Can a lens with a 16.6x optical zoom really be any good optically?
I remember when I first got into photography, how enamored I was with the prospect of massive zoom lenses like the ones Tamron offered. They had the original super zoom of 18-270mm. What an awesome tool to have, covering all that focal range!
What I didn’t realize at the time, is there are loads of compromises with a lens that zooms that much. Both in terms of usability with the variable aperture and, of course, the degradation of image quality when a lens covers that much range.
However, the lenses Tamron put out covering that much focal range were a hit. Enthusiasts went gaga over them and they sold very well. It’s 2021 and they’re doing it again, pushing the envelope to 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3. How does the latest version stack up, as the company’s first foray into the Fujifilm X mount? Let’s take a look!
- Crazy versatile optical range — full frame equivalent of 27-450mm
- Reasonably Priced
- Surprisingly good image quality — not epic, but better than expected
- Solid weather sealed construction
- Image stabilization
- Fast, silent and accurate autofocus
- Video autofocus will hold a subject without “jackhammering”
- Great focal range comes with compromises.
- Optical quality is good to very good, less than stellar
- Variable aperture can be problematic on the long end
- Not for low light shooting without massively upping ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed for a sharp image
- Video autofocus has some issues moving from one subject to another when commanded
Tamron 18-300mm for Fuji — Technical specifications
- Focal length: 18-300mm (27-450mm full frame field of view)
- Aperture range: f/3.5 to 6.3-f/22-f/40
- Aperture blades: 7, rounded
- Elements / groups: 19 / 5
- Dimensions: 3 x 5″ / 75.5 x 125.8 mm
- Weight: 21.9 oz / 620 g
- Angle of view: 77° 24′ to 5° 30′
Tamron 18-300mm for Fuji — Build quality
Let me start by saying, the build quality surprised me. It’s made of high quality plastics and a metal mount. Coming in at 21.9 ounces (620 grams), I would call this very lightweight, especially for a lens that covers this much range.
If this were a constant aperture lens, it would be massive. For example, I own the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 S lens — it doesn’t cover half this range, and it’s a 7 pound beast!
The zoom ring is tight and can be locked down at the wide end, but unfortunately cannot be locked down any where else. The focus ring moves freely with hardly any resistance at all. There aren’t any other buttons or switches on the exterior of the lens, meaning aperture will be handled in-camera.
Best of all, Tamron sealed the lens against dust and moisture. A big plus in this price range.
On the inside, it’s a complicated optical formula of 19 elements arranged in 5 groups. The variable aperture ranges from f/3.5 to 6.3 to f/22 to f/40. Speaking of the aperture, there are 7 rounded aperture blades for some nice out of focus bokeh rendering. Tamron has also included image stabilization — which helps on longer shots with slower apertures.
All in, especially with that smooth matte finish, to my hands, the build is a pleasant surprise on the upside!
Autofocus speed and accuracy
For autofocus, Tamron employs something called a dual VXD “voice coil extreme torque drive.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but what I can tell you is that it translates into silent, fast and very accurate focus performance! I was truly impressed by this. In photos, AF is quick and decisive — it gets the job done! Video AF is pretty good too.
The subject tracking works like a charm, however, if you want to move from one subject to another in a frame, there is some noticeable lag before it’ll acquire the new subject. If you’re a videographer, that could be a drawback.
Even in low light where I would expect a relatively slow lens like this to struggle, the 18-300mm was still able to acquire focus quickly and decisively. Autofocus is definitely one of the lens’ strong suits.
Tamron 18-300mm for Fuji — Optical quality
Optical quality for portraits
If there were one area where I’d expect the 18-300mm to have some challenges, it’d be in the optics section. Because the lens has such a wide range and because it has a variable aperture. Those are two difficult things to overcome and still get strong optics. However, I would have to say Tamron has done a great job overcoming those engineering challenges as I find the optics to be somewhere between good and very good. It’s reasonably sharp at all focal lengths, so long as you nail focus.
I asked my son to model for me so I took him into the backyard and we shot the Tamron. At 18mm and wide-open at f/3.5, I wanted to demonstrate how powerful the zoom is. The subject is far off and not too sharp when zoomed in 300% to pixel peep. At 300mm and f/6.3, I found the image to be reasonably sharp, more than acceptable. When zoomed in 300% to pixel peep, the imperfections are a bit more obvious, but not so imperfect as to ruin the image. For portraits, I think the 18-300mm is very usable.
Optical quality for architecture
I shoot a lot of real estate and I took the 18-300mm along to see what it could do. On the wide end, 27mm isn’t all that wide, but it’s wide enough to get a shot of the front elevation of a home at a fair distance. Which is sometimes preferred to get less distortion in the image. Optical quality in most lenses is better when a lens is stopped down a bit. In architecture, we’re trying to get everything in sharp focus, on an APS-C body like the XT-3, that means around f/5.6.
I’m pleased to say that the optical performance in architecture is similar to most wide-angle lenses, which is pretty good. There is some purple fringing in the high contrast areas, but it’s nothing that’ll ruin an image. However, with a widest focal length of 27mm equivalent, there aren’t a bunch of applications in real estate and architecture.
If the 18-300mm has one awesome party trick, it’s the outrageous zoom performance! It’s insane! I went out on location to two different places to shoot far away subjects with the 18-300mm just to see how clear I could make the object in the distance. The results dazzled me!
Here’s the second example;
The results are truly impressive. It’s the zoom capability alone that’ll be enough for a lot of people to buy this lens. As mentioned, optical quality isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly “good enough.”
Who doesn’t love a little bokeh? When I think lenses with nice bokeh, I think wide aperture glass. Zooms with an f/2.8 or primes with an f/1.4 max aperture.
However, it’s possible to get nice bokeh with longer focal lengths and narrower apertures because of optical compression. It’s also possible to get nice bokeh if the subject is close to the camera. These were shot at 218mm at f/6.3 (the dog) and 42mm at f/4 (the beer bottle.)
Optical quality for wildlife
Obviously, when a lens can zoom out to 480mm equivalent, wild life enthusiasts will want to take a closer look. I’m not much of a wildlife shooter, so please take these images with a grain of salt.
I brought the lens with me to a golf course here in southwest Florida and I shot handheld and tried to capture some of the birds. As your focal length gets longer, you’ll want to increase your shutter speed to ensure a sharp image. A tripod is advised.
Last up is value, and at this price point, I feel like the 18-300mm offers a ton of versatility for the money. The 18-300mm is a jack of all trades kind of lens.
In previous generations like the 18-270mm, it seemed like the lens was a mile wide and an inch deep. It could do anything, but not necessarily anything very well. The 18-300mm is now a mile and a half wide and a few inches deep. Build and optical quality are improved, but they’re far from best in class. However for an all around lens, this is an enthusiast’s dream. Speaking for myself, I’m OK with sacrificing optical quality to get this kind of range.
A great all rounder
Given the sleek new design and build, improved optics and the extreme and extended focal range, it’s tough not to recommend a lens like the 18-300mm from Tamron. So long as you go into this lens knowing that it will have a variable aperture and less than stellar optics.
If you’re a working pro, then a lens like this might be a fun one to keep in your bag to capture far away subjects on bright sunny days. It’s a nice all rounder, with some important compromises. However, it’s likely those considering this lens will be well aware of those shortcomings and will buy the 18-300mm for the 16.6x zoom capability alone.
Overall, the Tamron is great fun to use! Are you interested in this lens? Sound off in the comments below!
Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD Lens for FUJIFILM X
The 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD from Tamron is a versatile superzoom ideal for photographers who want an all-rounder that covers virtually any shooting situation. Characterized for its 16.6x zoom ratio and a minimum focus distance of only 5.9 inches, it brings the best of Tamron’s “all-in-one” philosophy to the Fujifilm X audience at large. A fast and precise autofocus mechanism, Tamron’s VXD (Voice-coil eXtreme-torque Drive) linear motor, provides it with some of the best performance in its class, and it’s aided by the proprietary Vibration Compensation system that supports stable photography even at ultra-telephoto focal lengths.