I have a fun little project now that goes beyond its surface to something about how we look at lens choices. Tamron has asked me to work with their newest 18-270mm lens. Officially, it is the Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD — don’t you love all of the letters? It is almost like a Russian war hero with all of his medals! The Di is for digital, VC for vibration control and PZD is their quick and quiet autofocus motor system.
Tamron has supplied the lens and contracted with me to work with it for a while. I really like that idea. One of the problems we always had at the magazines (Outdoor Photographer, etc.) was that we had lenses for a limited time and our time was limited as well.
I have not used one of these extended range zooms for quite a while, so I thought it was a great opportunity to see what it could do. When it arrived, I was, truthfully, blown away by the size and weight. This lens is 3.8 inches long and weighs a hair under a pound. That is amazing! I really mean that. It really wasn’t all that long ago that zoom lenses got started and they were heavy, bulky and not very good. Now zoom lenses are compact and quite good.
I have been thinking a lot about a lens for my cameras that I could use when I really wanted to travel light, and this looks like it will be perfect for that. In addition, it focuses down to 19-inches, which is also remarkable because it wasn’t that long ago that zoom lenses never focused all that close. Okay, it is not a true macro and won’t replace my 180mm macro, but it is great to have that capability in an “all-in-one” zoom when I am traveling light. To have a range from 18-270mm in a 3.8-inch lens at about a pound in weight really does give an amazingly capable package when you carry just a lens and a camera.
I took it with me to the Santa Monica Mountains yesterday. We just had a lot of rain and the morning was very clear with great first light. The Santa Monica Mountains offer world-class landscape photography that you have probably never heard of. It is a well-kept secret place hidden right next to Los Angeles!
I only took that lens. No other. This is based on something I learned long ago. Whenever I get a new lens, I will take it out and shoot with just that lens so that I can learn what it can and cannot do. I want to learn how to work with the lens. I am not interested in a false approach to photography that looks to find some ultimate “best” lens and forces the photographer to constantly compare. That is bogus for me because it keeps you from focusing on what is really important, your photography.
I frankly don’t care about picky details on how a lens does on a lens test because lenses today are very good. I only care how well it performs for me shooting my subjects in my way. And you learn that best by living with the lens for at least a short time.
On my first trip with the lens, I really liked using it. It is quick and easy to use and focus. I liked having the big range of 18-270mm and the close focusing capability. I do like wider-angle focal lengths, too, but 18-270mm is a big range. I am not sure a wider focal is even possible with today’s technologies and certainly never in such a compact lens.
The VC vibration control does help. Generally, I shoot a lot from a tripod. However, I had put my tripod away getting ready to move to a new location when I turned and saw some interesting light on a hill that had been behind me. I grabbed the camera with lens, turned on the VC, and shot immediately. To be honest, I probably never would have taken that picture before because of not wanting to get the tripod out again. The VC is freeing, there is no question about that.
I think this lens will really come in handy for video, too. A big difference between shooting still photos and video is that with stills, we shoot for the single shots. With video, we shoot for multiple shots that we will put together in a video. Being able to quickly change focal length to get that variety can be really helpful. A note about variable aperture zooms such as this one (f/3.5-6.3) — they cannot be used for zooming while recording video because they do change aperture during that zoom. Variable aperture zooms allow these lenses to be much smaller and much less expensive than the equivalent constant aperture zooms.
I am pleased to be working with such a compact lens. I really like to travel light at times. I may add a wider-angle lens to my bag, but this little lens will let me do things that I could not do with my whole lens kit. I will let you know of further adventures with this lens.