Lens Comparison: Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L II vs. Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC

The Comparison: Canon vs Tamron

Canon’s EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM has been hailed as the sharpest lens of its type, but it has no image-stabilization, and it carries a hefty price tag at $2049. On the other hand, Tamron’s new 24-70 f/2.8 VC USD does have image stabilization, but the company’s optics only occasionally match the standards found in OEM lenses. Both are well built, with weather sealing and fast, quiet focusing motors.

There are only so many resolution charts that I can look at. I was curious how these lenses would compare in actual use, not in the laboratory, so I got both of them and took some test shots to compare them.  The results are presented in the video above, but can be summarized as follows:

  • Both lenses appear to be at their best at the wide angle end of the range. At 24mm, they produce excellent results in the center of the frame at f/2.8, and good results even at the borders. By f/5.6 and beyond, the image quality of both lenses is excellent across the frame.
  • At the 70mm end of the zoom range, the Canon performs well across the frame, even wide open at f/2.8, while the Tamron is significantly softer around the borders. The Tamron’s borders remain softer than the Canon until stopped down to about f/11, but they’re pretty good by about f/8, and for most purposes, are perfectly usable even at f/5.6.

It should be noted, in fact, that the differences between these lenses will not be significant for many people. If you publish your images on the web, for display at 1080p or smaller, no differences will be visible unless you crop the images heavily. After all, even full HD resolution is only 2 megapixels, a 90% reduction in size from the RAW files.  Even mid-sized prints, such as 8x10s, will not show the differences in the lenses in most circumstances.

Examples

Canon and Tamron comparison at 70mm f/2.8

With both lenses at 70mm f/2.8, both lenses are good in the center, but the Canon is a little sharper.
Click to view at 100%

You can download the RAW files from the video comparison images below. These are all in RAW format, so to view them, you’ll need software to render them, like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop CS6. In each case, I’ve bundled the files together in .zip archives for ease of downloading. Please read the information regarding copyright and usage that has been enclosed in each .zip.

Download The Seattle Skyline Example Images

Download the Skyline Examples ( 6 files, 180 MB, .zip)

Download The Riverbed Example Images

Download the Riverbed Examples ( 8 files, 243 MB, .zip)

Download The Tree Example Images

Download the Tree Examples ( 10 files, 350 MB, .zip)

Image Stabilization

After shooting tripod-mounted shots for a couple of days, it seemed only fair to let the Tamron’s VC system do some work, so early one morning, I went up to Camano Island to take some (moderately) low-light test shots. I found that I was able to get satisfactory results at 24mm at shutterspeeds of about 1/8th sec, but only rarely at 1/4 sec, and at 70mm, it was about the same, despite the focal length difference… though sharpness at 1/8th was not as reliable. Either way, I was able to take shots that I would not have bothered attempting with the Canon. Here are a few images from that morning, all taken with the Tamron, hand-held. Some sharpening has been applied, and of course, they’ve been re-sized:

 

I recommend using the “View Full Size” option when checking out these pictures; the resizing in the gallery system introduces quite a bit of blur. All of the images above were shot at f/5.6, with shutterspeeds ranging from 1/8th to 1/200th seconds. Sorry, I’m not making the RAW files of these images available for download.

Considerations & Conclusions

Beyond the obvious questions of which lens is sharper, there are a couple of important considerations when deciding whether to choose the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC USD or the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II.

  • Landscape photographers (and others for whom sharpness is most important) do not typically shoot at f/2.8, and when stopped down, the differences in image quality are minor at the wide angle end.
  • Those photographers who are most likely to use the image stabilization on the Tamron (such as wedding, event, or travel photographers) are also, I think, the photographers who are less likely to need ultra-sharp borders. If a photographer is focusing on a nearby subject, the edges of the frame frequently contain background this is slightly out of focus anyway.
  • If you shoot hand-held rather than from a tripod, the advantage in sharpness gained from having VC (Image Stabilization) will outweigh the advantage of having what would otherwise be a sharper lens at most common shutterspeeds. Next time, I’ll have to remember to shoot hand held with both lenses in situations with moderate light.
  • If sharpness is critical to the work you do, you shoot from a tripod, and you need to shoot with a large aperture, there’s no question: the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II is simply better.

If you’ve found this comparison useful, please consider purchasing the lenses though the Amazon links below, or from B&H Photo, here for the Canon and here for the Tamron. This will help L&M create more (and better) comparisons in the future.


Avatar of Matthew Gore

Matthew Gore is the Editor in Chief and Administrator of Light & Matter.

24 Comments

  • Reply March 24, 2014

    pHneutral

    Nice lens! Does anyone know, are there two versions of this Tamron lens? Since I see there is a “model A007″. Is this like a first or second revision?

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply March 24, 2014

      Matthew Gore

      The letter at the end of the Model numbers in question refers to the lens mount (eg, E=Canon, N=Nikon, etc). The rest is just Tamron’s product number. The A005E, for example, is their 70-300mm, not a variant of the 24-70 :)
      - Matthew

  • Reply March 21, 2014

    Mack

    Hi. Nice review. Friend of mine has got tamron and she has been using it over a year now. She had some problems with battery drain when camera was switched off. But send it to tamron and they fixed it in 3 days.
    I was in doubt between tamron and canon mk2. In the end I went for canon. As wedding photographer I do need best autofocus and keeper ratio as possible. Had a go with both lenses on two 5dmk3 at the same time. Frankly have to say that canon outperforms tamron and in 24-70 there is no need for is at all.
    My friend put her tamron on eBay….after our test

  • Reply March 18, 2014

    Wavecrest

    Thank you for a thorough, straight ahead review! Really useful to compare real world results from actual practical applications of a lens – bravo!!

  • Reply October 9, 2013

    nicola naj oleari

    Hello,very nice review but when i downloaded the images i found that they were all from the Sigma 24 70 and NOT from the Tamron… so maybe you made a little mistake there. Do you think it is possible to have the Tamron images to download ? Thank’s :-)
    Nicola

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply October 9, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Nicola,

      This is an issue that I addressed in the video: Adobe Camera Raw / Lightroom do not automatically recognize these images as coming from the Tamron lens, but they are from the Tamron. I don’t own and haven’t tested the Sigma equivalent, so that’s not even a possibility :) This is just a metadata issue.

      - Matthew

  • Reply August 31, 2013

    Keith

    Nice review! Thanks! Really like the low light photos you shared from Camano Island.

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply September 4, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Thanks Keith. That was, unfortunately, the first and only time that I’ve been to that beach… I’ll have to visit it again one of these days :)

  • Reply August 13, 2013

    Bob Keenan

    Great review. I have the Tamron and the had the Canon I. You have quantified the IQ differences in a way that is really easy to see the difference. I came to the same conclusion as you at to which one to buy. I do think it would have been fun to compare both lenses with Tamron VC on for a 24 and 70 mm shot at 1/8 a second. As you said we all know the outcome of that but it would help drive home the power of IS better than just your words. If only Canon would do this lens with IS…… I would switch back in a flash regardless of cost. But as it is i am very happy with the Tamron.

  • Reply August 10, 2013

    Stefan

    Great review! One thing missing is the distortion topic though..
    I am trying to decide whether to replace my 24-105 with the Tamron. Can you tell whether the Tamron’s image quality outperforms the 24-105′s? The later’s distortion at the wide end is not good, it produces a lot of CA and somehow I just can’t ‘fall in love’ with this lens. It seems kinda big and bulky for the images it produces. My 70-200 2.8 IS II is a lot more big and bulky, but the IQ is superb and I don’t mind carry it around. I got the 24-105 as a kit lens with 5d III just 1-2 months ago. However so far I haven’t used this lens outside my house, because I prefer to take the 17-40 + 50 1.4 + maybe 100 2.8L OR 17-40 + 70-200. Any comment on the comparison between the 24-105 and Tamron 24.70 would be much appreciated. Most of the people on the web are comparing it to the Canon’s 24-70 (I, II and the newest f4 IS).

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply August 13, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Stefan,

      At the wide end, the 24-105 has quite a bit more distortion than the Canon, and a decent amount more than the Tamron. (If you’re curious about the numbers, the barrel distortion  at 24mm on the 24-105 is about 4.3%, on the Tamron it’s 3.8%, and on the Canon it’s about 2.8%, according to indpendent measurements [not mine]).

      In any case, distortion can be corrected in post processing by Lightroom or CaptureOne, and in many cases (like these, probably) the loss in resolution is pretty negligible.

      That said, I’m not a huge fan of the 24-105 either. I didn’t like it when I first used it (years ago), so I haven’t used it much since and can’t give you a good detailed comparison with it and the others.

      - Matthew

  • Reply August 3, 2013

    pat d

    Outstanding review. You really have a way of helping a person make up their mind as to which lens is applicable to their individual needs. Thanks and I look forward to checking out a lot of your other reviews.

  • Reply July 16, 2013

    Antony

    Hey Matthew,

    Thanks for you hard work. I read through many many reviews and took me weeks to just decide on which one to get. But I finally settled for the Tamron. I have tried the lens, and found it to be very sharp even wide open (I worry most about the tele-end wide open, as I love to take portraits of loved ones)

    However, I am still very paranoid and I really want to ask if you think the Canon lens produces more of a punch or “L-glass color” or “contrast” in all apertures (especially wide open) compared to the Tamron? If there was, would the difference be enough to set one photographer’s work to be more superior to another. (as in people can tell the difference)

    Thanks again!

    Antony

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply July 17, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Antony,

      As you’ve seen, the Canon is slightly sharper  in some parts of the image, especially at 70mm 2.8; will it make a difference? I doubt it. The Tamron’s images will look nice and sharp with good local contrast (and of course, that can always be adjusted in post processing).

      I guess I’m not sure what I can say that I haven’t already said in the video, so I’ll let the images speak for themselves :)

      - Matthew

  • Reply July 4, 2013

    Ronnie Chan

    Nice review,do you have any chance compare the tamron 24-70 F/2.8 with canon 24-70 F/2.8 Version 1?
    How significant sharper the new tamron compare to older canon version?

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply July 5, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Ronnie,

      I haven’t had a chance to do a side by side comparison between the Tamron and the Canon Mark I, and the differences that we’re talking about are so small that that’s really necessary to make an assessment. That said, my general impression is that optically, the two lenses are about the same. Each might be sharper than the other in certain parts of the zoom range, but overall, the differences should be minimal… and the Canon Mark I does tend to suffer from field curvature.

      - Matt

  • Reply July 1, 2013

    nana

    Hello,
    I just bought my Tamron and when I uploaded the photos to the computer the info was Sigma 24-70 is this normal?

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply July 1, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Nana,

      Yes,  it’s normal… But you shouldn’t leave it that way. In the video above, I ran into the same problem, and showed how to correct it in Adobe camera raw (in the chromatic aberration section), but it would be the same procedure in Lightroom.

      - Matthew

  • Reply June 27, 2013

    Sergei Golikov

    This is how all reviews should be, a hard act to follow, thanks for all your fine efforts!
    Based on this, I’ll go for the Tamron, a longtime user of this stable on APS sensors and film over the years.

  • Reply June 8, 2013

    Chee Hao Lee

    I love this video very much. I made the decision after watching it. I would go for Tamron as I am going to buy it with my pocket $$ !!!!

  • Reply June 6, 2013

    Leon

    Awesome review. I’m still trying to decide which one to get.

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply June 6, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Thanks Leon. It’s actually pretty hard to go wrong, either way :)

      - Matthew

  • Reply May 24, 2013

    Marko

    Nice Review. Im already going Tamron, just purchase on amazon.com from the U.S. and waiting for his arrival at my home here in Paraguay, South America.

    Camera store and dealers here in south america doesnt have any Tamron products, may be Tamron doest come this way. I`d already own an Tamron SP 17-50 2.8 MarkI and was a fantastic lens, almost a match of the Canon 17-55 2.8 IS… (where contrast and color where the only diference).

    Hope that this A007 of tamron will be that good..

  • Reply April 21, 2013

    Simon Ng

    Great write up. For the price difference, I am definitely going for the Tamron.

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