It’s no secret that bird, wildlife, and sports shooters need big glass. It’s also no secret that big glass can cost an arm and a leg. If there’s anyplace in the world that third-party lenses are important it’s in the big glass arena.
Tamron have been producing affordable, quality lenses for a long time and I’ve used both Tamron and Sigma third-party lenses (in addition to the big Canon glass) either as back up or supplement. I’ve even used these third-party lenses as primaries because they are often nearly as good (or in some ways better) than the branded glass that matches the camera.
Tamron was the first third-party manufacturer to come up with a modern 150-600 zoom and eventually Sigma really upped their game with a new 150-600mm lens of their own that is more expensive. (I think both are very good value for the money.)
Tamron didn’t just sit and watch that ship sail by. They have answered the call by updating their original (and popular) 150-600 zoom with a new, more expensive, but higher-quality model – the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2. (Canon Mount) (Nikon Mount)
I tested it in the EF-mount version for Canon. It’s designed to work with full-frame cameras and has a very unique aperture range of f/5 to f/40.
This new version of the lens has only been shipping for about two months and many photographers who shoot birds on a budget have been anxious for the update.
It’s very well-built and includes metal exterior construction. The lens is super solid and well-balanced. It has a twist (not push-pull) zoom ring and the zoom operates very smoothly.
Tamron calls their image stabilization “Vibration Control.” VC (instead of IS) and on this lens it works well. They say it’s good for four and one half stops. I rate it at a full three and one half to four stops depending on your technique.
One of the first things I wanted to check was how fast would this lens autofocus. The original Tamron 150-600 lagged behind in this category and I was very happy to see that the new lens focuses very quickly. So that was the first test.
The second test was to see if the image quality was up to snuff. Check! Good contrast, great color and overall IQ is very good. Oh yeah and it’s nice a crisp and sharp. In fact it’s sharp throughout the zoom range in my tests. At 400mm it’s as sharp (or yes even sharper) than my Canon 400!!! This is utterly remarkable to me for a lens in this price range.
Third I wanted to test the tripod ring. This is a big deal on a lens in this focal length and it will be especially important because the lens is not an internal zoom (See below.) The ring is sturdy, well-placed, and long enough to add real balance to the lens. Now here’s the utterly fantastic part. Ready? Someone who actually shoots with a big heavy lens on a tripod or gimbal must have designed this tripod ring. Tamron’s updated tripod ring on the new version of the lens features an integrated, universal Arca-Swiss-compatible mount – no freaking accessory lens plate required!!! I recently acquired an Olympus 300mm f/4 lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras that has this same feature and I utterly love it.
Fourth I wanted to evaluate the size/weight of the lens. The new Tamron is pretty compact for it’s focal range and (being made of metal) is a little heavier than the original version. But it still only weighs 71 ounces (4.4 pounds.) Comparing that to the lens the Tamron most directly competes with, the Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3 DG OS Sports Lens, it’s downright light. The Sigma weighs 101 ounces – 30 ounces more than the Tamron. So while most of you who aren’t familiar with big zooms would think that a 71 ounce lens is heavy, it’s relatively lightweight which is very good news for those of us who spend all day in the field lugging this gear around.
Since this lens is competing with much more expensive glass from Canon the next thing to do is see what you’re giving up to save money.
1. The lens comes with nothing but a pouch. If you’re used to getting your big zoom lens with a nice carry case included well spend the $7k to $12k and buy the Canon stuff.
2. This is not an internal zoom which means the lens will get longer in your hand as you zoom out toward the long end of the zoom.
3. There is no tension adjustment for the zoom but there is a zoom lock so the lens won’t flop in or out while traveling. Tamron has designed the lens to be locked at any focal length by simply pushing the zoom ring forward. I haven’t seen this feature implemented in this manner before and I like it.
4. There is some minor vignetting and some chromatic aberration) at certain focal lengths. (Both easily corrected in post.)
Tamron says that the lens works with a teleconverter and its firmware can be updated via a USB puc much like the Sigma system but I haven’t yet tested either one so I’ll simply note them for now.
I get to shoot with and test a great many lenses. I am constantly amazed at the quality of today’s camera gear. It’s a great time to be a photographer. But when a lens (on first blush) impresses me enough to say “it’s a keeper” then you have to know I am impressed. This will be one of the lenses in my bag when I head to Alaska next year to photograph eagles.
Pound-for-pound, comparing size, weight, the six-year warranty, its ability to auto-focus, general features and image quality, the Tamron is a superb value. It’s easily the best $1399 lens of its kind and easily worth the money. Highly recommended.