In 2014 Tamron built a very affordable super telephoto zoom lens – SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC USD which I was fortunate to review here. The lens was an instant success and spawned a whole new class of similar focal range portable long telephoto zoom lenses. In 2017 Tamron launched the second generation of that lens (G2), and it showcased their new build quality and advances in autofocus and image stabilization. Here is my review of this Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens.
If you want a lighter, more compact package without spending too much, then your prayers may just have been answered in the form of Tamron’s newest lens – the 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (A035). The lens is designed for full-frame sensors and available in Nikon and Canon mounts; I tested Canon mount one for two weeks, with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR, to get a sense of its practical capabilities. I heard that it works even better on a cropped sensor (APS-C or DX bodies) giving you a reach of 150-600mm. Due to monsoon and heavy rain in my area, I could not manage to get to check extensively, so it is a breif hands-on review.
Here is what Tamron tells about this lens on their produuct page. Spanning a versatile range of long focal lengths, this telephoto zoom is designed for FX-format DSLRs, however, can also be used with DX models where it will provide a 150-600mm equivalent focal length range.
- Three LD (low dispersion) elements are used in the optical design to greatly reduce chromatic aberrations and colour fringing for improved clarity and colour accuracy throughout the zoom range.
- An eBAND coating has been applied to suppress ghosting and lens flare for improved contrast when working in backlit conditions.
- VC image stabilization helps to minimize the appearance of camera shake for more effective handheld shooting in difficult lighting conditions.
- An Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) autofocus motor delivers quick and precise focusing performance to suit working with moving subjects. This motor also affords full-time manual focus control, and it is possible to focus on subjects as close as 4.9′ away.
- Dual Micro-Processing Unit control system contributes to quick and responsive performance for both the autofocus and Vibration Compensation systems.
- A sealed, dust- and moisture-resistant construction benefits this lens’ use in inclement conditions, and a fluorine coating has also been applied to the front lens element to protect against dust, dirt, and smearing.
- Using magnesium alloy components, the lens’s physical design is both lightweight and durable.
- An optional removable rotating tripod collar is available, which features an Arca-type compatible foot and benefits working with the lens atop a tripod or monopod.
- Supports working with the optional Teleconverter 1.4x to further extend the effective focal length range to 140-560mm.
- Compatible with optional TAP-in Console for fine-tuning select focusing adjustments and for updating lens firmware.
I am going to compare this Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD (A035) lens with its competitors – Sigma 100-400mm 5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary & Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II. Comparing it to Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II might be the wrong comparison as that lens costs twice as much as Tamron costs. That also begs the question “Does Canon lens worth that cost?”
Tamron in its spec sheet had mentioned this lens can get a lot more speed and accuracy out of its most recent USD ring-type focus motors. The dual MPU processors, which are supposed to offer focus speed and accuracy. I have found Sigma a little slower in focusing, to my comfort, so I was hoping Tamron will be better in that aspect. Focus with Tamron lens was fast and quite accurate. It was not as fast as Canon, but faster than Sigma. It hunted a bit in very low light conditions which is quite common on all three lenses in comparison due to a large maximum aperture.
The 100-400 VC’s barrel is primarily magnesium, and the build quality feels very good, but it manages to come in as the lightest lens in the class at 1.11 kilos (about half the weight of the 150-600 G2 lens). The lens itself is compact at 20cm (the 150-600 G2 is 26cm). It’s actually a few millimetres longer than the Canon 100-400 II but is slimmer with a 67mm front filter thread.
There is a focus distance window with markings in both feet and meters, and a zoom lock (only locks in the 100mm position) which prevents it from extending when it’s pointed downwards. The lens barrel does extend during zooming. For those who care about such things, the lens zooms in the “Nikon”, not “Canon” direction. The manual focus ring is nice and wide and moves easily, though without a lot of feel to it. The MF ring is closest to the camera, with the zoom ring further towards the end of the lens. Lens even though light, balanced well in my hand with Canon EOS 5Dmark III. Being Light it was a pleasure to hand hold it rather than mount on a tripod.
The AF/Limit/MF switch on the side of the lens makes it easy to switch between the two focusing systems, while the Limit setting sets the AF focus range to either 7m to infinity or 1.5m to 7m (this can be set using the optional Tamron TAP-In console).
The VC (Vibration Compensation) Mode switch, which selects between the 2 different VC modes or turns it off. Mode 1 balances between stabilizing the viewfinder image and the captured image, while mode 2 is exclusively used for panning. In practice I found the system reliably offered around 3 f-stops of compensation, obviously dependent upon your own hand-holding technique, making it much easier to use the lens in low-light conditions.
The optical formula isn’t as complex as its Sigma rival. It features 17 elements in 11 groups as opposed to 21 elements in 15 groups. Three low-dispersion (LD) glass elements are relied upon to control optical aberrations, and Tamron’s proprietary eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency) coating is used to prevent reflections and produce clear vivid images.
Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as purple or blue fringes along contrasty edges, are well controlled with this lens. With the lens wide open, you can see some light fall-off in the corners at both ends of the zoom range. Stopping down helps, although to completely get rid of this
phenomenon, you will need to use an f-stop of f/8 or smaller at 100mm
and f/11 at 400mm. There’s also some slight pincushioning distortion apparent at the 100mm focal length.
The nine-bladed circular diaphragm creates a nice bokeh and it has a minimum focus distance of 150cm with a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.6. I felt it is quite good enough close focus magnification for a casual dragonfly or butterfly close-up.
The lens is compatible with APS-C and DX-format cameras and on a Canon APS-C camera will provide a 160-640mm equivalent focal-length range in Canon & 150-600 equivalent focal-length range in Nikon. It is also compatible with Tamron Teleconverter 1.4x for Canon EF, which will extend the focal length and retains full communication between the lens and Canon EF-mount cameras, including auto-exposure metering, autofocus at select focal lengths, and Vibration Compensation image stabilization. I would not recommend Teleconverters however good they are on a zoom lens. Since I did not check them, I can’t comment on them.
Here is my final impression. There is a lot to like about this lens. The Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD offers excellent image quality overall, with smooth bokeh and very good sharpness, an effective and versatile image stabilisation system, and a fast, quiet and reliable auto-focus system. Tamron’s optic is also smaller and lighter than the Canon and Nikon equivalents, something that handheld shooters will appreciate.
Image quality is very good throughout most of the focal and aperture range, with excellent sharpness consistently achieved by stopping-down one stop from the maximum aperture. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled, and flare is only an issue when shooting directly into the sun. The only real optical issues are some obvious vignetting at the maximum apertures and some mild pincushioning at the 100mm focal length. Even though I have used it here to take close-ups, I don’t recommend this lens for close-ups. It might be useful for capturing shy insects which do not allow you to approach.
The Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD is an excellent alternative to the equivalent lenses from Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and Sigma 100-400mm 5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary. Against Canon 100-400mm it offers 80-90% of the performance at 50% of the price tag. Against Sigma it is an outright winner. The maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 300-400mm is a stop slower than the competition, though, and the lens isn’t overly sharp at 400mm, while the optional tripod mount may be not necessary for such a lighter lens, buying it will cost you more.
Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post by Tamron or anyone else. Tamron sent me this lens exclusively for review purpose and I am returning it back to Tamron. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience. Photos of the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 VC USD lenses are from Tamron website.