Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Review | Another Lens We’ve All Been Waiting For!
Tamron has done it again! Not only have they created another “first” for full-frame mirrorless cameras, but they’ve done an incredible job, too. We just finished reviewing the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD for the Sony E-mount, (FE) and we must say, that we are very impressed.
Tamron’s full-frame mirrorless (E-mount) lenses have all been incredible performers so far, with image quality and autofocus performance being at the top of the list of things that impress us every time. Then, there’s the fact that they’re all surprisingly affordable, making the value even better.
To spoil the final verdict for you, the 70-300mm, as the first third-party 70-300mm lens made specifically for full-frame mirrorless, is another winner. It is one of the most compact, lightweight, and affordable options we’ve ever seen, in a category of lenses that already pride themselves on being portable and cheap! If this type of lens is what you’re looking for, then this Tamron should be at the top of your list.
There are a few minor caveats, and we’ll go over them in the pros and cons section, but suffice it to say, we really like this lens; it’s one of the best lightweight telephoto zooms we’ve ever seen.
Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 70-300mm (34° 21′ to 8° 15′)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E-mount (APS-C and full-frame)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/4.5-6.3 (f/22-32) 7-blade rounded aperture
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: Yes, RXD stepper motor
- MANUAL FOCUS: Yes, electronically controlled via a dedicated focus ring
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 15 elements in 10 groups, one LD (low dispersion) element
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal mount, metal & plastic barrel, weather-sealed, lens extends when zooming
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 0.11x magnification, 31.5 in. (0.8m)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: 67mm, plastic one-piece hood
- SIZE: 5.8 x 3″ (148 x 77 mm)
- WEIGHT: 1.2 lb (545 g)
- PRICE: $549 (B&H | Amazon | Adorama)
Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Review | Who Should Buy It?
A telephoto zoom lens is very useful for all types of photography, from action sports and wildlife to landscapes and cityscapes and of course just general photography.
However, what might make you want a compact, lightweight lens such as this, if not the attractive price? What photography conditions might you still be able to work in, with a slower, darker f/4.5-6.3 aperture?
Let’s talk about specific types of photography, and whether you should get this lens, or maybe something a little different.
The only way I could recommend this relatively “slow” lens to a wedding photographer is if, A, they almost always use primes instead, and B, if they virtually ALWAYS work in bright daylight conditions whenever they do turn to a zoom lens. Say, for example, all the wedding ceremonies you photograph (where you need the extra reach compared to your 85mm or 105mm prime) are outdoors during the day.
If you’re an elopement wedding photographer, and you have to hike up a mountain before you get out your camera gear, then this lens might be a perfect complement to your 85mm or 105mm prime that you reach for when you want truly shallow depth or great low-light performance.
Otherwise, for most types of weddings where there will inevitably be a lot of indoor low-light work, we’d recommend saving up for an f/2.8 telephoto zoom instead. They’ll all cost quite a bit more if you get a modern one that offers good reliable autofocus on the Sony E-mount, however, if you’re looking for something that is almost as lightweight and compact as this 70-300mm, then Tamron’s own 70-180mm f/2.8 is a perfect choice, though it’ll run you $1,199 instead of $549. You’re photographing weddings, so you’d better be able to save up for such an investment!
If you photograph portraits a lot, then you’ll find yourself thinking about shallow depth a lot, as well as autofocus performance (and good, safe shutter speeds) in various low light conditions. For this reason, we’re even more likely to recommend the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8 instead.
Unless, again, you’re almost always taking pictures in decent daylight conditions, in which the extra reach of the 70-300mm could make for some unique portraits, whether from a great distance to create incredible compression effects at 200-300mm, or just getting really close-up for a headshot type portrait.
Candid & Street Photography
Now we get to the areas where the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD will truly shine. If you’re just out and about, whether for a family vacation/outing, or specifically to do candid/event/journalistic photography, being able to have 300mm at your disposal in such a small package. Whether you’re people-watching at the Renaissance Faire, or just out and about in public, you’ll enjoy the all-day portability and discrete compactness that this lens offers. Pair it with a Sony A7C, and you’ve got a truly great everyday, all-day compact setup!
Action Sports & Wildlife Photography
As long as you’re working in decent daylight, this will make a great action sports and wildlife lens for casual and serious photographers. Especially if you’re photographing wildlife but have to climb a mountain to get to it, once again the incredible portability of this 70-300mm should make it a top choice.
However, you might miss having optical stabilization if you’re doing more challenging, high-speed action scenes, and in those instances, we might recommend a DSLR-made alternative, such as the Tamron 100-400mm, (more on this lens later!) which is, of course, a much larger and slightly more pricey lens, ($799 VS $549) …but with VC optical stabilization and the extra reach to 400mm, it might make a better choice for more serious photographers.
Landscape, Cityscape, Time-Lapse & Travel Photography
For all those photographers who might be spending almost all their time working from a tripod, and using slower apertures for depth of field, this should be one of your top choices in terms of portable, affordable telephoto zooms. Whether you’re going on a long grueling hike, or just touring around the beautiful cities of a foreign country all day long, you’ll really appreciate this particular combination of incredible image quality in such a portable package. Toss your lightweight Sony FE full-frame kit on a lightweight, compact tripod like the Peak Design Travel Tripod, or the Slik VARI CF 704 for more rock-solid telephoto shooting, and you’ve got an incredible travel/landscape photography setup.
Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Review | Pros & Cons
The pros & cons of this lens are very clear, and if you’ve read any of the reviews of the other recent Tamron E-mount lenses that we’ve published in the last year or more, you’ll already know how we feel about this particular line of Di III E-mount lenses. If you’d like to just skip reading the next section, enjoy the pretty pictures, and then get to the conclusion, here’s the quick breakdown:
- Impressive image quality
- Impressive sharpness
- Low flare
- Minimal aberrations
- Pleasing bokeh
- Pleasing sunstars
- Impressive close-up sharpness
- Incredible compact & lightweight design
- Build quality “good enough” (A balance of weight savings & durability)
- Weather-sealing a huge plus for such an affordable, compact lens
- Unprecedented overall value
- Missing optical stabilization (In-body stabilization not as useful at long focal lengths)
- Vignetting correction doesn’t always look perfect, especially under heavy editing
- Minimal physical features/functions (No focus distance scale, no AF/MF switch, no zoom lock)
The Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD definitely surprised us with its image quality, considering the diminutive size and the affordable price. Of course, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised at all, since literally, every other E-mount full-frame lens has been very similar in terms of image quality.
That is, nearly the entire image frame is ultra-sharp throughout the entire zoom range, and only the extreme corners exhibit any sort of degradation of resolution. Even then, it is minimal and disappears quickly when stopping down just 1-2 stops. At 300mm, to be honest, we’re getting some of the sharpest images we’ve ever seen from a 70-300 class zoom.
Indeed, even without stopping down the aperture, and even at 300mm, this lens is truly sharp…
Despite the slower apertures, and the less exotic optical formula, the bokeh from this Tamron 70-300mm is nice and soft, and still appears smooth and pleasing even in challenging conditions with lots of cluttered texture in the background.
Colors & Contrast
Colors and contrast overall are truly beautiful. As with virtually every lens on a Sony camera, with the latest version of Adobe Ligtroom, images are vibrant and popping, especially if you switch the Adobe profile to “Vivid” or “Landscape”.
We did not detect any color cast, which is always a pleasant surprise for third-party lenses; even if a quick white balance adjustment can hide all manner of “sins”, it’s great to see images that look “just right” out of the box.
Vignetting & Distortion
Distortion is minimal, and perfectly corrected using the built-in profile, of course.
Vignetting, on the other hand, is a bit more noticeable, and although there is a built-in profile, it doesn’t behave as perfectly as some lenses might. We can’t tell if the correction profile is accidentally applying itself twice, but when turning it on in Adobe Lightroom, you can run the risk of image corners being over-compensated for, (see below) …even though the same corners were clearly not fully-corrected when the profile is turned off.
The best solution we could find, as seen above, is to simply apply some manual correction, to taste. Unless you’re using an extremely high ISO, this corection won’t be an issue because Sony’s raw image shadow recovery is so good, you won’t notice extra noise in the image corners.
Sunstars & Flare
Flare is minimal, and flatteringly warm and soft when you want it. For a lens like this, we generally leave the included hood on 100% of the time, and avoided flare completely.
Sunstars look about average for a modern lens with rounded aperture blades that are optimized for bokeh. Meaning, They are there if you hit f/16, of course, but nothing special.
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
These more technical aspects of image quality aren’t something we scrutinize usually on such a lens, however, suffice it to say we didn’t notice any appreciable color fringing or aberration, especially with the in-camera and Lightroom-based automatic removal tools turned on.
Considering how sharp this lens is at 300mm, you might be able to use it for astrophotography if you mounted it on a tracker to compensate for the slow aperture!
Like with vignetting correction, if you heavily, heavily edit your images, you might see a color shift from the center to the edges of your images, however, this seems to be a universal problem that almost all modern mirrorless lenses face.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
Focusing close-up still yields very sharp images, thanks to modern optical lens design. The actual magnification isn’t that impressive; some of Tamron’s other E-mount lenses can give much better close-up performance if you’re interested in doing a lot of macro work. But it’s nice to know that your images won’t “get soft” even when focusing as close as possible with the Tamron 70-300mm.
Design, Durability, & Weather Sealing
It may not be an all-metal flagship lens with a rubber gasket at every single have a gasket at every single point, but it’s got enough weather-sealing (and sturdy construction) to make it a worthy choice for those outdoor adventures where you might not usually think of taking a “kit” style 70-300mm lens.
Either way, this is something that Tamron has been well-known for, going back at least a decade or two: Making lenses that are lightweight and portable, yet still decently durable and built-to-last. With the 70-300mm, we’re getting more of this compared to all of the other E-mount lenses: sturdy construction that will stand the test of time decently well.
(However, visually speaking at least, the materials and surface finish will show signs of wear rather quickly, we’ve noticed.)
In other words, we like the overall quality of the high-grade plastic that Tamron is using, and the physical operation of the lens’ zoom ring and focus ring are both very smooth, but we can still tell that a lens such as this will need to be taken decent care of, as opposed to a big, heavy, expensive flagship lens that is built to be as “indestructible” as possible.
For most, this is going to be a plus; Tamron finds the perfect balance of portability and durability here.
This is a “pro” we’ve already discussed at length, and will probably mention again many more times in this review. Honestly, it seems to be the theme of virtually EVERY lens Tamron has made for the E-mount in the last 2+ years. Just know that Tamrons are incredibly portable, compared to any other choice out there. If you want lightweight and compact, you no longer have to compromise on image quality, (or too much durability, either) with these Tamrons.
One of the biggest reasons to stick with native E-mount lenses is not just the portability of a made-for-mirrorless optical formula, but the amazing autofocus performance that Sony’s latest bodies have to offer. In short, Tamron’s 70-300mm is one of the best ways to take full advantage of the Real-Time AF tracking, face and eye detection, compared to any lens that you could get on an adapter.
The Sony 70-300mm G, and 100-400m GM, will both offer slightly better overall reliability in terms of AF tracking, especially in poor light, however the Tamron is no slouch, and you can at least rest assured that unlike third-party lenses on Canon and Nikon DSLRs from previous years, this new 70-300mm lens is using Sony’s official electronic communication protocols. In other words, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about the lens becoming a “brick” and needing a life-saving firmware update, which is more than we can say for third-party lenses ~10 years ago.
All in all, despite the f/6.3 aperture on the telephoto end, this lens snaps to focus quickly, and tracks subjects reliably, even in mediocre or poor lighting conditions.
Manual Focus Performance
Manual focus is controlled electronically, and we have no complaints thanks to the fact that Tamron’s electronic sensors, combined with Sony’s manual focus protocols, gives one of the best finely-tuned manual focus experiences that any fly-by-wire system can offer.
[Related Reading: Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD Review | The Superzoom Reimagined]
(Missing) Physical Features & Customizations
One of the only clear drawbacks of the Tamron 70-300mm is that it is a truly minimal physical design. It’s small enough that you don’t need a tripod collar, which is great, but it’s also missing a zoom ring lock switch, an AF/MF switch, and of course like almost all mirrorless lenses it is missing a focus distance window.
This is normal for these Tamron E-mount lenses, they are meant to be minimal physical designs so that they can still be good quality overall, while also being affordable. Last but not least, also missing of course is a Fn button.
At just under $550, how can we not call this lens an incredible value? The fact that it is incredibly sharp and built to last despite its diminutive size should be more than enough to make it your top consideration.
The lack of OSS (VC) optical stabilization does give some of its much more costly competitors reason for consideration, which we’ll talk about next, however, suffice it to say, with Sony’s in-camera stabilization, most photographers will be thrilled with the Tamron 70-300mm’s overall performance and value.
Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Review | The Competition
In terms of native, made-for-mirrorless options, there are only two lenses that you should seriously consider: This Tamron 70-300mm, and the Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS. The latter is a nearly $1,300 investment, however, so that puts the Tamron at less than half the price.
The question is, of course, do you get double the value from the Sony? No, you don’t. You get a little better image quality here and there throughout the zoom range, but you have to really pixel-peep to see it. You get better overall build quality from the Sony, too, but again if you take decent care of your gear, both lenses will be up to the challenge of serving you well for many years.
All in all, the Tamron is a significantly better value, unless you shoot in conditions where optical stabilization is useful. Once you start trying to hand-hold static scenes at slow shutter speeds, (especially at 300mm), or you start trying to hand-hold in active scenes and other challenging conditions, in which case the OSS of the Sony will make it a significantly more attractive option.
Besides those two native 70-300mm options, there are a handful of other choices to consider if you’re willing to look outside the focal range, and/or consider DSLR-mount lenses on an E-mount adapter. Oh, and there’s also the Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8, which, considering the similar size and weight, (though not-so-similar price) …we should talk about it first, despite the shorter zoom range.
Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8VS Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 | Which Should You Buy?
Basically, here’s the answer to all your questions about these two lenses: Whether you’re shopping for an f/2.8 zoom or a variable aperture zoom, if you’re looking for the most portable lens in either category then these two lenses are it. They’re way ahead of all their respective competition when it comes to either size, weight, price, or all of the above.
How do you decide between the two, though? This should all come down to the type of light you shoot in. If you shoot mostly in daylight, then the longer zoom reach of the 70-300mm will absolutely make it worth putting up with the slower aperture, even though by the time you pass 180mm you are at f/5.6, a whole two stops darker than the 70-180mm. Even if you have “decent light”, the amazing autofocus on Sony bodies will serve you well.
However, if you’re an aspiring portrait or wedding photographer, or if you do anything in extremely dark conditions, then you should of course consider the 70-180mm f/2.8 instead. 180mm f/2.8 is nothing to sneeze at, and if you’re looking for a highly portable full-frame kit, the Tamron is unprecedented and in a league of its own when compared to any other full-frame 70-200mm f/2.8.
100-400mm Zooms (Instead of 70-300mm Zooms)
First, let’s mention that there are two native E-mount 100-400mm options available. Both of them are significantly larger, heavier, and more expensive, though. The Sigma E-mount 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary costs ~$950 and weighs 2.5 lbs (1135g) compared to the Tamron’s ~$550 and 1.2 lb (545g) weight. Sony’s flagship 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS costs nearly $2,500, though, and weighs 1395g.
Simply put, if you’re considering this ~$550 Tamron 70-300, then the Sony 100-400 is likely not even on your radar, and the Sigma is also a bit of a stretch for your budget, even though both are high-quality, high-performance lenses that are worth the investment if you can make it.
DSLR-made 70-300mm and 100-400mm Zooms
What other options are there? If you’re willing to buy a Canon EF-mount DSLR lens and use an E-mount adapter, there are a whole lot of options, some of which are decently affordable. Tamron’s own 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD, which we mentioned earlier, is only $799 and gives you optical stabilization in addition to the added reach of 400mm instead of 300mm.
Sigma’s EF-mount (Canon DSLR) 100-400mm is a little bit more affordable, sometimes, when it goes on sale for $699 instead of $799, and also offers OS stabilization. Unfortunately, there is no option whatsoever to add a much-needed tripod collar to that particular Sigma lens, something that most/all other 100-400mm’s offer.
Really, the only other 70-300mm lenses that we can recommend as solid alternatives are the newest, most advanced Canon and Nikon-mount options, which would of course require a good adapter in order to be fully functional. Canon’s latest EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM is a high-quality performer, and matches the Tamron’s price at $549, although again you’ll need an adapter.
If you don’t mind the slightly less stellar autofocus performance compared to Canon EF-mount DSLR lenses, let alone native E-mount lenses, you can get some impressive image quality (and VR stabilization, if you get the right adapter) from two of Nikon’s latest full-frame 70-300mm lenses, the AF-P VR lens for $596, and the AF-S G VR lens, which is harder to find but you might score one refurbished for as low as $349. Both lenses are incredibly sharp and very lightweight, if you’re a landscape photographer who only cares about sharpness and portability, however, if you’re at all relying on autofocus to track moving subjects, we really must recommend the native E-mount options!
Other than these recent, modern, high-quality lenses, there is not much we can recommend. Of the innumerable 70-300mm options out there, almost all of them are pretty terrible, to be honest. It’s a focal range that has previously been dominated by cheap quality, entry-level “kit” lenses that simply would not do justice to your modern Sony full-frame mirrorless camera.
Sony APS-C Telephoto Zoom Lenses
By the way, what if you’re an APS-C Sony shooter? Sometimes a full-frame telephoto lens can offer you quite an advantage, because it crops away the potentially softer corners and leaves you with an extremely sharp central image area. (See below)
Indeed, the Tamron 70-300mm, with its attractive price and portable form factor will make a great choice for your Sony A6600 or A6100, whether you’re a serious hobbyist or an entry-level beginner looking for a high-quality telephoto option.
Having said that, once again if you miss stabilization, and are willing to spend a bit more, Sony’s own E (not FE!) 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G OSS, made specifically for their APS-C line, is incredibly sharp, even at 350mm, and gives you the equivalent of 105-525mm, for just $898 when it’s on sale, or $998 otherwise.
Alternately, if you’re on an extreme budget, Nikon’s sharpest APS-C F-mount 70-300mm, the AF-P DX G ED lens comes in VR and sans-VR versions, wich can be found refurbished for the dirt-cheap price of ~$150 and ~$110, respectively. Although, once again, they’ll be nothing more than lightweight, decently sharp options, with overall performance that doesn’t fully do justice to the high-end autofocus systems present in Sony’s latest 6×00-series, the A6600, A6400, and A6100. If you want to experience everything those Sony bodies have to offer in terms of autofocus tracking and subject detection, (face, eye, wildlife, etc) …then stick with the native options!
Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD Review | Conclusion
Despite the focal range of 70-300mm being a very popular one, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD stands alone as the best value, by a huge margin, for full-frame Sony-shooting photographers. The next-closest option costs twice as much, (Sony’s own FE 70-300mm) and although it offers optical stabilization, the Sony FE (full-frame) bodies do offer sensor-based stabilization, (IBIS) so the OSS feature is slightly less of a deal-breaker.
If you’re looking for an affordable and portable telephoto zoom, (as far as full-frame kits go, at least) then this is literally the only option you might consider. Even if you’re willing to literally (or almost) double your budget, and/or carry around a significantly heavier, bigger lens, and/or use a DSLR adapter, …your top choice is still likely to be this Tamron.
Might this change in a year or two, if Tamron makes another E-mount option, such as a 100-400mm E-mount lens with VC, for around $1000? Or, if Sigma makes an E-mount 70-300mm with similar affordability and portability? Sure. But neither type of lens has even been rumored, let alone roadmapped, so for the foreseeable future, this is by far the best lens around for full-frame Sony shooters looking for a portable, affordable telephoto zoom lens!
Check Pricing & Availability
Right now you can find the Tamron in-stock for about $550 at these retailers: