Over the course of a long photography career I’ve often wanted more zoom power to bring home images of shy wildlife or far away sports action. But I also wanted to travel relatively light and not have to take out a second mortgage to purchase some ‘long glass’. Hence, I have never purchased any of the ‘big guns’ such as a 500 f/4 or a 600mm f/4 or (as my arms and back, and accountant, and chiropractor forbade me, an 800mm f/5.6).
Finally in 2014, there is a lens available which seems to cover all of my needs regarding telephoto photography. The Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens has been making waves on internet sites and among interested photographers since it became available in February 2014. I’ve had mine since March of 2014 now and I’ve now used it extensively on several photo shoots in order to put it through its paces. The price of this lens is $1,069.00
First of all I’ll preface this review by mentioning that I am interested only in real-world photography results. I won’t be shooting any sharpness charts or talking about ‘chromatic aberrations’, ‘fringing’ or ‘light fall-off’, (none of which I have any idea the meaning of anyway) in this review. I use this lens to take photos of wildlife or sports subjects. Period.
I’ve been testing the Tamron to see how my results stack up. It’s as simple as this: Can I get sharp images with this lens in the field? This is what I’m interested in and what I discuss in this article. If you want to read a more technical review explaining all the abbreviated lens designations and/or a review containing lots of fancy-sounding nomenclature regarding this or any other piece of camera gear, go to Google and type in “Tamron 150-600mm lens review”. I’ll be keeping it simple here with real examples taken with the Tamron lens in uncontrolled field situations.
My previous long lens, which I still own and use, is the Canon 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6. This Canon lens gives me the equivalent focal length of 160-640mm when used on my ‘crop sensor’ cameras. The Tamron lens gives me the equivalent focal length of 240-960mm, on crop sensor bodies for the same reason. However, I've mostly used the Tamron on my full-frame camera, a Canon 6D. My shooting technique involves whatever the situation calls for. Sometimes I use a tripod, sometimes I hand hold, sometimes I use a monopod, sometimes I lean myself and my camera on a railing, a fence top, or my car door. Again, I shoot real photos in real-world situations.
The one important abbreviation used in the naming of the Tamron 150-600mm, which I will mention is Tamron’s ‘VC’ which is their ‘Vibration Compensation’ system to help alleviate soft images from camera shake. With a lens this long, VC is important and it should be turned on using the switch on the lens barrel, unless you are shooting images from a tripod, then the VC should be off. Remember that no amount of VC or IS or VR helps with subject movement – these ‘stabilization’ features are only for helping to alleviate camera shake which comes from you, the photographer. I’ve tried the Tamron 150-600mm lens hand-held, on a tripod, and also on a monopod. My results have been excellent in all cases, (with a caveat of course).
In the Hand/In the Field
The Tamron 150-600mm looks and feels very well made. The zoom and manual focus rings are both smooth and accurate. The lens feels substantial without breaking your arms when you pick it up or when you hold it up to photograph something. The Tamron weighs a hefty 4.3 pounds and, yes, my arms got tired after a day of hand holding this lens, but then again, I have 600mm of power at my fingertips! Throughout much of a full days photography with the Tamron 150-600mm, I often need rest and get it by setting the camera and lens on my tripod or monopod. Still you can hand hold this lens and if you compare this simple fact with the ‘big guns’ of Canon or Nikon, say a 500mm f/4 or a 600mm f/4 lens, which are virtually impossible to hand hold- you’ll immediately feel free. This hand holding fact alone makes the Tamron lens a winner in my book.
Autofocus is silent and extremely fast. For static subjects, the autofocus finds the subject (usually an animal’s eye is what I place my focus sensor on) quickly and accurately. When focus tracking on a moving subject, I’d say the Tamron 150-600mm lens is as good as my Canon 100-400mm and neither is perfect in this regard, but both are often accurate enough so that most of the time I get a few ‘keepers’ from each passing bird or running animal.
The Tamron 150-600mm has a twist type zoom ring. This zoom ring on the Tamron is very smooth, but does take me a bit longer than I’m used to (to get from 150mm to 600mm) because I’ve had the push/pull zoom of the Canon 100-400mm for more than 6 years and I’m very used to this method of zooming. Over time I’ll get used to the Tamron, and for now it is operator inefficiency and not a flaw in the lens design or function. As I said, the zoom is smooth and accurate, it just takes me time to go from the 150mm mark to the 600mm mark.
Remember, tack sharp images are the result of several factors, including technique, subject motion (or hopefully the lack there-of) and the lens you are using. I found that the Tamron 150-600mm lens is tack sharp at all focal lengths when proper technique is used. For tripod-mounted shots, as soon as my autofocus had locked on, and if the subject wasn’t moving, sharpness was a given in my field tests.
When hand-holding this lens (as with all others) a good rule of thumb in order to capture the sharpest photos possible is the following formula: Your shutter speed should be equivalent to (or faster than) 1/the focal length of the lens used. This is why it’s much easier to hand hold wide angle lenses and still get sharp shots. With my Tamron 150-600mm at 600mm, my shutter speed should then be (theoretically), 1/600 (let's call it 1/500th) of a second or faster in order to produce sharp images hand held.
Of course I don’t pay much heed to ‘theoretical’ concepts and such. I want real world results. The Tamron 150-600mm does have the VC and this feature certainly helps, though I still strive for the fastest shutter speed possible when shooting mobile subjects such as birds and other wildlife. I found that my hand held results were tack sharp even at shutter speeds as low as 1/125 sec. Of course, when hand holding, I am bracing my camera and lens with a steady body position, and I’m holding my breath as I gently squeeze the shutter, and I am shooting a burst of shots each time I focus on the subjects eyes. All of these are proper techniques which will help produce more keepers when hand holding. My tripod mounted shots were all tack sharp as long as my subject kept still.
Here are some images taken with the Tamron 150-600mm lens on either a Canon 6D full frame body, or a Canon 60D APS-C sensor body. I’ve provided 100% crops (right hand column) in order to show closer-up or enlarged results.
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