I often get asked about alternatives to the expensive pro lenses from Canon and Nikon. As I rely on the standard f/2.8 midrange zoom for much of my work, I thought that I'd take the time to look at some popular third-party options: the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms.
Just like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 that I use for so much of my live music photography, both the Tamron and Sigma feature the same core range in a nice constant f/2.8 aperture.
Third-party lens manufacturers often update their lineups more frequently than companies like Nikon and Canon, so these are the exact models that I'm reviewing thanks to a loan from B&H Photo Video:
- Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) Autofocus Lens for Nikon SLR
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM Autofocus Lens for Nikon AF
These lenses are available in a variety of mounts in addition to Nikon, including Canon, Sony, and Pentax.
What's In The Box
The Tamron is a pretty basic package – inside the box is the lens, the detachable lens hood, and the associated literature.
The Sigma package is slightly more impressive, as the lens comes with a padded zip case. Bonus points to Sigma for this, but I personally never use the padded cases that come with my Nikon lenses. My lenses are either in a camera bag or on a camera.
For two lenses with such a similar specs by the numbers, the Tamron and Sigma are two very different executions. Comparing the two, the first thing that stands out is that the Tamron is much thinner in hand.
The Sigma seems downright obese by comparison, especially considering that the two are essentially the same height.
The build quality of the Tamron is good, but a little like its packaging: basic. While the lens doesn't feel cheap, there's nonetheless a very slight hollowness to the lens that makes me doubt its true longevity. Overall, the Tamron is an upgrade in build over most kit lenses.
Build quality on the Sigma, by contrast, is clearly a notch better than the Tamron. The Sigma lens is surprisingly dense feeling, and actually feels heavier than you'd expect even given its fat barrel.
Controls & Usability
Both the Tamron and Sigma's controls dead simple, and for most users, the only thing you'll ever need to do is turn the zoom ring.
Overall, the zoom ring on the Sigma offers a smoother travel with a more dampened feel that's more similar to the Nikon 24-70mm. In addition, I prefer the knurling on the Sigma's zoom ring, which offers larger ribs that are easier to grab, despite the fact that the zoom ring is more narrow.
The Tamron's zoom ring feels a little more course and hollow, but when it's mounted on a camera body, this is pretty much a non-issue due to the resistance you get from the camera in your hand.
One point worth mentioning in the Sigma's design is their zoom rings travel in the opposite direction as Nikon zooms. To zoom in, the Sigma zoom ring is rotated counter-clockwise. Canon users will feel right at home with this nonsense.
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8
The Tamron 28-75mm is pretty simple lens. Since all of the switches on the lens are located near the lens mount, the entire body is open real estate for control rings. The design features a big fat zoom ring toward the base of the lens and a thinner focusing ring near the front.
The side of the lens features a AF/MF switch for toggling in between focusing modes. In addition, there's a switch to lock the lens at 28mm and prevent zooming when carrying the lens.
You might wonder Tamron bothers to add this locking switch at all, until you zoom the lens from 28mm to 75mm.
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8
For Nikon or Canon users, the Sigma has the more conventional design of the two, with a distance & hyperfocal focusing display in between the zoom ring and focusing ring.
Just like the Tamron, the Sigma features an AF/M toggle for switching between autofocus and manual focus. These switches are useful for when you want to disable AF, though this can also be easily accomplished via your camera as well.
The AF performance of both lenses is quite good. Overall, I found that the Tamron seemed to behave a little more consistently than the Sigma in terms of overall AF performance.
In addition, the Tamron performed better in low light, with faster and more confident AF lock than the Sigma. With brighter, more even lighting, focusing speed of both lenses is pretty comparable.
As both lenses feature built-in focusing motors, the operation is quiet, but a little different for each lens. The Tamron lens produces a fast whirl-and-click noise while focusing that happens so fast that the sounds basically runs together. The Sigma, on the other hand, seems achieves focus with more of a quick stutter, and seems to rack in and out very minutely when achieving AF lock.
It's worth noting here that both lenses feature built-in motors in the Nikon version, so they're fully usable with all of Nikon's DSLRs.
As you've probably noticed, these two lenses do differ very slightly in range, so if you're deciding between the two, you'll have to decide which range is more suitable for your shooting.
The Tamron 28-75mm features slightly longer max focal length, so if you favor the telephoto end for portraits and similar work, you'll benefit from this reach.
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8, by contrast, features a wide-angle of 24mm, which is actually wider than those four extra mm would indicate.
It's worth considering that not all millimeters are created equal in terms of their affect on the field of view for lenses. Pound for pound, each millimeter of difference on the wide-angle end of a lens makes a greater difference than adding a few millimeters on at the telephoto end.
For my work, I prefer the wider field of view offered by the 24-70mm range, but the advantage of either of these ranges ultimately depends on what you shoot.
I'll admit, I was fully ready to dismiss these lenses, because, in my heart, I am a snob. Surely it couldn't be as sharp or contrasty as my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. Consider me surprised.
Commentary later, but you can form your opinion first from these pixel-filled 100% crops if you like.
At 28mm, both lenses are pretty even in terms of performance. However, just as it shoot, the maximum aperture performance is what really sets these lenses apart.
In the samples I tested, the Tamron 28-75mm was much sharper at f/2.8 in the center than the Sigma at wide angle, which features a slight haziness. Both lenses clear up by f/4, and after there's little to differentiate the lenses.
At 70mm, there's almost even less to choose from. Both lenses are good at f/2.8 on up, with very similar sharpness and contrast.
By f/4, both lenses look great and hold image quality until f/16 on the Nikon D3, when diffraction starts to erode image quality.
Both the Tamron and Sigma handle chromatic aberrations and color fringing quite well. There isn't a huge difference in the performance, but the Tamron does exhibit more green/purple fringing than the Sigma zoom (depending on the focus).
In the above crop at f/2.8 at maximum zoom, you can see that the defocused elements of the Tamron sample exhibit green-fringed chromatic aberrations. The Sigma lens, on the other hand, is almost entirely free of any artifacts.
When facing point light sources, both the Tamron and Sigma will exhibit lens flare, but do so in different ways. Overall, the Tamron produces more bright, focused points of lens flare, while the Sigma tends to produce more diffuse areas of flare.
In the above crop, you can see the differences in flaring behavior between the two lenses at their maximum zoom with a point lightsource in the frame (in this case, a blue LED).
At wide-angle, both lenses exhibited lens flare more similar to the Tamron's 75mm example, so you'll have to pick your poison here.
All lenses in this category will exhibit falloff at the corners of the frame, and the Tamron and Sigma f/2.8 zooms are no exception.
Overall, the Sigma exhibits the most severe vignetting wide open, with a slightly de-centered hotspot in the frame at 24mm. This hotspot disappears when the lens is stopped down or zoomed in.
This test, in which all samples are white-balanced to 3000K with a -1 tint bias in Lightroom, also shows the slight differences in color rendering as well.
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8
+ Sharper at wide angle
+ Compact size
+ Light weight
+ Less vignetting
+ Cheaper ($500 compared to the $900 price of the Sigma)
+ Better low-light AF performance
+ Slightly more confident AF performance
– Worse flare resistance at telephoto
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8
+ Better build quality
+ Better ergonomics
+ 24mm wide angle
+ Better flare resistance
– More expensive ($900)
Both these lenses have impressed me. As someone who owns the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I will say that I would not have minded if either of these lenses turned out to be junk. However, as I dug into testing, both the Tamron and Sigma really surprised me and delivered great performance in terms of image quality.
The Tamron 24-75mm f/2.8 in particular turned in fantastic performance wide open on the Nikon D3, with great sharpness and great contrast at a huge value.
If you're looking for the most bang for your buck, the Tamron is hands down the winner, at nearly half the price of the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 and as good or better performance and image quality in almost all areas. Even if price isn't the biggest motivator, the Tamron has a lot going for it in terms of performance.
It's only when you move past pure optics that the Sigma's strengths start to float. I love the optics of the Tamron, but it just feels a little whimpy next to the heavy build of the Sigma. On the flip side, you buy a second Tamron for the price of the Sigma when the 28-75mm starts to break.
Buy Yourself Something Nice
If this review and other content on www.ishootshows.com was helpful to you, please consider supporting this site by purchasing through the affiliate links in this review:
- Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 for Nikon
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 for Nikon
- Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 for other mounts
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 for other mounts
- B&H Photo Video
Your purchases through my affiliate links keeps me infused with the green tea that fuels these reviews and my music photography.
B&H is where I personally buy the vast majority of my gear, and I’m looking forward to bringing you more reviews thanks to their equipment loans. If you do buy through B&H, drop me a line! I’d love to hear about what you picked up.