Tamron 55-200mm f/4-5.6 LD Macro Di II Review


A moderate telephoto alternative to the Nikkor 55-200mm

Copyright 2009 Thom Hogan
Sigma (left), Tamron (middle), Nikkor VR (right) 55-200mm lenses

Copyright 2009 Thom Hogan

Lens Formula
13 elements in 9 groups; 1 LD element
Other Features
52mm filter size. Comes with DA15 hood, 9-blade aperture. Focuses to 3.1' (0.95m).
Size & Weight
About 3.3 " (83mm) long from mount (6.5" extended with hood), 10.4 ounces (300g).
Price
US$129 street

The Basics
The Tamron 55-200mm looks in many ways to be very similar to the original Nikon 55-200mm DX, right down to the almost non-existent focus ring at the front. But it clearly seems to be a different lens, as evidenced by its performance and a lot of small details.

The first thing you notice about the 55-200mm is that it is light, small, and plastic right down to the lens mount. The lens just doesn't seem to be big enough to be a telephoto zoom when collapsed back to 55mm.

The 55-200mm focal range gives you angle of views from 6.75 to 24 degrees across the long axis. On a DX body this angle of view is basically the equivalent to a 80-300mm lens on an FX body. For many users, this is "the standard telephoto zoom" focal length range. There's no denying that this is a popular and much-asked for focal length range. The primary disappointment is the slow maximum aperture. Still, coupled with a Nikkor 18-55mm (or any other shorter DX zoom), you would have a pretty full range of focal lengths available in just two lenses.

This is a two ring design; the zoom ring is a big, impossible to miss ring nearest the camera, while the focusing ring is almost invisible at the front of the lens. The lens does not have a distance scale, so it also has no depth of field or infrared markings. There are no switches or other controls.

The DA-15 hood is the bayonet type and can reverse mount on the lens. The lens itself uses 52mm filters, which was Nikon's original consumer filter standard and matches the Nikkor 18-55mm DX lenses. The supplied lens cap is a pinch-front type.

The lens is made in Japan.

Handling
Handling is not a strong point of this lens. Indeed, it's a very weak point.

The zoom ring is slightly stiff, slightly jerky, and has a very short throw from 55 to 200mm (about a quarter turn). The lens extends as you zoom, with the lens being fully collapsed at 55mm and fully extended at 200mm. The lens rotates during focus and zoom, so you have to manually tweak polarizing and other filters that depend upon position.

The focus ring is beyond terrible, being an easy to miss ring at the front of the lens. Focus goes from near to far in a bit more than a quarter turn of the ring, if you can find it.

The bayonet hood takes a bit of getting used to, it has a long rotate to the lock position, and no markings to help you align it, though this latter part isn't a big deal as you can just rotate it until you find the starting indent position. The pinch lens cap is a different design than Nikon's and not as well suited to large fingers.

The 55-200mm is small and light and balances on the front of most Nikon consumer DSLRs very nicely. On bigger DX cameras, such as the D2h or D2x, it just disappears. But either way, the size and weight of this lens is not a factor.

The maximum aperture changes with focal length about as follows:

  • 55mm = f/4
  • 70mm = f/4.2
  • 85mm = f/4.2
  • 105mm = f/4.2
  • 135mm = f/4.5
  • 200mm = f/5.6

Performance
What do you expect from a budget telephoto zoom? Not much, probably. Fortunately, you get more than that expectation, though probably not enough to sway you towards the Tamron over the Nikkor 55-200mm.

Autofocus: As with many recent Tamrons, the focus system is noisier than Nikon's, with a bit of a whine to the sound. The lens tends to reverse direction on focus when you go from a near to far focus, which takes a bit of extra time. Overall, the Tamron is a bit slower than my Nikkor 55-200mm VR at almost every focus task I threw at it. Not slower enough to be objectionable, but enough to be noticeable. Does not have internal AF motor so does not autofocus on D40, D40x, D60, or D5000.

Sharpness: Center sharpness is very good at all apertures, but needs some stopping down at the longest focal lengths to achieve best results. In general, one stop down seems to bring corner sharpness up to reasonable levels at all focal lengths once past 85mm or so. The lens is weakest in the center at 200mm, but overall very good if you close down a stop. Edge performance at 55mm is not so great wide open, but improves to match the center performance very quickly. Edge performance at the longer focal lengths seems to mimic the center performance: very good if you stop down at least a stop, not so good at maximum aperture. Overall, I'd put this lens close to, but not quite equal to, the Nikkor 55-200mm versions. However, I should also note that I found some side-to-side variance in my testing of this lens. The right side was consistently slightly softer than the left.

f/8 and 135mm center: Copyright 2009 Thom Hogan

f/8 and 135mm top left:Copyright 2009 Thom Hogan

Light falloff: on the DX bodies vignetting is present wide open, but not in objectionable levels. Stop down one stop and vignetting is well down into the ignorable range (half of a stop or less). However, I noted visibly inconsistent exposures on this lens, especially at some of the midrange focal lengths. These exposures, made with a constant light source and manual exposure, were off by as much by a third of a stop from expected. In practice, most users would probably not notice this variance, but it was an unexpected result.

f/5.6 and 200mm (exaggerated):
(Because a small image normally rendered would not tend to show much, I now use a routine that compresses the overall vignetting into a visible range so as to clearly show the pattern Actual vignetting at these settings is barely visible on a plain surface like this.)

Chromatic aberration: Chromatic aberration is very low and pretty much ignorable on this lens. If all lenses were this good we wouldn't complain about chromatic aberration.

Flare: flare performance is very good except for direct into the sun. Unless light is hitting directly on the front element, I've not seen any visible contrast degradation. The hood does a very good job of keeping light from the front element.

Distortion: linear distortion is well corrected. There's a slight, mostly unnoticeable barrel distortion at 55mm, which flips to a modest pincushion distortion that's also barely noticeable at 200mm. Throughout the range the distortion is tolerable, and it all seems to be simple distortion that is easily corrected by software.

Bokeh: I see nothing exceptional in any way about the bokeh.

Drawbacks

  • Build Quality. Build quality does not exceed the price point.
  • Doesn't top the Nikkor. While competent, the VR and slightly better optical aspects of the Nikkor 55-200mm make it the choice.

Positives

  • Optically decent. No meaningful flaws worth mentioning (the slightly softer right-edge performance could be sample variation due to manufacturing tolerances).
  • Right specs for the price. Most DX users would be decently served by this lens, but again, the Nikkor VR is better.
 
Quick Evaluation


Not recommended


budget shoppers won't be dissatisfied with this lens, but it doesn't rise above the competition. The lens is not recommended mainly because the competitive Nikkor 55-200mm VR is a better choice, even though it is more expensive.

features
focus speed
optical quality
build quality
value

Limitations


The 55-200mm lens has limitations you need to be aware of:

Converters: No converters are recommended for this lens, and any converter would put you past the point necessary for autofocus, anyway.

No aperture ring: Since this is a DX lens, it's not likely that you'd mount it on an older 35mm body that can't handle the lack of aperture ring or makes restrictions because it is missing.

Coverage Area: covers the FX frame fully at all focal lengths, but with significantly higher vignetting.

Autofocus: no internal motor, so does not autofocus on D40, D40x, D60, or D5000.

Version of Review:
4/20/09: initial post.




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