Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3: Zoom goes Extreme
On paper, the Tamron SP 150–600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD looks like a wildlife, nature and sports photography enthusiast’s delight. Aditya Nair and Suresh Narayanan put it to the test.
The ultra telephoto Tamron 150–600mm comes as an upgrade for the Tamron SP 200–500mm f/5.6-6.3 Di LD (IF) and it looks nothing short of brilliant. At least on paper, it beats the competition on two very important points. The 600mm tele end is something that no other zoom lens offers. And then there is the the fact that the lens costs only Rs. 89,990.
Needless to say we were quite kicked when it landed up on our test bench. We tested the lens on the Canon EOS 6D, the 7D and the 1D X. The lens is available for Canon, Nikon and Sony A-mounts.
The closest proprietary lenses from camera manufacturers are the Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS, Sony 70–400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II & the Nikkor AF-S 80–400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. There is also the Sigma 50–500mm f/4-6.3EX DG HSM OS which offers a wider 10x focal range .
The Tamron 150–600mm has all the features you would expect from a lens of this nature. The focus limiter has two settings — full (2.7m–infinity) and 15m–infinity.
The lens allows you full-time manual focus override. This allows you to use fine tune the auto focus without having to switch the AF/MF slider. There is also a lock to prevent zoom creep.
Tamron offers Vibration Compensation (VC) for Canon & Nikon mounts, which in practice while shooting at 600mm, we find to be effective up to around three stops. It, however, makes no mention of stabilisation for panning, a feature that the Nikon, Canon and Sony have.
On an APS-C sensor, the lens will give you a zoom range of 240–960mm (on a Canon body) & 225–900mm (on Nikon & Sony bodies), which will certainly excite serious wildlife enthusiasts.
The build quality of the lens is surprisingly good and feels reasonably sturdy. Despite the fact that the lens is much cheaper than the competition. The zoom ring is quite wide and has a ridged, rubber textured grip that makes it a breeze to use. The same can’t be said about the focus ring which is significantly narrower and can be inconvenient to use.
The lens has 3 LD (low dispersion) elements to compensate for aberrations at the telephoto end & enhance optics. The lens is not weather sealed but is moisture resistant.
Where the lens loses out is the weight. At 1951gms (like the Sigma 50–500mm), the lens is over a half kg heavier than the Canon 100–400mm & about 400gms heavier than the Nikon & Sony lenses. On a smaller body, this makes the lens top heavy and can feel a bit unwieldy.
The lens comes with a pretty huge lens hood that just adds to the bulk of the lens itself. That said, the hood does a good job reducing flare even though it does not have any special coating.
Even without the lens hood, the eBAND and the BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) coating used by Tamron to suppress ghosting and flaring work very well. The fringing is minimal too, if ever visible.
However, there is a noticeable amount of light falloff noticeable throughout the zoom range. There is also some pincushion distortion that is visible.
The background bokeh is beautiful! The 9-blade circular diaphragm used does a bang up job giving soft round bokeh.
The AF is fairly decent on cameras with fast AF systems like the 1D X and the 7D. However, if you own a body with a slower AF system like the 6D, the autofocus can be a slow at the telephoto end.
For close-up portraits or slow moving subjects, the AF works fine. With subjects that require fast tracking like sports & also wildlife, the AF is could have been better.
We won’t go so far as to say that the images at 600mm are tack sharp, but they are useable. Like with most lenses, the 150–600mm is not its sharpest at the widest apertures. But stop the lens down to f/8 & f/10 and there is a noticeable increase in sharpness. Given the amount of light needed, this will certainly be a handicap for anyone wanting to shoot action shots.
If you are looking for a reliable, telephoto lens with a great zoom, Tamron has you covered. Wildlife and bird photography enthusiasts will certainly love this lens. Sports and action photographers may want something with a faster AF but otherwise this works in a pinch.
For Canon and Sony users, at Rs. 89,990, this Tamron lens is about Rs. 50,000 cheaper than the proprietary counterparts. This makes the Tamron lens quite a steal. The Nikkor 80–400mm is only Rs. 17,000 more expensive, so Nikon users may not be as attracted to this lens, but considering its focal length, there is no doubt that it gives something unique.
Has all the features similar lenses offer, lacks specific VC for panning
Acceptably sharp images, AF not as good as proprietary lenses, good control over flare
Sturdy, easy handling despite the zoom
Wide rubberised rings, narrow focus ring, well balanced on large high-end DSLRs
Warranty & Support
Limited number of service facilities
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Who should buy it?
Wildlife, bird photographers and action photographers on a budget
The sheer zoom and price point at which it is offered! Need we say more?