!

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Review | Cons

180mm versus 200mm

Okay, let’s talk about the biggest concern that most people will likely have, the fact that this lens doesn’t go to 200mm, it stops at 180mm. In practice, is this a really big deal? It depends on what you shoot, as we discussed above, but personally, I didn’t find it to be a deal-breaker for most types of photography. It might be a problem to certain photographers who always need as much “reach” as they can get, and find themselves restricted on being able to step closer to their subjects, but even in some of those scenarios, a bit of cropping will solve the problem anyway.

What about focus breathing, you might ask? Well, it’s a point against many full-frame 70-200mm’s, because when focusing close-up they stop being 200mm, and act more like 135-150mm lenses, in some cases. Since the Tamron 70-180mm can focus so close, even at 180mm, I think it’s safe to say that although there is a non-zero amount of focus breathing, it’s not enough to deter you, if all you want to do is get close-up shots of your subjects.

Longevity & External Build

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As we already discussed, if you don’t like your gear to ever show any scuff marks, you might want to stick with Sony G and GM lenses, with their nice textured, durable finish. The Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, like its two sibling f/2.8 E-mount zooms, will show faint signs of wear very soon. Personally, it doesn’t bother me at all; I use all of my gear heavily enough for it to show signs of wear.

What does concern me is the overall plastic construction, and the questionable level of weather-sealing versus a flagship GM lens. While it’s likely that the Tamron 70-180 is more than capable of living a long 5-6+ year life, and surviving any light drizzle or other nasty weather, I still won’t feel as confident as I would with a Sony GM lens.

Personally, though, I already know it’s worth the risk, for the portability and affordability factors. I’d much rather have a set of lightweight f/2.8 zooms that still deliver amazing image quality, than lug around a duo or trio of f/2.8 zooms that weigh me down like a backpack full of bricks, whether it’s an all-day wedding or an overnight hiking trip.

No-Frills Feature Set

As we also mentioned already, you might really miss having that Sony Fn button that lenses like the FE 70-200 GM and 135mm f/1.8 GM have. Personally, it doesn’t bother me; I have enough buttons on the camera body itself to customize my autofocus settings as I see fit.

[Related Reading: Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM Review | A next-generation portrait lens for next-generation cameras]

Some photographers might also miss optical stabilization, which is slightly superior to sensor-based stabilization for telephoto lenses. Personally, as someone who shoots with un-stabilized primes more often than not anyway, I don’t feel truly inconvenienced by having to use IBIS with the 70-180mm.

Some photographers might point out that this lens lacks any ability to use a tripod collar. Personally, however, I think it’s pretty clear that this particular lens is just so lightweight and short, that it just doesn’t need one. For reference, the Tamron is even lighter than almost every 70-200mm f/4 on the market, except the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L’s, which are almost exactly the same weight, actually.

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Review | Compared To The Competition

If you don’t own an f/2.8 telephoto zoom yet at all for your Sony full-frame camera, consider this lens first. For almost any type of photography, that’s the end of the discussion: this should be at the top of your list!

If you already own an f/2.8 telephoto lens, what lens is it? Are you using a DSLR lens on an adapter? While the image quality from virtually every 70-200mm f/2.8 made in the last 10 years is amazing, you’ll likely see a huge improvement in autofocus performance when using a native E-mount lens with the latest AF technology.

If you already own the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, then, are you happy with it? The Sony 70-200 2.8 isn’t perfectly sharp, but neither is this Tamron. You need to really care about lightening your load, (or be really hard-up for cash) to trade in a name-brand flagship lens in exchange for this Tamron.

Having said that, the last question to ask is, how much do you plan on using a telephoto f/2.8 zoom? If you much prefer an 85mm or 135mm prime anyways, and will barely be using an f/2.8 zoom just when you absolutely need zooming, then you don’t need a $2600 f/2.8 zoom to cover that range. Just “cover the bases” with this $1200 Tamron 70-180mm, and keep on saving up for a legendary optic like the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM, (~$2100) or wait for a Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM mk2, or a mythical Sony FE 85mm f/1.2 GM maybe! Who knows!

On the other hand, even if you use an f/2.8 telephoto zoom all the time, it comes back to the weight/wrist strength decision. You might be fine with a heavier 70-200 2.8, or you might be hoping for an alternative. You probably already know what is right for you, at this point!

Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Review | Conclusion

Tamron 70 180mm f 2 8 review portrait wedding lens 13
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, Sony A7R IV | 15 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, 70mm

We’ve pretty thoroughly summed up everything you need to know about the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD. Unless you absolutely torture your lenses and need that little bit of extra reach at 200mm, it’s almost a no-brainer to get the 70-180mm.

Having said that, stay tuned for a long-term review of Tamron’s f/2.8 Sony E-mount trio, coming as soon as we can get them all through their paces for some real-world work environment testing! By the look of things, we have a fantastic kit for those mirrorless shooters who have been hoping all along that such a shorter flange distance could, in fact, allow for lenses to get lighter and smaller without compromising on image quality. While Sony’s 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f/2.8’s are all just as big, heavy, and expensive as the DSLR competitors from Canon and Nikon, the now-complete Tamron trio has been an absolute delight to work with so far, and we cannot recommend them highly enough.

Check Pricing & Availability

As of spring 2020, the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD is $1,199, and is available (potentially “shipping soon” or back-ordered) from B&H, Adorama, and Amazon.

8.8
Score

Pros

  • Image Quality
  • Portability
  • Value / Affordability
  • Reliable Autofocus
  • 6-Year Warranty

Cons

  • 180mm Instead Of 200mm
  • MInimal functions & customization
  • Longevity Unknown
Image Quality
9
Design & Build Quality
8
Ergonomics & Portability
10
Features & Functions
7
Autofocus & Manual Focus
9
Value
10

Final Verdict

For most photographers, this lens is the new top pick for f/2.8 telephoto zooms. The pros far outweigh the cons, especially for portrait, wedding, and other types of casual photographers who are looking for a lightweight alternative to the popular 70-200mm range.