The Tamron Adaptall-2 SP 35-210mm f3.5-4.2 (26A) is a versatile zoom lens, going from moderate wide angle to moderate telephoto. It offers an impressive maximum aperture for a zoom, and a clever macro feature at 35mm allowing reproduction of 1:3.8.
|List Price when new||¥74,000|
|Angle of view||54-11°|
|Optical Construction (Groups / Elements)||12 / 16|
|Minimum Focus||63″ (1.6m) [normal], 11.8″ (0.3m) [macro @ 35mm]|
|Maximum Macro Magnification ratio||1:3.8|
Optonal lens hood, bayonet type #45FH.
Background and availability
The Tamron Adaptall-2 SP 35-210mm f3.5-4.2 (26A) shouldn’t be any good. If you are doing any reading around of photography forums you’ll discover a huge range of disagreements and arguments over the merits of various lenses, but the one thing that most people seemed to agree on is that old zooms are no good. Furthermore, the bigger the zoom range, the worse they are. Things did not bode well for this lens. However, this lens seems to break that rule – which most information you can find on the web confirms. This lens was only in production from 1983-1987 and has a very complex optical design that provides a macro function at 35mm (1:3.8) which is decent because the lens moves ‘both the zoom and master elements when entering macro mode, rather than merely allowing the front focus elements to extend forward’ (according to adaptall-2.org).
For this reason, make sure you buy a copy that isn’t too battered – as although the all-metal lens is very well built and feels tough as old boots in the hand, others have warned that the complex elements can get knocked out of sync and the design is not one you want to take apart and attempt to rebuild. It accepts a rubber hood with a bayonet fit, if you cannot find one then any rubber screw-in hood would suffice. The lens hood is very common though, so finding an original should be easy enough.
The lens is fairly common on EBay, but it often appears only as buy-it-now at a price that probably befits its quality and flexibility, but you can probably buy one cheaper should you wait for an auction starting with a low price. The hood is fairly common as it was made for 3 models of lens: the 28-135, 35-135 and 35-210. Again, don’t be tempted to buy the first buy-it-now listing you see, as they occasionally appear for a lot less than those listings want. The hood is probably a little shallow for the Sony NEX crop factor, and a modern rubber lens that extends and retracts in two positions might help when using the longer end of the lens.
You should expect to pay between £40-80 for this lens in good condition, but some listings will go for less occasionally – as happens on EBay with all items. The nearest lens for the Sony NEX 5n is probably the 18-200mm (£590 in Sony form, £469 in Tamron form) or the Sony 55-210mm lens (£290). This makes the Tamron 35-210mm exceptional value for money, especially when you consider some factors which are discussed below.
Performance and handling
When I discussed the value of the Tamron Adaptall-2 SP 35-210mm f3.5-4.2 (26A) earlier I said I’d come back to that, so I will. The new E-mount all-in-ones have a few things in their favour: smaller, lighter, longer (start at 18mm as opposed to 35mm), have autofocus and image stabilisation. However, you have to pay a premium for these features, and really the only feature that cannot be overcome by technique with the camera is the difference between 18mm and 35mm. For example, the new Tamron and Sony lenses will make a big deal out of the fact that they have image stabilisation. That’s fine, but the real reason it is needed is because the lenses are both slow – f6.3 at 210mm (the Sony 55-210mm is slow at both ends, f4.5-6.3) – so the lens has to compensate for slow shutter speeds. Slow shutter speeds are fine for producing sharp images of static objects, but useless for anything that moves – which in many situations (and therefore for a lot of photographic situations) completely negates any benefit of having it.
When the light drops what you need is a fairly fast maximum aperture and a camera that can handle high ISO images well: step forward the Tamron SP 35-210mm f3.5-4.2 (faster at 210mm than the Sony NEX 55-210 is at 55mm!) and the Sony NEX 5N (or indeed, any NEX camera). By all accounts the SP 35-210mm is fairly sharp wide open and at 210mm f4.2 vs f6.3 makes a big difference in shutter speeds – bump up the ISO a bit, which the Sony NEX is easily capable of, and you’ll be getting nice sharp images of moving objects whilst people using image stabilised lenses might not get because the camera lets the shutter speed drop and relies on stabilising the lens for sharp images – the camera doesn’t know that you might be shooting something that is moving.
Another problem with smaller apertures is that if the lens benefits from stopping down, you’ll soon be working at f8 and the autofocus will start really disliking things. Which leads us nicely to the second point: manual focus vs autofocus. Manually focusing using the SP 35-210mm is pretty easy and after spending a little while with the lens it becomes very natural. Images snap into focus quickly and with a little practise images of moving birds, children, pets become possible and the rate of misses probably won’t be too different than most autofocus systems in consumer cameras. Autofocus is amazing, provided you have a Canon 1D and an USM L series lens, but most budget lenses / cameras are a long way from infallible and often the manual lens where you can aim at a distance (using the physical scale on the lens) gives you a head start and you don’t have to worry about autofocus hunting back and forth.
Anyway, the important thing is that this lens is fairly cheap, built very well, handles well and produces beautiful images that really make you question just why so many people are quick to dismiss zoom lenses in favour of a bag of primes. The macro function is a little difficult to use because your hood will be practically knocking against the object you are trying to capture, but that it has such a function gives you an extra reason to take this with you as your ones-lens-for-a-quick-wander-around as opposed to other zooms that have long minimum focus distances.