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Tamron SP 80-200mm f/2.8 LD vs. Tokina 100-300mm f/4 SD
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 11:51 pm    Post subject: Tamron SP 80-200mm f/2.8 LD vs. Tokina 100-300mm f/4 SD Reply with quote

I resisted hyperbole for the title of this comparison, but I certainly could envision the way it might have been emblazoned across the cover of Modern Photography or Popular Photography when these lenses were new:

Super Lens Shootout! or Aftermarket Heavyweights -- Which Comes Out On Top? etc. etc. etc.

I've owned the Tokina 100-300mm for several months now, and tests have shown to my satisfaction at least that it is a very nice zoom. About what one would expect from a Tokina AT-x.

The Tamron, however, I just got today, so I'm still getting used to it. Now, I know Tokina also made a 80-200/2.8 SD but I've also read on more than one occasion that the Tamron is a better lens. So that's mostly why I went with the Tamron. The other main reason why I did is because of the Modern Photography test charts over at adaptall-2.org. Folks often speak (type?) reverently about the Tamron 180/2.5 and how it even surpassed the mighty Nikon 180/2.8 ED in MP's tests. But what they don't bother doing apparently is digging a bit deeper and looking around a little bit further. As it turns out, at 200mm, the Tamron 80-200/2.8's resolution is essentially identical to the Nikon 180/2.8 ED. And contrast? The 80-200's is better than either 180 lens wide open and roughly equal through the middle aperture ranges.

So my friends, that's why I bought the 80-200/2.8. At the long end, I have a 200/2.8 that's as good as the Mighty Nikkor, and just a hair under what the Tamron 180/2.5 is capable of in terms of resolution -- but it has the edge on them in terms of contrast when shooting wide open. But considering what clean examples of either the 180s still go for these days, I consider mine to have been a steal. I bought it at KEH -- BGN condition -- for $245. Reason for the BGN rating? The zoom collar is slightly loose and there's a very small scratch on the lens barrel. That's it.

Okay, enough of that. Any of you who have read through my telephoto lens tests in the past know that I have a favorite subject for my tests. It's a water kiosk about 400 meters down the street from my house and I always take a picture of the same sign, focusing as well as I can on the small words at its base: "We care about the water you drink." There's nothing scientific about this test, but it is a consistent yardstick I can use to compare my telephotos to, which in turn gives me a good idea as to their sharpness.

The camera I use is a 10.1 mp Canon XS (1000D), set to ISO 100, and mounted to a sturdy tripod. I use Live View to achieve as much focusing accuracy as I can. I then take shots from the lowest aperture up to f/16. It's been my experience that, any aperture smaller than f/16 with my telephotos and they are beginning to get soft.

Before I ran the test, I decided to just walk around my front yard and snap a few photos. Here are a couple.

I was shooting with the lens wide open at f/2.8 and not using Live View, so it wasn't possible to see exact focus in the viewfinder. But I got pretty close. Here are 100% crops of both above images:

Close. LV would have done better. You can see some green color fringing on the photo of the dove. That was a difficult shot. The sky behind the dove was very bright, and the fact that I was able to bring it out at all is due entirely to Photoshop CS5's camera raw function. It's "fill" command does a remarkable job of rescuing heavily backlit subjects. Invariably there is some detail lost when one has to do this, but the amount it preserved was impressive.

Now, for the tests. Because both the focal lengths and the apertures were unequal, I decided to level the playing field and "handicapped" the Tamron by adding the 140F SP 1.4x Tamron TC to the backside of the lens. This gave me a 112-280mm f/4. Close enough. Another reason for using the TC is that I've found in past tests that 300mm is just about the lower limit to use with that sign and still hope to record any detail with the small message at the bottom. While I shot photos at all f-stops between wide-open and f/16, I will show only f/4, f/8, and f/16 -- actual f-stops for the Tokina and equivalent f-stops for the Tamron.

The following photos are 100% crop comparisons. No PP has been done to them in any fashion, except for cropping.

At f/4

At f/8

At f/16

Now, at first blush, one might think the Tamron fared better than the Tokina. But wait -- check out the bottom white panel in both photos. See how it's straight more-or-less in the Tamron photos and a bit wavy in the Tokina photos? In the time it took to change lenses from the Tamron to Tokina, heat convection caused currents in the air to warp the Tokina's shots somewhat. The wind must have shifted or something.

But wait, there's more!

I decided to push the envelope a bit, and brought along my Vivitar 2x macro TC. It's been getting some good reviews in a concurrent thread, so I thought, hey why not. Now, in this case, I'm stacking TCs with the Tamron, so that ought to really put it to the test.

Effective focal lengths about 600mm. Both lenses wide open, f2.8 indicated on the Tamron, f/4 indicated on the Tokina, effective apertures at f/8:

Tamron stopped down to f/5.6, Tokina to f/8, effective aperture f/16:

Tamron stopped down to f/11, Tokina to f/16, effective aperture f/32:

Now in this case, you'll notice that both lenses' photos suffered from heat waves. And that seems to be the major cause for any loss of image quality, really. You'll also notice that the Tamron is exhibiting some CA, but not very bad, really. The Tokina is showing just very slight traces. That's another thing I like about this kiosk for image testing is the white lattices of the windmill's vanes and the white border around the sign. These hard edges tend to bring out the CA.

Finally, and this is unrelated to either of the two lenses, the Vivitar 2x proves in a pretty convincing way, I believe, that not only does it not degrade the images, but that it rather convincingly adds to the resolution abilities of each one. The additional level of detail surprised me, to be honest.