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Thoughts on the Tamron Adaptall lenses

The Adaptall 2 series of lenses made in the late 70s through the 80s by Tamron are without a doubt some of my favorite vintage lenses of all time. Sure, optical performance may not compare with modern optics, they’re all manual focus, and they are HEAVY, but they have a charm that few vintage lenses have for me.

A brief history of Tamron

lineup of 4 of the tamron adaptall sp lenses

Tamron is an optical design and manufacturing company founded in Japan in 1950 as Taisei Optical Equipment Manufacturing1. The company spent the 1960s developing different lens and photographic products, including the Adapt-A-Matic line of lenses, an early precursor to the Adaptall line of lenses. The dawn of the 70s saw Taisei Optical Equipment Manufacturing change their name to the current Tamron Co., Ltd.. The 1970s also saw the introduction of the Adaptall line of lenses in 1976 and the introduction of the SP series of Adaptall lenses (which this blog post primarily deals with. They did a bunch of other stuff, have made more noteworthy lenses and continue to do so... but that's not what this blog is all about. Its about those sweet Adaptall 2 SP lenses. If you're curious about Adapt-A-Matic, Adaptall, Adaptall 2 or the Adaptall SP lines of lenses, Adatpall-2.com is a great resource for the history and documentation on the full lineup of lenses.

The details of the markings typical on Adaptall 2 SP lenses. Very colorful. Very nice.

The details of the markings typical on Adaptall 2 SP lenses. Very colorful. Very nice.

Thoughts on performance and image quality

The image quality is very good for this era of optics in many of the models of the Adaptall lineup. Some lense perform better than others (the 90mm and 35-80mm macro lenses are noteworthy examples of superb film-era sharpness), with varying levels of image quality, resolution, accuity, and performance in chromatic aberration, but the standouts are quite good.

These lenses are, of course, all manual focus operation with manual aperture rings, which is preferable when adapting lenses to modern digital camera bodies. The build quality of these lenses is, insofar as I’ve experienced, some of the beefiest and most well built lenses I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. Adaptall lenses are almost all extremely heavy, but that big, burly nature lends itself to the tank-like feeling these lenses have.

The look, the feel

As superficial as it sounds, one of the big draws to these lenses for me is the visual appeal. Made of metal with nice grippy rubber rings that have a nice knurled pattern, they're adorned with colorful markings on the zoom, aperture and focus scales. In terms of colorfulness they make even vintage Nikon lenses blush. They just have a beautiful 80s futurism to their design.

A shot of my collection of Adaptall 2 SP lenses

A shot of my collection of Adaptall 2 SP lenses.

The feel when using these lenses are great. They’re well-constructed and the focus and zoom mechanisms operate smoothly with no discernable slop. Adaptall 2 lenses are heavy. Very heavy. With adapters these bad boys can weigh in around a pound, which feels like a lot on the smaller mirrorless bodies I shoot on. Even with that extra weight Adaptall lenses are a joy to shoot on. The old school feel of zooming or focusing a high quality vintage, film-era lens is just inspiring to find something to frame up. Unlike a lot of low-cost modern manual focus lenses manufactured now, the apertures have click-stops. Thank god.

The not great

There are some negatives with the Adaptall lenses, however. Namely being the same problem you run into with all vintage lenses: they’re old. The age of the lens leads to a handful of potentially devastating negatives including: fungus, mechanical damage (less likely on these lenses because of their build quality, but still can occur), and a complete lack of any autofocus or aperture control. Another major issue with these lenses can be the cost. Some models in the Adaptall lineup can cost quite a pretty penny (notably the 500mm mirror telephoto lens, frequently costing more than $300 on ebay, or the exceedingly rare 300mm f2.8 aspherical telephoto lens at over $500). That said, a lot of the fan-favorites for adapting to modern cameras are in the much more reasonable sub-$150 range.

Some of the adapters used to mount the Adaptall 2 lenses to other common mounts. Pictured are mounts for M42, Canon FD and Pentax PK bayonet mounts.

Some of the adapters used to mount the Adaptall 2 lenses to other common mounts. Pictured are mounts for M42, Canon FD and Pentax PK bayonet mounts.


Even with those two problems I’ve been able to start building out a small assortment of Adaptall 2 lenses at fair prices with each one of them in pristine condition, even getting one with the original retail box and paperwork. Good deals can be found on these lenses, and if one were to run across one of the lenses in this series at a decent price and/or in nice shape I can wholeheartedly recommend grabbing it and giving it a try.

1 History of Tamron - Tamron.com

Written on Friday, 11 December 2020, by Aaron Brown. Last edited on

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