Design

The 70-200mm F2.8 Macro is a member of Tamron's top-line 'SP' series of lenses, and build quality feels pretty solid. The mount is metal and the barrel appears to be constructed of high quality metal and plastics, with perhaps a little more use of plastic than its competitors, which helps reduce the overall weight to the lightest in its class. However, examine a little closer and the construction is just a little less refined than its peers; the fit and finish isn't quite up to the highest level, particularly in the small details, so it's evident that some slight corners have been cut to reduce costs. Essentially, this is a no-frills, utilitarian design.

The lens is pretty typical in size for its class, and therefore potential upgraders should appreciate that it's significantly larger and heavier than consumer telezooms such as 70-300mm F4-5.6s. This therefore may well not be a lens you'll want to carry around all day when on a mountain-biking trip across the Andes, for example; it's also quite likely to attract the attention of over-keen security guards intent on protecting the world from the evident security threat posed by photographers with large lenses.

On the camera

This is a sizeable lens, and therefore handles best on larger enthusiast or professional cameras (here we see it mounted on Canon's EOS-1D Mark III and EOS 5D bodies). The balance of the lens is good if not quite perfect, with the zoom ring positioned just slightly too close to the body and behind the centre of gravity of the lens/body combination on all but the weightiest pro bodies. Also a distinct shift in grip is required to engage and operate the manual focus ring. Like all 70-200mm F2.8s, it's not an ideal match to the current crop of miniaturized entry-level dSLRs.

Autofocus

This lens features a built-in motor for autofocus on the Nikon and Canon mounts, while the Pentax and Sony variants will couple with the camera body's screw-drive system. The AF motor is unfortunately not of the ultrasonic type, but a simple DC micro motor, and is distinctly the weakest link in the package (on our Canon mount sample at least). Autofocusing on a static object is generally just fine in decent light, but in even moderately low light AF becomes decidedly slow, especially in comparison to the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS USM on the same body. Continuous AF performance for moving subjects is also disappointing; it's OK for relatively undemanding situations, such as distant subjects moving at a relatively constant speed, but the moment the subject starts moving randomly or at any great pace, the focus motor really struggles to keep up. This lens wouldn't therefore be my first choice for shooting sports and action work (or even simply children running around in the garden).

The motor is also noticeably louder than on competing lenses, so can be especially intrusive when the lens fails to lock focus first time, and starts hunting backwards and forwards through the distance range. This is a sure-fire way to disturb sensitive subjects, be they shy wildlife or guests at a wedding; and there's no focus range limiter switch to minimize hunting either. Finally autofocus consistency seems a bit hit-and-miss; we'll deal with this in more detail later in the review.

Lens body elements

The lens will be available in mounts for Canon, Sony, Nikon and Pentax DSLRs - our sample here is the Canon EF version. The Nikon and Canon versions have built-in focus motors; the Sony and Pentax versions will use the body's 'screw-drive' systems.

The filter thread is 77mm, which has become the de facto standard for professional lenses, and does not rotate on autofocusing (good for filter users).

Despite the large diameter front element, that rather protracted lens name still manages to stretch its way around fully one third of the circumference.

The petal-type HA 001 lens hood is supplied as standard, and fits to the front of the lens via a bayonet mount. It's a generous 98mm/3.9" deep, with moulded internal ribs to minimize the reflection of stray light into the lens, and reverses neatly for storage.
The zoom ring rotates 70 degrees clockwise from 70mm to 200mm, i.e. the 'right' way for Nikon, Pentax and Sony users, but opposite to Canon lenses. The ribbed rubber grip is 30mm wide, and the zoom action reasonably smooth and precise (if not quite as refined as the pricier lenses from the major camera manufacturers).

The focus ring is a very generous 46mm wide, does not rotate during autofocus, and again the action is smooth and precise.

It rotates 80 degrees clockwise from infinity to 0.95m (this time the 'right' way for Sony and Canon users, but opposite to Pentax and Nikon lenses). This is a slightly short travel for such a long focus range, making really precise manual focus just a little hit-and-miss.

Switching from AF to manual is accomplished by pulling the focus ring towards the camera and the 'M' mark. However the clutch can quite frequently stick at an intermediate position which doesn't allow focusing properly. The focus distance can also be thrown in the changeover, so you can't reliably set the focus using AF then maintain that distance by switching to manual. Sony and Pentax users will also have to switch to M on the camera body.
A distance scale is provided with markings in both feet and meters, however there are no depth-of-field or infra-red correction marks.

The lens comes with a detachable tripod mount ring, which is lined with a Teflon sleeve for smooth rotation. The line at the top aligns with marks arranged at 90 degrees around the lens for landscape and portrait formats.

The hinged design allows removal when the lens is fitted to the camera, by undoing the fixing screw completely (about 11 full turns) - not quite as elegant as the Sigma or Nikon designs.

Reported aperture vs focal length

This lens allows an aperture range from F2.8 to F32 at all focal lengths.