I’ve recently had the opportunity to shoot with the Nikon 28-300mm and Tamron 28-300mm lenses side-by-side (thanks to the folks at B&H Photo). It’s been a good chance to see how they compare with each other in real-world shooting.
On paper, these lenses are very similar. They have the same zoom range. They’re very similar in their available apertures. Both have vibration reduction. And both are relatively compact lenses that seem ideally suited for travel photography or other general-purpose shooting.
But after shooting with them, I’ve come across areas where one distinguishes itself from the other. So here’s how I’ve found they compare with each other.
First, though, an area that doesn’t require hands-on experience with the lenses: price. It’s worth leading off with this, because this is a key area where Tamron is trying to stand out–by making more affordably priced alternatives to the lenses made by the big camera manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, and Sony.
That’s not an inconsequential difference, and for some shooters, that might well be a deciding factor. And even if it’s not the deciding factor, it’s certainly going to be a consideration for many.
Size, Weight, and Handling
The Tamron weighs in at around 1.2 pounds (540 grams). The Nikon weighs nearly 1.8 pounds (800 grams).
Both lenses use a system with a bayonet extension that extends out of the camera as you zoom in. While you’re carrying it around, though, you’d have it fully retracted, which is the more useful way to measure the size of these lenses. The Nikon is about 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) long and 3.3 inches (8.2 cm) across. The Tamron is both shorter and narrower, at 3.8 inches (9.6 cm) long and 2.9 inches (7.4 cm) across. Those measurements are without the lens hoods; the lens hood of the Nikon is also larger.
So the Tamron is both smaller and lighter.
In terms of handling, but feel quite solid in use. Neither has an exceptionally smooth zoom ring rotation–a symptom of it having to physically push part of the lens out to extend to zoom in. Both have manual focus rings, but they’re narrow, probably reflecting that most shooters are more likely to be using autofocus most of the time and manual focus fairly rarely.
It’s a wash here. They both have a wide view at 28mm and extend to a telephoto of 300mm. Here are some side-by-side examples shot with the same camera on the same spot. Aside from some minor alignment issues, you can see that they’re functionally identical.
While the lens speeds are very similar, there is a difference. It’s not a big one, but it’s something worth at least noting.
At the wide end of the zoom, they both have a maximum aperture of f/3.5. As you zoom in, the maximum available aperture shrinks. On the Nikon, it shrinks to f/5.6. On the Tamron, it shrinks a bit more, to f/6.3. The difference between those is only about 1/3 of a stop, and it’s not going to make much practical difference most of the time in terms of either light or depth of field, but it is nevertheless an area where the Nikon lens has an edge.
Sharpness. Both lenses are quite sharp zoomed out and seem to be at their peak zoomed to around 35mm or so. But you can notice differences when you zoom in towards the 300mm end of things. That’s where the Nikon becomes noticeably sharper through more of the frame. The Tamron has a tendency when you zoom in to really soften up everywhere other than the very center of the frame and quite a lot in the corners. Overall, I was much happier with the sharpness of the Nikon.
Here’s an example of what I mean. These were shot with the same camera from the same spot. Click on the images to open full-size versions.
Vignetting. Both have a similar amount of vignetting that’s most pronounced at 300mm at larger apertures. Here are the lens panels I shot for each against a clear blue sky.
Chromatic Aberration. In this area, the Nikon is surprisingly good with remarkably little vignetting. The Tamron has much more. It’s about what I’d expect and is quite easily rectified in something like Lightroom, but it’s definitely noticeable.
I’ve found that Tamron’s vibration reduction is not as effective as the VR built into the Nikon lens. The Nikon also offers the option of choosing between Normal mode and Active, which is better for things like shooting from a moving vehicle.
The Little Things
Both have a lock switch on the lens that prevents the lens from extending while you’re carrying or transporting it. Because of the way that the Tamron switch protrudes ever so slightly, I found that I often inadvertently locked it just taking the camera out of the bag. It’s a tiny quibble, I know, but more than a few times, I went to take a photo and zoom and found that the lens was locked.
The Nikon comes with a soft lens pouch. The Tamron doesn’t.
I’ve posted detailed hands-on reviews separately for each of these lenses, as well as collections of sample images. Here are the links:
- Nikon 28-300mm Review
- Nikon 28-300mm Sample Images
- Tamron 28-300mm Review
- Tamron 28-300mm Sample Images
Things Worth Knowing
Both of these are capable lenses and make for good options if you’re looking for an all-around, very flexible lens that comes in a compact and highly portable package.
The Tamron 28-300mm wins most obviously on price. With an MSRP of $599, it’s a good deal less expensive than the Nikon (MSRP $950).
It also wins in terms of size and weight. It’s noticeably smaller and lighter, with the difference being easily noticeable if you’re carrying it around all day or packing it in a small camera bag.
The Nikon 28-300mm wins on optical performance, the effectiveness of the vibration reduction, and all-around build quality.
Overall, I’ve found the Nikon to be a better lens. The reasons I would choose the Tamron over the Nikon come down to price or if having the smaller, lighter lens was a crucial consideration.
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