Review of Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD for Sony FE

This is a review of the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD lens for the Sony full frame E-mount (FE) mirrorless cameras like A7/II/III, A7R/II/III, A7S/II and A9. I will update the review with new information as I use the lens, so check it back for updates. I’m using it on A7R II on a daily basis. If you want to help me writing more reviews, you can use the Amazon links to buy any of the products I mention.

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD on Amazon:

 

Hunting for universal zoom lens for any system usually ends in buying whatever is the current creme of the crop 24-70mm. Or at least something with a similar range and much inferior optical qualities. I bought A7R II with that in mind – I just sold my Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm ZA SSM I had on my A-mount (I never liked it), so I instantly started looking at the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM. It kept nagging at me that I have to spend at least 1600-1700 EUR to get it even from the gray market, but more to the point – the whole reason I love the idea of mirrorless cameras is they are so compact. And this thing is huge. Not like the Trump wall, of course, but it big and heavy. At least it’s regarded as near faultless, much not like the old 24-70 versions for the A-mount and the new f/4 lens with similar range for the E-mount.

Then I saw the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 Di III RXD. I had some bad experience with Tamrons from my Nikon days, but most reviews found the 28-75mm good enough to even compare it to the GM lens, and that says a lot. And it weighted less than 2/3rds of the GM’s 0.886 kg. What sealed the deal was the fact it costs only a fraction of the GM price ($799, hard to believe it!). That’s less than what Sony asks for their lousy 24-70 f/4 G OSS! So it kind of made me want to buy it even if I didn’t really want it.

 

Some general info

The Tamron 28-75mm F / 2.8 Di III RXD (Model A036) is a actually made for Sony mirrorless cameras an so far it is not offered for any other system. I guess that it will get adapted to Nikon’s Z, but then – the huge mount there might need a complete redesign, and the Canon’s R is a bit out of the question because of the sensor distance inside the mount, so for now this is purely Sony-exclusive lens.

What this also means is that the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD was meant to be fully native to the E-mount system and that also shows with the lens being able to get updates through the camera body, instead of only the Tamron lens dock. It also makes the lens kind of unique – they are only compatible with a range of cameras that already have pretty good universal zoom lens pool: the Sony 24-70mm f/4 Vario-Tessar T FE OSS @ $898, the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS @ $1298, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM @ $2198,  and even the cheap Sony 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 FE OSS (no link. Just don’t buy it) are all contributing to a pool of variously priced, mostly universal zooms for the A7/A9 cameras.

So who makes an exclusive lens for such an overcrowded system?

What Tamron has and the rest of them don’t (except for the GM), is a f/2.8 wide aperture through the whole range in a pretty small and low-weight package. Comes with being build from a this weird plastic every review already mentioned, and the size of the body. People even mentioned their lens having mould lines on the outer barrel. Mine is brand new (came updated with the later than latest firmware, according to the update tool) and it is clean as a baby butt. I couldn’t locate the mould, which also shows Tamron are listening to the reviews and fixing things. Another reminder of this is the fact that the lens had some initial problems with the AF and some flicker during zoom in videos, which gave it quite a bad name (no wonder, nowadays everything gives everything a bad name), and this was fixed in a firmware update.

I’m not sure I should bore you with the technical specs. If you are here you probably know them, and you probably don’t care much whether the model uses special glass elements with some abbreviation only Tamron could claim to know. (Okay, a test of intelligence, XLD glass should come for eXtra Low Dispersion glass. I’m sure of it, I worked as a PR and copyrighter for quite a while; now RXD… beats me, I have to check this one).

One of the more important things is that the Tamron 28-70mm can focus at mere 19cm from the lens on the wide end and at 39cm at 75mm, which makes it even more flexible. On the wide end it beats the 24-70 GM by huge margin. 19cm i very, very close. You can pick up your camera, look through the EVF at your laptop screen and still have some room to get closer.

It’s also packed in under 12cm length, the barrel is 73mm (filter size is 67mm), and the weight is 550 grams. For comparison, the 24-70mm GM is nearly 2cm longer, 1cm wider, and weights nearly 900 grams. The barrel extends when zooming (of course it doesn’t rotate, I have no idea if anyone still makes lens with rotating front element), which I hate, but that was to be expected.

Here comes the weirdest thing about it: the focus ring is the front one, and if you keep the hood turned back, it gets in the way. It is so unnatural in the beginning, that you will fail to zoom even when you are trying to keep it in mind. And, if you are using DMF, you will switch to manual focus everytime you touch the focus ring. And yes, it does work with DMF.

Apart from that, the only thing I had to consider is the wide focal range. 28mm is not 24mm, and the Sony FE system is lacking in regards to wide lens. 28mm is just 4mm short, yet try it in interior photography and you will think of them as 40 sometimes. On the longest end we have 5mm more, which are much less important, even meaningless. The 24-105 f/4 G OSS beats it with 30mm, and the GM covers the wide range better. Makes you wonder, right? Well, consider this – with 24-105 there are copy variations, and you can only do f/4. One full stop, and the Tammy is not to be underestimated at f/2.8, even if it has more vignetting. Compared to the GM? Well, the Tamron handles some off-focus abberations better, leading to smoother transitions in the backgrounds and between focus fiels and the off-focus part of the image, but loses much in terms of bokeh quality and at corner sharpness. In fact teh Tamron may be sharper than the 24-70 GM in tne center of the image wide open, but the margin is small. Thruth is – 24-70 GM is not travel lens while the Tamron is exactly that type of lens. Also cost so much less that I wonder why are we even comparing it to the GM.

 

Pros over the competitors

For once – the size and weight, as I already mentioned. But what makes it right is the f/2.8 aperture. Useful aperture I mean, as I’m an ex-owner of Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70 f/2.8 and that thing wasn’t that useful open wide. In fact it was horrible at 2.8, which beats the whole purpose. The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 really shines in this regard. I’ve been able to test it at various apertures and I cannot find anything wrong with it at f/2.8. Sure, corners are considerably less sharp, and there is some softness wide open that is missing at f/4, for example, but this is no prime lens, and it’s so easy to correct it with minimal push of the sharpness in Lightroom. Even choosing simple medium sharpness preset (comes as default when you open the RAW file) is enough.

And the corners? At f/2.8 it is so hard to make a shot that has everything in focus in the first place, that having some softness at the corners is mostly ‘whatever’ king of thing. Shooting landscapes you won’t bother with f/2.8, and nightime shots would also need deeper focus area. It’s there when you need it – portraits, streets or when you need speed. Closing the aperture doesn’t make it magically super-sharp. It’s already great.

Click for a 100% RAW crop @ 75mm from f/2.8 and f/5.6. No processing whatsoever.

Sony’s own 24-70 f/4 and 24-105 f/4 lack something the Tamron has – bokeh. Not exactly lacking, especially on the long end of the 24-105mm, but they aren’t famous about it. The 24-70 f/4 has 7 rounded blades where the 24-105mm and the Tamron have 9 rounded blades, and the Tamron’s ability to shoot at f/2.8 really helps with separating the background with smooth bokeh in the background compared to the 24-105mm f/4 G OSS. It’s not exactly creamy – there are some highlights, and light reflection have definite rings around the circles, but it has plenty of beauty to see, considering what kind of lens we are talking about. I tried bringing up some distractions, but most of the time it was smooth.

Shot at 75mm. The yellow backgound seems busy at this size. It’s 42MP resized to 600×400…

Cons over the competitors

Well, many reviewers would tell you about the plastic lens barrel, but I’d say it’s actually good. It’s smooth finish, seems strong enough and the rings are tight around it. It certainly has no premium looks whatsoever. It’s just nearly militaristic matte black. No scales, no buttons. The zoom ring is a bit stiff, or jerky at times (really depends how you hold the camera). And it’s the front ring, which bugs the hell out of me, but I will get used to it. The Tamron lacks any scale and buttons. I’ve no idea why would anyone complain about it.

NO, IT DOES NOT HAVE ANY AF PROBLEMS, IT WAS SOME OLD FIRMWARE THAT HAD THE POBLEMS AND THESE LENS COME PRELOADED WITH NEW VERSION.

 

Step by step

Focusing

The Tamron uses what they call Rapid eXtra-silent stepping Drive (see, that’s the RXD, wasn’t hard to find out) motor and the lens is fast. May be not instant (end to end… I don’t know, certainly less than a second). While I tried using half-press focus with my kid, I’ve generated some useless photos, but switching to AF-C solved that particular problem. The only time I managed to make it hunt and catch something else was by shooting between two tree trunks with a center AF. The 55mm f/1.8 Sony’s own also had problem with this particular setup. In fact I would blame it to the camera, because any lens I tried later had the same problem. The Tamron is absolutely silent too. May be in a sound-proof room you’d be able to hear it, but outside? No way. As I said before – it works with DMF and rotating the focus ring while shooting zooms and takes over AF. Eye-AF works great too. It is as close to native Sony lens as it can get, in fact it is better than some native Sony lens by so much that I wonder why Tamron and Sony didn’t make it together…

Sharpness

Not sure where to begin, I’ve already mentioned there is not much to tell about center sharpness. It is sharp wide open, and it’s hard to even tell f/2.8 and f/4, unless you look at crops and remove any sharpening applied through processing (like clicking No sharpening preset in Lightroom, whih is two steps under the default Medium preset).

Center sharpness at various apertures at 75mm. Bad time of the day for doing this.

Corners are improved by a lot by closing the aperture. Of course, you would not shoot wide open city scapes, but I’m obliged to show the difference. Noticeable up to f/5.6.

Same shot as above, but in the corner. At f/5.6 all softness is gone.

With proper light you can get this at 75mm f/2.8 with proper light:

75mm @ f/2.8 sharpness and bokeh

This is a shot I would use to show the difference between processing with a bit more sharpness (None vs Medium/Default preset in Lightroom). No other processing:

75mm @ F/8 Lightroom presets

Sharpness and contrast at 75mm f/2.8 – the shot was just an experiment to see how the lens copes with back-lighting the scene:

Below there is a crop from this image.
A crop and a 100% crop from the image above

Last two at 75mm, light coming from Sun reflection on the second one:

75mm f/2.8 crop with my son running around.

 

Click for 100% crop @ 75mm f/3.2

Moving to 28mm, which is a bit less interesting:

Sammy @ 28mm f/2.8, I had a hard time nailing a shot while he ran around.

I don’t have that many 28mm shots, but I will add some to the review (UPDATE – in a separate post when I finish my queue)

Click for a 100% crop a bit off-center from @ 28mm f/5.6. No processing.

Close down a bit and you won’t be trying the impossible at 28mm f/2.8. Here is a shot at f/4.5:

ISO 3200, but you can see there is plenty of detail.

Sunstars, flares

(UPDATE) Flares control turned out to be average to good. Initially I tried to make a shot to bring out the worst, but after a week with the lens shooting various images around Croatia and Slovenia – I had flare poblems may be one time, and none of my other lens worked better. It’s hard to actually get flares to show because they require specific angle. I guess it will be much easier in a morning/evening sun shining directly into the lens, but it still requires a shady part of the image where the flare… flares up.

Click for a bigger image. No flare here, just a sunstar at 75mm f/4

Sunstars are nothing spectacular, but become much better at f/8/ Anyway, you might as well ignore them, not a lens to try to get the best ones.

To get a flare you have to work the angle, see below:

Click for a bigger image. This is the worst I could make it @ 75mm f/4

Chromatic aberrations

Not much I could find. In fact they are either superbly corrected (but then why not show in RAW w/o CA removal?), or missing completely from my images. You’ve already seen few shots in very contrasty situations, the building shots may be had something less than 1 pixel that I didn’t correct, but these had an extreme pang to them – very bright white(ish) walls with very thin lines at a very long distance. CAs are ignorable, if existing.

Talking of extremely hard shots, just look below, and see how you may introduce some kinds of uncorrectable problems, and still pull an useful image:

Click for bigger image and read below.

The shot above was made against the sun, at f/4, which is obviously not enough to bring the focus everywhere. The fact that you can still pull a lot out of it in post-processing (here I didn’t do anything) is a testament of the Sony A7R II dynamic range capabilities. Shot taken against the sun (just behind that pillar), through brightly lit fountain water columns. Note that the color cast is from the sunset. And you can still get either something useful or make an artsy stuff with it. I’ve used some presets just to demonstrate:

Click for bigger image. Both are presets, the shot didn’t deserve better.

Coma

This may be interesting for Astrophotographers. Now – I am on the way to becoming one, but it will take time (waiting for a tracker, praying for good weather, fighting my wife to let me spend hal the night outside), so I only did the red LED test they usually do at Lenstip. There is some uncorrecte coma distortion, but it is much less pronounced than in 99% of the lens test I looked at. So before I judge on that, I might just try it. Seems to me nobody tried (considering the complete lack of info), but the Tamron is still not a popular choice (beats me, people are like this sometimes).

Conclusion

It’s the first time I’m purchasing a third party lens for a Sony system, and so far it has been great for me. In fact it is the first third-party lens I’d recommend in my life with a hand over my heart. If you dont”t have the money for 24-70 f/2.8 GM, don’t bother with any of the similar zooms.

I blame Sony – after all, they’ve created an ecosystem based on expensive lens, and one would expect even the not-so-top ones to be good. Yet the Vario-Tessar 24-70 FE OSS, despite having a Zeiss logo on the side, has been regarded as a disappointment by far too many people. If it was up to me – they’d all get the Tamron instead and show Sony that’s not how you treat loyal customers (considering what we had to put up with with the Alpha mount, yeah, we’ve been plenty loyal) expecting mid-range lens to have at least some of the high-end quality.

I’ve been unable to uncover some major fault with the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD. It is not fautless, but it checks everywhere it needs to when you look for bright and light travel or everyday zoom. Doesn’t have OSS, which may turn you down if your camera lacks IBIS. The fact that helped me is that I didn’t had my expectations too high based on past experience. In fact even most of the issues other reviewers mentioned were either dealt with already (the AF issues with earlier firmware), or turned out to be minor problems – like not having any switches. Really, it would be great to have an Eye-AF button there, but… just look at the price.

As I’ve already stated somewhere above – the fact the Tamon is being compared to the Sony G Master lens at a fraction of the price, weight and size, says enough and makes it the right choice for anyone looking for a lightweight bright universal zoom for Sony A7 series. The wide end could have used few more milimeters to make it even more attractive, but then we would have something bulkier instead of pretty compact form it has now.

I’m self-funding this blog, so please follow the links if you are picking up the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD on Amazon:

Small update regarding distortion of the lens –  I mostly haven’t seen it, since the camera corrects it. None of the images needed any additional correction, but that only means the correction was applied by the profile.

Posted by Nikolai Tsekov

My goal is to collect all the “native” compatible autofocus FE lens and review every new one released in the future for as long as Sony keeps supporting the E-mount. Clicking on any of the ads and buying stuff from Amazon following the links in the blog would help me a lot.

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