Quick Resolution Tests on Two New 70-200s

Published December 4, 2012

We got stock on two new 70-200mm lenses this week: the Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR and the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC. I would have loved to do some side-by-side comparisons. They’re priced similarly and I expect a lot of Nikon shooters will be choosing between these two since both are quite a bit less expensive than the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II.

It may be a little different on the Canon side, where the Tamron is priced about mid-way between the Canon 70-200 f/4 IS and 70-200 f/2.8 IS II. But there will still be people considering paying a bit more and getting a wider aperture, or paying a bit less for the non-Canon 2.8 version.

As always, this isn’t a review, it’s my quick first impression after putting the lens through our normal intake tests. I’m not a lens reviewer. Also, as always, my summary comes first, for those of you who have trouble reading more than 150 words without a picture.

The Nikon is a very sharp lens, a bit better at the wide end than the long end, but at f/4 it’s every bit as sharp as the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II is at f/2.8. The VR II, of course, does get a bit sharper at f/4.

The Tamron 70-200 (really it’s 186mm) f/2.8 is also exceptionally sharp, and maintains its sharpness throughout the zoom range, even at the long end. Just be aware the long end is not 200mm. We have the Canon and Nikon lenses all measured right at 200mm, while the Tamron is about 186mm. For what it is worth, the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 is about 190mm.

Here’s a comparison, a simple chart 30 feet away shot with the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II at 200mm on top and the Tamron 70-200 at the bottom. Both were shot from exactly the same place at 200mm. The Nikon 70-200 VR II and f/4 VR are almost exactly the same focal length as the Canon at this distance. (The VRII, of course, is shorter when focused on closer objects.)


Canon 70-200 IS II at 200mm
Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 at 200mm


Or another comparison between the Canon and Tamron.


Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II at 200mm
Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC shot from same spot at 200mm


The focal length difference won’t mean doodly to someone using this lens for portraits or landscapes, but to a sportshooter it might be critical.

Other than the focal length surprise, the lenses are both solidly constructed, zoom and focus smoothly, and ooze quality. The Tamron autofocuses very quickly and accurately. It was very close to the Canon and Nikon speeds, and definitely NOT the leisurely AF we suffered from on older Tamron telezooms.

Imatest Results

We don’t have nearly as many copies as I’d like to test, with 9 of the Nikon and 8 of the Tamron available today. But it’s better than one copy, so off we go.

Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR

The Nikon does very well on our standard D3x test camera. For those who want to know why I’m not shooting it on the D800, that’s because I have tons of comparison data on the D3x, and I want to compare this lens to those others. You can’t compare Imatest results from two different cameras. Because, well, then you’re testing the difference in the cameras.


Line pairs for Image Height for Center (X axis) and Average (Y axis)


Resolution is a bit higher at 70mm than at 200mm, but the difference is pretty minor. It holds sharpness well into the corners with average corner resolution of over 400 LP/IH, which is very good. I’ve compared it in table form below with the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II, but remember values are wide open, so the f/2.8 is spotting the f/4 a full stop. At f/4, the f/2.8 VR II is clearly a bit sharper than the f/4 VR.It’s probably worth noting the f/2.8 VR II is as sharp at 200mm as it is at 70mm.


 MTF50 CTR 70mmMTF50 Avg 70mmMTF50 CTR 200mmMTF50 Avg 200mm
70-200 f/2.8 VRII @ f/2.8875730895745
70-200 f/4 VR @ f/4930810880775


Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC

The Tamron is also very sharp, and equally sharp at both ends. At 200mm, it actually appears a bit better, but with only 8 copies I’m not willing to make that call yet. I should also repeat, as I always do, that you can’t truly compare Imatest results from one camera system to another so it’s not appropriate to compare the Tamron to the Nikons until we get Nikon mount copies of this lens and test them on the same camera.


To show just how good these numbers are, we’ll compare them in a table to the Canon 70-200 f/28 IS II, one of the best zoom lenses available.


 MTF50 Ctr @ 70mmMTF50 Avg @ 70mmMTF50 Ctr @ 200mmMTF50 Avg @ 200mm
Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II875755840720
Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC850700870725


Again, let’s emphasize that I’m comparing the average of 8 copies of the Tamron to the average of over 200 copies of the Canon IS II. The Tamron numbers will change a bit as we add more copies to our database. But even so, the Tamron has done something remarkable. It’s holding its own, at least, with the best 70-200 f/2.8 zoom I know of.

But let’s also remember that the Tamron is really a  70-186mm. A smaller zoom range helps the designer maintain resolution throughout the range. Now, if you’re going to use a 70-200 for a portrait lens, or long landscape lens, those few mm at the long end are probably of no consequence at all.

For other shooters, though, particularly those doing action sports on full-frame cameras, the difference could be critical. Cropping a shot an extra 10% is going to reduce final resolution significantly. As always, horses for courses.

The Tamron, though, for a whole lot of people, is going to provide an exceptionally sharp lens at a lower price.

Remember What This Is

This is a quick look at resolution only. If you’re like me, bad resolution is a deal breaker. Good resolution just means the lens is certainly worth a closer look. Just like you, I’ll wait on the thorough reviewers to look at flare, focus accuracy, bokeh, and the dozens of other things that are important in a lens. But I think both of these lenses certainly passed this first test and are worth that closer look.


Roger Cicala

December, 2012

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • I have seen the Canon IS II sell for over $2500 here at retailers in Australia and the Tamron can be bought for about $1400. At almost half the price. 95% of performance at 55% the price and double the warranty. Its a no-brainer, the only thing i worry about is the resale value.

  • Brooks Gelfand

    I am an amateur; I shoot 35mm film with a Nikon F100. I find I need a decent telephoto zoom. The Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 is, unfortunately, beyond my budget. The two lenses I was considering are the two reviewed here – the Tamron f/2.8 and the Nikon f/4.

    Since a Tamron manual for the lens is not available for download, I called Tamron to verify the lens would work with the F100. Tamron Technical Support informed me the VC version of the lens would not work with the F100 or for that matter any Nikon film body – F6, F5, F100. They suggested the older non-VC version of the lens.

    The manual for the Nikon 70-200 f/4 lists the F6, F5, and F100 as supported for all the functions of that lens.

    That makes the decision easy.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Gary,

    I’m travelling and don’t have numbers in front of me, but the Tamron is really very good and holds up well on the D3x. I wouldn’t hesitate with either lens, but if f/2.8 would be useful, I’d give the Tamron a really good look.

  • Gary

    Love the Blog Roger; Given that different cameras (sensors) will deliver different resolution results, have you compared the new Tamron 70-200mm 2.8 with the Nikon 70-200mm f4 on your D3x. I would love a 2.8 lens, but between the new Nikon f4’s sharpness, lower weight and lower price (compared to the Nikon 2.8 VRII), I thought that was the way to go. Now this new Tamron is drawing me back.

  • Craig

    There seems to be a few varying opinions on whether the Nikon 70-200 f4 offers any weather sealing or the level of dust and moisture resistance. Any opinion or information on that? Thanks.

  • Roger Cicala


    The new Tamron 70-200 isn’t very parfocal either, I’m afraid.

  • Marius

    I would like to ask a small favor, if you still have the lens and didn’t just lent it for your review. My inquiry concerns par-focality i.e. when the lens holds the same focus throughout the zoom range. A quick test to see this is to shift the lens to manual focus, then zoom in to 200mm, focus on an object approximately 10ft away and then take a photo. Afterwards you go to 70mm without touching the focus and then take another photo and see if the object is still sharp (bare in mind that par-focality actually can be affected by the temperature of your surroundings). This feature is mostly used when filming and the new Canon 70-200 f.2.8 IS mrkII is very bad at this, where the original Tamron 70-200 was nearly par-focal as well as the mrkI from Canon. I hope you can find the time to help me figure this out.

  • Makar79

    Many thanks for the reply, Roger.
    For you, are the construction quality and so called “tropicalization” of the two version and the “white” rival’s counterparts very similar?
    I ask you this because of this forum user’s who claimed so many times that the Nikkor MK II was so bad in construction and tropicalization compared to the other three that I cannot hear it anymore 🙂
    I asked you this even because I usually don’t disassembly Lenses, I try to use them… 🙂
    Thanks again

  • Roger Cicala


    There are no internal gaskets except those under the front and rear. I don’t recall any O-ring under the zoom focus rings in the Mk I, but there certainly aren’t any in the mk II.

  • Makar79

    I’m curious about the Nikkor 70-200 VR II and It’s tropicalization, are the focus ring and the zoom ring protected against dust and water resistant?
    I’ve heard in one or two italian forum that the VR II, unlike the VR I, is protected only near the camera mount and that it is not protected with O-Ring under zoom/focus ring any more, is it true?
    I think that who commonly repair and so a lot of times disassembles them can respond to this.
    I know that I’m a lot OT, sorry for that and for my english

  • thanks you, i am improve this content

  • Bare

    Is anywhere resolution chart of Sigma 70-200 OS?

  • hey roger wold you post some sample shots so we could get an idea of bokeh. Obviously its uselfullness as a portrait lens is going to live and die on bokeh quality. It sounds too good to be true from the resolution numbers so i am waiting for the other shoe to drop

  • Roger Cicala

    Thanks, guys. Got those too and changed the Canon and Sigmas also. My apologies. I’ve been doing planning and scheming all week and haven’t been around the blog as much as I usually am.


  • L.P.O.


    there’s still one “But let’s also remember that the Tamron is really a 70-175mm” left in the text. This confused me a bit until I got to the comments regarding 175/186 mm.

    Thanks for the article!

  • lwestfall

    Thanks for your interesting data, Roger! In contrast, TDP just posted their resolution chart comparison images, and at 200mm & f/2.8 the Canon easily bests the Tamron (at least their copy):

    It would be nice to see the distribution of resolution data points on all the 200 copies of the Canon II lens that you have tested, just like you showed on the new Tamron & Nikon lenses. (maybe also of the Nikon f/2.8 VR) That would help us see the variation in quality between different copies of the Canon.


  • lwestfall

    Two sentences later it still says 175mm.

  • Roger Cicala

    You’re right David, and I’ve done that. Thank you for the reminder.

  • davidc502

    If the Tamron actual focal length is 186, why don’t you update this webpage. When people read this they still think it is 175mm.



  • Greg

    Thanks for the update!

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Greg,

    I don’t have the numbers for a direct comparison. We did finally get the 70-200s on the optical bench to measure focal length at infinity. The Canon actually was 199 (I had heard people saying is was more like 192) and the Tamron 186. The difference is about the same, but both are closer to 200 than I had thought (since I was originally calculating the Tamron based on the Canon being 192)

  • Greg

    Are MTF comparisons done only at claimed focal lengths or at actual?

    Because the Tamron appears to be a fair amount shorter on the long end, I’d be curious how the test results would look at actual focal lengths (Tamron at full reach vs Nikon & Canon at comparable FL (~175mm).

    Could this be intentional, where Tamron (and possibly Sigma) are shortening the long end of these zooms to try and best Nikon and Canon on sharpness?

  • @Lee Saxon, if you want non(or minimal)breathing lenses, look at the cine lenses… these are required to maintain framing while focusing within a shot. Zeiss announced one recently :
    2.8kg, 19k USD 🙂

  • Benny

    This to me just confirms that every lens except 70-200/2.8 VRII is a waste of money.

  • Harley

    I went and compare tamron 70-200 vc usd and tamron 70-200 (old one)to Tamron distributor office.

    When I took a picture at infinity distance with 70-200 vc usd, angle of result is absolutely same as 70-200 (old one).
    but when I took a picture at 5 meter(about 16feet),2.5 meter(about 8feet) FOV of 70-200 vc usd became wider depends on distance to subject.

    I already had this kind of experience when I use high-power zoom lens.

  • Joachim

    Sorry I sent my comment too early. What I like to add: The money for the tripod holder could be used for something better. I made a series to compare with and without. It’s more relevant “with or without mirror-up” than it is “with or without tripod holder RT-1”. I think, because the body of the lens is made of plastic at the connecting surface, one gets more vibrations of shutter and mirror than if the Camera would be mounted directly and firmly to a decent tripod head. Also, a 14-24/2.8 has 1000 grams and comes without such a holder.

  • Joachim

    I’m amazed with the new Nikon and it’s qualities in aspects of VR. On a D800 it still makes a good impression with 1/40 at 200mm but I was really puzzled that even 1/6 was doable. Thanks for testing. And we should keep in mind: The 70-200/2.8 VR II comes WITH a tripod holder. The price of this thing (“made in Japan”, while the lens is “made in Thailand” :/ ) should be added to compare it with it’s big brother. Then the price-difference doesn’t play that big role as it appears on first glance.

    Although the new VR is pretty good, it’s not equalizing narrow depth of field or faster shutter times, but to me the main reason was: the weight is only 850 grams, instead of 1540 grams.

  • Lee Saxon

    I wonder if Nikon or Canon have ever researched a 70-200 that didn’t breathe. I wonder just how gigantic that would be. I’m sure there wouldn’t be enough people interested to really make it worth building (which is a shame, by the way; I miss the days when Nikon would offer halo products they knew they were only going to sell 800 of).

  • Roger Cicala


    Just so I’m clear, the Tamron is about 175mm focused at infinity, maybe 180mm. We’ll put it on the optical bench and measure it exactly when we get time. It won’t be an issue at all for some shooters, but critical for others.

    Manufacturers do this all the time, but usually stay within 5% of the claim. It’s considered a bit of cheating when they are further off than that (the Sigma 50-500 is an example that people often talk about, it’s really a 470mm, but that’s still way under 10%).

  • Zen

    FOV on the “far” end (200 in 70-200) are usually given when focusing at infinity. Focusing nearer can sometime change the FOV depending on the composition of the lens.

    This is not an error in the Tamron description or a way for Tamron to annoy customers, it’s because of the lens design (which could be because of a lot of parameters).

    For example, the Nikkor 70-200 VR II is worse than the Nikkor 70-200 VR on this aspect, with an effective field of view of around 135mm at 200mm at the minimum focusing distance.

    On the other side, for people shooting far objects (which is often the case with telephoto lenses), this design choice is not an issue, because the effective field of view will be around 200mm.

    So yes, it is important to talk about that, but it is not uncommon and Tamron is not the only one to do that.


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