Product Review: Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DI VC PZD

October 8, 2014

By John Rettie

Tamron has offered a 28–300mm (10.7x) “super-zoom” lens for full-frame cameras for years now, and its new model (A010) features some worthwhile upgrades and a subtle name change. Tamron dropped the “XR” and added “PZD” to the end of the mouthful-of-a-name 28–300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD. Make sure that PZD or A010 is in the description when searching online to ensure you are getting the newest lens, and not the previous model.
PZD stands for Piezo Drive, which is a standing-wave ultrasonic motor system that Tamron claims delivers faster and quieter focusing. The XR stands for Extra Refractive Index lens element—but don’t worry, the XR has only been dropped from the name, not the lens itself.
The new Tamron 28–300mm PZD lens looks smarter than the old model, thanks to slimmer grooves in the two rubber rings that control zooming and focusing. The trim with the name on it is also less flashy, with a subtle “tungsten silver” hue, rather than gold. The lens is also slightly smaller and lighter in weight than its predecessor.
The lens can be focused manually even when set in autofocus mode, which is useful, especially for close-ups. The minimum focusing distance is 19 inches at any length throughout its zoom range.
When fully retracted (at 28mm), the lens is just shorter than four inches long, but doubles in length when fully racked out to 300mm. Thankfully, there is a lock button on the barrel to prevent zoom creep.
Tamron says the lens’ optical design includes four elements of LD (Low Dispersion) glass, three molded-glass aspherical elements, one hybrid aspherical element, one XR (Extra Refractive Index) glass element, and one element of UXR (Ultra-Extra Refractive Index) glass. There are now 19 elements in 15 groups, up from 18 pieces of glass in 13 groups in the previous generation.
Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) system has three coils that move the VC lens elements electromagnetically via three ceramic ball bearings. The VC lens elements are held in place only by contact with the ceramic ball bearings for smooth movement with little friction. Unlike other manufacturers, Tamron does not claim how many stops the VC system is good for.
The lens’ diaphragm has seven circular aperture blades that produce a pleasing, circular bokeh effect. Tamron says the lens is moisture-resistant.
Considering the lens only weighs 19 ounces, it feels quite solid. The zoom ring is nice and stiff and never slipped from the applied setting. The focusing and Vibration Compensation mechanisms proved to be quiet, with the clicking sounds barely noticeable in comparison with early zoom lenses with image stabilization.
It’s worth noting that the zoom ring rotates in a clockwise direction from 28 to 300mm, which is the same direction as zooms from Nikon and Sony, but the opposite of the rotation on Canon zooms.
We tested the lens on a Canon EOS 6D while shooting windsurfers from the shore at a local beach, so most images were captured at full zoom, 300mm. The colorful sails showed up nicely on a bright day, with only a few signs of chromatic aberration or other artifacts. Some sailboats deep in the background were not very clear, likely due to haze and ocean mist.
In a picture of an Apple iMac’s LCD screen taken to maximize the possibility of barrel distortion and vignetting, there was evidence of each, though vignetting was only apparent in small areas in each corner. Running the picture through the latest version of Adobe’s Camera Raw (which has a lens profile for this model) immediately removed the artifacts.
In a later, golden-hour shoot with a model on the beach, the sun was still bright enough to require fill flash for many shots.
Hand-holding the camera with a shutter speed of 1/180 sec produced disappointingly blurry images, though it’s likely that the 6D’s notoriously slow autofocus speed was at least partly to blame.
In another off-the-cuff shoot with the family dog, the lens was quick to focus even as the puppy chased a ball. This may not be the lens of choice for sports photographers (though we didn’t test it on a speed demon like Canon’s EOS-1D X) but the focusing speed is certainly more than adequate for less-speedy subjects.
All things considered, this new lens is quite impressive; the image quality compared favorably?in quick comparisons with two 10-year-old Canon L-series zoom lenses. It offers a useful range?of focal lengths, from 28mm, a favorite wide angle for many photographers, to a decent reach of 300mm at the top end. It may not be suitable for a sports or wildlife photographer, but it makes for an ideal travel lens if you don’t want to lug around a lot of heavy glass.
The lens balances very nicely on the 6D or 5D. If you omit the extra grip/battery that fits on those full-frame DSLRs and slap on the Tamron lens, you’re looking at a total package that’s not that much bigger or heavier than the largest mirrorless systems, but that delivers greater performance in terms of speed and image quality.
Just as important, it’s a great deal. At just $849, it’s considerably cheaper than Canon’s 28– 300mm f/3.5–5.6L lens, which costs more than $2,500. It’s also slightly less expensive than Nikon’s $1,050 28–300mm f/3.5–5.6G lens. As of press time, Sony does not yet make a 28–300mm lens, so the Tamron wins the price war by default.
PROS: Great bang for the buck; small, lightweight; nice finish, good build quality. 
CONS: Zoom turns the “wrong” way for Canon users.
PRICE: $849; available in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts