Lens Comparison: Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8 Di VC USD vs Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L (PART 1)

Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8 Di VC USD vs Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L

I hope that you’ll forgive me that this video is not quite as satisfying as my previous efforts. It was not for lack of trying. After taking thousands of test shots through the Canon and Tamron lenses, I discovered that the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II that I was using was flawed; perhaps damaged, perhaps in need of calibration… but in any case, it was not operating as it should.

Watch Part 2 of this comparison, here.

The Lenses

The Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II is regarded as the sharpest and probably overall best professional zoom lens in its class. Released in 2010, it’s a relatively new design and comes with a hefty price tag. Currently at Amazon.com it costs $1999. At B&H it’s also $1999 with current rebates.

The Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 Di VC USD is an even newer design, having reached the market just last year. Tamron has long had a strong reputation for great optics at reasonable prices. Tamron’s 70-200 f/2.8 VC USD currently costs $1499 at Amazon and at B&H its $1499 plus a $100 mail-in rebate, though the price can fluctuate depending on rebates being offered. With or without rebates, the lens costs about $500-800 less than the Canon.

True Focal Length

I have heard reports that the Tamron lens does not provide a true 200mm focal length at the long end of it’s zoom range, and this can be misleading. I’ll provide a complete test in Part 2 of this video comparison.

For now, though, let me explain why this is more complicated than it sounds at first. When focused at infinity, the Tamron does provide an equivalent focal length to the Canon at about 200mm.

The phenomenon in question is referred to as “breath”, and it’s a problem that occurs when a lens loses focal length as it focuses on subjects that are closer to its minimum focal distance. So, while the Tamron is a 200mm when focused far away, it might be less than 200mm when focused close up. This is not an uncommon problem, even with high quality lenses: the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II breaths down to 140mm from 200mm when focused close.

In the video above, I intentionally avoided this problem while making my resolution tests by focusing both lenses on very distant subjects, and as you’ll see in the video (images are 100% crops) and below, the difference in focal length is negligible; the lenses focal lengths are identical for all practical purposes at that distance.

Autofocus Performance

When shooting sports in low light, I found that both lenses performed very well. The focusing motors are both fast, and tracking was equally accurate. I did find, however, that when using image stabilization, the Tamron suffered a noticeable lag between the time that the VC started to engage and the time focusing began. With a little practice, I was able to anticipate the lag and work around it without too much trouble, but it is something to be aware of.

Image Quality

If you’d like to examine a few of the RAW images from these tests yourself, you can download them by clicking on the link below:

Download Raw Files

 

In terms of resolution, I expected the Canon lens to out-perform the Tamron, just as its counterpart did (however slightly) when I compared the 24-70mm lenses. However, after comparing numerous images, I found that the Canon was consistently blurry compared to the Tamron, and in fact, it was blurry compared to my older Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L (non-IS).  Since I know that a good copy of the IS II is always a bit sharper than the non-IS, I could only conclude that I’d received a bad copy of the IS II for testing.

The images below show how dramatic the image quality differences could be. Here are some thumbnails of two images shot at 70mm at f/2.8.

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In the center of the image, the difference is not especially dramatic, though it is visible.

_83A3321-1

_83A3335

Towards the corners, though, the Canon looks terrible.

100% crop from upper left corner of the Tamron's image
100% crop from upper left corner of the Tamron’s image
100% crop from upper left corner of the Canon IS II's image
100% crop from upper left corner of the Canon IS II’s image

Support These Lens Comparisons!

If you’d like to see more comparison videos like this one, there are two things you can do to help!

First, if you purchase one of the lenses, please do it through one of our links below, especially Amazon. It won’t cost you any extra, but it will help us.

Second, if you are located in the USA and have new or expensive lenses that you’d like to make available for testing, please send us an email. Borrowlenses.com doesn’t carry everything that we’d like to test. Thanks!

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31 Comments

  • Hello sir i bought a canon 70d and interested to buy 70-200 for weddings and outdoor photography (not sports). Shall i go for canon lens or tamron?

    • Hi Kathir,

      If you’re not shooting sports, then I don’t think there’s any good reason to go for the Canon instead of the Tamron. They’re both excellent lenses, and if you were going to be very rough on your gear (lots of drops and banging around), then it’s possible that the Canon would hold up better in the long run… though I’ve never had a problem with Tamron gear. But if you’re going to treat your gear with a bit of care, the Tamron will give you beautiful image quality and excellent sharpness, and the image stabilization works very nicely.

      Good luck!
      – Matthew

  • I just picked up Tamron 70-200 VC, not the G2. Did I make a mistake, I really don’t shoot any sports, what this lense does have a shorter close-focus distance. Will I eventually be sorry I didn’t get the G2.

    • Hi David,
      Let me begin by saying that I was very impressed with the original VC USD: the sharpness and overall image quality was excellent, the focus was fast and accurate, and the image stabilization worked well enough for everything that I threw at it. In fact, I was pretty surprised when I saw that the G2 was announced, since it didn’t seem like there was a lot of room for improvement.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t done any sort of testing with the G2, yet, so I can’t give you any information that you don’t already know, there… but I CAN tell you that the only concern that I ever had with the G1 was with its responsiveness for shooting sports (and even there, I did fine after I got used to it). So, I’d be really surprised if you’re not perfectly happy with the lens itself. Now, whether you’re one of those people that is only happy with the latest thing, you’re the only one you can say… :-)

      Enjoy the lens!
      – Matthew

  • selamat pagi.
    saya rencana mau beli canon 6D.
    saya menginginkan lensa pada vokal 70-200 f2.8
    sedang bingung untuk meminang canon 70-200 f2.8 non is (karena bajet belum cukup untuk beli yang IS) / tamron 70-200 f2.8 vc usd.
    saya suka foto malam, potrait, telephoto.
    saya menginginkan foto yg taja.
    mohon pencerahan nya
    terimakasih

    • If you’re interested in night time portraits, then the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC USD and the new Tamron 70-200 G2 will both be great options. When it comes to image quality, they’re both extraordinarily sharp, and the stabilization is a big help when light is low. If you were planning on shooting sports and action, I might suggest waiting for the new Tamron G2 version of the lens, as it is expected to have faster autofocus, but for portrait work, the original VC USD will be an excellent lens.

  • I got nikon d750 but planned update to d810. Just wondering with will better for me sigma or tamron 70-200. I seen a lot of negative comments about tamron. I am a bodybuilding and fitness photographer. For now I used sigma 24-70 and I am so happy with this lens. Help me plese

    • There’s no such thing as a perfect lens, but in my experience, the Tamron is much better than the old Sigma lens. If they produce a 70-200 ART series lens one of these days, it may beat the Tamron, but in the meantime, the Tamron is sharper, has great stabilization, and the AF is good too.

    • For image sharpness, they are both incredibly sharp. In some cases, the Canon is a little sharper, sometimes the Tamron is a little sharper, just because of normal sample-variation. They’re equivalent, for all practical purposes.

      So, don’t decide based on sharpness. There are a couple of major differences. 1) Price and 2) focus breathing (ie, with the Tamron, when you’re focusing on things that are close to you, it will behave more like a 180mm lens, while the Canon will be more like a 220mm lens).

      I’d probably go with the Tamron, for wedding photography.

      – Matthew

  • Sir , I am a wedding videographer .. Now planning to buy 70-200 mm 2.8 non is lens , please suggest me the brand canon or tamron will be the best for my nature of work.i own a canon 5dmark 3 camera .

    • Hi Riju,

      When it comes to non-IS, there aren’t as many good options. The old Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 is a great lens, optically, but it uses an old-style micro-motor rather than a USM type, so the focusing is slow and noisy compared to either of these lenses. The Canon 70-200 f/2.8L is a beautiful lens, great focusing, very good sharpness… but it’s very close to the same price as the new Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC USD, which is even sharper (and has stabilization). So, it’s hard to recommend anything other than the Tamron 70-200 VC USD.

      However, if you’re going to be shooting video and manually focusing, then the original Tamron will be a great option. I’m not sure that you’ll be able to find one, though. They are still available on Amazon at a reasonable price, here.

      Good luck!
      – Matthew

  • I need lens for wedding photography ( mostly in night),I have canon 6d thinking to buy lens totally confused in canon 70 -200 mm vs tamron 70-200 mm and there is much price difference in both lenses plz help me out I need quality first then price

    • Hi Ansh,
      For wedding photography, I would not hesitate to use the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC USD. It is extremely sharp, the autofocus is good. The price of the Canon lens has come down enough that the difference is manageable, so I’d probably buy the Canon, but if you’re seeing a large difference in price, there’s no reason not to get the Tamron.
      – Matthew

  • SIR ,
    I AM UPGRADING TO 6D….PLANNING TO PURCHASE 24-105MM F/4 L ALONG WITH ONE MORE lLENS i.e. 70-200MM LENS…NOT GETTING EITHER TO GO CANON OR TAMRON….MYSELF NOT MUCH INTO SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY BUT DEFINITELY LOOKING FOR PORTRAITS N LANDSCAPE PURPOSE…KINDLY SUGGEST

    • If you’re not especially interested in sports, then I’d opt for the Tamron. It’s an excellent lens, and a good copy will be about as sharp as the Canon equivalent… perhaps sharper.

      For what it’s worth… personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Canon 24-105 f/4L; the lens design is old and the optics are mediocre. I’d opt for a 24-70 instead. The Canon 24-70 f/4L IS is excellent, and the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 is pretty nice too.

      – Matthew

  • Dear Matthew as indian wedding photographer i am using canon 5D MIII with 85mm 1.8. I have canon 70-200 4l IS now i want to buy canon 70-200 2.8 IS but really thinking about tamron 70-200 2.8 vc after reading your article. Indian weddings used to perform in night mostly and limited availability of lights. which lense u will recommend , for these situation. Need sharp and fast focusing too, time really matters in this business.

    you can check my photographs at http://www.facebook.com/candidclickersindia/

    • Hi Nikhil,

      I’m not sure what I can say that I haven’t already said in the videos. The Tamron lens is at least as sharp as the Canon, assuming that you get a good copy of the lens (and either way, they’re both remarkably sharp). I’ve had no special trouble focusing with the Tamron in low light, even with fast action, but the Canon is a little more responsive. I also shoot events (including weddings, though less often than I used to), and I know how important it is to have equipment that you trust. If you’re shooting professionally, I’d probably go with the Canon IS II.

      If you’re considering the Canon 85mm f/1.2, the lens is incredibly sharp in the center of the frame, but a little softer (but not bad) towards the edges. There’s no other lens that will give you the same separation and bokeh as an f/1.2, but you might also want to consider the new Tamron 85mm f/1.8 VC USD if you’re going to be shooting in available light; those 3 stops of extra stability will make a much bigger difference than the 2/3rds of a stop of extra light that you get from the f/1.2, and you are already familiar with the depth of field of an 1.8.

      Either way, either of the 70-200mm lenses will give you sharper images than the 85mm f/1.2 overall (especially at the 70mm end), though the 85mm will be about the same as the 70-200s in the center of the frame.

    • For most amateur photographers, I’d recommend the Tamron. If you shoot lots of sports, you might want to consider the Canon instead, especially if you’re a professional. Portrait and landscape photographers will be just as happy with the Tamron.

  • I am about to buy a Canon 7D. I am thinking of getting the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L, is it really that good compared with a Tamron in the same range relating to sharpness?

    • Hi Larry,
      If you’re getting a 7D or 7D Mark II, I’d recommend getting the Canon lens rather than the Tamron. As you’ve seen, I tested them on a full frame sensor, but the smaller sensors in the 7D series cameras have much higher resolution (more pixels in the same size area), so it will need the highest possible lens resolution. In fact, if a full frame sensor were made at the same resolution as an APS-C 18 megapixel sensor, it would be about 45 megapixels… and I haven’t done the math, but my guess is that the 20 megapixels of the 7D Mark II would be about the same as the new Canon 5DS/R at 50 megapixels, and the Canon 24-70 was designed with that sensor in mind.

      That said, I personally don’t like the 24-70mm zoom range on an APS-C camera. It ends up being a very disappointing range… not very wide at the wide end (equivalent to about 38mm) and not much of a telephoto at the other end (112mm). Instead, I’d get the awesome Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 lens to cover your wide end shooting, and then get a 70-200 f/2.8 for your telephoto, and if you feel like you’re missing something in the middle of that 35-70 range, you could always pick up a 50mm prime, or instead of going with the Sigma 18-35, get a 17-50 f/2.8 (Sigma) or 17-55 f/2.8 (Canon).

      Good luck!

      Matthew

  • I have upgraded my camera body about a year ago to a Canon 7D in the hopes to capture some better quality sports photos. I shoot a lot with the Tamron 70-200 2.8 but have noticed the images are just not as sharp as they should be. I mentioned this to a professional in town and he said the 7D is fussy and doesn’t play well with anything but Canon lenses. Have you experienced this?

    • Hi Jay,

      I have not noticed that; I’ve never found any Canon camera to have compatibility problems with any 3rd party lenses. However, there are a couple of things that you might want to think about:

      First, remember that the 7D has lens micro-focus adjustment, so if there IS a problem with a lens, you may be able to adjust it manually.

      Second, focus problems with the 7D’s AF module will not be a factor if you use live-view focus (to test… obviously, it’s not an option most of the time).

      So, I’d start by setting up your camera with the lens on a good, solid tripod. Keep the center column down, and don’t extend the legs all the way if it’s not solid. Then pick a stationary subject that’s about 15 feet (5 meters) away, and focus on it using your standard AF, though the viewfinder, and take a few photos. Use the self-timer or a remote release. Then, switch the camera to live-view, and re-focus. After you’ve imported them into your computer, check them at 100% and see if there’s any difference. You may want to repeat the test a few times before you import the images and make comparisons.

      If the live-view images are in better focus, this will tell you that your lens needs to be adjusted. If they’re the same, then you can start to rule out a focus accuracy problem. If neither of them is very sharp, you probably have a defective/damaged lens, and I’d send it in for repair. (If you need to adjust the focus for your lens, there are DIY options, or you can buy something).

      If you find that they’re both sharp, but you still think your images are not as sharp as they should be generally, there are always the usual culprits: using a slower shutter speed than the conditions permit, not using a stable shooting stance, vibrations from wind/loud music/vehicle motion, etc. If you still can’t track it down, feel free to email me a couple of images and I’ll take a look and see if I can figure it out.

      Good luck!

      – Matthew

      • Thank you Matt for the quick reply and great suggestions. Good to hear that you haven’t experienced or are aware of 3rd party lens compatibility with the 7D. I have micro adjusted each lens but I think I will do it again just to make sure they are spot on. Unfortunately, I think most of my issues can be traced to user error. I typically shoot in low light rinks with youth skaters. Early on they were slower and easier to capture but I think as my kids have gotten older, they have also gotten faster which has put a strain on the image quality.

        Thank you again…

  • I like Tamron’s lenses especially the older heavier model of the 70-200mm f/2.8. Is there any truth to the rumor that the Canon 70D body doesn’t work with the Tamron 70-200mm AOO9?
    Thanks
    KAT
    KAT TALES TV

    • Their old 70-200 is a cool lens… really sharp, but not especially fast focusing, since it used a standard micro-motor, not a USM-type system.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t tested the VC USD model on the 70D, so I can’t say from experience.

      – Matthew

  • Can’t wait to see the Part II! I’ve been wondering if it’s worth the difference for some time. That extra bit of cash could mean an extra prime lens!

    • Having used the Canon non-IS f/2.8 for years and the Tamron f/2.8 for thousands of shots, I’ve never looked at one of my photos and said “Man, I wish this lens was just a little sharper”. They’re both fantastically sharp to begin with… so it’s hard to imagine that that extra $1000 would really be worth it unless your photography really depends on resolution.

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