TAMRON SP 150-600MM F5.0-6.3 DI VC USD G2 ZOOM
Venture into supertelephoto photography without spending a fortune and with a zoom lens that’s much more versatile than a big prime.
If you’ve always fancied a supertelephoto lens but couldn’t see the value in one of those very expensive fast primes, Tamron’s new telezoom gives you focal lengths up to 600mm in a comparatively compact package that’s also much more versatile and a whole lot more affordable.
Prime telephoto lenses are wonderful things, but they’re also highly specialised, unless you’re shooting sports or wildlife all the time. It’s a lot of expensive lens to have sitting around idle in between the few times you want to venture to 300mm, 400mm or even 600mm. So a 150-600mm telezoom looks like a much better alternative, not just in terms of practicality, but also affordability.
Of course, there are always compromises, and let’s deal with the two main ones right at the start. A supertelephoto zoom like this is always going to be comparatively slow compared to a prime lens, especially when the focal range is also long. But it’s those large-diameter elements that make an f2.8-speed 300mm or 400mm so expensive… and so big. And the question has to be asked – is a maximum aperture range of f5.0-6.3 such an issue in these days of ever-improving high ISO performances, especially from full35mm format sensors? The depthof-field isn’t quite as shallow, but in reality from 300mm to 600mm, it’s already wafer thin anyway.
Going back to the subject of size, the new Tamron 150600mm zoom still isn’t a small lens, but it’s a case of swings and roundabouts – from 150mm to 200mm it’s bigger than a prime equivalent, at 300mm it’s probably line ball compared to an f4.0 speed prime, and from 400mm to 600mm it’s a whole lot more compact – and lighter in weight – than the prime big guns. If you’re going to be mostly using it in the 300mm to 600mm range then you’re definitely ahead here, not to mention the state of your bank balance. Consequently, the pros still pretty convincingly outweigh the cons.
As one of Tamron’s ‘G2’ models (short for Generation 2), the new 150-600mm f5.0-6.3 is a complete re-do of the previous model, both internally and externally.
As far as the latter is concerned, the styling has been given a more contemporary look with a smoother profile, matte black finish and flush-fitting control rings. The aluminium alloy barrel is weather sealed, and this protection extends to a substantial gasket around the lens mount and a fluorine coating on the exposed face of the front element. This is a fairly expansive piece of glass so we’re not sure that you’ll really want to leave it exposed – even if 95 mm diameter screwthread filters aren’t cheap – but if you do, the fluorine coating is designed to repel both moisture and grease. Obviously weatherproofing is an important feature for a lens that’s going to be primarily used outdoors and in situations where moisture and dust could well be issues (but, frankly, if this is often going to be the case, buy that protective filter).
At the other end of the barrel, the Tamron 150-600mm is fitted with a very beefy tripod-mounting collar which is made from magnesium alloy to help save weight. As on the G2 70-200mm f2.8 zoom, the quick-release plate is the ArcaSwiss type, which is arguably the closest thing there is to a standard fitting in the tripod world. The rails-and-clamp configuration certainly allows for quick and easy attaching and detaching, plus there’s an additional weight saving because you don’t have to fit a separate plate.
The lens barrel rotates within the mount’s collar and the whole assembly can be detached, although tripod usage – or at least a monopod – is going to be hard to avoid with this lens in some situations. However, it is equipped with Tamron’s ‘Vibration Compensation’ (VC) optical image stabilisation which is claimed to give up to 4.5 stops of correction for camera shake.
Theoretically then, shooting at 600mm, you should be able to hand-hold the lens at shutter speeds down to around 1/30 second. But there is the not-solittle matter of the zoom’s size and weight to consider too. It’s often just going to be a whole lot more comfortable to have the lens on a tripod or monopod, especially when you’re shooting for long periods of a time. At ten grams under two kilograms, the G2 150600mm zoom isn’t excessively heavy, but over time it will start to feel like it. However, the image stabilisation means a monopod is a good compromise, providing some physical support without compromising your mobility and, in fact, actually better than a tripod for techniques such as panning. Tamron’s VC system offers a panning mode (which turns off correction in the horizontal plane), and it’s possible to be a whole lot smoother with your tracking action when the lens is rotating on a monopod. There are actually three VC modes – the other two are for full correction but with the option of full-time operation (so the stabilisation effects can be seen in the viewfinder) or only during an exposure. Incidentally, optical image stabilisation isn’t provided on the Sony A mount version of this lens, as all Sony’s camera bodies have sensor-shift stabilisation.
Separate switches at the rear of the lens barrel are provided for VC on/off and mode selection, plus there are three more for AF/MF switching, limiting the autofocusing range and a zoom lock… so both the Nikon and Canon mount versions have a total of four. There’s a conventional zoom lock – mainly to prevent zoom ‘creep’ when the lens is being carried – plus a much cleverer ‘Flex Zoom Lock’ which is engaged by pushing the zooming collar forward. It then locks at whatever focal length it’s positioned at, and you simply pull back to return to free rotation. It’s both quick and effective.
The new 150-600mm uses the latest version of Tamron’s ‘Ultrasonic Silent Drive’ ring-type motor for autofocusing which moves an internal group of elements. Responsiveness and speed have both been improved over the previous model, and the minimum focusing distance reduced to 2.2 metres. This may not look anything to celebrate at 150mm to 200mm, but at 600mm it translates into a maximum magnification ratio of 1:3.9 which gives pretty useful close-up capabilities for everything down to smallish birds. Given the magnification ratio is close to quarter lifesize (actually, 0.256x) a 10 cm bird would reproduce at 25 mm on the sensor… which isn’t far off full frame with a 35mm format sensor.
The focus limiter switch has three settings for Full, ten metres to infinity or 2.2 metres to ten metres. Both the shorter range settings speed things up considerably if you’re only working at these distances, and the limiter is especially useful when shooting close-ups.
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The optical construction comprises 21 elements in 13 groups, with three of these made from glass with extra-low dispersion characteristics to help reduce both axial and lateral chromatic aberrations. Tamron’s ‘BBAR’ (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) and ‘eBAND’ (Extended Bandwidth and Angular-Dependency) multicoatings are used to minimise internal reflections and ghosting with strong light sources.
There’s a nine-blade diaphragm to give smoother out-of-focus effects.
The 150-600mm is compatible with Tamron’s current 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters which boost the focal range to 210-420mm and 300-1200mm respectively while reducing the maximum aperture range by one and two stops respectively. Full autofocusing capabilities are retained and, importantly, the minimum focusing distance remains unchanged.
If you use these combos on an ‘APS-C’ format D-SLR (at 1.5x), you end up with 315-630mm and 450-1800mm!
The G2 model is also compatible with the Tap-In Console USB dock, which enables firmware upgrades and small adjustments to
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either the autofocusing or the VC image stabilisation.
In terms of size, the 150600mm G2 looks bigger than it really is, perhaps because of the way the barrel flares out towards the front-most element. Park it alongside the typical 70-200mm f2.8 zoom and there’s actually very little difference in the diameter while the length is only around a couple of centimetres more. Our ‘resident’ AF-S Nikkor 70200mm f2.8 – with an Arca-Swiss mounting plate fitted – tipped the scales at 1810 grams, so the Tamron 150-600mm is only 180 grams heavier… in return for a whole lot more optical fire power. In the field then, it’s a surprisingly comfortable lens to handle (and you can save 210 grams by taking off the tripod mounting collar). It feels well-balanced on both the mid-sized and larger full-35mm D-SLR bodies so shooting handheld is completely feasible – ably assisted by the optical image stabilisation – but, as noted earlier, the total weight is likely to become an issue over time. Given both sports/action and wildlife photography often involve having the camera all set up and ready to go but then waiting around for the action to actually happen, using a tripod is going to be an inevitability with this lens. That said, if you do need to use it in a ‘run-and-gun’ situation, it really can be done… even when shooting at 600mm.
With its revised optical design (which includes one more element than the previous model) and new manufacturing techniques with tighter tolerances, the G2 150-600mm telezoom delivers improved performance in a number of areas. Maintaining uniformity of sharpness (i.e. from centre-tocorner) is always a challenge with zooms covering long telephoto focal lengths, but Tamron has done a pretty decent job here.
Overall sharpness is good at 150mm through to 200mm, but the corners are even better between 200mm to 400mm, while there’s some softening between 500mm and 600mm. At this extreme telephoto end of the zooming range, you haven’t got a lot to play with in terms of stopping down before diffraction starts to compromise sharpness. Nevertheless, at f8.0 and f11, the sharpness fall-off at 600mm is reduced by a little, and overall again images look nicely crisp, assisted by a good amount of contrast. A 600mm prime telephoto is always going to deliver better performance in terms of sharpness, but of course you’ll pay dearly for it and, in real world terms, the Tamron zoom may be the better option.
Vignetting – brightness fall-off at the frame’s corners – is very slight across the focal range when shooting at the widest apertures, but is virtually eliminated by stopping down. Likewise for lateral chromatic aberrations, although colour fringing can be quite marked in the corners of the frame at the longest focal lengths. The correction for axial chromatic aberrations appears more effective, so the effect is minimal. Some pin-cushion type distortion (i.e. the inward bending of straight edges) is present across the focal range, but is never particularly pronounced and won’t be noticeable at all if there are no straight lines positioned near the edges of the image frame.
Given the Tamron’s 150600mm’s focal range and length, imaging performance – particularly the various corrections – is outstanding and turns what looks like fabulous potential on paper into an even more fabulous reality.
Ultra-wides are currently the exotic of the accessory lens world, but supertelephotos can be just as much fun, and open up equally exciting new creative imaging possibilities. Tamron’s 150-600mm G2 offers the added versatility of a wide focal range combined with very useful closeup capabilities and optical image stabilisation giving up to 4.5 stops of correction for camera shake. That it’s so manageable in terms of size and weight – and also delivers excellent optical performance for a very long telezoom – increases the possibilities in terms of applications beyond the obvious ones. It also allows you to make the most of shooting situations… exploiting those supertelephoto capabilities without the usual physical demands and restrictions.
With this lens in your camera bag, you’re unlikely to be sitting around at home very much.
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Both the Canon and Nikon mount versions have a fourswitch control panel for the various focusing and image stabilisation settings.
Novel ‘Flex Zoom Lock’ is engaged by pushing the zooming collar forward which then locks the lens at a desired focal length.
Detachable tripod mount collar is made from magnesium alloy and incorporates an Arca-Swiss quick release plate.
Weather protection measures include a substantial gasket around the lens mount.