Tamron’s impressive telephoto zoom has attracted a lot of attention among nature photographers. And for good reasons. We took the lens to a bird photographers paradise – the gathering of cranes at Lake Hornborgasjön in Sweden.
Most wildlife photographers face two main problems. First of all to find the subjects. Then to get close enough. The latter is partially solvable by using a hide but most of the times you will also need a rather long telephoto lens, if you want the animal in question to be reasonably large in the final image. And long telephoto lenses tend to be quite expensive. When it comes to professional telephoto lenses with a large maximum aperture, such as a 500mm f/4, the sums we’re speaking about can easily come up to the pricepoint of a good secondhand car. Not easy to justify if you don’t make money from your photography…
The choice of long telephoto lenses within the financial reach of a normal hobby photographer is, sad to say, rather narrow. And one usually must be prepared to compromise, both when it comes to the brightness of the lens and the optical quality. That is because most of the alternatives are telephoto zooms. And as such, they are much more difficult to construct with a decent optical design without the cost skyrockets.
Better in many ways
However, Tamron has made a really serious attempt. The company’s new super telephoto zoom Tamron SP 150–600mm f/5–6.3 Di VC USD offers not only longer focal lenght than most of its competitors. It’s also the sequel to an earlier telephoto zoom lens which in our tests has proven to be unusually good. The Tamron SP AF 200–500mm f/5.6–6.3 Di LD IF.
The new lens has been improved in several ways. The autofocus is now driven by an ultrasonic motor and has become much quieter and quicker than with the old 200–500mm version. Tamron has also added image stabilization and sealed the lens against moisture and dust by placing rubber gaskets in exposed places. Features that certainly are appealing to a wildlife or bird photographer!
The price is very reasonable in this context. Around 1100 USD depending on where you shop. And that includes an extensive warranty – up to six years in USA and five years if buy the lens in Europe. That make the Tamron 150–600mm zoom a very tempting buy. So expectations were high when I started to test the lens.
Field test on some pretty big birds
Since Tamron’s telephoto zoom will probably primarily attract wildlife photographers, rather than those drawn to sports and action, I chose to perform the field test on a location literally teeming with subjects – the gathering of cranes at Lake Hornborgasjön i Sweden. In the end of March and beginning of April thousands of these big birds gather in the marshes near the lake. I had booked one of the hides offered by the nature association responsible for the area, and had to enter it very early in the morning. At least an hour before sunrise. I used the lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III but it’s also available with Nikon and Sony Alpha mount. However, in the latter case it comes without image stabilization since the technology is already built into Sony’s cameras.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lives up to the expectations. The sharpness is really good at the short to medium focal lengths, 150mm up to 400mm, when used on a full frame camera. And even though it drops visibly at the longer focal lengths, 500 and 600mm, the result is fully acceptable even if you want to make large prints, up to A3 size. However, to get the punch and crispiness one is usually looking for, the pictures needs a bit of contrast enhancement in an image editing software.
The result at the 400 and 500mm settings is rather similar to the performance of the old Tamron 200-500mm zoom. But the new lens is sharper at the shorter focal lengths, up to about 350mm.
And the competition?
If we compare with the competitors Tamron has a real hit. This zoom is just as sharp as Nikon’s almost twice as expensive AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G ED VR, at all comparable focal lengths. And even if Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM has a bit better resolving power at 400mm (an advantage if you use the lens on an APS-C-camera) the Tamron is better up to about 300mm. But then again, Canon’s lens is rather old, launched already in 1998. A new version has recently hit the market (the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM) but we haven’t had a chance to review it yet. But it’s in progress!
Sigma has launched at new telephoto zoom with almost identical specifications as the Tamron – the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport. We have actually reviewed that lens, even if the article still isn’t published on this website. You can however find it on our swedish site, Objektivtest.se. Optically these two lenses are very similar but with a price of 2000 USD, Sigma’s alternative is almost twice as expensive. We will compare Tamron’s and Sigma’s 150-600mm zooms in a separate article.
Looking at the rest of Sigma’s offerings, the Sigma 50-500mm f/4,5-6.3, Sigma 120-400mm f/4,5-5,6 and Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3, Tamron beats them all, being significantly sharper even at the longest focal lengths.
Overall the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD is an impressive lens in several ways. It delivers excellent image quality through a good portion of its focal range. The fact that it isn’t able to maintain the same optical performance all the way to the 600mm setting is hardly surpricing. But there’s no question that this lens is worth its price. We give it our wholehearted recommendation!
**Highly Recommended & Very Good Value**
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
Image circle: 24 x 36 mm (full frame)
Angle of view, horisontal: 14° – 3,4° (full frame)/9° – 2,3° (APS-C)
Filter thread: 95 mm
Minimum focus: 2,7 m at all focal lengths
Minimum aperture: 32 – 40
Dimensions: Length 25,8 cm, diameter 10,6 cm
Weight: 1951 g
Other features: Twist-type zoom. Image stabilization (VC). Ultrasonic motor (USD). Sealed with rubber gaskets against rain, moisture and dirt. Focus range selector (full or 15 m – infinite). Aperture with nine blades. Tripod socket (possible to remove). Zoom lock to prevent from unintentionally zooming. Lens hood included. Available for Canon, Nikon and Sony (A-mount, no image stabilization).
Visit Tamron’s product page for the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD. Click here.
Tamron SP 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
Measured focal length:
With full frame:
Very good sharpness in the focal range range between 150 to 300mm, both at full aperture and when stopped down. At 400mm the edge and corner sharpness softens a bit but as a whole the result is really good, even at full aperture. At 500 and 600mm the result becomes notably softer but still fully acceptable for prints in A3 size, unless the image is packed with fine details across the entire surface. If so, it will be more obvious that the sharpness doesn’t quite hold up all the way to the edges.
With APS-C format the lens provides good sharpness from 150 to 300mm and acceptable result at 400mm. With a high resolution APS-C sensor (20 megapixels or more) the images can appear a bit too soft if you zoom all the way to the longest end, 600mm.
With full frame:
At full aperture the vignetting is visible at all focal lengths, but not particularly disturbing. At f/8 it’s practically invisible from 150 to 300mm and between 400 and 600mm only barely noticable.
With APS-C format there is no visible vignetting at all, not even at full aperture. Therefore we decided not to publish vignetting diagrams for this format. If you want to be further convinced you can look at the vignetting diagrams for full frame (above) and stop reading them at 15 mm, which corresponds to the image circle of an APS-C sensor.
With full frame:
150 mm: Heavy pincushion distortion
300 mm: Heavy pincushion distortion
400 mm: Heavy pincushion distortion
500 mm: Pronounced pinchusion distortion
600 mm: Heavy pincushion distortion
150 mm: Moderate pincushion distortion
300 mm: Moderate pincushion distortion
400 mm: Moderate pincushion distortion
500 mm: Small pincushion distortion
600 mm: Moderate pincushion distortion