Review: Tamron SP80-200mm f/2.8LD Model 30A (Adaptall-2 System)

(2012-03-09)

 

So, there was this locker in a multimedia enterprise that was stocked with new lenses some 20-25 years ago. As the year passed, some went out and a few newer came in, until 5 years ago when it was decided to clear that locker for its remaining contents of "old MF-junk". And there, in the very hindmost corner was an unused, (still boxed) Tamron SP80-200mm F/2.8LD Model 30A Adaptall-2 lens. (Unfortunately, box and manual have since been lost).

 

This lens was bought by a professional TV photographer who understood to appreciate its value and who took it on a number of travels around the globe during the last 5 years. Now he has retired and wanted to clear out some of his inventory. And that's how I could welcome this lens to my little, humble refuge for old, more or less merited MF lenses

 

    1. My Tamron Model 30A

 
First impressions - a GREAT lens!
When you look at contemporary product photos of the 30A, such as figure 2 below, found at adaptall-2.org, the immediate impression is somewhat that of a rather ordinary zoom lens from that time. It is only the tripod grip ring that hints that there may be something more to it. And the moment you see it for the first time and hold it in you hands you will not be in doubt: This is a great lens.
 

2. The Tamron Model 30A - illustration from Adaptall-2.org   3. The Tamron Model 30A mounted on my Pentax K200D
 

Well, at least it is great in terms of physical size and weight. My copy weighs 1536 grams with tripod grip mount, PK/A Custom Mount and lens caps included. Comparison with other lenses in the 200mm range illustrates the greatness and massiveness very well:

 

 

4. Model 30A in the middle flanked by the Tamron 80-210mm Model 103A to the left and the Tamron 200mm Model 04B to the right.   5. Same arrangement as seen in figure 4.
     

But not only is it a great look and a somewhat massive weight in one's hands. It is certainly also a great feel to have it in one's hands. The Tamron 30A is definitely a mechanical piece of craftsmanship throughout. My copy is in excellent condition. As mentioned it has been in use for only 5 years, and although it has travelled to some exotic places during that time, it has been taken extremely well care of. As its former owner told me: "I don't care about a scratch or two on my camera bodies, but I do care with my lenses!"

 

And the LD ( = Low Dispersion) optics, signalled by a green ring at the front of the lens, look great too, but how does a zoom made sometimes between 1985 and 1992 perform as measured against today's standards? Well, I am neither a professional/skilled photographer nor a skilled test technician, but let's give it a try to find out anyway.

 

 
Zoom vs. Prime

Being a happy amateur without any particular skills, I am/ought to be mostly interested in "Does this lens help me to take the kind of pictures, I want to?" - and I am fiercely opposed to excessive pixel peeping where one absorbs oneself in contemplations of sharpness details and minute noise issues down to single pixel levels; thus totally forgetting to look at and value a picture as a whole.

 

But, of course, I am no different than many others who would like to know (sort of) "How good is my lens really?".

 

One way of approach without - without discrediting my lens due to my own lack of ability as photographer - is to compare with something else with similar specifications in selected aspects. So, here I start out with a comparison with my Tamron 200mm f/3.5 Model 04B prime lens which I know from many years of experience to be a reliable performer.

 

Unfortunately, at this time of the year (early March 2012) even this approach has its limitations: Light is constantly changing within minutes and atmospheric seeing is lousy, making it very difficult to get consistent, comparative results:

 

6. Tamron Model 04B image (upper and left insert )vs. 30A image(lower and right insert). Inserts are 100% crops.
 

So, I retreat to some indoor shooting a close range using a homemade A3-sized test chart:

7. My home made "composite" Test Chart
 

This "composite" chart is based upon an actual resolution test chart file, designed for print in 4" X 6" standard size. My version does not allow for any quantitative assessment, but when i arrange my chart-sensor distance such that the image occupies the full sensor area, I get some qualified results to assess relative resolution, contrast, flatness of field and sharpness across the field of view.

 

In the example shown below (Fig. 8) I have focussed on the centre field and present crops of the lower left corner.

 

Tamron Model 04B (fixed 200mm FL)

Tamron Model 30A @ 200mm FL

f/2.8

 

f/3.5

 

f/8

 

f/11

8. Lower left corner of the Test Chart (Fig. 7) photographed with Tamron Model 04B (left) and 30A (right) at varying f-number.
 

I think that it is fair to conclude that the 30A is essentially as good as a good prime (and the 04B IS a good prime even though it is neither "SP" nor "LD"). Other reviewers have found/claimed that the Model 30A at 180mm is as sharp as Tamron's SP 180mm f/2.5 LD Model 30A - now THAT is something! This is far from trivial for zoom lenses of that area. In fact, I am generally sceptical about older zoom lenses designed before aspherical lens technology and advanced Computer Aided Design tools were available. I only have one other zoom of the same age that shows a comparable performance within its range, namely the Tamron SP 35-80mm Model 01A.

 

I also believe that it is safe to conclude that the 30A is indeed useable even from wide open (see more results below), being slightly soft at f/2.8 and f/3.5 and very sharp in the range from at least f/5.6 to f/16, while falling a bit off again, though not much, at f/22. That was a reassuring find: There is no point in buying a lens that is as fast as f/2.8 on paper, but which one has to stop down right away in order to get decent results. That would be a waste of glass, weight - and money.

 

Now, considering

1) that I have here examined the corner of the chart and

2) the inevitable sources of error in my primitive test setup (camera sensor not fully parallel with chart and lens optical

    centre not exactly aligned with chart centre,

I am very happy with the results so far: I wanted a fast, sharp distortion free lens, and it appears from the above that I have got something like it.

 

But. of course, the above neither tells nor "proves" it all.

 
Fast but how sharp how consistent?

The heading of this paragraph could also be: Now, I need a better tripod". The purpose of the "tests below was to test if there are any "sweet spots" (or "sour spots" for that matter) with this lens. The term "sweet spot" covers the fact that many zoom lenses, being the optical compromises they often are, may have certain, rather discrete ranges in focal length and aperture and combinations thereof where they perform distinctly better than else - and likewise ranges where they perform noticeably poorer.

 

As test target have have used the letter scales shown in Fig. 9 below at a distance of approximately 5 meters.

 
9. Letter scales as test target at a distance of some 5 meters.
   
 
 

 

80mm 135mm 200mm
f/2.8
f/3.5
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
f/16
f/22
 
 

10. Equally sized crops at varying f-ratios and three different Focal Length settings.

 

 

Test images were taken in fairly low, ambient light. This means longer exposure times and here the weight of the lens - about 3 pounds - and the flimsiness of my tripod conspire and motion blur from vibrations are visible in more than one picture in Figure 10. If one wants to use a tripod with the Model 30A it'd better be a sturdy one. (It is on my wish list now!).

But if one can disregard these motion blurs, it seems obvious that this lens does perform equally well overall. Interesting to note is also that the lens performs well at f/2.8, very well from f/3.5 and excellently from above f/5.6 to f/16 while only a slight softening is observed again at f/22.

 

This together with the results shown in Figure 8 above tells me, that this is a very fine design - and I am lucky to have found a very fine copy.

 

 

Response to Teleconverters

Here, in the digital age, teleconverters have somewhat "by widespread consensus" been written off as useless. In my view, this is not entirely justified and I believe this is partly due to the fact that a) it is easy to crop and thus, produce digital zoom; b) a tendency to excessive pixel-peeping and c) an unfortunate lack at many, what longer effective focal lengths actually involves in respect of sensitivity towards / Image Quality degradation from atmospheric turbulence ('seeing') and from scattered light from smog and haze in the air captured over longer distances. Even long FL primes exhibit this sensitivity to the ambient conditions.

 

In the "good, old analogue days" teleconverters were very common and no one would claim them to be useless as an absolute truth in each and every case.

 

Obviously, one should be aware that zoom lenses are very complicated designs - as compared to primes - with considerably more lens elements and groups where internal distances between those groups vary as zoom and focus are being changed. Good zoom lenses are therefore very carefully optimized designs and introducing an "arbitrary" teleconverter , not optimized for a specific lens design, may indeed have a detrimental effect on such an optimized design.

 

Nonetheless, Tamron did advertise their teleconverters alongside with (most of) their zoom lenses in those days and the Model 30A should work with a suitable 1.4X and even a 2X TC. It should work, but how well?

 

Anyway, I have always dreamed about having a 300mm f/4 or a 400mm f/5.6 lens (or better!) so why not give it a try?

 

Unfortunately, at discussed above, at this time of writing we are exactly in a situation where ever changing light, smog/haze and turbulence (at my place) from heat rising from rooftops and smoking chimneys make solid "tests" all but impossible.

 

But it is now that I got this lens and it is now that I want to try it out. When spring and summer comes, I hope I shall be busy just taking pleasant pictures with it!

 

So, I went for the second best solution and "cheated" a little bit in that I have allowed myself to do just a little bit of stacking - just three identical exposures processed in Registax - for each test image in the following in order to level out the worst discrepancies. The effect can be seen in Figures 11 and 13 below which were shot without any teleconverter:

 

 
11. Single exposure with Model 30A at 200mm Focal Length and f/8. Insert is a 100% crop.   12. Three identical, single exposures at 200mm Focal Length and f/8 stacked in Registax. Insert is a 100% crop.
 

For the tests i have used the following teleconverters:

  • Kenko Pz-AF 1.5X SHQ Teleplus (which in reality only delivers a 1.4X extension of focal length)

  • Tamron SP F-series 2X Teleconverter for Pentax K

The Tamron F-series converter delivers very much the same optical performance as does the Adaptall-2 SP 01F converter, but I like using the former more, even though it is purely manual without electrical contacts, because it is so much easier to change - without having to change Custom Mount - out in the field.

 

My very first results are shown in figure 13. below.

 
 

13. Tight crops taken without and with teleconverters.

Left column: 30A alone at 200mm focal length; middle: 30A with Kenko Pz-AF 1.5X SHQ Teleplus teleconverter, (280mm effective focal length); right: 30A with Tamron SP F-series 2X teleconverter, (400mm effective focal length.

Upper row is with lens set to f/2.8; lower row is with lens set to f/8.

All images are stacks of 3 individual exposures processed in Registax.

 

If one bears over with the fact that one image frame is obviously shifted from the others in the 400mm f/2.8 image (I do need a better tripod now with this 1.5 kilogram lens!) results in terms of resolution and detail are actually very promising.

 

It is obvious, and should have been expected, that the scattered light from smog and haze does increase with focal length, but no detail appears to be lost, and the flat contrast can easily be corrected for in post processing (which I prefer rather than to use a higher contrast in the camera settings):

 

14. Identical images as in Figure 13 above. Images taken with the Tamron SP F-series TC (right column) have been contrast enhanced using levels.

 

In figure 14. I have merely stretched levels in the 400mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/8 images to give an example of a very simple way to correct for the effect of light scatter by haze and dust. Of course, more sophisticated corrections in curves and levels could be applied, but the example should be sufficiently convincing, I hope.

 

As said, I find this encouraging - now let spring come!

 

Handling, Ergonomics, Focusing

I spend a lot of time with a tripod when when I do astrophotography and when I do indoors shooting, but otherwise I generally dislike having to carry a tripod with me. So for me, all my lenses should in principle be useable for easy handheld shooting.

 

And how is this 3 pound lens then for hand held shooting? As a matter of fact, as bulky and heavy as this lens is, it is actually surprisingly easy to hold and to handle handle. Mechanical movements in focus, zoom and aperture are silky smooth and very precise, the lens feels very well balanced (at least in my hands) and operation of the lens never becomes a strain - well, perhaps if one were to carry it around and use it for a full day?  The main issue is that it IS rather bulky and the sheer volume presents a small "logistic" problem: I prefer walking around with just my camera + lens and one extra lens in a small and slim shoulder bag - and now it is 3 centimetres too short!

 

But otherwise and so far, for me it is almost a pleasure in itself just to hold. The optical and mechanical finish is superb and thus, it is also a pleasure to look at (and be seen with!) this lens.

 

The large aperture (you really don't get zooms faster than this) combined with its excellent sharpness and contrast makes focusing easy. Focus confirmation works even in much less than good light as does (Pentax) Catch-in-Focus.  Further, the lens pretty much "snaps" into focus which makes visual focusing (assuming a proper camera viewfinder) very easy as compared to many other lenses.

 

Finally, I should mention that the success with this lens and hand held shooting in my case is also rather closely connected to my Pentax cameras' in-body shake reduction. Add the very fine noise characteristics at higher ISO values for modern DSLR cameras, such as the Pentax K-5, and you have actually got an excellent match.

 

And with these remarks, it is time to let pictures below speak for themselves. This is only the beginning and there are many more to come with this lens.......

 

Sample Images
As said above, I put great emphasis on my photographic lenses being hand-heldable so, most of the test images shown below are taken hand held, as are most of all I have taken so far. (See link to slideshow below). All images were taken with my Pentax K-5 and unless expressly stated otherwise, they are JPEG straight out of the box.
 

 

15. 30A handheld; 200mm FL, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 125

 

16. Crop of image in Fig. 15

 

 

 

 

17. 30A on tripod; 200mm FL, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 800

 

18. Crop of image in Fig. 17

 

 

 

 

19. 30A hand held; 200mm FL, f/8, 1/400s ISO 200. Image taken

      near closest focusing distance

      Image slightly cropped

 

20. 30A hand held; 200mm FL, f/8, 1/400s ISO 200.

       Image slightly cropped

 

 

 

21. 30A hand held; 200mm FL, f/6.3, 1/80s, ISO 200

      Contrast has been slightly boosted in Levels

 

 

 

 

22. 30A handheld; approx. 120mm FL, f/2.8, 1/30s(!), ISO 6400

 

23. 30A handheld; lens set @ 200mm FL, f/4.5, 1/400s, ISO 320

      Lens used with a Kenko Pz-AF 1.5X SHQ Teleplus

      teleconverter giving a focal length of 280mm

      Image has been post-sharpened in FocusMagic is a tight

      crop

 

Conclusions

A lens, superb in craftsmanship, mechanical and optical finish.

 

A fast zoom lens with consistent performance at all focal lengths. No special "sweet" or "sour spots"; having flat fields and showing only marginal degradation of Image Quality at the very largest and smallest aperture, definitely no worse than what is found of quality prime focal length lenses - in fact this lens is almost like having a whole set of quality primes in one.

 

A lens with contrast and colour rendition as found with Tamron Adaptall-2 SP lenses when they are best

 

A heavy and rather bulky lens, but one with such excellent ergonomics that it can actually be used as a "walk-around" lens.

 

A great, fascinating lens.

 
 

View: Sample Images Slideshow

 

Brochure: Tamron SP Series LD Lenses
 

 

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Copyright 2012 - Steen G. Bruun