Tamron AF 28-300mm XR Di VC LD Macro Zoom Lens

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, October 2008
Manufactured by: Tamron
Requires: Nikon (except for D40, D40x & D60) or Canon digital SLR camera body;

MSRP: US$649.00, CAN$599.00, UK£499.99, €503.00

Like many other photographers, I've been engaged in a casual quest for one lens that can do it all: a fast, wide angle, medium telephoto, portrait, long telephoto and macro in one, razor sharp package that is also weatherproof, lightweight, well built and affordable. Ignoring for a moment the laws of physics as they apply to optics, and considering that a fast lens by definition requires lots of light-gathering glass (which means more weight), and that any combination of so many crucial factors is bound to add manufacturing costs, even the remaining requirements are still a daunting design challenge. Tamron has answered the bell with its latest super zoom. The alphabet soup in the lens name stands for: Auto Focus (AF), eXtra Refractive index glass (XR), Digital Integrated design (DI), Vibration Compensation (VC), and Low Dispersion (LD). I picked up a copy of the lens in a Nikon mount and tested it in the field for two weeks with a Nikon D700 FX digital SLR body. For what it's worth in your considerations, the Tamron AF 28-300mm XR Di VC LD Macro zoom won the European Imaging & Sound Awards (EISA) Best 2008-2009 Consumer Lens product award.

I confess to some negative bias going into the review. I've been aspiring to be a great photographer for many, many years - decades even. To put it bluntly, I'm not there yet. Though I know without doubt that it is photographers, not their camera gear, who make great photos, I still harbor in the back of my mind some shred of faint hope that there is is a camera & lens combination out there which will make me a superb photographer. Of course it's an empty hope, but the quest for such a camera & lens combo offers a chance to shop for more gear, a temptation that can distract almost every photographer I know including me. Nonetheless, it's easy for someone with that mindset to be at once conflicted and hopeful when beginning a photography test with a lens like the Tamron AF 28-300mm XR Di VC LD Macro Zoom.


Here are some basic specs:

  • Model — A20
  • Lens Construction — 18 elements in 13 groups
  • Barrel — Polycarbonate, aluminum, chromed brass mount
  • Angle of View (diagonal, full frame sensor) — 75° to 8°
  • Angle of View (diagonal, APS-C sensor) — 52° to 5°
  • Type of Zoom — Rotation
  • Diaphragm Blades — 9
  • Maximum Aperture — approximately f/3.5 at 28mm to f/6.3 at 300mm
  • Minimum Aperture — approximately f/22 at 28mm to f/40 at 300mm
  • Minimum Focus Distance — 19.3" (0.49m) throughout the entire zoom range
  • Macro Magnification Ratio — 1:3 (at f=300mm, MFD=0.49m)
  • Filter Diameter — ø67
  • Weight — 555g (19.4oz)
  • Size — 3.06" diameter x 3.9" long (ø78 x 99mm); extends to 6"
  • Accessory — Petal Lens hood
  • Mounts — Nikon (except D40, D40x & D60) and Canon

The Tamron AF 28-300mm XR Di VC LD Macro zoom lens thrives in average-to-good light. In low light — e.g., outdoors just after sunset, indoors in standard room lighting — this lens on the D700 tends to hunt quite a bit, so in low light it's best to use manual focus. The lens does not have an AF/MF feature which allows you to simply grab the focus ring and sort things out. Instead, you have to switch to manual focus mode if you're having problems in low light. The wide variation in lens speed (f/3.5-6.3) means the viewfinder is not going to be very bright in low light at moderate to long zoom settings which means that even manual focusing can be problematic in low light. It's just not a low light lens.

Zooming initially felt somewhat rough, but the lens seemed to break in after the first 200-250 shots and began to feel smoother — smooth enough to call it subjectively accurate — but it still feels somewhat cheap. The same is true for the manual focus ring. While the auto focus system seems very smooth, very accurate and quite quiet, manual focus (while also being accurate) provides uneven feedback and produces faint but audible gear noise. Tamron has made a glaring mistake here because the difference in design & manufacturing costs between an average quality zoom or manual focus mechanism and smooth, well-damped mechanisms is very small.

Focus speed is average for a lens with this huge zoom range, about 25% slower than the Nikkor 18-200 VR, slightly faster than the Nikkor 80-400mm VR, 25% faster than the Sigma 50-500mm. It's not bad at all in practice and despite the claims of some critics, the lens can capture moderate action quite easily. With the Nikon D300, D90, D700 & D3 and the Canon 1000D, 50D, 5D & (soon to be available) 5D MKII, shooting with confidence at ISO800 and higher provides shooters with all the shutter speed needed to freeze all sorts of different kinds of action.

Image quality is surprisingly good. The lens is very sharp throughout its zoom range, with VC on or off. Even the corners are relatively sharp between 45-225mm. Distortion is noticeably present at 28mm and 300mm. Most of the distortion is well-controlled which means it's easy to correct in most good photo editing software. For most shots, edge cropping is usually the simplest distortion fix, but note that more complex distortion occurs at f/6.3 at 275-300mm that is not so easy to correct.




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