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The Best Travel Zooms For Sony FE Full-Frame | Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 RXD vs Sony 24-105mm f/4 OSS

By Matthew Saville on May 31st 2019

One of these two lenses is probably your best choice for travel and general photography, if you’re a Sony full-frame (FE) mirrorless shooter. The question is, which one is right for you?

Left: Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD | Right: Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS

I actually wish I owned both of them! But, I’m a bit of a compulsive lens collector. If you had to choose just one, which one would it be?

This article will break down the advantages and disadvantages of each lens, and give you more than enough confidence to pull the trigger on one of them.

What Is The Best Travel Zoom For Sony Full-Frame?

Before we dive in, let me explain why I’m comparing these two lenses in the first place. What is the premise for these two lenses being considered for the title of best “travel zoom”?

A great travel zoom, to me, is one that is decently compact, lightweight, and yet still very sharp with good image quality throughout its zoom range.

Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD | 1/125 sec, f/10, ISO 100
PolarPro Circular Polarizer

 

A good travel zoom shouldn’t be expected to cover a huge zoom range, either, because such “superzooms” are usually a little soft or have other image quality drawbacks such as distortion or autofocus reliability.

Of course, depending on your personal photography style, you might pair one of these mid-range zooms with another lens, such as an ultra-wide zoom or a telephoto zoom, like the new Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8, or the Sony 70-300mm G. But, for almost all travel/adventure photographers, it is best to cover the mid-range first.

Indeed, with just 24-105mm or 28-75mm as your only focal range, you can capture quite a wide variety of imagery, from landscapes and nightscapes to portraits, action, and details!

Sony A7iii, Sony 24-105mm f/4 G OSS | 1/80 sec, f/14, ISO 100,
PolarPro Circular Polarizer

Both of these lenses have been on the market for a while now, so we know that they’re both decently reliable overall performers, with good sharpness and overall image quality.  You can pick up the Sony 24-105mm here for about $1200, and you can pick up the Tamron 28-75mm here for about $880.

With that in mind, let’s cover the pros and cons of these two lenses!

SONY 24-105MM F/4 G OSS

The Sony 24-105 G is perfect for the travel photographer who wants a balance of solid image quality, a great zoom range, and overall durability and reliable performance, without being too expensive or heavy. Landscape photographers who shoot mostly at f/8-11, or travel photographers who usually shoot during the day, will likely be very happy.

Pros

The great zoom range offers impressive sharpness from the landscape/travel photography standard 24mm, to the respectable telephoto focal length of 105mm, without any terribly soft spots in between. (Many zooms do have a random soft spot, say, at 35mm or 50mm, or at the long end.) The Sony 24-105, to be honest, is so sharp that the only way to see a slight difference is to go straight to the extreme corners. (Which also get very sharp just by stopping down 1-2 stops!) See below:

Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS | Sharpness Test (Below)

24mm, f/4, extreme corner, 100%

24mm, f/5.6, extreme corner, 100%

24mm, f/8, extreme corner, 100%

It also offers nearly flagship build quality, with solid construction, a weather sealing gasket, and useful features such as a physical AF/MF switch and Sony’s customizable AF function button. Of course, the optical image stabilization is a huge help too!

Cons

The f/4 aperture makes the Sony 24-105 G slightly less useful in low light or fast action situations, where you either want shallow depth of field for a portrait, or more total light-gathering for nightscapes. Full frame cameras are good enough that f/4 is still perfectly good for many low-light shooting conditions, however, if you’re truly pushing the envelope with your low-light photography, a faster aperture is preferable.

Left: Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD | Right: Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS

The Sony is not as lightweight and portable as the Tamron, due to its extra zoom range and overall durable build quality. It may be lighter and smaller (and more affordable) than the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, but it’s still not exactly an “ultralight” option, either.

Lastly, it costs quite a bit more than the Tamron, of course. If you really want the performance that it offers, though, it’s absolutely worth it.

Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 Di III RXD

The Tamron 28-75 2.8 RXD is a great choice for a truly lightweight traveler who doesn’t want to give up any of their “full-frame advantage” by using a slower aperture zoom. It is shockingly lightweight, indeed, and its diminutive appearance (especially with the hood off) makes it a great street photography lens where you might want to photograph human subjects without intimidating them with a large lens in their face, or where you may not want to attract attention to yourself in general.

Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD | 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1600,
hand-held wireless flash

The f/2.8 aperture also makes it a great lens for both portraits and low-light shooting in general, such as Milky Way photography. Personally, I’d even consider it a viable alternative to professional-grade 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses for serious wedding photography!

Pros

The Tamron 28-75 RXD is also extremely sharp at all focal lengths, even wide open. Considering how lightweight (and affordable) it is, the sharpness and overall image quality is actually shocking to see for the first time. You just don’t expect such a portable lens to be so good! Much like the Sony 24-105, the only way to see a noticeable difference in sharpness is to go straight to the extreme corners at 28mm. Otherwise, the lens is just sharp, sharp, sharp. (And, once again, it’s sharp even in the extreme corners by 1-2 stops down!)

28mm, f/2.8, extreme corner 100%

28mm, f/4, extreme corner 100%

28mm, f/5.6, extreme corner 100%

It is also extremely sharp at macro focus distances, with surprisingly close focusing that leaves the Sony 24-105mm missing out on some of the close-up photography fun!

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD, 28mm, f/2.8 (The closest focusing is achieved at 28mm, offering slightly more magnification)

The maximum magnification on the Tamron is 0.34x, whereas the Sony is 0.31x. This may not sound like much, but for a better comparison, the minimum focus distance on the Tamron is about 7.5″ while the Sony’s is about 15″. This, combined with the Tamron’s f/2.8 aperture and impressive close-up sharpness, makes for beautiful bokeh and sharp in-focus details.

Lastly, the Tamron does offer great, reliable autofocus on the latest Sony camera bodies. Autofocus reliability was previously a huge issue on third-party lenses when used with traditional DSLRs, however, Sony’s “open protocol” mount, combined with on-sensor hybrid AF, has made such focus woes a thing of the past.

Cons

The Tamron’s build quality is something along the lines of, “good-but-not-great”. You can tell that its overall construction is a tad on the affordable, no-frills side, not just in terms of the plastic feel, but the actual features too. There is no AF/MF switch, and of course no AF custom function button, nor any focus distance indication markings. (That’s usually OK, though, since you can get a focus distance scale on-screen whenever manual focusing.) To Tamron’s credit, though, the lens does have a weather sealing gasket.

The Tamron looks and feels spartan, but you can still tell it’s well-built.

Obviously, the Tamron is missing that 24mm wide end and 105mm long end of the zoom range. The difference between 28mm and 24mm may not be a problem for walk-about casual street photography, however, for a sweeping view of a distant landscape, it can make a huge difference.

By the way, if you’re wondering which lens offers more shallow depth and pleasing bokeh, 75mm and f/2.8 or 105mm and f/4, the answer is, they’re both about the same. Neither lens offers truly “epic” creamy bokeh, compared to, say, a Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM, of course.

Alternative Sony FE Travel Zooms

If you’re considering native Sony FE lenses, there aren’t really very many truly great alternatives in the travel zoom genre. There is the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS, however since it is a “superzoom” (and also not a modern “G” lens, it won’t offer the same level of professional image quality as the newer 24-105mm. The same goes for the even older 24-70mm f/4 ZA- despite its Zeiss label, it’s not as impressively sharp as the newer 24-105. Although both lenses are a bit more affordable, I’d still recommend Sony’s newest travel zoom.

Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD | 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200

Of course, you may already have a great travel zoom that you’ve been using on a Canon or Nikon DSLR. The Canon 24-105mm’s, (all three of them) and the newest generation Nikon 24-85mm VR or Nkon 24-120mm f/4 VR, are all very respectable travel zooms with good image quality, and great build quality on the part of the Canon L’s.

However, they will not offer as reliable autofocus as the native Sony options, nor will their stabilization integrate as seamlessly as Sony’s OSS+IBIS does, if they even function at all. (Does Nikon VR work on Sony? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t, but comment below if you know for certain!)

All in all, these two native Sony FE lenses are indeed the only two that I strongly recommend. The others are just, well, “if you see a used one for dirt cheap, go for it!” …type options.

Sony 24-105mm VS Tamron 28-75mm | Conclusion

If you’re hoping to find a relatively portable lens that doesn’t have to compromise in the particular ways that are most important to you, then one of these two lenses is perfect for your next trip/adventure with a Sony A7iii or Sony A7Riii.

Sony A7III, Sony 24-105mm f/4 G OSS | 45mm, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100,
PolarPro Polarizer

Sure, it would be nice to have a 24-105mm f/2.8 that was magically lightweight, affordable, and sharp. But, since that’s just not practical, (the lens would be massive and cost a fortune) these are two of the best choices you’ll have for the foreseeable future.

For those serious landscape travel photographers who are looking for a professional grade lens that is ready to survive nasty weather and deliver professional quality images at normal or smaller apertures, go for the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS. If you’re more of an incognito hand-held and/or low-light street and portrait photographer, consider the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD.

By the way, if you’re a serious nightscape photographer looking for a truly lightweight travel zoom, you might want to wait for the new Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD to arrive. If it is anything like its mid-range sibling, it could be an amazing balance of portability and image quality for any budget/lightweight traveler!

Did we miss your favorite travel zoom? Or do you travel with primes, instead? Please leave a comment with your thoughts!

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Shibu George

    I love to travel with primes, but don’t do often. These days my primary travel kit is A7R3 + Tamaron 28-75 + Sony 16-35 f/4 OSS and few ND filters+polarizer. That’s small enough for some hikes also if needed, and good enough to have a low profile set up especially when you travel overseas. Oh, forgot, and tripod, of course a small lightweight tripod

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  2. Jared Gant

    Any reason you didn’t compare it to the 24-70 f/2.8 GM? 

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Jared! This comparison was totally about travel, portability, and affordability. The 24-70 GM, while certainly capable for “travel” in general, just doesn’t offer the same balance that these two other lenses offer.

      I’ll be comparing flagship 24-70mm f/2.8’s, (And the Tamron 28-75 2.8) very soon!

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