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.

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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).

sTeadY sPeed

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.

in The el­e­menTs

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

given the tAmron’s 150600mm’s fo­cAl rAnge And length, the imAg­ing per­for­mAnce is out­stAnd­ing And turns whAt looKs liKe fAb­u­lous po­ten­tiAl on pA­per into An even more fAb­u­lous re­Al­ity.

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.

PeR­FoR­manCe

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.

The VeR­diCT

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.

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...

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.

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