When Tamron announced its SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD A011 lens back in 2014, I had reviewed it on this blog here. Recently when Tamron introduced its 2nd version, I was curious to review it. This time I was hoping someone in my friend’s circle would be purchasing it so that I could test it. I was fortunate enough to get similar offer by my friend for Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, review of which you can see here. Tamron had promised to send me one for a test, but that promise never materialized.
So two weeks back, I finally succumbed to the temptation and purchased this second version of Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022 (henceforth will be called A022 to save space) to evaluate lenses in 150-600 range. Many also call this G2 lens, which I will refrain from using as Tamron seems to use the moniker G2 for all its newer design series and most probably these second generation lenses are called G2 series. Since I had lens for just over a week, this will not be an extensive and thorough test, but a brief hands-on review which will help you to make informed decision whether to buy it or not. I am very thankful from Sammilan Shetty for providing his butterfly park as my testing ground. I am also grateful to Gopalkrishna Baliga for providing me with the cropped body Canon EOS 80D. The photos used here are almost full captures with very minimal post processing so as to give the feel how the pictures will look in the camera. I did not add extra sharpness and clarity to make image pop out as that will defeat the purpose of evaluation.
150-600 range lenses are better suited for a budget conscious wildlife photographer. There are totally four lenses in this category since I am taking only Canon compatible ones into consideration. Sigma has two versions of Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM one called Contemporary and other which is more robust and weather sealed called Sports version. Tamron has its older version SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD A011 which I reviewed earlier. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is also a strong contender and will be almost equal to this focal length when coupled with 1.4x III Extender. Of all these lenses, the only lens I did not get my hands on was Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports version
While this upgrade looks like and incremental one from the earlier A011 model, some significant improvements can be seen in the A022 model. The new physical appearance anchored by a metal exterior construction, the new version also receives an improved optical and mechanical design, a faster and more accurate USD AF system, an improved VC system, fluorine coating on lens elements and a new zoom lock mechanism. Also, dedicated 1.4x and 2x teleconverters are available for the A022.
This lens also gets support to new TAP-in Console. By attaching a TAMRON TAP-in Console and running the dedicated software on your personal computer by USB connection, you can update firmware and customise various lens functions to meet your needs. I am yet to test these features. You can check details at Tamron website.
This A022 lens is squarely aimed at Wildlife photographers, including bird photographers who can never have too much focal length, and sports photographers. These are people who will be most excited by what these focal lengths can do for them, particularly at the 600mm end. The earlier A011 version was softer after 450mm focal length. That is exactly where I see the difference in A022 version of the lens. It seems to be quite a bit sharper at 600mm as compared to the predecessor.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm f / 5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 model A022 differs from the previous A011 model being 2mm longer and 50g heavier but is still can be easily carried around without much arm fatigue.
Just like its predecessor the A022 uses an extendable barrel style zoom rather than internally tightening up. However, there have been obvious mechanical improvements with it sliding out far smoother.
The updated tripod ring has a grooved bottom that can be installed directly on an Arca Swiss system. Since all my tripod heads, as well as the gimbal heads, are Arca-Swiss compatible, I need not screw any extra plate to hold the tripod head. I wonder why more lens companies start using this standardisation and help users get rid of a clumsy second plate which needs to be screwed to the collar altogether.
While you can use this lens on a smaller APS-C body, it won’t balance very well. It feels much better match for a professional-grade, full-frame cameras like the Canon EOS 5DS R or 5D Mark III or IV.
Build quality is excellent, despite Tamron traditionally offering lenses at the cheaper end of the market, A022 feels very solid in your hand, with the outer barrel now made from metal rather than from plastic.
It is unfortunately coupled with a very flimsy looking Lens hood which is made fully of plastic. The lens hood has smooth curves that fit the lens barrel, but the threading mechanism is so bad, it took my clumsy hands 5 minutes to correctly lock the lens hood first time. The design is far from satisfactory.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 features a Lock button which fixes the lens at its 150mm setting and prevents it from extending when it’s pointed downwards. It also now also has a new Flexi-zoom lock mechanism which enables the locking of the zoom ring at any position simply by pulling the zoom ring forwards.
The zoom ring is generously wide and has a ridged, rubberised grip band. The lens extends when you zoom out from 150mm, reaching 36cms in length at the 600mm setting. The filter ring doesn’t rotate. The focusing ring is narrower in comparison to zoom ring. There’s a distance scale that runs from the closest distance of 2.2m to infinity, but no depth of field scale.
The focus limiter switch has three settings – full (2.2m-infinity), 10m-infinity, and 2.2m-10m. An AF/MF switch on the side of the lens makes it easy to switch between the two focusing systems.
The final controls are the VC On / Off switch, which turns the lens’ built-in Vibration Compensation on and off, and the VC Mode switch, which selects between the three different modes. Mode 1 balances between stabilising the viewfinder image and the capture image, Mode 2 is exclusively used for panning, while Mode 3 stabilises the captured image rather than the viewfinder image. Tamron claims four f-stops of compensation. I found it was good for 2-3 stops which are almost one stop improvement over its predecessor.
All these switches are positioned in a pretty odd location between the tripod collar and focus ring. This position is prone to be accidently toggled when you try to use the focus ring. Several of my friends who have used this lens earlier had warned me. I found they are quite right. There is a greater chance of toggling them inadvertently. Placing gaffer tape over these switches to prevent them toggling is a good idea. Slightly flatter and stiffer design and better positioning like how Canon did with their switches would have helped to stop such an accidental switching off of AF/MF switch, VC switch or focus limiter switch.
The A022 features a USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) that allows near-silent auto-focusing. There is also an instant manual override even when the focus mode switch is in the AF position. I found the focusing to be very quiet, and also very fast – definitely faster than the first-generation version – with the lens mounted on a Canon EOS 5DS R body. On APS-C body like Canon EOS 80D it was little slower as compared to Full frame. Just like the older version, I need to nudge the focus ring closer to the subject area for it to focus faster. Since it is full-time manual focus lens, there was no need to toggle AF to MF switch. The focus in both bodies goes slightly across the subject to the point of defocus and then comes back and latches onto the subject.
With the A022 wide open on Canon 5DS R, there was some vignette in the corners at both ends of the zoom range. At an aperture of f/8 or smaller at 150mm and f/11 at 600mm vignette disappears completely. There’s also some very slight pin cushioning distortion apparent at the 150mm focal length. On the cropped sensor Canon EOS 80D I tested, both these defects were absent. On both body slight chromatic aberration is visible if lens is pointed to bright sky.
The close-focus point is better than the earlier version at 2.2m from the sensor plane, and the maximum magnification is 1:3.9. You can get to the subject like butterflies quite close with the lens set to 600mm to aid magnification.
Tamron employed a diaphragm with 9 rounded blades for a pleasing rendering of the out-of-focus highlights. It definitely has helped this lens to produce quite pleasing and creamy bokeh.
In this review I did not get chance to try Tamron 1.4x & 2X teleconverters. They were more expnsive than the Canon 1.4x III and 2.0X III which I already have. Since I have not used them on this lens, I will not comment on its usefulness. I tried using Canon 1.4x III, but Tamron lens thought I am using 2.0X TC and did not allow any autofocus.
Here is my impression of Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022 after 2 weeks of testing the lens in various conditions.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022 offers improved image quality with smooth bokeh and excellent sharpness, a very effective and versatile image stabilisation system, and a fast, quiet and reliable auto-focus system. Edge quality suffers at its 150mm and 600mm extremes when paired with a full-frame camera and not so much with APS-C body.
Image quality and excellent sharpness can be achieved by stopping-down to f/8. Chromatic aberrations and flare is insignificant. In terms of the competition, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022 is a lot cheaper than the nearest Canon alternatives, and cheaper to the Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Sports zoom.
It offers better image quality, more features, faster auto-focus and more effective image stabilisation than the A011 version which debuted in 2013. It is marginally better than Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 contemporary lens. The price increase of this version makes it costlier than both these versions, making it not quite the out-and-out bargain that it once was.
The only significant competition in terms of quality performance comes from Canon EOS 100-400. It is a killer zoom when not used with 1.4x Teleconverter. To compete for the 600mm focal length, it needs to don 1.4x Teleconverter, which will push the aperture to f/8. At f/8 Tamron G2 at 600mm is nearly as sharp if not better than 100-400 + 1.4x TC.
Even if you compare 400mm f/5.6 or 300mm f/4 with tele converter this lens score high against those lenses even though I have not pitted this lens against any of those lenses. It will not be as sharp as prime lenses like 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8 or 500mm f/4. But those lenses are in a different league and much different price point.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022 is an overall solid performer, but not an impeccable one. A rugged, weather-sealed build, a relatively lightweight design, and an excellent image stabilization system, and you have a lens worth buying.
Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post by Tamron or anyone else. I purchased this lens from my own money exclusively for review purpose. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience. Photo of the Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 A022 lense is from Tamron website.