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
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter

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.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter

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

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter

Towards the corners, though, the Canon looks terrible.

100% crop from upper left corner of the Tamron's image
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter 100% crop from upper left corner of the Tamron’s image
100% crop from upper left corner of the Canon IS II's image
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter 100% crop from upper left corner of the Canon IS II’s image

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RC Studio

Did you manage to try on tamron 70-200 f2.8 USD on canon dual pixel tracking?I wonder how does it perform.

Mike McDonough

I shoot with the Canon 80D and the Tamron 70-200 G2. Before the G2 I had the Sigma 70-200. Phenomenal improvement. Cut my editing time in 1/2. I primarily use this set up for sports, and I am rocking it! Highly recommend!!!!


Hi, for an 80D which one would you recommend and why – Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 G2 or the Canon equivalent. Read in your older replys that you suggested the Canon for APS-C instead of the G1. Why is that? And still the same with G2? Thanks


Hi Matthew,
I hope that I’m not stepping on the wrong turf with my question.
I am strictly an amateur at photography with about 35 years of experience in taking blurred images.
I recently upgraded from an old eos350 to a eos 6D and have found a new universe in how to ruin a perfectly good shot :)
I have a EF 24-70mm F/4 L Series Camera Lens that came with the frame and for a an amateur I like it for anything under 20m but anything past that goes to the blurry category.
I was impressed with your reasoning in the above comparison and thought that my original thoughts on the differences was founded.
Now the GS model being available I want to look at it and add a 2X magnifier to it for my longer distance scenery shots.
Have you any thoughts on using the magnifiers and is it a worthwhile option?
Or should I be looking at other options.
Thank you in advance for any help.


Hi Matt,
Sorry for the drag in replying back, I was away for a while in the Top end of Australia and a trip on The Ghan Expedition.
I did end up going for the G2 and I tried the 1.4x multiplier with results exactly as you predicted.
So the best result is to use the G” and the capacity of the 6D and crop out what ever it is that you want from the image.

I must say that having never properly used any inbuilt lenses the G2 is a hoot when it comes to using it.
The balance never shifts due to body movement of the zoom and after you get used to the AF speed it really performs above board.
I’m only stating the obvious here because I have not the experience to dig any deeper into the finer techs of a lens.
90% of my shooting is free hand and this can be a bit challenging at times and if I need to use something I usually carry a mono stick to help with the vertical movement.
So all in all the G2 is more than adequate for an amateur user and paying for a better quality lens for a person like me is like tossing the strawberries in the pen :)


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?

David Dieli

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.

bon lordskii

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


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


Sir I am using canon 6 d for wedding photography… Plz suggest shell I go to tamorn or Canon 70 – 200.. ?For image sharpness.


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 .


I used canon 70 200mm f2.8L
Which one better canon none is or new tamron 70 200mm


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



Nikhil Prakash

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/


Overall, you recommend for tamron or canon 70-200 for both new models?


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?


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?


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?


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!