I was given a potentially difficult choice a few months back. My partner and I decided to celebrate a shared milestone birthday with a trip to Rome. Neither of us had ever been before, and we both knew that it will be a long time before we can go again. The dilemma for me was that photography was not the over-riding focus of the trip. Furthermore, my fiancee did not want to have to stand around waiting for me to line up the perfect shot after half an hour of deliberating over all of the options. I was told that this meant spending only five minutes in each location, and only taking one lens. To the most historic and photogenic city in Europe. Eeep.
The fact that she displays immense patience, and never actually enforced these rules, was irrelevant. As photographers, we have a responsibility not to widow our partners to the craft. I’d accepted the tongue-in-cheek challenge and was prepared to rise to it. Then certain facts dawned on me.
1. The Nikkor 17-55mm 2.8
2. The Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8
3. The Nikkor 105mm 2.8 micro
4. The Nikkor 10.5mm 2.8 fisheye
There’s not a single lens amongst them that I felt would be adequate for every opportunity that the trip would offer. There were a few reasons for this. Because I often shoot with a macro lens or 200mm, I tend to “see” things as if I were looking through a telephoto lens. However, I figured that crowds would often prevent me from taking such shots. A zoom would give me a bit more flexibility. So that ruled out the macro.
The longer zoom was also ruled out, because it was too large and heavy, and wouldn’t offer enough versatility for the likes of the Colosseum, which I knew was enormous.
My fisheye lens would undoubtedly be useful for a few pre-planned locations, but the effect would become tiresome very quickly if I had to use the lens for every shot. This left the 17-55. Not a bad range, but a bit short for some things. It’s also a large lens. Travelling with a budget airline meant I had to take a small bag. I’ve only got two camera bags, and my large one was too big for the overhead lockers (and weighs half of my carry-on allowance when it’s empty). The fast wide angle takes up loads of space in the bag, leaving no room for much else.
It was whilst I was scratching my head trying to reach a decision that EPZ offered a Tamron 18-270mm PZD to the person who they felt had the greatest need for it. I had only heard of the lens a couple of times before, but what I had heard was very positive. I put in my bid, and was delighted to come out at the top of the list.
The lens arrived with two months to go. This gave me plenty of time to see what it could and couldn’t do.
As it turns out, there’s not much it can’t do, as anyone following my progress will know. There are compromises with a lens of this sort, but to be honest, I’ve been amazed by how well this tiny little lens has risen to every challenge I’ve thrown at it.
With a maximum aperture of 6.3 at the long end (and it gets there quickly: 5.6 by the 70mm mark), I thought that it would struggle to produce anything worthwhile indoors. I was wrong. The capabilities of the Vibration Compensation feature, along with the good ISO handling of my camera, meant that I was able to get sharp, vibrant images even when flash was prohibited whilst looking around the exhibits at the Vatican Museum.
The size of the lens turned out to be the real star feature though. It’s lighter than any one of my fast lenses, and effectively does the job of all three. We must have walked thirty miles over the course of three days, and I never once suffered from a tired shoulder or strained neck. I was able to fit the camera in my bag with the lens and a grip attached, and had enough room for all of my filters, a flashgun, and even the largest Gorillapod with a head attached. The whole lot weighed in at 6.3kg at the airport desk. To cover the range with my existing lenses, I’d have gone over my 10kg carry-on allowance without leaving the rest at home. This is by far the smallest travel lens available at the moment, and yet it still manages to pack more range in than the competition.
Sharpness is a common concern for a lens that packs such a powerful zoom range as this one. In practical terms, I can tell you that I’d be comfortable printing at A3 without any concerns of sharpness from the Tamron 18-270mm, which is more than enough for most people (click below left for a 100% crop from the centre of the image).
With some understanding of how to get the best from your kit, you can get great results from the Tamron, and I think it’s more than worth it’s meagre weight in gold. It’s certainly earned it’s place in my kit bag, and I’d feel happy recommending it to anyone who’s looking for a lightweight alternative to their usual kit. The convenience of having one lens that can capably perform the jobs of beginner favourites 18-55’s and 70-300’s is worthy of a closer look, whatever your preconceptions may be. The Tamron 18-270mm PZD let me get on with taking the photographs I wanted – quickly and reliably – leaving me more time to enjoy my holiday; to preserve the sanity of my partner, and to find plenty of Italian gelatto. I couldn’t ask for more from a travel lens.