Saturday, July 12, 2014

Quick Review: Old Tamron 28-200 f3.8-5.6 (Model 71D)

Tech Specs
Focal Length: 28-200mm
Weight: 1.2 lbs.
Maximum Aperture: f3.8 (f4 is what camera recognizes)
Minimum Aperture: f32
Front Element: rotating, extending
Autofocus Mechanism: Micromotor
Closest Focus: 6.9 ft
Maximum magnification: virtually none
Filter Size: 72mm
It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when most zoom camera lenses had magnification ratios of around 4x or less. So, when manufacturers started offering optics in the 28-200 range with nearly double of anything seen beforehand, the game changed overnight. What is to be reviewed here is one of these oldies, namely a first generation 28-200mm AF from Tamron. So is this oldie a goodie? Read on to find out . . .
Build Quality: 2/5
In terms of construction, the original Tamron 28-200 is what one would consider average. The lens is built on a metal mount with the barrel made of thick-looking plastic. Pick up the lens and it feels quite dense for its size. In terms of mechanical implementation, though, the lens could be better. The entire rear barrel is the zoom ring. As for focus, there is no ring, but one has to turn the inner barrel of the lens by grabbing it near the front element and then turning it. As for manual focus itself, the action is rather loose. However, this being an old, well-used lens, the action may have been stiffer when the lens was new. In AF, the entire inner barrel twists. Another point for improvement: dual cams on the inner barrel The good news is that, despite the dual cam design, there is no wobble whatsoever nor is there zoom creep.

Autofocus: 1/5
When it comes to AF, the first generation Tamron 28-200 is anything but a speed demon. However, when it does lock on focus, it is always accurate. Unfortunately, this lens has a true Achilles Heel when it comes to its AF capabilities: sometimes, especially when the subject is textured, the lens just can't seem to lock right away, but racks in and out a tiny bit before locking. Needless to say, this can be a huge irritation at times and a photographic make or miss hinge point in key photographic situations. Another irritation: the nearly 7 foot closest focus distance.

Optics: 2/5
Optically speaking, half of the Tamron 28-200's focal lengths are, in my opinion, truly unusable wide open. Starting at 28mm, the lens is very, very soft across the frame, with the corners being even worse than the still barely passable center. Moving up to 35mm improves things quite a bit. With a little sharpening in Photoshop, the center can actually be quite good. The corners? They still need help in the form of smaller apertures, though. The 50mm focal length is pretty much the same story as the 35mm one. Moving up to 100mm, things remain usable but performance starts to decrease and after 100mm, it really falls off to the point where I would consider the lens truly unusable. Bottom line: the usable focal lengths are 35-100mm, with the ends (the reasons people will want to buy such a lens) being rather poor at best.
Everyone makes super zoom lenses and frankly, any of them have to be better than this one.

Value: 2/5
Commonly selling for less than $100 on the used market, the original Tamron 28-200 AF packs a lot of focal lengths into a small bill. Unfortunately, with half the focal range being practically unusable wide open, the lens ceases to look like a bargain to a large degree. Also, when it comes to usability, the fact that minimum focus distance is almost 7 feet greatly limits this lens for indoor work, too. Add to that the lousy AF and guess what, even sub $100, you still don't get what you pay for.

Conclusion: 1.75/5
In summary, the original Tamron 28-200 is very representative of technology in its infancy in that, while it was cool in its day, subsequent improvements are much, much better. Basically, the only passable aspect of this lens is build quality. Optics and AF are both sub-par to say the least. AF is slow and, at times, very indecisive in locking and, to get reasonably sharp pictures, stopping down 1-2 clicks is a must. The fact that the lens will only focus down to 7 feet is another major limitation of this lens, which was intended to be an all-in-one optical package. Unfortunately, come the 200mm setting, not even f11 can produce anything worth writing home about. Obviously, even in spite of the price, there is no way I can recommend this lens unless one is looking for an expendable, knock-around optic to be thrown onto an equally expendable, cheap, knock-around camera.  
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