To give the Vibration Control feature of the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD a good going over, I took the lens to “The Deep,” a large aquarium in Hull. I’m a big fan of aquariums, but they’re notoriously difficult places to take photographs. They’re dark, often crowded, and usually have curved, dirty or scratched glass panels with lots of reflected light bouncing around. The Deep was no exception.
Now, I’m not saying that the 70-200mm is the ideal lens for this sort of work. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst. The best shots taken through aquarium glass are the ones where you are parallel to the windows, because it will cut down on chromatic abberations (or “fringing”, caused when light passes from one medium to another: particularly problematic where water is concerned). With a longer lens, the narrow angle of view means that you really have to take care with this, as it’s more likely to show up in close-up views than an entire school of fish. Not only that, but every time you try to pan, you risk knocking out some poor sap who’s stood in front of you with a wide-angle camera phone.
So to test the VC, I was going to be using slower shutter speeds. Common knowledge used to state that you had to use a shutter speed of at least 1/ the focal length of your lens. However, my recent experiences with the Nikon D800 have shown me that this isn’t low enough, due to the all-too-revealing nature of a 36MP sensor. A safer bet with this beast, particularly using it for close-up shots, is to double the focal length, and use that as your reciprocal shutter speed ie. 1/400s for a 200mm lens. There’s no way you’re going to pull that off in an aquarium.
I played it safe to begin with, using the wider end of the lens and a slightly faster shutter speed. My goal was to work around the 1/100s mark. I hoped that this would be adequate to capture some of the faster fish in motion, without pushing the system too far. Then I’d see where I could go from there. The resolution-robbing glass of the tanks would mean that I didn’t have to worry too much about the slight softening that I’d get from shooting wide-open, although I would avoid this if I could.
I should point out that when I tested the Tamron 18-270 PZD, I said that we were quickly getting to a point with digital cameras where improvements in sensor technology, namely dynamic range and digital noise management, would mean that we could shoot in darker, more extreme conditions than ever before. This is starting to become a reality. You’ll notice that the ISO ratings used for these shots are higher than would have been possible just two years ago without a flagship camera model. It’s the only reason I could expect to get away with using a long lens that requires these sorts of shutter speeds. However, these improvements have also resulted in another kind of exposure mode becoming practical for the first time: Manual mode with Auto ISO. Using this camera in this way, I could dial in specific apertures, shutter speeds and exposure compensation, and let the camera adjust the ISO to nail the exposure.
As confidence grew, the shutter speed began to drop, and the focal length climbed, although the ISO jumped about a bit due to the nature of the shooting mode.
I thought that 1/80s would be about the threshold for reliably sharp shots, so I really wasn’t expecting to get anything when I dialled in 1/20s…
It’s fair to say that I found this pretty remarkable. It seems to be a heck of a stabiliser that’s gone into this lens.