MINI TESTS: We rate Tamron's new 150- 600mm zoom, a gadget bag and budget light strip
Premium super- telephoto zoom with Vibration Compensation. A versatile range of focal lengths make it ideal for wildlife & action photography
WHEN THE ULTIMATE in pulling power is required to fill the frame with a distant subject, nothing beats a telephoto lens. While prime telephotos boast the benefit of a fast maximum aperture, their exorbitant price tags mean they're the choice of pros – or enthusiasts with deep pockets. For us mere mortals, when pulling power is required, we've the choice of telephoto zooms. While most of us opt for the likes of a 70- 200/ 300mm or more powerful 80- 400mm, there are a small number of elite super- telephoto zooms like this Tamron, boasting a more extensive range and premium optics.
This zoom is the second generation of the SP 150- 600mm, with the original appearing in 2013 and proving to be an excellent lens, popular in particular with wildlife photographers. This G2 version has been redesigned from scratch and claims a number of improvements, ranging from better AF to improved stabilisation and optics, as we'll cover in more detail later.
Like all lenses covering such an extensive focal length range, the Tamron is larger and heavier than your typical telezoom. But that doesn't mean that it's cumbersome and awkward to handle. True, at 2kg it's not the sort of lens you'll want to handhold for too long, but it's reasonably compact considering its range and balances nicely.
Build quality is first rate and compares favourably against marque brands – the lens feels solid, the control switches have a positive action and the zoom and manual focusing rings are large, with a nicelygrooved rubberised finish. The zoom ring covers a wide area towards the front of the lens and is easy to find while looking through the viewfinder. It has a smooth action but I found it rather stiff to rotate – this is most likely as it's a new lens and will loosen with time. A lock button on the barrel just behind the zoom ring prevents the lens from extending accidentally.
The manual focus ring is found around halfway up the barrel and while slimmer than the zoom ring, is a good size. It has a very smooth, precise action and can be used to manually fine- tune the focus even when the lens is set to AF.
Behind the zoom ring is a focusing window that displays distance in both feet and metres. To its left are a set of function buttons. There are two for Vibration Compensation – one switches VC on and off, the other sets it to one of three options: VC1 is for normal use, VC2 for panning and VC3, which prioritises the stabilisation of the captured images over the viewfinder. Next to these are the AF/ M switch and the focus limiter, allowing you to have AF covering the whole focusing range, 2.2m to 10m, or when shooting distant subjects, from 10m to infinity. Behind these controls is located the tripod collar, which secures the lens on a support, rather than having the lens mount take the strain.
Within the feature- packed barrel, the Tamron uses 21 elements in 13 groups, which includes three Low Dispersion ( LD) elements to minimise chromatic aberrations. Tamron hasn't scrimped on anti- reflection coatings either, with the SP 150- 600mm boasting EBAND ( Extended Bandwidth and Angular- Dependency) Coating and BBAR ( Broad- Band AntiReflection) Coating to improve light transmission and reduce internal reflections. The front element has a Fluorine coating that is water- and oil- repellent, offering extra protection when using the lens in poor weather.
As with the original lens, an Ultrasonic Silent Drive ( USD) ring- type motor takes care of autofocus, with improvements
made to AF speed and tracking of moving subjects. With the lens aimed primarily at wildlife and action photographers, this is a particularly important enhancement.
The response of the AF system was certainly impressive in our tests, with the lens quickly locking on static subjects, while with moving subjects it did offer a good degree of tracking success. Not only is it faster than the previous version, it's quieter too.
Image quality is excellent – showing improvements over the original in every way. Sharpness is high throughout the zoom range and across the aperture range, with f/ 8- 11 providing the sharpest results. At maximum aperture sharpness is better than expected and while at minimum f/ stops diffraction has an effect, sharpness is still good. Bokeh is nicely recorded too, thanks to the use of rounded diaphragm blades.
Above: The Tamron's tripod mount provides a very stable platform, which is essential when used at the longer focal lengths. A release knob allows you to switch the camera from landscape to portrait format with speed and ease. Right: The extensive range of focal lengths is reflected in the length of the Tamron. At 150mm, it measures around 26cm in length, but zoom to 600mm and it increases to around 34mm.