Nikon Z photographers who want a lightweight telephoto zoom have only a handful of options. Two of the most interesting choices are Nikon’z own Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD – which is Tamron’s first official autofocus lens for the Z system. If you’re on the fence, which one of these lenses should you get? Here’s what you need to know.
Table of Contents
Size and Weight
One of the best parts of these two lenses is how small and light they are. Both lenses weigh about the same: 545 grams for the Tamron lens (1.20 pounds) and 570 grams (1.25 pounds) for the Nikon-brand lens.
That said, the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR is the smaller of the two lenses, measuring just 114 mm (4.49 inches) at its shortest focal length of 24mm. By comparison, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 measures 148 mm long (5.83 inches) at its shortest focal length of 70mm. That difference may not matter to you, but it does make the Tamron a bit more bulky for travel.
Build and Handling
Neither of the two lenses I’m comparing today are considered high-end. That doesn’t make them bad lenses optically, but it does mean that they have some build quality and handling compromises.
One of the biggest compromises is that both lenses have externally zooming designs, where the lens barrel extends as you zoom in. Even some professional lenses do this, and it’s not a dealbreaker, but it does call for some extra caution when using these lenses in dusty or rainy environments. The Tamron lens has a single telescoping barrel, while the Nikon 24-200mm has a dual telescoping design.
Both lenses have primarily plastic exteriors, with a few key areas of metal (like the lens mounts). Using both lenses side-by-side, the plastic on the Nikon lens feels nicer to me. I haven’t experienced any major build quality issues with either lens, despite months of using them in difficult environments.
As for handling features, both lenses are way too sparse for my tastes. Neither lens even has an M-A switch! The Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 at least has a zoom locking switch, while the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 doesn’t have any buttons or switches at all. Both lenses have a zoom ring and a focus ring.
In short, I don’t think either lens has a dramatic advantage in build quality, but I do lean toward preferring the Nikon lens slightly.
Obviously, a 24-200mm superzoom is a different beast from a 70-300mm telephoto zoom. The differences in focal length alone are enough to make the “winner” of this comparison clear for a lot of photographers. If you need 24mm, go with the Nikon; if you need 300mm, go with the Tamron!
But maybe you already have other lenses that cover these focal lengths, or you’re simply more interested in in image quality considerations. Even then, I still recommend stopping to think about the focal lengths of these two lenses – the one you pick will have cascading effects on the rest of the lenses you’ll carry along.
For example, a popular two-lens kit for Nikon Z shooters is the Z 14-30mm f/4 and the Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR. Those two lenses make for a very compact kit covering everything from ultra-wide to telephoto.
Meanwhile, to cover the same range with the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3, you’d need to throw a midrange lens in your bag, or else you’ll have a gap of focal lengths in the middle. Something like the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4, Nikon Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3, or Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 would work nicely. Although this results in a three-lens kit rather than a two-lens kit, you’ll be reaching 300mm instead of 200mm, so it’s worth considering.
Then there’s the question of f-stop. Throughout the shared focal lengths, the Tamron lens has an advantage here, gathering about 1/3 stop to 1 stop more light depending on the focal length. For low-light photography, that can make a difference… with one caveat. The Nikon 24-200mm f/4-6.3 has vibration reduction, while the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 doesn’t!
Most of Nikon’s Z-series cameras have in-body image stabilization, so it doesn’t really matter if your lens has VR or not. But if you shoot with a camera like the Nikon Zfc or Z50 that has no in-body image stabilization, the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR has a massive advantage. Image stabilization works wonders if you’re shooting handheld with a telephoto.
After all that, if you’re still undecided, read on!
Which lens performs better optically between the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3? It depends where you look! Let me go through our findings below.
You’d probably expect a superzoom to have more distortion than a dedicated telephoto zoom… and you’d be right. Here are the two distortion graphs:
The Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 has the higher distortion numbers overall, with a whopping 5.82% barrel distortion at 24mm! Even though this is often corrected automatically in post-processing, it’s still concerningly high. Upon correcting such strong distortion, you may lose sharpness due to stretching the image back into place.
What about the shared focal length range? Here, the 24-200mm still has more distortion, although it’s a closer comparison. The main difference is that the Tamron lens has practically zero distortion at 70mm, while the Nikon lens has a very high 3.24% pincushion distortion at the same focal length. After 70mm, distortion performance is similar on both lenses, hovering around 2.5-3%.
Like with distortion, I’d usually expect a superzoom to have more vignetting than a dedicated telephoto zoom. In this case, however, the opposite is true. Here are the graphs:
That’s a lot of data to digest, so allow me to simplify things a bit. The highest measurement we recorded was indeed on the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3, with 2.47 stops of vignetting wide-open at 24mm. However, in the shared zoom range, the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 outperforms the Tamron lens at every focal length. It never gets above 1.16 stops of vignetting from 70mm to 200mm, while the Tamron lens reaches 1.72 stops in the same range.
3. Lateral Chromatic Aberration
Lenses can behave unpredictably when it comes to chromatic aberration, so I was really interested to test which one of these two would win here. It turns out to be the Tamron, at least in the shared range of focal lengths. Here are the full charts:
Looking at the range from 70mm to 200mm, the Tamron lens significantly outperforms the Nikon Z lens in chromatic aberration. That said, once you zoom all the way into 300mm with the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3, it has just as much CA as the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR. Thankfully, lateral chromatic aberration is pretty easy to fix in post-processing with minimal side effects, but both lenses have some iffy performance here, depending on the focal length.
Now the moment you’ve been waiting for – sharpness! I’ll focus on comparing the two lenses in their shared zoom range (70-200mm), because you already know which lens is sharper at 24mm, and which lens is sharper at 300mm :)
We’ll start with 70mm:
As you can see from the graph above, it’s a pretty close comparison – although, make sure that you’re comparing the right apertures against one another! The Nikon lens is already at f/6 at this point, while the Tamron lens is at its maximum aperture of f/4.5. On balance, the Nikon lens is a bit sharper at 70mm, especially in the corners. However, the differences narrow at f/11 and f/16, and they weren’t huge in the first place.
Now for 105mm / 100mm:
This time, central and midframe performance are slightly better on the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 overall. However, the corners of the frame significantly favor the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR. For whatever reason, the Tamron lens goes through a bit of a weak spot in the corners around 100mm. Nikon is definitely the winner here.
Lastly, here’s 200mm:
This time, central sharpness is extremely similar, but the Tamron lens is much better in both the midframes and corners. That makes for a really interesting situation! The sharper lens of these two is 100% dependent upon your focal length. At the wider focal lengths from 70mm to 100mm, I much prefer the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3. However, at 200mm, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 is the clear winner. At the end of the day, the sharper lens for you comes down to which focal lengths you expect to use more often.
Both of these lenses are budget options, with the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR selling for $900 and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 for $700. (However, these prices don’t account for sales, which are pretty frequent on both lenses.)
I think that both of these lenses are slightly overpriced if you buy them at MSRP, but they become good values during any typical sale. Also, I wouldn’t say that one lens is clearly a better value than the other. Even though the Nikon Z lens is $200 more expensive, that’s usually what you’ll get with a Nikon-brand lens compared to a Tamron-brand lens – especially since it has vibration reduction.
You can check the current prices, and support my testing efforts at Photography Life, at the following B&H affiliate links:
- Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR at B&H – Check prices and current sales
- Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 for Nikon Z at B&H – Check prices and current sales
In most of the areas that matter, it’s a toss-up as to which lens is better between the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3. The main difference isn’t in build quality, value, or even image quality; it’s simply focal length. And the “better” lens in that regard will vary from photographer to photographer.
Personally, I ended up getting the Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR for my own photography, since it allowed me to replace my Z 24-70mm f/4 S and keep my bag extremely light for travel photography. However, I also don’t run into many situations where 300mm would be useful to my photography. If you expect that you will encounter such situations, even occasionally, I would lean toward the Tamron lens. It’s easy to find lightweight zooms and primes in the midrange of focal lengths, but there aren’t a lot of 300mm lenses that are nearly as light as the Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3.
I hope this helps! Feel free to ask me anything about these two lenses in the comment section below, and I’ll do my best to answer.