As you can see from my gear list I am big sucker for lenses. When Tamron announced its SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens for approx 1069$ price tag, I fell for it and ordered one for myself. Fortunately due to my dealer’s enormous influence on the supplier (which is what really works in India) I got the lens from the very first lot of lenses which were supplied to India. So here is my quick and dirty review.
With this lens my favorite lens Canon Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L II IS USM has a competition now. I used to use my 300mm along with 1.4x as well as 2X TC’s to gain the elusive 600mm focal length. With handy zoom like Tamron I can achieve 150mm to 350mm as well as 600mm focal length at the blink of the eye as you can see the composition of the sail boat in the Sharavathi River here. Unfortunately noon light was not favorable for me.
Here is how Tamron explains it’s lens in their promotional literature.
The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens is a telephoto-zoom lens designed for both full-frame and APS-C-sized image sensors. Its 4x zoom design covers standard telephoto to super telephoto perspectives. Benefiting this range is VC (Vibration Compensation) image stabilization, which helps to minimize the appearance of camera shake. A USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) autofocus motor and a full-time manual focus mechanism enables manual fine-tuning of focus at any point. The optical design integrates three low dispersion (LD) elements within its construction to minimize optical aberrations throughout the zoom range, particularly at the longer focal length positions. Individual elements also feature an eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular Dependency) coating, as well as a conventional BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) coating, in order to reduce lens flare and ghosting to produce more contrast-rich and color-neutral imagery.
Wow, all those are impressive words. Let us see how much of that proves true real world usage of this lens. After shooting more than a week with this lens, I feel Tamron in fact has created a remarkable low cost alternative for super tele zoom. It is an excellent telephoto zoom lens that reaches 600mm focal length which is much longer than what most people currently own (most of my friends have 70-300 or 100-400mm) at a very reasonable price point. My test was conducted on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera. On a crop sensor bodies you can expect a field of view similar to 240-960mm due to 1.6x crop factor. Full frame body will probably give you an apparent sharper copy as against the cropped body. Depth of field will be smaller at comparative apertures on a full frame sensor when compared to a cropped body. To know more about Full frame vs cropped check my blog here
Tamron has struck an excellent balance between size, weight, and optics. Tamron weighs 1951g. Canon 100-400L weighs right under 1400 grams, the 70-200mm f/2.8LII weighs about 1500 grams, while my 300mm f/2.8L II weighs 2350g. The front element is 95mm and can take such a big filter if you can get one. That is almost a kilo less than my constant companion for 600 mm focal length – 300mm f/2.8 with 2.0x Extender. At 150mm it is around 26cm in length. It comes with a flimsy but functional plastic hood which is around 10.5cm. Thus when the lens is compact it will be around 37cm long. While the inner barrel does extend during zooming, it does so smoothly and without any hint of wobble growing another 8cm as it reaches to 45cm length at 600mm focal length. The lens construction is pretty good quality. The barrel has a nice texture to it, and the focus and zoom rings are made of nicely ribbed rubber. It has a a very elegant brushed aluminum ring, which I am seeing for the first time on a Tamron lens which earlier used to sport golden ring. Tripod collar is very nicely done. Its foot is larger than I have on Canon EF300mm f/2.8 and pretty comfortable to hand hold.
The lens features three switches on the left hand of the barrel. The top switch is a focus limiter with two positions, Full and 15m to Infinity. This is useful for a distant subject longer than 15 meters as well as Birds in Flight. The second switch is the AF/MF switch, which is less important as the lens allows full time manual override. The third switch is an on/off for the VC. On top right of the barrel is a zoom lock switch to stop the zoom creep. The focus ring is the closest to the camera body like many of the recent lenses and moves very smoothly at all times. The zoom ring is about 5.7cm wide. The zoom action is smooth and nicely damped. Zoom rotation direction unfortunately is opposite from Canon style as it follows the Nikon version.
Lens has an excellent minimum focus distance of 2.7m, which gives it a greater maximum magnification factor (1:5) allowing a great deal of closeup to your subject. The zoom seems to be par-focal (focus remains same throughout the zoom range), though I missed seeing it in the specification. The front element does not rotate. So if you can procure 95mm filters (which might be costlier than the lens 😉 ) you can use them.
The lens is a little soft at f/6.3, sharpens a lot at f/7.1, and is very sharp at f/8 and f/11. The lens is incredibly sharp throughout almost all the focal lengths. I can see a slight drop at 600mm focal length as compared to 500mm which I feel is the sharpest point on this lens.
Tamron’s Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) focus motor is far better than micro motors that Tamron used to use, which were very noisy and fairly slow. With 20 elements in 13 groups inside this big lens, USD does a remarkable job silently. Most photographers asked me about the focus speed and accuracy. It is extremely fast. I compared SP 150-600mm F5-6.3 Di VC USD at 600mm with EF300mm F2.8L IS II + 2.0xExtender III. I shot these two lenses side by side comparing focus speed going from one extreme to the other. The Tamron is almost neck and neck with the Canon. Very impressively it focused quickly (less than a second). The lens focused extremely quickly at the smaller adjustments. Tamron finds focus and locks without final hesitation. I also did not see any hunting with the lens. It locks on quickly and accurately.
Focus speed with Canon EOS 5D Mark III Test Results –
- SP 150-600mm F5-6.3 Di VC USD : 0.97 – 0.86 – 0.94 average 0.92
- EF300mm F2.8L IS II + 2.0xExtender III : 0.98 – 0.99 – 1.00 Average 0.99
Here I have compared the closeup of Tamron along with 300mm + 2X TC on a Indian Palm Bob butterfly. The picture above is using Tamron & the one below using 300mm + 2X TC. As you can see there is hardly any difference between the two images. Both were shot from 2.7meters which is the minimum focusing distance for both the lenses. So despite the huge (8times) price difference between both lenses the result is surprisingly similar. 300mm f/2.8 quality drops considerably with 2X TC.
Chromatic aberrations are very well controlled. Vibration Compensation used in the lens was quite exceptional. I found that that I had an exceptionally high keeper rate with most subjects starting at 1/320th second, but obviously fast moving subjects (bird in flight) will require even faster shutter speeds. I tried few shots at 1/60 which came out pretty sharp at 600mm focal length. But if you want your pictures to be tack sharp try 1/320 or higher shutter speed.
All the photos in this review are taken handheld. The lens is incredibly sharp throughout almost all the focal lengths. This lens delivers an image quality far above its price point. Lens is f/5 wide open from 150-225mm, f/5.6 from 226-410mm, and f/6.3 from 411-600mm.
Color rendition is excellent. It has nine curved aperture blades and it produces very nice bokeh. The transition zone is smooth (important with a smaller aperture zoom), and bokeh highlights are nicely round and remain so even stopped down by several stops. Flare resistance is also very strong thanks to Tamron’s new eBand coating. I found strong resistance to both flare and ghosting. Contrast also remained strong.
OK, enough of praising the lens. Review is incomplete without the negative points. So here we go. I did not like the hood. It was looking very flimsy and plasticky. It might get cracked easily. Tamron does not provide any carry strap or a case along with this lens. It alos comes with only 2 years warranty like rest of the camera manufacturers in India. In USA you get 6 years warranty and that makes me jealous. It would be wise invest in a good lens case or a nice bag to protect this lens while carrying. Availability of the lens seems to another hurdle as all the lenses which came to India are sold out and there is a long booking period for those awaiting for this lens. 95mm filter thread needs a very costly filters if you plan to buy and use one. Apart from these few points I cannot think of any other negatives which is really great.
So what is my verdict. It is a truly fantastic price/value lens with a great optical quality throughout almost all the focal range. Very useful 150-600 zoom range with excellent Image stabilization. Pretty fast focus speed and accuracy. Low CA and strong resistance to flare, lovely color rendition and a smooth bokeh. Excellent minimal focusing distance.
If you compare with its alternatives like 100-400L, 150-500 Sigma or 50-500 Sigma this lens represents such a tremendous value. 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. I suspect Tamron is selling this lens at a loss to drive brand recognition. I personally believe it’s hell of a lens for anyone who can’t afford expensive Super tele lenses. It perfectly works as backup lens for these super tele primes. It would also be a great single lens solution to carry on a wildlife safari.
Since this was a quick and dirty review, I am sure you would like to read more detailed review of others regarding this lens. So here are the other great reviewers who have reviewed this Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Review by Dustin Abbott
- Tamron 150-600 Telezoom Shootout by Roger Cicala
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Review by Four Oaks Photography
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens Review by ePhotozine
- Field Testing the Bigron – a.k.a the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-f/6.3 Di VC USD unveiled by Sumeet Moghe