Over the years that I’ve been collecting old photo gear, it’s only been fairly recently that I’ve picked up any of the Tamron Adaptall lenses. In principle, I think the idea of a lens that you can adapt on to various SLR bodies with full functionality is a great idea, although it’s not really practical with how integrated and complicated modern lenses are. So far the one or two Adaptall lenses I’ve tried have been quite impressive, especially given their low price on eBay and the like (see my review of the Tamron 17A 35-70). So when this Tamron 103A showed up on eBay for under $35 including postage, with an M42 Adaptall mount that I was looking for as well, I thought “Why not?”
The Tamron 103A is a 80-210mm ƒ/3.8-4.0 close focusing mid-range zoom with 13 elements in 10 groups. According to Adaptall-2.org, the 103A was one of Tamron’s best selling lenses in the early to mid 80’s. Featuring Tamron’s BBAR Multi Coating, and a maximum magnification of 1:2.8, it was a versatile choice at the time, especially in its price bracket. If it lived up to its specs on paper (which by all accounts it did), then with the versatility of the Adaptall-2 mount, it would’ve been pretty good value for money. As I mentioned above, I mainly bought this example because it had an M42 Adaptall-2 mount with it, which I was looking for to use with my Tamron 51B, and until getting this example the Tamron 103A wasn’t even on my wishlist, so this review is coming from a fairly unbiased point of view.
Build Quality & Ergonomics
The first thing that I noticed when it arrived was how compact it was for it’s focal length range. The Tamron 103A is somewhat long, but very narrow and light, especially compared to my Canon EF 24-105mm L. I guess older lenses could be a fair bit simpler and smaller, but I wasn’t expecting this much of a difference.
Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth the focus and zoom movements were. Admittedly, the zoom is a bit more free moving than I would like, but it was still very smooth, and it there was very little lateral movement in the mechanisms. Overall it seems to be pretty well built, especially since it’s not a brand new lens or anything. I guess it should be noted that the zoom and focus are controlled on the same ring, with zoom being a slide movement and focus being rotation. The one touch setup actually works quite well in practice. The focus range from 0.9m to ∞ is covered over about 270°, so there’s plenty of room for small changes to focus.
It’s also quite refreshing to see all the manual setting aids that are provided on the Tamron 103A. A depth of field scale is provided, as is a magnification scale both as it is and with a 2x converter, all presented in a manner that’s very easy to understand, even for someone like myself who isn’t really used to that kind of thing. Focal lengths are marked along the zoom range at 80, 90, 105, 135, 170 and 210, and zoom is fully internal, although the front of the lens extends as you focus closer. For filter users, the 58mm filter thread does rotate during focusing. Also worth noting is the “CF” designation, meaning “Continuous Focus” allowing a rather impressive maximum magnification of 1:2.8 without additional attachments or changes of mode or anything.
After being pleasantly surprised by the build quality, I was kinda hoping that the image quality would live up to the same expectations. I tested my copy of the Tamron 103A on a genuine Tamron Adaptall M42 mount, mounted to a Canon EOS 60D via a high quality brass EMF AF Confirm M42-EF adapter. I set the camera up on a tripod for the aperture comparisons, and free held the setup for the random sample images at the end. These images have had no post processing other than conversion from .cr2 in Lightroom (with no adjustments or sharpening) and the addition of the watermark. I used AWB on the camera, and I haven’t changed the setting that the camera selected, which lead to the changing from warm to cool as I stopped down.
Not sure why this occurs, but it’s something to keep in mind (see note after first aperture comparison).
Note: Despite the fact that for some reason my theme isn’t showing it, the “100% Crop” part of the captions in the below galleries is a link that will open a 100% crop of the current image.
The first thing I noticed when reviewing these is the change in white balance setting chosen by the 60D as the lens stepped down. The first images wide open are quite warm, and then from there they get progressively cooler until by ƒ/32 the image is looking very cool. After thinking about it a bit, I’m wondering if it was more to do with the shaded background coming into focus than it being an effect of the lens itself. Looking at 100% crops, there definitely seems to be a sweet spot for sharpness between ƒ/8.0 and ƒ/11. Aberrations seem quite well controlled.
The white balance variation is still present, and again the good range of sharpness seems to be between ƒ/8.0 and ƒ/11. That’s not to say the ƒ/4.0 images aren’t useable, at the reduced size uploaded here even the wide open shots are useable, although the depth of field is quite shallow, so maybe for a flatter subject than the rose I was shooting here.
At 210mm, the Tamron 103A follows the trend set at 80mm and 135mm.
Other Sample Shots
Below is a couple of sample shots I took whilst sitting on the back verandah on the weekend. I’ve included some notes in the captions. As with the test shots above, these have had no retouching other than the addition of the watermark.
Conclusion and Thoughts
Honestly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this lens. Considering when I bought it I didn’t even really want it, it has exceeded my expectations on nearly every level. The build quality is great, the image quality is better than expected, and considering you can get them for under $AU50 with an Adaptall mount, it makes a very good value for money proposition, as long as you can get over the manual only aspect of it (which isn’t a problem if you’re using a film SLR with a suitable Adaptall mount). Is the image quality as good as a modern lens? Probably not, although this example seems to give better IQ than the 70-300 Canon kit lens I used to have. But the main thing is it’s pretty cheap, and it’s certainly a fun lens to play around with.
Additional Note: The semi-macro capabilities are well worth keeping in mind as well. 1:2.8 isn’t true macro, but it’s certainly a useful max magnification figure for a lens like this.