L-R: Koji Satoh, Manager of the Product Planning Department of Tamron's Imaging Products Business Unit, Minoru Ando, General Manager of Tamron's Optical Design and Engineering Research and Development Unit, Kumiko Saito, General Manager of Tamron's Marketing Communications Department, and Takashi Sawao, General Manager of Tamron's Imaging Products Business Unit.

At last month's CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan we sat down with senior executives from several major camera and lens manufacturers, including Tamron. Our conversation covered various topics, including the move to new native mirrorless designs, and the decline in DSLR lens sales.

The following interview was conducted through an interpreter, and has been edited for clarity and flow. Answers from the four interviewees have been combined.

Is the new 28-75mm a completely new design?

It is, yes.

How long has it been in development?

Typically a lens like this takes around one year to develop.

Tamron's upcoming 28-75mm F2.8 is the first third-party zoom lens designed natively for full-frame mirrorless cameras.

What was your goal when designing this lens?

When we are planning new products, we’re always thinking about the voice of our customers, and customer benefit. The market is moving towards mirrorless, so we wanted to launch new FE lenses. Sony has the biggest market share of the mirrorless market.

With the Sony Alpha 7 series, the bodies are compact, but the lenses are relatively big

We’re also aiming for high quality, and good performance. And specifically for FE lenses, we wanted a small and lightweight option. With the Sony Alpha 7 series, the bodies are compact, but the lenses are relatively big. So when we were planning a fast lens for FE lens it was important to us that it would be compact, but still high quality.

This is the first third-party [zoom] lens for the Sony full-frame E-mount, and we’re expecting it to do well in the market.

Are you planning to create Sony E-mount versions of your existing SP primes and zooms, or will you make entirely new designs?

We’re not planning on making Sony E-mount versions of our existing lenses, no. Our concept is a little different to Sigma’s. We’re trying to customize lenses specifically for FE, otherwise they’d be too big. When it comes to autofocus, mirrorless has different requirements too. Mirrorless cameras are good for movies as well as stills, and existing AF motors aren’t very good for video. This lens [the new 28-75mm F2.8] has a stepping motor for autofocus, which is better for video.

The new 70-200mm F4 promises high quality, without the size and weight that we generally associate with faster F2.8 telezooms.

How important is the Sony customer base to you now?

Very important. Everybody is going to mirrorless. Canon and Nikon will launch full-frame mirrorless cameras, probably in the near future. When this happens, we can easily make Canon and Nikon versions of our [native] E-mount lenses. The same design could work for [multiple mirrorless mounts].

So with this new lens, you’re thinking ahead.

Yes, to the near future.

Optical performance of the new 28-75mm F2.8 will be equivalent to our SP lenses

This new lens is not in the ‘SP’ range. What does this signify?

Within Tamron, we have an internal definition of SP, where we usually utilize metal for the body material, and certain other features. Optical performance of the new 28-75mm F2.8 will be equivalent to our SP lenses, but for this model we prioritized smaller size and lower weight, so we used polycarbonate instead of metal.

Is this new lens weather-sealed?

Yes, it is. We describe it as ‘moisture-resistant construction’.

Despite not belonging to the 'SP' range of lenses, the new 28-75mm is moisture-resistant, featuring a rubber gasket around the lens mount to protect against dust and water incursion.

Is making this change to mirrorless lens designs an urgent priority for Tamron?

I can’t give you any detailed information about our future roadmap, but we’re watching the market closely. And Sony has the biggest share of the mirrorless market, so of course E-mount lenses are a priority.

How do you want the Tamron brand to be viewed by your customers?

We’re always thinking about our customers, and we’re not going to sacrifice performance and quality. We want to be recognized as a high-quality brand, and we stand by our customers, always. Each brand has a strategy, and our approach is a little different to [some competitors]. We try to very open with our customers.

Our strength is making compact, light and high quality lenses.

We’ve seen some manufacturers create entry-level cine lenses for videographers. Is that something that Tamron is interested in?

Maybe in the future, but at this point I can’t say whether we’ll enter that market.

Balancing performance and size is a Tamron strength

If you had a choice between making a lens that was very large, but very high quality, or one that was smaller and optically less impressive, which would you choose?

We try to pursue both small size, and high performance. Balancing performance and size is a Tamron strength. For this new zoom, if we had started at 24mm for example, the lens would be much bigger and heavier. By starting the zoom range at 28mm, it became much smaller and lighter, and easier to handle. We think that’s what our customers want.

Tamron's 'Tap-in Console' allows the performance of some of its SP lenses to be tweaked and customized on an individual basis.

Increasingly when we visit factories, we’re seeing more and more automation. How much automation does Tamron use in your factories?

Automation is being gradually increased, but we don’t emphasize it. In some cases, manual processes are better for product quality. If automation would be good for the quality of the final product, we might utilize it. It all depends.

Are your lenses mostly assembled by hand, at present?

Some processes are automated, but others are manual so it’s difficult to say.

We’re always thinking about what we can provide in the market that’s innovative

Where do you think the biggest opportunities lie for Tamron in the future?

We’re always thinking about what we can provide in the market that’s innovative. Our strength is high quality lenses in a compact size. So going forward we want to be able to provide good products in each market segment.

The requirement for video must change how you develop lenses, beyond just the kind of AF motor you use?

Yes, it does. We have also developed other technologies to support video. At this point we’re not finished, but we’re always developing ways of manufacturing new lenses.

Optical designs need to change, and also autofocus technology

When we look at conventional DSLR lenses and mirrorless lenses, the technologies necessary to make them are a little bit different. The optical designs need to change, and also the autofocus technology. We’re always thinking about what kind of technologies would be good for mirrorless compared to DSLR, and what works for what focal length, and things like that.

You mentioned that the audience for mirrorless lenses will increase - will the audience for DSLR lenses decrease?

Yes, it already is. We’re watching the market and the data already shows us that the market is declining.

Editor's note:

Perhaps the most interesting insight from our interview with Tamron this year was confirmation that the market for DSLR lenses is declining. It makes complete sense that Tamron (and Sigma) would be focusing on developing lenses for full-frame Sony E-mount cameras now, since by common agreement, Canon and Nikon will launch their own large-sensor mirrorless cameras pretty soon.

Tamron's executives see their company's mission as slightly different to Sigma's

In the same way as one basic optical design can be adapted for multiple SLR mounts, Tamron's new FE 28-75mm F2.8, which is optimized for the short flange-back distance of modern mirrorless systems, could be adapted for future mirrorless platforms as and when they emerge.

It is clear that Tamron's executives see their company's mission as slightly different to Sigma's. Whereas Sigma is committed to a 'no compromise' approach in its Art-series which sometimes results in large, heavy products, Tamron sees its value in small, lightweight but still high-performing lenses. Maybe the primes will open up to F1.8 rather than F1.4, and the zooms might start at 28mm rather than 24mm, but clearly the company believes that some users will be happy with those compromises for the sake of smaller, lighter (and potentially cheaper) lenses.

Tamron sees its value in small, lightweight but still high-performing lenses

I think they're right about that, and the new 28-75mm F2.8 looks like a good start. Obviously we don't yet know how it will perform optically, but if it compares well to Sony's own 24-70mm F2.8 GM at equivalent focal lengths, it might well become a benchmark standard zoom for mirrorless. That, in turn, would put Tamron in a very good position to get in on the ground floor of development for the wide range of full-frame mirrorless cameras we're expecting from various manufacturers in the future.