Monday, 3 February 2014

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Review

I dumped my trusty Canon 100-400L lens for the new Tamron 150-600mm.  Talk about taking chances!  Anyway, after much deliberating I jumped in the deep end and placed my order.  My Tamron arrived two days later and I nervously opened the box and unpacked it.

First Impressions

The lens is very well built - no play in the zoom.  And I like the matte black finish. The lens is noticeably longer and heavier than the Canon 100-400L.
Also immediately noticeable is how large the front element is compared to the Canon 100-400mm.  Filters are going to be VERY expensive for this lens...  but then, I NEVER use a filter on my long zoom except once in a blue moon I way want to attach a polarizer.  And my personal experience is that UV or Skylight filters usually degrades image quality.

A negative is that Tamron have not supplied any sort of carry case or protective bag.  Pity.

Initial Testing

Tamron have VC (vibration control) for image stabilization.  I was keen to try it out.  So on my first night with Tamron I took a few shots of the globe on the other side of the room which is lit by a single fluorescent light.
The VC works well but maybe not as good as the Canon, or so I thought.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  It works slightly better than the Canon and I was able to hand hold at shutter speeds as low as 1/250th when zoomed to maximum!

(Note: All images are unedited except for down sampling and re-sizing.  They were shot as in Camera jpeg and with Standard Picture Style. Canon 5D MkIII)

Click on images to enlarge

  Canon 100-400mm - at 400mm F5.6  1/60th - Handheld

Tamron 150-600mm - at 400mm F5.6  1/60th - Handheld
Not much of a difference between these two. The Canon may have a little more contrast but I am not sure.

Here are 100% crops for comparison:


I feel that the Canon wins here due to better contrast, but with a little editing I think the Tamron will match the Canon.  Anyway, pretty good for hand held shots at 1/60th and 400mm!

The advantage that Tamron had was the extra 200mm.  Here is the same globe shot from the same position at 600mm.  The shutter speed was an incredible 1/30th and I still managed to get a reasonable shot.
Compare to the first two images and you quickly get an idea of what the extra 200mm can do!

The next morning I did a more controlled test.  The camera was set to manual for accurate comparison.  The camera was tripod mounted and the timer was used to release the shutter.  No artificial light was used.

I feel the Tamron slightly out performed the Canon in image quality.  Both lenses focused equally fast.  Bokeh was excellent on both lens.

Canon 100-400 at f8, 1/200th sec, ISO100, Tripod Mounted 400mm zoom

Tamron 150-600 at f8, 1/200th sec, ISO100, Tripod Mounted  400mm zoom

And here are crops of the above images:-


To me the Tamron has picked up slightly more detail but image quality for both is superb.

Field Test

In the late afternoon I spent two hours in the nearby Kragga Kamma Game Reserve to really put the lens through it's paces.  I often shoot wildlife and this would be an ideal opportunity to see how the Tamron lens handled as well as get a good idea of the image quality when I got back home.

Strangely I found it difficult to get used to the twist zoom action.  I suppose I have got so acquainted with the push pull action of the Canon that it has became second nature. Anyway, I am sure that this wont be a problem in the future. It is just a matter of getting used to it.
The manual focus ring is on the body side of the lens.  This worried me at first because I thought I may easily bump it on my bean bag but in practice it is not a problem at all.

My setup for wildlife always includes a Speedlight set at -1.  I wondered if the bigger lens hood would interfere with the flash and cause shadows but there was absolutely no problem there.

Well I have to say that in general the lens was a pleasure to use.  It is a bit heavier than the Canon and I would imagine that a small person would notice it more than me.  You certainly can't hang the camera round your neck with this lens attached for too long.  After 10 mins it begins to feel very heavy. I found orientating the tripod collar upwards and using it as a carry handle worked very well.  However, most of my shots for this review were shot from the car with the lens resting on a bean bag.

Focus was quick and accurate.  Every bit as good as the Canon.  I shot some back-lit images as well to see how the lens would handle flare.
Backlit waterbuck - focus is on the right hand side waterbuck's forehead.  f11, 1/160th sec
The image is a bit soft but this I think is due to the slow shutter speed.

100% Crop

Heading back home I felt anxious but confident at the same time.  I was not disappointed!!  The lens performed very well and produced sharp images.  I had no problem in deciding that the Tamron had officially replaced the Canon for me.  The real bonus?  The extra reach!   That extra 200mm makes a big difference.  Of course all the shots I took were on Single Shot and I am yet to try the Servo mode with this lens.  But I could hand hold at 1/250th second and get sharp images so I am sure the Servo mode will work very well.

Overall I am very pleased with this lens so far.  I think Tamron have a real winner!

 Warthog, 1/640th sec, f10, 600mm
 100% crop

Zebra, 1/5000th. f5.6, 300mm
100% crop

These following images have been slightly edited,  mainly a bit of cropping and a small contrast boost. 




Focal Range and Length
Image Quality
Excellent VC (Vibration Control)
Accurate Focusing and Speed
Smooth Bokeh

No carry case
95mm Filters will be expensive
Max aperture at 600mm is f6.3

Don't forget you can see my complete portfolio at Shutterstock or Dreamstime.  I hope to have lots of images taken with my new Tamron uploaded there very soon!

Disclaimer:    I have not been compensated for this review and my conclusions were not influenced in any way.  The opinions stated here are my own.  I have tried to be as balanced and objective as possible in reviewing this lens.