Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Tamron SP-200 (200f) Teleconverter vs. Tamron 01F: Worth the Premium?


Well that's just a loaded question, isn't it? I mean, who am I to determine if the performance of Tamron's rare SP-200 2x teleconverter, is worth whatever premium someone is trying to get for it on eBay, over just asking someone on the street to give you the 01f (because I am pretty sure everyone has one of these). Obviously I speak in jest. But truly, for those of us interested in the Tamron Adaptall line,  and especially those of us focused on the 300/2.8 lenses of the series, we've undoubtedly seen and heard myths of the elusive Tamron SP-200, or otherwise known as the 200f, 2x teleconverter. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that the SP-200 is a better TC. But, often going for roughly 10x the price of the 01f, we have to wonder, "How much better can the SP-200 be? Does it merit such a price hike?"

The short answer to this is, 'No'. The long answer is, inevitably, 'Yes'.

I have owned most the more impressive fast primes and telephotos in the Tamron SP Adaptall series including the 180/2.5, 300/2.8, 400/4, and even the 200-500/5.6. And with each of them (save for the 200-500), it seemed I always received the Tamron 01f 2x Teleconverter, like it was a lens cap. To say these are common is an understatement. Most unfortunate for the sake of this comparison, I said "ownED". While I have loved running this test using several of these lenses, my financial situation dictates otherwise. As with many lenses and pieces of photo gear I have owned in the past, they were all a part of a rotating kit really. Fortunately, stability in my job in recent years and more wisdom into my own behaviors, (that is, I tend to go buy these lenses again because I miss them) has led me to a new outlook, in which I simply wait to own the next piece of gear, rather than hock stuff for the immediate pay off. Unfortunately, that came too late for this comparison and so, to date, the only of those large SP lenses I still own (and can never let go) was the Tamron Adaptall 300mm f/2.8 107B.


The 107B is an awesome lens for a variety of reason. Heck,  how I acquired it, to me, is reason enough! At the same time, it has it's short comings. I have learned more and more why everyone appreciates the 60B's internal focus (IF). I certainly loved it on the 400/4 65B. The 107B does not have IF (it actually physically changes length as you focus), so using the 107B in practice can be a bit more challenging, as I have to often work against the weight of the camera (since the lens is what is mounted to the tripod). For our purposes, this was merely an inconvenience. Below is a couple images of a brick wall with no teleconverter, at select apertures, and at full resolution so you can get a feel for what comes straight out of the 107B:


Tamron 300mm f/2.8 107B @ f/2.8


Tamron 300mm f/2.8 107B @ f/5.6

Methods

First, let me just reiterate the relative casualness of my findings. I try to be thorough, but especially after reading a lens review on DxO today, well, suffice it say, I feel like a middle school science project trying for the Nobel prize. On the other hand, I think we can all appreciate that,  the labs of DxO and the like is very different from the everyman(woman) picking up a lens and going out to have some fun. OK so I did shoot "the brick wall...", so perhaps not quite so natural.

That being said, for this comparison, I essentially set up my Nikon D600 (which has just returned from Nikon Repair Services having had the free shutter replacement) on a tripod, about 30-40ft from a brick wall. I set the camera to mirror-up shutter (first shutter click flips the camera's mirror up, then a second click opens the shutter, allowing the user to pause between the two to prevent any vibration from the mirror flip to affect the exposure). I used a remote shutter, so that I was not touching the camera, again, in effort to prevent vibration. Using ISO, I adjusted to maintain a shutter speed above 1/600th of a second (using the rule of thumb to account for image vibration during the exposure with long telephoto lenses), usually closer to 1/1000th to be safe. I focused using the live view monitor and a screen loupe. The weather was awesome by the way. It was about 75 degrees F and a very slight, soft breeze.

The crops are 100% with only some slight exposure compensation in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to even things out for this comparison.

Let's get to the side-by-side, shall we?

Comparison



Above is the entire image, with each of the 5 selected crops highlighted. I tried to select areas with a noticeable detail that made for a good point of comparison, while also getting a good spread across the whole frame.  So for each image at a given aperture, there are 5 crops. The first image you see is the Tamron 01f. Recall that beginning with an f/2.8 lens, and adding a 2x TC, typically knocks us down 2 stops so we begin at an effective aperture of f/5.6. 

Jump to: f/5.6  f/8  f/11  f/16  f/22  f/32

f/5.6
Hover to see the results of the Tamron SP-200.












f/8
Hover to see the results of the Tamron SP-200.










f/11
Hover to see the results of the Tamron SP-200.










f/16
Hover to see the results of the Tamron SP-200.










f/22
Hover to see the results of the Tamron SP-200.










f/32
Hover to see the results of the Tamron SP-200.










Sharpness

My understanding from performing this comparison is that the SP-200 (200f) definitely produces sharper images across the frame, including, as stated, off-axis. By f/11, you can see the 01f and SP-200 are nearly identical, though crop 4, out of the corner, shows us that off-axis performance of the SP-200 still bests the 01f quite well. 

Surprisingly, there are some areas, such as crop 5 at f/5.6, where the 01f appears sharper than the SP-200. This could simply be the case, or it could also be a result of a variety of factors as, again, this test borders on scientific/methodical but I am no scientist. I did not go as far as to ensure I was perfectly square and perpendicular to my subject (such that the image plane lined up precisely with the wall). I eyeballed it. Also, I was shooting a likely, imperfect wall. There's no guarantee the wall runs that perfectly straight, so it's possible it is more convex or concave along the surface. Etc. The possibilities go on, when we aren't in a perfectly controlled lab. But as is always the case with what I do, when are we all shooting in a perfect lab? How do these results look to you, given what you know about how you shoot? Are both TC's sharp enough? Or do you need that extra snap in your images, especially around the edges? Are you willing to pay ten-fold for it?

Chromatic Aberration

Sharpness isn't the only factor in evaluating an optic obviously. But with these TC's, it certainly seems to be the most prominent, defining difference. Chromatic aberration appears to me to be well controlled, but then, my understanding with the Nikod D600 is that there is automatic CA suppression (with no ability to turn it off) so I don't know that I can truly say anything about the optics with regards to this. Suffice it to say, with my Nikon D600, CA with these optics appear nearly identical with this subject in exhibiting little-to-no CA (some extremely minimal lateral CA).

Other Aberrations (Fall-off, Distortion, etc.)

Regarding light fall-off, distortion, and so on, there was no noticeable difference to me, between the two TCs. Both TCs exhibit some light fall-off in the early apertures (wide open) but the problem reduces noticeably as they are stopped down. 

There is a highlight in crop 3, noticeable most at f/5.6 and f/8, that looks indicative of Coma. The SP-200 appears to control this much better than the 01f. But this isn't this brick wall isn't the best subject matter to analyze that.

Also, you will notice the images jump a bit between the 01f and the SP-200. There is possibly some relation here to different distortion between the two optics, but also consider, if you have ever used adaptall, because of the nature of the various moving parts in the mounts, the camera can actually rotate a slight degree (some play) whilst still being properly mounted. So the images between the two teleconverters were actually off from one another (one was tilted a bit) and I had to align them in post. I did my best, but some of the shift is likely a result of that as well as possible differences in distortion patterns.

The difference in color rendering is also potentially due to this being done at 5-6pm in the midwest amidst a setting sun. The light was warmer and occasionally passed behind clouds. I tried to wait and make images when the light was most consistent and direct, but one cannot keep the sun from setting!

They truly do perform quite similarly on most fronts, based on this test, except for in sharpness.

Conclusion

The Tamron SP-200 is sharper overall, than the Tamron 01f. For me, the improvement in sharpness is certainly nice. But back to the original question: Is the rare Tamron SP-200 (200f) Teleconverter as good as they say, and worth the search and a 10x premium price than that of the readily available 01f? Since saying both 'Yes' and 'No', makes me right either way, let me explain.

I say 'No' for the following reasons: For this kind of money (I paid $300 around the time of this post for mine), one can get a modern TC with much better performance, depending on the lens used in conjunction. But let's face it, if I am doing a professional job, I am using more modern lenses. Not my Tamron Adaptall stuff. So no, the effort to find an available copy of the Tamron SP-200 and then pay whatever that seller is asking (assuming they are aware of the rarity of their item) just isn't worth the increased performance over Tamron's 01f.

I say 'Yes' because, it is true, the SP-200 does indeed demonstrate better off-axis sharpness. And if I am going to make images using a 2x TC with my adaptall lenses, I might as well be making them with the best TC available. Moreover, it is very worth it for me, to own a unique, hard-to-find piece of Adaptall history! I could see collectors and enthusiasts sharing this opinion especially if he or she owns the 60B, 107B, or 360B. I have even heard people using it on the 63B (180/2.5). It was every penny worth it, to me, to have answers to this question about the optical performance difference between the two teleconverters! (Lucky day for that seller!) Rare, desirable items, will always fetch higher prices. It is the way of things.

And that is how I can say it is definitely not worth the price hike, and agree, yes, it is worth the price hike. Though I would be singing a very different tune if I had, instead of paying the eBay premium, been the guy to find this in someone's old box of Dad's photo stuff at a garage sale and walked off with it for $30....this post would potentially read very differently.

More Information

Sample images of more than a brick wall, using the SP-200.


1 comment:

  1. Hi David;
    Welcome back! Based on your reviews, I ended up buying a 300-2.8 (60B) (although the 107B looked more like a Canon L lens). I also got the 1.4 and 2X (01F) converters as well as the front UV filter and both an internal UV and polarizer filter (mine came with 2 filter mounts). After getting over how reasonably priced the lens was, I have to say that the performance is very acceptable to me. I almost bought the 200x you got (I hummed and hawed too much). There really is no information online comparing the 01F and the 200x so I really looked forward to your review. I am also seeking a 400mm to compare to a Canon 400mm 4.5 I got a couple months ago. Congrats on marriage and life - a good wife helps to pay for photo acquisitions (in the name of science and man's greater good).
    Looking forward to more posts from you. Cheers .......Mike

    ReplyDelete